The GiveWell Blog

Why more charities should consider applying for a GiveWell recommendation

This post will highlight major changes to GiveWell and our charity review process over the past few years, with hopes of encouraging certain organizations working in global health and development to apply for a top charity recommendation.

We believe that GiveWell may now be a better fit for a number of organizations than we had been in the past. However, we still do not expect to fund the vast majority of organizations. GiveWell remains focused on international aid, and our criteria will likely rule out many organizations.

In brief,

  • GiveWell’s top charities receive a substantial amount of funding (millions of dollars each).
  • Charities quickly learn whether we think they might be a potential top charity, before putting in lots of time. Charities we don’t recommend may receive a $100,000 participation grant.
  • We’re open to funding large, multi-program organizations as well as small, single-program organizations.

Why charities should consider applying

  • Our recommended charities receive a lot of funding. In 2015, GiveWell’s recommendation resulted in charities receiving an estimated $110 million; the majority of this funding was divided between our four top charities. That’s money we directly track from individual donors who attribute their gifts to our recommended charities. The total has grown significantly in recent years. We have not yet completed our metrics report for 2016; we expect money moved last year to be similar or slightly lower than money moved in 2015.

    Our top charities and standout charities have received annual “incentive” funding for earning these designations in recent years, with the aim of encouraging other organizations to seek to meet our criteria. These grants have been made by Good Ventures, with GiveWell’s recommendation. In 2016, we increased the annual incentive amount that each of our top charities receives from $1 million to $2.5 million.

    Last year, we recommended that Good Ventures make $250,000 grants to each standout, and Good Ventures followed our recommendation. We’re not sure what we’ll recommend in the future, but we’re tentatively planning to recommend $100,000 grants for standout charities.

  • We provide early-stage support to promising organizations and programs through our Incubation Grant program, and recommended more than $10 million in Incubation Grants in 2016. The goal of GiveWell Incubation Grants is to support the development of future top charities by providing funding to charities or programs that don’t yet meet GiveWell’s criteria but may develop into future top charities or priority programs with additional funding.

  • We’ve streamlined our charity review process so that we ask for relatively little time, compared to our understanding of a typical grant application, from an applicant before we tell them whether they are a promising candidate. Generally, the first phase of our application involves one or two 1-2 hour phone calls between GiveWell and program staff, after which we ask the staff to provide feedback on notes from that conversation for us to publish on our website. We also ask for internal documents to demonstrate how the organization uses funds and tracks impact. If a charity doesn’t seem likely to become a top charity after this initial review, we do not ask for more of its staff’s time.

    After GiveWell completes the first phase of our review, we ask charities to sign off on GiveWell publishing an interim review of that organization. GiveWell will then make a $100,000 participation grant to the group, regardless of whether it is ultimately named one of GiveWell’s recommended charities.

  • Odds are good of being named a top charity for organizations we explicitly invite to continue in the application process after our initial review. Since 2013, 10 out of 23 organizations that we invited to apply have been named a top charity or standout; nine of the remaining organizations declined to participate, three are still being considered, and we decided not to recommend one.

  • We’re open to assessing large, multi-program organizations as well as small, single-program groups. In 2016, we recommended restricted donations to individual programs run by large, multi-program organizations: in particular, Sightsavers’ deworming program and Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program. We previously almost exclusively recommended unrestricted donations to smaller organizations (for reasons discussed in this blog post).

  • We have a staff member, Chelsea Tabart, dedicated to helping charities understand us, our process, and the types of funding GiveWell offers. We created this position in response to our impression that not all charities working on programs we are interested in are aware of our interest in funding their work, what is involved in our review process, or how much funding we’re directing to recommended charities . We hope that having a staff member serve as a charity liaison will make it more likely that charities who might be a good fit for GiveWell funding apply.

The above list highlights changes to GiveWell’s process that have occurred over time and may make GiveWell a better fit for some organizations than it was previously. Other core elements of our review process and criteria have not changed. We remain interested in international health and development, for example, and committed to supporting interventions for which a strong evidence base exists or may be developed with additional funding. In addition:

  • We prefer to provide unrestricted funding. Within program areas, or when recommending funding to organizations that only run one program, we offer unrestricted funding and have no formal reporting requirements. Instead, we require check-in conversations approximately every quarter as well as ongoing budgets, monitoring and evaluation results, or similar materials to keep us up to date.
  • We prefer to publish as much information as we can, although we keep all non-public information confidential until we have explicit permission to publish it. Conversations with GiveWell are ‘off the record’ until we have approval to share non-public information.

What makes a top charity?

GiveWell recommends charities that are evidence-backed, cost-effective, and underfunded. We’re looking for charities that are implementing a program with a strong independent evidence base, such as multiple randomized controlled trials (we list programs that meet this criteria—our “priority programs”—here). We’re looking for charities whose work is in the same range of cost-effectiveness as our current top charities, and with a significant need for additional funding. Our top charities are transparent about their work, and can share detailed monitoring and evaluation information, financials, and future plans, and are comfortable with GiveWell discussing their work publicly and in detail.

Applying for a GiveWell recommendation

We hope the above will encourage additional charities to consider applying for a GiveWell recommendation or reach out with questions about our process. If you work at or know of an organization that might be a good fit based on the above information, please contact us. You can email us for more details about our application process at applications@givewell.org.

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