The GiveWell Blog

What does it mean when a charity declines to participate in GiveWell’s review process?

We noted in a recent blog post that 10 out of 23 organizations that we invited to apply for a recommendation were named top charities or standout charities, and that nine of the remaining charities declined to participate in our process. What does it mean when a charity declines to participate?

Charities can withdraw from GiveWell’s review process at any time and for any reason. Typically, when a charity withdraws from our process, we publish documents that we have permission to publish, such as notes from previous conversations. We also publish a page indicating that the charity declined to fully participate in our application process and run this page by the charity before publishing it. Some past ‘decline’ pages appear here, under “Organizations that declined to fully participate in our process.”

A charity may decline to participate at any stage of the GiveWell review. All of the following could lead to GiveWell publishing a page indicating that a charity declined to participate:

  • A charity doesn’t respond to our invitation to apply.
  • A charity has one call with GiveWell research staff and decides not to participate.
  • GiveWell writes up an interim review (example of a published interim review, from a charity that did not decline to participate), the charity reviews it, and then declines to participate. The review is not published in this case.

GiveWell generally doesn’t publish the reason a charity decided not to participate in order to preserve this option for charities who are concerned that engaging with GiveWell could potentially harm them if GiveWell publishes a negative review. We discuss this in greater detail here:

While we want to be open, we don’t want to create a dynamic in which working with us creates significant risks for grantees. (This could lead good organizations to avoid working with us.) So we’ve had to find ways of balancing the goal of openness with the goal of making it “safe” for an organization to work with us.

For this reason, a typical ‘decline’ page reads: “Organization X declined to participate in our process,” with no further context, so that organizations can engage with GiveWell without worrying that we’ll publish a harmful review of their work. (This post discusses some of the pros and cons of this approach for donors who rely on our research and charities we review.)

We hope to minimize GiveWell staff time spent with groups that ultimately decline to participate so that we can focus our capacity on organizations that could become top charities. We also hope to minimize the number of groups that decline to participate due to misunderstanding GiveWell’s process, expectations around transparency and review publishing, or the value-add of a GiveWell recommendation. We now have a staff member, Chelsea Tabart, that works closely with charities we might review so they know what to expect.

We hope that concerns about a negative review will not be a barrier to organizations working with us, and recently published a blog post on why more charities should consider applying for a GiveWell recommendation.