The GiveWell Blog

December 2016 open thread

Our goal with hosting quarterly open threads is to give blog readers an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about GiveWell or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at or to request a call with GiveWell staff if you have feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

If you have questions related to the Open Philanthropy Project, you can post those in the Open Philanthropy Project’s most recent open thread.

You can view our September 2016 open thread here.


  • Vipul Naik on December 18, 2016 at 4:11 pm said:

    What are the ways in which you plan to improve the scope or coverage of reviews of top charities and charities worthy of special recognition in 2017?

    Last year I had identified a few concerns with the top charity reviews (see (a) at and I was happy to see that the reviews this year provided more coverage to address these questions. Specifically, I was happy to see more conversations published with the Global Fund discussing how AMF funding would affect their allocation, as well as clear elucidation in the AMF review of the percentage of bednet funding currently covered and likely covered in the future by it.

    What sort of further qualitative improvements are in preparation?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 22, 2016 at 12:06 pm said:

    Hi Vipul—

    We haven’t formally set our plan for next year, but here are some of the things we’re seriously considering for 2017:

    * We’re aiming to hire an economist to increase our intervention report output, which we hope will enable us to form more confident views on a wider variety of interventions:
    * We’re creating a role for a GiveWell staff member to serve as a liaison to charities, either to (a) increase the volume of high-quality charity applicants to GiveWell or (b) better understand why the volume isn’t higher.
    * We’re planning to continue our work with the IDinsight embedded GiveWell team (, which may improve our monitoring and evaluation of current top charities and may lead to new top charities.
    * We’re planning to continue work similar to past work to improve our recommendations, including working to understand the Against Malaria Foundation’s counterfactual impact by talking with others in the malaria field; working to better understand worm prevalence and intensity to inform our deworming recommendations; conducting site visits; and making and following up on GiveWell Incubation Grants (formerly “GiveWell’s experimental work”) to support the development of potential future top charities (

    We’d be very interested in any additional thoughts you have on other areas we should focus on.

  • jamie cassidy on December 27, 2016 at 11:29 am said:

    I really like the idea of the GiveWell Incubation Grants and if I could make a suggestion that it might be worth taking a step further in researching and highlighting areas where you think there are opportunities for potentially very high impact solutions to be provided by a charity, but no charity with enough focus on evidence and effectiveness exists. The goal being to encourage potential non-profit entrepreneurs to make this an area of focus.

  • Vipul Naik on December 27, 2016 at 4:14 pm said:

    Thank you for the response, Catherine! I have a few other suggestions in mind but I’m still thinking through them and will reply in this thread later with thoughts.

    In the meantime, I have two other questions, that are possibly more suited to Open Phil than GiveWell but related to GiveWell stuff:

    (1) Will Open Phil have a quarterly open thread this quarter, or should we ask questions related to Open Phil on the September open thread?

    (2) Do you know when the Open Phil blog post explaining the allocation of money this year to GiveWell top charities will be published?


  • Peter Hurford on December 27, 2016 at 11:06 pm said:

    Similar to Vipul, I was also curious to hear more about why OpenPhil caps their giving at $50M.

    Also, I’m curious to hear more about why “Standout Charity” was a bad term, given that the name sounds much more memorable than the OCWoSR.

    Also, what is it that makes an OCWoSR worthy of special recognition? I don’t really understand the criteria for making it on to that list.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 28, 2016 at 12:37 pm said:

    Hi Jamie—

    We published a blog post last year with this goal in mind: The post outlines charities that we would be excited to learn more about if they existed, and was published with the additional goal of communicating that we’d be interested in providing early-stage support to individuals trying to create the organizations outlined in the post.

    Since then, we have made an Incubation Grant to one organization that very explicitly fits in this category: Charity Science: Health. Charity Science: Health was created with the goal of becoming a potential future GiveWell top charity. You can read more about that grant here:

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 28, 2016 at 12:41 pm said:

    Thanks, Vipul! In response to your question:

    (1) No. The Open Philanthropy Project is currently on a biannual open thread schedule; questions should be posted to the September thread linked from this post.

    (2) The post was published today:

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 28, 2016 at 12:44 pm said:

    Hi Peter—

    The post is live on the Open Philanthropy Project blog:

    We changed the name from “standout” to “other charities worthy of special recognition” in response to confusion we heard over the years around the distinction between a “top” charity and a “standout” charity; for individuals who weren’t very familiar with our work, our impression is that it wasn’t clear which of these categories was our main recommendation.

    We’re unsure whether the change to “other charities worthy of special recognition” was as clear as possible, and are considering making adjustments going forward to clarify this further.

  • Vipul Naik on December 28, 2016 at 1:06 pm said:

    Thanks, Catherine! That was a riveting post by Holden.

    Couple more questions:

    (3) I also still don’t see the grants to GiveWell top charities in either the Good Ventures grants database ( or the Open Philanthropy Project grants database ( Does this mean the grants haven’t yet been made, and are still subject to revision? Or have they already been made but just haven’t yet been entered into the database? Do you know when they will appear in the database?

    (4) Do you have an estimate of the financial and accounting overhead of grantmaking, both by GiveWell and by GiveWell donors? e.g., Good Ventures is donating $15.1 million to AMF this year; how much money is spent carrying out the money transfer and what proportion is it? Is it like 1% (so ~$150K), or 0.1% (so ~$15K), or less? Similarly, for the small- and medium-sized donors who donate to GiveWell top charities, what fraction of the money they donate is used up by intermediary donation processing?

  • Jamie Cassidy on December 29, 2016 at 5:13 am said:

    Thanks Catherine – apologies I’d missed this, you guys are way ahead of me!

  • Vipul Naik on January 3, 2017 at 2:20 am said:

    Hi Catherine,

    Here’s my pending reply regarding what else I’d like to see from GiveWell in 2017.

    I’d like to see a clearer explanation from GiveWell of the strategies being used by key players in the spaces where GiveWell is making recommendations (which could be at the broad level of global health or more specifically at the level of malaria control). And a better explanation of how GiveWell’s recommendations fit in given this landscape, given various considerations of substitution. Also, to the extent that GiveWell’s recommendations differ from the strategies that key players follow, more explanation of why GiveWell’s recommendations are still the best for individual donors (at least, donors who value certain kinds of evidence) to follow.

  • Peter Hurford on January 4, 2017 at 2:41 pm said:

    I’m confused about why GiveDirectly is stated to be 5x more cost-effective than AMF when from [GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness estimate](, GiveDirectly has a median of $7702 per life saved, ranging from $2200 to $16000, excluding outliers. AMF has a median of $3282 per life saved, ranging from $2200 to $4800, excluding outliers. Together, this implies a comparison centered around 2.35x but ranging from 1x to 3.3x. I probably misread the sheet or am doing a bad comparison — I haven’t invested that much time in making sure I fully understand it yet.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on January 9, 2017 at 6:25 pm said:

    Hi Vipul,

    (3) These grants have been recommended to Good Ventures; our current best guess is that they will be completed by the end of January.
    (4) Our impression is that there is a very low administrative cost associated with both GiveWell and GiveWell donors’ grantmaking to our top charities, although the precise amount would vary by grant; we haven’t broken this out due to the staff capacity that would involve as well as our understanding of how low the costs are.

  • Catherine on January 10, 2017 at 8:54 pm said:

    Hi Peter,

    Could you please share where you see GiveDirectly listed as 5x more cost-effective than AMF?

    In our blog post announcing GiveWell’s top-charity recommendations for 2016, we published a table comparing them, including their cost-effectiveness. In that table, AMF is listed as 4x as cost-effective as GiveDirectly. This is based on a weighted average of staff results that incorporated both seniority and level of engagement with our year-end cost-effectiveness analysis: Link.

  • Peter Hurford on January 13, 2017 at 4:54 pm said:

    @Catherine: In “GiveWell cost-effectiveness analysis — November 2016”, under the “Results” tab, cell F31 (“Against Malaria Foundation is X times as effective as… GD”) gives a value of 4.9x, which is higher than the 4x from the comparison table you cite and higher than cell B12 (“AMF vs Cash”) on the same page (2.2x).

    Presumably this comes from different ways of aggregating results (expertise-weighted average estimate for the online comparison table vs. ??? for cell F31 vs. median estimate for B12)?

  • Catherine on January 19, 2017 at 12:50 pm said:

    Hi Peter,

    Yes – that’s correct; the “4x” value reflects the expertise/engagement-weighting in the link I shared above. Cell F31 is part of the “individual level results and intuition checks” section on the “Results” tab, which is intended to provide individual staff members and others a way to see the implications of their individual results for the relative cost-effectiveness of the charities we recommend; cell F31, under the section labeled “Elie,” reflects the values in his column above (column H). Cell B12 is the median staff estimate.

  • Catherine on February 13, 2017 at 6:07 pm said:

    Hi Peter,

    I’m writing to circle back on your question around changing the name of “standout charities” to “other charities worthy of special recognition.” After a few months in use, we did not feel the name was clarifying the distinction between this group of charities and top charities to a significant degree, and we found that it was more challenging to use in written and verbal communication. For these reasons, we have decided to revert to “standouts” to describe this group of organizations.

  • Hello. I don’t know if you have thoughts on this, but I happen to be looking to volunteer my time (not money) at a charity in the NYC area. If you have any suggestions, I’d give them a good deal of weight in making a selection.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on February 27, 2017 at 12:24 pm said:

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for reaching out! Unfortunately, we don’t have any recommendations specifically for volunteering. Sorry to not be of more help with this.

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