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Table of Contents

The basics

How have you selected your Top Charities?

Our top charities are distinguished by the following qualities:

  • Serving the global poor. Low-income people in the developing world have dramatically lower standards of living than low-income people in the U.S., and we believe that a given dollar amount can provide more meaningful benefits when targeting the former. More
  • Focused on evidence-backed interventions. We have a high standard for evidence: we seek out programs that have been studied rigorously and repeatedly, and whose benefits we can reasonably expect to generalize to large populations (though there are limits to the generalizability of any study results). The set of programs fitting this description is relatively limited, and mostly found in the category of health interventions (though there is also substantial evidence on cash transfers).
  • Thoroughly vetted and highly transparent. We examine potentially top charities thoroughly and skeptically, and publish thorough reviews discussing both strengths of these charities and concerns. We also follow top charities' progress over time and report on it publicly, including any negative developments. Charities must be open to our intensive investigation process — and public discussion of their track record and progress, both the good and the bad — in order to earn "top charity" status. We also provide a list of charities meeting our first two criteria for donors who are concerned that this requirement creates problematic selection effects.

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.

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'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, 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.

I have a particular charity in mind. How can I see your view on this charity and why it isn't one of your top charities?

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:

Why should I consider GiveWell's recommendations to be credible?

GiveWell's top charities

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. Donations by UK tax-payers via the trust are eligible for Gift Aid.
  • Canadian donors giving CAD 5,000 or more can make a tax-deductible gift to Tides Canada Foundation for the support of one or more of GiveWell's recommended charities. Please email us for more information.

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.

Some of GiveWell's recommended charities are not U.S.-registered charities. Should I be concerned about this?

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).

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.

Questions about GiveDirectly and its program: direct cash transfers to very poor individuals

Do recipients spend the money from transfers wisely/productively, or on unproductive uses such as alcohol/gambling?

The academic evidence we've seen, while not conclusive, indicates that cash transfers are largely spent in beneficial ways.

  • The most robustly established use of cash transfers is on food (i.e., shifting toward a higher quality diet).
  • There are also multiple high-quality studies arguing that recipients spend cash transfers on productive investments with high long-term returns, leading to improved long-term incomes.
  • Attempts to monitor alcohol expenditures have found that these expenditures increase, at most, proportionally with overall expenditures.

More at our discussion of the academic evidence regarding cash transfers.

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).

How much does receiving a cash transfer improve the recipient's life?

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.

Questions about deworming children (a focus of two of our top charities)

What are the benefits of deworming?

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.

How much money do your top charities need? How much do you expect to get them?

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.

GiveWell's focus on international aid

Why do most of your recommended charities work on international aid?

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.

Do the people whose lives are saved just die the next year from something else? What is their quality of life?

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.

Does saving lives just lead to overpopulation and long-run damage?

We have spent significant time looking into this topic, though we have not yet written up our findings. In brief:

  • Some believe that saving lives can directly lead to a lower population over time (relative to the population if these lives were not saved), since people may have fewer children when they are less worried about losing some to infant mortality. Others believe that saving lives is likely to lead to a higher population when unaccompanied by progress on other fronts, such as economic growth and education. We would guess that the latter view is more accurate, but we are not confident in this.
  • It is also not clear whether, when, and to what extent population growth is helpful vs. harmful.
  • Our view is that the evidence on these topics is inconclusive, but that one would need great confidence (greater confidence than is reasonable given the evidence) in the negative impact of population growth in order to abstain from cheaply preventing deaths.
  • Currently, all of our top charities focus on improving lives rather than averting deaths. GiveDirectly distributes cash directly to very poor individuals; the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) and Deworm the World Initiative both treat parasitic infections that can be debilitating but are very rarely fatal.

I'm trying to figure out where to give, but you haven't covered my cause, and it looks like you aren't going to in the near future. Any advice?

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.

Other questions

What happened to the money I gave last year? Will I find out what happens to the money I give this year?

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.

How reliable are figures like "$X per life saved"? How important are these in your rankings?

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.

GiveWell used to publish a list of "other recommended organizations" in addition to its top charities. In 2011, these were called "standouts." Why don't I see these organizations now?

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."

What kind of evidence does GiveWell consider legitimate for establishing impact?

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:

Do you look at how much a charity spends on program expenses vs. overhead?

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."

I have an opportunity to have my gift "matched" if I give to another charity. Does this mean that donation would have double the impact? Could this be a better choice than giving to your top charities without a match?

We recommend against letting "donation matching" affect your choice of charity. More

Should I give now, or save my money and give later?

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

I have more questions. How can I get them answered?

Contact us.

You may also wish to visit our transparency policy, which lists and links to most of the different kinds of information we provide.