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Applying for a top charity recommendation
GiveWell will invite a select number of organizations implementing evidence-backed programs to apply for a top charity recommendation each year. This page provides information about our process for organizations we invite to apply.
For many organizations, before undertaking the process described on this page, we will have one or more conversations with the organization to explain our process, answer questions, and discuss what program(s) an organization should apply with. The process described below covers the steps after an organization has selected what program(s) to apply with.
Last updated: April 2020
Table of Contents
- A note on this page's publication date
- Applying for a top charity recommendation
- Timeline and resources required
Frequently asked questions
- Do all candidate organizations complete GiveWell's process?
- What information does GiveWell include in its public reviews?
- What if a candidate organization disagrees with GiveWell?
- Will all information shared with GiveWell be made public?
- What is the preferred format for document submissions?
- How much funding can a candidate organization expect to receive?
Timeline and resources required
An application that results in a GiveWell recommendation will include the following steps. Please note that we're also running a separate process to support the development of potential future top charities, for which our criteria and process are different than those detailed below. More information on this work is available here.
The purpose of Phase 1 is to decide whether a candidate organization has a reasonable chance of becoming a top charity. In Phase 1, GiveWell generally asks for:
- One or two 1-2 hour phone conversations with candidate organization staff deeply familiar with the program(s) the organization is applying with to understand its priorities, expansion opportunities, internal operations, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E).
- Feedback on conversation notes. For most conversations, we write summary notes of the conversation and ask the candidate organization to review, edit and approve each for publication (we discuss our approach to transparency below). For examples, see our conversation notes page.
- Internal documents, including documents that show how the candidate organization uses funds and tracks its impact. We ask that the candidate organization specify which documents we may publish on our website and which should be kept confidential (we discuss our approach to confidentiality below). During phone conversations, we will discuss what types of information would be most helpful. Examples from current top charities:
At the end of Phase 1, GiveWell will ask the candidate organization for permission to publish an interim review. We will share a draft of the interim review and in some cases an accompanying blog post with the candidate organization to solicit feedback before publishing. We are happy to publish unedited statements in response from candidate organizations alongside our work.
Examples of interim reviews and accompanying blog posts:
- Food Fortification Initiative - interim review (2016)
- Project Healthy Children - interim review (2016)
- Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) - interim review and blog post (2014)
- Living Goods - interim review and blog post (2014)
Examples of published statements in response to our reviews:
- New Incentives wrote a statement in response to our 2015 update on its progress (2015)
- Development Media International wrote a short in-line response in one section of our review (2015)
- GAIN wrote longer in-line responses to aspects of our blog post about their work (2014)
- Population Services International wrote a statement in response to our report (2011)
$100,000 participation grant
After a candidate organization signs off on our publishing the interim review, GiveWell will recommend that it receive a $100,000 participation grant from Open Philanthropy, a major supporter of our top charity recommendations with which we work closely.
We invite candidate organizations to progress to Phase 2 if we think there is a reasonable chance we will recommend them as a top charity following further investigation.
In Phase 2, GiveWell generally asks for:
- Several further 1-2 hour phone conversations with knowledgeable staff to discuss outstanding questions and publication of summaries of those conversations for most calls.
- Additional internal documents.
- A 2-4 day site visit to an area where the program is being implemented. We take notes and photographs on these visits and request that the candidate organization review, edit and permit us to publish them as appropriate.
- Feedback on GiveWell's final review of the candidate organization.
There are four possible outcomes of Phase 2 of our process:
- GiveWell recommends the candidate organization as a top charity.
- GiveWell determines that while the candidate organization does not meet the bar for a top charity recommendation it ought to be celebrated as a standout charity. Generally, we recognize organizations that have passed Phase 1 and signed off on us publishing an interim review, but do not ultimately meet our criteria for being a top charity in this way.
- GiveWell determines that the candidate organization does not fit either of these categories. Other organizations we have considered are listed on our other charity reviews page.
- The candidate organization decides to withdraw from our process.
How long it takes to move through Phases 1 and 2 depends on a number of factors, including:
- Whether the candidate organization is applying for consideration of a program we have significant experience with, or whether we need to do background research on the program before and concurrent with collecting information from the candidate organization .
- How quickly the candidate organization is able to provide internal documents after we discuss what information would be most useful to share.
- How promising the initial documents look. We prioritize staff time based on how promising applications are.
In the past, the time from initial phone calls to top charity recommendation has taken as short as two months and as long as twenty months. To maximize the chance that we are able to make a decision by November (when we add new top charities), we prefer that candidate organizations start the application process by February, but it may be possible to accommodate shorter timelines.
Giving season recommendations – November
We publish completed reviews and charity recommendations on or around Giving Tuesday, which typically falls in late November or early December, to be available in time for the end of year giving season. For examples, see our top charities page and our standout charities page. We communicate our recommendation decisions to candidate organizations shortly before publication.
For recommended organizations, we will ask for help tracking donations that are due to our research so we can track the impact of our research. This may involve some technical setup in November to capture information on donor sources. We have worked with many different donation processing systems and are happy to provide whatever assistance we can to enable this process.
Ongoing follow-up for recommended organizations
After an initial recommendation is made, GiveWell asks for updates on each recommended charity's work, plans, and M&E. Each year, updates generally involve three to six 1-2 hour conversations and requests for new and updated information. We share these updates with our audience in an ongoing manner by publishing conversation notes and writing about updates to our thinking on our blog.
We formally update charity reviews each year, focusing on major developments, our most important open questions about the charity’s impact, and how additional funding would be used. There is no limit to the number of years GiveWell will recommend an organization that continues to meet our criteria for top charity status.
Withdrawing from our process
Candidate organizations always retain discretion to withdraw from our process. If a candidate organization chooses to withdraw, we publish only documents that the organization has agreed can be made public and a note explaining that the candidate organization chose to withdraw and any reason given. Examples of how we have written about candidate organizations that withdrew from our process following different levels of engagement with GiveWell include:
- Population Services International’s Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision Program declined to participate in our process in 2016 following an invitation to apply (2016).
- UNICEF’s Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Program declined to participate in our process following several conversations (2016).
- Episcopal Relief & Development's NetsforLife® Program withdrew from our process at the interim review stage (2016).
Frequently asked questions
Do all candidate organizations complete GiveWell's process?
No. We proactively end the review process if we form the view that it is unlikely to result in a recommendation.
What information does GiveWell include in its public reviews?
Our goal is to make all the reasoning behind our charity reviews public for the benefit of donors deciding where to give. Consistent with this goal, our reviews make a strong case for donating to our top charities while also discussing weaknesses or negative developments in their activities. For examples, see our blog posts on concerns about certain aspects of top charities AMF and SCI’s operations, and the critical information we consistently publish about our own performance.
What if a candidate organization disagrees with GiveWell?
GiveWell is a learning organization that welcomes and appreciates feedback. We strongly encourage candidate organizations to share disagreements they have with our work so that we can endeavour to either resolve the disagreement or enable the candidate organization to present its perspective to our audience. To achieve this, GiveWell gives candidate organizations the opportunity to review and suggest edits to major content before we make that content public. We also give candidate organizations the opportunity to publish their own unedited comments alongside our work. Finally, while we do what we can to avoid this outcome, a candidate organization can also withdraw from GiveWell's process.
Will all information shared with GiveWell be made public?
No. While we prefer to share as much information with our audience as possible, we will only publish non-public information with explicit permission. If a candidate organization has information or documentation that could have a material impact on GiveWell's review, we would prefer to consider it and keep it confidential rather than not review it at all. We have considered non-public information for all of our current top charities, and examples of how we communicate about this are available on their review pages.
What is the preferred format for document submissions?
Our preference is to receive all documents a candidate organization can easily share about its program. A candidate organization has never overwhelmed us with documents, and we think this approach minimizes the risk that information useful to our review goes unshared. GiveWell is not at all concerned with how the documents a candidate organization shares are presented. Indeed, we strongly prefer that candidate organizations not invest time polishing documents or preparing reports for our process without a specific request from us. If a candidate organization expects to invest significant resources collating documents for our review, our preference is to schedule a phone call to discuss whether all proposed work is necessary.
How much funding can a candidate organization expect to receive?
Since 2016, all of our top and standout charities have received incentive grants from Open Philanthropy to reward them for participating in our time-intensive process each year. We expect to continue recommending that Open Philanthropy fund incentive grants, though the incentive amount we recommend may change from year to year.
The amount of non-incentive funding we recommend our donors direct to a top charity depends on our understanding of how much funding the relevant program could efficiently use (based largely on conversations with the candidate organization) and the priority we place on the candidate organization’s program relative to other top charity programs. Unfortunately, besides communicating about the incentive amount we plan to recommend to Open Philanthropy, GiveWell is not able to provide much information in advance on how much funding a candidate organization is likely to receive if we recommend it. Our recommended funding allocation between top charities relies on information from all aspects of our review process and is therefore only finalized shortly before our recommendations are published. Further, funds come from donors who rely on our research, so the precise allocation to any organization is beyond our control.
Details of how much funding charities have received as a result of our recommendation in the past is on our impact page.