Process for finding water charities

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GiveWell aims to find the best giving opportunities we can and recommend them to donors. We tend to put a lot of investigation into the organizations we find most promising, and de-prioritize others based on limited information. When we decide not to prioritize an organization, we try to create a brief writeup of our thoughts on that charity because we want to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning.

The following write-up should be viewed in this context: it explains why we determined that (for the time being), we won't be prioritizing the organizations in question as potential top charities. This write-up should not be taken as a "negative rating" of the charities. Rather, it is our attempt to be as clear as possible about the process by which we came to our top recommendations.

Published: November 2011; Updated: October 2013


In our 2011 international research, we investigated the cause of clean water, aiming to find an outstanding clean water charity.

Similar to our general process, we began by creating a list of as many water organizations as we could.

We identified 43 water organizations to consider.1 We visited each organization's website seeking answers to the following questions:

  • What type of approach does the organization take: is it a grant-maker that funds many smaller organizations or is it on-the-ground implementing programs itself?
  • Does the organization only focus on water, or does it implement other types of projects as well? If so, what types of programs? How does it allocate expenses between water and other programs?
  • Does the organization report the amount of money it spends and its outputs (i.e., wells dug or purification tablets distributed)?
  • What access to water did beneficiaries have prior to the charity's arrival? What was the distance to nearest water source?
  • If the organization builds new infrastructure, does it monitor how long infrastructure stays in use?
  • If the organization primarily purifies water, does it monitor water cleanliness or use of purification products?
  • If it aims to cause behavior change (such as increased hand washing), does the organization monitor its programs' impact on behavior?
  • Does the organization evaluate health outcomes of beneficiaries, i.e., changes in prevalence of diarrhea among children?

After visiting and documenting the information we found on each website, we found that most organizations had little information available to answer our questions. We decided to contact a handful of organizations based on (a) intuition that they might fare better in our process and (b) aiming to contact different types of organizations with different approaches to water so that we would learn more about the cause.

Update: In November 2013, we published a report assessing the evidence for water quality interventions (e.g., chlorination, filtration), which are similar to the programs carried out by some of the organizations on this page.

We prioritized and contacted the following organizations:

  • A Child's Right has its site, which offers a rare amount of information about its activities and monitoring.
  • Aquaya takes a research-focused approach to water. Aquaya declined to participate in our process.
  • Blood:Water Mission contacted us and thought it was a good fit for our process.
  • Gram Vikas works with the Poverty Action Lab at MIT and is recommended by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee in their book, Poor Economics. Duflo and Banerjee report that Gram Vikas has monitoring of its impact showing that Gram Vikas successfully reduces diarrhea rates among children.
  • WaterAid contacted us and thought it was a good fit for our process, but we have now deprioritized this organization.
  • Water for People is run by Ned Breslin, who has written an article about water and aid that we found informative. We felt that Water for People also offered an opportunity to understand a larger, grant-making water organization. Water for People is also a grantee of the Skoll Foundation, a funder whose funding decisions we take into consideration. Water for People declined to participate in our process.

We did not contact any other water charities. We may continue researching this cause in the future.

Full list of water organizations we considered in our 2011 process

  • A Child's Right
  • A Glimmer of Hope
  • Aquaya
  • Blood:Water Mission
  • Busoga Trust America
  • Charity: Water
  • Concern Worldwide
  • Deep Springs International
  • Filter Pure
  • Gardens for the Gambia
  • Global Partners for Development
  • Gram Vikas
  • Healing Hands International
  • Healing Waters International
  • Integrated Community Development International
  • International Lifeline Fund
  • Lifewater International
  • Living Water International
  • Malawi Freshwater Project
  • Naandi Foundation on Clean Water
  • Nepal Water for Health
  • Pump Aid
  • Pure Water for the World
  • Restore International
  • Ryan’s Well Foundation
  • Samaritan's Purse
  • Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL)
  • Staff of Hope
  • The Bridge Water Project
  • The International Rescue Committee
  • The Water Project
  • Village Water
  • Water 1st
  • Water Charity
  • Water for Kenya
  • Water For People
  • Water Harvest International
  • Water is Life-Kenya
  • Water Missions International
  • WaterAid
  • WaterCan/EauVive
  • Wells for Life
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    We also considered 15 smaller organizations that we found because they were partners of Water for People. These organizations often didn't have websites and, when they did have websites, they had extremely limited information available. So, after considering these 15 (listed below), we didn't continue to directly consider partners of other water organizations. Full list of 15 partners organizations:

    • Malawi: Hygiene Village Project
    • Malawi: CCAP Synod of Livingstonia
    • Malawi: Center for Community Development
    • Rwanda: Rwanda Environment Care (REC)
    • Rwanda: ANA Rwanda
    • Uganda: Uganda Environmental Education Foundation (UEEF)
    • Uganda: Health through Water and Sanitation (HEWASA)
    • India: Nishtha
    • India: Sunderban Social Development Centre (SSDC)
    • India: Sabuj Sangha
    • India: Rural Aid
    • India: Sarboday Sangha
    • India: Manikjore Seva Sangha
    • India: Bengal Engineering and Science University (BESUS)