- Top charities
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 our GiveWell Labs 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.
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GiveWell's research has received attention from major media, scholars and philanthropists. For more, see our reputation page.
GiveWell is supported by donations from foundations (the Hewlett Foundation is a major funder) and other individual supporters. GiveWell does not solicit donations from the general public.
For details on our revenues and expenses, see our financial statements.
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.
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.
Broadly, the value of GiveWell is a product of the following:
(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
Our focus is on finding great charities. To do this, we:
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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've since come to 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, GiveWell Labs, 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:
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:
In addition, donations to our top 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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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