This is the fifth post (of five) focused on our self-evaluation and future plans.
A previous post outlined our top-level priorities for 2011. The most important priority is finding more top charities. This post lists our potential tactics for finding top charities; we are particularly interested in feedback on this topic.
These tactics are listed in order from “closest to our existing methodology; most likely to succeed” to “furthest departure from our existing methodology; most likely to take a lot of time before we can identify outstanding organizations.”
Tactic 1: deep investigations of charities with distinction.
We have a list of charities that have some form of distinction. This includes
- All grantees of the Skoll Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Mulago Foundation, Jasmine Social Investments, Peery Foundation, and Voxtra. (We have spoken with representatives of several of these organizations and feel that we broadly have similar values; the others have been recommended by those we’ve spoken with.)
- Organizations that have been recommended by or have significant partnerships with Poverty Action Lab or Innovations for Poverty Action Lab.
- Organizations we’ve encountered through past searches or referrals that seem promising to us for any other reason (generally because they exhibit an unusual commitment to transparency or focus on low-burden-of-proof programs).
We haven’t found sufficient information on these charities’ websites to recommend them, and based on past experience, this makes us pessimistic. However, we have begun the process of prioritizing how promising the different charities are; we will be contacting the most promising ones, interviewing staff, and thinking about the minimum information we would need to confidently recommend them. More so than in the past, we can now point to significant impact of our recommendations on donations, so we expect better access to these charities than in the past.
Tactic 2: investigating “low burden of proof” sub-causes in international aid
In the past, we’ve looked for direct evidence of charities’ impact on improving lives. As we’ve gotten more context and experience with international aid, however, a couple of causes have stood out to us as particularly recommended/promising, to the point where we may be able to be confident in a charity without the sort of impact assessment we’ve sought in the past.
- Orphans and vulnerable children: some charities provide homes, shelters, and other basic services for children who otherwise might be homeless, sleeping on the street, or even taken in by those who exploit them. By speaking with the right people, we may gain an understanding of where and when there are needs for these sorts of organizations to expand, resulting in more children having safe homes/shelters who would not otherwise.
- Water: if we found a charity that was demonstrably improving access to clean water, in a way that (a) benefited communities with very poor previous access to water (b) lasted over time (we are very concerned about wells being put in and falling into disrepair), we might recommend such an organization without direct evidence of improved health outcomes.
Tactic 3: investigating other promising causes
As mentioned previously, we’re experimenting with a method for quickly getting a high-level picture of a charitable cause and how likely it seems that we could find top charities in this area. By investigating particularly promising causes, such as disease research funding and catastrophic risk mitigation (including but not limited to global warming), we might be able to find more outstanding opportunities for donors.
We will certainly be pursuing this tactic, but feel it is less likely to generate top charities in 2011 than the tactics above.
Tactic 4: project funding.
We have always aimed to find great organizations and recommend unrestricted donations to them, rather than funding particular projects. This is partly because we think traditional donation restricting is unreliable; partly because we think project-based funding adds harmful complications (particularly the fact that the donor’s and charity’s goals aren’t fully aligned); and partly because, in the past, we have had so little sense of how much money (if any) our top-rated charities could expect to raise.
But if we can’t find more charities that focus – at the overall organizational level – on proven, cost-effective, scalable programs, we will open the doors to large organizations offering promising projects, and potentially recommend that donors give to these organizations with specific designations (“Use this donation for project X”).
If we go down this path, it will become essential to have concrete expectations for what will be implemented – and what will be measured and reported – at different levels of funding. (Projects also ought to be based, to the maximum extent possible, on programs that have worked in the past.) The fact that we now have a track record of moving money to top-rated charities makes this option more feasible than it was before.
We’d like to avoid project-based funding, and even if we do implement it, we’ll be keeping an eye out for organizations that we can recommend for unrestricted funding. The latter will always take precedence.
We think this tactic is promising in the long run, but unlikely to generate “gold medal” opportunities in the short run because of the difficulties we’ve had (and expect to have) communicating with grantwriters.