About this page

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

What do they do?

charity: water (www.charitywater.org) is an organization focused on the mission of "bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries."1

We separate charity: water's activities into two categories:

  1. Activities it undertakes to raise awareness and increase funding for water projects, i.e., mobilizing and equipping supporters to start fundraising campaigns, give, or become more educated about the relevant issues.
  2. Activities it undertakes as a grantmaker to identify uniquely promising water projects and monitor the success of the projects it funds. These activities include its process for selecting implementing partners and their projects as well as its process for monitoring and evaluating results.

Our process

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:

  • What is charity: water's partner and project selection process? Does this process seem likely to identify outstanding projects?
  • Has charity: water funded outstanding projects in the past? What is charity: water's track record?

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.

Key questions

How does charity: water select partner organizations?

In particular, we sought evidence that charity: water's process seeks to identify uniquely capable partners:

  • who have a strong process for identifying and fixing potential problems;
  • who are implementing projects that are addressing the most pressing water problems;
  • and who are doing so as cost-effectively as possible.

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.

What is charity: water's track record?

In particular, we sought information on the current status of all of charity: water's projects:

  • Are wells still functioning?

  • Does the community use them?
  • Is the water clean?

We also sought information addressing the change in access to water that resulted from the projects charity: water funded.

  • How much closer is the new water source than the previous one?

  • Has the rate of waterborne disease declined?

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.

Conclusion

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.

Sources

  • 1.

    charity:water, "home."

  • 2.
    • GiveWell, "Notes from Phone Conversation with charity: water (April 13, 2012)."

    • GiveWell, "Notes from Phone Conversation with charity: water (July 17th, 2012)." Additional information in Appendix A.
  • 3.

    Email from charity:water, Nov. 16, 2012.

  • 4.
    • GiveWell, "Notes from Phone Conversation with charity: water (April 13, 2012)."
    • GiveWell, "Notes from Phone Conversation with charity: water (July 17th, 2012). Additional information in Appendix A."
  • 5.
    • Laiboni, 2012.

    • Boko, 2012.