Core Competencies

This page discusses GiveWell's "core competencies"—the key things we focus on doing well.

We thoroughly, critically review evidence to determine what works. Our intervention reports take a program donors can support—such as distributing bednets to prevent malaria or treating children for intestinal worms—and examine studies, statistics, and whatever else we can find to determine how well it works. We thoroughly note and look into concerns. We evaluate the quality, reliability and generalizability of key studies. For more, see our discussions of how we evaluate a study and survey the research on a topic.

When we find a potential top charity, we review it in great depth. We try to thoroughly understand its track record, budget, activities, personnel, plans, strengths and weaknesses. We review its internal documents, speak extensively with its leadership, and spend several days visiting its work in the field. We share what we find in our charity reviews.

We look at what additional funding accomplishes, not just what past funds have accomplished. A major part of our process is determining whether a charity has room for more funding. We seek to understand what activities donations would enable that it couldn't do otherwise, and then we focus on evaluating those activities. In the past, we have suspended recommendations of strong charities when we didn't feel they could use additional donations quickly and effectively.

We quantify what we can, but recognize the limitations of what we can calculate. We generally try to estimate a "cost per life saved," "cost per disability-adjusted life-year averted", or similar metric for our top charities. The process of doing so helps us examine our assumptions and notice big differences in cost-effectiveness, though it isn't the only basis for our recommendations. We also write about the limitations of our estimates.

We follow up regularly with top charities. We report both good and bad news, and we adjust our recommendations when warranted.

We strive for transparency. There is a lot of room for subjectivity and judgment in giving. Our goal is not to eliminate these things, but to be open about them. We describe our process in detail. Our writeups aim to make the basis for each of our views clear. Our footnotes give key quotes and reasoning rather than simple citations. If we make a mistake, we own up to it.

We communicate. We provide a large number of ways to learn about our work, including a blog, FAQs, and conference calls and in-person events for people who'd prefer to learn by asking questions rather than reading.

We focus. Our priority is to find the very best giving opportunities, understand them deeply, and share our findings so you can give effectively. We don't investigate charities unless we think they might be among the very best by our criteria.