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GiveWell’s plans for 2020

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 07:10

Each spring, we share our plans for the year. Here, we highlight the work we plan to do in 2020 that is most likely to help us realize our mission of identifying and directing funding to highly cost-effective giving opportunities.1This post does not include a complete accounting of everything we plan to do in 2020. In particular, it does not include work aimed at primarily internal-facing results, such as improvements to internal staff communications. jQuery("#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1").tooltip({ tip: "#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1", tipClass: "footnote_tooltip", effect: "fade", fadeOutSpeed: 100, predelay: 400, position: "top right", relative: true, offset: [10, 10] }); We focus on three projects:

  1. Expanding into new areas of research.
  2. Searching for new, cost-effective funding opportunities in our traditional research areas.
  3. Building our donor community.

Sharing our annual plans and publicly reflecting back on them a year later is our typical practice. This year, of course, is atypical. The plans we laid out internally at the beginning of the year have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The plans we share in this post take the pandemic into account, but we are more uncertain than usual about what will happen in 2020. We expect that much of our work will go forward as anticipated, but we will be flexible if there are unforeseen disruptions or changes to our research agenda that result from the pandemic.

Expanding into new areas of research

Grants in response to the pandemic

We have already expanded into a new area of work in 2020: grantmaking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t typically focus on high-uncertainty, short-timeline reviews of funding opportunities. However, we think that we should be open to making grants in a lower-information environment due to the potentially severe consequences of the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries, where we focus our work, and that acting sooner may be more impactful in preventing the spread of the disease. As of the publication of this post, we’ve made three grants for COVID-19 mitigation.

We plan to consider whether there are additional grants we should make in response to the pandemic. We will make these grants if we believe they are more cost-effective than the opportunities to which we would otherwise direct funds.

Prioritizing within public health regulation

We began this year with the goal of clarifying which areas were most promising within public health regulation, a relatively new-to-GiveWell domain that we see as potentially highly cost-effective but that we made limited progress in assessing last year.

We made a lot of headway on this work in the early months of 2020. We conducted research that led us to prioritize alcohol policy and pesticide suicide prevention and to deprioritize additional work on other areas such as air pollution, tobacco, and road safety. Shortly before the pandemic intensified, we also began an investigation into a potential alcohol policy grant we might make. We were delayed in completing our investigation of the alcohol grant because the potential grantee shifted its focus to COVID-19 response.

We have paused work on public health regulation for now, outside of an investigation into a potential grant renewal for the 2017 GiveWell Incubation Grant recipient Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention. We plan to do more work on public health regulation in the coming months or after 2020, depending on our capacity for work outside of assessing opportunities in response to COVID-19. When we return to public health regulation, we plan to complete our investigation into the alcohol policy grant mentioned above. At that point, we plan to reflect on what we’ve learned to date about public health regulation before deciding whether to do additional work in this area.

Searching for new, cost-effective funding opportunities in our traditional research areas

We continue to assess evidence-backed global health and poverty alleviation programs that may meet our traditional criteria. We significantly expanded our research team in 2019 and expect to make great progress in vetting new evidence and moving programs through our review process in 2020.

Our research process operates as a funnel: we start by conducting shallow reviews of a large number of programs, followed by in-depth reviews of the most promising. This year, we’re planning to assess a large number of programs at various stages of the funnel. Here, we highlight a few that we’re particularly excited about:

  • New Incentives. We recently received preliminary results from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of New Incentives‘ work. New Incentives provides cash incentives for caregivers in North West Nigeria who take their babies to a health clinic to receive routine immunizations. New Incentives is a GiveWell Incubation Grant recipient and the study of its work, which was funded by another GiveWell Incubation Grant, is the first RCT into which GiveWell has had significant input. This year, we expect to complete our review of the RCT results and to make a decision about whether to direct additional funding to support New Incentives’ work.
  • Evidence Action programs. We plan to complete additional research on two programs run by Evidence Action: GiveWell standout charity Dispensers for Safe Water and a maternal syphilis screening and treatment program.

We hope to conduct in-depth reviews of one to two other charities (most likely Precision Agriculture for Development and/or Sanku, though possibly others) as well, but may have limited capacity to do so due to COVID-19-responsive work.

Building the GiveWell donor community

We aim to grow the GiveWell donor community in 2020.

Our marketing team plans to reach new donors through advertising campaigns, including additional advertising on podcasts. The marketing team also plans to conduct and support research to inform updates to our website that may improve how we present information. For example, the team is examining how users engage with our website and where they may become confused or misinterpret our work, so that we can make improvements to those areas.

We’re hiring!

We have ambitious plans this year and are looking to hire staff to help us achieve our goals. If you think the plans above sound exciting, we encourage you to consider whether working at GiveWell would be a good fit for you. Many of our successful hires in the past have come through the community of people who engage with our work. You can read about the roles we’re hiring for here. Staff may work remotely and we accommodate flexible work schedules, including flexible hours. Additional details are in each job description.

We hope you’ll consider joining the team and sharing this with others who might like to. Thank you!

Notes   [ + ]

1. ↑ This post does not include a complete accounting of everything we plan to do in 2020. In particular, it does not include work aimed at primarily internal-facing results, such as improvements to internal staff communications. function footnote_expand_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").show(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("-"); } function footnote_collapse_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").hide(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("+"); } function footnote_expand_collapse_reference_container() { if (jQuery("#footnote_references_container").is(":hidden")) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); } else { footnote_collapse_reference_container(); } } function footnote_moveToAnchor(p_str_TargetID) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); var l_obj_Target = jQuery("#" + p_str_TargetID); if(l_obj_Target.length) { jQuery('html, body').animate({ scrollTop: l_obj_Target.offset().top - window.innerHeight/2 }, 1000); } }

The post GiveWell’s plans for 2020 appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

Reflecting on our progress in 2019

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 12:54

GiveWell grew significantly in 2019. We hired 13 full-time staff members, bringing our total size to 37, and expanded our ability to take on new projects across domains. We feel positioned to do more and better work going forward as a result.

We see a strong indication that the amount of funding we directed to our recommended charities increased last year, too. While we haven’t reconciled all giving from 2019, the value of donations we processed increased by about 30% in 2019.

We’re proud of what we accomplished in 2019. We also fell short of some goals last year. Most notably, we failed to make as much progress as we planned in researching new areas of global health and poverty alleviation.

This blog post provides a brief look at our key successes and failures last year. A more detailed accounting of how our progress in 2019 compared to the goals we set is available on this page.

Successes

Hiring new staff

Years of planning for our needs and recruiting efforts culminated in hiring 13 new staff to join our small team in 2019. GiveWell ended last year over 50% bigger than it was at the end of 2018.

We hired across the domains of our work: seven joined the research team, two joined the outreach team, three joined the operations team, and one will serve as Managing Director. We expect each staff member will enable us to accomplish more and achieve better outcomes across these key areas of our work. Below, we highlight a few senior hires whom we expect to help steer the direction of our work.

  • Managing Director. We hired Neil Buddy Shah as our first Managing Director in late 2019. Buddy will work closely with GiveWell’s CEO Elie Hassenfeld to set GiveWell’s high-level strategy. He will also engage with the international development community to learn from and contribute to discussions of how to do as much good as possible and to identify promising funding opportunities. We expect Buddy to start at GiveWell this summer.
  • Research. We’ve been looking to hire senior researchers to expand our ability to assess new types of evidence since 2016. We described in early 2019 how our research is evolving and how we hoped to hire additional experienced researchers to enable us to do this work. We hired Alex Cohen and Teryn Mattox as Senior Fellows in 2019.
  • Outreach. We’ve gradually been expanding our outreach work since 2017. In 2019, Steph Stojanovic and Jim Bobowski joined GiveWell as a Major Gifts Officer and VP of Marketing, respectively, and will lead our future work on donor retention and acquisition.
  • Operations. Our Director of Operations, Whitney Shinkle, who joined GiveWell in 2018, built out her team by bringing on three new staff members in 2019.

GiveWell’s expansion enables us to improve in each area of our work. For example, we hope to make progress this year on evaluating new research areas as well as looking for new, cost-effective room for more funding in the areas in which we’ve traditionally worked. We also expect to increase the amount of money we direct to our recommended charities with our expanded outreach team.

Increasing the amount of funding we direct to recommended charities

We see an early indication that we directed more money to our recommended charities in 2019 than we did the previous year: the value of donations we processed in 2019 grew by around 30%.

Directing funding to our recommended charities is one of the main metrics to which we hold ourselves accountable. We aim to grow the amount of money we move to our top charities each year.

The “donations we processed” figure doesn’t account for the donations that were made through our partner organizations and directly to our recommended charities, but we think it’s a good sign of our continued influence last year. We’ll share the final figure later this year, once we have more information.

Shortcomings

Making progress in understanding new areas of research

In May 2019, we wrote that we planned to make progress on exploring new areas of research in 2019. In particular, we planned to focus on public health regulation and ways to support government aid agencies.1“We plan to look into several new areas in 2019, including public health regulation and possible paths to support government aid agencies…. We also plan to continue our investigation into possible paths to support government aid agencies; in particular, we plan to complete an investigation into an opportunity to do so in the area of results-based financing.” GiveWell blog, GiveWell’s plans for 2019, May 16, 2019 jQuery("#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1").tooltip({ tip: "#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1", tipClass: "footnote_tooltip", effect: "fade", fadeOutSpeed: 100, predelay: 400, position: "top right", relative: true, offset: [10, 10] }); Due to shifting responsibilities among the research team, we did not make progress in this area last year.

We had planned for a single staff member to focus on this work. As this person’s responsibilities evolved throughout the year, they were unable to dedicate significant time to this project. This led us to deprioritize making progress in this area.

Conclusion

The above highlights don’t tell the full story of what we achieved—we had a busy year! Listing everything we worked on in 2019 would lead to a very long post. But, to briefly share a few other interesting projects (this list is non-exhaustive):

  • We published research on moral weights. This was the culmination of over two years of research and will inform and improve our ability to make difficult tradeoffs in our funding decisions going forward.
  • We recommended a $1 million Incubation Grant to support the work of Fortify Health on whole wheat flour iron fortification in India. We believe Fortify Health, a young organization, may one day become a GiveWell top charity.
  • Four staff members visited Malaria Consortium, our current top recommendation for donors, to deepen our understanding of its seasonal malaria chemoprevention work in Burkina Faso.

We’re proud of what we accomplished last year and look forward to sharing our plans for 2020 in a forthcoming post. Additional details on our 2019 goals and progress are available here.

Notes   [ + ]

1. ↑ “We plan to look into several new areas in 2019, including public health regulation and possible paths to support government aid agencies…. We also plan to continue our investigation into possible paths to support government aid agencies; in particular, we plan to complete an investigation into an opportunity to do so in the area of results-based financing.” GiveWell blog, GiveWell’s plans for 2019, May 16, 2019 function footnote_expand_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").show(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("-"); } function footnote_collapse_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").hide(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("+"); } function footnote_expand_collapse_reference_container() { if (jQuery("#footnote_references_container").is(":hidden")) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); } else { footnote_collapse_reference_container(); } } function footnote_moveToAnchor(p_str_TargetID) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); var l_obj_Target = jQuery("#" + p_str_TargetID); if(l_obj_Target.length) { jQuery('html, body').animate({ scrollTop: l_obj_Target.offset().top - window.innerHeight/2 }, 1000); } }

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Why ongoing assessment of top charities leads to more impact: HKI’s vitamin A supplementation program

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 08:01

Charities must meet rigorous requirements to make our list of top charities. However, a common misconception about our work is that our assessment process ends with the naming of a top charity. Not so! We continually examine our top charities—in fact, four staff members are devoted to ongoing assessment of our top charities. We collect information to update our assessment of our top charities’ track records and to evaluate the effectiveness of their spending plans.

Continuous assessment is critical because we direct donations to our top charities on an ongoing basis. Donors can make a gift anytime throughout the year, and we want to ensure their support is directed to the charity or charities that will best use it. We formally assess where funds can be best used each quarter when we allocate “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” (discretionary funds).

We allocate discretionary funds based on our understanding of charities’ spending plans and their estimated cost-effectiveness. This is heavily informed by our understanding of the cost-effectiveness of the charities’ past work and track record to date. Although our understanding of charities’ spending plans is a key part of our allocation decision, we don’t restrict discretionary funds to a particular purpose within the program we recommend. Organizations may reallocate GiveWell-directed funding as new information becomes available.

This post will highlight how this combination of continual assessment and flexible funding leads to positive outcomes by sharing the recent example of our work with Helen Keller International (HKI)’s vitamin A supplementation (VAS) program, one of GiveWell’s top charities.

HKI’s vitamin A supplementation program

In late 2019, we allocated discretionary funding from GiveWell donors to HKI to support VAS campaigns in Bauchi State, Nigeria, from 2020 to 2022. VAS campaigns target preschool-aged children and are most impactful in areas with high rates of vitamin A deficiency. The World Health Organization recommends that children in these areas receive vitamin A supplements two to three times per year.[1] We recommend HKI’s VAS program because we believe that VAS reduces children’s mortality from infectious disease.[2]

HKI told us in July 2019 that VAS campaigns were ongoing in Bauchi State but that a 2018 government survey found very low coverage rates there. At the time of the survey, only 30% of individuals targeted for VAS in Bauchi State received it. HKI proposed to help government-run VAS campaigns in Bauchi State achieve higher coverage rates.[3]

HKI had a strong track record of impact and we estimated that its work in Bauchi State would be highly cost-effective. We decided to grant discretionary funds to HKI’s VAS program. Although we expected $2.4 million of GiveWell-directed funding to be used in Bauchi State, we did not formally restrict HKI to spending it there.[4]

Before it began GiveWell-supported work in Bauchi State, we asked HKI to conduct a baseline survey to measure coverage achieved by a November VAS campaign.[5] Our goal was to have a benchmark against which to assess the difference in VAS coverage due to HKI’s assistance in 2020 to 2022. This would help us assess HKI’s track record in the future.

HKI conducted the survey in December and found a surprisingly high coverage rate of 86 percent. It learned that another organization, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), had supported the November campaign in Bauchi State. We don’t know for sure, but CRS’ support may have led to the much higher coverage rate. HKI was not aware of CRS’ support prior to the survey.[6]

Whether due to CRS or not, if the same conditions that led Bauchi State to have high coverage in December continue going forward, the value of HKI assisting VAS campaigns there is much lower than HKI and we originally estimated.[7]

HKI proposed to redirect the funding that it would have otherwise spent in Bauchi State to another state in Nigeria, Nasarawa State, believed to have low VAS coverage—and to conduct a survey before working there, as well.[8]

Conclusion

Without the Bauchi State coverage survey leading to a change in course, GiveWell donors’ support may have had little impact. It seems plausible that Bauchi State may not have needed more funding, as it already had a high VAS coverage rate.

This experience illustrates how we assess whether our top charities are using additional funds well and how we support them in doing so. Our request for a baseline survey in Bauchi State to inform our assessment of HKI’s track record showed us and HKI that the funds would not be spent as effectively as expected and enabled HKI to redirect those funds to have more impact. We make similar requests of all eight of our top charities.

The post Why ongoing assessment of top charities leads to more impact: HKI’s vitamin A supplementation program appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

GiveWell donors supported more than direct delivery: AMF and new net research

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 08:02

Supporters of the Against Malaria Foundation in recent years may have had even more impact than they expected.

The Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) is a GiveWell top charity because we believe its program to distribute insecticide-treated nets prevents people from dying of malaria. AMF-supported net distributions are incredibly cost-effective; we estimate that a $2,000-3,000 donation averts one death.[1] AMF’s work is important in and of itself to fund.

Not all AMF donations, however, just support typical net distributions. In recent years, AMF supported research on a new type of insecticide-treated net, the piperonyl butoxide (PBO) net. This research itself (i.e., researcher time, equipment, and administrative costs) was funded by a small number of AMF donors who explicitly agreed to support it. The research was conducted on nets that were contributed by a broad group of AMF donors.

Preliminary data suggest that PBO nets are more effective at preventing malaria than standard insecticide-treated nets in areas where mosquitoes have developed insecticide resistance. We think it is likely that AMF sped up the completion of a large-scale, high-quality study of these new nets.

We’re thrilled to recommend charities that contribute research in the fields in which they operate. AMF doesn’t just prevent deaths from malaria by distributing nets—it has improved our and others’ understanding of which nets can work best in the future. This post is to share this story with our donors, whose contributions make this work possible.

Summary

In this post, we’ll discuss:

  • Insecticide resistance and the potential of PBO nets. (More)
  • AMF’s role in PBO net research. (More)

What is insecticide resistance? How could PBO nets help?

AMF distributes insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria. These nets, which are typically hung over sleeping spaces, block mosquitoes from biting. They’re also treated with insecticide to repel and kill mosquitoes.[2] There is strong evidence that insecticide-treated nets prevent malaria.

Mosquitoes’ resistance to standard insecticide seems to be rising.[3] We estimate (very roughly) that insecticide-treated nets are one-third less effective in the places where AMF works than they would be in the absence of resistance. (Even with this adjustment, we continue to estimate that AMF’s work is highly cost-effective.)[4] It has been challenging to estimate the precise degree to which insecticide resistance is reducing nets’ effectiveness due to a lack of high-quality evidence.[5]

A new type of net offers a promising countermeasure as well as some insight into the level of resistance. Piperonyl butoxide (PBO) nets contain the standard insecticide as well as PBO, which inhibits the enzymes in mosquitoes that enable insecticide resistance.[6] The World Health Organization (WHO) approved a small rollout of PBO nets in 2015. However, at the time, limited information was available on their performance relative to standard nets and the WHO did not recommend them universally over standard nets.[7]

The first randomized controlled trial (RCT) of PBO nets was conducted in Tanzania from 2014 to 2016 (Protopopoff et al. 2018).[8] The WHO conditionally recommended PBO nets in 2017 based on the Protopopoff findings. It said it needed to see results from another study before recommending that PBO nets be used in additional contexts.[9]

AMF’s role in PBO net research

AMF enabled another RCT of PBO nets by seeking research collaborators, serving as the primary funder of the research, and funding the nets in the study.

Although it is difficult to prove, it appears that AMF contributed to a second PBO RCT occurring earlier than it otherwise would have and at a larger scale.[10] If PBO nets are more effective than standard nets, rolling them out sooner and more broadly could avert many more deaths from malaria.

AMF told us that it was interested in funding research on PBO nets in 2015.[11] After supporting a small-scale initial study of PBO nets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016, AMF made a more significant investment as the primary funder of a large-scale RCT in conjunction with a planned 2017-18 national net distribution campaign in Uganda.[12]

In addition to supporting the study financially, AMF identified researchers to lead the study and managed procurement of the four different types of nets that were compared (two PBO nets and two standard nets). The national campaign by the Uganda Ministry of Health included millions of nets funded by AMF.[13] AMF also supported the first two follow-ups to the study, assessing the impact on malaria six and twelve months following the campaign.[14]

AMF’s participation seems to have sped up the pace of research on these nets. We think most researchers in this space would agree the Uganda study is the second major PBO RCT.[15] We are not aware of another RCT being conducted on PBO nets, nor have we heard of other actors offering to do this research. It is difficult to know by how much AMF may have sped up PBO research, but it seems likely that it did.

Our impression is that the number of people participating in AMF’s study is unusually large relative to typical RCTs of global health interventions. The Uganda RCT involved 10.2 million nets.[16] By contrast, the earlier Protopopoff study in Tanzania involved 90,000 nets.[17]

Finally, based on the study design, the Uganda RCT appears to be high quality.

The large scale and quality design suggest the results of this study will significantly update the field on the effectiveness of PBO nets and the degree to which insecticide resistance is reducing the effectiveness of standard nets. Other funders seem to agree on its promise. The U.K. Department for International Development and Gates Foundation each funded additional follow-ups to the study, tracking the impact of the PBO nets at 18- and 24-months post-distribution.[18]

The Uganda RCT could influence a large amount of government and philanthropic funding for malaria programs. We estimate that $2.1 billion was committed to nets globally between 2018 and 2020.[19] If PBO nets turn out to be more effective than standard nets and AMF contributed to speeding up this high-quality study, it could improve the effectiveness of a large amount of malaria prevention funding.

Conclusion

AMF shared preliminary findings from the Uganda study in November.[20] They’re promising. AMF reported that PBO nets were more effective at reducing malaria cases than standard nets six months after distribution (26% more), 12 months after distribution (27% more), and 18 months after distribution (16% more).[21] There will be one more measurement completed as part of this study.[22]

The full results from the Uganda RCT have not been published. We will review them closely and share our conclusions once they are available.

Our current best guess is that in many of the locations where AMF works, PBO nets are more cost-effective than standard nets. We estimate that in areas with sufficiently high insecticide resistance, the benefits of PBO nets outweigh the higher cost of these nets. We expect to revise our estimate of the cost-effectiveness of PBO nets once we have fully reviewed the results from the Uganda RCT. We look forward to seeing how the research community interprets these results and whether they conclude that PBO nets are a worthwhile investment. A possible sign of increased demand for PBO nets is that one manufacturer of PBO nets increased its production by a large amount in 2020, according to AMF.[23]

AMF’s work on PBO nets is one example of how our top charities can have more impact than expected. We’re thrilled to recommend our top charities based on the great work they do: not only on direct delivery of cost-effective programs, but also on new research to shape their fields of work.

The post GiveWell donors supported more than direct delivery: AMF and new net research appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

Three grants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 07:23

We began exploring opportunities to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic in March. We are excited to announce that we granted a total of $450,000 to support coronavirus-response projects run by Development Media International (DMI), IDinsight, and Yale professor Mushfiq Mobarak, respectively.

With our grant funding, we expect DMI to run or support mass media campaigns to promote essential health messages. We expect IDinsight and Professor Mobarak to support policymakers responding to the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries through data collection and analysis and by making recommendations.

Our goal at GiveWell is always to direct funding to maximize impact. This typically leads us to conduct thorough, monthslong investigations into potential grantees. However, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we believe we can have more impact by acting quickly to prevent the spread of the disease—even if it means completing only relatively shallow grant investigations.

These three grants may save or improve lives as well as or better than our current top charities. Nevertheless, we are more uncertain about their potential impact, given our brief review. The $450,000 in grants is the full amount we’re comfortable directing to these opportunities at this time; we do not suggest additional donations beyond this amount today.

We remain very worried about the effects of the pandemic on non-coronavirus health programs as the global funding landscape shifts in response to coronavirus. The need for the programs operated by our top charities is already large and we are unsure if our top charities will receive less funding than usual in the coming year. We expect that our top charities will require significant additional resources to continue to carry out their programs.

Our recommendation to individual donors is thus unchanged: our top recommendation is to give to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion,” which we will allocate quarterly among our recommended charities where we believe it will do the most good. For donors who prefer to give directly to a GiveWell top charity, we recommend Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program. We do not expect to make coronavirus-specific recommendations for individual donors.

Why we made these three grants

Our process for identifying and assessing grant recipients

We focused our investigation on projects operating in low- and middle-income countries. After initial conversations, we believed the pandemic’s impacts would be more severe in these contexts than in high-income countries due to their already-overburdened health systems. Funding opportunities in low- and middle-income countries also seemed more likely to be equally or more cost-effective than our top charities, which work in the same contexts. This is an important point of comparison, as we expect that the coronavirus grant funding would have otherwise been given to our top charities.

We started with a broad look at potential opportunities to fund. GiveWell researchers spoke to around 30 people from our networks, such as staff at the Center for Global Development and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. We reached out to groups we had previously funded that we thought may be well positioned to contribute to coronavirus mitigation efforts we could support and asked about their plans and funding needs. We also received a number of inbound requests for funding.

We narrowed the list of potential grants based on the following:

  • We ruled out opportunities that we did not believe we had the expertise to assess well and quickly.
    • We deprioritized programs that looked significantly different from the types we’ve historically investigated, such as scientific research and development. We didn’t think we could make good, quick decisions about where to give in a space that was very new to us. Investigating new types of programs may require developing novel analytical frameworks in which we wouldn’t expect to feel confident in a short timeframe.
    • We deprioritized organizations we didn’t know well. We believe that thoroughly assessing an organization’s strength requires a significant time investment. We didn’t think we could become sufficiently knowledgeable about the coronavirus pandemic and all potential projects to be in a position to evaluate organizations we knew very little about.
  • Since thoroughly assessing a new organization was not compatible with our brief timeline for these grants, we prioritized organizations that we knew well and thought highly of.
  • We considered the likelihood the grant would be very cost-effective, based on our experience assessing similar interventions. For example, we believe programs to assist government policymakers may offer strong returns on investment, based on our initial investigations into policy organizations.
  • We considered whether the grant had a plausible theory of change. In other words, we considered whether we understood the case for how the grant would have an impact and if that case seemed reasonable.
  • We considered the likelihood the grant work would be funded without our support.

This led us to DMI, IDinsight, and Professor Mobarak. We feel these represent excellent opportunities to support coronavirus efforts. We decided to make relatively small grants to fill particularly urgent funding gaps in each case because (a) we know less about these grants than we would following a typical GiveWell investigation and (b) we have some reservations about the possibility that these grants are displacing funding from other donors. In each case, we may decide to make larger grants at a later date.

How the grants will be used

Development Media International: $200,000 grant

Our grant will support DMI’s work to run or support mass media campaigns, mostly over the radio, to promote handwashing, social distancing, and cough etiquette (also called “respiratory hygiene”) in nine African countries. There’s a common-sense argument that in countries where extreme social distancing is difficult, low-cost interventions like cough etiquette are particularly important. In addition, DMI has been a GiveWell standout charity since 2014.

We are excited to support DMI because it is an organization we know well and think highly of, there’s a common-sense case for this work, and our very rough cost-effectiveness analysis of this work looks promising.

IDinsight: $150,000 grant

Our grant will enable IDinsight, a development consulting group we partner closely with, to provide additional assistance to governments with their coronavirus response and to increase the amount of data IDinsight can collect to inform that response. Working with governments to improve responses to the pandemic may be highly cost-effective and a plausible way to have a lot of impact. Please note the relationship disclosure in the footnote.1We hired Dr. Neil Buddy Shah, IDinsight’s Founding Partner and CEO, as GiveWell’s managing director. We expect him to start at GiveWell this summer. Buddy is currently employed at IDinsight and provided information about and input on this grant. jQuery("#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1").tooltip({ tip: "#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1", tipClass: "footnote_tooltip", effect: "fade", fadeOutSpeed: 100, predelay: 400, position: "top right", relative: true, offset: [10, 10] });

Professor Mushfiq Mobarak: $100,000 grant

Mushfiq Mobarak is an economics professor at Yale who we worked closely with in our assessment of former top charity Evidence Action’s No Lean Season. Our grant to Professor Mobarak will enable him to either (a) hire a new analyst to help respond to coronavirus-related policy requests from the Bangladesh government or (b) collect additional data to inform the Bangladesh government’s response to coronavirus. As with IDinsight, we think that assisting governments may be a particularly effective and cost-effective way to have impact. We have a very positive opinion of Professor Mobarak from our previous engagement with No Lean Season.

What’s next?

Our focus is finding the most cost-effective ways to help people. We may make additional grants to these organizations or others in response to the pandemic. We also plan to continue our work to understand the effects of the pandemic on our current top charities.

Notes   [ + ]

1. ↑ We hired Dr. Neil Buddy Shah, IDinsight’s Founding Partner and CEO, as GiveWell’s managing director. We expect him to start at GiveWell this summer. Buddy is currently employed at IDinsight and provided information about and input on this grant. function footnote_expand_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").show(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("-"); } function footnote_collapse_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").hide(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("+"); } function footnote_expand_collapse_reference_container() { if (jQuery("#footnote_references_container").is(":hidden")) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); } else { footnote_collapse_reference_container(); } } function footnote_moveToAnchor(p_str_TargetID) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); var l_obj_Target = jQuery("#" + p_str_TargetID); if(l_obj_Target.length) { jQuery('html, body').animate({ scrollTop: l_obj_Target.offset().top - window.innerHeight/2 }, 1000); } }

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The impact of COVID-19 on GiveWell’s plans

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 10:08

We hope everyone is staying well during these difficult times. We are publishing this blog post to provide a brief update on how the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic impacts our plans.

We are looking into the impact of the pandemic on the organizations we support as well as opportunities to mitigate its effects. We are in the early stages of this work and will update you as we reach conclusions.

We don’t have a new recommendation for donors: our bottom line continues to be to donate to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion,” which we allocate quarterly to the highest priority need we see.

Monitoring the organizations we support

We are monitoring how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the organizations we support. We’re in the early stages of seeing the myriad ways in which the pandemic is expected to impact their programs in 2020, such as:

  • Restrictions (mandated by government or self-imposed) on reaching program participants in their homes.
  • School closures that affect school-based deworming programs.
  • Reduced availability of government resources for organizations that typically rely on health ministries or government-run networks of health workers.
  • Additional costs for protective equipment for staff.
  • Challenges obtaining commodities for distribution.

The organizations we support are updating their program implementation plans in response to the coronavirus. One of our top charities, the Against Malaria Foundation, suspended the monitoring it typically conducts after distributing malaria nets for at least one month in Ghana, though it says its overall operations have been minimally impacted so far. Another top charity, GiveDirectly, paused door-to-door operations for its cash transfer program and has begun exploring a contactless operational model to prevent the spread of the virus.

We are working to get a complete picture of the effects of the coronavirus on the organizations we support so that we can update our assessment of their funding needs and expected impact. Overall, we expect low- and middle-income countries, in which our charities operate, to have greater funding needs for healthcare in 2020 due to the coronavirus.

Exploring opportunities to mitigate the effects

We are also exploring opportunities to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Consistent with our usual practice for assessing giving opportunities, we are prepared to make new grants or to work with partners to reallocate our funding if there appear to be more cost-effective uses than the program to which we’d otherwise direct funds. These opportunities could explicitly target the coronavirus and its broader health and economic effects or could respond to its impact on the funding landscape for global health and poverty alleviation.

We are unsure if we will find new cost-effective giving opportunities that haven’t received government or philanthropic funding. If we do, we will report on any grants or funding decisions we recommend as a result of our investigation.

We are open to the landscape of opportunities in 2020 looking different than we expected before the pandemic. That said, we expect a continued need for funding for the programs implemented by the organizations we support.

Continuing our work

Thanks to our donors’ generous support of GiveWell’s own operations—enabling us to pay our staff to conduct research, process donations, and keep the lights on—we remain in a solid financial position. We expect to fundraise to ensure we can continue our work over the long term, but we don’t expect the pandemic to have a direct effect on our ability to do our work. We remain dedicated to our mission of finding and recommending highly cost-effective giving opportunities, and we’ll keep you posted, as we always do, on our findings. In the meantime, please stay safe and be well.

The post The impact of COVID-19 on GiveWell’s plans appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

Allocation of discretionary funds from Q4 2019

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 07:53

We recently allocated donations made from October through December 2019 to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” We granted $11.9 million to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program and $1.5 million to Helen Keller International’s vitamin A supplementation program.

We allocate donations to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” (discretionary funds) quarterly, according to where we see the highest-priority funding needs. Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program and Helen Keller International (HKI)’s vitamin A supplementation (VAS) program had the top-priority needs among our top charities at the time we made this decision.

Malaria Consortium provides preventive anti-malarial medication to young children during the time of year when malaria transmission is highest. HKI supports provision of vitamin A supplements to young children, which reduces their risk of dying of infectious disease.[1] We estimate that the combined discretionary grants to these organizations will save 5,600 lives.[2]

In this post, we discuss:

  • Our process for deciding where to allocate discretionary funds. (More)
    • We share updates on:
      • HKI’s VAS program. (More)
      • Malaria Consortium’s SMC program. (More)
      • SCI Foundation. (More)
    • We also discuss uncertainties in our decision. (More)
  • Our bottom line for donors giving today. (More)
Our process for deciding where to allocate discretionary funds

GiveWell donors gave $13.4 million in discretionary funds in the fourth quarter of 2019. We decide how to allocate discretionary funds by reviewing which of our top charities’ unmet funding needs, or “funding gaps,” are the most cost-effective and time-sensitive.

In January 2020, we asked HKI, Malaria Consortium, and SCI Foundation (SCI) for updates on their funding needs. We asked HKI and Malaria Consortium because we estimated that their unfunded work was highly cost-effective relative to that of our other top charities.[3] We asked SCI for information because we had pledged to revisit its funding needs in early 2020 (details below). We did not request updated funding information from our other five top charities. We discuss below what we have learned this year about the funding gaps at HKI, Malaria Consortium, and SCI.

In addition to our proactive requests for more information, we have asked our top charities to inform us when they have new funding opportunities we should consider. We were not informed of any opportunities this quarter outside of the information we received from HKI, Malaria Consortium, and SCI.

HKI’s VAS program

In 2019, HKI told us that it did not expect Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to renew its support for VAS programs in Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya from 2020 onward. HKI confirmed in January 2020 that GAC had not renewed its funding.[4]

We consider HKI’s VAS program in Côte d’Ivoire to be highly cost-effective.[5] Our top priority for fourth-quarter discretionary funds is filling the $1.5 million funding gap left by GAC in Côte d’Ivoire from 2020 to 2022.[6]

Malaria Consortium’s SMC program

We incorporated the following information into our estimate of Malaria Consortium’s funding needs in January 2020: a $33.9 million grant we recommended in November 2019; the revenue Malaria Consortium raised through the end of 2019; and Malaria Consortium’s updated budgets for 2020 to 2022.

We estimate that Malaria Consortium can now effectively absorb approximately $36 million for SMC programs in 2022 in Burkina Faso, Chad, Nigeria, and Togo.[7] This $36 million funding gap has the highest estimated cost-effectiveness among our top charities’ funding gaps after HKI’s work in Côte d’Ivoire.[8] We allocated the remaining $11.9 million in fourth-quarter discretionary funds to Malaria Consortium’s SMC program as our second priority.

SCI Foundation

We wrote in November 2019 that SCI had not, at that time, identified opportunities to effectively absorb additional funding. We moved it to a new, separate category off of our top charities list: “Top Charities without capacity to use new donations effectively at this time.”

We also decided to wait until 2020 to consider whether to make an “incentive grant” to support SCI’s work.[9] Subject to charities’ ability to use additional funding, we recommend annual “incentive grants” to each of our top charities to reward them for engaging in our intensive review process.[10] We were not confident in late 2019 that SCI could use additional funding.

SCI recently shared new information about funding gaps in the countries where it works. We now believe SCI can likely absorb additional funding (though we are uncertain about its total funding needs) and plan to recommend that it receive a standard $2.5 million incentive grant. We also moved SCI from the “Top Charities without capacity to use new donations effectively at this time” category to the regular top charities list.

We decided not to make SCI’s incentive grant out of our fourth-quarter discretionary funding. We recently received an $8 million donation that is partially restricted to GiveWell’s “top life improving nonprofit/s,” of which SCI is one. We estimate that our top charities that focus on programs to reduce mortality, such as HKI’s VAS program and Malaria Consortium’s SMC program, have more cost-effective funding gaps at this time, and we prefer to save our non-restricted discretionary funding for them.

Uncertainties in our decision

HKI’s VAS program

We don’t know whether, in the absence of a GiveWell grant to HKI, VAS campaigns in the districts formerly funded by GAC would be skipped or if HKI would reallocate other available funding to support these campaigns. Reallocation of HKI’s available funding would make its funding gap in Côte d’Ivoire less time-sensitive but would leave funding gaps for other work in a year or two. These new gaps would be our top priority to fill due to their high cost-effectiveness.

We haven’t resolved this question because we believe our discretionary grant to HKI will support the most cost-effective unfunded work we are aware of, regardless of time-sensitivity.

Malaria Consortium’s SMC program

We believe that our estimate of Malaria Consortium’s funding gap represents the maximum amount it can absorb effectively for its SMC program ($36 million). GiveWell donors’ $11.9 million discretionary grant will close some of this gap.

It is possible that other funders will also step in to fill some of this gap. In particular, we believe that one funder that supported SMC coverage in part of Burkina Faso in 2020 may choose to extend its support through 2022; this would decrease Malaria Consortium’s room for more funding by around $8 million. Even if this occurs, Malaria Consortium would still have a significant unfilled gap ($16.1 million) for its work in 2022.[11]

We thus expect that donations to Malaria Consortium today will support its work in 2022, which we generally expect to be highly cost-effective.

Our bottom line for donors giving today

We continue to recommend that donors give to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” We direct these funds where we believe they can be used most effectively.

For donors who wish to give to a specific charity, we recommend Malaria Consortium’s SMC program, as we believe it continues to have a highly cost-effective and large unfilled funding gap after receiving GiveWell discretionary funding.

Footnotes

Footnotes for this post may be found here.

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March 2020 open thread

Tue, 03/10/2020 - 12:34

Our goal with hosting quarterly open threads is to give blog readers an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about GiveWell or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at info@givewell.org or to request a call with GiveWell staff if you have feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

You can view our December 2019 open thread here.

The post March 2020 open thread appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

How did we do in 2019? A preliminary look at our growth.

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 12:04

We see an early indication that GiveWell continued its trajectory of robust donor growth last year. The total value of donations processed by GiveWell increased 30% in 2019.[1]

We’re sharing this data now because we believe it is an informative early update about our growth last year. However, GiveWell-processed donations don’t tell the full story of our impact. Many donors who rely on our research give via our partner organizations or directly to our top charities. Their gifts account for the majority of donations due to our work and are not processed by GiveWell. Information about these gifts is time-consuming to gather and has usually led us to release our metrics data many months after the end of the year. We plan to release a complete 2019 metrics report and assessment of our impact, including donations not processed by GiveWell, later this year.

Here’s what we know so far, based on the nearly complete information we have about donations we processed:

  • We processed $54.1 million in donations in 2019. Sixty-five percent of this amount was restricted to our recommended charities and 35% was unrestricted, which we may use to support GiveWell’s operations.
  • Support from donors giving $10,000 to $100,000 comprised the largest proportion of our growth (35%).[2]
  • Returning donors who gave more than last year made up 75% of our growth in funds donated (excluding anonymous donations).[3]
  • We believe that the majority of our growth was organic and would have occurred without any outreach and marketing efforts from GiveWell, although we can attribute some to specific outreach and marketing initiatives.[4]

We’re encouraged by this growth and excited to write about it. We also discuss below some ways that GiveWell-processed donations could be a misleading indicator of our overall impact.

Summary

This post covers the following topics:

  • About GiveWell-processed donations (More)
  • Donations we processed in 2019
    • Restricted donations by donor size (More)
    • Unrestricted donations by donor size (More)
    • New donors and returning donors (More)
  • Ways in which these data are incomplete (More)
  • Additional information: Where did donors give? (More)
About GiveWell-processed donations

This is our first time releasing information on GiveWell-processed donations as a standalone post.

It is very time-consuming to gather and analyze information from the many disparate sources through which GiveWell donors can support GiveWell and our recommended charities.[5] We have generally shared reports on donations due to our work quite late in the year as a result.[6]

We do have nearly complete information at this point of the year on GiveWell-processed donations in 2019. We’re experimenting with sharing this information as an early look at our impact.

What is included in GiveWell-processed donations?

The $54.1 million only includes donations that we processed ourselves, such as gifts that were made by credit card on our website, bank transfers to GiveWell’s account, checks made out to GiveWell, and other options listed here.[7] It includes both restricted and unrestricted donations:

  • Restricted: A donor tells us to use the gift for one or more of our top charities or for “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion,” which we allocate quarterly to the recommended charity or charities with the most pressing needs.
  • Unrestricted: A donor does not place any restrictions on the donation. We may use the donation for GiveWell’s operations or grant it to charities.

The $54.1 million does not include gifts that were made directly to our recommended charities or via our partner organizations.[8] Additional ways in which GiveWell-processed donations may not tell the full story of our impact are discussed below.

Our impact: donations we processed

Restricted donations: by donor size

We saw strong growth in 2019 in restricted donations across donor size categories under $1 million.[9] Most donors making restricted donations of $1 million or more give directly to our top charities and not through GiveWell; we discuss this in greater detail below.

Note: Anonymous donations are only tracked in the penultimate row and are not reflected in the other size category totals.[10]

Note: This table excludes all anonymous donors.

Unrestricted donations: by donor size

The largest absolute growth (just over $1 million) and relative growth (69%) in unrestricted donations was from donors giving between $100,000 and $1 million. We explain the slight decline in unrestricted donations from donors giving more than $1 million in the following footnote.[11]

Note: Anonymous donations are only tracked in the penultimate row and are not reflected in the other size category totals.

The total number of non-anonymous donors providing unrestricted gifts increased by 22%, with the strongest relative growth (34%) in the number of donors giving between $1,000 and $10,000.

Note: This table excludes all anonymous donors.

New donors and returning donors

Returning donors increasing their donations drove approximately 75% of our growth in funds donated, excluding anonymous donations. Funds from new donors increased more than 40% over the previous year and accounted for approximately 25% of our total growth in non-anonymous funds donated.

Note: This chart shows total donations by new and returning donors, as well as from anonymous donors who cannot be included in either category, as a percentage of all donations (restricted and unrestricted).

How GiveWell-processed donations don’t tell the full story

While we see GiveWell-processed donations as an early indicator of strong growth, we have significant uncertainty about the final picture of our influence in 2019.

Donors giving over $1 million have tended to donate directly to our recommended charities rather than through GiveWell, and so are not well-represented in GiveWell-processed donations.[12] They have also accounted for a large proportion of our impact each year as major contributors to our recommended charities. This group made up roughly one-third of our money moved to recommended charities in 2018, excluding donations from Open Philanthropy.[13] Our best guess is that growth among donors giving under $1 million is related to growth among donors giving over $1 million—if more donors are giving to GiveWell in general, we think it’s likely that additional larger donors will find our work. However, we’re unsure of the extent to which 2019 donors who gave under $1 million are predictive of the 2019 donors who gave over $1 million directly to our recommended charities.

Another way in which GiveWell-processed donations could fail to predict our overall growth is if donors shifted how they gave in 2019. If a greater proportion of donors chose to give through GiveWell in 2019, extrapolating from the proportion of GiveWell-processed donations in previous years to our total impact in 2019 would be overly optimistic. Although we don’t expect this to be the case, we won’t know for sure until we see the complete data from 2019.

Additional information: Where did donors give in 2019?

Restricted gifts accounted for $35 million of the $54.1 million we processed last year. Donors allocated 64% of restricted dollars in 2019 to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion,” which was (and is) our top recommendation for GiveWell donors.

The remainder of the $54.1 million ($19.1 million) was unrestricted. We typically use unrestricted funding for our operations, though some of these funds will likely be granted to charities.[14]

Footnotes

Footnotes for this post may be found here.


Devin Jacob co-authored this post.

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Introducing our new Managing Director: Dr. Neil Buddy Shah

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 08:05

I’m very excited to announce that Dr. Neil Buddy Shah is joining GiveWell as Managing Director starting this summer.

We’re beyond thrilled that Buddy, a leader in the global health and development space, has chosen to be part of our team at this exciting time. We have significantly expanded our research focus over the past few years to identify high-impact giving opportunities beyond our current top charities list. In addition to working with me to set our strategy generally, a core component of Buddy’s work will be pushing our research and funding expansion forward by leading GiveWell’s efforts to learn from and contribute to the broader international development community.

He is exceptionally qualified to do so. Buddy has spent the last eight years as Founding Partner and CEO of IDinsight, a group GiveWell has worked closely with and supported through our Incubation Grants program. We’re confident that IDinsight will continue to do great work over the coming years.

Buddy is now heading the leadership transition process at IDinsight. He expects to join GiveWell around July. Welcome to the team!

About Buddy

Buddy’s impressive biography speaks to his commitment to and accomplishments in the global development sector. In addition to co-founding and leading IDinsight, a nearly 200-person organization dedicated to using data to improve international development programs and funding, he helped conceptualize and launch many of IDinsight’s contributions to the sector, including “decision-focused evaluations,” “embedded learning partnerships,” machine learning applications, and IDinsight’s large-scale, tech-enabled rural data collection infrastructure, “Data on Demand.”

Buddy has designed and co-led IDinsight engagements across Asia and Africa, working as a trusted advisor to senior leaders within national government ministries, multilaterals, foundations, and NGOs. He split his time between Cambodia, India, and Uganda while launching IDinsight’s first projects.

Before co-founding IDinsight, Buddy worked in the World Bank’s Governance and Public Sector Reform Unit and at MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). He holds an AB in economics from Harvard, an MD from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and an MPA in International Development from Harvard Kennedy School. Buddy is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves as visiting faculty in Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Education program.

Buddy’s role

Buddy will work closely with me to set GiveWell’s high-level strategy: our goals and plans for achieving them. I expect that his success in founding, growing, and running a large non-profit will make him an excellent partner in this work. I have no plans to fundamentally change my role at GiveWell; Buddy will provide additional capacity and insights.

Another significant part of Buddy’s role will be engaging with the international development community. Although we have engaged regularly with the community over the past 12+ years, we haven’t made it a strategic priority to learn from and contribute to the community’s conversation about doing as much good as possible and to fund opportunities in support of that goal—until now.

Buddy plans to meet with leaders at development institutions, write op-eds and articles to raise our profile and share our findings, speak at key conferences, and identify opportunities to co-fund grants with others in this space. We believe this engagement will increase the impact of our work in a number of ways, including by:

  • Learning from the community. How can we improve our methodology? Which programs, charities, and grants should we evaluate?
  • Increasing the reach of our findings and methodology by proactively sharing with a community of people dedicated to poverty alleviation and global health.
  • Uncovering promising funding opportunities in global health and development and leading GiveWell’s grantmaking process to support them.
  • Raising our profile so that we can connect with great job candidates who will increase our impact.

We’re excited about all we expect Buddy to accomplish at GiveWell and look forward to having him on the team.

The post Introducing our new Managing Director: Dr. Neil Buddy Shah appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

Why it’s important to think through all of the factors that influence a charity’s impact

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 08:51

Charity evaluation is rarely straightforward. Many factors, within a charity’s control or outside of it, can influence the impact a charity has.

This blog post will highlight a case that illustrates how thinking through these factors can lead to surprising information that changes our understanding of a charity’s impact.

Summary

GiveWell recommended a grant to Results for Development (R4D) in May 2016 for its recently-launched program to increase access to pneumonia treatments for children in Tanzania. We thought this program was promising enough to potentially join our short list of GiveWell top charities once we had more information on its impact.

Expanded access to treatments is a factor in reducing child mortality from pneumonia, but not the only factor. We ultimately want to know not just whether more pneumonia treatments are available in Tanzania, but whether fewer children die of pneumonia as a result of R4D’s work. We expect the program to best achieve this impact if pneumonia patients visit health clinics with treatments in stock and are diagnosed and treated correctly.

We learned as we followed R4D’s work that there was limited information available on the accuracy of clinicians’ pneumonia diagnoses. We initially guessed that clinicians were diagnosing pneumonia accurately around 80 percent of the time. R4D collected data on diagnostic accuracy and we learned that the rate of accurate pneumonia diagnosis was actually 18 percent. This caused our estimate of the program’s impact to fall, though it remains in the range that we look for in potential top charities.

This finding highlights why it’s important to think through all of the factors along the path from a charity’s activities to its ultimate impact; if we had just considered whether more treatments were available, we would have missed this part of the story. We’re excited to continue following R4D’s work because of the role it has played in collecting this information to date and our expectation that it will continue collecting information that allows us to estimate its impact on the availability of pneumonia treatments across Tanzania. We expect to consider R4D as a potential future top charity.

In this post, we discuss:

  • The background for GiveWell’s grant to R4D (More)
  • Our plans for assessing the impact of R4D’s program (More)
  • Approaches to measuring R4D’s impact (More)
  • Lessons from this work (More)
Grant background

Pneumonia is a leading cause of children’s death worldwide.[1] R4D approached us in 2015 and told us that Tanzania did not have sufficient funding to maintain an adequate supply of pneumonia treatments in the country’s public sector health system.[2] R4D was interested in providing market-shaping technical assistance and catalytic, time-limited funding for pneumonia drug supplies, with the goal of improving the availability of drugs in order to avert more deaths.[3]

We recommended a GiveWell Incubation Grant in May 2016 of $6.4 million to support the first phase of R4D’s scale-up of pneumonia treatments in Tanzania. We thought R4D might meet our top charity criteria once we had more information with which to assess its impact.[4]

How will we know if R4D is reducing deaths from pneumonia?

Funding the purchase of additional pneumonia treatments would seem a simple solution to the inadequate supply of the drugs. But to truly assess the impact of the program on reducing child mortality from pneumonia, we wanted to understand:[5]

  1. Would R4D increase the availability of pneumonia treatments?
  2. Would clinicians diagnose pneumonia accurately? (We initially estimated 80 percent accuracy in diagnoses in the public and private sectors.[6])
  3. Would clinicians prescribe pneumonia treatments to people who needed them?

The second and third questions relate to factors outside of the scope of R4D’s program, which aimed to increase the availability of treatments. However, they play an important role in R4D’s success in reducing deaths from pneumonia.

We were surprised by how difficult it was to answer the second and third questions. There did not appear to be existing data from Tanzania on pneumonia diagnosis and treatment and it was challenging to design effective ways to measure them.

Gathering information

A common story we hear is that many charities do not conduct surveys to verify whether they’re reaching program participants and having the hoped-for impact because:

  • donors don’t want to pay for monitoring; or
  • charities don’t want to implement monitoring: it’s time-consuming, expensive, and not clearly in demand from donors.

Neither was true in this case. We were interested in funding measurement of the rates of accurate diagnosis and treatment. R4D was interested not only in implementing the measurement, but in taking the lead on developing creative ways to tackle questions about the program’s impact. The latter is rare in our experience. When we have asked charities how they monitor their work, we have often been told that the charity simply knows its program works.

Initial plans

R4D initially planned to use health clinic records to see whether pneumonia treatments were increasing due to its program and whether those treatments were correctly prescribed.[7] However, R4D found in an initial investigation that these records were incomplete and thus did not indicate whether the intended impact was occurring.[8]

R4D considered and decided against a number of other means of assessing whether children who had pneumonia received treatment, such as video-recording clinicians (which was rejected due to anticipated challenges in obtaining consent for patients), surveying patients outside of health clinics (which was rejected due to its cost and anticipated challenges with patient recall), and conducting a high-quality study focused on child mortality (which was rejected due to the high cost of running a sufficiently large study).[9]

Eventual solution

R4D next partnered with IDinsight, another GiveWell Incubation Grant recipient, to develop a new approach to gathering this information.[10] Working with IDinsight, the government of Tanzania, and the Tanzanian national medical school, R4D used lung ultrasounds, which directly tested whether patients with respiratory symptoms had pneumonia, to measure the accuracy rate for clinicians’ pneumonia diagnoses—a neat solution.[11]

The lung ultrasound information yielded surprising results. The rates of accurate pneumonia diagnosis were quite low. Only 18 percent of children with pneumonia confirmed by lung ultrasound were correctly diagnosed.[12]

Getting the full picture

Even that, however, didn’t tell the full story. If we had just looked at diagnostic rates and assumed that incorrect diagnosis leads to incorrect prescription of treatment, then we would have missed another important element of the story: many children who were not diagnosed with pneumonia were still prescribed the right drug to treat pneumonia. When they had the pneumonia treatment in stock, clinicians prescribed it in 46 percent of cases in which they had incorrectly diagnosed a child as having something other than pneumonia. We are unsure why.[13]

Our estimate of the cost-effectiveness of R4D’s pneumonia program fell by 27 percent when we updated it to reflect this new information.[14]

A broader question

The importance of looking for factors that influence impact across a charity’s causal chain, whether under the charity’s control or not, is not unique to pneumonia, nor Tanzania, nor R4D. For example, when we try to understand whether GiveWell top charity Against Malaria Foundation‘s work to prevent malaria by supplying insecticide-treated nets results in fewer people dying of malaria, we think through all the parts of the process that could fail. We aim to do this for our other top charities, as well.

Our estimate of R4D’s pneumonia program’s cost-effectiveness remains in the range that we look for in potential top charities and we’re excited to continue following its work.[15] But without the new information on diagnostic accuracy, we, R4D, and the government of Tanzania might have gotten an incorrect picture of its impact.

We made another grant to R4D in January 2019 to support the second phase of the pneumonia treatment program. We forecast a 40 percent chance that R4D (as a whole) or one of its specific programs (like pneumonia treatment) is a top charity by December 2023.[16] As we move forward, we plan to continue to ask ourselves all of the ways this grant might have more or less impact, as we did before, and as we do in all cases.

Sources

Sources for this post may be found here.

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Update on our work on Fistula Foundation

Thu, 01/02/2020 - 10:06

Although our list of top charities is short (just eight excellent organizations), we’re always on the lookout for other groups to add. Fistula Foundation is one of the charities we’re planning to prioritize highly for further evaluation. Donating to Fistula Foundation is not yet one of our recommendations—as it’s still under active investigation—but we’re excited to share an update on our work so far and next steps.

Living with fistula

An obstetric fistula is an abnormal opening between the vagina and the bladder or rectum, which causes leakage of urine and/or feces through the vagina.[1] This type of fistula[2] is typically caused by a prolonged obstructed labor in which the fetus presses on the mother’s pubic bone and cuts off blood flow to the tissue nearby.[3]

Living with fistula may cause harm in many ways: physically, through skin conditions and constipation; economically, as it may be hard to get or keep a job, due to odor; and socially, as fistula is associated with divorce and isolation, also due to the odor.[4] Describing a fistula patient’s experience in 2016, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof referred to people with fistulas as “modern-day lepers.”[5]

Surgery may be used to repair fistulas in many cases.[6] Fistula Foundation supports fistula repair surgeries and a variety of activities to increase the number of fistula patients who receive treatment.[7]

GiveWell and Fistula Foundation

We first reviewed Fistula Foundation as a potential top charity in 2011, two years after it expanded its mission to treat fistula globally.[8] We decided that it did not then meet our strict top charity requirements due to our uncertainty about the success of surgeries and our lack of confidence in the degree to which Fistula Foundation’s support caused surgeries to take place that otherwise would not have.[9]

Our charity review process evolved over the years that followed. We began placing more emphasis on completing independent evidence reviews for promising programs as a first step in our research process, before looking at individual charities implementing the most promising programs that we identify: our “priority programs.”

As part of our work to complete more evidence reviews, we looked into surgery to repair obstetric fistula in 2017. We estimated that fistula surgery was potentially in the range of cost-effectiveness of our priority programs, although we had major open questions about the cost of surgery and patients’ long-term outcomes.[10] Despite these questions, we felt that fistula surgery met our criteria to be named a priority program and we continued our work to better understand it.

We partnered with a group called IDinsight through GiveWell’s Incubation Grants program to improve our understanding of the cost of fistula surgery. This was particularly challenging for us to estimate due to our uncertainty over (a) the cost to reach potential patients, who may be in remote areas and socially disconnected, and (b) the costs and impact of training surgeons and providing equipment (typical activities conducted by fistula management charities) on the long-term success of the surgeries.[11] Though we were interested in fistula management charities broadly, IDinsight identified Fistula Foundation as a promising group and produced an estimate of Fistula Foundation’s cost per surgery in Kenya, including outreach and indirect costs such as training.[12]

Our evidence review and work with IDinsight led us to revisit Fistula Foundation as a potential top charity. We made a $100,000 participation grant to Fistula Foundation after publishing an interim review of its work.[13]

Top charity contender

We consider Fistula Foundation a top charity contender. Our next steps are to determine which evidence will help us understand the effect Fistula Foundation’s programs have had on the number of surgeries performed, which is a key input into our understanding of its cost-effectiveness, and to review recent studies on the impact of fistula surgery at one to two years post-surgery.

Our open questions and next steps

Open questions

We plan to prioritize several key questions as we continue our review of Fistula Foundation. We want to better understand:[14]

  • the role Fistula Foundation plays in supporting additional surgeries;
  • the long-term outcomes of surgeries supported by Fistula Foundation;
  • the counterfactual impact of Fistula Foundation (i.e. the degree to which it is increasing the number of fistula surgeries performed, relative to what would have occurred in its absence); and
  • the opportunity costs of fistula surgery (e.g. what the doctors who treat fistulas would have done in the absence of this program).

Next steps

We’re unsure when we will complete our review. The timing will depend on our overall research capacity as well as how we prioritize Fistula Foundation alongside review of other potential top charities. We very roughly estimate that there’s a 30% chance we will review Fistula Foundation in 2020.

We’re still in the process of vetting Fistula Foundation and have more confidence in our current list of top charities. We’re excited to continue learning about the work of this promising organization in the future.

Sources

Sources for this post may be found here.

The post Update on our work on Fistula Foundation appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

Allocation of discretionary funds from Q3 2019

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 11:18

In the third quarter of 2019, donors gave a combined $2.6 million to GiveWell for granting to recommended charities at our discretion. We greatly appreciate this support, which enables us to direct funding where we believe it can be used most impactfully. We grant this funding to one or more of our top charities each quarter.

We decided to allocate all $2.6 million to Helen Keller International’s (HKI) vitamin A supplementation (VAS) program. HKI is a GiveWell top charity that supports provision of vitamin A supplements to young children, reducing their likelihood of dying from infectious disease. It does so by providing technical assistance, engaging in advocacy, and contributing funding to government-run VAS programs in sub-Saharan Africa. We based our decision on our estimate of the high cost-effectiveness of the work HKI expects to conduct with this funding.

We provide an updated recommendation for donors below.

Summary

In this post, we discuss:

  • what HKI will do with this funding. (More)
  • our process for deciding where to allocate funds. (More)
  • our bottom line for donors giving today. (More)

Unlike other quarters, we made our decision of where to allocate third-quarter (Q3) discretionary funding alongside annual updates to our list of top charity recommendations, which we published in November. As part of our annual update, we provided a recommendation to Open Philanthropy, a philanthropic organization that is a major supporter of our top charities, about how it should allocate funding to each of our top charities in 2019. We reference this recommendation below.

What will HKI do with this funding?

In addition to granting $2.6 million in Q3 discretionary funding, in November 2019, we recommended that Open Philanthropy grant $9.7 million to HKI’s VAS program, for a total of $12.3 million. This funding will enable HKI to spend:

  • $5.5 million to continue its work in five countries (Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Niger), including supplementing its budgets in 2020 and 2021 and extending its funding runway to 2022.
  • $4.5 million to start a new program in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with funding to cover 2020-2022.
  • $2.4 million to expand its program to Bauchi State, Nigeria, with funding to cover 2020-2022.

We believe that Q3 discretionary funding will be pooled with the Open Philanthropy grant to enable the above; we don’t restrict discretionary funds to a particular piece of HKI’s VAS work, and see all of the above as valuable.

This work is highly cost-effective. We estimate that it is 28 times as cost-effective as cash transfers (“28x cash”)1We use the unconditional cash transfer program implemented by top charity GiveDirectly as a benchmark for comparing the cost-effectiveness of different programs. When discussing cost-effectiveness, we generally refer to the cost-effectiveness of a program in multiples of “cash.” jQuery("#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1").tooltip({ tip: "#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1", tipClass: "footnote_tooltip", effect: "fade", fadeOutSpeed: 100, predelay: 400, position: "top right", relative: true, offset: [10, 10] }); overall, and, by country, ranges from 19x cash to 38x cash.2Estimates of the cost-effectiveness of each funding gap can be found in this spreadsheet, sheet “List of funding gaps.” See column AB, rows 38-43 and 46 for our country-level estimates and cell T60 for our overall estimate. Throughout this page, we are using “adjusted” cost-effectiveness figures, i.e. cost-effectiveness estimates that adjust for certain factors, such as a charity’s quality of monitoring, that are not part of our main cost-effectiveness analysis. The adjusted estimates drive our allocation recommendations. jQuery("#footnote_plugin_tooltip_2").tooltip({ tip: "#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_2", tipClass: "footnote_tooltip", effect: "fade", fadeOutSpeed: 100, predelay: 400, position: "top right", relative: true, offset: [10, 10] }); Additional details on HKI’s funding needs and spending plans are here.

Our process for deciding where to allocate funds

In late 2019, our top charities shared information about how they would use additional funding. Each charity has different opportunities to spend funding that can vary in cost-effectiveness: for example, extension of a charity’s program in one country or expansion of its program to a new country. In some cases, we don’t believe that a charity will be able to support those opportunities with its existing budget and projected donations. In those cases, we refer to the charity’s “funding gaps.”

In general, we follow the seven principles described in this page when deciding which funding gaps to fill. The first of these principles is to put significant weight on our cost-effectiveness estimates, which aim to capture total improvement in well-being per dollar spent. These estimates suggested that HKI’s VAS program had a very high priority funding gap (28x cash overall in the seven countries listed above).

Other possibilities we considered

Sightsavers’ deworming program. We estimated that allocating $2.6 million to GiveWell top charity Sightsavers for its deworming program would be similar in cost-effectiveness to HKI’s VAS program.3See this spreadsheet, sheet “List of funding gaps,” cell T58. jQuery("#footnote_plugin_tooltip_3").tooltip({ tip: "#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_3", tipClass: "footnote_tooltip", effect: "fade", fadeOutSpeed: 100, predelay: 400, position: "top right", relative: true, offset: [10, 10] });

We decided to allocate the $2.6 million to HKI’s VAS program because at the time we made the decision (in October), we were considering changes to our deworming cost-effectiveness model and were uncertain whether we would estimate Sightsavers’ cost-effectiveness as higher or lower than HKI’s.

Other top charities (Against Malaria Foundation, Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program, END Fund’s deworming program, and GiveDirectly). At the time of our decision, we estimated that supporting HKI’s VAS program or Sightsavers’ deworming program would be significantly more cost-effective than supporting other top charities, and thus decided to focus our decision on comparing HKI’s VAS program and Sightsavers’ deworming program.

We did not compare HKI’s VAS program to our top charities SCI Foundation or Evidence Action’s Deworm the World, which we do not believe have near-term funding needs.

Our bottom line for donors giving today

We continue to recommend that donors giving to GiveWell choose the option on our donation form for “grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” so that we can direct the funding to the top charity or charities with the most pressing funding needs.

As part of our annual update, we recommended that Open Philanthropy make several grants to our top charities. Taking Open Philanthropy’s support into account, we note that if we had additional funds to allocate at this time, we would likely allocate them to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program. We believe that Malaria Consortium’s program has the highest impact per additional dollar donated today. After the Open Philanthropy grant and the Q3 discretionary funding, additional donations to HKI’s VAS program would support funding gaps that we model as less cost-effective than the funding gaps on Malaria Consortium’s current margin.

Notes   [ + ]

1. ↑ We use the unconditional cash transfer program implemented by top charity GiveDirectly as a benchmark for comparing the cost-effectiveness of different programs. When discussing cost-effectiveness, we generally refer to the cost-effectiveness of a program in multiples of “cash.” 2. ↑ Estimates of the cost-effectiveness of each funding gap can be found in this spreadsheet, sheet “List of funding gaps.” See column AB, rows 38-43 and 46 for our country-level estimates and cell T60 for our overall estimate. Throughout this page, we are using “adjusted” cost-effectiveness figures, i.e. cost-effectiveness estimates that adjust for certain factors, such as a charity’s quality of monitoring, that are not part of our main cost-effectiveness analysis. The adjusted estimates drive our allocation recommendations. 3. ↑ See this spreadsheet, sheet “List of funding gaps,” cell T58. function footnote_expand_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").show(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("-"); } function footnote_collapse_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").hide(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("+"); } function footnote_expand_collapse_reference_container() { if (jQuery("#footnote_references_container").is(":hidden")) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); } else { footnote_collapse_reference_container(); } } function footnote_moveToAnchor(p_str_TargetID) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); var l_obj_Target = jQuery("#" + p_str_TargetID); if(l_obj_Target.length) { jQuery('html, body').animate({ scrollTop: l_obj_Target.offset().top - window.innerHeight/2 }, 1000); } }

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We’re glad to answer your questions

Tue, 12/17/2019 - 07:45

We know that many individuals make their charitable donations at this time of year. We’re here to help!

If you would like to discuss your 2019 giving decision with a GiveWell staff member, please email us at info@givewell.org or schedule a call here.

For example, we’re glad to:

  • Provide a brief overview of our 2019 top charity recommendations.
  • Assist with the logistics of making a donation and discuss options for donating, such as appreciated securities, checks, and wire transfers.
  • Answer any questions about our research or recommendations.

We look forward to hearing from you!

The post We’re glad to answer your questions appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

December 2019 open thread

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 12:31

Our goal with hosting quarterly open threads is to give blog readers an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about GiveWell or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at info@givewell.org or to request a call with GiveWell staff if you have feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

You can view our September 2019 open thread here.

The post December 2019 open thread appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

Staff members’ personal donations for giving season 2019

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 07:43

For this post, a number of GiveWell staff members volunteered to share the thinking behind their personal donations for the year. We published similar posts in previous years.1See our staff giving posts from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013. jQuery("#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1").tooltip({ tip: "#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1", tipClass: "footnote_tooltip", effect: "fade", fadeOutSpeed: 100, predelay: 400, position: "top right", relative: true, offset: [10, 10] }); Staff are listed in order of their start dates at GiveWell.

You can click the below links to jump to a staff member’s entry:

Elie Hassenfeld

This year, I’m planning to donate to GiveWell for granting to recommended charities at its discretion.

I feel the same way I have the last two years, when I’ve written, “GiveWell is currently producing the highest-quality research it ever has, which has led to more thoroughly researched, higher-quality recommendations that have been compared to more potential alternatives than ever before.”

Natalie Crispin

I will be giving my annual gift to GiveWell for granting at its discretion to recommended charities.

We will most likely use this funding to support Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program, which we estimate averts the death of a child for $2,300. I’m excited to support Malaria Consortium both on the strength of the evidence for the high impact and modest cost of SMC and on the strength of Malaria Consortium as an organization.

I’ve had the opportunity over the last ten years to work directly with each of our top charities, to scrutinize the information they give us, and ask them approximately a gazillion questions. All of our top charities have put an exceptional amount of effort into helping us to understand how they work and what impact they have. And that, of course, is a small part of what they do to run exceptional programs. I am very glad to be among their supporters.

Josh Rosenberg

I’m planning to give the same way that I did in previous years (slightly more explanation on my approach to giving is here):

  • 80% to GiveWell for granting at its discretion to recommended charities. GiveWell’s top charities are the most cost-effective ways to help people that I know of. I see Malaria Consortium’s work on seasonal malaria chemoprevention (the current default option for discretionary funding) as a robust and highly effective giving opportunity.
  • 10% to animal welfare charities. I believe that animal welfare is a particularly important and neglected problem.
  • 10% to charities that work to reduce global catastrophic risks. I would like to see future generations thrive, and I am compelled by moral arguments that suggest this is an extremely important priority. However, I have struggled to find particularly promising giving opportunities to support this goal. I plan to place this portion of my giving into a donor-advised fund with the expectation that I will allocate it when a promising opportunity arises in the future.

Catherine Hollander

This year marks my fifth giving season as a GiveWell employee. I’m grateful to continue to work with this group of thoughtful individuals and excited to support the top charities identified via my colleagues’ research. This year, I plan to give 100% of my year-end donation to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program, a GiveWell top charity that we believe is highly cost-effective and in need of additional funding ($36 million over the next three years).

I am choosing to give to Malaria Consortium directly, over giving to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion,” because I value interventions to promote health and avert deaths very highly. I have been impressed with the organizational strength of Malaria Consortium, on top of the evidence illustrating that SMC is an effective way to prevent malaria.

I continue to strive to give regularly, in order to maintain a habit and to encourage myself to think concretely about what I believe by putting my own money at stake. I do this by committing to make my largest donation at the end of each year. I may also make smaller donations throughout the year if exciting opportunities arise or for personal reasons.

Andrew Martin

I’m allocating my annual donation to GiveWell for “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” I think that GiveWell as a whole is better able to assess which top charity could make the best use of additional funding at a particular time than I am as an individual donor.

In our 2019 top charity announcement blog post, we wrote:

“The top charity we model as having the highest impact per additional dollar can change throughout the year. To inform our understanding, we ask our top charities to provide us with updated information on an ongoing basis. For example, a top charity may share that it has found new opportunities for impact, such as the potential to work in a new country with a significant need for its program.”

Our blog posts on our allocation of discretionary funds from the fourth quarter of 2018 and our allocation of discretionary funds from the first quarter of 2019 are good examples of how GiveWell makes decisions about allocating discretionary funds. After taking the $10.1 million it allocated to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program from Q4 2018 into account, GiveWell determined that additional funding from Q1 2019 would likely have a larger impact if it was allocated to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)—both Malaria Consortium and AMF had funding gaps with similar cost-effectiveness, but AMF’s funding needs were more urgent at the time.

It seems likely that GiveWell will allocate my donation this year to Malaria Consortium—as of November 2019, GiveWell estimates that it has the highest priority remaining funding gap among our top charities. But I’d prefer to allow GiveWell to allocate my donation at its discretion, rather than donate to Malaria Consortium directly, in order to give GiveWell additional flexibility in case it receives new information and changes its prioritization of remaining funding gaps.

Isabel Arjmand

I’m generally happy with the balance across types of giving that I struck in previous years.

The sizable majority of my annual giving, 83% this year, will go to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” It’s important to me that most of my charitable giving be geared towards having as much of a positive impact as possible. I would be excited for my donation to go to any of our eight top charities as I believe all of them are doing high-quality, cost-effective work, and I’m especially excited about the prospect of my donation going to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program, as I believe is most likely. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Malaria Consortium in Burkina Faso earlier this year and I was impressed by what the program looked like in action.

While most of my giving is oriented toward trying to “do the most good” in a utilitarian sense, the remaining 17% is divided across causes I feel motivated or even obliged to support for “good citizenship” or other reasons, with the same amount going to each of the below bullet points. Like Michael Eddy (below), I think that some cause areas might be extremely important and effective but lend themselves less well to GiveWell-style evaluation; I don’t want to neglect them entirely because of that.

  • GiveDirectly and StrongMinds because I’m excited about their existence and their influence in the global health and development space. (I wrote more about this in previous years.)
  • Cool Earth and the Clean Air Task Force, two organizations addressing climate change through very different approaches.
  • ProPublica for its investigative journalism on topics like U.S. immigration and civil rights violations.
  • Sogorea Te Land Trust, an Indigenous women-led organization in Oakland, inspired by a sense of responsibility to the communities that are native to the area where I live.

I’d like to be able to understand well the impact of donations in areas outside GiveWell’s recommendations, like climate change or human rights, and make donations that I can feel confident in. Each year when I begin the project of looking for organizations outside GiveWell’s recommendations, I’m frustrated anew by how challenging it is—not only could it easily be a full-time job, but the information a person needs generally isn’t available. It’s a good reminder for me of the value of GiveWell’s work and it motivates me as a donor to give so much of my donation to our recommended charities. In the absence of in-depth research, I look for organizations with a theory of change I believe in, a decent amount of information online about their programs and finances, and to the extent possible, a track record of successful work. Each of the organizations above is one that I’d like to materially support and signal support for, although given the small scale of my donations I’m not sure how feasible that is. Making these smaller donations also encourages me each year to engage with issues I care about by (briefly) researching these areas.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity I have to make these donations, the research GiveWell has done that informs the bulk of my giving, and the many conversations I’ve had with colleagues that make my decisions more thoughtful and informed.

Nicole Zok

I’m planning to donate to GiveWell for granting to recommended charities at its discretion.

I can see good arguments for donating marginal funds to either Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program or the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). In particular, we estimate the cost-effectiveness of AMF and Malaria Consortium’s funding gaps, after accounting for funding that we recommended the Open Philanthropy Project donate to our top charities, to be very similar (AMF at 17x as good as cash transfers, and Malaria Consortium at 16x cash). Given the general uncertainty in our cost-effectiveness estimates, I don’t take this to be a meaningful difference.

Since the cost-effectiveness of the remaining funding gaps is so similar, other differences between the two charities—including our subjective assessment of organizational strength, the timeline on which funds would be spent if donated to each charity, the funding gaps that remain after giving season, and any new funding opportunities that charities may identify in the short term—will be more important factors in deciding where to allocate funding that’s donated to GiveWell for granting to recommended charities (assuming there are no significant changes to our estimates of the cost-effectiveness of the remaining funding gaps). We expect to have more information about some of these factors in early 2020, and I expect that will enable us to make a more informed decision about where to allocate marginal funding. I also believe that GiveWell collectively is better equipped to make this decision than I am individually.

Dan Brown

I will give 91% of my 2019 charity donation to GiveWell to allocate to recommended charities at its discretion because I would like GiveWell to have the flexibility to react to new information when allocating these funds. I expect these funds will be directed to Malaria Consortium, as explained in this post.

I will give 5% of my donation to Stonewall (UK), an organisation tackling discrimination against LGBT people. Whilst I have focused most of my donation on global health and development, I would also like to support a more justice-focused cause. I have fairly limited information with which to choose amongst charities in this area as I’m not aware of a GiveWell-type organisation to help direct my donation. However, I would like to see more done to tackle homophobia in sport, and the main organisation I am aware of that has tried to do this is Stonewall (UK) (through its Rainbow Laces campaign).

I will give the remaining 4% of my donation to Afrinspire. I have donated to this charity for a number of years. To my knowledge, the money I donate is used to help pay for school costs for orphaned children in Kampala (through the Jaguza Initiative). I do not expect this to be as cost-effective as other charitable giving opportunities, but I do not think it would be responsible to unexpectedly decrease this donation now that I am paying more attention personally to cost-effectiveness.

Olivia Larsen

I was a GiveWell donor before I started working at GiveWell, and I’m excited to continue supporting GiveWell’s recommended charities with my donation this year.

I’ll be giving 100% of my donation to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” I’m continually impressed by the thoughtfulness that goes into the decision of where to allocate funds, and I’d be excited for my donation to go to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program (our best guess of where this quarter’s discretionary grantmaking will go)—or to an even more cost-effective giving opportunity!

I feel very lucky to be in a position to be able to give to charity at all, and the prospect of being able to save a life (in expectation) for around $2,300, as we estimate seasonal malaria chemoprevention can, is really inspiring to me.

Steph Stojanovic

My husband and I have been GiveWell donors for a number of years. We were impressed by the rigor of the research from afar and I can confirm that it is even more impressive when you’re on the inside! In the past, we’ve split our giving between GiveWell top charities and meta-effective altruism (EA) organizations. This year, we plan to do this same.

We already gave half of our giving directly to AMF in a period in which GiveWell was prioritizing their funding gaps (i.e. when GiveWell was directing discretionary funding to AMF). The reason behind donating direct to charity instead of GiveWell’s discretionary fund was a boring tax deductibility reason. We will be giving the other half of our annual giving to One For The World (OFTW). OFTW is a grantee of GiveWell Incubation Grant funding, and my husband sits on their board. OFTW promotes effective giving at colleges across the country, asking students to pledge 1% of their future earnings to GiveWell recommended charities. For us, supporting OFTW is similar to supporting GiveWell operating expenses—it’s a great way to get leverage as a donor and help spread effective giving beyond traditional EA communities. It’s also important for us to support the organizations we are involved with, so we are happy to be able to support both GiveWell and OFTW this year.

James Snowden

I plan to allocate the majority of my annual giving directly to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program, and a smaller portion to GiveWell to grant at its discretion.

The majority of my giving is decided together with my family, who have a preference to donate directly to an organization rather than through my employer. This year, I recommended that my family give to Malaria Consortium. I think Malaria Consortium is an excellent giving opportunity from a variety of different perspectives (cost-effectiveness, robustness of the evidence base, room for more funding, organizational strength, transparency, and limited downside risk). While I think all our top charities are good giving opportunities, I believe Malaria Consortium has the most robust case, so I’m excited to support them again this year.

I’m planning to give my personal donation to GiveWell to grant at its discretion for the same reasons outlined by Andrew above.

I also considered giving to the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention (CPSP), one of GiveWell’s Incubation Grantees that I follow closely. CPSP works on a highly neglected issue and I believe their chosen strategy (reducing suicides through assisting governments in the targeted regulation of highly hazardous pesticides) has a track record of success. I chose not to support CPSP personally this year because GiveWell will be considering a grant renewal in 2020, and I expect to have more information at that point.

Michael Eddy

I divide my annual giving into two buckets:

  • giving that aims to directly improve people’s lives; and
  • giving that aims to address the root causes of unjust systems

For my giving that aims to directly improve people’s lives, I’m directing the entirety of my donations to GiveWell to grant at its discretion. Like others, I find that programs like Malaria Consortium’s SMC program, which can avert a child’s death for around $2,300, to be an extremely good use of my resources. Furthermore, after having joined GiveWell recently, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the credibility and rigor of the analysis and the thoughtfulness of the staff.

At the same time, I find it unconscionable that we live with political, economic, health, and legal systems that allow such deprivation to persist. While these systems and the institutions that undergird them are difficult to affect, I’d expect the most effective ways to make human progress to not be directly measurable or evaluable using rigorous evidence. GiveWell’s focus on interventions that have strong evidence & clearly measurable outcomes is one known limitation of our research, and so in my personal giving I continue to explore what effectiveness looks like when supporting organizations and individuals to shape the institutions they live in.

This is a broad area and I have spent limited time understanding where charitable resources can go the furthest. While I aspire to give in cause areas that are important, tractable and neglected, in practice, I rely mostly on organizations that I have been impressed with through my career, cause areas that motivate me and the recommendations of trusted contacts who work on these cause areas, including Norma Altshuler & colleagues at the Hewlett Foundation. This includes:

  • Young1ove a youth-led, evidence-based movement that adapts and scales-up health and education programs. I am particularly impressed with their commitment to a long-term partnership model working hand-in-hand with the government of Botswana to generate and use evidence.
  • Namati an organization that advances justice by mixing direct delivery through a grassroots network of legal advocates with a broader network of organizations advocating for larger-scale legal change.

In addition, a cause area I’m particularly motivated by and find to be particularly neglected are organizations which elevate the voices of LGBTQ+ citizens to advocate for and defend their rights in the countries in which they live. In many countries, same-sex relations are illegal (in part due to colonial-era laws), which is just one of many deprivations faced by the marginalization of gender and sexual minorities. My giving in this bucket is particularly informed by a friend who wrote his PhD thesis on the issue. I primarily donate to Astraea Foundation, an organization that regrants to grassroots organizations, but also donate directly to a few more local organizations including:

Finally, I do a small amount of giving each year to free services that survive off of user-contributions, organizations addressing issues in my local community and giving aligned to causes that my friends and family support.

Kimberly Huynh

I plan on allocating my annual gift as follows:

  • 70% to GiveWell to grant at its discretion
  • 10% to charities that work on climate change mitigation (preventing or reducing greenhouse gas emissions)
  • 20% to miscellaneous organizations in honor of various family members and friends

I have allocated the largest share of my annual gift to GiveWell because it is highly important to me to donate to a place where I know my giving will have an impact. I have opted to let GiveWell allocate my donation at its discretion because I believe that I will do more good by being flexible. Namely, GiveWell’s staff members who work directly with its top charities understand these charities’ immediate financial needs better than I do.

I am donating to organizations that work on climate change mitigation because I would like to put a greater stake in its progress beyond my own related graduate research. I have not yet reviewed the cost-effectiveness of climate change-related organizations to a degree I feel confident in. My percent contribution to charities in this issue area is thus relatively small and will likely be divided between at least a couple of different organizations.

I plan to investigate climate change-related organizations more deeply next year. In turn, my percent contribution to this area will likely increase at the expense of my miscellaneous donations. In the future, I would like to fix my contributions to climate change-related organizations to my own actions. For example, I may choose to donate a sum equal to the number of miles I have flown that year multiplied by a percentage chosen in advance. By fixing my donations to my actions, I hope to think more critically about my carbon footprint and to act with greater intention.

My remaining donations are primarily gift donations for loved ones. The majority of this was to Médecins Sans Frontières on behalf of my younger brother per his request.

Teryn Mattox

In 2019, my family has given roughly half of our charitable donations to GiveDirectly and half to high-impact farmed animal welfare organizations. I joined GiveWell in the fall. After several months of learning more about the GiveWell process, in 2020 we will shift our donations away from GiveDirectly and towards one or two of the relatively higher-impact top charities that most closely align with our personal priorities. Specifically, my partner and I value deaths averted more highly relative to increased income than is reflected in GiveWell’s moral weights. We are also more risk averse with our giving than GiveWell is—that is, we are less willing to donate when there is very wide uncertainty around magnitude of impact. As a result of these two considerations, we will focus our giving on malaria prevention programs over deworming programs in 2020.

We will continue to give roughly half of our donations to organizations promoting animal welfare. This is based on the intensity of the suffering inflicted upon animals, the sheer number of factory-farmed animals being brutally tortured each year, the potential impact of our donations in reducing this suffering, and our beliefs about the importance of animal suffering relative to human suffering. After conversations with individuals at Open Philanthropy Project, we have decided to give about half of our animal welfare-related donations to the Effective Altruism Animal Welfare Fund.

Jim Bobowski

My family has allocated our 2019 giving in three directions. Approximately 15% is directed towards non-profits associated with our child such as school, Cub Scouts, and athletic organizations that we support throughout the year. Approximately 35% is directed towards additional causes personal to our family, including animal welfare and tackling heart disease. Fifty percent of our annual giving will be directed to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program. Candidly, we were torn between allocating this money to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” versus giving to Malaria Consortium. While we 100% believe in GiveWell’s method and are confident it leads to optimal outcomes, the research team’s recent update estimating one life saved for every $2,300 donated to Malaria Consortium won the family vote. The possibility of saving a life or two seemed more tangible to our household and was the deciding factor for this in 2019.

Notes   [ + ]

1. ↑ See our staff giving posts from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013. function footnote_expand_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").show(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("-"); } function footnote_collapse_reference_container() { jQuery("#footnote_references_container").hide(); jQuery("#footnote_reference_container_collapse_button").text("+"); } function footnote_expand_collapse_reference_container() { if (jQuery("#footnote_references_container").is(":hidden")) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); } else { footnote_collapse_reference_container(); } } function footnote_moveToAnchor(p_str_TargetID) { footnote_expand_reference_container(); var l_obj_Target = jQuery("#" + p_str_TargetID); if(l_obj_Target.length) { jQuery('html, body').animate({ scrollTop: l_obj_Target.offset().top - window.innerHeight/2 }, 1000); } }

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Ask us your questions about giving on our year-end conference call

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 07:43

We invite you to join our year-end conference call on Thursday, December 12 at 3:30pm ET/12:30pm PT. GiveWell’s Executive Director Elie Hassenfeld and research staff will present our latest work and answer your questions.

Sign up here to join the call

On the call, we will provide introductory context on our top charities and research process as well as taking questions on all topics, including new research.

We hope you’ll join us!

The post Ask us your questions about giving on our year-end conference call appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

New research on moral weights

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 05:04

Each year, GiveWell identifies more great giving opportunities than we are able to fully fund. As a result, in our charity recommendation decisions, we necessarily face very challenging questions, such as: How much funding should we recommend for programs that reduce poverty versus programs that reduce deaths from malaria? How should we prioritize programs that primarily benefit children versus adults? And, how do we compare funding those programs with others that have different good outcomes, such as reducing suffering from chronic health issues like anemia?

We recently received results from research we supported to help us answer these questions from the perspective of communities similar to those our top charities operate in. This blog post provides a brief summary of the project and results. Additional details are available on this page.

Background on the project

We assess charities based on their overall impact per dollar. In order to compare the impact per dollar across programs, we assign quantitative “moral weights” to each good outcome. We have invested a significant amount of time to arrive at these weights, but we still find our conclusions unsatisfying, in large part because of the fundamental difficulty of these questions. We have worked to improve our process for valuing different outcomes over the years, but we believe our current process is far from ideal.

Moral weights seems to be a highly neglected research topic. Limited information exists on how people value different outcomes. In particular, very few researchers have asked people living in low-income countries how they would make these tradeoffs. We see this as a potentially important input into our weights but have been unable to incorporate this information because it largely did not exist.

We recently supported a project intended to help address this gap in the literature. We provided funding and guidance to IDinsight, a data analytics, research, and advisory organization, to survey about 2,000 people living in extreme poverty in Kenya and Ghana in 2019 about how they value different outcomes.

Survey results

The results from this research are now available here. Among other findings, they suggest that survey respondents have higher values for saving lives (relative to reducing poverty) and higher values for averting deaths of children under 5 years old (relative to averting deaths of individuals over 5 years old) than we had previously been using in our decision-making.

Although we see these study results as adding to our understanding, we would caution against putting too much weight on them. Research methods like those used in the survey have major limitations, discussed here. This study is one that should be put in the context of a larger literature about these questions and represents one approach to moral weights among many.

Nevertheless, we see this research as a valuable contribution to the literature on preferences and moral views in communities with high rates of extreme poverty. It seems to be the first study of its kind conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, and the people surveyed for this study had a substantially lower average consumption level than other studies using similar methods.

Preliminary conclusions and updates

We have provisionally updated our moral weights to place more emphasis on programs that avert deaths (relative to those that reduce poverty) and to value programs averting deaths at all ages more equally (relative to our previous assumption of valuing programs that avert deaths of individuals over 5 years old more highly). The direction of these updates was driven by this study and other, independent arguments for putting more weight on health relative to income. However, we have not yet thoroughly debated how to revise our framework for moral weights or fully completed our analysis of these results, so we see our current, provisionally-updated moral weights as a work in progress. We plan to revisit our framework for moral weights in the future.

These updates did not have a major impact on our recommended funding allocation to charities in 2019.

Additional details

We share additional details on the survey and our early interpretation on this page.

Josh Rosenberg and Catherine Hollander co-authored this post.

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Announcing our 2019 top charities

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 04:08

We’re excited to announce our top charities for 2019. After thousands of hours of vetting and review, eight charities stood out as excellent.

These charities work on evidence-backed and impactful health and poverty alleviation programs serving people in the poorest parts of the world. We’ve identified specific opportunities for our top charities to use an additional $75 million in donations to save 33,000 lives, $30 million to treat 36 million children for parasitic worm infections, and $450 million to provide unconditional cash transfers to 375,000 extremely low-income individuals. Our expectation is that our top charities can effectively use even more funding than that—that’s just a starting point.

Our 2019 recommendation: “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion”

Our top recommendation for donors giving in 2019 is to give to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” We will grant these funds each quarter to the top charity or charities where we believe they will have the greatest impact.

The top charity we model as having the highest impact per additional dollar can change throughout the year. To inform our understanding, we ask our top charities to provide us with updated information on an ongoing basis. For example, a top charity may share that it has found new opportunities for impact, such as the potential to work in a new country with a significant need for its program.

In addition, top charities typically receive funding from GiveWell donors and other sources on an ongoing basis. We update our expectations of how much additional funding charities need each quarter by incorporating funding they have received since our last allocation of “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.”

Summary
  • Our 2019 top charities (More)
  • How we prioritize our top charities’ funding needs (More)
  • New information we learned in 2019 (More)
  • Giving to GiveWell’s operations (More)
  • Tips for donating efficiently (More)
  • Questions? (More)
  • More information on our top charities and 2019 review process (More)
Our 2019 top charities

We recommend seven top charities with immediate funding needs. We list them below in the order we prioritize their funding needs. We think that Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program can use funding most effectively in the near term.

We recommend that donors give to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion,” which we will grant quarterly to our top charities according to where we see the highest-impact funding need.
  • Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program. Malaria Consortium provides preventive, anti-malarial medication to young children during periods of high malaria transmission, reducing their likelihood of dying from malaria. Read our full review.
  • Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). AMF provides insecticide-treated nets to hang over sleeping spaces that block and kill malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, reducing people’s likelihood of dying from the disease. Read our full review.
  • Helen Keller International (HKI)’s vitamin A supplementation program. HKI supports the provision of vitamin A supplements to young children, reducing their likelihood of dying from infectious disease. Read our full review.
  • Charities that treat parasitic worm infections. We recommend charities that implement programs to treat parasitic worm infections (deworming programs) because these cheap health treatments may lead children to earn higher incomes when they enter the workforce as adults.
  • GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly distributes no-strings-attached cash grants to very poor households. Read our full review.

The below organization has met our top charity standards in all other ways, but we are waiting for more information about its near-term needs for funding. We have listed it separately to reflect our recommendation to wait until we have more information before providing funding:

  • SCI Foundation. Formerly known as the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, SCI Foundation supports deworming programs. Read our full review.

There were no additions or removals from our top charities list in 2019, although the order in which we prioritize directing funding to our top charities has changed.

How we prioritize our top charities’ funding needs Why we recommend “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion”

Although we think all of our top charities are excellent, we don’t recommend them equally. We look at how each charity will spend the next charitable dollar it receives. In some cases, charities already have sufficient funding to work in the highest-need countries; in other cases, they may have a time-sensitive opportunity where it is particularly valuable to ensure they receive funding quickly.

We ask our top charities for information to update our prioritization each quarter when we grant funding given to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” Our ability to direct this funding based on the most up-to-date information is the reason we recommend donors choose this option above all others.

Malaria Consortium’s SMC program

Some donors prefer to choose a specific charity to support. We recommend these donors consider giving to Malaria Consortium’s SMC program, which we think has the highest impact per additional dollar donated today.

Malaria Consortium-trained health workers go door-to-door during malaria season to provide young children with medication to prevent malaria. The health workers administer the first dose and instruct caregivers on how to complete the treatment over the following days. Malaria Consortium and its partners monitor the effectiveness of their work by looking into whether mosquitoes are developing resistance to the treatment, and by surveying a random selection of parents to check what proportion of children targeted by SMC programs actually receive the medication. A few GiveWell staff visited Malaria Consortium in Burkina Faso in August; a reflection on that visit describes what it’s like to witness the SMC program in the field.

Malaria Consortium’s SMC program is highly cost-effective. We estimate that every marginal $2,300 donated to Malaria Consortium’s SMC program will avert one death from malaria. Malaria Consortium can use an additional $36 million, above and beyond its current and expected funding, to implement its program over the next three years. Additional details on Malaria Consortium’s funding needs and spending plans are here.

Malaria Consortium stands out as an excellent organization and we’re excited to advise that donors who want to choose a specific charity to support donate to Malaria Consortium’s SMC program.

Click here to donate.

Note: Malaria Consortium implements a number of programs and our recommendation is limited to its SMC program. Donations made in support of Malaria Consortium via GiveWell will be restricted to SMC. If you choose to give directly to Malaria Consortium and wish to follow our recommendation, please inform Malaria Consortium that you want your support to be restricted to SMC.

New information we learned in 2019

Our 2019 top charities have all been named GiveWell top charities in the past, but we don’t stop reviewing organizations once they’re on our top charity list. Our research team continually assesses our existing top charities to determine whether we should direct more funding to them.

At the start of each year, our research team considers which new information or analysis is most likely to change our charity recommendations and/or improve our ability to share the reasoning for our recommendations with the community of supporters who rely on our work. Details on the research we conducted in 2019 is here.

Giving to GiveWell’s operations

GiveWell is a nonprofit. The research we conduct is fully funded by donors who choose to support our operations. We hope that donors will consider allocating funding in 2019 to support our work.

Our organization has grown a lot this year. We hired 12 new staff across the domains of research, outreach/marketing, and operations. We plan to continue growing in each of these areas in 2020. To increase the impact of the funds we direct in the future, we’re planning to hire researchers to help us conduct additional high-quality research into new and existing areas. To direct more funding to the top charities we recommend, we’re planning to grow our outreach and marketing team. We plan to grow our operations team to strengthen our human resources, finance, and technical systems as we expand.

We’ll need to grow the number of donors who give to our operations to support our planned expansion. We cap the amount that any individual donor can provide to our operations at 20% of our total budget to ensure a stable and diverse funding base.

Our recommendation for donors:

  • If you’ve never given to our operations in the past, we hope you’ll consider adding 10% to your donation to support our operations.
  • If you’ve supported our operations in the past, we hope you’ll consider renewing your gift.

We retain our excess assets policy, which ensures that if we fundraise for our own operations beyond a certain level, we will grant the excess to the best giving opportunities we’ve found.

Tips for donating efficiently

We appreciate your support in any way that you can give. We also offer some advice on how to maximize the efficiency of your gift:

Questions?

Please contact donations@givewell.org if you have any questions about your donation.

More information on our top charities and 2019 review process

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We’re offering matching funds to new donors via podcasts

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 16:31

We’re offering matching funds to new donors who hear about our work on podcast advertisements. A donor has agreed to make a 1:1 match of any donations to GiveWell and/or our top and standout charities. The donor will match up to $1,000 per new donor until the matching funds run out.

Offering donation matching will enable us to better track the impact of the ads we fund. However, we’ve been critical of donation matching in the past. This post will explain why and how we’re planning to match donations today.

Podcast advertising and the challenges of tracking donations

We hope to grow significantly the amount of funding our top charities receive as a result of our recommendation over the coming years. Improving and increasing our outreach efforts to reach potential donors is a key part of our strategy to achieve this goal. One of our first outreach endeavors was running ads on podcasts that were popular with GiveWell staff and existing donors.

We ran podcast ads in early 2017 and again during the peak time of year for donations (November and December) in 2017 and 2018. We believe the system we had for tracking donations made due to our ads likely missed many podcast-driven donations. We measured promising early returns but are highly uncertain about the total impact of this work. We only felt confident attributing a new donation to a podcast ad if the donor filled out an optional free-form text field on our donation forms (example) or post-donation survey to tell us that they learned about our work on a particular podcast on which we ran ads. Given that donors had to take a non-required step to report podcast ad-influenced donations to us (and because of some of the challenges of interpreting data from free-form text fields), we knew the number of donations we tracked as being due to ads was lower than the true number of donations due to our ads.

Our intuition remains that podcasts might be a great medium for connecting with new donors, based on our impressions of the popularity of podcasts among current staff and donors, the early success we saw with podcast ads in 2017,[1] and our view that we’ve so far undercounted the returns by some amount. This giving season, we’re planning to run podcast ads and provide matching funds to new donors who learn about us through these ads. We expect that matching funds will enable us to better track our impact and ultimately make informed decisions about our marketing budget and allocation. People who hear about the matching funds may also be particularly motivated to donate.

2019 matching funds

Structure of the match

First-time donors who hear our podcast ads during the 2019 giving season will be offered a 1:1 match of their gifts up to $1,000, until the total matching funds of $100,000 run out. Each podcast will direct listeners to a different landing page on GiveWell’s website through which they can submit a donation to be matched. This will enable us to better track the impact of advertising on each unique podcast.

We only plan to match new donors and we will be manually reviewing donations to process them for the match. Our intention is to only match donations of people who learned about us via podcasts, as best we can tell.

Avoiding a “false” match

Our 2011 critique of matching funds noted that many donation matches aren’t “true” matches. In other words, the donor providing the matching funds would have donated the funds anyway, and so donors aren’t really “doubling their impact” when they get the match.[2]

We plan to avoid this by having the matching funds donated by a donor who we feel confident would not have otherwise given to our operations this year. We will not receive additional funding from this donor in 2019 if it isn’t matched by new donors who hear about us on podcasts.

We referred to this type of matching in our 2011 critique as “influence matching” in which “the matcher makes a legitimate commitment to give only if others do, in an attempt to influence their giving.”[3] We promised to be explicit if we ever engaged in this type of a match (although we did not forecast the use of a match motivated by donation-tracking purposes).[4]

Conclusion

We hope that the use of matching funds will enable us to learn whether our podcast ads are successful. We also hope to better understand whether matches appeal to donors. We expect to write about whether this project is successful in the future.

Sources

Sources for this post are available here.

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