- Top charities
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Our top charities are distinguished by the following qualities:
We have conducted several comprehensive searches for charities with these qualities (see our process for details). We provide a full list of charities meeting the first two criteria above, and invite readers to let us know if they know of an eligible charity we have overlooked.
For more on our process and the reasoning behind it, see our process.
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:
GiveWell focuses on finding the best charities possible, not on reviewing as many charities as possible. Understanding even a single charity in-depth generally takes hundreds of person-hours.
We have written informally about our views on some well-known charities:
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 don't think so. The process for becoming a U.S.-registered charity can be long and relatively involved, and some of our recommended charities have not had enough interest from U.S. donors (prior to our recommendation) to have gone through this process. However, we have examined the financial records and established the charitable purposes of all recommended organizations, and for all such organizations we provide some way of getting a tax deduction for supporting them (in some cases by donating to GiveWell, which can make direct grants to support these organizations).
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,
The academic evidence we've seen, while not conclusive, indicates that cash transfers are largely spent in beneficial ways.
GiveDirectly's own (more informal data) suggests that major uses of the transfers include food, livestock (which may be a method of storing value for the long term), and tin roofs (which may be a method of storing value as well as reducing the need for regular repairs to a mud hut/thatch roof).
We are not able to quantify the improvement in quality of life due to cash transfers, in a way that can be directly compared to that of health interventions. As with deworming, there are studies arguing that cash transfers lead to strong productive investment and long-term benefits, but it is also possible that these studies are not representative and that the benefits are more minor.1 Given the state of the available evidence, we concede a major role for one's worldview and intuitions in deciding between cash transfers and health interventions.
Treating children for parasitic infections (deworming) is extremely inexpensive (~$0.50 per person treated, including all costs), and there is evidence linking it with substantial developmental benefits (people dewormed in childhood may attend school more and earn more later in life); the evidence is not as strong as for insecticide-treated nets but is still far above what we've seen for most charitable interventions. Evidence regarding shorter-term health benefits is mixed. More details at our full report on deworming.
Each review of a recommended charity discusses its room for more funding, i.e., how much more funding it can productively absorb and how this funding would change its activities. We closely track the revenue received by recommended charities, and we cease to recommend donating to a charity once we feel it no longer has short-term room for more funding.
We have put much of our effort into investigating international aid because this is where we feel an individual donor can accomplish the most good (in terms of significant life change) per dollar given. More
We have investigated charities serving the poor in the U.S. in the past and may do so again in the future. See our research in this area.
We discuss these issues at our writeup on quality of life in the developing world. On one hand, people in Sub-Saharan Africa are much worse off, and much more likely to die prematurely, than people in wealthier parts of the world. On the other hand, those who live past the age of 5 have strong chances of living to age 60 or so; saving a life even from a single cause of death means saving a person who is likely to live quite a while longer.
We have spent significant time looking into this topic, though we have not yet written up our findings. In brief:
We publish critical questions that you can ask charities working in causes we haven't covered. These questions are based only on our very limited understanding of these causes, but they may be useful starting points.
For the charities that we direct the most funds to, we intend to publish regular reports on the charity's progress against its objectives and on its updated financial situation. In 2013, we completed updates on the three organizations to which we had directed the most funding:
We plan to continue the practice of publishing regular updates on our top charities.
Accomplishing as much good as possible per dollar spent is an important value to us, and we put substantial work into cost-effectiveness estimates. We publish cost-effectiveness figures that represent our best estimates, given all available information. We publish the full details behind these figures and provide spreadsheets that allow readers to see what the most debatable inputs are, and how the estimates change as these estimates vary.
However, all cost-effectiveness analysis of charities we're aware of — including ours — involves a great deal of simplification and guesswork. Therefore, we do cost-effectiveness analysis primarily to look for large, clear differences in good accomplished per dollar spent. We consider many other factors in rating and ranking charities.
More at our discussion of cost-effectiveness analysis.
Our primary focus is to identify and analyze charities that we feel represent the best available giving opportunities. This includes following the progress of charities to which we direct significant funding so that we can evaluate how well the funding was used and how the organization would likely use additional funding in the future.
In 2012, we determined that we did not have the capacity to publish updates for our "standout" organizations and decided to discontinue the practice of publishing a list of "non-top-rated standout organizations."
We don't have any hard-and-fast rules for what constitutes persuasive evidence; we believe that interpreting evidence on charity effectiveness always takes a substantial amount of judgment calls. We discuss our general principles for evaluating evidence of impact in a series of 2012 blog posts:
We do check this figure, but we do not place much emphasis on it — we believe it is the most over-used metric in charity. More at our 2009 comment on the joint press release by GiveWell, GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and other charity evaluators on the pitfalls of over-emphasizing the "administrative expense ratio."
We recommend against letting "donation matching" affect your choice of charity. More
We don't believe there is a clear answer, and do believe that it makes sense to give relatively regularly — for example, setting aside a set percentage of annual income. More
You may also wish to visit our transparency policy, which lists and links to most of the different kinds of information we provide.