Frequently Asked Questions

About GiveWell

What does GiveWell do?

GiveWell's mission is to find outstanding giving opportunities and publish the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give.

We recommend a list of top charities to donors. We also offer donors the option to give to our giving funds. GiveWell is focused on finding a small number of outstanding giving opportunities, not on reviewing as many organizations—or as many causes—as possible.

How does GiveWell support itself?

GiveWell is supported by donors who explicitly choose to direct funding to GiveWell’s operations (by giving to our unrestricted fund). We do not take a percentage of donations made to recommended organizations through GiveWell’s website, nor do we receive any fees from organizations for being featured on our site.

We generally use unrestricted funding for operating expenses (which includes staff salaries, travel expenses, website maintenance, and other routine operational costs). However, we have an "excess assets" policy, which provides that once we surpass a certain level of unrestricted assets, we earmark the excess for grantmaking rather than continuing to hold it ourselves. You can read more about our excess assets policy here.

To avoid relying too much on a single source of support, we cap the amount of funding any individual or entity may provide to our operations at 20 percent.

For details on our revenues and expenses, see our financial statements.

What types of donors use GiveWell's research?

GiveWell serves donors who want to accomplish as much good as possible with their donations. These donors rely on GiveWell's research to help them support outstanding organizations that have a significant impact on people's lives.

GiveWell does not serve donors who want to know whether a particular organization is legitimate or are interested in a charitable cause that isn't already on our research agenda.

Who can access GiveWell's research?

Everything we publish is available freely on our website.

GiveWell is committed to extreme transparency. We aim to publish all of the research we do, and we also publish:

In some cases, researchers or organizations share information with us on the condition that we keep it confidential, and we honor confidentiality in these cases.

What is GiveWell's impact? How is GiveWell's success evaluated?

Broadly, GiveWell's impact is a result of the following:

  1. How many donations we influence, directly or indirectly, with our research.
  2. How much value our research adds (i.e., how much more effective a donation is when informed by our research).
  3. The extent to which our work generates broader interest in maximizing impact and valuing transparency in giving decisions.

How many donations we influence is relatively straightforward to measure. We track donations to the organizations we recommend through a variety of methods, including the donation links on our site and by asking donors to submit a donation report when they give through another channel. We report the results on our impact page and in our annual metrics report.

Measuring how much value our research adds is more difficult, as assessing this requires determining what the organizations we recommend can be expected to accomplish, and how that compares to what other organizations accomplish. There is often a great deal of uncertainty in this comparison because most nonprofits do not conduct high-quality monitoring or have rigorous evidence about their programs.

Our role in generating broader interest in effective giving is the hardest to measure because the reasons for the spread of ideas are wide-ranging. Although we can track changes in interest, attributing them to our specific activities is difficult.

These metrics are complex and cannot be precisely quantified. However, we believe we can evaluate ourselves using a combination of empirical data, analysis, and judgment calls, and that we should do so as transparently as possible. We conduct internal reviews of our progress and actively solicit external assessments of the quality of our research.

GiveWell's research

What is GiveWell's research process?

Our focus is on finding the best giving opportunities for individual donors. To do this, we:

  1. Focus on areas that we feel offer donors outstanding opportunities to do good. We focus primarily on international aid and, in particular, global health (more on why we focus on these areas).
  2. Start by identifying promising programs, then identify organizations that effectively implement those progress.
  3. Conduct short, shallow reviews of a large number of programs, then prioritize programs that seem promising, focusing on strength of evidence, cost-effectiveness, and room for more funding.
  4. Conduct in-depth evaluations of implementing organizations we believe are strong contenders for funding, which may include interviews with staff, reviews of publicly available and internal documents about the organization's work and plans, and site visits.

For more details about this process, please see this page.

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

  • Reputation: GiveWell is respected by the media, scholars, nonprofit professionals, and donors. See what others are saying about GiveWell.
  • Transparency: We publish the full details of our research process, analysis, and reasoning so that our audience can come to its own conclusions. See more about our approach to transparency here.
  • Rigor: We research each program extensively before recommending it, and assess what the program will accomplish with additional funding. Our researchers spend over 50,000 hours each year investigating programs and building in-depth models to analyze their cost-effectiveness.
  • Impact: Donors have given more than two billion dollars to GiveWell's recommended organizations based on our research, which we estimate will save over 200,000 lives. More on GiveWell's impact here.

What criteria does GiveWell use for making grants?

We focus on:
  • Evidence of effectiveness. We seek out programs that have been studied rigorously and ideally repeatedly, and whose benefits we can reasonably expect to generalize to large populations, though there are limits to the generalizability of any study results. We also look at organization-specific data to compare the organization's real-world results with the results found in academic studies.
  • Cost-effectiveness. The core question we try to answer in our research is: How much good can you do by giving money to a certain program? Assessing cost-effectiveness generally involves looking at the cost per person reached, the overall burden of a problem, and the effect a program has. We've written in more detail about our approach here.
  • Room for more funding. When we consider directing funding to a program, we ask, "What will additional funds—beyond what an organization would raise without our recommendation—enable, and what is the value of these activities?" We've written in more detail about our approach here.
  • Transparency. We examine potential funding opportunities thoroughly and skeptically, and publish detailed reviews discussing strengths of these programs as well as concerns related to their work or room for more funding. Organizations must be open to our intensive investigation process. We also believe that good giving decisions require judgment calls, and we aim to put all of our reasoning out in the open where others can assess and critique it.

For more information about our grantmaking criteria, see this page. We also have additional criteria for the organizations that we designate as Top Charities.

Do you look at how much an organization spends on program expenses compared to its overhead costs when assessing its cost-effectiveness?

We do check this figure, but we do not place much emphasis on it. The core question we try to answer in our research is: How much good can you do by giving money to a certain program? Knowing the breakdown of costs within an organization's budget is only a small piece of answering that question. At a very high level, assessing cost-effectiveness generally involves looking at the cost per person reached, the overall burden of a problem, and the effect a program has on addressing the problem. We've written in more detail about our approach here.

How much does it cost to save someone's life?

GiveWell makes grants to fund some of the most cost-effective programs we’ve found at saving lives. Because the initial outputs of these grants are so inexpensive (for example, on average, it costs about $7 to distribute preventive malaria treatment to a child), many people are surprised at how expensive it can be to save a life, even for the most cost-effective programs. In 2022, our cost-effectiveness models for grants to our Top Charities estimated an average cost around $5,000, though the same program can vary widely in cost-effectiveness across locations. See this page for an example that illustrates the discrepancy in cost between the initial outputs and the cost to save a life.

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

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, describing the key parameters in our estimate and how we might be wrong. See here in our report on insecticide-treated nets for an example.

However, estimating the cost to save a life involves simplification, guesswork, and subjective judgment. As a result, our estimates are very uncertain. We analyze the cost-effectiveness of programs primarily because doing so helps us see large, clear differences in good accomplished per dollar spent and because working on the models helps us ensure that we are thinking through as many of the relevant issues as possible. For more on how we use cost-effectiveness estimates in our grantmaking, see this page.

GiveWell's giving recommendations

What are "Top Charities" and how have they been selected?

GiveWell makes recommendations for grants to a range of programs to improve global health and well-being. We identify the programs we have the highest confidence in as "Top Charities." In addition to meeting the criteria we use for all of our grantmaking, our Top Charities must meet additional criteria.

A program is only designated as a Top Charity after we've directed a significant amount of money to it and seen it operate effectively. We only designate a program as a Top Charity if we think there's a high likelihood of substantial direct impact from funding this program (as opposed to lower likelihood of enormous impact or where the primary value of the program is the information we learn).

We examine potential top charities thoroughly and skeptically, and publish thorough reviews discussing both strengths of these programs and our concerns (see this page for links to our Top Charity reviews). We also follow their progress over time and report on it publicly, including any negative developments. Organizations 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.

How can I support the organizations GiveWell recommends?

You can support the organizations GiveWell recommends by donating to GiveWell's Top Charities Fund or All Grants Fund. We offer these giving funds for donors with different preferences and strongly believe each of these options is a very impactful way to give.

If you want to give to the programs we have the highest confidence in, we recommend giving to the Top Charities Fund. The Top Charities Fund is allocated to the highest-priority funding gaps among our Top Charities only. Because it’s more restricted, the Top Charities Fund may go to opportunities with lower expected value than the All Grants Fund.

Our All Grants Fund is our top recommendation for donors who have a high level of trust in GiveWell and are open to programs that might be riskier than Top Charities. It allows donors to contribute to the most impactful grant opportunities we’ve identified, regardless of program or location. When you give to the All Grants Fund, your donation might go to support research or scoping opportunities rather than straightforward delivery of programs. For more information about the types of grants the fund supports, see here.

You can also donate to our Top Charities directly through our donation portal (we take no fees) or through the organizations' own websites.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of GiveWell’s approach?

Advantages of GiveWell's approach

Our research attempts to draw a clear 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."

Our researchers spend over 50,000 hours each year carefully reviewing programs and recommend programs that are highly cost-effective. Our recommendations represent the best opportunities we're aware of to help low-income people with relatively high confidence and relatively short time horizons.

Due to the emphasis on thorough vetting, transparency, and follow-up, our recommendations represent excellent learning opportunities. Supporting our recommendations helps GiveWell demonstrate impact and improves our ability to learn, and we are dedicated to sharing what we learn publicly.

Disadvantages of GiveWell's approach

We have strict criteria for the organizations we recommend. These criteria help others have high confidence in our recommendations and ensure that the programs we recommend are highly impactful. However, seeking strong evidence and a straightforward, documented case for impact can be in tension with maximizing impact, as argued in this post by Open Philanthropy. (Open Philanthropy was incubated at GiveWell and looks for giving opportunities that can be longer term, harder to assess, and harder to explain. It does not have official recommendations for individual donors.) As a result, we think there may be many giving opportunities that are better than our recommendations but that don't meet our criteria and/or are not known to us.

In addition, even though our recommendations are backed by strong evidence, we have open questions and reservations about all of our recommendations, and we describe those on each of our grant pages.

Why does GiveWell recommend so few programs?

We recommend few organizations by design, because we see ourselves as a "finder of great giving opportunities" rather than a "nonprofit evaluator." In other words, we're not seeking to classify large numbers of organizations as "good" or "bad." Our mission is to identify, and thoroughly investigate, the best giving opportunities.

The organizations we don't recommend may be doing great work, and our lack of recommendation shouldn't be taken as evidence to the contrary. However, we direct funding to the programs we believe best fit our criteria.

Thoroughly investigating even a small number of programs is a great deal of work. We look at independent studies, such as randomized controlled trials, of programs to understand if they achieve their goals. We consult experts to gain practical and context-specific insights. We then build in-depth models to analyze programs’ cost-effectiveness, refining them throughout our evaluation process, based on budgets and monitoring data, to estimate impact per dollar spent. We conduct extensive interviews with staff from potential grantee organizations and may visit them to see their work in action.

All this takes a lot of time: our researchers spend more than 50,000 hours each year looking for high-impact and cost-effective opportunities. Thus, in order to confidently stand behind our recommendations, we need to focus our resources on the most promising candidates.

What does GiveWell think about organizations that it hasn't directed funding to?

We believe that many organizations do great work but don't meet our criteria or work on issues outside the scope of our research, which focuses on global health and well-being. The organizations we don't recommend may be doing great work, and our lack of recommendation shouldn't be taken as evidence to the contrary.

GiveWell's evaluation process is highly intensive and can be a major cost for a nonprofit. Should I be concerned that this requirement filters out excellent organizations?

We recognize that this is a potential issue and that we may not direct funding to all excellent programs. With that said,

  • Given the large amounts of money that are driven by our recommendations, we believe that organizations have strong incentives to engage in our process. We also make substantial efforts to give organizations a sense of what they will need to provide in order to receive a grant (see our guide to applying for funding).
  • We also proactively reach out to promising organizations to encourage them to apply and to discuss our process with them.

Does GiveWell’s list of Top Charities change? When is it updated?

We work on an annual cycle, and our goal is to offer giving recommendations by December, when the majority of giving occurs. Every year, we revisit our current Top Charities to assess whether they should remain on our list, taking into account factors such as updated room for more funding. We also aim to consider new organizations for inclusion, based on these additional criteria.

How is GiveWell different from other nonprofit evaluators?

Many nonprofit evaluators aim to assign an objective rating to many different organizations. This requires relying on less detailed information about an organization and its activities. These services may be helpful to donors who are trying to determine whether a particular organization is legitimate.

GiveWell aims to serve donors who seek a recommendation about where to give. GiveWell does thorough, in-depth research on a small number of programs so that we can recommend the most outstanding giving opportunities.

What are GiveWell’s past recommendations?

How do you decide how much funding an organization can effectively use?

When we consider recommending funding, we don’t just want to know whether a program has generally been cost-effective in the past—we want to know how additional funding would be used. In other words, we look at a program's "room for more funding."

We narrow in on specific funding opportunities. Rather than asking whether it is cost-effective to deliver insecticide-treated nets in general, we ask more specific questions, such as whether it is cost-effective to fund net distributions in 2023 in the Nigerian states of Benue, Plateau, and Zamfara, given the local burden of malaria and the costs of delivering nets in those states.

When we make or recommend grants, we estimate the cost-effectiveness of a program in a specific location. Generally, if we estimate that the program in that location is above our cost-effectiveness bar, we recommend a grant. Our approach focuses on finding cost-effective funding gaps, so you can trust that when you give to our Top Charities Fund or All Grants Fund, your donation will go to the most pressing, cost-effective funding gaps we're aware of at the time.

For more on our approach to grantmaking, see this series of posts on our blog.

GiveWell's cause areas

To what kind of organizations does GiveWell direct funding and why do most work on international aid?

GiveWell aims to find and fund programs that have the greatest impact on global well-being. Our research is focused on global health and development programs, as we believe this is an area in which donations can be especially cost-effective. People living in the poorest parts of the world often lack basic, cheap things that could help them a great deal. For example, they may suffer from diseases that could be treated or prevented relatively straightforwardly, if the funding were available.

Much of our funding goes to health programs, especially programs that reduce deaths from infectious diseases among young children living in low- and middle-income countries. We’ve found donations to such programs can make a particularly large impact; babies and young children are much more susceptible to infectious disease than adults, and diseases like malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia can be prevented fairly cheaply. The evidence for health programs is often strong relative to other areas, and it’s more likely to generalize from one context to another.

While the majority of our funding goes to programs that support child health, that isn’t our exclusive focus. For example, we also consider programs that aim to improve household income or consumption, such as One Acre Fund’s tree program and Bridges to Prosperity. In addition, many of the child health programs we support may also have other benefits, like reducing medical costs, increasing later-in-life income, or improving adult health.

For more information about what we fund, see this blog post.

What advice does GiveWell have for donors interested in cause areas outside global health and well-being?

GiveWell aims to find and fund programs that have the greatest impact on global well-being. We’re open to funding whichever global health and development opportunities seem most cost-effective. We have not prioritized research into organizations focused on other cause areas, in part because of limited capacity and in part because we feel that donating to health programs in low- and middle-income countries is where an individual donor can accomplish significant good per dollar given.

I'm considering a donation to a particular organization. What is GiveWell's view of this organization?

People sometimes think of GiveWell as recommending entire programs or organizations. This was more accurate in GiveWell’s early days, but now we tend to narrow in on specific opportunities.

Our process generally begins by identifying promising programs. Once we have found programs that appear cost-effective, we then identify organizations that effectively implement those programs and investigate specific funding opportunities. This is because the same program can vary widely in cost-effectiveness across locations.

As a result, most of our published research describes either specific programs (see our program reviews) or specific funding opportunities we've recommended (see the grants we've recommended) rather than organizations as a whole.

Questions about Donations to GiveWell and the Organizations We Recommend

Where can I find answers to commonly asked questions about donating to GiveWell and the organizations it recommends?

Answers to commonly asked questions about donating to GiveWell and the organizations it recommends can be found here.

Getting Involved

How can I get involved and help GiveWell?

The best ways to help GiveWell are to:

A note on volunteering: we do not offer volunteer opportunities except in rare cases of exceptional fit with a volunteer's qualifications (particularly if the volunteer has technical expertise, legal expertise, or marketing ability).

How can I apply for a job at GiveWell?

Please see our jobs page.

How can my organization apply to receive funding from GiveWell?

Please review our page with application instructions.

Can individuals apply for financial support from GiveWell?

Unfortunately, we do not provide funds to individuals seeking support. Our focus is on identifying opportunities to fund nonprofit organizations that meet our criteria.

As a rule, we focus on supporting organizations, rather than individual requests, as we think organizations are best positioned to allocate resources in the communities in which they work and we do not feel we are well positioned to assess individual requests for support.

Can I discuss GiveWell's research with a GiveWell staff member?

Please fill out this form if you'd like to arrange a phone call with a GiveWell staff member to discuss our research. We also host regular public research events to discuss our recommendations and answer questions; please email info@givewell.org if you'd like to be notified about these. For media inquiries, please email media@givewell.org.

Is the email I received "from GiveWell" spam?

We have experienced several cases of others pretending to represent GiveWell, typically in the form of illegitimate job offers or donations to individuals appearing to be from GiveWell. If you are uncertain that a contact is real, please email us at info@givewell.org. For more information, please see this page.