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Institutions such as governments, companies, and charities control significant resources. One potentially effective way to do good, therefore, is to help institutions use these resources in more productive ways.

Members of the effective altruism community have employed this method extensively. For instance, they have tried to increase the attention policy-makers give to existential risk. Similarly, an important goal of effective altruist charity recommendations is to increase the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations. Within the for-profit sector, altruists have sought to shape the incentives of businesses to make them more aligned with social value, and have also tried to create social value themselves by engaging in social entrepreneurship.

Institutions can be improved in two different ways: from the outside and from the inside. Effective altruism organizations try to improve institutions from the outside by giving them advice or, in the case of charities, by evaluating them, whereas individual members of the effective altruism community may work within institutions to help them achieve their ends more effectively.