The GiveWell Blog

Would other organizations have funded AMF’s bednet distributions if AMF hadn’t?

An important question to ask when deciding where to give is “what would happen if this charity didn’t receive my donation?”

To investigate this, we focus on charities’ “room for more funding,” i.e., what will additional funding for this organization allow it to do that it would not be able to do without additional support from the donors GiveWell influences?

This question is relevant to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF), currently our #1 rated charity, which provides funding to support malaria net distributions in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the past, we focused intensely on the question of whether AMF would be able to absorb and commit additional funds.

Recently, we asked another question: how likely is it that the bednet distributions that AMF supports would have been funded by others if AMF hadn’t provided funding? That is, would another funder have stepped in to provide funding in AMF’s absence?

If this were the case, our assessment of AMF’s impact would be diminished because it would seem likely that, in the absence of giving to AMF, the distributions it might have supported would occur anyway.

We can’t know what other funders might do in the future, so to learn more about this we looked back at cases from 2012 and 2013 where AMF had initially considered a distribution but then didn’t end up providing funding. We asked whether, and when, those distributions were eventually funded by others.

Our investigation

We looked at five cases where AMF considered funding a distribution but did not end up moving forward. In short:

  • In two cases, major delays (18 months and ~36 months) occurred before people in the area received bednets from other sources.
  • In two cases, other funders filled the gap six to nine months later than AMF would have.
  • In one case, funding was committed soon after AMF’s talks fell through.

(For context, we use an “8%-20%-50%” model to estimate the longevity of bednets, which assumes that 92% of nets are still in use through the first year, 80% through the second, and 50% through the third (and none after the end of the third year). On average, then, we estimate that nets last about 27 months.)

More details are available in our full report on this investigation.

Of course, these cases aren’t necessarily predictive:

  • It’s possible that the distributions were atypical, and that the reasons that led AMF to not carry out these distributions were the same reasons that led other funders to not fund them. This would mean that a typical AMF distribution might, in fact, be more likely to be funded by someone else, if AMF doesn’t fund it, than these results predict.
  • It’s possible the global funding situation has changed since the cases we investigated in 2012 and 2013 – if more funding is now available overall, it would make it more likely that if AMF didn’t carry out a given distribution, another funder would step in.

That said, even if other funders would always step in if AMF didn’t carry out a distribution, it’s still possible that AMF is increasing the total number of bednets distributed, if there’s an overall funding gap for bednets globally. We’ve written more about the global bednet gap here. For this to be the case, it would likely require there exists some additional pool of funding that can be directed to bednets when necessary.

Overall, we think that the cases we looked at offer support to our conclusion that there is a real need for additional funding for bednets, and that AMF is not primarily displacing other funding for bednets.


  • Rob Bensinger on August 30, 2016 at 3:12 pm said:

    “Overall, we think that the cases we looked at offer support to our conclusion that there is a real need for additional funding for bednets, and that AMF is not primarily displacing other funding for bednets.”

    What would the cases probably have looked like if AMF were displacing other funding?

  • Hi Rob – if AMF were displacing other funding, we’d expect that distributions that AMF decided not to move forward with would be filled relatively quickly by other funders. I.e., we’d guess that the cases we looked at would have consisted of other organizations stepping in reasonably shortly after AMF withdrew, and committing to fund the distribution.

  • Okay, say that in the absence of your giving to AMF, I would have stepped in. Does that mean your donation has no impact? No, because of the opportunity cost, right?

    In that alternative, where was my money taken away from? Maybe from an equally high-impact charity. In that case you effectively gave to that charity. Or maybe from a lower-impact charity, or maybe it wouldn’t have been given to anyone, but spent in other ways. Whatever that is, that’s where your money went… until you chain this, and estimate the net effect of your donation on the rest of the economy.

  • Eli – we agree: that’s a good point. In this case, had someone else stepped in, it would most likely have been another global health funder. It’s reasonable to believe that some of this money would have gone to nets anyway, and we include an “alternative funders adjustment” (which incorporates both the possibility that someone else would step in and the possibility that some of those funds would have otherwise been allocated to bednets) in our cost-effectiveness model to allow for this possibility.

    We don’t explicitly model the impact of the funding that would have gone to non-bednets. Our current view is that bednets are among the best interventions to fund, so we’d expect that funding going elsewhere would be worse, but we don’t have a good estimate on how bednets compare to other programs that might have been funded.

  • Thanks for describing the approach, Sean. Interesting problem to try to estimate the substitution factor.

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