- Top charities
Here we discuss the details of how we found potentially relevant charities and invited them to apply for our grants.
The steps we took were as follows:
More detail follows, as well as a complete list of all charities that we contacted.
Covering all of the many problems that charities address would not be practical; any "one-size-fits-all" metrics we generated would leave too much out of the picture. Instead, we sought to focus in on a small set of causes, and expand if there is demand for our kind of analysis.
In choosing causes for our startup year, we began with the following principles, which are based largely on what kinds of charities we are most passionate about:
None of these principles is meant to imply that we disparage charity in other causes and regions. In fact, we hope eventually to research many causes that fall outside our initial criteria. These principles were chosen to make our startup year practical.
We used these principles, along with our own intuitions and passions, to generate a preliminary list of seven causes for our business plan, though we did not finalize our list of causes until later in the process (see below).
We used a combination of methods to find as many charities as possible that might possibly fit with the principles above, so we could contact them for more information.
We contacted GuideStar, which provides data on charities taken from the IRS Form 990 (a form all US-registered public charities must file annually). We purchased a set of 3502 records, using the following criteria (derived from our above principles):
Developing world charities:
We purchased a record for each charity that:
We purchased a record for each charity that:
Some of the above exclusions were made in back-and-forth negotiations with GuideStar, in an attempt to keep our volume down (due to both costs and time constraints).
The result was a set of 3502 records; for each charity, we had the name, location, mission statement, and list of accomplishments (from its IRS Form 990). We then went through this information and eliminated just over 2500 charities that clearly fell outside the criteria specified above (for example, organizations devoted exclusively to advocacy or research, or devoted exclusively to serving the disabled or elderly).
We also consulted several other sources for potential applicants:
After the above steps, we had a list of 1072 organizations (359 in international causes, 663 in US causes), but very little information about their activities. The IRS Form 990, which we used in most cases to get our information, requests a mission statement and list of accomplishments, but provides very little space to answer these questions, and in many cases an organization's answers do not make it clear whom it serves, what it does, or even where it operates. (This is one of the reasons we oppose attempts to rate charities using this form exclusively, as "charity watchdogs" and magazine rankings of charities generally do.)
The Form 990 rarely provides an email address or website, but it reliably provides address information, so we sent a letter to each of the 1072 organizations, briefly explaining our mission and our plan to award grants and requesting that the organization fill out a brief online survey to give us more information about its activities (as well as a contact email address). The letter we sent is reproduced here:
The survey we pointed these organizations to aimed to collect basic information about what activities they conduct, where they conduct them, and whom they serve. The survey is reproduced here:
We contacted some organizations by phone in addition to the letter (generally organizations we considered "big names," had had recommended to us, or otherwise wanted to make sure we considered). A full summary of which organizations we contacted is available below.
310 charities completed our survey (123 in international causes, 187 in US-focused causes).
We reviewed the survey data of our 310 registrants, with the aim of creating a list of causes that would:
We held a board meeting on June 22 to discuss our options and finalize our list of five causes. Full details on that meeting - including all the materials we reviewed at the meeting, minutes from the meeting, and a full audio recording of the meeting - are available here.
We settled on the following five causes:
Not all organizations that registered with us fell within one of our five causes; some were outside our geographical focus (for example, working in New York State but not New York City), and others did activities that we had originally considered including, but fell outside the scope we settled on in our Board meeting.
Those that did not qualify were notified by email. Those that did qualify were sent an email containing the following documents:
Our emails were sent on July 5, announcing a due date of August 3. We requested that charities notify us of whether they planned to apply.
During the following weeks, we followed up with unresponsive charities by email or phone, and also contacted a few more charities that we had overlooked in our initial mailout (this table gives the details of which organizations were contacted using which methods). Some charities requested time extensions for Round 1; all of these requests were granted without exception and without negotiation.
Ultimately, 134 charities applied (some in more than one cause - details below). It was at this point that we had a substantive set of information about charities' activities and outcomes (as opposed to basic information from surveys and tax forms), so it was at this point that we began to evaluate them substantively. The details of how we narrowed the field from Round 1 applicants to finalists, and then from finalists to recommended organizations, are available separately for each cause (see the links above). The complete list of contacted charities is in available here.