About GiveWell

What does GiveWell do?

GiveWell's mission is to find outstanding giving opportunities and publish the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give.

GiveWell is focused on finding a small number of outstanding giving opportunities, not on reviewing as many charities — or as many causes — as possible.

Historically, we have primarily focused on charities working in developing countries. We have not covered charitable causes like the arts, animals, disease-specific research organizations (e.g., Susan G. Komen for the Cure, American Cancer Society), and we have given limited consideration to charities focused on helping people in need in the US (more).

We are currently working to expand the breadth of our research as part of the Open Philanthropy Project.

Who is behind this project?

We were started by a group of donors who wanted to accomplish as much good as possible with their donations and found that there wasn't a strong source of information available on how to do this. Since 2007, we have worked full-time to research the issues and charities that we write about on website and blog. Thousands of hours of research have gone into our recommendations.

For more information, please see:

GiveWell's research has received attention from major media, scholars and philanthropists. For more, see our reputation page.

How does GiveWell support itself?

GiveWell is supported by donations from foundations and other individual supporters. In 2014, GiveWell raised $3.0 million for our operations, up from $1.8 million in 2013 and $0.8 million in 2012.1 Four institutions and the nine largest individual donors contributed about 75% of GiveWell’s funding in 2014.

For details on our revenues and expenses, see our financial statements.

What types of donors use GiveWell's research?

GiveWell serves donors who want to accomplish as much good as possible with their donations but don't have the ability to identify top charities on their own. These donors rely on GiveWell's research and have confidence that when they donate to GiveWell's top charities they are supporting outstanding organizations having a significant impact on people's lives.

GiveWell does not serve donors who want to know whether a particular charity is legitimate or are particularly interested in a charitable cause that isn't already on our research agenda.

Who can access GiveWell's research?

We aim to publish all of the research we do and everything we publish is available freely on our website. GiveWell is committed to extreme transparency. In addition to publishing research reports on charities we do and do not recommend, we publish:

In some cases, researchers or organizations share information with us on condition that we keep it confidential, and we honor confidentiality in these cases.

What is GiveWell's impact? How is GiveWell's success evaluated?

Broadly, the value of GiveWell is a product of the following:

  1. How much money we influence, directly or indirectly, with our research.
  2. How much value our research adds (i.e., how much more effective a donation is when informed by our research).
  3. The extent to which we're able to create higher-quality dialogue around giving, and spread the acceptance and use of our core values (particularly impact-focused giving and transparency in giving decisions).

(1) is relatively straightforward to measure. We track donations to our recommended charities through a variety of methods, including the donation links on our site and by asking donors to submit our donation report when they give through another channel. We report the results quarterly on our blog and on our impact page.

Measuring (2) coincides with the goal of our research: determining what the charities we examine can be expected to accomplish, and how they compare to each other. There is often a great deal of uncertainty in comparing top charities to "average" charities, precisely because a lack of measurement is characteristic of "average" charities.

(3) is the hardest to measure, because the spread of ideas is complex and wide-ranging; so although we can track changes in dialogue, attributing them to our specific activities is difficult.

These metrics are complex and cannot be precisely quantified. However, as with evaluating our applicants, we believe we can evaluate ourselves using a combination of empirical data, analysis, and judgment calls, and that we should do so as transparently as possible. We post annual self-reviews of our progress as well as external assessments of the quality of our research.

GiveWell's recommended charities

How does GiveWell conduct research and what are its findings?

Our focus is on finding great charities. To do this, we:

  1. Focus on areas that we feel offer donors outstanding opportunities to do good. To date, we have focused primarily on international aid, and, in particular, global health (more on why we focus on these areas), though our work on the Open Philanthropy Project is an attempt to significantly expand our scope.
  2. Consider a large number of organizations and rely on heuristics, or meaningful shortcuts, to distinguish between organizations and identify ones that we think will ultimately qualify for our recommendations.
  3. Conduct in-depth evaluations on organizations we believe are strong contenders for our recommendation, including interviews with staff, reviews of publicly-available and internal documents about the charity's work and plans, and site visits to the charity's programs.

For more information, please see:

What are the pros and cons of giving to GiveWell's top charities?

Our process for identifying Top Charities is rooted in our own struggles as donors and our attempt to find charities that were proven, cost-effective, and scalable, such that we could draw a maximally confident, linear, quantified link between donations and outcomes, along the lines of "$X per life saved" or "$Y per person enabled to get a job paying 20% more than they could have gotten otherwise." (See our former criteria.)

We recognize major limitations to this approach, and we are working to produce recommendations based on an alternate vision of giving — emphasizing higher-risk, higher-upside activities commonly associated with major funders. This alternate approach, the Open Philanthropy Project, hasn't yet produced recommendations. In the meantime we feel that our "top charities" recommendations have substantial value for donors seeking to give now. As such, we continue to provide our recommendations, while also being clear about their limitations.

We don't believe that our top charities offer linear, reliably quantifiable returns along the lines of "$X per life saved," but we do believe that they are distinguished from other charities by their focus on evidence-backed programs aiming to help the global poor and by their transparency and accountability, all of which we believe to be important qualities. (More at our criteria.)

We think the principal advantages of our current top charities are that:

  • They represent the best opportunities we're aware of to help low-income people with relatively high confidence and relatively short time horizons. If you're looking to give this year and you don't know where to start, we'd strongly recommend supporting our top charities.
  • Due to the emphasis on thorough vetting, transparency, and following up, our top charities represent excellent learning opportunities, and we feel that one of the most desirable outcomes of giving is learning more that will inform later giving. Supporting our top charities helps GiveWell demonstrate impact and improves our ability to learn, and we are dedicated to sharing what we learn publicly.

Some counter-considerations:

  • There is an argument for saving money rather than giving, and giving at the point where better information on top giving opportunities is available. We do expect to make substantial progress on the Open Philanthropy Project over the next few years.
  • If you have access to other giving opportunities that you understand well, have a great deal of context on and have high confidence in — whether these consist of supporting an established organization or helping a newer one get off the ground — it may make more sense to take advantage of your unusual position and "fund what others won't," since GiveWell's research is available to (and influences) large numbers of people.

Are GiveWell's top charities tax-deductible where I live?

Donations to GiveWell are tax-deductible in the US, and we are able to take donations for the support of any of our top charities. In addition:

  • UK donors can make a tax-deductible donation to the Giving What We Can Trust for the support of one or more or GiveWell's recommended charities. Only charities listed on the form are currently eligible – more may be added later. Donations by UK tax-payers via the trust are eligible for Gift Aid.
  • German and Swiss donors can make a deductible donation to Giordano-Bruno-Stiftung or Effective Altruism Foundation for the support of GiveWell or one or more of our recommended charities.
  • Canadian donors can make a tax-deductible donation to Charity Science to support GiveWell or GiveWell's recommended charities. Donors can give online through PayPal (2-3% processing fee) at Charity Science's website, or, for donations greater than $1,000, can contact Charity Science at joey@charityscience.com for more information about giving by check or bank transfer (low or no fees). Note that there is an aggregate limit to how much Charity Science can give to charities that are not registered in Canada, so donors considering giving a gift of $5,000 or more for GiveWell, GiveDirectly, Deworm the World Initiative, GAIN, DMI, or Living Goods should contact Charity Science or GiveWell before donating.

In addition, donations to our top charities and other standout charities themselves are eligible for tax deductions in the following countries:

We ask that donors who use our research to decide to support these organizations through their own websites complete our donation reporting form so we are able to track our own impact.

Unfortunately, there are many countries where many people wish to use our research but none of our top-rated charities are tax-deductible. In some countries, donors may be able to take advantage of donor-advised funds or fiscal sponsorship organizations in order to make tax-deductible gifts to our top charities.

In general, we think that differences in effectiveness between charities are sufficiently large that in cases where the best giving opportunity may not be tax-deductible, it makes sense to give a smaller post-tax donation to the best organization rather than a larger pre-tax donation to a tax-deductible organization. However, we understand that donors may have different intuitions on this question, and are hoping to eventually have tax-deductible giving opportunities in other countries with many GiveWell users.

Why does GiveWell recommend so few charities?

We recommend few charities by design, because we see ourselves as a "finder of great giving opportunities" rather than a "charity evaluator." In other words, we're not seeking to classify large numbers of charities as "good" or "bad"; our mission is solely to identify, and thoroughly investigate, the best.

The charities we don't recommend may be doing great work, and our lack of recommendation shouldn't be taken as evidence to the contrary. However, our top charities are the ones that we believe best fit our criteria: evidence-backed, cost-effective, and capable of effectively using more funding.

Thoroughly investigating even a small number of charities is a great deal of work. It generally includes thoroughly reviewing the research behind charities' programs, researching possible concerns about these programs, extensive back-and-forth with charities to gain full understanding of their processes and past and future uses of funds, multi-day site visits to charities' operations in the field, and ongoing updates, as well as extremely time-intensive cost-effectiveness analysis (estimating how much good is accomplished per dollar spent). Thus, in order to confidently stand behind our recommendations, we need to focus our resources on the most promising candidates.

We discussed this in greater depth in this blog post.

What does GiveWell think about charities that do not qualify for its top rankings?

We believe that there are many organizations that do great work but don't meet our criteria or work on issues outside the scope of our research. We recommend the organizations that we would (and do) give our personal money to in order to accomplish maximal impact, and we target donors who broadly share our values.

GiveWell's evaluation process is highly intensive and can be a major cost for a charity. Should I be concerned that this requirement filters out excellent charities?

We recognize that this is a potential issue with our rankings, and we provide our full list of eligible charities — charities that focus on evidence-backed programs serving the global poor (our first two criteria), regardless of whether they engage in our process — at Full List of Eligible Charities.

With that said,

  • Given the large amounts of money that are driven by our recommendations, we believe that charities have strong incentives to engage in our process. We also make substantial efforts to give charities a sense of what they will need to provide in order to achieve recommended status (see our guide to applying for our recommendation). So we believe that charities seeking substantial funding and likely to do well in our process have strong reasons to apply for our recommendation.
  • We proactively reach out to eligible charities to encourage them to apply and discuss our process with them.
  • Supporting our top charities has the advantage that (a) they have been thoroughly vetted, with the results written up in detail at our charity reviews; (b) they represent excellent learning opportunities, and we feel that one of the most desirable outcomes of giving is learning more that will inform later giving. Supporting our top charities helps GiveWell demonstrate impact and improves our ability to learn, and we are dedicated to sharing what we learn publicly.

How is GiveWell different from charity evaluators like Charity Navigator?

Charity evaluators like Charity Navigator aim to assign an objective rating to many different organizations. This requires relying on less detailed information about a charity and its activities. These services may be helpful to donors who are trying to determine whether a particular charity is legitimate or not.

GiveWell aims to serve donors who seek a recommendation about where to give. GiveWell does thorough, in-depth research on a small number of organizations so that we recommend outstanding organizations that donors can be confident in.

How can my organization apply to be a GiveWell top charity?

Please review our page with application instructions.

Getting involved

How can I get involved and help GiveWell?

The best ways to help GiveWell are to:

How can I apply for a job at GiveWell?

Please see our jobs page.

How do I modify or cancel a recurring donation?

Please send us an email at info@givewell.org if you would like to modify or cancel your monthly donation to GiveWell.

Is the email I received "from GiveWell" spam?

GiveWell has experienced several cases of others pretending to represent GiveWell. We don't contact people based on their posting of resumes on job sites and we never ask applicants to send money on our behalf. One name that has occurred frequently in fraudulent messages is "Susan Komer" (we will add other names to this paragraph if you alert us about them). If you are uncertain that a contact is real, please email us at info@givewell.org.


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