Criteria and Summary of Process – 2014 Version
We have published a more recent version of this page. See our most recent version of this page.
GiveWell's mission is to find outstanding giving opportunities and to publish the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give. We do not aim to rate every charity, but to find the ones which we feel will maximize the impact of additional donations.
We're currently running two separate research processes with different criteria.
Evidence-backed international aid charities
Our current top charities are characterized 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 U.S., and we believe that a given dollar amount can provide more meaningful benefits when targeting the former. 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 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. We also provide a list of charities meeting our first two criteria for donors who are concerned that this requirement creates problematic selection effects.
Eligibility: In order to be eligible for "top charity" status, a charity must be explicitly focused on one or more of our priority programs — such as distributing insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria, treating children for parasites, or providing direct cash transfers. These programs represent, according to our research, the most evidence-backed approaches to helping the global poor.
Finding eligible charities: We have conducted extensive searches for charities that focus on our priority programs. We are also frequently contacted by charities looking to apply for a recommendation.
Examining charities: We invite eligible charities to participate in our intensive evaluation process, which aims to deeply and critically question the case for the charity's impact, and lay out what we see as the strengths and weaknesses publicly.
Following up: We follow up intensively with our top charities over time, and consider this one of the major arguments in favor of supporting such charities. Because our recommendation directs substantial donations to a charity, top charities are generally willing to engage substantively with us and help us deepen our understanding of their activities and progress over time.
Crucially, we believe — and make clear to our top charities that we believe — in sharing both positive and negative developments, and we have written extensively in the past about unanticipated struggles faced by top charities. See, for example, our series of updates on VillageReach.
For more on our process and the reasoning behind it, see our process page for our traditional work.
Open Philanthropy Project
The Open Philanthropy Project (which we work on in collaboration with Good Ventures) looks for the best ways to improve the world with philanthropy - no matter what form or sector. For our work on this project, we're open - among other things - to funding political advocacy, scientific research, startup organizations with no track record, projects with no precedent, and projects with extremely long time horizons.
Criteria and process
Thus far, our process has consisted of conducting initial investigations of many possible focus areas, searching for issues and approaches that seem "underinvested in" given their importance and tractability. We call this approach "strategic cause selection." For example, within policy-oriented philanthropy, we have investigated causes ranging from climate change to criminal justice reform to labor mobility. The questions we ask include:
- What is the problem? How many people does it affect, and how deeply does it affect them?
- What are the possible interventions? Are there opportunities to make tangible progress?
- Who else is working on it? All else equal, we expect to have more impact where there is less existing philanthropy.
We intend to choose the focus areas that seem most promising based on these initial investigations to prioritize for future research and donation recommendations.