Lightning Giving Games

What is a Lightning Giving Game?

Offers of money are good for attracting attention, and interactive activities are good at getting people to engage. Lightning Giving Games can do both of these things. They are usually run at universities, Clubs Fairs or other tabling opportunities. They involve giving $1 (or a similar amount in local currency) to each participant to donate it to one of 2-4 charities.

Ben Kuhn from Harvard EA describes how he used a Giving Game to attract people to his club.


  • Attract people to your table

  • Get people thinking about different approaches to doing good

  • Give you more of an opportunity to talk about effective altruism and your group

  • We list additional aims under each approach to choosing charities

Types of Lightning Giving Games

Approach 1: Three excellent charities with a range of cause areas

EA has a tremendous breadth of cause areas. This version highlights the fact and shows how difficult it can be to choose between different cause areas.


  • Some participants immediately dismiss cause areas they don’t think are important or choose the cause area they already like the best without engaging with the details about the charity

  • Some participants might find the charities too different and dislike having to compare

Charity ideas:

Notes on choosing charities:

  • We recommend avoiding meta-EA charities. For meta-EA charities to be appealing, a person has to buy into EA’s importance.

  • Avoid charities whose function and merit would take a while to explain. For example, we don’t recommend choosing an AI Safety charity because many people won’t immediately agree that AI is a large threat to humanity.

  • Harvard EA conducted an experiment looking at the effect of using more speculative charities such as 80,000 Hours and Machine Intelligence Research Institute. They found that those charities are less likely to produce email list sign-ups than global health charities.


  • This document has posters for running a Lightning Giving Game with the Against Malaria Foundation, the Humane League, and the John Hopkins Centre for Health Security.

Approach 2: Two-step Giving Game, with one excellent charity and one appealing but ineffective or harmful charity

There can be a vast wide difference in effectiveness between charities. This version shows that we can’t trust our gut feelings to give us an accurate indication of whether a charity is harmful or helpful.


  • Only covers one cause area. To counter this, it would help to have a variety of posters representing different cause areas on your table.

  • Takes time. For this approach to work properly, facilitators will have to take a few minutes to explain the game and help people make an informed decision. It could be off-putting for someone to find that their charity of choice doesn’t do much good at all.

Charity ideas:

A note on choosing charities

We recommend avoiding using Guide Dog charities or other particularly well-loved local charities in Giving Games. These charities’ interventions indeed tend to cost a lot of money for comparatively less benefit. However, pointing out their flaws can be offputting for people who have benefitted from the charity, either directly, or through family and friends.

How the game could work:

  • This resource has two pages per charity. Show the first “initial information” page, state that this is the sort of advertising information a charity might use, and explain what each of the charities does. Make sure you are positive about both charities.

  • Get people to pick which charity they’d choose based on this information.

  • Then flip the pages over to show the “evidence” information, and explain what the evidence shows.

  • Allow people to ask questions.

  • Ask people to make their final choice.

  • More information and FAQs for these two charities are here.

Approach 3: Three Global Health Charities

Choosing between charities is difficult. This version allows people to use data to inform their choices.


  • Only covers one cause area. To counter this, it would help to have a variety of posters representing different cause areas on your table.

Charity ideas:

Notes on choosing charities:

  • GiveDirectly is a good charity to include because their approach contrasts with disease prevention charities and often sparks good discussions.


  • Giving Game materials - this is for a long giving game involving the Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. You can trim the charity information to make it a Lightning Giving Game.

Preparing to Run a Lightning Giving Game

  1. Secure funding to donate to the charities

  2. Select 2 or 3 charities

  3. Choose how people should submit their vote. Some groups recommend not letting people see how many votes each charity has because they may try to help the less-popular charity. Other groups recommend showing the votes because it is visually attractive and will draw people to your table if only to figure out what’s going on.


  • Get a pile of $1 notes or $1 coins.

  • Physically hand them to people for them to donate.

  • If you have paper money, you can pin the bills to a board, like so:

  • If you prefer not to use real money, use ping-pong balls or marbles.

  • Set up your board or containers and charity information on your table, along with details on effective altruism.

4. Prepare what you are going to say

  • Attract participants. An effective opening line for Lightning Giving Games is “Do you want to donate someone else’s money to charity?”

  • Describe the charities VERY briefly

  • Ask people to choose between charities

  • Explain EA and your group

  • Ask people to sign up for your group

Lightning Giving Games Checklist

  • Posters with blurbs and photos of each charity

  • Money or tokens

  • Money jars for each charity or a pinboard with 50-200 pin tacks depending on the size of your fair

  • Sign-up forms for your club

  • Posters or flyers about EA

During the Game

  • Each game takes a few minutes, so try to get two or three people interested at once.

  • Make sure you ask if they have any questions.

  • Once they make their choice, they can put the money in the container or on the board.

Key points you could bring up during or after your game:

  • Most people choose charities to support based on very little information, but it turns out there are huge differences between how much good each charity does with your donation.

  • We all have limited resources, so if we want to make a large positive impact, it pays to carefully investigate our options.

  • If your game covers multiple cause areas: There are so many problems in the world, and you and I can't solve all of them at once, so effective altruism aims to work out what the world's most pressing problems are, and the very best ways to tackle them.

  • If your game is restricted to a single cause area: This activity just looked at one problem in the world, effective altruism also considers many other issues (give examples)

  • Effective altruism is about doing the most good with the time or money we have available, whether that is volunteering, choosing a career that benefits the world, or donating to effective charities.

After the Game

You might like to present the results of your Giving Game during the first event after tabling.