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What was your process for finding the Top Charities?
We considered hundreds of charities, systematically identified
the most promising ones by our criteria
, and did in-depth investigations (and published reviews) on the promising ones. For more detail, see our process
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?
We list all charities that we have considered
, and this may include a review on the charity you're interested in. However, 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. So the content on any given non-recommended charity may be limited, aside from outlining why we didn't find the charity promising enough to investigate in depth.
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
How did you decide on the rankings (#1 vs. #2 vs. #3) of your three top charities?
We considered multiple factors, including strength of evidence, estimated cost-effectiveness (which charity can accomplish the most good per dollar spent) and our confidence in the organization as an organization. More at our blog post on this topic
Are the top charities tax-deductible where I live?
Donations to GiveWell are tax-deductible in the U.S., and we are able to take donations for the support of any of our top charities. 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 (most notably Australia) but none of our top-rated charities are tax-deductible. (The Against Malaria Foundation is pursuing tax deductible status in Australia, but we are unsure whether, or when, they might be able to obtain it.) In some countries (but not, as far as we know, Australia), 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 use make direct grants to support these organizations).
Questions about AMF and its program: distributing bednets to prevent malaria:
Is there really a need for more bednets?
We believe that there is a very large need for more bednets to cover at-risk populations. Details at our writeup on net distribution
Do people use the free bednets they get?
While this is one of our remaining concerns
, we believe the best available evidence suggests that most people do use the bednets they receive. Multiple studies associate nets with cost-effective reductions in malaria burden and child deaths; these studies generally saw usage rates in the 60-80% range; and the best available evidence suggests that usage rates of 60-80% are common. Details at our writeup on net distribution
Do nets become less effective over time as mosquitoes adapt to them by evolving resistance to insecticide or changing their behavior?
We see the possibility of resistance as a concern, but there is strong evidence that nets reduce malaria and save lives and only preliminary/suggestive/mixed evidence that insecticide resistance may reduce their impact.
For more information, see our blog post about insecticide resistance and malaria control
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. 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.
GiveDirectly has been operating for just over a year. Is this long enough to establish a track record?
We believe that there are advantages, as well as disadvantages, to supporting organizations that are earlier in their development. Younger organizations are riskier in a sense, but also carry higher "upside": contributing to their development may magnify the impact of your donation. (We have discussed similar issues in the past, as for example in our 2009 discussion of VillageReach
We do not recommend organizations with no
track record to the individual donors we serve, because we believe that most of the information needed to evaluate such organizations can't be easily shared with and processed by such donors (more
). However, we believe that GiveDirectly has a sufficient documented track record to establish that its basic model is workable, and has worked, in the field, and we find its plans for scaling up realistic. Therefore, we believe that it represents a "good bet" (though not a "sure thing") for donors, and recommending it is consistent with our philosophy of recommending "good bet" rather than exclusively "sure thing" donations
Questions about SCI and its program: deworming children
What are the benefits of deworming?
Treating children for parasitic infections (deworming) is extremely inexpensive (~$0.50 per person treated, including all costs), and there is evidence linking it with substantial developmental benefits (people dewormed in childhood may attend school more and earn more later in life); the evidence is not as strong as for insecticide-treated nets but is still far above what we've seen for most charitable interventions. Evidence regarding shorter-term health benefits is mixed. More details at our full report on deworming
How does the cost-effectiveness of malaria nets compare to deworming and to a cash transfer?
We believe that bednet distribution is the most cost-effective of the three interventions conducted by our top-recommended organizations, though we find these assessments to be complex and think that reasonable people could disagree.
Generally speaking, cost-effectiveness estimates depend on cost, short- and long-term benefits, and the weights placed on different outcomes. For instance, deworming is extremely cheap ($.50 per person treated), with apparently limited short-term benefits, but the possibility of causing a significant increase in income later in life. Bednets, by comparison, are somewhat more expensive, at ~$1.25 per person covered per year, but have a well-established effect on mortality amongst children under 5, and also avert other cases of malaria. Comparing the cost-effectiveness of deworming and bednet distributions requires a mechanism for comparing between the value of saving a life (bednets) and increasing income later in life (deworming).
We discuss this issue in more depth at our intervention reports for bednets
, and cash transfers
, but at the highest level:
- We estimate that bednet distributions save one child's life for approximately every $2,300 spent, with many additional non-fatal cases of malaria averted. We would guess that the future income effects of bednets are comparable to the effects of deworming, but evidence is more sparse for the long-term developmental effects of bednets.
- The estimated cost-effectiveness of deworming, in terms of the value of future income for people dewormed as children, depends centrally on the weight put on two studies showing large effects; taken at face value, those studies imply that deworming increases a subset of the population's future income by about 25%.
- The cost-effectiveness of cash transfers depends on both the estimated return on investment available to beneficiares and, to a lesser extent, on a personal judgment about the humanitarian benefit yielded by cash's short-term impact on recipients' quality of life (e.g., improved housing, better food).
For our part, we would guess that LLIN distribution is the most cost-effective intervention. It may have similar long-term benefits to deworming, in addition to better-established immediate health benefits including saving the lives of children, but is substantially more expensive on a per-person-per-year basis. Different people's opinions of which is more cost-effective may vary due to differing opinions regarding (a) how much credence to place in the limited studies showing developmental effects; (b) how to adjust the studies' results for possible unrepresentativeness (e.g., unusually high rates of infections in study areas); (c) how much value to assign to children's lives saved compared to developmental effects.
We plan to publish more extensive write-ups on this issue and the spreadsheets showing these calculations shortly.
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 U.S. charities in the past and may do so again in the future. See our recommendations for donors interested in focusing on the U.S.
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.
- Donors who are more concerned about this issue than we are may wish to support GiveDirectly, which distributes cash directly to very poor individuals, or the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), which treats 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.
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 (at least twice per year) on the charity's progress against its objectives and on its updated financial situation. In 2012, 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 "$2,300 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 as of November 2012, have 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
Why aren't there any animal welfare charities on your site?
None of our current staff consider animal welfare charities to be a more promising area than the areas we do focus on. This is necessarily a judgment call that reflects our personal values.
We may cover animal welfare charities at some point in the future, but are unlikely to do so soon. In the meantime, we publish critical questions you can ask animal welfare organizations
I have more questions. How can I get them answered?
You may also wish to visit our transparency policy
, which lists and links to most of the different kinds of information we provide.