- Top charities
GiveWell aims to find the best giving opportunities we can and recommend them to donors (why we recommend so few charities). We tend to put a lot of investigation into the organizations we find most promising, and de-prioritize others based on limited information. When we decide not to prioritize an organization, we try to create a brief writeup of our thoughts on that charity because we want to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning.
The following write-up should be viewed in this context: it explains why we determined that (for the time being), we won't be prioritizing the organization in question as a potential top charity. This write-up should not be taken as a "negative rating" of the charity. Rather, it is our attempt to be as clear as possible about the process by which we came to our top recommendations.
Published: December 2012
We separate charity: water's activities into two categories:
We spoke with charity: water representatives (including founder Scott Harrison) twice2 and reviewed documents charity: water sent us in response to our questions.
We have focused our evaluation on charity: water's program activities rather than on its fundraising activities - i.e., on the questions, "What water programs would charity: water fund with additional funding and how does the good that these would accomplish compare to other organizations a donor could support (in any cause)? How would this compare to giving directly to charity: water's partners (many of whom are large, well-know charities working on the cause of water)?"
In our analysis, we've focused on the following key questions:
We chose to focus on these two questions in order to address charity: water's relative performance, compared with other water organizations. We have separately examined the evidence for water interventions as a cause.
In particular, we sought evidence that charity: water's process seeks to identify uniquely capable partners:
Note that these are our criteria. charity:water stated to us that it "also seeks partners who have the capacity to scale their impact in the areas they work; and who have the systems and controls in place to steward, report, and monitor the use of grant funds with integrity and transparency."3
Based on our conversations and documents we reviewed, we feel that we have a general understanding of charity: water's process for selecting partners.4 It appears to us that charity:water focuses on ensuring that projects are legitimate (e.g., avoiding fraud, ensuring that grant funds were spent as approved to construct the water projects listed by charity:water) rather than attempting to assess and compare the potential for impact across different projects.
In particular, we sought information on the current status of all of charity: water's projects:
We also sought information addressing the change in access to water that resulted from the projects charity: water funded.
We have limited information and aren't able to confidently answer this question. charity: water shared several evaluations of individual projects with us.5 We generally found these evaluations to be higher-than-average quality (relative to evaluations other charities have sent us) as they frankly discussed significant problems with the projects in question. This is something that we have rarely seen from charities we've considered and, in our view, is a positive sign about an organization's commitment to identifying and solving problems. However, we feel that the evaluations we have seen do not sufficiently address the questions above, nor do they allow us to generate an accurate estimate of the results of charity: water's past activities in terms of humanitarian outcomes, such as decreased time spent transporting water or reduced disease burden. Accordingly, we are uncertain about the expected future returns to charity: water's work.
We have deprioritized further research on charity: water because we do not believe we will be able to answer our key questions with the confidence that would be required in order for us to make a recommendation. We believe charity: water stands out from other organizations we have considered in some respects (such as conducting evaluations that include frank discussions of problems), but we remain uncertain about the humanitarian impact of their work and the relative effectiveness of their partner selection process.
Email from charity:water, Nov. 16, 2012.