Frequently Asked Questions
What does GiveWell do?
GiveWell's mission is to find outstanding giving opportunities and publish the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give.
We recommend a list of top charities to donors. We also offer donors the option to give to our giving funds. GiveWell is focused on finding a small number of outstanding giving opportunities, not on reviewing as many charities — or as many causes — as possible.
Who started GiveWell?
We were started by a group of donors who wanted to accomplish as much good as possible with their donations and found that there wasn't a strong source of information available on how to do this. Since 2007, we have worked full-time to research the issues and charities that we write about on our website and blog. Thousands of hours of research have gone into our recommendations.
For more information, please see:
GiveWell's research has received attention from major media, scholars and philanthropists. For more, see our reputation page.
What kinds of charities does GiveWell recommend?
The charities we recommend work in global well-being. We seek out charities implementing programs that have been studied rigorously and ideally 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.
We feel the charities we recommend offer the best bang for the buck in terms of lives saved or improved per dollar donated. We’ve found that your dollar goes further overseas, which is why we focus on charities working internationally.
We have not covered charitable causes like the arts, animals, and disease-specific research organizations (e.g., Susan G. Komen for the Cure, American Cancer Society). Although we considered charities focused on the U.S. (where we’re based) when GiveWell first started, we no longer recommend any organizations focused here. More
How does GiveWell support itself?
GiveWell is supported by donors who explicitly choose to direct funding to GiveWell’s operations (by giving to our unrestricted fund). We do not take a percentage of donations made to charities through GiveWell’s website, nor do we receive any fees from charities for being featured on our site.
We generally use unrestricted funding for operating expenses (which includes staff salaries, travel expenses, website maintenance, and other routine operational costs). However, we have an "excess assets" policy, which provides that once we surpass a certain level of unrestricted assets, we earmark the excess for granting rather than continue to hold it ourselves. You can read more about our excess assets policy here.
To avoid overly relying on a single source of support, we cap the amount of funding any individual or entity may provide to our operations at 20 percent.
For details on our revenues and expenses, see our financial statements.
What types of donors use GiveWell's research?
GiveWell serves donors who want to accomplish as much good as possible with their donations. These donors rely on GiveWell's research to help them support outstanding organizations that have a significant impact on people's lives.
GiveWell does not serve donors who want to know whether a particular charity is legitimate or are interested in a charitable cause that isn't already on our research agenda.
Who can access GiveWell's research?
Everything we publish is available freely on our website.
GiveWell is committed to extreme transparency. We aim to publish all of the research we do. In addition to publishing research reports on charities we do and do not recommend, we publish:
- The rationale behind all grants we make and recommend
- A blog with ongoing, detailed updates on our research
- Records of meetings of our Board of Directors
- Notes from interviews with charities and experts
- Research discussions about our work
In some cases, researchers or organizations share information with us on condition that we keep it confidential, and we honor confidentiality in these cases.
What is GiveWell's impact? How is GiveWell's success evaluated?
Broadly, the value of GiveWell is a product of the following:
- How many donations we influence, directly or indirectly, with our research.
- How much value our research adds (i.e., how much more effective a donation is when informed by our research).
- The extent to which we're able to create higher-quality dialogue around giving, and spread the acceptance and use of our core values (particularly maximizing impact and transparency in giving decisions).
(1) is relatively straightforward to measure. We track donations to our recommended charities through a variety of methods, including the donation links on our site and by asking donors to submit our donation report when they give through another channel. We report the results on our impact page and in our annual metrics report.
Measuring (2) coincides with the goal of our research: determining what the charities we examine can be expected to accomplish, and how they compare to each other. There is often a great deal of uncertainty in comparing top charities to "average" charities, precisely because a lack of measurement is characteristic of "average" charities.
(3) is the hardest to measure, because the spread of ideas is complex and wide-ranging; so although we can track changes in dialogue, attributing them to our specific activities is difficult.
These metrics are complex and cannot be precisely quantified. However, as with evaluating our applicants, we believe we can evaluate ourselves using a combination of empirical data, analysis, and judgment calls, and that we should do so as transparently as possible. We post annual self-reviews of our progress as well as external assessments of the quality of our research.
GiveWell's Recommended Charities
How does GiveWell conduct research and what are its findings?
Our focus is on finding the best giving opportunities for individual donors. To do this, we:
- Focus on areas that we feel offer donors outstanding opportunities to do good. We focus primarily on international aid, and, in particular, global health (more on why we focus on these areas).
- Consider a large number of organizations and rely on heuristics, or meaningful shortcuts, to distinguish between organizations and identify ones that we think will ultimately qualify for our recommendations.
- Conduct in-depth evaluations on organizations we believe are strong contenders for our recommendation, including interviews with staff, reviews of publicly-available and internal documents about the charity's work and plans, and site visits to the charity's programs.
For more information, please see:
What are the pros and cons of giving to GiveWell’s recommendations?
- 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 the Open Philanthropy Project. (The 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 them are a "sure thing."
Why does GiveWell recommend so few charities?
We recommend few charities by design, because we see ourselves as a "finder of great giving opportunities" rather than a "charity evaluator." In other words, we're not seeking to classify large numbers of charities as "good" or "bad." Our mission is solely to identify, and thoroughly investigate, the best.
The charities we don't recommend may be doing great work, and our lack of recommendation shouldn't be taken as evidence to the contrary. However, our top charities are the ones that we believe best fit our criteria.
Thoroughly investigating even a small number of charities is a great deal of work. It generally includes thoroughly reviewing the research behind charities' programs, researching possible concerns about these programs, extensive back-and-forth with charities to gain full understanding of their processes and past and future uses of funds, multi-day site visits to charities' operations, and ongoing updates, as well as extremely time-intensive cost-effectiveness analysis (estimating how much good is accomplished per dollar spent). Thus, in order to confidently stand behind our recommendations, we need to focus our resources on the most promising candidates.
We discuss this in greater depth in this blog post.
What does GiveWell think about organizations that are not on its top charities list?
We believe that there are many organizations that do great work but don't meet our criteria or work on issues outside the scope of our research. We recommend the organizations that we would (and do) give our personal money to in order to accomplish maximal impact, and we target donors who broadly share our values.
We also direct funding to programs outside of our top charities list. You can read more about this grantmaking 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.
Does GiveWell’s list of top charities change? When/how often is it updated?
We work on an annual cycle, and our goal is to have a list of the best options by December, when the majority of giving occurs. Every year, we revisit our current top charities to assess whether they should remain on our list, taking into account factors such as updated room for more funding. We also aim to consider new organizations for inclusion.
How is GiveWell different from other charity evaluators?
Many charity evaluators aim to assign an objective rating to many different organizations. This requires relying on less detailed information about a charity and its activities. These services may be helpful to donors who are trying to determine whether a particular charity is legitimate or not.
GiveWell aims to serve donors who seek a recommendation about where to give. GiveWell does thorough, in-depth research on a small number of programs so that we can recommend the most outstanding giving opportunities.
Questions About Donations to GiveWell and Our Recommended Charities
Where can I find answers to commonly asked questions about donating to GiveWell and its recommended charities?
How can I get involved and help GiveWell?
The best ways to help GiveWell are to:
- Give to one of our funds or top charities. Doing so helps GiveWell by increasing the donations we are able to attribute to our work, which in turn increases our influence.
- Spread the word. Personal referrals are a key source of GiveWell donors. Here are some resources that you can share. If you have ideas for what we could do to improve our appeal to the people you're hoping to reach, we're happy to hear from you.
- Follow, read, and engage with our research. We greatly value feedback, and have put substantial effort into soliciting second opinions on our work. One good way to stay posted on our evolving research is to follow our blog.
- Work with us. Many of our staff were GiveWell donors before joining our team. If you’re motivated to help maximize global well-being, check our jobs page for open positions.
A note on volunteering: we do not offer volunteer opportunities except in rare cases of exceptional fit with a volunteer's qualifications (particularly if the volunteer has technical expertise, legal expertise, or marketing ability).
How can I apply for a job at GiveWell?
Please see our jobs page.
How can my organization apply to be a GiveWell top charity?
Please review our page with application instructions.
As a rule, we focus on supporting organizations, rather than individual requests, as we think organizations are best positioned to allocate resources in the communities in which they work and we do not feel we are well positioned to assess individual requests for support.
Can I discuss GiveWell's research with a GiveWell staff member?
Please fill out this form if you'd like to arrange a phone call with a GiveWell staff member to discuss our research. We also host regular public research discussions to discuss our recommendations and answer questions; please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to be notified about these. For media inquiries, please email email@example.com.
Is the email I received "from GiveWell" spam?
We have experienced several cases of others pretending to represent GiveWell, typically in the form of illegitimate job offers or donations to individuals appearing to be from GiveWell. If you are uncertain that a contact is real, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please see this page.
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Last updated: December 2022