Frequently Asked Questions About Our Charity Research and Recommendations
Table of Contents
- The Basics
GiveWell's Top Charities
- Are GiveWell's top charities tax-deductible where I live?
- Sometimes GiveWell directs funding to grantees that are not US-registered charities. Should I be concerned about this?
- GiveWell's evaluation process is highly intensive and can be a major cost for a charity. Should I be concerned that this requirement filters out excellent charities?
- How much money do your top charities need? How much do you expect to get them?
- What are GiveWell’s past recommendations?
GiveWell's Focus on International Aid
- Why do most of your recommended charities work on international aid?
- Do the people whose lives are saved just die the next year from something else? What is their quality of life?
- Does saving lives just lead to overpopulation and long-run damage?
- Why doesn't GiveWell recommend organizations focused on animal suffering?
- I'm trying to figure out where to give, but you haven't covered my cause, and it looks like you aren't going to in the near future. Any advice?
- What happened to the money I gave last year? Will I find out what happens to the money I give this year?
- How reliable are figures like "$X per life saved"? How important are these in your rankings?
- What kind of evidence does GiveWell consider legitimate for establishing impact?
- Why doesn't Open Philanthropy fund the top charities' full needs?
- Do you look at how much a charity spends on program expenses vs. overhead?
- I have an opportunity to have my gift "matched" if I give to another charity. Does this mean that donation would have double the impact? Could this be a better choice than giving to your top charities without a match?
- Should I give now, or save my money and give later?
- I have more questions. How can I get them answered?
Last Updated: December 2022 (April 2022 version)
Last Updated: December 2022 (April 2022 version)
How have you selected your top charities?
Our top charities are distinguished by the following qualities:
- Serving the global poor. Low-income people in the developing world have dramatically lower standards of living than low-income people in the US. Accordingly, we believe your donation can have a bigger impact when supporting programs in the developing world. More
- Focused on evidence-backed interventions. We have a high standard for evidence: we seek out programs that have been studied rigorously and repeatedly, and whose benefits we can reasonably expect to generalize to large populations (though there are limits to the generalizability of any study results). The set of programs fitting this description is relatively limited, and mostly found in the category of health interventions (though there is also substantial evidence on cash transfers).
- Thoroughly vetted and highly transparent. We examine potential top charities thoroughly and skeptically, and publish thorough reviews discussing both strengths of these charities and our concerns. We also follow top charities' progress over time and report on it publicly, including any negative developments. Charities must be open to our intensive investigation process — and public discussion of their track record and progress, both the good and the bad — in order to earn "top charity" status.
For more on our process and the reasoning behind it, see our process.
What are the pros and cons of giving to GiveWell's top charities?
- Our research attempts to draw a maximally confident and quantified link between donations and outcomes, along the lines of "$X per life saved" or "$Y per person enabled to get a job paying 20% more than they could have gotten otherwise."
- Our recommendations represent the best opportunities we're aware of to help low-income people with relatively high confidence and relatively short time horizons.
- Due to the emphasis on thorough vetting, transparency, and follow up, our recommendations represent excellent learning opportunities, and we feel that one of the most desirable outcomes of giving is learning more that will inform later giving. Supporting our recommendations helps GiveWell demonstrate impact and improves our ability to learn, and we are dedicated to sharing what we learn publicly.
- We have strict criteria for the charities we recommend. These criteria are partly about achieving maximum impact, but partly about having recommendations that others can fairly easily be confident in.
- Seeking strong evidence and a straightforward, documented case for impact can be in tension with maximizing impact, as argued at this post by Open Philanthropy . (Open Philanthropy Project was incubated at GiveWell and looks for giving opportunities that can be longer term, harder to assess, and harder to explain. It does not have official recommendations for individual donors.)
- Thus, we think there may be many giving opportunities that are better than our recommendations but don't meet our criteria and/or are not known to us.
- Even though we believe our recommendations are backed by strong evidence, none of our recommendations are a “sure thing.”
I have a particular charity in mind. How can I see your view on this charity and why it isn't one of your top charities?
GiveWell focuses on finding the best charities possible, not on reviewing as many charities as possible. Understanding even a single charity in-depth generally takes hundreds of person-hours.
We have written informally about our views on some well-known charities:
- Large "mega-charities" such as World Vision and Save the Children (2011 blog post)
- Other well-known/celebrated charities that we don't recommend (2009 blog post)
Why should I consider GiveWell's recommendations to be credible?
- Reputation: GiveWell is respected by the media, scholars, nonprofit professionals, and donors.
- Transparency: We publish the full details of our process, analysis and reasoning so that our audience can come to its own conclusions. View our full transparency policy.
- Impact: Donors have given millions of dollars to GiveWell's top-rated charities based on our recommendations. See our summary of key impact metrics as well as our collection of guest blog posts from donors who have used our research.
GiveWell's Top Charities
Are GiveWell's top charities tax-deductible where I live?
Information about how to make tax-deductible donations in various countries can be found here.
Sometimes GiveWell directs funding to grantees that are not US-registered charities. Should I be concerned about this?
We don't think so. The process for becoming a US-registered charity can be long and relatively involved, and some of our grantees have not had enough interest from US donors to have gone through this process. However, we have examined the financial records and established the charitable purposes of all organizations that we direct funding to.
More information about tax deductibility is here.
GiveWell's evaluation process is highly intensive and can be a major cost for a charity. Should I be concerned that this requirement filters out excellent charities?
We recognize that this is a potential issue with our rankings. For those who believe the intensity of our process creates problematic selection effects, in 2016, we provided a list of charities focused on evidence-backed, potentially cost-effective programs whether or not we had investigated them. This list has not been kept up to date.
With that said,
- Given the large amounts of money that are driven by our recommendations, we believe that charities have strong incentives to engage in our process. We also make substantial efforts to give charities a sense of what they will need to provide in order to achieve recommended status (see our guide to applying for funding). So we believe that charities seeking substantial funding and likely to do well in our process have strong reasons to apply for our recommendation.
- We proactively reach out to eligible charities to encourage them to apply and discuss our process with them.
- Supporting our top charities has the advantage that (a) they have been thoroughly vetted, with the results written up in detail in our charity reviews; (b) they represent excellent learning opportunities, and we feel that one of the most desirable outcomes of giving is learning more that will inform later giving. Supporting our top charities helps GiveWell demonstrate impact and improves our ability to learn, and we are dedicated to sharing what we learn publicly.
How much money do your top charities need? How much do you expect to get them?
Each top charity review discusses its room for more funding, i.e., how much more funding it can productively absorb and how this funding would change its activities. We closely track the revenue received by top charities, and we cease to recommend donating to a charity once we feel it no longer has short-term room for more funding (see our criteria).
What are GiveWell’s past recommendations?
We recommend a list of top charities to donors. We also offer donors the option to give to our giving funds.
Our past top charity lists can be found below:
- 2021 recommendations
- 2019 recommendations (2019 recommendations with updated webpage)
- 2018 recommendations
- 2017 recommendations
- 2016 recommendations
- 2016 mid-year recommendations
- 2015 recommendations
- 2014 recommendations
- 2013 recommendations
- 2012 recommendations
- 2011 recommendations
- 2010 recommendations
- 2009 recommendations
- 2008 recommendations
GiveWell's Focus on International Aid
Why do most of your recommended charities work on international aid?
We have put much of our effort into investigating international aid because this is where we feel an individual donor can accomplish the most good (in terms of significant life change) per dollar given. More
We have investigated charities serving the poor in the United States in the past. See our research in this area.
Do the people whose lives are saved just die the next year from something else? What is their quality of life?
We discuss these issues at our writeup on quality of life in the developing world. On one hand, people in Sub-Saharan Africa are much worse off, and much more likely to die prematurely, than people in wealthier parts of the world. On the other hand, those who live past the age of 5 have strong chances of living to age 60 or so; saving a life even from a single cause of death means saving a person who is likely to live quite a while longer.
Does saving lives just lead to overpopulation and long-run damage?
We commissioned David Roodman (whose work we have referenced in the past) to examine the rather extensive and complex literature on this question.
Overall, it appears that life-saving interventions unaccompanied by other improvements, where access to contraception is weak, are likely to lead to some acceleration of population growth. With that said, we wish to note the following:
- No intervention takes place in isolation, and we expect population growth to slow in the future in most low-income areas as poverty falls.
- Acceleration of population growth should not necessarily be associated with overpopulation and its connotations of a net decline in standards of living.
For more, see our blog post on Mr. Roodman's writeup.
His complete writeup is available on his website.
Why doesn't GiveWell recommend organizations focused on animal suffering?
GiveWell has not prioritized research into organizations focused on animal suffering in part because there are two organizations we know well that are investigating this question: Open Philanthropy and Animal Charity Evaluators. We have limited research capacity, and would guess that we may come to similar conclusions as those groups about which groups to recommend, although we would likely have a different research process.
Open Philanthropy is an independent organization that was formerly a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures. Open Philanthropy is currently investigating giving opportunities to improve the welfare of farm animals in industrial agriculture. Lewis Bollard, Senior Program Officer for Open Philanthropy's farm animal welfare team, recommends donating to the EA Animal Welfare Fund. You can sign up for Lewis's monthly research newsletter here.
Animal Charity Evaluators is an organization that researches and recommends animal charities. You can visit its website here. We generally point interested individuals to Open Philanthropy and Animal Charity Evaluators when they reach out to us for recommendations in this cause area.
I'm trying to figure out where to give, but you haven't covered my cause, and it looks like you aren't going to in the near future. Any advice?
We publish critical questions that you can ask charities working in causes we haven't covered. These questions are based only on our very limited understanding of these causes, but they may be useful starting points.
This blog post offers generalizable advice for all causes.
What happened to the money I gave last year? Will I find out what happens to the money I give this year?
We publish regular updates on our top charities as well as all grants we recommend. More details on how donations are allocated can be found here.
How reliable are figures like "$X per life saved"? How important are these in your rankings?
Accomplishing as much good as possible per dollar spent is an important value to us, and we put substantial work into cost-effectiveness estimates. We publish cost-effectiveness figures that represent our best estimates, given all available information. We publish the full details behind these figures and provide spreadsheets that allow readers to see what the most debatable inputs are, and how the estimates change as these estimates vary.
However, all cost-effectiveness analysis of charities we're aware of — including ours — involves a great deal of simplification and guesswork. Therefore, we do cost-effectiveness analysis primarily to look for large, clear differences in good accomplished per dollar spent. We consider many other factors in rating and ranking charities.
For more on this, read "How We Produce Impact Estimates."
What kind of evidence does GiveWell consider legitimate for establishing impact?
We don't have any hard-and-fast rules for what constitutes persuasive evidence; we believe that interpreting evidence on charity effectiveness always takes a substantial amount of judgment calls. We discuss our general principles for evaluating evidence of impact in a series of 2012 blog posts:
- Our Principles for Assessing Evidence (very general principles covering all sorts of evidence, not just studies)
- How We Evaluate A Study
- Surveying the Research on a Topic (how we come to conclusions on research questions by synthesizing multiple studies)
Why doesn't Open Philanthropy fund the top charities' full needs?
Read more about this in our July 2022 blog post “An update on GiveWell’s funding projections.”
Do you look at how much a charity spends on program expenses vs. overhead?
We do check this figure, but we do not place much emphasis on it — we believe it is the most over-used metric in charity. More at our 2009 comment on the joint press release by GiveWell, GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and other charity evaluators on the pitfalls of over-emphasizing the "administrative expense ratio."
I have an opportunity to have my gift "matched" if I give to another charity. Does this mean that donation would have double the impact? Could this be a better choice than giving to your top charities without a match?
We recommend against letting "donation matching" affect your choice of charity. More
Should I give now, or save my money and give later?
We don't believe there is a clear answer, and do believe that it makes sense to give relatively regularly — for example, setting aside a set percentage of annual income. More
I have more questions. How can I get them answered?
You may also wish to visit our transparency policy, which lists and links to most of the different kinds of information we provide.