We’re happy to talk to you!

If you’re currently trying to figure out where you’ll give this year, and you think it might be helpful to talk to us about your decision, feel free to contact us at info@givewell.org.

We work hard to put all the relevant information about our recommendations on our website, but we know it can sometimes be hard to fully digest, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us and talk. Talking to donors about their plans for allocating their giving is something we do regularly and we’d be happy to do more of it.

We’re not sure how big a response we’ll have to this and we have limited staff (especially over the next couple of weeks), so if you email us please let us know how much you’re thinking about donating. If necessary, we’ll prioritize larger givers, though we hope to be able to speak with everyone who gets in touch.

Donor coordination and the “giver’s dilemma” – Part II

We recently wrote about three questions we faced that relate to donor coordination. This post is a continuation of that topic and may only appeal to donors who are particularly interested in this issue.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been discussing the question: how should we allocate funds that donors give us for regranting to our top charities?

We plan to allocate these funds according to the recommended allocation explained in our previous post up to the point where one of our top charities reaches the maximum target from individuals we have set (explained here).

The question we face is: what should we do if we move more money than we expect, and one or more of our recommended charities reaches our maximum target from individuals before the end of giving season? In that case, how should we allocate funds given to us for regranting?

We see three options:

  1. Give according to our recommended allocation even after charities hit their max targets. This options maximizes some donors’ agency. For example, if Alice (hypothetical donor) gave $10,000 to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) in early December, we would not take Alice’s gift into account when deciding how to allocate funds given to us for regranting. Were AMF to meet its maximum target from individuals, we would still allocate funds there and Alice’s gift would cause AMF to receive $10,000 more than it would have had she not donated. However, were we to keep giving to charities beyond the maximum we believe they can effectively use, we would be allocating funds suboptimally. Many of the donors who give to us for regranting do so because they want us to use our judgment about where additional funds will do the most good. If we mechanically follow our predetermined allocation, we would not follow these donors’ wishes in allocating their funds. We also believe it is likely that many donors who give to a specific charity would not want us to allocate funds beyond the maximum targets we have set for organizations. To continue the example, our guess is that Alice would often say, “I would rather donate to one of GiveWell’s other top charities once AMF has closed its funding gap.”
  2. Give where we think it’s needed most. In the event that one or more of our top charities passes its maximum target, we would reallocate funds to the charities with remaining funding gaps. For example, if AMF were to receive $5 million before the end of giving season, we might choose to reallocate the funds given to us for regranting to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), the Deworm the World Initiative (DtWI) and GiveDirectly up to their maximum targets from individuals. The benefits here are clear: we would direct funds to charities that we believed to have more pressing gaps. The potential problem is that our doing so would arguably take agency away from other donors. For example, if Barbara gave $10,000 to AMF in early December, and AMF reaches its $5 million maximum target from individuals in late December, we might choose to allocate funds we hold to charities other than AMF. This means that Barbara’s gift did not effectively cause AMF to have $10,000 more; instead, it effectively caused the other charities to which we allocated funds to have $10,000 more. If Barbara wanted to support AMF and only AMF, our decision to reallocate the pool of funds over which we have discretion removed her ability to cause the charity of her choice to receive additional funding.
  3. Compromise with donors who request it. In our previous post on this topic, we wrote about the compromise we reached with one donor who was planning to give to SCI. He believed SCI’s funding gap was larger than we did, and planned to give $1 million to SCI, so we compromised by meeting in the middle: we increased our target by half the size of his donation ($500,000). In this option, we would reach a similar arrangement with donors who have given or plan to give to our top charities, disagree with us about the charities’ maximum targets from individuals, and therefore want the charities to receive more funding even if it would cause them to go past the maximum targets we have set. We would do the same thing with these donors as we did with the SCI donor by adjusting our maximum targets by half the size of their donations.

Our tentative plan is to take option #3. Specifically:

  • As a general rule, we are not planning to allocate funds to charities such that they would receive more than our maximum targets.
  • Any donors who disagree with us about our targets should email us at info@givewell.org to let us know. If they tell us the size of their donation (and we can verify it), we will increase our targets by 50% of the size of their donation for purposes of allocating funds earmarked for regranting. This post is our announcement of this fact. We aren’t planning to announce this elsewhere.

We believe that this plan will result in relatively few donors emailing us and GiveWell largely reallocating funds given to us for regranting according to our best judgment if/when one or more of our top charities hits its maximum target from individuals. We have a few reasons for believing this is the right course of action:

  • I corresponded with five donors who are long-time supporters of GiveWell top charities, none of whom give to GiveWell for reallocation. They encouraged us to follow our intended path and were not particularly concerned about the problem of removing donor agency (generally speaking — there was some disagreement). In particular, one noted that, over time, all donations are eventually fungible. That is, if donors give more to a charity than it can effectively use in year 1, it is more likely that we recommend it receive less money in year 2. (This is what happened to our recommendation of AMF from 2011 when we first recommended them to 2013 when we said that AMF had limited room for more funding.)
  • Our impression from conversations with many people is that very few donors are concerned with issues of donor agency. We think that most people who land on our website and make a donation would rather we use our judgment to allocate funds optimally than allocate funds suboptimally to maximize the agency of their decision to support a specific charity.

Generally, we see a real distinction between (a) setting targets for charities based on incentives, how strong we think the charities are, etc. and (b) setting targets for charities based on how much we think they can productively absorb. When donors give differently from our recommended allocation, by default we interpret this as a disagreement with us on (a) but not necessarily on (b). As such, we are hesitant to “offset” donations on the basis of (a), but we are much less hesitant to do so on the basis of (b). We set “room for more funding” targets taking into account funds available from other sources, and this means that in some long-run sense we’re always creating the possibility of “offsetting” others’ donations.

It’s possible that we’ll change our mind based on reactions to this post.

Additional questions and answers about our plans:
How will we allocate funds in the event that a charity hits its maximum target?

We’re not yet sure. It’s possible that we will allocate surplus funds to GiveDirectly (which has the highest maximum target from individuals and is unlikely to reach it), but it’s also possible that we ultimately decide to allocate at least some funds to AMF (whose maximum target is more of a “soft” and approximate cap) or to standout charities. We have found that we need to go through a period of intense debate and reflection before we decide how to allocate funds in a given situation; that’s not something we’ve done yet for the hypothetical situation outlined here.

When do we plan to allocate funds given to us for regranting?

We are currently focused on funds that come in during giving season. Our accountant will close the books on December in mid-January, and we will grant funds out in mid-February.

How will we allocate funds that have already been donated for reallocation?

Some donors gave for regranting before we clarified the language on our donate page, and may have intended that their gift follow the allocation stated on our donate page. We plan to email these donors to tell them our plans and ask them whether they’d prefer that we allocate their funds (i.e., funds we have already received) according to our target allocation rather than according to the plan laid out in this post.

Are we concerned that this policy will incentivize donors to try and avoid this plan?

It is possible that this policy will cause some donors to (a) wait to give until after we’ve allocated the bulk of the funds we hold or (b) don’t report their gifts to us.

We think this will happen to some extent but will likely be relatively minimal. Our targets are based not only on funds given by GiveWell-influenced donors but on all funding an organization receives, so eventually we will learn about and incorporate their gifts into our targets.

Staff members’ personal donations – giving season 2014

For this post, GiveWell staff members wrote up the thinking behind their personal donations for the year. We made a similar post a year ago.

Elie Hassenfeld
My wife and I are planning to give more to GiveDirectly than the GiveWell allocation.

Organization GiveWell allocation Our allocation
AMF 67% 45%
GD 13% 45%
SCI 13% 5%
DtWI 7% 5%

I agree with the relative strengths and weaknesses of each organization as summarized in this table but I differ from the reasoning behind the GiveWell allocation in two ways:

  • I put less weight on explicit cost-effectiveness analysis. Conceptually, my goal is to maximize the impact of my charitable contribution, but I put less weight on the explicit cost-effectiveness models we create than others. Those models are highly dependent on hard-to-estimate inputs and often include many assumptions that we were forced to make based on very limited information. The models are available here; we plan to more clearly and explicitly lay out the inputs about which we are least certain and the ones that are most likely to materially affect our the bottom line in a post in the near future.
  • I put more weight on organizational strength. GiveDirectly stands out from our the other top charities on three factors listed in our summary table: transparency and communication, ongoing monitoring and likelihood of detecting future problems, and organizational track record. As a general observation, I have consistently found it more difficult than I expected to accomplish what initially appeared to be relatively easy goals (personal or organizational). This has reinforced my intuition that excellent organizations are significantly more likely to succeed than others, and GiveDirectly’s overall excellence increases my estimate of the impact it will achieve.

I’m not donating to GiveWell, because I don’t find it appropriate to donate to my employer, for similar reasons to what Holden wrote last year. Absent that consideration, I would consider direct support of GiveWell to be the best giving opportunity.

Holden Karnofsky
I plan to give according to the recommended GiveWell allocation this year. To keep things simple, I will be giving to GiveWell and earmarking my gift for regranting.

In last year’s post, I laid out my thoughts on giving now vs. giving later, and why I find it important to give something now (and to give it somewhere besides GiveWell itself). I don’t have much to add to that. I agree with other staff members that this year’s giving opportunities are stronger than last year’s, but in my mind the difference isn’t big enough to cause me to deviate from my regular giving, which I generally determine as a percentage of my income.

I expect each of our top charities to receive significant funding this year, so considerations of “upside” and of helping an organization grow aren’t as salient to me as they’ve often been in the past. With that in mind, and with fairly significant (though highly uncertain) estimated differences in cost-effectiveness, I’m fairly comfortable privileging health interventions over cash transfers, up to the point where room for more funding becomes a major issue.

Natalie Crispin
Should I wait to give?

I believe there are strong reasons to give this year, rather than waiting for future opportunities. These include:

  • GiveWell’s top charities this year offer strong opportunities to do good. As a point of comparison, donating to GiveDirectly this year is probably at least as strong an opportunity as it was last year when I allocated all of my giving to GiveDirectly, and this year I plan to allocate only a small portion to GiveDirectly because of opportunities to accomplish as much or more elsewhere.
  • I do not feel compelled to wait for Open Philanthropy Project recommendations. I put more weight than some of my fellow GiveWell staff members on high likelihood of impact, in part to help emotionally motivate myself to give in the future. Also, given the size and complexity of the task that the Open Philanthropy Project has taken on, it could be several years before there are opportunities available to small donors that the project believes are as strong as GiveWell’s recommendations.

Where should I give?

I plan to follow GiveWell’s recommended allocation this year by giving a gift to GiveWell for regranting to top charities at its discretion. Allocating funding between charities involves complicated trade-offs on many different dimensions: program cost-effectiveness, confidence in the organization’s ability to carry out the program, confidence in the organization’s ability to spend funds in the near term, judgements about the upside and risks of helping an organization scale up, etc. I don’t feel fully confident in my own ability to weigh these factors and fully understand what we know about each factor for each charity, but I feel confident in the process that we used to create the overall allocation: detailed analysis for each charity, write-ups that are reviewed at multiple levels (from high-level reviews by a Co-Executive Director to careful checks of each footnote citation), and several rounds of staff debate. Relying on this allocation helps counteract potential personal biases from spending much more time thinking about AMF and SCI (as part of contributing to that research) than about other top charities and standouts.

I have some concerns about our allocation, but ultimately I don’t think they are important enough to outweigh the above benefits. My main concerns are:

  1. Are we making too small a bet on AMF? AMF will receive most of my contribution, but in some ways, the bet GiveWell is making on AMF is conservative. Among our top charities, AMF is working on the program that I believe is the most cost-effective. It is extremely transparent and has strong processes for monitoring net distributions. It has now allocated most of the ~$10 million that it received due to GiveWell’s recommendation two years ago. I think it’s possible that we should be making a stronger bet now, perhaps advocating that AMF gets ~$20 million (twice what they got before) rather than $10-15 million, in order to see what AMF can accomplish at that level in the next two years. Because it can take AMF a year or more to finalize distributions, caution now limits our ability to learn about AMF’s capacity to move funds over the next two years. However I have not decided to allocate a larger percentage of my giving to AMF, because (a) total funding available is limited and I believe the other opportunities that are available are stronger than the ‘big bet on AMF’ option, and (b) there will be opportunities over the next 6 months to a year to learn about AMF’s progress and to reevaluate AMF’s room for more funding.
  2. Will SCI be able to productively spend as much as we think they will? Our estimate of SCI’s room for more funding is more speculative than that for other top charities, primarily because of our lack of understanding about how SCI has spent funds in the past and our ongoing challenges communicating with SCI about its future plans. I’m concerned that SCI will not be able to use funds to scale up deworming programs as quickly as it thinks, because of non-monetary barriers (such as lack of mapping data for new country programs, limited in-country capacity), and that as a result it may use funds for less beneficial purposes (such as increasing budgets without increasing the number of treatments, funding treatments in low prevalence areas). Having worked on GiveWell’s investigations of SCI for several years, I may have instincts on this issue that other staff don’t have; on the other hand, my close involvement may bias me toward weighing communication difficulties too strongly. In the end, I think the room for more funding we have estimated for SCI is a reasonable guess based on what SCI has told us and its strong track record of starting and scaling up deworming programs.
  3. Are we discounting a one-time opportunity to learn about the effects of cash transfers? GiveDirectly may use funds it receives in December 2014 to increase the sample size of its study of general equilibrium effects of cash transfers, which could increase the benefits of giving to GiveDirectly this year, since transfers would not only benefit families directly but would also improve our understanding of the impact of cash transfers. It’s not clear how likely it is that additional donations from individuals would increase the sample size – the ideal sample size according to GiveDirectly would require $15 million in cash transfers and GiveDirectly has raised a portion of this already and may be able to raise the remainder from other sources.
  4. Is our allocation to Deworm the World Initiative too high? The case for DtWI’s room for more funding in the next year seems weaker to me than that of other top charities. But, ultimately I’m OK with GiveWell’s recommendation, because the amount that GiveWell is recommending is modest and the potential upside of supporting a strong organization working on a cost-effective program is high enough to justify the investment.

Alexander Berger
I think our recommendations this year are stronger than they were last year, and I’m excited to support them. Since I’ve been less involved in our top charities research this year than in previous years, I’m also inclined to just follow the recommended GiveWell allocation.

However, I am planning three small deviations from straightforward adherence to our recommended split:

  • I’m planning to give GiveWell itself 10% of my gift. I think GiveWell is a relatively mature research product at this point, one that I value greatly, and I think it makes sense for individuals who value the research to give part of their gift to pay for it.This is a bit of an evolution for me, because I’ve previously written that I disagreed with Holden and Elie about the potential risks from being too dependent on Good Ventures. I still don’t think that it would be a particular problem for large donors who rely on our research, especially Good Ventures, to cover the bulk of our operating costs (since they also account for the bulk of our money moved).The main reason I decided to give to us is non-consequentialist: I don’t like the dynamic of us asking donors (other than Good Ventures) who are considering giving a large amount of money based on our research to direct it to us instead of our top charities. We do this, rather than making the rounds of all our donors to ask them to give ~10% of their gifts to GiveWell, because it is much more time-effective. I think that’s the correct decision on our part between the two choices, but it would be better still for us not to have to because our donors had adopted a norm of giving a portion of their gift to cover GiveWell’s operating expenses.10% is a relatively arbitrary amount, and it’s significantly more than our top charities recommendations cost to deliver. Our work on top charities takes up approximately half of GiveWell’s overall budget, with the other half directed to the Open Philanthropy Project. Our budget for the next 12 months is about $2 million, so the actual cost of delivering our top charity recommendations on a forward-going basis looks like ~5% of money moved. Since some people are unlikely to pitch in, I think it makes sense for those who are willing to do so to err slightly on the higher side.Because money donated to our operating budget is largely fungible with money donated to top charities, I see this as a relatively costless decision.
  • I’m not planning to give to Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative. Though I think they’re an outstanding organization, I think they’re likely to raise enough from other donors to meet their funding needs for this year. Additionally, the marginal projects they’ve described strike me as quite different than simply delivering more deworming (though they still strike me as good). If donors don’t fill their two-year gap this year, I think we’ll know about and be able to address it next year.
  • These previous two changes would result in my gift being 64% AMF, 13% SCI, 13% GiveDirectly, and 10% GiveWell. Although I think our overall funding target for AMF is approximately correct (I wouldn’t want to see them double it), I think it’s probably a better giving opportunity, all things considered, than our other top charities, and I don’t think our funding target is sufficiently precisely estimated that I should defer strongly to it at the level of a few percent. Accordingly, I’m planning to round my donation to: 70% AMF and 10% each to SCI, GiveDirectly, and GiveWell.

The decision to deviate slightly from our recommendations (which I had not been initially planning to do except for the 10% to GiveWell) was partly informed by reading other staff member’s contributions to this post and realizing that many of us were inclined to defer to GiveWell’s recommended split. I’m deviating partly to try to communicate that I don’t think total deference is the appropriate stance: these are hard decisions and disagreements should be expected. I don’t think donors who use our research should feel that there is a very high bar for deviation from our recommended allocation.

Eliza Scheffler
I am giving 50% of my donation to GiveWell for re-granting to recommended charities.

  • Donating to GiveWell for re-granting to top charities seems strictly better than donating according to the recommended allocation, because it leaves GiveWell greater discretion in allocating funds in the event that we move more money to top charities than predicted. (Recommended allocations were determined based on an estimate of expected money moved, and I think this estimate was conservative).
  • I expect there would be significantly diminishing marginal returns for funds used this year beyond the maximum for each charity. Underlying this intuition are concerns about the challenges of quickly expanding staff capacity, finding additional locations with comparably high disease prevalence and implementation capacity, etc. I therefore want GiveWell to have discretion in how to allocate funds beyond the maximums.

I am giving 30% of my donation to GiveDirectly, specifically.

  • In addition to the positive factors that others have stated, I see GiveDirectly’s commitment to research as one of its most notable strengths relative to the other top charities. Its work in this area seems potentially very high leverage, given that it is aimed at influencing the policies and portfolios of major funders. For example, GiveDirectly’s study on macroeconomic effects was designed to address a gap in the evidence base for cash transfers that policy makers cited as limiting their ability to implement cash programs. GiveDirectly is also pursuing projects in partnership with aid agencies to “benchmark” traditional aid programs against cash transfers.
  • This year, GiveWell’s recommendations did not put much weight on “upside” factors like an organization’s potential to influence other funders and programs. In GiveDirectly’s case, this factor is highly speculative, because the work is relatively new, so there is a very limited track record. However, I feel we have seen some positive signals already and I expect we will report more on this work in the coming year.
  • I want to support GiveDirectly so that it has greater flexibility to pursue research and partnerships, both from the additional funding and the time not spent on fundraising.

I am giving 10% of my donation to GiveWell’s Standout charities.

  • As a GiveWell donor and employee, I want to reward our Standout charities for their transparency and commitment to generating and/or acting on rigorous evidence. I also want to increase the incentives among Standouts (and all charities) for continued openness and participation in GiveWell’s process. I think there are relatively high learning benefits for GiveWell in continuing to assess these charities, which seem unique to me in ways that depart from a strict adherence to our criteria.
  • GiveWell’s Standout charities seem to be within what I consider to be a close range of the estimated cost-effectiveness of our top charities. Though I have lower confidence in the impacts of Standouts, there are various “upside” factors which I can imagine contributing to their true long-run impacts. These factors include institutional capacity building, increasing competition in health products and services, and causing attitudinal and behavior changes in health that may be self-perpetuating over time. (Some of these factors may apply to top charities as well.) While “upside” is extremely difficult to rigorously assess, especially on short time horizons, it still matters in modeling a charity’s true impacts. I have tried to keep these kinds of considerations in mind without putting too much weight on them, because they are highly speculative.

Finally, I am saving 10% of my giving until I have more time to look into opportunities that are not GiveWell-recommended. If I do not allocate these funds elsewhere, I will give them mid-year after GiveWell has refreshed our room for more funding estimates for recommended charities.

As with last year, I plan to give money from outside my charitable budget for membership in civic organizations, helping out my neighbors, supporting family members’ and friends’ projects, and contributing to my religious community.

Timothy Telleen-Lawton
GiveWell allocation versus personal allocation

I see GiveWell’s allocation as our organization’s best attempt at approximating some combination of “where GiveWell would give if we controlled all donors’ contributions”, “where GiveWell thinks our audience would want to give if they had all the information we have”, and “where GiveWell thinks people should give if they want to follow GiveWell’s systematic (and notably skeptical) approach to evaluating charities”, all of which are generally very similar and sometimes hard to distinguish.

As such, and because I believe that any attempt at ideal allocation will be imprecise, I would expect personal giving allocation of a GiveWell staff member to vary somewhat from the official GiveWell allocation. Specifically, a staffer might have different intuitions or values than the ones that are best represented in the GiveWell allocation, or might even believe that the GiveWell allocation should have been something different. Additionally, a staffer (or any donor to GiveWell’s recommendations) could also try to anticipate other GiveWell donor’s gifts and attempt to give in reaction to those contributions, rather than attempting to give to each organization in proportion to their total ideal breakdown. (See our recent blog post for an elaboration of this dilemma.) I don’t believe GiveWell staff or donors should do this; instead I think it is better for us to give as though other GiveWell donors with broadly similar goals are giving the same way. (See this discussion of Newcomb’s problem for an illustration of one of the primary reasons I believe this.)

My planned allocation

I support GiveWell’s allocation and plan to allocate the bulk of my giving accordingly. My personal allocation for altruism-motivated giving has just two differences:

  1. For similar reasons to Alexander (above), I think it is appropriate for all donors that use GiveWell’s work to allocate 5-10% of their GiveWell-directed giving to GiveWell (unrestricted, for GiveWell operations). If nothing else, this serves as a recognition that the funds required to run GiveWell become somewhat fungible with the funds directed to the charities we recommend, since we turn to our biggest supporters for unrestricted support when we need it (who often reduce the amount they give to our recommended charities by the amount they give to us).
  2. I believe there is a significant chance that our cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) of DMI significantly underestimates their cost-effectiveness because it does not account for one possibly important factor: the fact that DMI and its funders decided to invest several million dollars in an RCT of DMI’s impact, hoping and expecting to find a statistically significant effect. I believe it was appropriate to leave this consideration out of GiveWell’s CEA, but I am also personally willing to put weight on this factor. (For more details, see a forthcoming blog post on this consideration.) As a result, DMI looks more competitive with our top charities and I would like to see them get ~5% of GiveWell directed giving.

Josh Rosenberg
I plan to follow GiveWell’s recommended allocation this year by giving a gift to GiveWell for regranting to top charities at its discretion.

I feel confident giving to GiveWell’s recommended allocation for reasons similar to those laid out in Natalie’s post. The charities that I was most uncertain about donating to were DtWI (because of uncertainty about room for more funding) and SCI (because of communication difficulties and uncertainty about how past funds have been used). However, my concerns about donating to both of these organizations were ultimately outweighed primarily by the very high estimated cost-effectiveness of deworming programs.

Last year, I saved about half of my charitable giving budget because I thought it might have been a year in which the top charities had unusually low estimated cost-effectiveness. (It now seems that this was likely true for the reasons that Natalie alluded to in her “Should I wait to give?” section.) This year, I plan to give the funds that I saved from last year and my full charitable giving budget for this year.

Donation logistics

Giving to GiveWell’s discretionary fund seems to be the easiest way to ensure that my donation will go to the charities where GiveWell thinks additional funds will have the most impact, regardless of how much total money is donated to top charities this year. We plan to post more details about how this fund will allocate resources if one of our recommended charities surpasses its “maximum target for individuals” (as laid out here) in an upcoming blog post. As far as I can tell, there is no downside to giving to GiveWell’s discretionary fund relative to following the allocation through other methods, so I would recommend that donors with similar goals to mine also give to the discretionary fund.

Ben Rachbach
I’m giving my full charitable budget for the year, as well as the proportion of last year’s budget that I saved, to GiveWell’s top charities. I’m giving $1,200 to GiveDirectly, about enough to cover one family’s cash transfer. I see our other top charities as higher risk, higher reward bets, and I want to give enough to GiveDirectly to be pretty sure I did some tangible good with my charitable giving this year. Also, as an outstanding organization implementing a simple and intuitive intervention, GiveDirectly is a model and benchmark that I’d like to hold up to myself and to other people I talk to about my giving.

I’m giving the rest to AMF because I think it is significantly more cost-effective than GiveDirectly. I believe both AMF and SCI have room for more funding (RFMF) beyond the targets we set for them, whereas I don’t believe DtWI has RFMF to scale up deworming programs. (We think AMF could likely use substantially more than our target amount, while DtWI told us it had limited RFMF for deworming scale-up, and I’m also concerned about fungibility with other Evidence Action programs. I’m drawing this analysis mostly from information presented in our top charities blog post.)

I believe that SCI is less cost-effective than most other staff who published cost-effectiveness analyses (CEAs). I think SCI is about 3 times as cost-effective as GiveDirectly, most other staff think roughly 5-10 times. Also, compared to what most other staff wrote in their CEAs, I believe that the income gains from deworming are worth more relative to saving lives via bednets (I would trade a 25% income gain for 8 people for saving one life, whereas most staff would trade a 25% gain for about 40 people for saving one life). The former disagreement favors AMF, while the latter favors SCI. I also consider that AMF seems more competent and transparent than SCI, which is not captured in the CEA. When I net all of this out (with the help of some informal calculations on top of my published CEA), AMF seems to come out slightly ahead.

I would like to see SCI get a decent share of donations to top charities this year, and I might also like to see DtWI get a share as well (though I haven’t thought about it carefully). However, unlike many other staff, I don’t feel beholden to give to these charities in the proportions that I’d like to see individual donors collectively give. Instead, of these three charities, I’m giving just to AMF, where I believe my marginal dollar will do the most good. I believe that AMF is a better giving opportunity this year than GiveDirectly was last year, so I feel vindicated in my decision last year to hold some of my giving budget for this year.

Jake Marcus
I plan to follow the recommended allocation this year by giving to GiveWell for re-granting (in case any of the top charities hit their maximum).

In making this decision, I read our post on the top charities, walked myself through the logic of the recommended allocation, and had a few conversations with my coworkers about their giving plans. I don’t have any strong disagreements.

Ideally, the effective altruist community would be large enough to close the funding gaps of all our top charities. Then we wouldn’t have to make all these tough trade-offs. Based on GiveWell’s projections, it looks like GiveDirectly will still have a substantial amount of room for more funding at the end of this giving season. Though I don’t see this gap as extraordinary, I’m hoping that it still motivates casual donors to give more than we project them to.

Last year, I saved about half of my charitable giving budget, because I thought my first year working at GiveWell might influence my choice of where to give more than other years and I was optimistic that GiveWell would find better giving opportunities in the near future. This year, I plan to give the portion of my charitable giving budget from last year that I saved and my full charitable giving budget for this year.

Rebecca Raible
I plan on giving all of my “effective charities” donation this year to the allocation that GiveWell has recommended. I will do this by giving to GiveWell’s discretionary fund, for the reasons that Josh mentions above.

Recently, many staff discussions on personal giving have focused on whether or not a donor who agrees with GiveWell’s targets should give according to GiveWell’s recommended allocation. We have discussed how our positions as GiveWell employees may impact the answer to this question, because (1) our posts here may end up influencing other donors, and (2) to the extent that we have personal disagreements with GiveWell’s allocation, we should be asking whether we believe that represents deeper flaws in the process used to determine the allocation.

Currently, I think I should give in the way that I would like other GiveWell donors to give, even if I am not sure that fellow donors will behave the same way. I am not confident in this opinion, and hope that further discussions will clarify my views.

Because I am a relatively new employee at GiveWell, I have limited experience thinking about the trade-offs between our charities. I largely agree with what Natalie wrote above about trusting in the process that is used to arrive at this allocation, and how this process can prevent us from personal biases (or ignorance). I also do not think that my personal values differ greatly from those of GiveWell–values which are reflected in its recommended allocation.

Natalie’s questions above about our allocation cover the main concerns I have: Should we be directing more funds to AMF? Are DtWI’s proposed uses of GiveWell donations cost-effective enough to be worth funding? I also wonder whether we are under-weighing the benefits of GiveDirectly’s possible influence on other charities. Two of our standout charities this year ran RCTs on their own programs. If GiveDirectly’s success even partially causes other organizations to run their own trials (or be more transparent, or improve monitoring), it may be adding more value than we currently account for. Because I am highly uncertain that adjusting for any of these concerns (mine or Natalie’s) beyond the degree to which they are already considered would improve GiveWell’s targets, I am sticking to the current allocation.

Milan Griffes
My giving this year

I have divided my giving this year into three categories:

  1. Donations as gifts
    For the holidays this year, I am using $50 and $100 donations to GiveDirectly as gifts to my family and friends. In some cases, I am giving material gifts in addition to donation-gifts. In aggregate, these donation-gifts make up a substantial portion of my overall giving for the year. GiveDirectly is my charity of choice for donation-gifts because its model is easy to explain and sidesteps many common concerns about charitable giving. I hope that these donation-gifts encourage recipients to think more about effective giving.
  2. Donations to services
    I donate some money to services that I use regularly, such as the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia. I conceive of this giving as payment for services rendered, rather than as an altruistic donation.
  3. Core giving
    As a member of Giving What We Can, I have pledged 10% of my earned income to effective charities. This money is the core of my charitable giving (the donation-gifts mentioned above are not included in the 10%).I am following GiveWell’s suggested allocation with my donation this year, with the exception of donating to ICCIDD and reducing my donation to SCI. I have reservations about SCI’s organizational structure. These reservations, coupled with questions about the evidence base for deworming, weaken the case for SCI in my view. ICCIDD is compelling to me because of the dedication of its staff, the potential impact of salt iodization, and its pressing need for further funding. My cost-effectiveness outputs consistently place ICCIDD’s program within comparable range of SCI’s.In general, I feel confident in all of the organizations we are recommending this year, and would happily give to any of them over a charity we have not investigated.

The giver’s dilemma as a GiveWell employee

As recently noted on this blog, there are multiple issues surrounding donor coordination, mostly regarding the fungibility of donor money and the preservation of donor autonomy. I see two general models for donor behavior:

  1. Giving as if you controlled the entire pot – In this model, donors that subscribe to GiveWell’s value system follow the GiveWell-suggested allocation, without using timing or information gains to their advantage (e.g. donors do not delay their donations in hope of receiving more up-to-date information about the funding situations of charities in question).
  2. Giving as a market – In this model, donors that subscribe to GiveWell’s value system attempt to make the best buy they can make on the margin, taking into account timing and information differences between donors (e.g. donors delay donating in order to receive updates on the funding situations of charities then give accordingly, making the donations of previous donors fungible).

I have not come to a resolution on the giver’s dilemma, and I see merit in both of the above models. This issue is especially salient to me as a GiveWell employee, as I likely have information advantages relative to a generic donor, which would make the second model more attractive.

However, under either of the above models, it makes sense for me to follow GiveWell’s recommended allocation, except where I have substantive disagreement with it (e.g. my decision to give to ICCIDD and reduce my donation to SCI). Under the first model, following the allocation is the default position. Under the second, I occupy a unique market position as a member of GiveWell. Arguably, this unique position enables me to more effectively allocate my personal giving (by understanding organizational room for more funding and donor intent with greater granularity than the average donor). However, the largest impact of my giving may not be the immediate effect of my dollars, but the signal that my allocation sends. Giving in a radically different allocation to GiveWell’s recommendation signals either:

  • a lack of confidence in our process
  • a difference in values or intuition
  • a desire to use a unique position to optimize personal giving, rather than using this position to signal a vote of confidence to other donors

I believe that GiveWell’s process is sound and has produced recommendations worth following. Further, my values and intuition largely align with GiveWell’s recommended allocation, with the exception of SCI. Finally, I believe that the long-term impact of sending a relatively consistent signal as an organization is greater than that of optimizing my personal giving for the year. For these reasons, I am following GiveWell’s recommended allocation closely.

A final caveat is that I am new to working at GiveWell, and new to thinking seriously about charitable giving. I have a low confidence in my understanding of the organizations we consider relative to my co-workers, and I expect my understanding to develop substantially over time. In the meantime, I am reluctant to anchor myself to strongly mainstream or contrarian positions, and feel that I have struck a reasonable balance in this regard with my giving decisions this year.

Tyler Heishman
My wife and I are giving according to GiveWell’s recommended allocation this year (as explained in this blog post) by giving to GiveWell for re-granting. I think that our recommendation reflects the “best bet” for doing the most good with donations today.

By and large, I agree with the rationale for this allocation explained in the blog post. In some cases, I have different intuitions on pieces of our analysis, but I believe that the process we followed is significantly more likely to lead to a good recommendation than my personal intuitions (I agree with Natalie, who elaborates on this; her examples of personal intuitions are reasonably representative of my own). I truly believe that donors who are “looking to give as we would” should follow this allocation; I think it’s an important signal to GiveWell followers to reinforce this confidence via my personal giving decision.

To some extent, other staff members disagree, and I hope to resolve disagreements like these in the future. However, putting this into context, I think most staff disagreement is on the optimal allocation of donations across our top charities rather than the list of top charities. I believe that donating to our top charities at all (rather than other charities) is a significantly more impactful decision. I personally (and I believe GiveWell as an organization) care more about getting the list of top charities right than the optimal allocation. While I’d ideally prefer all of the staff reconcile their independent views until we come to an agreement, practically, I do not think it is very important.

Process for putting together this post:

  • Elie emailed all staff telling them we were planning to run a staff members donations post this year, as we did last year.
  • Staff held 3 meetings to discuss where they were planning to give and why. Meetings were voluntary and attended by some staff but not all. Elie and Holden attended the 3rd meeting but not the first two.
  • Staff who chose to participate sent their drafts to Elie and Holden and copied an internal email list that allowed other staff members to see their submissions.
  • Entries were arranged in order of length of time employed full-time at GiveWell.
  • The draft post was sent out to all staff. At that point staff were able to make final edits.

Donor coordination and the “giver’s dilemma”

This year we’ve dealt with some particularly intense manifestations of what one might call the “giver’s dilemma.”

Imagine that two donors, Alice and Bob, are both considering supporting a charity whose room for more funding is $X, and each is willing to give the full $X to close that gap. If Alice finds out about Bob’s plans, her incentive is to give nothing to the charity, since she knows Bob will fill its funding gap. Conversely, if Bob finds out about Alice’s funding plans, his incentive is to give nothing to the charity and perhaps support another instead. This creates a problematic situation in which neither Alice nor Bob has the incentive to be honest with the other about his/her giving plans and preferences – and each has the incentive to try to wait out the other’s decision.

In this stylized example, our picture of the ideal resolution is for Alice and Bob to be honest with each other and agree to “split” the funding gap: each should give $X*(1/2). In a world where this behavior is expected, people can be honest with each other about their plans and ensure relatively “fair” resolutions rather than withholding information and trying to anticipate each other’s behavior.

In real life, the situation can be more complicated. This year, in finalizing our funding targets for top charities, we faced the following three questions. In each case, we are actively trying to avoid behavior that amounts to “waiting out” or “canceling out” donors who are using our research, and trying to preserve the incentive of each donor to give as planned and share information about his/her giving.

1. Should Good Ventures wait until the end of giving season to decide on the size of its grants? (Note: we resolved this question last year and stuck to the same resolution this year, but it remains a puzzling question and a good example for this topic.)

Once we arrive at a “target amount” we would like to see each charity raise, we could wait until the end of giving season before recommending grants to Good Ventures. Since Good Ventures is giving a great deal (a bit more than we expect all individual donors combined to give over the course of the year), this would probably ensure that each charity hits the exact target we set for it, regardless of what individual donors decide.

We think this would be a very problematic approach. It would render individuals’ decisions about which charities to support effectively meaningless: each dollar given to one of our top charities would be fungible with dollars given to other top charities, and anyone who gave to one of our top charities would effectively/implicitly be supporting “GiveWell’s overall allocation” rather than the charity of their choice. This, in turn, would give individuals the ongoing incentive to try to wait out Good Ventures, and would potentially reduce both giving and reporting of giving.

Instead, we and Good Ventures agreed that the Good Ventures grants should be finalized and announced before the start of giving season. Our recommendations have taken into account what we expect individuals to do, but our projections are approximate and non-binding, and any given individual decision has real impact on the total raised by the recipient charity.

It’s true that in an indirect, approximate sense, supporting a given charity now may change our projections of what will happen next year and therefore cause Good Ventures to give less to the target charity next year. However, this is a very indirect and rough link, since situations change dramatically from year to year; our ability to predict donor behavior is quite limited; and we generally aim for round numbers with Good Ventures grants.

2. Should we post updates on how giving is going, so that donors can adjust their behavior accordingly?

Posting too many updates would risk a similar problem to the one described above. We don’t want a situation in which each donor’s gift to charity X causes another donor to give less to the charity; this would create an incentive for donors to try to wait each other out.

We do intend to post a notice when a given charity appears sure to hit its “maximum” – the most we think it could absorb before hitting a point of seriously diminishing returns. This will help donors avoid supporting a charity to go well over what we think is a reasonable amount of funding, without allowing donors to “cancel each other out” at a more granular level. In other words, if you give to a charity, you can expect that your donation will raise the total amount the charity takes in, by the amount of your donation – unless the charity ends up easily hitting its maximum, in which case your donation will be partly offset by the behavior of other donors who agree with us about where the maximum ought to be. We think this is a reasonable practical position.

Note that we will also be doing an update in early 2015 on each charity’s room for more funding situation. 2015 donors may take this information into account and may therefore do some degree of “canceling out” 2014 donors. Our basic position is that “canceling out” can be a good thing when it is a result of charities’ running out of room for more funding, and is acceptable/inevitable over relatively long periods of time, but that we should avoid situations in which some GiveWell-influenced donors are “canceling out” others at a more granular level and targeting an exact amount of total money moved.

3. How should we handle major donors who have privately told us about their giving plans and disagree with us on ideal funding targets?

A donor recently told us of their intention to give $1 million to SCI. We and the donor disagree about what the right “maximum” for SCI is: we put it at $6.3 million, while the donor – who is particularly excited about SCI relative to our other top charities – would rather see SCI as close as possible to the very upper end of its range, meaning they would put the maximum at $8.3 million. (This donor is relying on our analysis of room for more funding but has slightly different values.)

If we set SCI’s total target at $6.3 million, and took into account our knowledge of this donor’s plans, we would recommend a very small amount of giving – perhaps none at all – this giving season, since we believe SCI will hit $6.3 million between the $3 million from Good Ventures, $1 million from this donor, and other sources of funding that we detailed in our previous post. The end result would be that SCI raised about $6.3 million, while the donor gave $1 million. On the other hand, if the donor had not shared their plans with us, and we set the total target at $6.3 million, we would recommend $1 million more in support to SCI this giving season; the donor could wait for the end of giving season before making the gift. The end result would be that SCI raised about $7.3 million, while the donor gave $1 million.

We discussed what to do about this situation at length, and ended up pursuing a version of the “split the difference” heuristic. Since an informational advantage on our part would lead to SCI’s raising a total of ~$6.3 million, while an informational advantage on the donor’s part would lead to SCI’s raising a total of ~$7.3 million (in both cases including $1 million from the donor), we have set the total target at $6.8 million – the midpoint of those two figures. This is a compromise between “making no use of the information the donor has given us” (which we feel would be unfair to our audience) and “making full use of the information the donor has given us” (which we feel would be antagonistic to the donor and would give an incentive to not share plans with us in the future). We’ve discussed this resolution with the donor and agreed to it as representing good-faith behavior on both sides.

Your thoughts?

In all of the above cases, we’re largely improvising and looking for pragmatic solutions. We haven’t worked out a detailed framework for laying out principles and responding to different possible situations regarding the “giver’s dilemma.” We’d love thoughts from our audience on these matters.

Our updated top charities

Our top charities are (in alphabetical order):

We have recommended all four of these charities in the past.

We have also included four additional organizations on our top charities page as standout charities. They are (in alphabetical order):

In the case of ICCIDD, GAIN-USI, and DMI, we expect to learn substantially more in the coming years (both through further investigation and through further progress by the organizations); we see a strong possibility that these will become top-tier recommended charities in the future, and we can see reasons that impact-minded donors could choose to support them today.

Ranking our top charities against each other is difficult and laden with judgment calls, particularly since:

  • Our cost-effectiveness analyses are non-robust, and reasonable people could reach a very wide variety of conclusions regarding which charity accomplishes the most good per dollar.
  • The charity we estimate as having the weakest cost-effectiveness (GiveDirectly) is also the one that we feel has the strongest organizational performance and the most direct, robust connection between donations and impact.
  • We do not currently feel highly confident in our cost-effectiveness estimates. We changed a number of inputs to our estimates recently. We did not have time to fully consider and vet them, and we plan to put more work into these estimates over the next few months. We do not expect our estimates to change significantly but given the fact that we have been updating them very recently, we would not be surprised if they do. We plan to publish a post soon detailing the major changes and most debatable assumptions in our current estimates. We consider the lateness of major revisions to this year’s estimates a shortcoming (and will be adding it to our mistakes page when we do our annual review).
  • This year we expect to influence a significant amount of donations. In some past years, we’ve been able to assume that each dollar of donations to an organization is about equally effective. This year, we could easily see one or more of our top charities reach the point of diminishing returns to additional donations and/or close its funding gap entirely.
  • We’ve been trying to predict and coordinate donations from Good Ventures, from individual donors, and from major donors who have given us private information about their plans. In so doing, we’ve run into game-theoretic challenges. If two donors are interested in funding the same organization, each has an incentive to downplay his/her interest in the hopes that the other will provide more of the funding. We’ve been trying to avoid reinforcing such incentives. We discuss how these considerations affected our targets below, and we plan to elaborate on this issue in a future post.
  • In past years, we’ve worked on an annual cycle, refreshing our recommendations each December. This year, because we anticipate closing (or nearly closing) the funding gaps of some of our top charities during giving season and moving a significant amount of money (~$5 million) after giving season before our next scheduled refresh, we plan to update our recommendations based solely on room for more funding in the middle of next year. We’re tentatively planning to do this on April 1st, the earliest we will realistically be able to post an update on charities’ ongoing funding needs that accounts for the funds they will receive over the next few months. This plan also raises questions about donor agency and coordination; we plan to discuss this in a future post.

We’ve tried to balance these considerations against each other and come up with an “ideal allocation” of the ~$7.5 million in estimated “money moved” we expect to influence (not counting grants from Good Ventures) over the next 4 months. Details are below. Based on this allocation, for any donors looking to give as we would, we recommend an allocation of $5 to AMF (67%), $1 to SCI (13%), $1 to GiveDirectly (13%) and $.50 to DtWI (7%) for every $7.50 given.

Good Ventures is planning to make grants of $5 million to each of AMF and GiveDirectly, $3 million to SCI, and $250,000 to DtWI. Good Ventures also plans to make grants of $250,000 to each of the standout organizations. We advised on these grants a few weeks ago, and did so while weighing our funding targets for each charity and forecasts of what other donors are likely to do; parts of our picture have since changed, and these grants do not represent the allocation we would advise donors to use nor do they reflect our views about the relative ranking of these organizations. We made sure to settle on and announce these grants before giving season so that no donor would have to grapple with questions about Good Ventures’s likely actions (more in our upcoming post on donor coordination), and Good Ventures will not be making additional grants to these charities in the near to medium future (6-12 months) unless there are substantive updates on things like evidence bases and capacity for absorbing money (i.e. Good Ventures will not be giving further simply in response to new information about donor behavior over the next 4 months).

Below we provide:

  • Additional detail on each of these eight organizations, including (for past recommendations) major changes over the past year, strengths and weaknesses for each, and our understanding of each organization’s room for more funding (which forms the basis for our funding targets and recommended allocation). More
  • The thinking behind our funding targets and recommended allocation. More
  • The process we followed that led to these top charities. More
  • Brief notes on giving now vs. giving later and giving to GiveWell vs. our top charities. More

Conference call to discuss our recommendations
We are planning to hold a conference call at 5:30pm EST on Wednesday, December 3rd to discuss our recommendations and answer questions. If you’d like to join the call, please register using this online form. If you can’t make this date but would be interested in joining another call at a later date, please indicate this on the registration form.

Top charities
We present information on our top charities in alphabetical order.

Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)
Our full review of AMF is here.

Important changes in the last 12 months

We named AMF our #1-ranked charity at the end of 2011. Over the next 2 years, AMF received more than $10 million on the basis of our recommendation but struggled to identify opportunities to use the funds it had received. At the end of 2013, we announced that we planned not to recommend additional donations to AMF until it committed the bulk of its current funds. This did not reflect a negative view of AMF; instead it reflected room for more funding related issues. More detail in this blog post.

In 2014, AMF finalized several distributions in Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with three different implementing partners (two of which account for the bulk of the nets to be distributed). In 2014, it committed approximately $8.4 million to distributions which will take place before January 1, 2016 (some of which have already begun) and now has $6.8 million available for future distributions. $1.7 million of this is committed to a distribution scheduled for 2017 (and could potentially be allocated to distributions taking place sooner). Excluding the 2017 distribution, AMF has committed approximately $11.2 million to distributions in its history.

AMF continued to collect and share follow up information on its programs. We covered these reports in our August 2014 AMF update.

Funding gap

AMF requires access to funding in order to negotiate deals because it cannot initiate discussions with potential partners unless it is confident that it will have sufficient funding to support its future agreements. The funding it currently holds would enable it to fund approximately 3 distributions at a scale similar to what it has funded recently.

AMF has told us that it has a pipeline of possible future net distributions that add up to $36 million (details in our review).

We see some reason for caution in thinking about AMF’s room for more funding. It has made strong progress on being able to negotiate distributions and commit funds. However, as of today there have only been two large-scale distributions that have moved forward far enough for data to be available. Both of these are significantly smaller than distributions AMF has recently or will soon fund, and both are in the same area with the same partner as each other. Some of the recently negotiated distributions could prove more challenging (since they are in DRC).

If AMF received an additional $10 million in total over the next 4 months, it would have about twice as much funding available as the total it committed to large-scale distributions in 2014. (As stated above, it committed $8.4 million to distributions taking place before 2017 and has $6.8 million available for further commitments.) If it received $25 million, it would have about 4 times that total. 2-4 times past distributions seems like a range that would allow AMF to do significantly more than it has in the past, without going so far beyond its past capacity as to raise serious scaling concerns.

We believe that $10 million total (the low end of that range), which means $5 million after the Good Ventures grant, is an appropriate target after which further donations are likely better off going to other charities.

Key considerations:

  • Program impact and cost-effectiveness. Our best guess is that distributing bednets is in the same cost-effectiveness range as deworming programs and more cost-effective than cash transfers by a factor of 5-10. Our estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. (Note: all our cost-effectiveness analyses are available here. Our file for bednets is here (.xls), and the comparison to deworming, cash transfers and iodine is here (.xls).)
  • Directness and robustness of the case for impact. We believe that the connection between AMF receiving funds and those funds helping very poor individuals is less direct than GiveDirectly’s and more direct than SCI’s or DtWI’s. The uncertainty of our estimates is driven by a combination of AMF’s challenges historically disbursing the funds it receives and a general recognition that aid programs, even those as straightforward as bednets, carry significant risks of failure via ineffective use of nets, insecticide resistance or other risks we don’t yet recognize relative to GiveDirectly’s program. AMF conducts extensive monitoring of its program; these results have generally indicated that people use the nets they receive.
  • Transparency and communication. AMF has been extremely communicative and open with us. We feel we have a better understanding of AMF than SCI and worse than GiveDirectly. In particular, were something to go wrong in one of AMF’s distributions, we believe we would eventually find out (something we are not sure of in the case of SCI), but we believe our understanding would be less quick and complete than it would be for problems associated with GiveDirectly’s program (which has more of a track record of consistent intensive followup).
  • Risks:
    • Two of AMF’s recent distributions (and much of its future pipeline) will take place in the DRC. Our impression is that the DRC is a particularly difficult place to work, and it is possible that AMF’s distributions there will struggle or fail. We view this as a moderate risk.
    • We are not highly confident that AMF will be able to finalize additional distributions and do so quickly. AMF could struggle again to agree to distribution deals, leading to long delays before it spends funds. We view this as a relatively minor risk because the likely worst case scenario is that AMF spends the funds slowly (or returns funds to donors).
    • We remain concerned about the possibility of resistance to the insecticides used in bednets. There don’t appear to be major updates on this front since our 2012 investigation into the matter; we take the lack of major news as a minor positive update.

A note on how quickly we expect AMF to spend the funds it receives. AMF works by sourcing, evaluating and negotiating deals for net distributions. This process takes time and requires AMF to have significant access to funding – it cannot approach a country to begin negotiations unless it is confident that it will have sufficient funding to pay for the nets it offers. We would not be surprised if AMF fails to reach additional deals in the next 12 months. We do expect it to commit the majority of its available funds (that it will have as of this coming January) within the next 24 months. If AMF does not make much progress in committing funds in the next 12 months, we will adjust our recommendation for 2015 accordingly, possibly recommending a lower target level of funds or suspending the recommendation entirely (depending on the specifics of the situation).

Our full review of AMF is here.

Deworm the World Initiative, (DtWI), led by Evidence Action
Our full review of DtWI is here.

Important changes in the last 12 months

Dr. Kevin Croke released a new study of a randomized controlled trial of a deworming program showing large, long-term impacts from deworming programs (for more, see this blog post). This study is a significant positive update on the impacts of deworming and increased our confidence that deworming programs have significant long-term impacts.

DtWI spent the funds it received due to GiveWell’s recommendation largely as we anticipated; it now has some (though limited) room for more funding.

In 2014, two events affected DtWI’s projection of the additional funding it would require to scale up in India:

  • The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), a major foundation that had supported DtWI’s programs in Kenya, agreed to a 6-year, $17.7 million grant to support DtWI’s expansion to additional states in India and technical assistance to the Government of India for a national deworming program. With these funds, DtWI does not require significant additional funding to support its India expansion.
  • The new Indian government expressed interest in conducting a single deworming day nationally with increased national attention and resources. Advocating for such a policy and assisting the national government in creating a plan became the major focus of DtWI’s India work in 2014, which both reduced the amount of time it was able to spend generating interest in heavy DtWI involvement in new states and also required little funding since there were few costs of that project aside from staff time. We see this as positive news regarding DtWI’s potential impact; it may simply reduce DtWI’s further need for funds from individual donors.

Together, these changes led DtWI to the conclusion that funding is no longer the bottleneck to reaching more people in India. (More detail in this blog post.)

Funding gap

DtWI told us that it seeks $1.3 million over the next two years. We expect it to allocate approximately 30% of the additional funds it receives for work related to expanding school-based, mass deworming programs (including related operating and impact evaluation expenses) and will allocate other funds to priorities that are less directly connected to expanding and evaluating deworming programs (investigating ways to combine other evidence-based programs with deworming rollouts, supplementing a project supported by another funder).

Good Ventures has announced a $250,000 grant to DtWI, leaving it with $1.05 million in remaining room for more funding over the next two years. We would ideally like DtWI to receive an additional $500,000 (for a total of $750,000) to provide it with more than half of its two-year gap.

Key considerations:

  • Program impact and cost-effectiveness. Our current calculations indicate that DtWI-associated deworming, when accounting for DtWI’s potential “leverage” in influencing government funds, has extremely strong cost-effectiveness, better than bednets and 10-20 times better than cash transfers. Our estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. (Note: all our cost-effectiveness analyses are available here. Our file for deworming, cash transfers and iodine is here (.xls).)
  • Directness and robustness of the case for impact. DtWI doesn’t carry out deworming programs itself; it advocates for and provides technical assistance to governments implementing deworming programs, making direct assessments of its impact challenging. There are substantial potential advantages to supporting such an organization, as it may be able to have more impact per dollar by influencing government policy than by simply carrying out programs on its own, but this situation also complicates impact assessment. While we believe DtWI is impactful, our evidence is limited, and in addition, there is always a risk that future expansions will prove more difficult than past ones. In addition, DtWI is now largely raising funds to support research projects that are not directly connected to short-term implementation of deworming programs. We do not have a view about the value of these research projects.
  • Transparency and communication. DtWI has been communicative and open with us. We have only recommended DtWI for one year and therefore have less history with it than AMF, GiveDirectly, or SCI, but we believe that were something to go wrong with DtWI’s work, we would be able to learn about it and report on it.
  • Risks:
    • DtWI is part of a larger organization, Evidence Action, so changes that affect Evidence Action (and its other programs) could indirectly impact DtWI. For example, if a major event occurs (either positive or negative) for Evidence Action, it is likely that it would reduce the time some staff could devote to DtWI.
    • Most of DtWI’s funding is in the form of restricted funding from large, institutional funders. We are not sure how DtWI’s plans would change in response to a large funder offering it significant support to undertake a project not directly in line with its current plans.

Our full review of DtWI is here.

GiveDirectly
Our full review of GiveDirectly is here.

Important changes in the last 12 months

GiveDirectly continued to scale up significantly, utilizing most of the funding it received at the end of last year. It continued to share informative and detailed monitoring information with us. Overall, it grew its operations while maintaining high quality.

In June, three of its board members launched Segovia, a for-profit company aimed at improving the efficiency of cash transfer distributions in the developing world (see our blog post on Segovia for more information).

GiveDirectly is working with other researchers to begin a very large study on cash transfers and the impact they have on broader economic factors such as inflation and job growth. This study will include a long-term follow up component as well. GiveDirectly told us that the ideal sample size for this study, which is randomized at the village level, would require $15 million for cash transfers. Baseline data collection for the study began in August 2014. GiveDirectly has preregistered its plans for measurement and analysis (more information in our review).

Funding gap

GiveDirectly has scaled up significantly over the past year, spending (or committing to spend by enrolling recipients) approximately $13.6 million of the $17.4 million it received last year. (It also allocated an additional $1.8 million to other organizational costs.) It now believes that it could spend up to $40 million in a year.

We believe this is a reasonable cap for GiveDirectly and would not hesitate to see it receive this amount. However, due to other charities’ significantly superior estimated cost-effectiveness, we are seeking larger total amounts for them. We hope that GiveDirectly will receive at least $1 million from individual donors (excluding Good Ventures) this giving season as a result of our recommendation.

Key considerations:

  • Program impact and cost-effectiveness. Our best guess is that deworming or distributing bednets achieves 5-10 times more humanitarian benefit per dollar donated than cash transfers. Our estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. (Note: all our cost-effectiveness analyses are available here. Our file for deworming, cash transfers and iodine is here (.xls).)
  • Directness and robustness of the case for impact. GiveDirectly collects and shares a significant amount of relevant information about its activities. The data it collects show that it successfully directs cash to very poor people, that recipients generally spend funds productively (sometimes on food, clothing, or school fees, other times on investments in a business or home infrastructure), and that it leads to very low levels of interpersonal conflict and tension. We are more confident in the impact of GiveDirectly’s work than in that of any of the other charities discussed in this post.
  • Transparency and communication. GiveDirectly has always communicated clearly and openly with us. It has tended to raise problems to us before we ask about them, and we generally believe that we have a very clear view of its operations. We feel more confident about our ability to keep track of future challenges than with any of the other charities discussed in this post.
  • Risks: GiveDirectly has scaled (and hopes to continue to scale) quickly. Thus far, it has significantly increased the amount of money it can move with limited issues as a result. The case of staff fraud that GiveDirectly detected is one example of an issue possibly caused by its pace of scaling, but its response demonstrated the transparency we expect.

Our full review of GiveDirectly is here.

Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)
Our full review of SCI is here.

Important changes in the last 12 months

As discussed above regarding DtWI, Dr. Kevin Croke released a new study of a randomized controlled trial of a deworming program showing large, long-term impacts from deworming programs (for more, see this blog post). This study is a significant positive update on the impacts of deworming and increased our confidence that deworming programs have significant long-term impacts.

We continued our work revisiting SCI’s case for impact (detailed here). There appear to have been major problems with some, though not all, of the studies we had relied on (pre-2013) to assess SCI’s impact. SCI shared some additional monitoring information with us which supported the conclusion that its programs have generally succeeded, though these reports have significant limitations.

We also reviewed the papers of several academics who had previously been critical of SCI’s activities. We found little in this literature to change our views on SCI’s programs.

We spent significantly more time with SCI in 2014 (including a 3-day visit to its headquarters in London) than we had in previous years, aiming to improve our understanding of its operations and spending. The picture that emerged was more detailed though largely consistent with what we believed before. Specifically:

  • We are less confident in our understanding of how SCI has spent unrestricted funds. At the end of 2013, we believed we had a relatively strong understanding of SCI’s unrestricted spending, but after spending additional time reviewing reports and discussing with SCI staff, we have more questions today than we did a year ago.
  • We have better information about how SCI plans to use additional funds it receives and the constraints, besides funding, that SCI faces in utilizing additional funding (more in our review).

Funding gap

SCI told us that it has approximately $3.8 million worth of opportunities that it would be highly likely to undertake if it had the funding available. (Some of this would be spent in 2015 and some held for the following year to ensure programs can continue once started). It believes it could possibly absorb an additional $4.5 million (up to $8.3 million total) for opportunities that are more speculative. Overall, our best guess is that SCI will use up to approximately $6.3 million and, beyond that, would build up reserves.

Partly for reasons of donor coordination, we have set its target at $6.8 million total (more below). We hope that SCI will receive $1 million from individual donors (excluding Good Ventures) this giving season as a result of our recommendation.

Key considerations:

  • Program impact and cost-effectiveness. Our best guess is that deworming is roughly as cost-effective as distributing bednets and more cost-effective than cash transfers by a factor of 5-10. Our estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. (Note: all our cost-effectiveness analyses are available here. Our file for deworming, cash transfers and iodine is here (.xls).)
  • Directness and robustness of the case for impact. We have seen some evidence demonstrating that SCI successfully deworms children, though this evidence is relatively thin. Nevertheless, deworming is a relatively straightforward program, and we think it is likely (though far from certain) that SCI is successfully deworming people. We have had difficulties communicating with SCI (see below), which has reduced our ability to understand it; we have also spent significant time interviewing SCI staff and reviewing documents over the past 5 years and have found minor but not major concerns.
  • Transparency and communication. We have had consistent difficulties communicating with SCI. Specifically, (a) we had a major miscommunication with SCI about the meaning of its self-evaluations (more) and (b) although we have spent significant time with SCI, we remain unsure of how SCI has spent funds and how much funding it has available (and we believe SCI itself does not have a clear understanding of this). Importantly, if there is a future unanticipated problem with SCI’s programs, we don’t feel confident that we will become aware of it; this contrasts with AMF and GiveDirectly, both of which we feel we have a strong ability to follow up.
  • Risks: There are significantly more unknown risks with SCI than our other top charities due to our limited understanding of its activities. We hope for SCI to have $6.8 million available, which is significantly more unrestricted funding than it has had available in the past.

Our full review of SCI is here.


Summary
The table below summarizes the key considerations for our four top charities.

Consideration AMF DtWI GiveDirectly SCI
Program estimated cost-effectiveness (relative to cash transfers) 5-10x 10-20x 1x 5-10x (and possibly more)
Directness and robustness of the case for impact Strong Weakest Strongest Moderate
Transparency and communication Strong Strong Strongest Weakest
Ongoing monitoring and likelihood of detecting future problems Strong Strong Strongest Weakest
Organizational track record of rolling out program Moderate Moderate Strong Strong
Room for more funding (more below) High Limited Very high Limited when accounting for all donors

 

Note the absence of two criteria we have put weight on in years past:

  • Program evidence of effectiveness. With the new evidence about deworming, we think differences on this front are much reduced, though we still think net distribution and cash transfers have more robust cases than deworming.
  • Potential for innovation/upside. All of these organizations are fairly mature at this point, and we expect each to get significant revenue this giving season.

Standouts

Much of the work we did this year went into investigating potential new additions to our top charities list. The strongest contenders we found are discussed below.

Ultimately, none of these made it into our top tier of recommendations, but that could easily change in the future. We believe that more investigative effort could result in a much better understanding of GAIN-USI (discussed below) and potentially a top-tier recommendation. Meanwhile, ICCIDD and DMI (also discussed below) do not have the track record we’d want to see for our top tier of recommendations, but in both cases we expect major developments in the next year. Specifically, ICCIDD will have a substantially larger working budget (due to GiveWell money moved), and DMI may have new data from its randomized controlled trial that could cause a significant upgrade in its status.

These are all strong giving opportunities, and we’ve vetted them all relatively thoroughly. Two work on a program (universal salt iodization) that we believe has excellent cost-effectiveness and a strong evidence base, and the other two have recently released data from randomized evaluations of their own programs (something that is very rare among charities). We have thoroughly vetted each of these organizations, including site visits. And we can see arguments for supporting these organizations in lieu of our top charities this year, though we ultimately recommend our top charities above them.

Below are some brief comments on each standout organization. Donors interested in learning more should read our full reviews of each organization.

Development Media International (DMI) produces radio and television broadcasts in developing countries that encourage people to adopt improved health practices, such as exclusive breastfeeding of infants and seeking treatment for symptoms associated with fatal diseases. Its programs reach many people for relatively little money, so if its program successfully changes listeners’ behavior, it may be extremely cost-effective. It is in the midst of running a randomized controlled trial of its program; the midline results were released earlier this year, at which point we blogged about them.

At midline, the study found moderate increases (relative to the control group) in self-reported health behaviors. Our attempt to estimate the likely mortality impact of these behaviors – when accounting for other concerns about the generalizability of the study – implied cost-effectiveness worse than AMF’s. This isn’t sufficient for a recommendation this year, as DMI has much less of a track record than our top charities. However, if endline results hit DMI’s targeted mortality impact, we would expect to adjust our estimate significantly, and DMI could become a top charity.

DMI’s current budget is approximately $2.5 million; it has told us it expects to receive approximately $2.5-$4 million from existing funders in the next year and could absorb an additional $6-$7.5 million, which it would either use to supplement a program already broadcasting in a country or move into a new country, depending on how much it received.

Our cost-effectiveness analysis for DMI is here (.xls).

Our full review of DMI is here.

GAIN-USI. GAIN’s Universal Salt Iodization (USI) program supports salt iodization programs. There is strong evidence that salt iodization programs have a significant, positive effect on children’s cognitive development, and we consider the program to accomplish (very roughly speaking) comparable good per dollar to bednets and deworming (see our intervention report).

GAIN-USI does not work directly to iodize salt; rather, it supports governments and private companies to do so, which could lead to leveraged impact of donations or to diminished impact depending on its effectiveness. We tried but were unable to document a demonstrable track record of impact; we believe it may have had significant impacts, but we are unable to be confident in this with what we know now. More investigation next year could change this picture.

GAIN’s USI program was one of the recipients of a large, multi-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant ends in 2015 and has yet to be renewed; we are unsure of whether it will be.

Donors whose primary interest is supporting a strong intervention, and who are comfortable supporting a large and reputable organization whose role is to promote and support the intervention (but whose track record we cannot assess at this time), should strongly consider supporting GAIN’s USI program.

GAIN is a large organization running many programs, so donors should consider the possibility that funds restricted to GAIN’s USI program might effectively support its other efforts (more on this general concern here). GAIN told us that it has very little unrestricted funding, so it is unlikely to be able to reallocate funds from other programs to continue to support USI work. It is possible that resources that are shared across programs (such as some staff) could be shifted toward other programs if resources for USI increased, but we would guess that this effect would be small.

Our cost-effectiveness analysis for deworming, cash transfers and iodine is here (.xls).

Our full review of GAIN is here.

International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders Global Network (ICCIDD). Like GAIN-USI, ICCIDD supports (via advocacy and technical assistance rather than implementation) salt iodization, and as with GAIN-USI, we tried but were unable to establish a track record of successfully contributing to iodization programs. Unlike GAIN-USI, ICCIDD is small, operating on a budget of approximately half a million dollars per year, and relies heavily on volunteer time. We believe that additional funding in the range of a few hundred thousand dollars could have a significant positive impact on its operations.

Good Ventures has granted a total of $350,000 to ICCIDD this year ($100,000 as a participation grant and $250,000 with the grants announced today), and we would be happy to see ICCIDD receive a few hundred thousand dollars more, after which point we would be more hesitant as it would be more than doubling its budget. We hope that ICCIDD will use the additional funding to improve its capacity and potentially become a top charity in the future.

Our cost-effectiveness analysis for deworming, cash transfers and iodine is here (.xls).

Our full review of ICCIDD is here.

Living Goods recruits, trains, and manages a network of community health promoters who sell health and household goods door-to-door in Uganda and Kenya and provide basic health counseling. They sell products such as treatments for malaria and diarrhea, fortified foods, water filters, bed nets, clean cook stoves and solar lights.

It completed a randomized controlled trial of its program and measured a 27% reduction in child mortality. We estimate that Living Goods saves a life for roughly each $10,000 it spends, approximately 3 times as much as our estimate for the cost per life saved of AMF’s program. Living Goods has been operating on a budget of $3 million per year and aims to scale up to operate on a budget of $10 million per year, of which it expects to receive approximately two-thirds from existing funders.

Our cost-effectiveness analysis for Living Goods is here (.xls).

Our full review of Living Goods is here.

Funding targets by charity
In order to give guidance to donors seeking to give as we would, we’ve come up with funding targets for each charity. These targets are based on “dividing up” $7.5 million in money moved, which is our best guess for how much individual donors will give based on our recommendations over the next 4 months.

We are using the following principles in setting targets:

  • We’d like each top charity to receive a substantial amount of funding. When a charity receives substantial funding at our recommendation, it (a) gives that charity good reason to continue working with us, reporting to us, and helping us learn further about its activities; (b) gives that charity the opportunity to continue building its track record and demonstrating its capabilities, information we will use in future years; and (c) continues to reinforce the idea that GiveWell-recommended charities receive substantial funding – the main incentive charities have to participate in our process.
  • All else equal, we’d like stronger overall charities – defined as those that accomplish more good per dollar, taking all considerations into account – to receive more funding.
  • Each charity has a conceptual “maximum” past which we think donations would hit strongly diminishing returns. We aren’t allocating any “money moved” to a charity in excess of the max; beyond that point, we think the money is better spent supporting other top charities.

We are also taking the announced Good Ventures grants into account. These grants were recommended using similar considerations, though some of our information has changed.

Our targets are as follows. Note the distinction between “total max” (the most we’d be comfortable seeing a charity take in, at which point we would make an announcement), “total target” (the total amount we would like to see this charity take in, including Good Ventures grants and other donations), “target from individuals” (the amount we are seeking specifically from GiveWell-influenced individual over the next four months), and “max from individuals” (the most we’d be comfortable seeing a charity take in, taking into account what we know about other donors’ plans).

  • Against Malaria Foundation: $5 million target from individuals, $5 million max from individuals. As discussed in the section on AMF, our ideal amount for AMF to take in would be $10 million this giving season, and Good Ventures has already committed $5 million. We therefore target $5 million for AMF.
  • Deworm the World Initiative: $0.5 million target from individuals, $1 million max from individuals. We think Deworm the World Initiative is an outstanding giving opportunity with limited room for more funding, as discussed above.
  • Schistosomiasis Control Initiative: $1 million target from individuals, $1 million max from individuals. We believe SCI will end the giving season with $3 million from Good Ventures, $1 million from a major donor who discussed his plans with us, $1 million in donations that we expect to come from non-GiveWell-related sources (based on projections from past years rather than on knowledge of specific donors). We also believe it has $1 million in cash available for the $6.3-$8.3 million in opportunities we describe above. In total, then, SCI already can expect to have $6 million available, which would be around the maximum we’d recommend in isolation. However, our discussion with the possible $1 million donor has led us to set a higher overall “total target” than we would have otherwise, settling on a total target of $6.8 million. (We plan to elaborate on our thoughts about donor coordination and donor agency in a future post.) Since we are hoping for SCI to have a total of $6.8 million available for its activities, we are recommending $1 million in donations from GiveWell-influenced individuals this giving season. (We are rounding $0.8 million in estimated remaining gap to $1 million in recommended giving since these figures are not precise, and we see value in round numbers for our targets.)
  • GiveDirectly: $1 million target from individuals, $25 million max from individuals. We believe GiveDirectly could absorb up to $40 million total ($5 million from the Good Ventures grant, $10 million we expect it to receive from non-GiveWell-related sources already, and $25 million on top of that). However, our revised cost-effectiveness estimates (which we will discuss more in a future post) now classify cash transfers as significantly less cost-effective than bednet distribution and deworming, by a factor of around 5-10. In addition, the $5 million grant from Good Ventures and the funds we expect it to receive from elsewhere means that GiveDirectly will raise nearly as much in its next fiscal year as it did last year. Given that we anticipate moving roughly $7.5 million from individual donors in the next four months, we’d like to direct roughly $1 million of those donations to GiveDirectly. Note that GiveDirectly is, by a substantial amount, the organization we feel has performed best and most consistently in carrying out its intervention and providing quality data on the results, and people who are particularly skeptical of cost-effectiveness estimates are likely to find it the most appealing. We also are very excited about the future of GiveDirectly, in terms of its continuing ability to produce useful information via studies and its potential to grow and raise more from sources unconnected to GiveWell, though at this point we feel GiveDirectly is mature enough that further donations are not crucial in helping it toward this goal.

Summary table (all figures in USD millions):

Charity Total max (including all donations) Total target (including all donations) Donations committed or expected from Good Ventures and non-GiveWell sources Target from individuals Max from individuals
Against Malaria Foundation 10 10 5 5 5
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative 6.8 6.8 6 1 1
Deworm the World Initiative 1.3 0.75 0.25 0.5 1
GiveDirectly 40 16 15 1 25

For donations beyond the ~$7.5 million total we’re projecting over the next four months, we think the decision of which charity to support would be particularly difficult. Of our top charities, only GiveDirectly would have clear room for more funding after receiving an amount in line with the above, but the others – and to a lesser extent, some of our standout charities – have significantly superior estimated cost-effectiveness according to our latest analyses. We will be continuing to stress-test and reflect on these analyses as we reflect on the question of how to modify our recommendations once the above targets are hit.

Our research process in 2014
This section describes the new work we did in 2014 to supplement our previous work on defining and identifying top charities. See the process page on our website for our overall process.

This year, we completed an investigation of one new intervention (salt iodization). We made substantial progress on several others (maternal and neonatal tetanus immunization campaigns, mass drug administration for lymphatic filariasis, and vitamin A supplementation) but did not complete them.

We also stayed up to date on the research for bednets, cash transfers and deworming and made a substantial update to our view on deworming, based on a new study by Kevin Croke.

We did not conduct an extensive search for new charities this year. We feel that we have a relatively good understanding of the existing charities that could potentially meet our criteria, based on past searches (see the process page on our website for more information). Instead, we solicited applications from organizations that we viewed as contenders for recommendations. (Living Goods is an exception; it contacted us with the results from its randomized controlled trial.)

A February post laid out which organizations we were hoping to investigate and why.

In addition to the 4 standout charities, we also considered Nothing but Nets (a bednets organization that declined to participate in our process), Evidence Action’s Dispensers for Safe Water program (which is forthcoming), the Center for Neglected Tropical Disease and UNICEF’s maternal and neonatal tetanus program. In the case of the latter two, we ran out of time to complete the relevant intervention reports this year (due to prioritizing other work, which seemed more likely to lead to new recommendations) and plan to complete them in 2015.

Brief notes on giving now vs. later and supporting GiveWell vs. top charities
Giving now vs. giving later

Last year, some staff members chose to save some of their charitable giving budget for future giving opportunities, and we discussed the considerations about giving now vs. later in this post.

This year, we think the situation is a bit different, as AMF has returned to our top charities list, the case for both SCI and GiveDirectly has improved (due to new evidence on deworming and GiveDirectly’s strong performance in disbursing cash transfers), and we have extensively investigated possible other options. With these changes, we feel that (unlike last year) this year is an excellent year to give a substantial amount if you are interested primarily on our top charities work. We think our top charity recommendations are unlikely to improve a great deal (i.e. they’re unlikely to improve enough to make saving worthwhile) in the coming years. A couple considerations that might be relevant in weighing the decision to give now versus later:

  • Will the giving opportunities available in the future be better than the ones we have identified now? There are competing factors. On one hand, our research capacity has expanded significantly over the past 2 years, and this has given us the ability to research more opportunities both in our traditional, top charities work and the Open Philanthropy Project. On the other, the world is getting better and some of the best opportunities available today (e.g., deworming, bednets, salt iodization) may no longer be available 10 years from now. We now feel that we’ve investigated a large proportion of realistic short-to-medium-term contenders for top charity recommendations. If money moved ends up exceeding the ~$7.5 million we’re projecting over the next four months, a stronger case for waiting may emerge, as many of the strongest charities will be near what we think they can productively absorb in the short term (and our standout charities may become recommended next year, as discussed in the section on standouts).
  • How much funding will be available in the future to the opportunities we identify? Our impression is that funding available for the opportunities we identify has and will continue to grow significantly. Good Ventures is a part of this, but we hope that other future, major philanthropists will consider supporting our recommendations as Good Ventures has.

Donors interested in supporting opportunities that come from the Open Philanthropy Project have a stronger case for saving to give later. Note that it could be several years before the Open Philanthropy Project has recommendations suitable for individual donors, and these recommendations will likely reflect a very different process, very different criteria, and a much higher tolerance for high-risk opportunities that are difficult to fully explain and defend in writing (though we will work hard to lay out the basic case).

Giving to GiveWell vs. our top charities

We have grown significantly over the past 2 years and continue to raise funds to support our operations. The funds we have received have enabled us to expand our staff. Without this increased capacity, we would not have been able to consider as many organizations as we did this year.

We plan to post an update soon about our budget situation. The most up to date information available is linked from our August board meeting. The short story is that we are still seeking additional donations. For the first time this year, our checkout form will ask donors to consider allocating 10% of their donation to our operating expenses. This option is not yet live on our website; we hope to implement this change in the next few weeks.

Deworm the World Initiative (led by Evidence Action) update

Summary

The Deworm the World Initiative (DtWI), led by Evidence Action, received approximately $2.3 million as a result of GiveWell’s recommendation last year. While there were some deviations, it largely allocated these funds as we expected.

DtWI now has limited room for funding; it is currently seeking to raise an additional $1.3 million to support its activities in 2015 and 2016. We expect it to allocate approximately 30% of the additional funds it receives for work related to expanding school-based, mass deworming programs and funding related operating expenses (including impact evaluation related expenses), and will allocate other funds to priorities that are less directly connected to expanding and evaluating deworming programs (investigating ways to combine other evidence-based programs with deworming rollouts, supplementing a project supported by another funder).

We currently expect to release updated recommendations by December 1st. We think it is likely that the Deworm the World Initiative will remain on our top charities list.

How did DtWI spend the money it received due to GiveWell, and how does this compare to our expectations?

GiveWell directed approximately $2.3 million to the Deworm the World Initiative since we added it to our top charities list in December 2013.

At the time of our recommendation, we expected DtWI to spend additional funds in the following ways; we did not have precise estimates for how much it would spend in each category:

  • Some portion to provide reserves for DtWI, both to make the organization more resilient and to allow it to respond to high impact opportunities
  • Some portion to allow DtWI to offer a lower-intensity level of assistance to regions that didn’t require its standard level of assistance
  • Some portion to support expansion to new states in India

It has allocated these funds as follows (years when we expect funds to be spent in parentheses; 2014 means funds have been spent):

  • $881,000 – ongoing reserves. Our understanding is that DtWI does not have plans to spend these funds in the near future. Instead, these funds make DtWI more robust as an organization: for example, it is less likely to need to significantly shift priorities in order to fundraise and it is more likely to be able to respond quickly to high-impact opportunities it identifies.
  • $509,000 – expansion into new countries (2015 and 2016). This includes preliminary work in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Philippines to support possible future work and $104,000 for prevalence surveys and technical assistance to the government and partner organization in Vietnam.
  • $430,000 – ongoing work in India (2014 and early 2015). This will fund a follow-up prevalence survey in Bihar to assess the impact of three rounds of deworming on worm prevalence and intensity, and enable expansion to preschool children there, as well as contribute to the third round of the Rajasthan and Delhi programs.
  • $207,000 – contribution to elimination research primarily funded by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) (2015-2017). CIFF and BMGF provided approximately $1.6 million in funding to the Deworm the World Initiative and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to conduct research on the feasibility and cost effectiveness of breaking transmission of soil-transmitted helminths. Breaking transmission would potentially require a different approach (likely covering more than just school-aged children) than DtWI’s standard school-based deworming model.
  • $151,000 – DtWI overhead (2014). These funds support DtWI as an organization but are not directly programmed (e.g., a portion of Alix Zwane’s, the Executive Director of Evidence Action salary, Evidence Action financial staff, etc.). Note that DtWI estimated $151,000 based on allocating 15% of programmed GiveWell-sourced funding to DtWI overhead. DtWI said it could more explicitly track these funds but would be time consuming to do so. We agreed that more detailed accounting was not necessary.
  • $129,000 – additional staff (2014). In 2014, DtWI hired (a) a deputy director to support its programming worldwide and (b) someone to focus on its impact evaluation. The latter hire is likely to be doing work on the breaking transmission work discussed below. We allocate some of this line item to expansion and related operating expenses and some to research.

Overall, DtWI’s funding decisions seem reasonable to us and are broadly consistent with what we anticipated.

  • 46% ($1,067,000) supported expanding deworming programs and funding related operating expenses (including impact evaluation related expenses). This includes the deputy director who supports the organization as a whole but is necessary to expanded work in India and other new countries and half of the salary for the impact-evaluation-focused new staffer since he works on programmatic and technical support across DtWI.
  • 38% ($881,000) supported ongoing reserves.
  • 10% ($241,000) supported research that we had not anticipated (including the other half of the new staffer since he is spending a significant part of his time on this research).
  • 6% (151,000) supported DtWI as a whole.

How would DtWI spend additional funds?

The Deworm the World Initiative seeks an additional $1.3 million to support its activities in 2015 and 2016. DtWI expects to spend $377,000 of the $1.3 million (29%) it seeks on work related to expanding school-based mass deworming programs and funding related operating expenses (including impact evaluation related expenses). More specifically, these activities would be:

  • $230,000: staff to support expansion in India, new countries, and related operating and evaluation expenses. This line item is the salary for the deputy director and part of the salary for the impact evaluation focused staff member described above.
  • $144,000: DtWI overhead (described above).
  • $500,000: evaluation of new evidence-based programs that leverage deworming. We have limited detail about what this would entail. One idea that DtWI has investigated is the possibility of distributing bednets along with deworming pills in schools as an alternative distribution mechanism to national net distributions. Another is including hand-washing educational programming alongside deworming days. This line item includes $50,000 to support DtWI’s evaluation of its hygiene and deworming program funded by Dubai Cares and $50,000 to enable DtWI to hire a senior epidemiologist.
  • $230,000: staff to support evaluation of DtWI’s work in Kenya. This work is primarily funded by CIFF. DtWI believes that additional resources can improve significantly the quality of the analysis done regarding the cost effectiveness of breaking transmission. This line item includes $100,000 to support the impact evaluation focused staff member described above.
  • $170,000: implementation support for the integrated deworming, sanitation and hygiene education program in Vietnam, in partnership with Thrive Networks.

Why is DtWI seeking additional funds primarily to support research and evaluation rather than scale up? What changed in the past year?

In 2014, two events affected DtWI’s projection of the additional funding it would require to scale up in India:

  1. The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), a major foundation that had supported DtWI’s programs in Kenya, agreed to a 6-year, $17.7 million grant to support DtWI’s expansion to additional states in India and technical assistance to the Government of India for a national deworming program. At the end of 2013, DtWI believed it was reasonably likely that it would not receive this grant and had not anticipated how quickly it would come through. With these funds, DtWI does not require significant additional funding to support its India expansion.
  2. The new Indian government expressed interest in conducting a single deworming day nationally with increased national attention and resources. Advocating for such a policy and assisting the national government in creating a plan became the major focus of DtWI’s India work in 2014, which both reduced the amount of time it was able to spend generating interest in heavy DtWI involvement in new states, and also required little funding since there were few costs of that project aside from staff time. DtWI believes that the first national deworming day will likely happen in February 2015.

Together, these changes led DtWI to the conclusion that funding is no longer the bottleneck to reaching more people in India.

More broadly, we believe that if donors close both the $1.3-million 2-year funding gap of DtWI and the ~5-$8-million funding gap of the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), another deworming organization we recommend, funding will not be the primary bottleneck to deworming programs’ scaling in general. Overall, our impression is that there is currently more funding available for scaling up deworming programs than capacity at organizations to utilize funds for scaleup.

Dr. Zwane believes that DtWI’s research agenda is important for two reasons:

  1. She believes it is possible that this research will demonstrate that other approaches to deworming are more cost-effective, such as eliminating worms from areas to avoid the need for mass treatments, or combining deworming with other interventions such as bednet distributions or hygiene education.
  2. She would like DtWI to consistently provide useful information to funders and policymakers and undertaking this research will enable it to continue doing so.

Notes on other deworming implementers and funders

It is not unlikely that GiveWell-directed donors will close the funding gaps of both DtWI and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative in the coming few months. Because of this, we also asked Alix Zwane (Executive Director of Evidence Action) about other implementers and funders working on deworming.

Implementers

Dr. Zwane told us DtWI and SCI are the two primary organizations that focus primarily on expanding countrywide deworming programs. Other organizations work on deworming but are not as directly focused on scaleup with government partners to her knowledge. There are other NGOs that work on other neglected tropical diseases (e.g., SightSavers) and school health (e.g., Partnership for Child Development), but Dr. Zwane is less familiar with the reach and scope of the service delivery they support.

Organizations that do a smaller amount of deworming implementation include UNICEF, Micronutrient Initiative and Vitamin Angels, which have begun adding deworming pills to their vitamin A supplementation programs, and WaterAid, which adds deworming to some of its water and sanitation programs.

IMA World Health, Helen Keller International, Sight Savers International, The MENTOR Initiative, and possibly others implement deworming programs supported by the funders discussed below. We have yet to speak with these organizations and have little information about their deworming programs or funding needs.

According to Dr. Zwane, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases works primarily on advocacy and does not focus on deworming, specifically, while Children without Worms coordinates partners globally and does not work on providing technical assistance for program delivery directly currently to her knowledge.

Funders

Major funders of deworming service delivery include the following: Dubai Cares, The END Fund, CIFF, the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID), Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the US government’s USAID.

According to Dr. Zwane, these funders are interested in supporting scale-up, and she believes that DtWI will be in a strong position to raise funds for scale up from them if and when funding becomes a bottleneck. These funders are less likely to fund the types of activities to which DtWI has allocated GiveWell-directed funding.

A longer list of organizations working on deworming is available in this document, from a recent meeting of groups that are part of the STH Coalition.