The GiveWell Blog

How GiveWell uses cost-effectiveness analyses

Our cost-effectiveness analysis plays a critical role in the recommendations we make to donors. For example, as a direct result of our cost-effectiveness calculations, we place a higher priority on filling funding gaps at the charities we recommend that work on deworming programs and distributing malaria nets than we do directing funding to GiveDirectly, a GiveWell top charity that distributes direct cash transfers. We believe that GiveDirectly is the strongest organization we’ve ever seen, but according to our analysis, cash transfers are less cost-effective in terms of impact per dollar donated than deworming treatments and malaria nets.

Accordingly, cost-effectiveness analysis is a major part of GiveWell’s research process. We dedicate a large part of a full-time staff member (Christian Smith)’s capacity to this work and others involved with GiveWell research spend a considerable amount of time engaging with our cost-effectiveness model throughout the year. We consider this analysis a key part of our output and publish our model online so that anyone can check our calculations, enter their own inputs, and see if they agree with our approach and outputs.

This post will provide some basic information about how our cost-effectiveness analyses inform our charity recommendations.

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Update on our views on cataract surgery

We’re often asked why GiveWell doesn’t recommend any organizations that focus on providing surgeries. This post will describe:

  • Work we did previously to try to find surgery charities to recommend. In brief, our inability to identify organizations with room for more funding and high-quality monitoring data prevented us from recommending surgery charities in general.
  • Our current (rough, preliminary) view that cataract surgery’s cost-effectiveness may be competitive with that of our priority programs, and some of the major open questions we have about our estimate.
  • Organizations implementing cataract surgery programs that we’ve spoken with. They run a variety of programs, and our impression is that they do not yet have the type of high-quality monitoring information we’re interested in.
  • Our plans to move forward with IDinsight to improve our understanding of cataract surgery as an intervention.

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Why GiveWell is partnering with IDinsight

This post will highlight GiveWell’s work with IDinsight, part of our Incubation Grants program to help grow the pipeline of potential future top charities and improve the quality of GiveWell’s recommendations. We previously highlighted the work of No Lean Season and Zusha!, Incubation Grant recipients and potential 2017 GiveWell top charities. Unlike these organizations, we don’t expect IDinsight to itself become a top charity. Instead, we hope it will help GiveWell support the development of more top charities and increase our understanding of the organizations we recommend.

IDinsight is an international NGO that aims to help its clients develop and use rigorous evidence to improve social impact. GiveWell is partnering with IDinsight to support organizations’ development of monitoring and evaluation information of the type we’re interested in. This is the first partnership of this kind for GiveWell.

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Allocation of discretionary funds and new recommendation for donors

Since we released our 2016 recommendations in November, we have received about $4.9 million in funding for making grants at our discretion. We noted at the time that we would use these funds to fill the next highest priority funding gaps among our top charities. We have now reassessed the funding gaps for our top charities and plan to allocate $4.4 million to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) and $0.5 million of the funding we received for granting to the Deworm the World Initiative.

Our updated recommendation for donors

We have also updated our bottom line recommendation for donors seeking to follow our recommended allocation. We now recommend that donors give 100% of their donation to AMF, which will continue to have a pressing need for funding after the grant from GiveWell’s discretionary funds and after accounting for expected fundraising.

This is an update on the recommendation we made in November 2016 of giving 75% to AMF and 25% to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI). We will update this recommendation again in November, and may do so sooner if we have new information that affects where we think additional donations would have the greatest impact.

We continue to recommend all seven of our current recommended charities as top charities and think all offer outstanding opportunities for donors to accomplish significant good with their donations. We have not completed any updates on our standout charities, and that list remains the same.

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GiveWell as an organization: progress in 2016 and plans for 2017

This is the third of four posts that form our annual review and plan for the following year. This post reviews and evaluates GiveWell’s progress last year as an organization and sketches out some high level goals for the current year. The first two posts covered GiveWell’s progress and plans on research. The last post in the series will look at metrics on our influence on donations in 2016.

First, a point of clarification. GiveWell as a legal entity currently employs both (a) staff whose work is described on givewell.org (finding outstanding evidence-backed, cost-effective programs) and (b) staff who work on the Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil). We expect Open Phil to become a separate organization this year (more below), pending board approval. The scope of this post is limited to (a) – the parts of the organization that will not become part of Open Phil. Open Phil has written about its progress and plans on in this post.

Below, we first note three high-level points about where GiveWell is as an organization today. We then reflect on four questions that are important for thinking about our performance as an organization:

  • Do we have sufficient staff capacity?
  • Does our impact justify our operating expenses?
  • Does GiveWell have a positive and accurate public image?
  • Are we in a stable financial position?

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GiveWell’s research plans for 2017

This is the second of four posts that form our annual review and plan for the following year. The first post reviewed our progress in 2016. The following two posts will cover GiveWell’s progress and plans as an organization and metrics on our influence on donations in 2016.

Our primary research goals for 2017 are to:

  • Speed up our output of new intervention assessments, by hiring a Senior Fellow and by improving our process for reviewing interventions at a shallow level.
  • Increase the number of promising charities that apply for our recommendation. Alternatively, we may learn why we have relatively few strong applicants and decide whether to change our process as a result. Research Analyst Chelsea Tabart will spend most of her time on this project.
  • Through GiveWell Incubation Grants, fund projects that may lead to more top charity contenders in the future and consider grantees No Lean Season and Zusha! as potential 2017 top charities.
  • Further improve the robustness and usability of our cost-effectiveness model.
  • Improve our process for following the progress of current top charities to reduce staff time, while maintaining quality. We also have some specific goals (discussed below) with respect to answering open questions about current top charities.

We discuss each of these goals in more depth below.

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