The latest issue of Christianity Today is on effective ways to fight poverty. It’s an important topic and I’m glad CT is talking about it. I was especially intrigued by the article “Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor” by Bruce Wydick.

Christians can too easily settle for good intentions. We usually support programs that make us feel good without considering whether they actually do good. We need to be smarter about actually thinking through which poverty strategies are most effective. “To answer this question” Wydick writes, “I polled top development economists who specialize in analyzing development programs. I asked them to rate, from 0 to 10, some of the most common poverty interventions to which ordinary people donate their money, in terms of impact and cost-effectiveness per donated dollar.”

These were the results:

1. Get clean water to rural villages (Rating: 8.3)
2. Fund de-worming treatments for children (Rating: 7.8)
3. Provide mosquito nets (Rating: 7.3)
4. Sponsor a child (Rating: 6.9)
5. Give wood-burning stoves (Rating: 6.0)
6. Give a micro-finance loan (Rating 4.2)
7. Fund reparative surgeries (Rating: 3.9)
8. Donate a farm animal (Rating 3.8)
9. Drink fair-trade coffee (Rating. 1.9)
10. Give a kid a laptop (1.8)

No doubt, some experts and donors will disagree with these rankings, but at least this gives a starting place for discussion and should encourage careful evaluation. Read the whole article and think through these issues for yourself. Sometimes helpinng the poor is not as simple as drinking a different coffee.

For more information onn effective mercy minstry check out When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton. Remember, more important than feeling good–as an individual, a church, or a government–is that we give in such a way as to do good.