The GiveWell Blog

December 2017 open thread

Our goal with hosting quarterly open threads 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 or to request a call with GiveWell staff if you have feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

You can view our September 2017 open thread here.


  • Ted Sanders on December 15, 2017 at 4:54 pm said:

    My sister asks: “Ted I need good environmental-based charities!”

    What charity would you consider recommending to her?

  • Colin Rust on December 15, 2017 at 8:03 pm said:

    Ted, I don’t think GiveWell recommends any environmental charities.

    You could look at Giving What We Can’s analysis of climate charities. Their top two recommendations are Cool Earth and Citizen’s Climate Lobby. Both are great organizations IMO, but of these two Cool Earth may better fit what you/your sister have in mind for an environmental charity. Their basic model is to work with indigenous people to protect rain forest from development.

  • Give Well’s focus has been primarily on health treatments in the developing world. Do you think this approach can contribute significantly to helping move people out of poverty? If so, how? If not, what do you consider the best approaches for doing that? And: do you plan to do periodic reviews of priority interventions (e.g. il looks like education, say, was last reviewed around 2009?)

  • Krishna Pagadala on December 17, 2017 at 10:23 pm said:

    Seconding Sophie. I think that education is the most effective way to give. Why is Give Well lacking in this area?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 19, 2017 at 7:38 pm said:

    Hi Ted,

    Colin is right – we don’t have any recommendations for environmental charities. In general, GiveWell does not aim to rate every charity, but to find the ones which we feel will have the greatest impact with additional donations. You can read more about our top charity criteria here. Sorry to not be more helpful!

  • Peter Hurford on December 19, 2017 at 8:11 pm said:

    Is there any clear criteria that separates whether an organization is a top charity versus a standout charity versus an incubation grantee versus non-recommended?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 20, 2017 at 9:57 pm said:

    Hi Sophie,

    Thanks for the question! We would guess that health aid contributes to moving people out of poverty (more in this post).

    In addition, six of our nine top charities are recommended for their positive impact on people’s income or consumption (the four deworming charities, for which we believe the main benefit is a potential increase in income later in life, although the intervention is a health treatment, Evidence Action’s No Lean Season, and GiveDirectly).

    We do continue to monitor new research, including in areas that we published reports on, such as education. We are planning to publish an updated intervention report on education in 2018.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 21, 2017 at 8:02 pm said:

    Hi Peter,

    GiveWell has four criteria for top charities. They must be evidence-backed, cost-effective, transparent, and in need of additional funding. We determine whether or not a charity meets our criteria by asking questions about its work (see, for example, the table of contents in our review of the Against Malaria Foundation). These questions are laid out in our charity reviews. Top charities are able to answer our questions such that we feel good about recommending their work.

    Standout charities come out of our work to review potential top charities. In other words, we don’t explicitly look for standouts; they are organizations that we review as part of our process to find top charities, but that we ultimately don’t feel as confident in their impact. They are generally implementing programs with a strong evidence base, are transparent, and need additional funding, although we may believe they are less cost-effective than our top charities or have slightly weaker evidence for impact; however, they still stand out from the vast majority of charities. In addition to being a charity we wanted to consider for a recommendation, charities also have to provide the following information to become standout charities:

    * A breakdown of spending on the program of interest for at least one recent year and ideally the past ~three years.
    * A plan for how they would use additional funding.
    * A list of the monitoring the charity has completed and which years and regions it covers, plus an example of each type of monitoring that we request.

    We might also not choose to make a charity we reach out to a top or standout charity. Not-recommended charities for which we have a review or write-up do not meet our standout or top charity criteria, but we initially contacted them because we thought they might plausibly meet our top charity criteria. We don’t reach out to or review charities that we think are highly unlikely to become top charities.

    The same criteria form the basis for our Incubation Grants. We will make an Incubation Grant when we believe that the expected value of the grant is competitive with giving directly to our top charities. We calculate the expected value based on how much we expect the grant to shift the funding we direct in the future, either to a new organization that comes out of the Incubation program or to change the relative ranking of organizations we’re already recommending by increasing our knowledge about their work or the programs they implement. The full list of past Incubation Grants gives a sense of the types of projects we support with this work.

    Please let me know if I can provide additional details on the above; this is just a high-level overview to start.

  • Hi Catherine,

    Thanks for your helpful reply to my post – it’s much appreciated, and helps clarify Give Well’s position. It still leaves me wondering, even if there is no “known formula” for helping people out of poverty, whether some interventions (like supporting the development of small enterprise, or promoting education) may not have a better long term chance of impact than health interventions. For your update on education, do you have a rough target date for when this will come out?

    Thanks 🙂

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 26, 2017 at 8:55 pm said:

    Hi Sophie,

    It’s possible that interventions that are less easy to measure or working in new areas with weaker evidence bases might be more cost-effective than the charities we currently recommend. We don’t want to claim that nothing could be more impactful than our top charities (although we’d also caution against assuming that unproven/higher-risk opportunities necessarily correlate with higher potential rewards) but rather to serve donors with limited time who want to rely on our recommendations. You might be interested in this post for further explanation of our intended audience and why we recommend charities working on evidence-backed interventions in global health and development.

    Our current expectation is that we will publish the updated education report in the first half of 2018, but that may change due to competing priorities.

  • Thanks Catherine. I really appreciate Give Well’s work !

  • Vipul Naik on January 28, 2018 at 11:22 am said:

    What is the planned publication date of the full report for the 2016 money moved and web traffic metrics?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on January 29, 2018 at 12:54 pm said:

    Hi Vipul,

    We’re unsure of the precise date it will be published; we expect to do so this quarter.

  • Is there an update in the works for 2015’s Charities we would like to see? Or perhaps that post is still up-to-date?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on February 13, 2018 at 9:52 am said:

    Hi Milan,

    The post is a bit out of date now, but we don’t have an update planned at this time.

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