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GiveDirectly - November 2017 Version

We have published a more recent review of this organization. See our most recent report on GiveDirectly.


GiveDirectly is one of our top-rated charities and we believe that it offers donors an outstanding opportunity to accomplish good with their donations.

More information: What is our evaluation process?

Published: November 2017


What do they do? GiveDirectly ( transfers cash to households in developing countries via mobile phone-linked payment services. It targets extremely low-income households. (More)

Does it work? We believe that this approach faces an unusually low burden of proof, and that the available evidence supports the idea that unconditional cash transfers significantly help people. GiveDirectly has a track record of effectively delivering cash to low-income households. GiveDirectly has one major randomized controlled trial (RCT) of its impact and several more RCTs in progress. (More)

What do you get for your dollar? The proportion of total expenses that GiveDirectly has delivered directly to recipients is approximately 82% overall. This estimate averages across multiple program types and relies on several rough assumptions about what costs to include and exclude. (More)

Is there room for more funding? We believe that GiveDirectly is highly likely to be constrained by funding next year. It expects to use additional funding primarily for standard cash transfers and to unlock grants for projects in new countries from other funders who require GiveDirectly to provide matching funding for their contributions. We estimate that GiveDirectly could use more than $200 million in additional funding in 2018-2019. (More)

GiveDirectly is recommended because of its:

  • Focus on a program with a low burden of proof and a strong track record. (More)
  • Strong process for ensuring that cash is well-targeted and consistently reaches its intended targets. (More)
  • Documented success in transferring a high portion of funds raised directly to recipients. (More)
  • Standout transparency (more).
  • Room for more funding. We believe that GiveDirectly can use substantial additional funding productively. (More)

Major open questions include:

  • While GiveDirectly has one major RCT of its activities in Kenya, there is still limited evidence on the impact of the type of transfers (large, one-time transfers; and, going forward, unconditional long-term income transfers) that GiveDirectly generally provides, particularly the long-term impact of such transfers. There are currently several ongoing experimental evaluations of GiveDirectly's programs, including a long-term RCT.
  • We believe GiveDirectly's basic income guarantee program is likely less cost-effective than GiveDirectly's standard cash transfer campaigns. In 2016-2017, GiveDirectly chose to fundraise extensively for the basic income study, and some donors who previously supported standard cash transfers supported the basic income project instead. GiveDirectly had a large funding gap for standard cash transfer campaigns in 2017 relative to growth projections. It is unclear if these donors, particularly the largest donors, would have continued to support standard cash transfers in the absence of the basic income project.
Table of Contents

Our review process

To date, our review process has consisted of

  • Regular (~3-6 times per year) conversations with GiveDirectly staff.
  • Reviewing documents GiveDirectly sent in response to our queries.
  • In November 2012, we visited GiveDirectly's operations in Kenya, where we met with beneficiaries of its work and spoke with its local field staff.
  • In 2014, we retained a journalist to visit GiveDirectly in Kenya. We published his report on our blog.
  • In October 2014, we visited GiveDirectly's operations in Uganda, where we met with beneficiaries of its work, spoke with local field staff, and observed a cash out day (a cash out day is when a mobile money agent makes a scheduled visit to village that has received transfers by phone from GiveDirectly).

Note that in 2017, we decided that since we had followed GiveDirectly for several years and did not have major outstanding questions for them, we would limit the extent of our updating of this review (which we noted in a March 2017 blog post). We asked for key pieces of information on their finances, monitoring results, and room for more funding, and had regular phone calls with GiveDirectly in an attempt to learn about operational changes that might lead us to ask additional questions. There are details that we have for previous years that we did not seek updates on in 2017, as we did not feel that that would be a good use of GiveDirectly or GiveWell's time.

All content on GiveDirectly, including updates, blog posts and conversation notes, is available here. We have also published a page with additional, detailed information on GiveDirectly to supplement some of the sections below.

What do they do?


GiveDirectly transfers cash to poor households in developing countries primarily via mobile phone-linked payment services. It has operated since 2009 and is currently active in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda (launched in October 2016).1 To date, GiveDirectly has primarily provided large, one-time transfers. It recently started a basic income guarantee program, in which recipients will receive long-term (over two or twelve years in the initial study), ongoing cash transfers sufficient for basic needs (more).

GiveDirectly's work of providing cash transfers to poor households may also include:

  • Experimentation: GiveDirectly runs or participates in studies on a) the impact of cash transfers and b) the costs and benefits of various program designs, with the goal of improving its own cash transfer program, improving other cash transfer programs, or encouraging the creation of new programs. (More)
  • Partnership work: GiveDirectly pursues opportunities to partner with other organizations on cash transfer projects. Through these projects, GiveDirectly aims to encourage the evaluation of aid projects (often by using cash transfers as a standard of comparison) and ultimately influence funders to move resources from less effective aid programs to more effective ones. (More)

We discuss GiveDirectly's experimentation and partnership work to some extent below, but most of our review focuses on its direct impact, rather than the experimentation or policy impact its programs might have. We focus on direct impact because of the difficulty of predicting the impact of experimentation and partnership work without a demonstrable track record of past success.

In 2014, three members of GiveDirectly's board, including founders of the organization, started and are partial owners of a for-profit company, Segovia, which develops software that NGOs and developing-country governments can use to help implement their cash transfer programs. GiveDirectly pays for use of Segovia's software. We discuss the potential for conflicts of interest on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly.

Below, we discuss:

  • The structure of GiveDirectly's transfers
  • GiveDirectly's process for identifying recipient households and delivering cash transfers
  • GiveDirectly's staff structure
  • GiveDirectly's experimentation work
  • GiveDirectly's work on partnerships

Standard cash transfer program

Grant size

GiveDirectly's standard model involves grants of approximately $1,000 (USD) delivered over several months in multiple payments. We estimate that the average family receives $288 per capita from GiveDirectly, which is 121% of baseline annual consumption per capita for recipients in Kenya. More on GiveDirectly's grant structure can be found on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly.


GiveDirectly's typical process is as follows:

  1. Local area selection: Select local region and then villages based largely on poverty rates.
  2. Census: Conduct a census in each village of all households.
  3. Registration: Send a separate team to register eligible households. This includes a) helping recipients set up a payment system to receive transfers (if they don't already have such a system in place), and b) collecting an additional round of data from the household that can be checked against the initial data from the census.
  4. Audit: Some households are flagged for audit based on discrepancies collected in the previous steps and are revisited to collect additional data.
  5. Transfers sent: GiveDirectly sends transfers to recipients via mobile money providers (more).
  6. Follow up calls: GiveDirectly field staff make multiple phone calls and, for vulnerable recipients, in-person visits, to all recipients as transfers are being sent to ask various questions about recipients' experiences. In addition to the follow-up calls, GiveDirectly maintains a phone "hotline" for recipients to call if they have any questions about the transfers or issues in obtaining funds.

More detail on the above process can be found on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly.

We have reviewed (and made public) data collected during each step of the enrollment process for most of GiveDirectly's campaigns, with deletions to preserve anonymity.2

Staff structure

In its countries of operation, GiveDirectly's programs are overseen by a Chief Operating Officer International (COO-I), Country Directors (CDs) and Field Directors (FDs). Day-to-day operations are overseen by Field Managers and Associate Field Managers, who focus on quality control, management, training of Field Officers, logistics, and management of Field Officers. Field Officers (FOs) implement the steps required on the ground to enroll and follow up with households. They have the most face-to-face interaction with recipients and are all hired within the country of the transfers. There are separate groups of FOs for census and registration. FOs are also hired to conduct audits and follow-up surveys with recipients post-transfers; some of the FOs hired for these roles may have previously worked on the census or registration phases.

More on GiveDirectly's staff structure can be found on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly.

Evaluation and experimentation

GiveDirectly's goals for experimentation include increasing the evidence base for cash transfers, improving recipient returns and welfare (both in GiveDirectly's program and others), and developing capabilities necessary to implement larger-scale programs or programs in new contexts.3 When choosing which evaluations to run, GiveDirectly also considers the potential impact on policymakers.4 In 2017, GiveDirectly told us that a very high proportion of recipients are part of research studies.5 See this spreadsheet for a full list of GiveDirectly experimentation projects. Below we discuss a few selected projects that are of greatest interest to us.

RCT of GiveDirectly's Rarieda campaign

Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of GiveDirectly's program in which eligible households were selected randomly to receive cash transfers.6 These transfers were made in Rarieda, Kenya in 2011-2012.7 GiveDirectly publicly provided the plan for collecting and analyzing data to determine the impact of these transfers. The RCT has been published; we discuss it in detail here.

Macroeconomic effects

Based on conversations with policymakers, GiveDirectly found that a key question relevant to government cash transfer programs is the impact they have on macroeconomic factors such as inflation and job creation.8 GiveDirectly is working to conduct an RCT examining the macroeconomic effects of GiveDirectly's program in Kenya.9 Details of the study are in this footnote.10 Endline data collection was expected to be completed by the end of 2016; as of November 2017, GiveDirectly expected to share selected results with us by late 2017 or early 2018.11

Basic income guarantee study

Note that we last updated this section in late 2016. As of this writing in August 2017, the basic income trial had not yet started – it is scheduled to start in the fall of 2017. We have chosen to wait until the trial is underway to ask GiveDirectly for an update on the study design. As of August 2017, GiveDirectly had raised about $26.6 million out of the $30 million it would need to run the trial with the intended sample size.12

GiveDirectly is planning to begin a study of providing long-term, ongoing cash transfers sufficient for basic needs ("basic income guarantee") in 2017; it launched a pilot of the program in October 2016.13 The study is expected to include approximately 30,000 individuals and provide a basic income for either 2 or 12 years to every adult enrolled (more details in footnote).14 The income will likely be close to $0.75 per day.15 GiveDirectly may solicit input from recipients when determining the timing of the basic income transfers; GiveDirectly suspects most recipients will want to receive larger, more infrequent payments.16

GiveDirectly told us that recently policymakers, academics, and others have shown an increased interest in universal basic income experiments and GiveDirectly believes the project could have significant policy impact.17 We and GiveDirectly believe that the direct impact of the program (excluding any potential policy impact) is likely to be less cost-effective than GiveDirectly's standard campaign (more on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly).18

Partnership work

GiveDirectly has been exploring projects with a number of partners. The projects that GiveDirectly has partnered on or considered generally involve implementing cash transfers as part of a study funded by an institutional partner. GiveDirectly has also provided informal advice to those considering cash transfer programs. For a sample of smaller potential partnership projects that GiveDirectly has considered, see this footnote.19

GiveDirectly has signed an agreement for one partnership project (in Rwanda; costing $4 million) and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to consider additional projects (GiveDirectly and its partner may each spend up to $15 million).20 The projects will involve running studies to test other interventions against cash transfers or to measure the impact of cash transfers in different contexts (see our page with additional information on GiveDirectly for details).

Additionally, GiveDirectly has told us that it has made progress in conversations with several other institutional funders about potential projects.21

We discuss the question of whether GiveDirectly has a broader impact on the international aid sector through its experimentation and partnership work below, and below we discuss the cost-effectiveness of partnership projects and how additional funding would affect its discussions with potential partners.

Does it work?

This section discusses the following questions:

  • Generally speaking, are unconditional cash transfers a promising approach to helping people? We believe that this approach faces an unusually low burden of proof and that the available evidence is consistent with the idea that unconditional cash transfers help people.
  • How effective and well-founded are GiveDirectly's criteria? The evidence we have suggests that GiveDirectly targets low-income recipients. GiveDirectly has recently transitioned to making transfers to 100% of households in selected villages in two of its three countries of operation.
  • Is GiveDirectly effectively targeting people who meet its criteria? We believe GiveDirectly's enrollment process is a relatively effective way of targeting people who meet its criteria, although we note that GiveDirectly has experienced difficulties recently with some people in certain geographic areas refusing to enroll in its program.
  • Does GiveDirectly have an effective process for getting cash to recipients? GiveDirectly's process seems to have been successful so far, with two notable exceptions—we find it encouraging that GiveDirectly was able to detect and respond to these cases.
  • How do recipients spend their cash, and how does this spending impact their lives? We present a variety of evidence, including findings from a randomized controlled trial of GiveDirectly's work.
  • Are the size and structure of the cash transfers well-thought-through and appropriate? We find GiveDirectly's approach to be defensible, but we look forward to seeing the results of GiveDirectly's experimentation with different approaches in the future.
  • Are there negative or other offsetting impacts? GiveDirectly has taken some measures to address this question, and we believe that the evidence so far suggests that while the cash transfers do lead to some problems, these problems are relatively minor.
  • Does GiveDirectly have a broader impact on the international aid sector? We have chosen not to look at this question in depth. We have not seen compelling evidence that GiveDirectly has significantly affected the behavior of funders or other organizations, although GiveDirectly has shared some qualitative evidence that we have not followed up on.

Generally speaking, are unconditional cash transfers a promising approach to helping people?

We discuss this question more extensively in our report on cash transfers. In brief:

  • The evidence most relevant to GiveDirectly comes from an RCT of a GiveDirectly campaign (available here). We discuss the findings of this RCT in our cash intervention report.
  • Cash transfers are among the best-studied development interventions, though questions remain. Studies generally show substantial increases in short-term consumption, especially food, and little evidence of negative impacts (e.g., increases in alcohol or tobacco consumption). It is important to note that most of these studies are of "income transfers" (relatively small, ongoing payments); there is more limited evidence for programs with "wealth transfer" (relatively large, one-time transfers) models like GiveDirectly's. This is one of the reasons that we are particularly interested in GiveDirectly experimenting with and evaluating different approaches.
  • There is also some evidence that recipients are able to invest cash transfers at high rates of return (e.g., ~20% per year), leading to long-term increases in consumption.
  • We feel that this intervention faces an unusually low burden of proof, given that short-term poverty reduction is an outcome by definition, though donors' intuitive reactions to it may vary widely.

How effective and well-founded are GiveDirectly's eligibility criteria?

Starting in 2017, GiveDirectly began transitioning, in Uganda and Kenya, from a model in which it targets households based on eligibility criteria to a model in which it enrolls all households in selected villages. In particular:22

  • In Uganda, GiveDirectly switched from targeted enrollment to enrolling all households in selected villages in June 2017, with the exception of villages involved in an ongoing research project.
  • In Kenya, as of late 2017, GiveDirectly's standard cash transfers were on hold as it prepared to start the basic income project. It expects to begin enrolling all households in selected villages when it restarts standard cash transfers. The basic income project enrolls all adults in selected villages.
  • In Rwanda, the government required GiveDirectly to use a targeted approach.

Previously in Kenya and Uganda and currently in Rwanda, GiveDirectly has used three different sets of eligibility criteria for its standard campaigns:

  • Poverty Probability Index (PPI): In Rwanda, GiveDirectly uses PPI, an independently-created tool managed by Innovations for Poverty Action. The tool uses ten questions to generate a PPI score.23 GiveDirectly notes, "Recipients enrolled using this approach in 2017 scored, on average, 21.5 (mapping to $0.38/day median consumption level), whereas ineligible households scored, on average, 44.3 (mapping to $0.56/day median consumption level)."24 We have not vetted the PPI methodology.
  • Assets and vulnerability status: This approach, which GiveDirectly previously used in Kenya, uses an algorithm to determine eligibility; the algorithm uses a number of inputs related to household assets and the vulnerability of recipients.25 GiveDirectly developed this algorithm after testing a number of new potential criteria.26
  • Housing materials: GiveDirectly previously used this approach in Uganda and Kenya.27 Households are selected based on housing materials, enrolling households who live in a house made of organic materials (thatched roof, mud walls, and a mud floor) and excluding households with iron roofs, cement walls, or cement floors.28

As part of the first RCT of GiveDirectly's program, during which the housing materials selection criteria were used, researchers collected in-depth information on poverty levels of recipients and found that those selected were extremely poor on a number of measures, including that half of adults skip meals and average per capita daily consumption is $0.65 at nominal rates.29 In a later study, GiveDirectly found that recipients in Uganda had a slightly higher per capita daily consumption of $0.83.30

Anecdotal evidence from GiveWell's site visit to Kenya

In November 2012, GiveWell staff visited Kenya to view GiveDirectly's program in the field. See our notes and photographs from the site visit. We visited five locations (three in Siaya and two in Rarieda) where GiveDirectly had transferred funds or was in the process of enrolling recipients to receive funds. We visited approximately 15 households across the five locations (including two non-recipient households with metal roofs and cement walls and floors that did not qualify for GiveDirectly's program). For details on how homes we visited were selected, see this footnote.31 Note that when we visited, GiveDirectly was using thatched roofs and mud building materials as its criteria.

We would characterize the ~15 households we visited (as well as other households we saw while walking but did not speak with directly) as extremely poor. We summarize characteristics of these households in this footnote.32

Note that among the households we visited, many had already received part or all of their transfer from GiveDirectly, so our observations are based on a selection of households that include some newly-built or renovated structures in addition to older structures. Given that some of the recipients we met used transfers to build larger houses or buy livestock, our observations would likely over-estimate the assets of each household pre-transfer.

In addition, the homes we saw from afar in villages we visited and homes we passed while driving in the area appeared to be at a similar level of extreme poverty.


In 2016, GiveDirectly launched GDLive (, an online tool for donors to read recipients' answers to questions about their lives and their reactions to receiving cash transfers from GiveDirectly. Recipients responses are only posted if they opt in to sharing them online. Responses are unedited and include answers to such questions as "What is the biggest hardship you've faced in your life?", "What is the happiest part of your day?" and "What did you spend the payment you received on?"

GiveDirectly notes that, "We’re not editing or curating the feedback to make sure it’s happy, or fits a narrative. We’re letting it hit your screen the moment it hits our database."33 We'd guess that the profiles are reasonably representative of GiveDirectly's recipients, though we haven't followed up with GiveDirectly about questions such as 'are all recipients invited to participate?' and 'what portion opt in to participating?'

Is GiveDirectly effectively targeting people who meet its criteria?

As noted above, GiveDirectly is no longer using targeting criteria in Kenya or Uganda. Therefore, the rest of this section is primarily applicable to GiveDirectly's past operations in Kenya and Uganda and ongoing work in Rwanda.

GiveDirectly's process for identifying and enrolling households is described in short above and in more detail on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly. It involves multiple unannounced visits by different staff to each recipient home in order to confirm that recipients meet the criteria. We have examined data collected by GiveDirectly from its enrollment process (registration, remote checks, and audits) for most transfer campaigns through 2014. In 2015 and 2016, we spot-checked the data GiveDirectly shared with us. In 2017, we requested only summary data on a few key metrics, rather than household-level data.34

We believe GiveDirectly's current process to be generally effective at identifying households that meet its criteria. In mid-2017, GiveDirectly eliminated a step in the process, the "backcheck," in which staff would revisit households after they had been registered to verify their identities, but it will continue to audit a portion of registered households. GiveDirectly audited 58% of registered households in Kenya in the first quarter of 2017; we have not seen recent data on the proportion of households audited in Uganda or Rwanda.35 GiveDirectly reports that in 2017, before back checks were eliminated, roughly 2% of registered households were removed after each the back check and the audit stages.36

In 2016 and 2017, GiveDirectly encountered high refusal rates – i.e., households declining to participate – in the Homa Bay region in Kenya (more on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly).

Does GiveDirectly have an effective process for getting cash to recipients?

Mobile money providers and distribution models

GiveDirectly transfers funds to recipients through mobile money providers. In Kenya, the mobile money provider, M-PESA, allows users to receive, send, deposit, and withdraw funds on their mobile phones. When withdrawing funds, recipients must present ID along with their mobile phone number and a user-specified M-PESA PIN number to an M-PESA agent.37 Users enter the amount they want to withdraw on their own phone, and after each transaction, they can see their remaining balance, reducing the ability of agents to defraud clients of funds.38 GiveDirectly has told us that recipients are generally able to withdraw cash from mobile money agents located in or near their villages.39 Recipients must pay a small fee when they withdraw a portion of their transfer (around 1% for large withdrawals, and higher for small withdrawals).40

GiveDirectly works with a mobile money provider called MTN in Uganda.41 MTN has similar security measures to M-PESA: a user must present ID to an agent before making withdrawals, provide their phone or SIM card, and enter their PIN number. Users must pay a fee to withdraw, and confirmation messages are sent after withdrawals.42

In Uganda, the agent network is less robust; however, GiveDirectly has found that recipients are still able to withdraw cash from mobile money agents.43 GiveDirectly tracks the ability of recipients to withdraw cash in its follow-up surveys, in which it asks recipients if they have withdrawn their transfer, if they experienced any issues, and how long it took them to make the trip to withdraw.44

Additionally, the "coffee RCT" that GiveDirectly is running will be conducted in Uganda (more), and GiveDirectly intends to use data from this study as a more rigorous check on how easily recipients can withdraw their money in Uganda.45

We have not yet asked GiveDirectly for the details of how recipients access funds in Rwanda.

Staff fraud

GiveDirectly has discovered and written publicly about two cases of staff fraud in its Uganda program. We consider fraud to be an ongoing risk to the success of GiveDirectly's programs, but are encouraged that GiveDirectly's monitoring has allowed it to detect and respond to these cases.

As GiveDirectly scales, we would weakly expect greater awareness of its program and more attention to be paid to it by people outside of the villages in which it works.46 This could increase the risk of large-scale crime.47 GiveDirectly believes that additional security measures are unlikely to be particularly useful (details in footnote).48 In addition to harming recipients, crime would likely cause delays for GiveDirectly's work.

Uganda 2014

In mid-2014, two of GiveDirectly’s field staff colluded with mobile money agents to defraud recipients of funds. The staff and mobile money agents were able to steal a total of $20,500 in the form of $20-100 deductions from recipients' payouts.49 GiveDirectly found out about the fraud through follow-up calls to recipients, which were accelerated after a separate issue had been reported to GiveDirectly's hotline.50 GiveDirectly has taken multiple measures to address the vulnerabilities exposed by this case of fraud (see footnote for details).51

Uganda 2015-2016

GiveDirectly estimates that, between September 2015 and December 2016, GiveDirectly staff in Uganda stole up to 0.5% of transfers delivered (up to $60,000). The funds were stolen "primarily through staff enrolling ineligible households with the expectation of receiving part of their transfers."52

GiveDirectly became suspicious that there might be a problem based on data from its audit team, whose role is to survey past recipients about key aspects of the program. A whistleblower within the organization also suggested that there might be fraud; the whistleblower came forward after a field director held a meeting to encourage whistleblowing.53

In response, GiveDirectly conducted interviews with staff and with 8,000 recipients.54 It dismissed the staff that it believes were responsible, as well as complicit management staff.55 GiveDirectly notes that, going forward, it has made changes to its processes to reduce the risk of future fraud (details in footnote).56

Other issues

Other possible issues with GiveDirectly's process for sending cash to recipients include:

  • In Kenya, M-PESA agents could be overcharging or stealing some of recipients' funds.57 GiveDirectly recognizes that this is a common criticism from recipients who call into GiveDirectly's hotline, but believes it is likely that many recipients with this complaint are not fully aware of how to use their mobile money accounts.58 Results from GiveDirectly's follow-up surveys indicate that this problem is fairly rare.59
  • In Uganda, some recipients have experienced delays in accessing their funds due to MTN not activating their accounts immediately.60
  • Recipients who are unfamiliar with mobile phones or mobile money accounts may not know how to keep their information secure.
  • Some of the recipients that GiveDirectly serves are not able to fully understand how to use the mobile money payments system on their own, or do not have the mobility to go to agents or cash out days to withdraw their funds.61 For these recipients, GiveDirectly finds a trustee or helper who aids them with their cash transfers; GiveDirectly tries to ensure that this person is someone the recipient trusts.62

How do recipients spend their cash, and how does this spending impact their lives?

Findings from the RCT

In the RCT, researchers collected data by surveying members of the treatment and control groups about their recent spending. GiveDirectly recipients increased the value of their non-land assets and their monthly consumption and did not increase spending on alcohol or tobacco. The RCT also found increases in food security, revenue, psychological well-being, and female empowerment for recipients of cash transfers. There was no significant effect found on health and education outcomes, profits, or cortisol levels.

We write extensively about the results from GiveDirectly's RCT in our intervention report on cash transfers.

Data from follow-up surveys

For several of GiveDirectly's past campaigns, GiveDirectly staff surveyed recipients on how they used their cash transfers during the follow-up calls, but has since discontinued the practice due to the limitations of self-reported data.63 Recipients reported spending a large portion of their transfer on "building." The next largest expenditure categories were household items, livestock, and school. See our page with additional information about GiveDirectly for more detail.

GiveDirectly has also presented some limited data on spending in a single village on its website.64 These data indicate that the vast majority of recipients (over 75%) in the village used their transfer to buy an iron roof.65 The next three largest categories of spending were on other home improvements, livestock, and furniture.66

Since late 2016, GiveDirectly has been sharing some of the data it collects on how recipients report spending their transfers through its GDLive tool (more above).

Anecdotal evidence from our site visit

In our site visit to Kenya, we asked recipients about the value of items commonly purchased with transfer funds.67 Recipients reported that their thatched-roofs frequently leak when it rains and require replacement every 3-4 months at a cost of 1,000 Kenyan shillings ($11.68 based on the exchange rate as of November 15, 201268) as well as time/labor. One recipient also reported that when it rains, she moves her family and their belongings into other structures to stay dry. Recipients reported buying livestock as an investment/savings device, hoping that they could (a) use the milk from the cow or goat for additional income and (b) sell the cow or goat and any offspring in the future if/when they needed additional funds (for e.g., secondary school fees for their children which are approximately 15,000 Kenyan shillings per year69 [$175.13 based on the exchange rate as of November 15, 201270]).

Will the results be different in other campaigns?

GiveDirectly's RCT was conducted in Rarieda, Kenya. GiveDirectly now primarily works in Homa Bay, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.71 We guess that these contexts are similar enough that the impact of cash transfers on recipients will be roughly similar.

GiveDirectly has informed us that most potential recipients in Homa Bay County already have iron roofs.72 Additionally, Rwanda recently banned thatched roofs, so recipients are more likely to already have iron roofs there.73 To date, our estimate of investment returns from GiveDirectly's cash transfers has been based on the return to buying an iron roof (due to this being a particularly common purchase). The fact that iron roofs are already common in Homa Bay and Rwanda raises questions about how recipients will spend transfers and what returns on their investments they will get. GiveDirectly has noted that Homa Bay County is geographically very close to Rarieda and that the poverty rate in Homa Bay County is higher than it was in Rarieda, which could indicate that cash transfers will do more good in Homa Bay.74 We expect to learn more about the impact of cash transfers on recipients in Homa Bay from the results of the "Aspirations" study (more).

Are the size and structure of the cash transfers well-thought-through and appropriate?

We discuss GiveDirectly's rationale for setting the grant size at $1,000 per household and our reservations about it on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly. In short, we find GiveDirectly's approach to be defensible, but we look forward to seeing the results of GiveDirectly's experimentation with different approaches in the future.

Are there negative or offsetting impacts?

Below, we discuss questions about the possible negative effects of cash transfers and GiveDirectly's operations. For more, see our site visit notes from our visit to GiveDirectly's operations Kenya in November 2012, during which we spoke with recipients and non-recipients about potential problems.

The RCT that Innovations for Poverty Action conducted of GiveDirectly's transfers in Rarieda found no significant effects of transfers on the rate of crime in treatment villages or on instances of physical, sexual, or emotional violence in treatment households as compared to control households in treatment villages.75

We have found very limited information about jealousy and conflict related to other cash transfer programs, but one study that found small levels of hostility towards recipients of an unconditional wealth transfer in Uganda is discussed in our cash transfer intervention report.

GiveDirectly has two primary mechanisms for tracking and resolving conflicts: its follow-up surveys and its hotline. GiveDirectly's follow-up surveys include questions like the following:76

  • Have you heard complaints about GiveDirectly in your community? What complaints are you hearing? Who is upset/complaining? Who are they upset with?
  • Has there been any shouting or angry arguments among people in your village about these transfers? If yes, describe.
  • Has there been any violence, theft, or other crime in your village related to these transfers? If yes, describe.

Recipients can use GiveDirectly's hotline to report issues at any time. GiveDirectly told us in 2016 that its hotline service was not effectively responding to everyone who called in; it moved to a new system in early 2017.77

Data from follow-up surveys

GiveDirectly has sent us results from follow-up surveys conducted in multiple transfer campaigns. In 2016, we asked for a sample of recent follow-up survey data. GiveDirectly sent us a database covering 3,329 follow-up calls from late July to mid-August 2016 across its campaigns in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.78 These data indicated that reported issues were low: 7% of recipients reported some regrets about how they spent their transfer, 2% reported hearing complaints, and 1% reported thefts.79 Note that GiveDirectly surveys only cash recipients, not non-recipients, and all data are self-reported.

In 2017, we asked for data on complaints made to GiveDirectly for the first quarter of the year during GiveDirectly's follow-up calls to recipients. GiveDirectly call center agents asked recipients whether they had heard complaints about GiveDirectly. In Kenya, recipients said they heard complaints in 5.1% of calls and most (68%) of the complaints were categorized as "program is evil/from the devil" (more on this issue here), while 15% were about the program being unfair (primarily in which households were included) and 10% were about jealousy from non-recipients. In Uganda, recipients said they heard complains in only 0.5% of calls and 91% of complaints were about unfairness and jealousy. We have seen only limited information on complaints in Rwanda; the data we have seen suggest that complaint rates are very low so far.80

Data from Kenya and Uganda for 2013-2015 are on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly.

Data from hotline calls
We have reviewed records of calls made to GiveDirectly's hotline from May 2012 – August 2015, which provide anecdotal evidence of tension and conflict caused by the cash transfers, according to recipients, including marital disputes, fraud committed by helpers, trustees, or family members, and Village Elders requesting funds from recipients.81 In the most recent complete hotline call data that we have seen (from October 201482), the most common type of adverse event recorded is household conflict, followed by theft.83 The number of issues reported was about 6% of the total households in the campaigns (though it is possible that single households account for more than one issue recorded).84

Do the cash transfers have negative effects on non-recipients?

We note that in two of the three countries that GiveDirectly works in, it is now enrolling all households in selected villages.

There is suggestive evidence that cash transfer programs may have moderate negative short-term effects on the well-being and economic outcomes (e.g., consumption, assets, and business revenue) of non-recipient households living in the same areas as similar households that receive transfers.85 However, the evidence for these effects primarily comes from studies of a variant of GiveDirectly’s program that may differ from its core program in important ways. GiveDirectly notes that even though it has not identified significant evidence of negative effects on non-recipients, it now generally avoids conducting experiments that randomize at the individual level, to avoid situations in which one eligible household receives transfers while a similarly situated neighbor does not.86

Do the cash transfers lead to more frequent or more serious criminal activity?

The RCT of GiveDirectly's transfers in Rarieda found no significant effects of transfers on the rate of crime in treatment villages.87 It is possible that cash transfers cause more serious crimes (in terms of damages) even if they do not cause more crimes; this seems plausible given that cash transfers create an influx of resources into villages. GiveDirectly notes that crime could become a more serious problem as its program becomes larger and more well-known, but GiveDirectly does not expect to see significantly higher rates of crime in the near future.88

Examples of attempted and/or successful criminal activity relating to GiveDirectly cash transfers include:

  • People stealing cash and cellphones from recipient households89
  • People contacting recipients and posing as GiveDirectly staff to defraud recipients of funds90
  • Mobile money agents defrauding recipients of funds91
  • GiveDirectly staff defrauding recipients of funds (we discuss one case of this above)

To mitigate the risk of small-scale crime, in its communications with recipients, GiveDirectly emphasizes ways that recipients can keep their mobile money accounts and phones secure.92 It does not communicate with recipients via text message and tells recipients of this policy in order to protect against mass attempts at fraud, and it follows up with recipients who report crimes to try to resolve the issues.93

For the first quarter of 2017 (the period for which we requested these data), 0.9% of recipients in Kenya reported having heard about or experienced theft. The figure was 0.1% in Uganda and 1.5% in Rwanda.94

Do grants distort incentives and decision-making?

We have not seen information on the question of whether individuals who live in the areas served by GiveDirectly change their behavior in order to increase their chances of receiving transfers – for example, by spending more time at home to increase their chances of being at home when GiveDirectly staff visit, or by choosing to live in poorer quality housing in hopes of receiving transfers.95 The one-off nature of transfers (recipients are not eligible for a second round of transfers) may help to mitigate these effects among past and current recipients, though there is information to suggest that some recipients believe transfers could be given again in the future.96

Another way in which grants may distort decision making is if they are promised and not delivered in time (causing people to make plans that cannot be executed). We do not have data directly addressing this issue, but GiveDirectly provides some statistics on the speed with which transfers are received.97 Cash deployment in 2017 (in the period for which we requested data on this metric) appears to have been quite slow, with 63% of recipients in Kenya and only 9% in Uganda receiving their first payment within 70 days of census. GiveDirectly notes that this was because it made a push in this period to make transfers to or, if necessary, write off commitments to recipients whose transfers had been delayed due to reasons such as registration issues and loss to follow-up. GiveDirectly reports that over 90% of recipients who were censused in 2017 received payments within 70 days of the census.98 For Rwanda, GiveDirectly notes, "Because of Rwandan government constraints in Q1, we did not make payments to recipients who had already been enrolled until Q2. [...] Q2 saw us resume enrollment and payments, and our 'Speed of Cash Deployments' metrics are more in line with expectations.99

GiveDirectly recently changed its model such that recipients cannot receive their next transfer until a GiveDirectly staff member has followed up with them about their previous transfers.100

Previously, GiveDirectly told us that in its Kenya campaigns the key factor determining when a recipient receives funds is when he or she registers for M-PESA; recipients are told that they will not receive transfers until they have registered.101 GiveDirectly's records of calls to its Kenya hotline demonstrate that some recipients are delayed in registering for M-PESA or collecting transfers due to issues outside of their control (e.g., a recipient's SIM number was already registered to someone else's M-PESA account; another recipient reported that an agent mistakenly claimed that the recipient's account had expired).102

In Uganda, the agent networks of mobile money providers are not as robust, which means that recipients must travel farther, on average, to reach an agent.103 This may hamper recipients' ability to execute plans for how and when to use funds.

Do grants distort local markets?

It seems possible to us that a large infusion of cash into an area could alter economic opportunities for both recipients and non-recipients. Such effects could be positive (for example, by spurring investment and job creation or by increasing the availability of retail goods) or negative (for example, by leading primarily to local inflation). The limited evidence addressing this issue in the RCT of GiveDirectly's program in Rarieda and the broader literature on cash transfers points to no distortion. There is an ongoing RCT of GiveDirectly's program that is testing for macroeconomic effects.

Do cash transfers lead to large increases in spending on alcohol and tobacco?

The RCT of GiveDirectly's program in Rarieda did not find an increase in spending on alcohol or tobacco. As discussed in our intervention report on cash transfers, RCTs of other programs that report spending on alcohol or tobacco find no impact on spending on these goods.

Does GiveDirectly divert skilled labor away from other areas?

GiveDirectly recruits Field Officers through referrals from peer organizations, postings at universities, and job advertisements. The application process involves an interview with a Field Director and a language competency exam. GiveDirectly told us in 2013 that it was receiving approximately six times the number of resumes as openings for Field Officer positions.104 For field staff in Kenya, successful candidates generally have a college education and, as of 2013, the last time we checked, were paid approximately $12 per day, in addition to expenses for travel and lodging while working.105 GiveDirectly reported greater language heterogeneity in the areas in which it works in Uganda, which made it harder to hire qualified field staff who also had the necessary language skills.106 We have not asked GiveDirectly about its experiences hiring field staff in Rwanda.

Because GiveDirectly continues to easily hire additional staff and its compensation seems roughly in line with market value, we do not see diversion of skilled labor as a serious concern.

Does GiveDirectly have a broader impact on the international aid sector?

One of the aims of GiveDirectly's partnership and evaluation work is to influence the broader international aid sector to use its funding more cost-effectively.107 We have not yet seen compelling evidence that GiveDirectly is causing significant shifts within the international aid sector, although GiveDirectly has noted that we might find conversations with some of its partners to be qualitatively persuasive.108 GiveDirectly has provided evidence that weakly suggests that the international aid sector is moving towards benchmarking programs against cash.109 However, it is difficult to understand what portion of that shift is attributable to GiveDirectly. Below, we describe the types of examples GiveDirectly has provided in support of its impact on the sector:110

  • Anecdotally, GiveDirectly has heard that some large funders are asking themselves "Is this better than cash?" before making grants.111 Additionally, several large funders partnering with GiveDirectly (or in discussions for future partnerships) have told GiveDirectly that they are having internal policy conversations around the idea of benchmarking programs against cash, in large part due to GiveDirectly.112
  • GiveDirectly believes there has been an increase in demand from policymakers for evidence that compares programs to cash.113
  • GiveDirectly believes there has been an increase in the number of studies that include cash arms (and GiveDirectly was invited to implement the cash arms of several new evaluations).114
  • Anecdotally, GiveDirectly has heard that several new cash transfer programs, new evaluations, and increased transparency practices were inspired by GiveDirectly.115 GiveDirectly believes that, by executing an excellent program, it may put competitive pressure on other implementers to also perform effectively.116
  • GiveDirectly has provided informal advice to new cash programs and studies.117
  • GiveDirectly has participated in several high-level panels and roundtables.118
  • GiveDirectly is used as an example in trainings and university courses.

We have created a spreadsheet with the examples of GiveDirectly's potential impact on the international aid sector that we are aware of. It was last updated in 2016.

It is easier to evaluate GiveDirectly's role in causing unique projects to happen, as opposed to its impact on the broader sector. We believe that the Rwanda project, which caused large donors to give $4 million to a study that will benchmark an intervention against cash transfers, would not have occurred without GiveDirectly and the media attention that GiveDirectly has attracted.119

We would guess that a large portion of any sector impact attributable to GiveDirectly comes from the fact that GiveDirectly has functioned as a proof of concept for cash transfers. Because GiveDirectly has already shown that implementing cash transfers broadly is feasible, we are unsure whether or not additional growth would have a similar sector impact. It is possible that some activities, such as policy-relevant experimentation or partnership projects, could cause significant sector impact in the future; we have not looked in-depth at the impact of these activities (beyond the direct impact on recipients).120 We remain highly uncertain of our ability to determine how much these activities sway policymakers' or funders' decisions, even if we put substantial time and effort into the question.

GiveDirectly notes that its standard cash transfer campaigns could also contribute to sector impact by attracting additional attention which later leads to partnership projects or changes in funders' behavior.121 While this is plausible, we do not see any clear way to verify the suggested causal connection.

What do you get for your dollar?

What percentage of GiveDirectly's expenses end up in the hands of recipients?

Cash grants make up 81.5% of GiveDirectly's all-time incurred expenses.122

While we believe that this is a reasonable estimate of the percentage of funds that will reach recipient households in the future, it is an imperfect estimate in a few ways:

  • Depending on GiveDirectly's future revenue, it may operate at a smaller or larger scale in the future, which would likely affect its cost structure.
  • GiveDirectly has several different program types, which differ in their cost structures. GiveDirectly has told us that donations driven by GiveWell's recommendation are used for standard cash transfers (other than some grant funding from Good Ventures and cases where donors have specified a different use of the funds). GiveDirectly has told us in the past that a higher percentage of funds that are used for standard cash transfers are spent on transfers (89% across Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda standard cash programs), than for the average dollar that GiveDirectly receives.123 This seems plausible to us, but we have not attempted to determine whether that is the case.
  • It excludes costs incurred by external researchers to study GiveDirectly's programs, with one exception (details in footnote).124 We believe this is appropriate in some cases (where GiveDirectly would not have chosen to do the project if the research funds were instead given as an unrestricted grant to GiveDirectly, and where the study does not significantly contribute to our confidence in the program); there are other cases where we believe this decision is more questionable. We asked GiveDirectly for the information it had on hand about these costs. For most research projects, GiveDirectly told us that it was not involved in the fundraising or spending and had limited information, on hand, on total research costs. (We have not yet sought this information from GiveDirectly's research partners or asked GiveDirectly to do so.) Based on the information GiveDirectly was able to share, we have excluded at least $3.5 million in partners' research costs (though this includes some future costs) and likely the full amount is closer to double that.125 For comparison, GiveDirectly's total spending through July 2017 was $95 million; including, for example, $4 million in additional research costs126 would decrease the portion of funding that has reached households to 78%.127
  • It excludes costs of following up with households who have received transfers recently (and so who have not yet been followed up with).
  • It includes fundraising costs that are expected to generate revenue in the future.

A breakdown of GiveDirectly's spending from August 2016 to July 2017 is in GiveWell's analysis of GiveDirectly financial summary through July 2017. A breakdown of funding through July 2016 is on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly.

Does GiveDirectly offer a large amount of humanitarian impact per dollar?

We have not conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis that attempts to quantify the benefits of cash transfers in humanitarian terms. Instead, in comparing cash transfers to the interventions conducted by our other top charities, we have attempted to monetize some of the benefits of the latter, in particular the “developmental effects” of deworming, insecticide-treated nets and seasonal malaria chemoprevention. (In the case of the comparison with the two malaria prevention programs, for instance, this means quantifying the estimated impact of malaria prevention programs on later-in-life income of children through a comparison with the effects of deworming, and then subjectively comparing the cost per life saved with the value of that amount of money as a cash transfer.)

In practice, these calculations are highly sensitive to assumptions, especially regarding:

  • the investment returns to cash transfers;
  • how much confidence one places in the developmental impacts of deworming; and
  • the subjective assessment of the relative value of averting deaths and improving incomes.

We guess that in purely programmatic terms, and given our values, distributions of insecticide-treated nets, seasonal malaria chemoprevention, and deworming are all more cost-effective than cash transfers. However, we think there are plausible values for these assumptions that would permit any ordering of these three programs.

We encourage readers who find formal cost-effectiveness analysis important to examine the details of our calculations and assumptions, and to try putting in their own values. To the extent that we have intuitive preferences and biases, these could easily be creeping into the assumption- and judgment-call-laden work we’ve done in generating our cost-effectiveness figures.

Our full cost-effectiveness model is available here. See also, our 2012 discussion of the cost-effectiveness of cash transfers and other interventions.

Are there significant differences in cost-effectiveness between GiveDirectly's various types of programs?

On our page with additional information about GiveDirectly, we discuss how the cost-effectiveness of GiveDirectly's basic income guarantee program may differ from that of its standard cash transfers.

In the section below, we discuss the possibility that future funding to GiveDirectly may be used to support programs in which GiveDirectly partners with a government aid agency or other institutional funder to co-fund a cash transfer project. These projects would mostly take place in countries GiveDirectly has not worked in before. There are several ways in which these programs could be more or less cost-effective than GiveDirectly's standard cash transfers:

  1. They would generate additional revenue for GiveDirectly that otherwise likely would have gone to activities other than cash transfers—these other activities could be more or less cost-effective than cash transfers, though given the relatively few giving opportunities that we prefer to cash transfers, we'd guess that in most cases we'd consider this reallocation to be positive.
  2. Such partnership programs may be more expensive to administer and/or serve populations that can benefit more or less from cash transfers compared with the populations GiveDirectly has served in the past.
  3. By demonstrating the value of cash transfer programs to institutional funders, partnership projects could lead to significantly more funding for cash transfer programs in the future.

Possibility (3) is likely the most important for cost-effectiveness, as the institutional funders GiveDirectly is in conversations with control very large amounts of funding, and even a fairly small possibility of a modest percentage change in how much these funders allocate to cash transfers would imply that partnership projects are highly cost-effective. But estimating the expected value of possibility (3) relies on several poorly-informed guesses, and we do not feel that we can create a reasonable estimate at this time.

Is there room for more funding?

We believe that GiveDirectly could effectively use more funding than it expects to receive and is very likely to be constrained by funding next year.

We have completed only a rough estimate of GiveDirectly's room for more funding because over the past few years, GiveDirectly's capacity to deliver cash transfers has far exceeded the amount of funding it has received (including funding due to GiveWell's recommendation of GiveDirectly as a top charity). We expect this to continue to be the case and our rough estimate for 2018-2019 is consistent with that expectation.

In short, we have considered:

  • Total opportunities to spend funds productively: Roughly, GiveDirectly believes it could spend $120 million in 2018 ($70 million on standard cash transfers and $50 million on partnership projects) and $200 million in 2019 ($100 million on each standard transfers and partnership projects), if it had sufficient funding to do so. Partnership projects are dependent on sufficient interest from partners, in addition to available funding.
  • Cash on hand: GiveDirectly expects to commit all current funding (as of September 2017) to cash transfers by the end of 2017, with the exception of $5.4 million earmarked for fundraising expenses through mid 2019, $14 million earmarked for matching funds for partnership projects, and funding held for its UBI project.
  • Expected additional funding: GiveDirectly roughly estimates that it will raise $28 million (range: $12 to $45 million) in additional funding for its work in 2018. This includes revenue expected as a result of being on GiveWell's top charity list.128
  • Track record of scalability: GiveDirectly has a track record of scaling quickly;129 it does not yet have a track record of operating at the size it believes it could scale to in 2018-2019. In the year ending July 31, 2017, GiveDirectly transferred $36 million to households; it was constrained by available funding rather than staff capacity.130

In sum, our best guess is that GiveDirectly will have about $42 million to spend on cash transfers in 2018 (excluding UBI) and GiveDirectly estimates that it has the capacity to spend $120 million ($70 million on standard cash transfers and $50 million on partnership projects). Over 2018-2020, we estimate that GiveDirectly could productively use over $200 million more than we expect it to receive. Calculations and more details in this spreadsheet.

Partnership projects

In October 2017, GiveDirectly told us that raising funds for partnership projects is a high priority. GiveDirectly was in discussions about 11 partnership projects at the time.131 For each project, GiveDirectly believes it would not be possible to move forward with the project without the ability to commit its own funds to match what the other funder would put in. For example, it was in discussions with several country offices of a large institutional funder. GiveDirectly told us that this funder's rules require it to run a request for proposals process for new grants, unless the grantee is able to match the funds that the funder provides. GiveDirectly does not think it is well-positioned to compete in the funder's request for proposals process and notes that that process can take a long time.132

GiveDirectly estimates that if all discussions were successful, it would need to provide $43.7 million in match funds to unlock $63 million in funding from other funders. Assigning probabilities to each potential partnership, GiveDirectly estimates that, if it were able to pursue all discussions, it would end up spending $14.8 million on matching grants from institutional funders. There is considerable uncertainty in this estimate. It currently has $14 million set aside for matching (from a 2015 grant from Good Ventures, made on GiveWell's recommendation).133 GiveDirectly told us that without additional funding for partnerships, it expects to need to slow discussions with potential partners because these partners want a commitment from GiveDirectly before they proceed with more detailed discussions.134

In its overall estimate of its room for more funding, GiveDirectly estimated that it could spend $50 million on partnership projects in 2018.135 Based on what GiveDirectly has told us about the partnership projects it is currently in discussions about, we believe that $50 million is more than GiveDirectly could spend on partnership projects in 2018, but that additional funding available for partnerships would allow it to pursue more of these projects in 2018 (and beyond) and that if GiveDirectly were to have more funding that it could use on partnership projects, it would use the funds to deliver more cash transfers outside of partnership projects.

Risks to room for more funding

GiveDirectly believes it can grow extremely quickly. However, there are some risks that might impede its ability to grow as fast as it believes it can. We consider the overall risk to be low, in large part because we'd guess that the following factors might slow GiveDirectly's ability to transfer funds, but that in most scenarios funds would simply reach households somewhat later. The following are concerns identified by GiveWell or GiveDirectly:

  • Refusals: As discussed on our page with additional information about GiveDirectly, GiveDirectly has experienced a fairly high rate of people refusing to be enrolled in Kenya over the last couple of years (with low rates of refusal in Uganda and Rwanda).136 GiveDirectly has told us that this has not slowed down its productivity because (a) the refusals only affect the activities of one team (the census team; though this doesn't take into account increased travel time as other teams have to travel farther on average between each house) and (b) GiveDirectly is flexible enough that it can pivot to new areas when refusals are high and come back later if refusal rates seem like they will decrease (perhaps due to outreach efforts).137 It is possible that the high rates of refusal could create challenges for GiveDirectly in its relationship with the Kenyan government; GiveDirectly has been working to build relationships with the government to mitigate this possibility.138 High refusal rates could also force GiveDirectly to move to new areas sooner than it expected, which could cause challenges if GiveDirectly struggles to obtain permission from local leaders to work in new areas (see next bullet). These risks may be mitigated in part by GiveDirectly's ability to move some of its capacity from Kenya to Uganda and Rwanda.
  • Government permissions: In order to expand into new areas, GiveDirectly must obtain permission from government officials at many levels. This process could be held up by an official who refused to grant permission, causing delays and possibly preventing GiveDirectly from expanding into an area indefinitely. GiveDirectly has attempted to mitigate this risk by networking with people who have expertise in navigating such government relationships and who could intervene if there were a problem.139 GiveDirectly feels that it now has a good understanding of the process for seeking government approvals and does not see this as a major risk.140
  • Crime: Incidents of large-scale crime could cause delays and reduce GiveDirectly’s ability to transfer funds to recipients. The risk of crime could increase as GiveDirectly becomes better known in the regions in which it works. We discuss this risk more above. We consider this a low to moderate risk.
  • Security: GiveDirectly notes that political violence and terrorism could hamper its ability to work in an area. GiveDirectly has attempted to mitigate this risk by working in multiple locations, so that it could shift its operations from one country to the other two that it works in if there were an issue, though it is possible that insecurity could affect more than one country at a time, given the proximity of the countries in which GiveDirectly works. We know very little about security risks in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, but would guess based on GiveDirectly's assessment that they present a low risk.
  • Payment provider: Relying on one payment provider in each country introduces a risk that problems with the payment provider could cause delays. GiveDirectly feels that this risk is low, because if there were problems, it could switch to alternative providers.141 We would guess that this risk is low, as the mobile money providers that GiveDirectly uses in Kenya and Uganda (we haven't asked GiveDirectly about this for Rwanda) are national networks, and GiveDirectly has identified alternatives. However, we note that GiveDirectly once tried working with an alternative provider in Uganda (Centenary Bank) and had difficulties in the partnership.142
  • Maintaining staff quality as the organization grows: It is possible that GiveDirectly would face issues hiring high quality staff if it were to scale up quickly.143 GiveDirectly believes that its hiring processes have been successful and that new staff are taking on responsibility quickly and competently.144 In 2017, GiveDirectly laid off some staff due to lower than projected revenue145; it is possible that these layoffs could affect its ability to hire high quality staff in the future.

Unrestricted vs. restricted funds

We prefer that GiveDirectly spend funds in the way that it believes will maximize its impact and, accordingly, do not recommend that GiveWell donors restrict their donations in any way. We plan to grant funds to GiveDirectly unrestricted (such that GiveDirectly may use funds for all purposes, including experimenting with its model and process and organizational capacity building).

GiveDirectly as an organization

We believe GiveDirectly to be an exceptionally strong and effective organization:

  • Self-evaluation: GiveDirectly has invested heavily in self-evaluation from the start, and furthermore, the study design of its Rarieda and general equilibrium RCTs were pre-registered for additional accountability and credibility. It continues to demonstrate a strong commitment to rigorous analysis of its work.
  • Track record: GiveDirectly has successfully accomplished its goal of transferring cash to extremely low-income people at a fairly low expense ratio. We have also seen GiveDirectly refine its process over the years and take thoughtful measures in response to problems that arise, demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement.
  • Communication: GiveDirectly has always communicated extremely clearly and directly with us and given thoughtful answers to our critical questions. Generally, GiveDirectly seems to come to conclusions that we find reasonable on key questions.
  • Transparency: GiveDirectly appears to value transparency as much as any organization we’ve encountered. We have not seen it hesitate to share information publicly (unless it had what we consider a good reason).

More on how we think about evaluating the leadership of organizations at our 2012 blog post.


Document Source
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GiveWell's analysis of GiveDirectly financial summary through July 2017 Source
GiveWell's non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Carolina Toth, GiveDirectly, October 1, 2014 Source
GiveWell's non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Ian Bassin and Piali Mukhopadhyay, GiveDirectly, August 23, 2016 Source
GiveWell's non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Matt Johnson and Paul Niehaus, June 28, 2017 Source
GiveWell's non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Paul Niehaus and Carolina Toth, September 7, 2015 Source
GiveWell's non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Paul Niehaus, Carolina Toth, and Ian Bassin, August 12, 2016 Source
GiveWell's non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Paul Niehaus, Carolina Toth, and Ian Bassin, February 23, 2016 Source
Haushofer and Shapiro 2013 Source (archive)
Haushofer and Shapiro 2013 Appendix Source (archive)
Haushofer and Shapiro 2013 Policy Brief Source (archive)
Ian Bassin and Carolina Toth, email to GiveWell, June 14, 2016 Unpublished
Ian Bassin and Piali Mukhopadhyay, conversation with GiveWell, August 23, 2016 Unpublished
Ian Bassin, COO, Domestic, GiveDirectly, email to GiveWell, August 25, 2016 Unpublished
Ian Bassin, edits to GiveWell's review, November 10, 2016 Unpublished
Jean Junior, The Perspectives of Young Women in Siaya County, Kenya: Their Lives and Their Thoughts on Cash Transfer Programs Source
Johannes Haushofer and Jeremy Shapiro, Welfare Effects of Unconditional Cash Transfers: Pre-Analysis Plan, June 27, 2013 Source (archive)
Johannes Haushofer and Paul Niehaus, DIL Demonstration Proposal Source
Lydia Tala, GiveDirectly Field Assistant, conversation with GiveWell, November 7, 2012 Unpublished
Michael Faye and Paul Niehaus, Slate article, April 14, 2016 Source (archive)
Paul Niehaus and Carolina Toth, conversation with GiveWell, May 28, 2015 Unpublished
Paul Niehaus and Carolina Toth, conversation with GiveWell, September 7, 2015 Unpublished
Paul Niehaus and Ian Bassin, conversation with Givewell, September 15, 2016 Unpublished
Paul Niehaus and Johannes Haushofer, Optimizing Impact for the Mobile Era - Final Report Source
Paul Niehaus, AMA on Reddit, May 31, 2016 Source (archive)
Paul Niehaus, Carolina Toth, and Ian bassin, conversation with GiveWell, August 12, 2016 Unpublished
Paul Niehaus, Carolina Toth, and Ian Bassin, conversation with GiveWell, February 23, 2016 Source
Paul Niehaus, GiveDirectly Founder, conversation with GiveWell, October 22 2012 Unpublished
Paul Niehaus, GiveDirectly Founder, email to GiveWell, November 20, 2012 Unpublished
Piali Mukhopadhyay, COO, International, GiveDirectly, conversation with GiveWell, November 8, 2012 Unpublished
Piali Mukhopadhyay, COO, International, GiveDirectly, email to GiveWell, August 25, 2016 Unpublished
Piali Mukhopadhyay, COO, International, GiveDirectly, email to GiveWell, November 23, 2012 Unpublished
Poverty Probability Index, FAQs Source (archive)
UCSD, Policy Design and Evaluation Lab, "Tracking the Impact of GiveDirectly Transfers with Mobile Surveys in Kenya" Source (archive)
XE currency converter, Kenya shillings to US dollars, September 25, 2015 Source (archive)
XE currency converter, Uganda shillings to US dollars, September 25, 2015 Source (archive)