We’re happy to talk to you!

If you’re currently trying to figure out where you’ll give this year and think it might be helpful to talk to us about your decision, please feel free to contact us at info@givewell.org. We’d be happy to set up a phone call or answer questions over email.

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. 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.

Due to limited staff capacity, it’s possible we won’t be able to speak with everyone who requests a call, although based on past experience we hope to be able to connect with anyone who gets in touch.

We look forward to hearing from you!

December 2015 Open Thread

Following up on our open thread in September, we wanted to have another one.

Our goal 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 info@givewell.org if there’s feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

Encouraging friends and family to give to AMF for the holidays

People often ask us how they can help spread the word about effective charities. One way is to ask friends and family members to donate to effective charities in lieu of giving presents during the holiday season.

If you’re interested in asking friends and family to donate to effective charities rather than buy you presents for the holidays, our top-ranked charity — the Against Malaria Foundation — allows you to create a fundraising page.

Giving to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) is our number-one recommendation for donors interested in maximizing their impact in 2015. AMF distributes insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria, a leading cause of child deaths in Africa. Filling AMF’s remaining ~$27.5 million funding gap is our #1 ranked giving opportunity for donors because we feel its funding need is the most pressing of our top-rated organizations and that additional donations to AMF will enable the organization to continue distributing bed nets without being bottlenecked due to lack of funding. (More on what this means and our process for making this recommendation here.)

Charity Science, a foundation which aims to educate the public about the “science of doing good” (and which recommends giving to GiveWell’s top charities), brought this to our attention as a way of spreading the word about the organizations we recommend, and has written about the benefits of this approach on its website.

If you’re interested in encouraging your friends and family to give to AMF this holiday season, you can set up a fundraising page directly through AMF’s website: https://www.againstmalaria.com/Register.aspx. If you’d like to see a finished page, AMF lists their fundraisers here. And if you’d like tips for running a fundraising campaign, Charity Science has you covered.

Staff members’ personal donations for giving season 2015

For this post, GiveWell staff members wrote up the thinking behind their personal donations for the year. We made similar posts in 2013 and 2014. After Elie and Holden, staff are listed in order of their start dates at GiveWell.

Elie Hassenfeld

My wife and I are planning to follow GiveWell’s recommendation and give 100% of our donation to the Against Malaria Foundation because it has the highest-impact funding gap I know of.

Last year, we gave significantly more to GiveDirectly than GiveWell recommended because I put less weight on cost-effectiveness analysis than other staff. I remain ambivalent about putting so much weight on cost-effectiveness estimates because they are subject to numerous debatable assumptions, but I’ve changed my mind based on work we did over the past few months. We put significant effort into debating our cost-effectiveness model (.xls) and encouraged all GiveWell staff to input their own values into the model. The resulting strong consensus that cash is significantly less cost-effective than bednets/deworming persuaded me to put more weight on cost-effectiveness analysis in my giving this year.

Finally, I’m not donating to GiveWell for similar reasons to what Holden wrote in 2013. Absent that consideration, I would consider direct support of GiveWell to be an outstanding giving opportunity.

Holden Karnofsky

I’ll be following GiveWell’s recommendation to donate to AMF. I had little involvement with our work on top charities this year, but I spent the last couple of weeks (prior to our announcement) catching up by reading our reviews, examining our cost-effectiveness analysis and participating in staff conversations. I was very engaged in the decisions about our final recommendations, and I feel good about them.

I did strongly consider our other top charities:

  • This year I tried a slightly different approach with cost-effectiveness: rather than make a series of quantitative “conservative” adjustments to the deworming estimate, I tried to make what I thought was a fairly generous (and not skeptical or “conservative” estimate) and then do my adjustment for skepticism informally outside the calculation, as advocated here. In the end, I came out feeling that deworming looks solidly stronger than both bednets and cash, but I’m sufficiently uncertain about my analysis that I’m deferring to the results that came out of the staff-wide exercise, which imply that deworming and bednets are on roughly even turf. I feel that I had every opportunity to make the case for my preferred inputs to other staff, so to the extent they weren’t convinced, I want to put weight on their views.
  • I always feel tempted to support GiveDirectly, no matter what our analyses say. The numbers are so uncertain, and GiveDirectly is so clearly (in my mind) the strongest organization as an organization, that there is always a case for it. But thanks to the support from Good Ventures, I feel that they have ample support to continue developing as an organization, and AMF’s funding gap (post-Good-Ventures-grants) is more pressing and compelling.

There are a few organizations that have come to my attention through the Open Philanthropy Project that I considered supporting; we’ll likely be making a post later on giving opportunities sourced through the Open Philanthropy Project that may be a good fit for individuals. But ultimately AMF’s funding gap is more compelling to me. (That said, there are certainly giving opportunities we’ve identified through the Open Philanthropy Project that I would have donated to, if Good Ventures hadn’t funded them at what I consider an appropriate level.)

Natalie Crispin

I plan to follow GiveWell’s recommendation to give 100% to AMF. I am excited to support a recommendation that is the result of a bunch of thoughtful people putting their heads together to answer the question of where an individual donor can do the most good.

I believe that all four of our top charities are excellent giving opportunities and I am very happy that they are receiving significant support as a result of our recommendation. I think that the system we used this year to rank funding gaps by priority and recommend that Good Ventures fill the highest priority gaps is an improvement over how we have approached this in the past. It allows me as an individual to support the highest priority unfunded opportunities without having to make guesses about how to coordinate with other individuals.

I considered allocating a portion of my gift to GiveWell, but decided against it. I believe that donors who find our research valuable should consider helping us to raise the funds we need to operate and to diversify our funding base by giving a portion of their gift to GiveWell. As an employee, I don’t think I’m in a good position to play the role of a financial supporter.

Alexander Berger

What I wrote last year is even more true this year: I think our recommendations this year are stronger than they were last year, and I’m excited to support them. And since I’ve been (even) less involved in our top charities research this year than in previous years, I’m also inclined to just follow the recommended GiveWell allocation (i.e. 100% to AMF).

I’m particularly struck this giving season by just how strong a recommendation AMF is. We believe that AMF can fairly reliably fill a gap in global bednet coverage and avert child deaths for something on the order of every $3,000 donated. I’m much more skeptical than some of my colleagues about how much we can learn from our cost-effectiveness models, particularly for deworming, but I see the case for bednets as being quite strong. And even if we are off by a factor of several times, which I think is absolutely possible, I see that as remarkably cost-effective: for comparison, common estimates put the value of a statistical life in the United States at around $5 million. I suspect that the opportunities to fill these gaps will be eliminated by other funders in the next decade or so, or that genetically modified mosquitos will eliminate the need for anti-malaria bednets altogether, and accordingly, I see a strong reason to give sooner rather than later to fill these gaps. Of course, as always, our recommendations rely on tough judgment calls, and we could be mistaken in myriad ways.

That said, I’m planning to deviate from our recommendations with two gifts, totaling 10% of my annual giving:

  • 5% to GiveWell for operating expenses. As I wrote last year, 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. The main reason here is non-consequentialist: I don’t like the dynamic of us asking donors 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 a portion of their gifts to GiveWell, because it is much more time-effective. I think that’s the correct decision, 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. Because money donated to our operating budget is largely fungible with money donated to top charities, I see this as a pretty costless decision. Last year I gave 10% to GiveWell, but I think with our money moved as high as it is, it’s reasonable to estimate the costs of delivering our recommendations as a lower proportion of money moved this year. (Also, I wanted to give some to GiveDirectly, and at 10% each that felt prohibitively costly.)
  • 5% to GiveDirectly. I continue to feel that they are a uniquely outstanding organization and add a huge amount of value by serving as a benchmark against which other organizations and interventions can be compared. With Good Venture’s gifts this year, I don’t think that my contribution will add as much value with GiveDirectly as it would elsewhere, but if I didn’t give significantly to GiveDirectly this year, I’d want to again within the next few years to renew my claim to being a “supporter” and because I find them a particularly valuable organization to be able to discuss when making the case for giving a lot.

In an earlier draft of this document, I was planning to give 10% to GiveWell and none to GiveDirectly, but I felt that a 5% and 5% split would better reflect my long-term plans to continue to support GiveDirectly, and that 5% is both a meaningful and sustainable level of support for GiveDirectly and not so much that the opportunity cost of not giving it to AMF is enormous. I also think that 5% of money moved is a reasonable estimate of GiveWell’s costs to deliver the top charity recommendations at this point, though the fact that most people likely won’t contribute “their share” continues to argue in favor of those who are willing to do so giving more to support GiveWell’s operating costs.

I also considered, but decided against, two potential deviations from GiveWell’s recommended allocation:

  • Giving to one of the groups that we’ve investigated for the Open Philanthropy Project. Like Holden, I don’t think we’ve found anything yet that seems to reliably beat GiveWell’s current recommendations to individual donors, though there are opportunities I would have wanted to fund if the Open Philanthropy Project hadn’t. I also spend nearly all of my working hours on the U.S. policy side of the Open Philanthropy Project, and see supporting other organizations with my charitable contributions as an attractive form of diversification (even though I don’t generally think it’s useful to diversify in charity).
  • Saving some portion of my giving for political (i.e. non-501(c)3) contributions or giving to opportunities too small to be investigated within the Open Philanthropy Project. In 2014, I spent the half of my planned annual giving that I had saved in 2013 to help get WaitList Zero off the ground, and I’m happy that I had the capacity to make that gift. However, I didn’t encounter a similarly attractive opportunity this year, and I could frontload my giving next year if something similarly urgent and attractive came along, so I don’t see much need to save this year for that possibility.

A final note: as I’ve read other staff members’ plans for their giving, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to work with such a thoughtful and dedicated group. I’m really grateful for all of the work that they do to produce our top charity recommendations. Thanks folks.

Timothy Telleen-Lawton

I’m planning to take GiveWell’s recommendation and focus on giving to AMF, with the exception of 5% of my donation to GiveWell to (a) represent the true cost of finding the giving opportunities, and (b) increase GiveWell’s donor base (though as an employee I think it means less coming from me).

I think there are other compelling giving opportunities out there that – due in part to not knowing as much about them – are generally riskier than GiveWell’s recommendations but may have a higher upside. I think that it’s possible – using just publicly available information and a few days or weeks of time – that I would be able to convince myself to donate a portion of my gift to some of those non-GiveWell opportunities (and I look forward to understanding other staff members’ attempts to do this). However, I currently believe that taking time to do that myself would directly come out of time I spend to improve GiveWell’s work, and I would expect it to have a significantly lower chance of positive impact.

Sean Conley

I’m planning on following GiveWell’s recommendation and donating to the Against Malaria Foundation.

I believe all 4 of our top charities are outstanding giving opportunities and I’m excited that they’ll all receive substantial funding. I think our blog post with our refreshed recommendations does a good job of laying out the reasons why AMF is currently GiveWell’s primary recommendation for individuals, but for me in particular the cost-effectiveness of insecticide-treated nets, the strength of evidence regarding their impact, and the high global need for more bednets to combat malaria make AMF especially compelling.

Unlike some others, I’m not planning to donate to GiveWell itself. As an employee, I don’t think that I provide the financial diversification that’s valuable to GiveWell from wider support from individuals, and in general I don’t feel like everyone using GiveWell’s research should feel obligated to also donate to GiveWell.

Josh Rosenberg

This year, I’m planning to allocate my charitable budget as follows:

  • 85% to AMF. I’m giving the large majority of my donations to AMF because I generally agree with the reasoning laid out in our top charities announcement post; I see AMF as a strong organization running a cost-effective and evidence-backed program that can effectively use additional funds.
  • 10% to GiveDirectly. I’m giving part of my charitable budget to GiveDirectly because (a) I see donations to GiveDirectly as having large potential upside, (b) I want to reward GiveDirectly for being an outstanding organization, and (c) I want to provide some of my funds directly to individuals to allow them to decide how the funds should be spent. To elaborate on (a): I believe that our cost-effectiveness analyses have historically undervalued donations to GiveDirectly because it is too difficult to model factors such as GiveDirectly’s potential effects on other actors. For example, GiveDirectly’s work may shift large amounts of government and donor spending to cash transfers that would have otherwise been spent on less effective programs, and GiveDirectly’s research may lead to a wide variety of benefits. It is hard to know whether additional donations to GiveDirectly meaningfully increase its ability to have indirect benefits like these (especially after accounting for Good Ventures’ $25 million donation), but GiveDirectly is still a relatively young organization, and I would not be surprised if more funds support projects that carry high upside, such as learning how best to distribute cash in Uganda, where mobile payment networks are not as ubiquitous as in Kenya.
  • 5% to non-GiveWell recommended charities. I believe that it is important to keep an open mind about how to give to help others as much as possible. Since I spend a huge portion of my time thinking within the GiveWell framework, I want to set aside some of my time and money for exploring opportunities that I might be missing. I am not yet sure where I’ll give these funds, but I’m currently leaning toward giving to a charity focused on improving farm animal welfare.

I am not planning to give to GiveWell to help cover its operating expenses because I am a GiveWell employee and would feel uncomfortable donating to GiveWell for reasons similar to what Holden described in 2013, but I encourage others who value our work to consider giving a portion of their charitable budget to GiveWell.

Jake Marcus

I’m donating 90% of my budget for charitable giving this year to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) and 10% to GiveWell to support the research that produces the top charities recommendation. The possibility that deworming has a very large impact doesn’t seem likely enough to justify giving to deworming charities over AMF. I’m tempted to donate to GiveDirectly, because of the robustness of the case for giving there, but donating to AMF instead seems like a bet worth taking for the chance of having a larger impact. I see the 10% to GiveWell as the price of using its recommendation service.

Rebecca Raible

I plan to give 10% of my donation to GiveDirectly, at least 10% to cause areas outside of global health and development, and the rest to GiveWell for regranting to top charities.

For my giving this year, I want to:

  • Give to the best opportunities that I know of.
  • Support entities that make it easier to identify the best opportunities.
  • Spend more time considering giving opportunities I haven’t previously engaged with much.

10% to GiveDirectly

  • I think of GiveDirectly as an important tool helping donors evaluate the quality of other giving opportunities. I am excited by GiveDirectly’s vision of a world where all donors ask “is this better than giving cash?” when considering a giving opportunity, and I want to support GiveDirectly in causing that world to exist. I’m somewhat worried that if GiveDirectly does not maintain its momentum (e.g., if it contracts in Kenya next year, which seems possible) this will significantly set back the project of using cash as a universal benchmark for aid. I am particularly uncertain of how bad a loss of momentum could be.
  • I’m also not sure how much weight I should put on some of the harder-to-quantify benefits GiveDirectly provides, such as the value of the research GiveDirectly supports and the possibility that GiveDirectly influences large institutional funders to only fund programs that are as good or better than cash; I think I want to put more weight on these factors than our current recommendation does. I’m especially interested in the possibility of GiveDirectly running a study on a lifetime basic income guarantee (GiveDirectly recently spoke of its interest in such a study during its donor call on December 2, 2015) and I would like to see GiveDirectly receive enough funding for such a study.
  • Finally, I want there to be strong incentives for other organizations to operate as transparently and competently as GiveDirectly, and I think that when donors establish a norm of giving some portion of their donation to excellent organizations, we help create this incentive. I don’t think that the whole burden of providing this incentive should be left to Good Ventures.
  • I’m not sure that the above three points justify giving as much as 10% to GiveDirectly; my appreciation for GiveDirectly’s excellent execution might be inflating my donation. I’m not sure what to do with this concern; for now, I’m noting this possible bias and hope to discuss my reasoning more with others in the near future.

At least 10% to other cause areas
I want to make myself explore giving opportunities outside of those that GiveWell recommends; I know I haven’t given due attention to other giving opportunities that the effective altruist community is excited about. I’d like to avoid getting stuck in a pattern of donating to GiveWell’s recommendations simply because I know them well, and it seems wise to challenge this pattern early in my donation history. This post discusses some of the forces that make it difficult to change one’s mind about cause areas and suggests that setting aside donations for other cause areas may help counter these forces. The author – my colleague, Claire Zabel – only recommends a $20 donation; I don’t think $20 would be enough to motivate me to significantly look into other areas, but 10% of my total donation should. I also find Claire’s arguments (some of which are below) for giving to non-GiveWell organizations this year fairly compelling.

The rest to GiveWell for regranting
I’m guessing that this portion of my donation will end up going to the Against Malaria Foundation, which I’m excited about for the reasons discussed in our blog post. However, giving the donation to GiveWell for regranting allows some flexibility in case something unexpected occurs that causes GiveWell to decide that another opportunity is better. It also ensures that my donation to the Against Malaria Foundation will be unrestricted (not designated to nets only).

Other thoughts
I’m still considering whether or not I would like to give to other organizations that make it easier to evaluate giving opportunities; I may decide to give a small percentage of my donation (5% or so) to GiveWell and/or Animal Charity Evaluators.

Milan Griffes

This year, the bulk of my charitable giving (approximately 85%) is to AMF, due to its cost-effectiveness and its ability to productively use more funding. I am also making a smaller donation to GiveDirectly (approximately 10% of my charitable budget), because I want to support the norm of cash transfers as a benchmark for other charitable giving. Finally, I am making a small donation to the Wikimedia Foundation (approximately 5% of my charitable budget), which, as an avid user of Wikipedia, I consider a payment for services rendered (rather than an altruistic donation).

To arrive at this decision, I participated in discussions about how we should set our allocation, looked carefully at our comparative cost-effectiveness analysis, read our top charities post, and read sections of our reviews of AMF and GiveDirectly to answer questions I had about their programs.

I am giving the entirety of my 2015 charitable budget this year. I do not think that giving opportunities for individuals in the future will be substantially better than giving opportunities today; I am persuaded by the argument that good done in the present probably compounds over time; and I believe that it is important to develop a habit of giving regularly.

My 2015 charitable budget is substantially lower than the amount I gave in 2014. Two reasons for this: (1) on reflection, I believe that I was overzealous with my giving in 2014, and (2) I believe that one of the most important financial projects I can undertake in my 20s is building a substantial amount of liquid savings, in order to improve my financial independence, increase my flexibility and ability to pursue ambitious projects, and prepare for a comfortable retirement.

David Roodman

The year isn’t over, so I don’t know exactly how my percentages will shake out. Having just clicked Donate on several sites, I’m at:

  • 1/2 to AMF, because I trust my colleagues.
  • 1/6 to the Center for Global Development, a historical favorite of Open Phil and my former employer–in honor of retiring president Nancy Birdsall, who gave me one of the biggest breaks in my life.
  • 1/6 to Martha’s Table, a direct-service charity in DC, where I live.
  • 1/6 to the Country Dance and Song Society in its centennial year. CDSS probably doesn’t save many lives, but it changed mine when I was young and has enriched it ever since; and I will soon serve on its board.

Helen Toner

I’m still working on putting aside a basic savings buffer for myself, so my annual giving is very modest. I hope that it won’t be too long before I can begin donating more serious sums (or deliberately saving for future giving). But for now I’m mostly giving to build the mental habit, as well as to provide GiveWell with an extra donor in their count. This year I think my decision is pretty straightforward: I’ll be donating to the Against Malaria Foundation. I enjoyed being part of the intense debate and discussion around our cost effectiveness analyses and top charity recommendations this year, and I feel good about the results that we’ve published, especially for a small-time donor like me.

Sophie Monahan

I plan to give according to the GiveWell recommended allocation this year: 100% to AMF.

Overall considerations: I don’t believe that I have access to information (empirical or moral) which puts me in a better position than GiveWell as a whole when it comes to evaluating where to donate most effectively. I have read the top charity reviews; I followed the process which led to the recommended allocation; I examined GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis (and consider it a tool to summarize rough estimates). My intuitions do not deviate significantly from those which led to the recommendation that individual donations go to AMF. I believe my time is better spent on my standard work for GiveWell than on further evaluating this year’s recommendation. To me, giving means not only giving money but also giving up personal preference and personal power over the use of that money in favor of collective good.

How to donate: GiveWell’s page for donations to AMF directs donors to AMF’s website rather than to a GiveWell donation collection page (the way GiveWell collects donations for other top charities). I would like to use AMF’s preferred method of receiving donations unless there is good reason not to. I plan to donate via bank transfer because I resent (perhaps more than is reasonable) credit card fees on charitable donations. I prefer to donate unrestricted to AMF to support its organizational flexibility, and because I think it may be beneficial for AMF to pay some non-net distribution costs. In general, I value the coordination flexibility offered by the option to donate to GiveWell for regranting to top charities, but this year it seems to me that AMF’s funding gap is large enough that GiveWell’s funds for regranting to top charities are likely to simply go to AMF, and so I can be moved by AMF’s preference for receiving donations directly through its website.

Giving to GiveDirectly as a benchmark: For many of the same reasons that others have discussed in this post, I feel an intuitive pull in favor of giving to GiveDirectly: (a) to support the use and growth of cash transfers as a benchmark in effective giving, (b) because I have a high degree of certainty in the impact of cash transfers, (c) to support the expansion of an excellent organization into research, (d) to promote the empowerment and self-agency of people (which I consider to plausibly be a better candidate intrinsic good than life or health). I have decided not to allocate a part of my giving budget to GiveDirectly this year because I believe that GiveWell’s allocation recommendation process adequately took our estimates of GiveDirectly’s impact and funding needs into account. I am in favor of giving to GiveDirectly for reasons that go beyond its measured cost-effectiveness, and so I count giving to them as personal expenditure outside of my giving budget. I would be delighted for friends and family to give to GiveDirectly in lieu of gifts to me; because of the clear case for cash transfers and narrative of empowerment, I think of GiveDirectly as an especially attractive option to discuss with people in my life who do not already think about effective giving.

Why I’m not giving to support GiveWell’s operations: It seems very likely to me that GiveWell itself cost-effectively achieves valuable outcomes (i.e. identifying and moving money to cost-effective organizations). However, I have not seen evidence that GiveWell has a funding gap of comparable value to AMF’s funding gap; it seems plausible to me that GiveWell does not have a significant need for additional funding, and that any such high-value need would be attractive to large funders who work with GiveWell. (This is not based on any non-public information; GiveWell has not yet put together information about its operational funding needs this year.) So long as GiveWell doesn’t have a demonstrated unfilled funding gap, I don’t feel a need to divert a portion of my giving budget or personal budget to GiveWell operations.

Why I’m giving now rather than later: It is very important to me to give now rather than later because (a) I suspect that the increasing large-funder interest in effective charity (1, 2, 3) may outpace the identification of evidence-backed giving opportunities; (b) due to my moral intuitions, I place a great deal of value on alleviating human suffering, global poverty and disease, inequality and barriers to opportunity, and rather little value on many of the prospective future Open Philanthropy-style large funding opportunities such as global catastrophic risks and animal welfare; (c) I am much more confident that I will give now than that my future self will give—I can imagine many factors which could lead my future self to not donate money.

A note about averting infant deaths vs improving lives: I place lower value than do my colleagues on averting infant deaths. This does not ultimately lead me to prefer donation to GiveDirectly over AMF because (a) my moral intuition is not sufficiently strong or robust to cause me to defect from a decision made by collective expertise, and (b) there is some indication that reducing the burden of malaria may have effects on children’s development, which seems plausible and valuable to me.

Laura Muñoz

Giving now
I feel compelled to give now even though I am still building my financial safety net, I anticipate putting a lot more thought into my personal giving strategy in the near future, and I expect to gain a greater understanding of philanthropy in the coming years. Similar to many staff members in this blog post:

  • As a young adult, I want to establish a habit of giving annually.
  • Giving a portion of my own money motivates me to strongly consider my value system and the impact I want to have on the world.
  • There are giving opportunities now that I believe are very good.

Where I’m donating this year
This year, my altruistic donations will be in two categories.

  1. GiveWell’s recommended charities – After witnessing and participating in this year’s top charity allocation discussions and reading this blog post that explains our 2015 top charity recommendations, I decided to follow GiveWell’s recommendation to donate to the Against Malaria Foundation due to its high cost-effectiveness, need for additional funding, and strength of evidence.
  2. Social advocacy organizations – My vision for a better world requires systemic change. The existence of advocacy organizations that are working to better systems that perpetuate inequality and suffering is critical, yet it’s really difficult to compare their work to the type of work done by GiveWell’s top charities. I am excited for the Open Philanthropy Project to continue investigations in this space, and hopefully come out with recommendations for giving opportunities that are competitive with GiveWell’s top charities and fit for donors of my size.

    This year, I will be allocating a portion of my giving to two nonprofits that work on systemic change. The first is Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA), an organization whose work I have come to understand quite well due to a close personal connection (my mom is executive director). The other organization is yet to be determined.

    My reasoning for giving in this space:

    • Advocacy has the potential to bring about long-term change that will effectively and continually improve many lives, even though it can be difficult to quantitatively assess. I have observed specific examples of advocacy work and the impact it can have – In NoHLA’s case, through facilitating access to affordable, quality health care for low-income families. The impact of organizations like this one cannot be measured by GiveWell-style top charity quantitative metrics, but I still believe my dollar will be effective, especially in the long run. More on policy-oriented philanthropy in this blog post.
    • There are a lot of neglected causes in this space. Even though health policy related causes are a major target of philanthropic spending, there can be neglected parts of a popular field. For example, there are very few organizations that represent the voice of healthcare consumers and bring the perspectives of vulnerable populations to health policymakers; this need led to NoHLA’s creation.
    • Advocacy can be tractable (tractability is explained in this post). NoHLA is able to effect changes that improve access to health care for thousands of people. For example, this victory allowed 11,000 people who were kicked off their Basic Health insurance plans to re-enroll. Another example of NoHLA’s direct impact can be found here.
    • My individual, small donation can make a difference to an advocacy organization like NoHLA. Although much advocacy work is funded through grants and is therefore more suitable for large funders, advocacy organizations such as NoHLA rely on individual donations. NoHLA has a small staff, and therefore little capacity to fundraise. Small donations are key to NoHLA’s ability to respond to health care access issues that arise quickly and without time to solicit grant funding. NoHLA needs additional individual donations in order to adequately cover all the responsive work that it could and should be doing.
    • It will motivate me to learn about other causes. Looking for another giving opportunity outside of the GiveWell scope will help me increase my own awareness of systemic issues, the work that is being done to address them, and the impact that can be achieved by giving to different causes (see Josh’s and Rebecca’s posts about giving outside of the GiveWell sphere).
    • I am personally invested in social justice and equality, and I want to play a part in moving towards social justice in my own community as well as abroad because (a) I feel responsible – I think the act of contributing to systemic change efforts is a good heuristic for people like me who are lucky to benefit from privileges granted by an unequal societal system. Because of my participation in structures that perpetuate injustice for others, it seems only fair that I educate myself about how to better these systems and contribute to the effort. (b) I have a personal stake in social justice issues – As a Latina woman and as someone who spends emotional energy grappling with my participation in systems that oppress others and myself, it is in my own self interest to contribute to these efforts.

    Independent advocacy organizations are able to create accountability of existing power structures and push for changes that promote justice. I would like my giving in this space to encourage others who care about altruism to learn more about the sphere of social justice.

Catherine Hollander

This year, I am planning to give 95% of my charitable budget to the Against Malaria Foundation, GiveWell’s top-ranked charity. This is my first giving season since I began working at GiveWell, and I feel convinced by our process for recommending AMF’s funding gap as the top priority for donors. I arrived at this decision by participating in staff discussions leading up to our 2015 top charity recommendations, reading our blog post explaining our rankings, and reading the updated reviews for each of our top charities. Due to its need for more funding, the strength of evidence behind AMF’s work, and its cost-effectiveness, I am excited to support the Against Malaria Foundation.

I am planning to give the remaining 5% of my donation to a charity that works to improve the treatment of animals in industrial agriculture, as evidence suggests that these animals experience extreme suffering during their lifetimes. I think the benefit of considering outside opportunities and challenging my own assumptions about giving, which Rebecca discusses in her post above, is worthwhile — and what I’ve read from GiveWell’s research and conversations related to the treatment of animals in industrial agriculture, as well as my impressions from additional sources, as an important, underfunded cause is compelling to me. I am considering giving to Mercy for Animals or The Humane League, which are recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators (Claire discusses this organization in her post below). However, I am less familiar with the organizations operating in this space than I am with GiveWell’s top charities, and thus plan to make a significantly smaller gift in this cause area. I also remain slightly unsure whether I will donate to these charities from my charitable giving budget or as a personal expenditure, given my higher level of confidence in our recommended charities.

I am planning to give now, versus give later. I think establishing the habit of giving regularly to charity is a worthwhile endeavor, and I agree with Holden that having my own money at stake helps me think more concretely and realistically about where I should be giving.

Andrew Martin

For similar reasons to Helen (above), my charitable donation this year will be modest, but I still want to establish a habit of donating annually. This year, I plan to give 90% of my donation to AMF and 10% to GiveDirectly.

I’m excited to be giving a large majority of my donation to AMF because of the cost-effectiveness of a marginal contribution towards filling its Execution Level 1 funding gap (discussed in this blog post). I’m deviating somewhat from GiveWell’s recommended allocation by giving 10% to GiveDirectly, mostly because I personally like the idea of some of my donation going to an intervention with an unusually low burden of proof. GiveDirectly also has considerable room for more funding, and I think there are some potentially large upsides to filling more of its funding gap, including the increased use of cash transfers as a benchmark for judging the value of other development spending, and what we might learn from its ongoing studies and experimentation.

I have chosen to not make an unrestricted donation to GiveWell. As a GiveWell employee, I don’t think I’m in the best position the diversify the donor base for covering GiveWell’s operating expenses, though I think it’s valuable and reasonable for others who use GiveWell’s research to do so.

Claire Zabel

I am not yet certain where I am giving this year, and have several more topics I plan to research before I make a final decision. However, it is very likely that I will split my donation budget between a charity that focuses on reducing the suffering of nonhuman animals on factory farms (Animal Charity Evaluators and/or one of its top charities), and Raising for Effective Giving (REG).

Like GiveWell, Animal Charity Evaluators (on whose board I serve) evaluates charities to finding outstanding giving opportunities. However, it focuses on helping nonhuman animals, and its research has led it to recommend top charities that aim to reduce the suffering of animals on factory farms.

Animal suffering in factory farming is intense; animals are kept in extremely crowded conditions, and left to endure them without relief from illnesses and injuries. There are strong reasons to suspect we drastically underestimate the moral disvalue of factory farming. For example, increasing our assessment of its moral importance might be inconvenient— it might mean we are complicit in a serious moral wrongdoing. And, there is historical precedent for minimizing the suffering of those that are different from us and members of our community, which could lead to widespread undervaluation of farm animal wellbeing. I want to contribute to efforts to face this problem effectively.

Raising for Effective Giving conducts outreach in the poker community to convince players to pledge portions of their winnings to effective charities, including GiveWell and ACE’s top charities and ACE and GiveWell themselves. Thus far, REG has raised multiple dollars for its recommended charities for each dollar donated. It is now expanding into other areas, such as gaming and finance, and I think its likelihood of success in these areas is uncertain and difficult to evaluate.

REG is a small, funding-constrained organization, and I believe I and other small donors can greatly impact the speed with which it expands and experiments with new models. I find its attempts to create new norms of effective giving in different communities interesting and potentially promising. But overall, I consider this donation a very risky bet, which may well have very little impact but has a small chance of having a large impact.

Nicole Ross

I think there are good reasons to give now:

  1. I think GiveWell’s top charities are strong giving opportunities.
  2. I’m fairly convinced, at least at an intuitive level, by the argument that empowering people now will “earn interest” at a higher rate than money saved.
  3. I think that the exercise of giving on a regular basis has high instrumental value in cultivating a norm of giving to effective charities and in forcing myself to confront the practical reality of my values.

When considering my own particular case, however, I think I have greater reason to give later. I’m disabled, which for me means that I have complicated and variable health costs. Because of this, I’m currently prioritizing saving in order to provide for my current and future health costs. The hope is that I will not need to touch the bulk of my savings and can donate those at the end of my life.

Since I think that giving now is somewhat likely to have a greater impact than giving later due to the “earned interest” from empowering people, I’ve worried that my decision to currently prioritize saving essentially means that I’m valuing my health over the combined health of many others. Taking the long-term view, though, I think this worry falls apart. By taking care of my health throughout my life and treating my symptoms, I am doing my best to ensure that I can remain an active member of society. This means that, by the end of my life, I’ll hopefully have been able to do more to improve the lives of others than if I decided to give now.

Even though I am currently prioritizing saving over giving, I still think it is important to give a small amount each year for the reasons I listed above. I also think that the practice of making giving decisions with real money is important to my ability to make the best giving decisions I can at the end of my life.

I’m still unsure how to determine what percentage of my income I should give this year. If I didn’t have my health considerations, I would have wanted to give 10% of my income, but, given these considerations, that seems too high. So I’ll be picking a lower percentage of my income and reevaluating this decision each year.

This year I plan to donate to AMF for my altruistic donations. Although I find the arguments for donating a portion of my budget to GiveDirectly very compelling, I think there should be a high bar for me to deviate from GiveWell’s recommendation this year because:

  1. I’m new to GiveWell and there is much I don’t fully understand yet.
  2. I trust GiveWell’s process and thoroughness, particularly after participating in the allocation discussions this year.

I currently don’t have any disagreements that meet this bar, so I plan to donate all of my altruistic donations budget to AMF.

Lewis Bollard

I plan to give exclusively to charities focused on reducing farm animal suffering. I think I can reduce the most suffering by focusing on farm animals for three reasons:

  • Farm animals are suffering a lot: About 70 billion land animals, and many more farmed fish, are slaughtered globally every year — many after short, miserable, and painful lives.
  • The field is not crowded: Fewer than 100 advocates are working full-time, and less than $30M is spent, globally every year to reduce the suffering of these 70 billion+ animals, so my donations are needed, and may go further.
  • Farm animal groups are gaining traction: On small budgets, advocacy groups have driven major reforms — like the EU’s farm animal welfare reforms, California’s Prop Two, and 100+ corporate animal welfare pledges — collectively reducing the suffering of hundreds of millions of animals.

I don’t yet know which groups are the most effective at reducing farm animal suffering. (The Open Philanthropy Project’s grants in this space will be based on far more rigorous evaluation than my personal giving.) Given that uncertainty, I plan to pursue two goals in my donations:

  • Supporting proven groups: I’m going to primarily donate to three groups whose accomplishments I feel most confident about: the Humane League, Mercy for Animals, and the Farm Animal Protection campaign of the Humane Society of the United States. (Disclosure: I previously worked at the HSUS, though not in the Farm Animal Protection campaign.) My picks closely match the new “top charity” recommendations of Animal Charity Evaluators. In fact, we only differ in that I don’t yet know enough about the track record of Animal Equality, ACE’s third top charity, and I feel more confident in the track record of the HSUS Farm Animal Protection campaign, which ACE recognizes as a “standout,” but not “top,” charity.
  • Supporting promising groups: I plan to make small donations to about a dozen other farm animal groups for two reasons. First, I recognize the high degree of uncertainty on current and future impact, and think some of these groups may be very effective. Second, I want to support a startup-like approach to farm animal advocacy — encouraging groups to pursue high-risk strategies, with the majority expected to fail, but a small number having the potential to achieve exponential change. In particular, I want to support groups focused on international farm animal welfare and new technology, both high-risk areas where high-impact also seems possible. I’m still finalizing my list of groups in this category, and don’t think sharing it now would be helpful.

Finally, two disclaimers. First, my personal giving does not reflect plans for the Open Philanthropy Project. Second, I’m learning a lot in my conversations and research in this job, and I expect my future giving will change to reflect what I’m learning.

Good Ventures and Giving Now vs. Later

We’ve been wrestling lately with the question of how much Good Ventures, a foundation funded by Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz that works with GiveWell on the Open Philanthropy Project, should be aiming to give at this early stage in its development. As discussed previously, we (the Open Philanthropy Project) are prioritizing building knowledge and capacity over investigating specific potential grants. But this still leaves the question: once we have investigated a potential grant, how do we decide where the bar is for recommending it? With all the uncertainty about what we’ll find in future years, how do we decide when grant X is better than saving the money and giving later? This question is especially important when considering what size grants to recommend to GiveWell’s top charities: these giving opportunities have been investigated to about the maximum extent possible, and this year they have considerable room for more funding. Good Ventures could support them at a level anywhere in between $0 and $100+ million, and they’ve asked us to recommend an amount and allocation, with the aforementioned questions in mind.

In this post, we lay out our working framework for questions like this. In brief, we aim to recommend giving based on:

  • An overall budget for the year, based on the Open Philanthropy Project’s current stage of development and on Cari and Dustin’s goal of giving the vast majority of their wealth to charity during their lifetimes (not leaving an endowment behind). Since the Open Philanthropy Project is currently at an early stage, we are setting the budget at 5% of total available capital; this percentage will rise as the Open Philanthropy Project develops further and our capacity for finding the best possible giving opportunities improves (as discussed previously).
  • A benchmark against which all grants should be compared. Once we’ve investigated a giving opportunity and formed a view of its value, we will recommend it based on how we think it compares to the benchmark. Our working benchmark is direct cash transfers to the lowest-income people possible, as carried out by GiveDirectly. In other words, giving opportunities that seem significantly better than direct cash transfers will be recommended (as long as there is room in the budget set by the previous bullet point).
  • A number of complicating factors and adjustments. Most importantly, (a) we plan to use a more forgiving benchmark when recommending early grants in an area; (b) we need to be mindful of the incentives we’re creating for other donors, which will often mean declining to fill a full funding gap.

The remainder of this post will:

  • Explain the reasoning behind the basic criteria: the budget of 5%/year and the benchmark of direct cash transfers.
  • Discuss complicating factors and adjustments.
  • Lay out what this means for our recommendation this year regarding GiveWell’s top charities.

[CLICK TO READ MORE]

Our updated top charities for giving season 2015

We have refreshed our top charity rankings and recommendations. Our set of top charities and standouts is the same as last year’s, but we have introduced rankings and changed our recommended funding allocation, due to a variety of updates – particularly to our top charities’ room for more funding. In particular, we are recommending that Good Ventures, a foundation with which we work closely, support our top charities at a higher level than in previous years. This post includes our recommendations to Good Ventures, and gives our recommendations to individual donors after accounting for these grants.

Overall, we think the case for our top charities is stronger than in previous years, and room for more funding is greater.

Our top charities and recommendations for donors, in brief

 

Top charities

  1. Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)
  2. Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)
  3. Deworm the World Initiative, led by Evidence Action
  4. GiveDirectly

This year, we are ranking our top charities based on what we see as the value of filling their remaining funding gaps. Unlike in previous years, we do not feel a particular need for individuals to divide their allocation between the charities, since we are recommending that Good Ventures provide significant support to each. For those seeking our recommended allocation, we simply recommend giving to the top-ranked charity on the list, which is AMF.

Our recommendation takes the grants we are recommending to Good Ventures into account, as well as accounting for charities’ existing cash on hand and expected non-GiveWell-related fundraising, and recommends charities according to how much good additional donations (beyond these sources of funds) can do. (Otherwise, as explained below, Deworm the World would be ranked higher.) Thus, AMF’s #1 ranking is not based on its overall value as an organization, but based on the value of its remaining funding gap.

Standout charities

As with last year, we also provide a list of charities that we believe are strong standouts, though not at the same level (in terms of likely good accomplished per dollar) as our top charities. They are not ranked, and are listed in alphabetical order.

Below, we provide:

  • An explanation of major changes in the past year that are not specific to any one charity. More
  • A summary of our top charities’ relative strengths and weaknesses, and how we would rank them if room for more funding were not an issue. More
  • A discussion of our refined approach to room for more funding. More
  • The recommendations we are making to Good Ventures, and how we rank our top charities after taking these grants (and their impact on room for more funding) into account. More
  • Detail on each of our top charities, including major changes over the past year, strengths and weaknesses for each, and our understanding of each organization’s room for more funding. More
  • The process we followed that led to these recommendations. More
  • A brief update on giving to support GiveWell’s operations vs. giving to our top charities. More

Conference call to discuss recommendations

We are planning to hold a conference call at 5:30pm ET/2:30pm PT on Tuesday, December 1st 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.

Major changes in the last 12 months

 

Below, we summarize the major causes of changes to our recommendations (since last year).

Overall, the case for our top charities is stronger than it was in past years. The Deworm the World Initiative shared new monitoring and evaluation materials with us, so we are more confident than we were a year ago that it is a strong organization implementing high-quality programs. In addition, the extra year of work we have seen from AMF and GiveDirectly bolsters our view that they will be able to utilize additional funding effectively.

Our top charities have increased room for more funding. Last year, we expected donors following our recommendations to fully fill the most critical funding gaps of our top charities (excluding GiveDirectly) because they had limited room for more funding: GiveDirectly had a total funding gap of ~$40 million and our other three top charities had a total gap of ~$18 million. This year, all of our top charities have more room for more funding. We believe that GiveDirectly could absorb more than $80 million and other top charities together could collectively utilize more than $100 million. We do not expect donors following our recommendations to fully fill these gaps.

We are recommending that Good Ventures make larger grants to top charities. For reasons we will be detailing in a future post, we are recommending that Good Ventures make substantial grants to our top charities this year, though not enough to close their funding gaps.

Continued refinement of the concept of “room for more funding.” We’ve tried to create a much more systematic and detailed room for more funding analysis, because the stakes of this analysis have become higher due to (a) increased room for more funding across the board and (b) increased interest from Good Ventures in providing major support.

In past years, we’ve discussed charities’ room for more funding as a single figure without distinguishing between (a) the amount the charity would spend in the next 12 months, (b) the amount the charity needs to prevent it from slowing its work due to lack of funds, and (c) funding that would be especially important to the organization’s development and success (a dual benefit) in addition to expanding implementation of its program. This year, we’ve made three changes to our room for more funding analysis:

  • We’ve made (a) an assessment of whether additional funds merely allow a charity to implement its program (“execution”) or (b) whether additional funds would be especially important to the charity’s development and success as an organization (“capacity-relevant”). We also explicitly note the role of incentives for meeting GiveWell’s top-charity criteria in our recommendations (we seek to ensure that each top charity receives at least $1 million, to encourage other organizations to seek to meet these criteria).
  • We are explicitly assessing “execution”-related room for more funding based on our estimate of the probability that lack of funding will lead to a charity slowing its progress. We distinguish between Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 “execution” funding gaps; a higher number means the money is less likely to be needed.
  • We are now ranking “funding gaps,” not just ranking charities, because the first million dollars to a charity can have a very different impact from, e.g., the 20th million dollars. For example, if Charity A accomplishes more good per dollar with its programs than Charity B, we would rank Charity A above Charity B for a given type of gap (we would rank Charity A’s “Execution Level 1” gap above Charity B’s), but we might rank Charity B’s “Execution Level 1” gap (the amount of funding it will likely need) above Charity A’s “Execution Level 3” gap (the amount of funding gap it might, but probably will not, need to carry out more of its programs in the coming year).

We discuss these ideas in greater depth below.

Summary of key considerations for top charities

 

The table below summarizes the key considerations for our four top charities. More detail is provided below as well as in the charity reviews.

Consideration AMF Deworm the World GiveDirectly SCI
Program estimated cost-effectiveness (relative to cash transfers) ~10x ~10x Baseline ~5x
Directness and robustness of the case for impact Strong Moderate 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, after accounting for grants we are recommending to Good Ventures (more below) Very high Limited Very high High

 

Overall, our ranking of the charities with room for more funding issues set aside (just considering a hypothetical dollar spent by the charity on its programs, without the “capacity-relevant funding” and “incentives” issues discussed below) would be:

1. AMF and Deworm the World
3. SCI
4. GiveDirectly

However, when we factor in room for more funding (including the impact of the grants we’re recommending to Good Ventures), the picture changes. More on this below.

Room for more funding analysis

 

Capacity-relevant funding and incentives

 

Capacity-relevant funding: additional funding can sometimes be crucial for a charity’s development and success as an organization. For example, it can contribute to a charity’s ability to experiment, expand, and ultimately have greater room for more funding over the long run. It can also be important for a charity’s ability to raise funds from non-GiveWell donors, which can be an important source of long-term leverage and can put the organization in a stronger overall position.

We think of this sort of funding gap as particularly important to fill, because it can make a big difference over the long run; in particular, it may substantially affect the long-term quality of our giving recommendations.

“Capacity-relevant” funds can include (a) funds that are explicitly targeted at growth (e.g., funds to hire fundraising staff); (b) funds that enable a charity to expand into areas it hasn’t worked in before, which can lead to important learning about whether and how the charity can operate in the new location(s); and (c) funds that would be needed in order to avoid challenging contractions in a charity’s activities which could jeopardize the charity’s long-term growth and funding prospects.

Some specific examples:

  • The grant that Good Ventures made to GiveDirectly earlier this year is capacity-relevant because it will be used for: (a) building a fundraising team that will aim to raise substantial donations from non-GiveWell donors, and (b) developing partnerships with bilateral donors and local governments to deliver cash transfers or to run experiments comparing standard aid programs to cash transfers.
  • Early funding that GiveDirectly received was capacity-relevant because it enabled GiveDirectly to rapidly grow from a small organization moving a few hundred thousand dollars per year to a much larger organization moving more than $10 million per year. If this funding hadn’t been forthcoming, GiveDirectly might be much smaller today and have much less room for more funding.
  • We now think that some additional funding to AMF and Deworm the World will be capacity-relevant because each organization has only operated in a very small number of countries and new funding will enable each to enter new countries. This will allow them to learn how to operate there, and demonstrate that they can do so, increasing our willingness (and likely that of other donors) to recommend more to these organizations in the future.

It’s hard to draw sharp lines around capacity-relevant funding, and all funding likely has some effect on an organization’s development, but we have tried to identify and prioritize the funding gaps that seem especially relevant.

Execution funding allows charities to implement more of their core program but doesn’t appear to have substantial benefits beyond the direct good accomplished by this program. We’ve separated this funding into three levels:

  • Level 1: the amount we expect a charity to need in the coming year. If a charity has less funding than this level, we think it is more likely than not that it will be bottlenecked (or unable to carry out its core program to the fullest extent) by funding in the coming year.
  • Level 2: if a charity has this amount, we think there is an ~80% chance that it will not be bottlenecked by funding.
  • Level 3: if a charity has this amount, we think there is a ~95% chance that it will not be bottlenecked by funding.

Incentives: we think it is important that charities we recommend get a substantial amount of funding due to being a GiveWell top charity, because this ensures that incentives are in place for charities (and potential charity founders) to seek to meet our criteria for top charities and thus increase the number of charities we recommend and the total room for more funding available, even when they don’t end up being ranked #1. We seek to ensure that each top charity gets at least $1 million as a result of our recommendation, and we consider this to be a high-priority goal of our recommendations.

The charity-specific sections of this post discuss the reasoning behind the figures we’ve assigned to “capacity-relevant” and “Execution Level 1” gaps, but they do not provide the full details of how we arrived at these figures (and do not explicitly address the “Execution Level 2” and “Execution Level 3” gaps). We expect to add this analysis to our charity reviews in the coming weeks.

Funding gaps

 

The total (i.e., Capacity-relevant, Execution Levels 1, 2, and 3, and Incentive) funding gaps (in millions of dollars, rounded to one decimal place) for each of our top charities are:

  • AMF: $98.2
  • Deworm the World: $19.0
  • GiveDirectly: $84.0
  • SCI: $26.3

However, for reasons described above, the first million dollars to a charity can have a very different impact from, e.g., the 20th million dollars. Accordingly, we have created a ranking of individual funding gaps that accounts for both (a) the quality of the charity and the good accomplished by its program, per dollar (as laid out above), and (b) whether a given level of funding is capacity-relevant and whether it is highly or only marginally likely to be needed in the coming year.

The below table lays out our ranking of funding gaps. When gaps have the same “Priority,” this indicates that they are tied.

The table below includes the amount we are recommending to Good Ventures. For reasons we will lay out in another post, we are recommending to Good Ventures a total of ~$44.4 million in grants to top charities. Having set that total, we are recommending that Good Ventures start with funding the highest-rated gaps and work its way down, in order to accomplish as much good as possible.

When gaps are tied, we recommend filling them by giving each equal dollar amounts until one is filled, and then following the same procedure with the remaining tied gaps. See footnote for more.*

Priority Charity Amount Type Recommendation to Good Ventures Comments
1 DtWI $7.6 Capacity-relevant $7.6 DtWI and AMF are strongest overall
1 AMF $6.5 Capacity-relevant $6.5 See above
1 GD $1.0 Incentive $1.0 Ensuring each top charity receives at least $1 million
1 SCI $1.0 Incentive $1.0 Ensuring each top charity receives at least $1 million
2 GD $8.8 Capacity-relevant $8.8 Not as cost-effective as bednets or deworming, so lower priority, but above non-capacity-relevant gaps
2 DtWI $3.2 Execution Level 2 / possibly capacity-relevant $3.2 Level 1 gap already filled via “capacity-relevant” gap. See footnote for more**
2 AMF $43.8 Execution Level 1 $16.3 Exhausts remaining recommendations to Good Ventures
3 SCI $4.9 Execution Level 1 0 Not as strong as DtWI and AMF in isolation, so ranked below them for same type of gap
3 AMF $24.0 Execution Level 2 0
4 DtWI $8.2 Execution Level 3 0
4 AMF $24.0 Execution Level 3 0
4 SCI $11.6 Execution Level 2 0
5 GD $24.8 Execution Level 1 0
5 SCI $8.8 Execution Level 3 0
6 GD $20.9 Execution Level 2 0
7 GD $28.6 Execution Level 3 0

Our recommendations to Good Ventures and others

 

Summing the figures from the above table, we are recommending that Good Ventures make the following grants (in millions of dollars, rounded to one decimal place):

  • AMF: $22.8
  • Deworm the World: $10.8
  • GiveDirectly: $9.8
  • SCI: $1

We also recommend that Good Ventures give $250,000 to each of our standout charities. These grants go to the outstanding organizations and create additional incentives for groups to try to obtain a GiveWell recommendation.

After these grants, AMF will require an additional ~$27.5 million to close its Execution Level 1 gap (i.e., to make it more likely than not that it is able to proceed without being bottlenecked due to lack of funding). We rank this gap higher than any of the other remaining funding gaps for our top charities, as laid out in the table above.

We estimate that non-Good Ventures donors will give approximately $15 million between now and January 31, 2016. Because we do not expect AMF’s remaining ~$27.5 million Execution Level 1 funding gap to be fully filled, we rank it #1 and recommend that donors give to AMF. We rank the remaining charities for donors who are interested in having the greatest impact per dollar based on how highly their highest-rated remaining gap ranks in the table above. That results in the following rankings for individual donors:

  1. AMF
  2. SCI
  3. Deworm the World Initiative
  4. GiveDirectly

Details on top charities

 

We present information on our top charities in alphabetical order.

Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)

 

Our full review of AMF is here.

Background

AMF (www.againstmalaria.com) provides funding for long-lasting insecticide-treated net distributions (for protection against malaria) in developing countries. There is strong evidence that distributing nets reduces child mortality and malaria cases. AMF has relatively strong reporting requirements for its distribution partners and provides a level of public disclosure and tracking of distributions that we have not seen from any other net distribution charity.

In 2011, AMF received a large amount of funding relative to what it had received historically, so it began to focus primarily on reaching agreements for large-scale net distributions (i.e., distributions on the order of hundreds of thousands of nets rather than tens of thousands of nets). In its early efforts to scale up, AMF struggled to finalize large-scale net distribution agreements. At the end of 2013, we announced that we planned not to recommend additional donations to AMF due to room for more funding-related issues (more detail in this blog post).

In 2014, AMF committed most of its funds to several new distributions — some in Malawi, some in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — and we recommended it as a top charity again.

Important changes in the last 12 months

In 2015, AMF carried out and/or monitored many of the distributions that it committed to in 2014.

Previously, our confidence in AMF’s ability to scale had been limited by the fact that it had only completed large-scale distributions with one partner (Concern Universal) in one country (Malawi). However, AMF carried out its largest distribution to date (~620,000 nets) with a new partner in the DRC in late 2014. We have not yet seen some key documentation from the large DRC distribution, but early indications suggest that the distribution generally went as planned, despite our concern that the DRC may have been an especially challenging place to work (more details here). We see this as a positive update that AMF will be able to carry out high-quality large-scale distributions in a variety of locations in the future.

AMF has continued to collect and share follow-up information on its past large-scale distributions, and this information seems to support the notion that these distributions are high-quality (i.e., that nets are reaching the target population and are being used). We provide a summary of these reports in our review.

Funding gap

AMF currently holds $18.5 million, and we estimate it will receive an additional $1.6 million before January 31, 2016 (excluding donations influenced by GiveWell) that it could use for future distributions. AMF has told us that it has a pipeline of possible future net distributions that add up to roughly $100 million beyond what it currently holds (details in our review).

We believe that AMF’s progress would be slowed due to lack of funding were it to receive less than $50.3 million in additional funding (this is its total capacity-relevant and “Execution Level 1” gap as presented earlier in the post). In particular, we view the first additional $6.5 million that AMF would receive as capacity-relevant (and thus particularly valuable) because it would enable AMF to fund a distribution in a 5th country with a 5th partner, generating additional information about its ability to expand beyond the contexts in which it has worked to date. (Note that AMF already has funds on hand to enter its 3rd and 4th countries.)

We arrived at the capacity-relevant and Execution Level 1 figure by noting that AMF has $70.4 million worth of deals it is actively negotiating (5 deals in 4 countries) that it can only continue with if it holds the funds to do so. Subtracting the $20.1 million we expect to be available (the $18.5 million it currently holds plus the $1.6 million we expect it to receive in the coming months) leaves a $50.3 million funding gap.

AMF failed to reach new distribution agreements in 2015; there is still significant uncertainty regarding AMF’s ability to finalize agreements with new partners and countries. Nevertheless, we see providing a large amount of additional funds to AMF as a reasonable bet, and see AMF as a very strong giving opportunity.

We think it is possible that in November 2016 (when we next expect to complete a full refresh of our recommendations), we will recommend significantly less funding to AMF. We consider the funding we’re recommending to AMF now to be a good bet, but a risky one, because AMF currently has a relatively limited track record: it has worked with only two partners in two countries. Because of the lag between the time we provide funding and the time net distributions take place (often 2 years) and the additional lag caused by the time it takes to monitor distributions, we may not have additional information about whether or not AMF’s additional distributions were successful for 2-3 years. Next year, it is possible that we will choose to recommend significantly less funding to AMF while we wait for additional data to become available.

There still appears to be a large global funding gap for bednets; a global bednet coordination group estimated that about 245 million additional nets would be needed in 2015-2017 (details in our review).

Key considerations:

  • Program impact and cost-effectiveness. We estimate that bednets are ~10x as cost-effective as cash transfers. Our estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. All of our cost-effectiveness analyses are available here. Our 2015 cost-effectiveness file is available here (.xlsx).
  • 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 Deworm the World’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 of SCI, and a similar level of knowledge about AMF as we have for Deworm the World, though our understanding is not as strong as our understanding of 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 follow-up).
  • Risks:
    • 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.

Our full review of AMF is here.

Deworm the World Initiative, led by Evidence Action

 

Our full review of Deworm the World is here.

Background

Deworm the World (www.evidenceaction.org/deworming), led by Evidence Action, advocates for, supports, and evaluates government-run school-based deworming programs (treating children for intestinal parasites).

We believe that deworming is a program backed by relatively strong evidence. We have reservations about the evidence, but we think the potential benefits are great enough, and costs low enough, to outweigh these reservations. Deworm the World retains monitors whose reports indicate that the deworming programs it supports successfully deworm children.

Important changes in the last 12 months

In 2015, Deworm the World continued to support the scale-up and monitoring of deworming programs in India and Kenya. One of its notable activities this year was providing technical assistance to the Indian national government in support of India’s first national deworming day: a program in which the government provided assistance to Indian states to implement school-based deworming on a single day to encourage more states to implement the program. The first national deworming day took place in February 2015, and 12 states participated in the program (more details here).

The quality of the monitoring that we saw from Deworm the World improved in 2015. Deworm the World continued to hire and train third-party monitors to directly observe deworming activities, and it slightly improved its estimates of how many children were treated. This information strongly suggests that the programs are generally operating as intended. More details in our review.

Last year, Deworm the World stated to us that it could not use significant additional funding to scale up deworming programs. Deworm the World now believes that it has identified countries where it could use additional funds to support the scale-up of deworming programs, beginning with a potential program in Punjab province, Pakistan (more). (Deworm the World also plans to use funds it already holds or expects to receive to expand into Ethiopia and Nigeria.)

Future donations to Deworm the World will likely be used outside of India, and in those cases governments may have less funding to support deworming. This may cause Deworm the World to pay a higher fraction of the overall cost of the program, making the potential for leverage of future donations more limited. Overall program costs may also be higher outside of India. More details in our review.

A significant organizational update is that Alix Zwane stepped down as Executive Director of Evidence Action in August; she left to join the Global Innovation Fund as CEO. Evidence Action has since hired Jeff Brown (formerly Interim CEO of the Global Innovation Fund) as Executive Director. Grace Hollister remains Director of the Deworm the World Initiative. Overall, our impression is that Dr. Zwane has been a highly effective leader of Evidence Action and her departure risks disruptions that could lead to us changing our view of the organization, though we would guess that this will not be the case.

In July, researchers published two new analyses of a key study regarding deworming (the most important piece of evidence we rely on), and the Cochrane Collaboration published an updated review of the evidence for mass deworming programs. The new papers did not change our overall assessment of the evidence on deworming. More in our blog post.

Funding gap

We believe that Deworm the World has significant opportunities to use additional funding to expand its program. We believe it may have opportunities to enter at least two more countries (in addition to Nigeria and Ethiopia, which it will be able to enter with funds it already has or expects to receive). We estimate its funding need using the two countries it is most likely to enter — Pakistan and Nepal — though note that in both cases, we see these as representative of the types of opportunities it may have, rather than the specific opportunities we expect it to take. Altogether, Deworm the World estimates that it would need $11.25 million to commit to fully funding three years of deworming programs in both countries. Because it holds (or expects to receive shortly) funding that will total $3.6 million, we estimate its funding gap for this work at $7.6 million.

Funding this gap is capacity-relevant, and is therefore a high priority, because we would like to see Deworm the World try to work in additional countries beyond India and Kenya, where it has worked historically. Next year, Deworm the World will also enter Nigeria and Ethiopia (with funding already available), so it will likely end the year having had some experience in five or more countries. This could substantially increase Deworm the World’s long-term room for more funding.

A complicating factor in thinking about Deworm the World’s funding gap is that Deworm the World is part of a larger organization, Evidence Action. Funding for Deworm the World may be fungible with funding for Evidence Action’s other activities, such as its Dispensers for Safe Water initiative (which we believe to be substantially less cost-effective than deworming). Because of this, it is difficult to determine Deworm the World’s true funding gap, and it is possible that some additional funds given to support Deworm the World could effectively lead to additional funds for a non-Deworm the World project. We understand that Evidence Action has received approximately $2.4 million in unrestricted funding over the past year. Fully funding Deworm the World could potentially cause Evidence Action to redirect some or all of these funds to its other programs.

More details on all of the above are in our review.

Key considerations:

  • Program impact and cost-effectiveness. We estimate that Deworm the World-associated deworming programs are ~10x as cost-effective as cash transfers. Our estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. It’s important to note that we view deworming as high expected value, but this is due to a relatively low probability of very high impact. Most GiveWell staff members would agree that deworming programs are more likely than not to have very little or no impact, but there is some possibility that they have a very large impact. (Our cost-effectiveness model implies that most staff members believe there is at most a 1-2% chance that deworming programs conducted today have similar impacts to those directly implied by the randomized controlled trials on which we rely most heavily, which differed from modern-day deworming programs in a number of important ways.) Our 2015 cost-effectiveness file is available here (.xlsx).
  • Directness and robustness of the case for impact. Deworm the World 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. We have seen evidence that strongly suggests that Deworm the World-supported programs successfully deworm children. While we believe Deworm the World is impactful, our evidence is limited, and in addition, there is always a risk that future expansions will prove more difficult than past ones.
  • Transparency and communication. Deworm the World has been communicative and open with us. We believe that were something major to go wrong with Deworm the World’s work, we would be able to learn about it and report on it.
  • Risks:
    • Deworm the World is part of a larger organization, Evidence Action. It is possible that some additional funds given to support Deworm the World could effectively lead to additional funds for a non-Deworm the World project due to fungibility. Also, changes that affect Evidence Action (and its other programs) could indirectly impact Deworm the World. 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 Deworm the World.
    • Deworm the World is now largely raising funds to support programs that will be carried out under a different model in new countries, which makes it harder for us to predict future success based on historical results and may make it harder to understand and quantify Deworm the World’s impact even after the program is completed.

Our full review of Deworm the World is here.

GiveDirectly

 

Our full review of GiveDirectly is here.

Background

GiveDirectly (www.givedirectly.org) transfers cash to households in developing countries via mobile phone-linked payment services. It targets extremely low-income households. The proportion of total expenses that GiveDirectly has delivered directly to recipients is approximately 85% overall. We believe that this approach faces an unusually low burden of proof, and that the available evidence supports the idea that unconditional cash transfers significantly help people.

We believe GiveDirectly to be an exceptionally strong and effective organization, even more so than our other top charities. It has invested heavily in self-evaluation from the start, scaled up quickly, and communicated with us clearly. It appears that GiveDirectly has been effective at delivering cash to low-income households. GiveDirectly has one major randomized controlled trial (RCT) of its impact and took the unusual step of making the details of this study public before data was collected (more). It continues to experiment heavily, to the point where every recipient is enrolled in a study or a campaign variation.

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 the high quality of its program.

In August, Good Ventures granted $25 million to GiveDirectly to support potentially high-upside opportunities, such as (a) building a fundraising team that will aim to raise substantial donations from non-GiveWell donors, and (b) developing partnerships with bilateral donors and local governments to deliver cash transfers or to run experiments comparing standard aid programs to cash transfers.

GiveDirectly’s increased efforts to network with potential government and donor partners have led to some results in 2015. For example, GiveDirectly will be implementing cash transfers in a randomized controlled trial in Rwanda that will be funded by a bilateral aid donor and Google. The study will test cash transfers against another still-to-be-chosen aid program. GiveDirectly is currently in several preliminary conversations with partners for similarly large projects in the future.

Funding gap

GiveDirectly believes it could move a total of ~$94 million to poor households in the year following March 1, 2016, for which it expects to have ~$12.6 million available by March 1. We have classified ~$34.5 million of this as the total “Execution Level 1,” capacity-relevant, and incentive funding gap (more on what this means above). We arrived at this figure by assuming that GiveDirectly could double its operations in Kenya (from ~$16.5 million/year to ~$33 million/year) and scale up to ~$12.1 million/year in Uganda. This would cost a total of ~$45.1 million, of which GiveDirectly already has ~$10.6 million on hand (ignoring $2 million that we exclude due to donor coordination issues), which results in a ~$34.5 million gap.

We’ve classified some of this as a “capacity-relevant” funding gap for our purposes (making it higher priority). First, we view the ~$12.1 million it would hope to spend in Uganda as capacity-relevant, in the sense that providing it could make a major difference to GiveDirectly’s long-term development. GiveDirectly told us that operating in Uganda is more challenging than in Kenya and that it expects to learn a significant amount as it grows. It is therefore planning to grow more slowly in Uganda than it did in Kenya. GiveDirectly made two arguments for Uganda being important for its long-term trajectory:

  1. If GiveDirectly lost the ability to operate in Kenya, this would significantly diminish its ability to move funds out the door. Operating in Uganda is an important hedge against this risk.
  2. Kenya is a particularly easy environment in which to operate because of the existence of M-PESA, a powerful and ubiquitous provider that enables GiveDirectly to transfer funds to recipients via mobile phones. The mobile payments network is significantly less developed outside of Kenya. As such, Uganda offers an important test case for operating in a more standard environment, which could be particularly valuable to GiveDirectly as it encourages aid agencies and country governments to expand direct cash assistance.

It’s harder to estimate how much of the Kenya funding needs are properly classified as “capacity-relevant” (an important distinction for our purposes, as discussed above). We guess that were GiveDirectly to be operating at a level 50% its current size (such that it only spent ~$8.25 million/year in Kenya), it would be able to build capacity from that level to its current level (and beyond) as quickly as it did in its recent past. We therefore classify ~$8.25 million of the ~$16.5 million it hopes to spend in Kenya as “capacity-relevant” and ~$8.25 million as “execution.” We note that we are highly uncertain about these estimates and that were GiveDirectly to receive no additional funding, this would cause it to contract in Kenya and lay off some of its middle management, an action that would cause it to incur reasonably high costs; we think much more contraction than that would be significantly more challenging for GiveDirectly as an organization.

Based on the above, and based on GiveDirectly’s existing available funds (with some adjustments for coordination issues, along the lines of this discussion from last year) we estimate that GiveDirectly has ~$9.8 million worth of unfunded opportunities that we ought to classify as capacity-relevant or incentive funding. (We arrive at this estimate based on: ~$20.35 million (total amount we classify as capacity-relevant from Kenya and Uganda) – ~$10.6 million (funds on hand, excluding donations we ignore due to coordination issues) = ~$9.75 million.)

Longer-term, we expect to continue to view funding ~$8.25 million in Kenya as capacity-relevant support and would expect to consider future expansion in Uganda (up to the current level of Kenya, i.e., ~$16.5 million/year) capacity-relevant, as well. Once GiveDirectly reaches ~$16.5 million in Uganda and proves that it can operate at that level, we only expect to view ~$8.25 million as capacity-relevant and hope that it can raise funds from other sources to support its work.

More details in our review.

Key considerations:

  • Program impact and cost-effectiveness. Our best guess is that deworming or distributing bednets achieves ~10x times more humanitarian benefit per dollar donated than cash transfers. Our estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. All of our cost-effectiveness analyses are available here. Our 2015 cost-effectiveness file is available here (.xlsx).
  • 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; we believe that cash transfers face a lower burden of proof than other interventions.
  • 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 and rigor we expect.

Our full review of GiveDirectly is here.

Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)

 

Our full review of SCI is here.

Background

SCI (www3.imperial.ac.uk/schisto) works with governments in sub-Saharan Africa to create or scale up deworming programs (treating children for schistosomiasis and other intestinal parasites). SCI’s role has primarily been to identify recipient countries, provide funding to governments for government-implemented programs, provide advisory support, and conduct research on the process and outcomes of the programs. Despite SCI sharing a number of spending reports with us, we do not feel we have a detailed and fully accurate picture of how SCI and the governments it supports have spent funds in the past. We don’t feel that SCI has ever purposefully been indirect with us, but we have often struggled to communicate effectively with SCI representatives. We still lack important and in some cases basic information about SCI’s finances, and we find this problematic.

We believe that deworming is a program backed by relatively strong evidence. We have reservations about the evidence, but we think the potential benefits are great enough, and costs low enough, to outweigh these reservations. SCI has conducted studies in about half of the countries it works in (including the countries with the largest programs) to determine whether its programs have reached a large proportion of children targeted. These studies have generally found moderately positive results, but have some methodological limitations.

Important changes in the last 12 months

SCI reports that it has continued to scale up its deworming programs and that it has supported some programs in new countries, though we have limited monitoring information from these programs (e.g., we have not seen monitoring from its programs in Ethiopia, Sudan, Madagascar, and the DRC).

This year, SCI has shared a few more coverage surveys that found reasonably high coverage of its programs.

We have continued to have communication challenges with SCI. In particular:

  • We have a limited understanding of SCI’s work because we still lack important and basic information about how SCI spends money. SCI recognizes that its financial management system is disorganized, and some spending reports that SCI has sent us have contained errors.
  • We have struggled to gain a confident understanding of how SCI will use additional funds, and we cannot check how its funds were used after the fact because we lack information about its spending. In some cases, SCI has not spent additional funds as expected and it is unclear what caused the shift (more detail on one example in our August 2015 update).

In July, researchers published two new analyses of a key study regarding deworming (the most important piece of evidence we rely on), and the Cochrane Collaboration published an updated review of the evidence for mass deworming programs. The new papers did not change our overall assessment of the evidence on deworming. More in our blog post.

Funding gap

SCI estimates that it would use the following amounts of unrestricted funding in each of the next three years (in millions of US dollars):

  • April 2016 – March 2017: $9.5
  • April 2017 – March 2018: $13.6
  • April 2018 – March 2019: $13.3

Our impression is that GiveWell-influenced donors contribute most of SCI’s unrestricted funds.

Our best guess is that, excluding the funds SCI may receive due to GiveWell’s recommendation, SCI will hold approximately $1.5 million in April 2016 that it could allocate to the above gaps. Also, after SCI set its fundraising targets, a funder committed $6 million over the next three years ($2 million per year) to deworming programs in Ethiopia, with which SCI is involved. Our best guess is that this funding reduces SCI’s “Execution Level 1” and incentive funding gap for the coming year from $9.5 million to $5.9 million. (We arrive at this estimate by subtracting ~$1.5 million and another $2 million from the total Level 1/incentive gap for the coming year).

We do not classify any of this as “capacity-relevant” because we have little understanding of how it will be spent, and we do not expect to be able to understand how it was spent after the fact, either.

More details on SCI’s funding gap are in our review.

Key considerations:

  • Program impact and cost-effectiveness. Our best guess is that deworming programs implemented by SCI are ~5x as cost-effective as cash transfers. Our estimates are subject to substantial uncertainty. It’s important to note that we view deworming as high expected value, but this is due to a relatively low probability of very high impact. Most GiveWell staff members would agree that deworming programs are more likely than not to have very little or no impact, but there is some possibility that they have a very large impact. (Our cost-effectiveness model implies that most staff members believe there is at most a 1-2% chance that deworming programs conducted today have similar impacts to those directly implied by the randomized controlled trials on which we rely most heavily, which differed from modern-day deworming programs in a number of important ways.) Our 2015 cost-effectiveness file is available here (.xlsx).
  • Directness and robustness of the case for impact. SCI 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. We have seen some evidence demonstrating that SCI-supported programs successfully deworm 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-supported deworming programs successfully deworm people. We have had difficulties communicating with SCI, which has reduced our ability to understand it. We have also spent significant time interviewing SCI staff and reviewing documents over the past 6 years and have found minor but not major concerns.
  • Transparency and communication. We don’t feel that SCI has ever purposefully been indirect with us, but we have often struggled to communicate effectively with SCI representatives. 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 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 our other top charities, which we feel we have a strong ability to follow up on.
  • Risks: There are significantly more unknown risks with SCI than our other top charities due to our limited understanding of its activities.

Our full review of SCI is here.

Standouts

As we did last year, we recommend four organizations as “standouts.” These charities score well on some of our criteria, but we are not confident enough in them to name them top charities. This year, we retain the same four standout organizations: Development Media International (DMI), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition’s Universal Salt Iodization program (GAIN-USI), the Iodine Global Network (IGN), and Living Goods.

We followed all four of these charities in 2015, but have only published an updated review for DMI. We expect to publish updated reviews for GAIN-USI, IGN, and Living Goods in the near future.

We provide brief updates on these charities below:

  • DMI. DMI produces radio and television programming in developing countries that encourages people to adopt improved health practices. It is a standout because of its commitment to monitoring and the possibility that it is implementing a highly cost-effective program. DMI has recently completed a randomized controlled trial of its program. Last year, we had midline results from this trial, which generally looked promising.In November 2015, DMI privately shared preliminary endline results from the RCT. These results did not find any effect of DMI’s program on child mortality, and found substantially less effect on behavior change than was found in the midline results. We (understandably) cannot publicly discuss the details of the endline results we have seen, because they are not yet finalized and because the finalized results will be embargoed prior to publication. DMI believes that there were serious problems with endline data collection (note that we have not yet tried to independently assess this claim). With the support of the trial’s Independent Scientific Advisory Committee, DMI is planning to conduct another endline survey in late 2016, with results available in 2017.We are impressed by DMI’s openness with us about its results (and its willingness for us to share the high-level summary), and we hope to have discussions with DMI about how it might be able to work toward becoming a top charity in the future. Our full review of DMI is here.
  • GAIN-USI. GAIN’s Universal Salt Iodization (USI) program supports national salt iodization programs. There is strong evidence that salt iodization programs have a significant, positive effect on children’s cognitive development. 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 low impact, depending on its effectiveness. Last year, we wrote, “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.” In 2015, we continued our assessment of GAIN, focusing on its work in India and Ethiopia, including a site visit to Ethiopia in July.Overall, we tried but were unable to establish clear evidence of GAIN successfully contributing to the impact of iodization programs. This is primarily due to (a) the difficulty in attributing impact to specific activities that GAIN carried out and (b) challenges we have had communicating with GAIN about its work. We have not yet completed our final report on GAIN but hope to publish it in the near future. We have published notes from some of the conversations that were part of this research and they are available here. Our 2014 review of GAIN is here.
  • IGN. Like GAIN-USI, IGN supports (via advocacy and technical assistance rather than implementation) salt iodization, and as with GAIN-USI, we tried but were unable to establish clear evidence of IGN successfully contributing to the impact of iodization programs. Unlike GAIN-USI, IGN is small, operating on a budget of approximately $0.5-$1 million per year, and relies heavily on volunteer time. We are planning to post an updated review in the near future. Our 2014 review of IGN 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, bednets, clean cookstoves, and solar lights. Living Goods 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. We spoke with Living Goods and reviewed documents about their progress in 2015. We do not have major updates to report but are planning to post an updated review in the near future. Our 2014 review of Living Goods is here.

Our research process in 2015

 

This section describes the new work we did in 2015 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 did not put a substantial amount of senior staff time into new top charities research work because (a) we were largely focused on building capacity, and (b) we reallocated a significant amount of capacity to the Open Philanthropy Project (see our post on our plans for 2015 for more details).

We focused the bulk of our research capacity for top charities work on staying up-to-date on our recommended charities. We also did an intensive evaluation of GAIN-USI, including a site visit (more details forthcoming).

We completed investigations of vitamin A supplementation and maternal and neonatal tetanus immunization campaigns. Both programs seem potentially competitive with our other priority programs, but we were not able to identify charities that worked on these programs that were willing to apply for a recommendation. We also made substantial progress on investigating several other programs, such as measles immunization, meningitis A vaccination, folic acid fortification, voluntary medical male circumcision for the prevention of HIV, and “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” (or “Ultra-Poor Graduation”) programs.

We stayed up to date on the research for bednets, cash transfers, and deworming.

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

We did some initial research on several charities that we had not investigated before, but we did not complete the reviews in time for our 2015 recommendations. The organizations that we began investigating were:

We plan to complete these reviews in 2016.

Giving to GiveWell vs. top charities

 

We have grown significantly over the past few years and continue to raise funds to support our operations. This includes work on GiveWell’s top charities and the Open Philanthropy Project.

We plan to post an update on our funding situation before the end of the year.

The most up-to-date information available on this topic is linked from our June 2015 board meeting. The short story is that we are still seeking additional donations and encourage donors who feel they are sufficiently confident in our impact to give to us.


Footnotes:

* For example, if $30 million were available to fund gaps of $10 million, $5 million, and $100 million, we would recommend allocating the funds so that the $10 million and $5 million gaps were fully filled and the $100 million gap received $15 million.

This rule is material to the three gaps tied at priority level 2. It causes us to recommend that Good Ventures’ last $28.3 million to recommended charities is used to fully fill GiveDirectly’s $8.8 million capacity-relevant gap and Deworm the World’s $3.2 million Execution Level 2 (possible capacity-relevant) gap, but only fill $16.3 million of AMF’s Execution Level 1 gap.

** This gap can’t be cleanly classified because we think the funding is relatively unlikely to be needed, but if it is needed, it is likely to have capacity-relevant effects. Thus, it is technically classified as Execution Level 2, but we think it has similar value to Execution Level 1.