The GiveWell Blog

Our updated top charities for giving season 2018

We’re excited to share our list of top charities for the 2018 giving season. We recommend eight top charities, all of which we also recommended last year.

Our bottom line

We recommend three top charities implementing programs whose primary benefit is reducing deaths. They are:

Five of our top charities implement programs that aim to increase recipients’ incomes and consumption. They are:

These charities represent the best opportunities we’re aware of to help people, according to our criteria. We expect GiveWell’s recommendations to direct more than $100 million to these organizations collectively over the next year. We expect our top charities to be able to effectively absorb hundreds of millions of dollars beyond that amount.

Our list of top charities is the same as it was last year, with the exception of Evidence Action’s No Lean Season. We removed No Lean Season from the list following our review of the results of a 2017 study of the program.

We also recognize a group of standout charities. We believe these charities are implementing programs that are evidence-backed and may be extremely cost-effective. However, we do not feel as confident in the impact of these organizations as we do in our top charities. We provide more information about our standout organizations here.

Where do we recommend donors give?

  • We recommend that donors choose the “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” option on our donation forms. We grant these funds quarterly to the GiveWell top charity or top charities where we believe they can do the most good.
  • If you prefer to give to a specific charity, we believe that all of our top charities are outstanding and will use additional funding effectively. If we had additional funds to allocate now, the most likely recipient would be Malaria Consortium to scale up its work providing seasonal malaria chemoprevention.
  • If you have supported GiveWell’s operations in the past, we ask that you maintain your support. If you have not supported GiveWell’s operations in the past, we ask that you consider designating 10 percent of your donation to help fund GiveWell’s operations.

How should donors give?

Conference call to discuss recommendations

We’re holding a conference call on Tuesday, December 4, at 12pm ET/9am PT to discuss our latest recommendations and to answer any questions you have. Sign up here to join the call.

Additional details

Below, we provide:

Our research process in 2018

We plan to summarize all of the research we completed this year in a future post as part of our annual review process. A major focus of 2018 was improving our recommendations in future years, in particular through our work on GiveWell Incubation Grants and completing intervention reports on promising programs.

Below, we highlight the key research that led to our current charity recommendations. This page describes our general process for conducting research.

  • Following existing top charities. We followed the progress and plans of each of our 2017 top charities. We had several conversations with each organization and reviewed documents they shared with us. We published updated reviews of each of our top charities. Key information from this work is available in the following locations:
    • Our page summarizing changes at each of our top charities and standouts in 2018.
    • Our workbook with each charity’s funding needs and our estimates of the cost-effectiveness of filling each need.
    • Our full reviews for each charity are linked from this page.
  • Staying up to date on the research on the interventions implemented by our top charities. Details on some of what we learned in the section below.
  • Making extensive updates to our cost-effectiveness model and publishing 14 updates to the model over the course of the year. In addition to updating our cost-effectiveness model with information from the intervention research described above, we added a “country selection” tab to our cost-effectiveness analysis (so that users can toggle between overall and country-specific cost-effectiveness estimates); an “inclusion/exclusion” tab, which lists different items that we considered whether or not to account for in our cost-effectiveness analysis; and we explicitly modeled factors that could lead to wastage (charities failing to use the funds they receive to implement their programs effectively).
  • Completing a review of Zusha! We completed our review of the Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development, and Evaluation—Zusha! Road Safety Campaign and determined that it did not meet all of our criteria to be a top charity. We named Zusha! a standout charity.

Major updates from the last 12 months

Below, we summarize major updates across our recommended charities over the past year. For detailed information on what changed at each of our top and standout charities, see this page.

  • We removed Evidence Action’s No Lean Season from our top charity list. At the end of 2017, we named No Lean Season, a program that provides loans to support seasonal migration in Bangladesh, as one of GiveWell’s top charities. This year, we updated our assessment of No Lean Season based on preliminary results we received from a 2017 study of the program. These results suggested the program did not successfully induce migration in the 2017 lean season. Taking this new information into account alongside previous studies of the program, we and Evidence Action no longer believe No Lean Season meets our top charity criteria. We provide more details on this decision in this blog post.
  • We received better information about Sightsavers’ deworming program. In previous years, we had limited information from Sightsavers documenting how it knew that its deworming programs were effectively reaching their intended beneficiaries. This year, Sightsavers shared significantly more monitoring information with us. This additional information substantially increased our confidence in Sightsavers’ deworming program. This spreadsheet shows the monitoring we received from Sightsavers in 2018.
  • We reviewed new research on the priority programs implemented by our top charities and updated our views and cost-effectiveness analyses accordingly. Examples of such updates include:

Recommended allocation of funding for Good Ventures and top charities’ remaining room for more funding

Allocation recommended to Good Ventures

Good Ventures is a large foundation with which GiveWell works closely; it has been a major supporter of GiveWell’s top charities since 2011. Each year, we provide recommendations to Good Ventures regarding how we believe it can most effectively allocate its grants to GiveWell’s recommended charities, in terms of the total amount donated (within the constraints of Good Ventures’ planning, based in part on the Open Philanthropy Project’s recommendations on how to allocate funding across time and across cause areas) as well as the distribution between recipient charities.

Because Good Ventures is a major funder that we expect to follow our recommendations, we think it’s important for other donors to take its actions into account; we also want to be transparent about the research that leads us to make our recommendations to Good Ventures. That said, Good Ventures has not finalized its plans for the year and may give differently from what we’ve recommended. We think it’s unlikely that any differences would have major implications for our bottom-line recommendations for other donors.

This year, GiveWell recommended that Good Ventures grant $64.0 million to our recommended charities, allocated as shown in the table below.

Charity Recommended allocation from Good Ventures Remaining room for more funding1This column displays our top charities’ remaining room for more funding, or the amount we believe they can use effectively, for the next three years (2019-2021), after accounting for the $64.0 million we’ve recommended that Good Ventures give (our recommendation won’t necessarily be followed, but we think it’s unlikely that differences will be large enough to affect our bottom-line recommendation to donors) and an additional $1.1 million from GiveWell’s discretionary funding.
Malaria Consortium (SMC program) $26.6 million $43.9 million
Evidence Action (Deworm the World Initiative) $10.4 million $27.0 million
Sightsavers (deworming program) $9.7 million $1.6 million
Helen Keller International (VAS program) $6.5 million $20.6 million
Against Malaria Foundation $2.5 million $72.5 million
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative $2.5 million $16.9 million
The END Fund (deworming program) $2.5 million $45.8 million
GiveDirectly $2.5 million >$100 million
Standout charities $800,000 (combined)

We discuss our process for making our recommendation to Good Ventures in detail in this blog post.

Allocation of GiveWell discretionary funds

As part of reviewing our top charities’ funding gaps to make a recommendation to Good Ventures, we also decided how to allocate the $1.1 million in discretionary funding we currently hold. The latter comes from donors who chose to donate to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” in recent months. We decided to allocate this funding to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program, due to how large and cost-effective we believe Malaria Consortium’s funding gap is.

Top charities’ remaining room for more funding

Although we are expecting to direct a significant amount of funding to our top charities ($65.1 million between Good Ventures and our discretionary funding), we believe that nearly all of our top charities could productively absorb considerably more funding than we expect them to receive from Good Ventures, our discretionary funding, and additional donations we direct based on our recommendation. This spreadsheet lists all of our top charities’ funding needs; rows 70-79 show total funding gaps by charity.

Our recommendation for donors

The bottom line

  • We recommend that donors choose the option to support “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” on our donate forms. We grant these funds quarterly to the GiveWell top charity or top charities where we believe they can do the most good. We take into account charities’ funding needs and donations they have received from other sources when deciding where to grant discretionary funds. (The principles we outline in this post are indicative of how we will make decisions on what to fund.) We then make these grants to the highest-value funding opportunities we see among our recommended charities. This page lists discretionary grants we have made since 2014.
  • If you prefer to give to a specific charity, we believe that all of our top charities are outstanding and will use additional funding effectively. See below for information that may be helpful in deciding between charities we recommend.
  • If we had additional funds to allocate, the most likely recipient would be Malaria Consortium to scale up its work providing seasonal malaria chemoprevention.

Comparing our top charities

If you’re interested in donating to a specific top charity or charities, the following information may be helpful as you compare the options on our list. The table summarizes key facts about our top charities; column headings are defined below.

Note: the cost-effectiveness estimates we present in this post differ from those in our published cost-effectiveness analysis for a number of reasons.2“The cost-effectiveness estimates in this sheet, which we used to inform our recommended allocation differ from those in our published cost-effectiveness analysis because (1) we apply a number of adjustments to incorporate additional information (2) we apply different weightings to each program (which affects the weighted average of cost-effectiveness).” Source: Giving Season 2018 – Allocation (public), “Cost-effectiveness results” tab, row 17. Additional details at the link.

Organization Modeled cost-effectiveness (relative to cash transfers) at the present margin3For sources on the estimates included in this table, see this spreadsheet, “Cost-effectiveness results” tab. The estimates presented here differ from the estimates presented in our recommendation to Good Ventures because they estimate cost-effectiveness on the margin, if Good Ventures were to follow our recommendations. Primary benefits of the intervention Quality of the organization’s communication Ongoing monitoring and likelihood of detecting future problems
Malaria Consortium (SMC program) 8.8 Averting deaths of children under 5 Strong Strong
Evidence Action (Deworm the World Initiative) See footnote4At the margin, we expect additional funding to Deworm the World Initiative to support its programs in Pakistan and Nigeria in 2021 as well as Deworm the World’s general reserves. We think these are broadly good uses of funds, but our cost-effectiveness model is not currently built to meaningfully model the cost-effectiveness of reserves. In the absence of more information, we would guess that additional funding to Deworm the World would be roughly in the range of our estimate for Deworm the World’s overall organizational cost-effectiveness (~15x as cost-effective as cash transfers), but we have not analyzed the details of additional spending at the current margin enough to be confident in that estimate. However, if Good Ventures generally follows our recommended allocation, we expect that Deworm the World will have sufficient funding to continue its most time-sensitive work and we can decide whether to fund other marginal opportunities at a later date. Possibly increasing income in adulthood Strong Strong
Helen Keller International (VAS program) 6.4 Averting deaths of children under 5 Strong Moderate
Against Malaria Foundation 7.3 Averting deaths Moderate Moderate
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative 8.3 Possibly increasing income in adulthood Moderate Relatively weak
Sightsavers (deworming program) See footnote5We do not have a strong sense of the cost-effectiveness of additional funds to Sightsavers at the current margin. Our cost-effectiveness estimate of Sightsavers’ remaining funding gap is 15.4x as cost-effective as cash transfers, but this fails to capture a number of features particular to the program Sightsavers would fund on the margin. We would guess that the value of marginal funding to Sightsavers is roughly in the range of our overall estimate for Sightsavers of ~12x as cost-effective as cash transfers.

One major reason for our uncertainty follows. As discussed here, Sightsavers’ prioritization of how to spend additional funds differed substantially from what would be implied by our cost-effectiveness analysis, but we think that this discrepancy may largely be due to factors that our model does not capture or ways our model may be inaccurate; therefore, it is difficult to rely on our model to assess the cost-effectiveness of specific remaining country funding gaps.

Possibly increasing income in adulthood Moderate Moderate
The END Fund (deworming program) 5.4 Possibly increasing income in adulthood Moderate Relatively weak
GiveDirectly 1 Immediately increasing income and assets Strong Strong

Definitions of column headings follow:

  • Estimated cost-effectiveness (relative to cash transfers) at the present margin. We recommended that Good Ventures give $64.0 million to our top and standout charities, prioritizing the funding gaps that we believe are most cost-effective. The table above shows our estimates for the cost-effectiveness of additional donations to each charity, after accounting for the $64.0 million we’ve recommended that Good Ventures give (our recommendation won’t necessarily be followed, but we think it’s unlikely that differences will be large enough to affect our bottom-line recommendation to donors).
  • Primary benefits of the intervention. This column describes the major benefit we see to supporting a charity implementing this intervention.
  • Quality of the organization’s communication. In most cases, we have have spent dozens or hundreds of hours interacting with our top charities. Here, we share our subjective impression of how well each organization has communicated with us. Our assessment of the quality of a charity’s communications is driven by whether we have been able to resolve our questions—particularly our less straightforward questions—about the organization’s activities, impact, and plans; how much time and effort was required to resolve those questions; how often the charity has sent us information that we later learned is inaccurate; and how direct we believe the charity is in acknowledging their weaknesses and mistakes.

    The organizations that stand out for high-quality communications are those that have most thoughtfully and completely answered our questions; brought problems with the program to our attention; and communicated clearly with us about timelines for providing additional information. High-quality communications reduce the time that we need to spend answering each question and therefore allow us to gain a greater degree of confidence in an organization. More importantly, our communication with an organization is one of the few ways that we can directly observe an organization’s general competence and thoughtfulness, so we see this as a proxy for unobserved ways in which the organization’s staff affect the impact of the program.

  • Ongoing monitoring and likelihood of detecting future problems. The quality of the monitoring we have received from our top charities varies widely, although we believe it stands out from that of the majority of charities. Ideally, the monitoring data charities collect would be representative of the program overall (by sampling all or a random selection of locations or other relevant units); would measure the outcomes of greatest interest for understanding the impact of the program; and would use methods that result in a low risk of bias or fraud in the results. In assessing the quality of a charity’s monitoring, we ask ourselves, “how likely do we believe it is that there are substantive problems with the program that are not detected by this monitoring?”

    Monitoring results inform our cost-effectiveness analyses directly. In addition, we believe that the quality of an organization’s monitoring give us information that is not fully captured in these analyses. Similar to how we view communication quality, we believe that understanding how an organization designs and implements monitoring is a opportunity to observe its general competence and degree of openness to learning and program improvement.

Other key factors donors might want to consider when making their giving decision:

  • As shown in the table above, our top charities implement programs with different primary benefits: some primarily avert deaths; others primarily increase incomes or consumption. Donors’ preference for programs that avert deaths relative to those that increase incomes (or how one weighs the value of averting a death at a given cost or increasing incomes a certain amount at a given cost) depends on their moral values. The cost-effectiveness estimates shown above rely on the GiveWell research team’s moral values. For more on how we (and others) compare the “good” accomplished by different programs, see this blog post. Donors may make a copy of our cost-effectiveness model to input their own moral weights and see how that impacts the relative cost-effectiveness of our top charities.
  • The table above shows cost-effectiveness estimates for different charities. We put significant weight on cost-effectiveness figures, but they have limitations. Read more about how we use cost-effectiveness estimates in this blog post.
  • Ultimately, donors are faced with a decision about how to weigh estimated cost-effectiveness (incorporating their moral values) against additional information about an organization that we have not explicitly modeled. We’ve written about this choice in the context of choosing between GiveDirectly and SCI in this 2016 blog post.
  • Four of our top charities implement deworming programs. We recommend the provision of deworming treatments to children for its possible impact on recipients’ incomes in adulthood. We work in an expected value framework; in other words, we’re willing to support a higher-risk intervention if it has the potential for higher impact (more in this post about our worldview). Deworming is such an intervention. We believe that deworming may have very little impact, but that risk is outweighed by the possibility that it has very large impact, and it’s very cheap to implement. We describe our assessment of deworming in this summary blog post as well as this detailed post. Donors who have lower risk tolerance may choose not to support charities implementing deworming programs.
  • The table above lists our views on the quality of each of our top charities’ monitoring. This 2016 blog post describes our view of AMF’s monitoring and may give donors more insight into how we think about monitoring quality.

Giving to support GiveWell’s operations

GiveWell is currently in a financially stable position. Over the next few years, we are planning to significantly increase our spending, driven by hiring additional research and outreach staff. We project that our revenue will approximately equal our expenses over the next few years; however, this projection includes an expectation of growth in the level of operating support we receive.

We retain our “excess assets policy” to ensure that if we fundraise for our own operations beyond a certain level, we will grant the excess to our recommended charities. In June of 2018, we applied our excess assets policy and designated $1.75 million in unrestricted funding for grants to recommended charities.

We cap the amount of operating support we ask Good Ventures to provide to GiveWell at 20 percent of our operating expenses, for reasons described here. We ask that donors who use GiveWell’s research consider the following:

  • If you have supported GiveWell’s operations in the past, we ask that you maintain your support. Having a strong base of consistent operations support allows us to make valuable hires when opportunities arise and to minimize staff time spent on fundraising for our operating expenses.
  • If you have not supported GiveWell’s operations in the past, we ask that you designate 10 percent of your donation to help fund GiveWell’s operations. This can be done by selecting the option to “Add 10% to help fund GiveWell’s operations” on our credit card donation form or letting us know how you would like to designate your funding when giving another way.

Questions?

We’re happy to answer questions in the comments below. Please also feel free to reach out directly with any questions.

This post was written by Andrew Martin, Catherine Hollander, Elie Hassenfeld, James Snowden, and Josh Rosenberg.

Notes   [ + ]

1. This column displays our top charities’ remaining room for more funding, or the amount we believe they can use effectively, for the next three years (2019-2021), after accounting for the $64.0 million we’ve recommended that Good Ventures give (our recommendation won’t necessarily be followed, but we think it’s unlikely that differences will be large enough to affect our bottom-line recommendation to donors) and an additional $1.1 million from GiveWell’s discretionary funding.
2. “The cost-effectiveness estimates in this sheet, which we used to inform our recommended allocation differ from those in our published cost-effectiveness analysis because (1) we apply a number of adjustments to incorporate additional information (2) we apply different weightings to each program (which affects the weighted average of cost-effectiveness).” Source: Giving Season 2018 – Allocation (public), “Cost-effectiveness results” tab, row 17. Additional details at the link.
3. For sources on the estimates included in this table, see this spreadsheet, “Cost-effectiveness results” tab. The estimates presented here differ from the estimates presented in our recommendation to Good Ventures because they estimate cost-effectiveness on the margin, if Good Ventures were to follow our recommendations.
4. At the margin, we expect additional funding to Deworm the World Initiative to support its programs in Pakistan and Nigeria in 2021 as well as Deworm the World’s general reserves. We think these are broadly good uses of funds, but our cost-effectiveness model is not currently built to meaningfully model the cost-effectiveness of reserves. In the absence of more information, we would guess that additional funding to Deworm the World would be roughly in the range of our estimate for Deworm the World’s overall organizational cost-effectiveness (~15x as cost-effective as cash transfers), but we have not analyzed the details of additional spending at the current margin enough to be confident in that estimate. However, if Good Ventures generally follows our recommended allocation, we expect that Deworm the World will have sufficient funding to continue its most time-sensitive work and we can decide whether to fund other marginal opportunities at a later date.
5. We do not have a strong sense of the cost-effectiveness of additional funds to Sightsavers at the current margin. Our cost-effectiveness estimate of Sightsavers’ remaining funding gap is 15.4x as cost-effective as cash transfers, but this fails to capture a number of features particular to the program Sightsavers would fund on the margin. We would guess that the value of marginal funding to Sightsavers is roughly in the range of our overall estimate for Sightsavers of ~12x as cost-effective as cash transfers.

One major reason for our uncertainty follows. As discussed here, Sightsavers’ prioritization of how to spend additional funds differed substantially from what would be implied by our cost-effectiveness analysis, but we think that this discrepancy may largely be due to factors that our model does not capture or ways our model may be inaccurate; therefore, it is difficult to rely on our model to assess the cost-effectiveness of specific remaining country funding gaps.

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