Research Overview — February 2022 version

We have published a more recent version of this page. See our most recent version of this page.

GiveWell is a research organization. Our aim is to find the organizations where donations can save or improve lives the most per dollar. We conduct intensive research in pursuit of this aim and publish the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give.

We focus on global health and poverty alleviation programs because that's where we've found dollars can go the furthest.

Research on programs

The first step in our research process is to identify programs that are highly evidence-backed and cost-effective. We start here because an organization's choice of which program to implement is one of the most important factors affecting the impact it can have.

Our program review process operates like a funnel. We conduct shallow reviews of a large number of programs. We prioritize more intensive reviews of the programs that seem the most promising. The more promising a program seems, the more time we spend assessing it.

We publish write-ups of these program investigations.


Identifying top charities

We then look for organizations that implement the most promising of these programs. We thoroughly vet these organizations and assess whether they meet our criteria: (1) evidence of effectiveness, (2) cost-effectiveness, (3) transparency, and (4) room for more funding.

To evaluate organizations, we speak with their staff and other relevant experts and review their financial documents, monitoring data, and plans. Often, we also conduct site visits. We review charities' past spending and monitoring data, and we forecast their future spending, to better understand their track record and expected impact. This helps us more adequately model their cost-effectiveness.

Based on these research investigations, we publish a short list of top charities that stand out along our criteria. We believe these represent excellent opportunities for donors, and we are excited to direct funding in support of their work.

Over time, we continue to assess the work, progress, and future plans of our recommended charities. We regularly review their funding needs and make grants from our Maximum Impact Fund, our top giving recommendation for donors, to the top charity or charities that we believe can use the funding most effectively at the time it is granted. We publish the rationale for each Maximum Impact Fund grant on our website. [Note added October 2022: We updated the name of this fund in September 2022; more information here.]

Other recommendations

We also recommend grants to some programs that don’t meet our top charity criteria, but that we believe may have a large impact. We work directly with individual donors and organizations to support this work. These grants fall into two broad categories:

GiveWell Incubation Grants

GiveWell Incubation Grants fund work that may improve our top charity recommendations. We direct grants to, among other things:

  • Support the development of organizations that may have the potential to be GiveWell top charities in the future, but don't yet have sufficient evidence of effectiveness.
  • Support academic research into promising programs.
  • Help us learn about a new area, particularly one where we haven't made donor recommendations before.
  • Improve the quality of programs at our existing top charities.

You can read about these grants here.

Small discretionary grants

GiveWell now enables some staff to recommend a certain amount of funding annually via "small discretionary grants." We believe that we can increase our expected impact by occasionally funding small, promising opportunities without investing a lot of time in evaluating them. You can read more about these grants, which make up a very small portion of the total funding we direct each year, here.

Other research areas

We also research and recommend grants to programs that have harder-to-measure effects than our top charities, which typically implement direct delivery programs that can be rigorously measured. For example, we recommend grants to organizations that work on public health regulation.