The GiveWell Blog

Allocation of discretionary funds from Q4 2019

We recently allocated donations made from October through December 2019 to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” We granted $11.9 million to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program and $1.5 million to Helen Keller International’s vitamin A supplementation program.

We allocate donations to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” (discretionary funds) quarterly, according to where we see the highest-priority funding needs. Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program and Helen Keller International (HKI)’s vitamin A supplementation (VAS) program had the top-priority needs among our top charities at the time we made this decision.

Malaria Consortium provides preventive anti-malarial medication to young children during the time of year when malaria transmission is highest. HKI supports provision of vitamin A supplements to young children, which reduces their risk of dying of infectious disease.[1] We estimate that the combined discretionary grants to these organizations will save 5,600 lives.[2]

In this post, we discuss:

  • Our process for deciding where to allocate discretionary funds. (More)
    • We share updates on:
      • HKI’s VAS program. (More)
      • Malaria Consortium’s SMC program. (More)
      • SCI Foundation. (More)
    • We also discuss uncertainties in our decision. (More)
  • Our bottom line for donors giving today. (More)

Our process for deciding where to allocate discretionary funds

GiveWell donors gave $13.4 million in discretionary funds in the fourth quarter of 2019. We decide how to allocate discretionary funds by reviewing which of our top charities’ unmet funding needs, or “funding gaps,” are the most cost-effective and time-sensitive.

In January 2020, we asked HKI, Malaria Consortium, and SCI Foundation (SCI) for updates on their funding needs. We asked HKI and Malaria Consortium because we estimated that their unfunded work was highly cost-effective relative to that of our other top charities.[3] We asked SCI for information because we had pledged to revisit its funding needs in early 2020 (details below). We did not request updated funding information from our other five top charities. We discuss below what we have learned this year about the funding gaps at HKI, Malaria Consortium, and SCI.

In addition to our proactive requests for more information, we have asked our top charities to inform us when they have new funding opportunities we should consider. We were not informed of any opportunities this quarter outside of the information we received from HKI, Malaria Consortium, and SCI.

HKI’s VAS program

In 2019, HKI told us that it did not expect Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to renew its support for VAS programs in Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya from 2020 onward. HKI confirmed in January 2020 that GAC had not renewed its funding.[4]

We consider HKI’s VAS program in Côte d’Ivoire to be highly cost-effective.[5] Our top priority for fourth-quarter discretionary funds is filling the $1.5 million funding gap left by GAC in Côte d’Ivoire from 2020 to 2022.[6]

Malaria Consortium’s SMC program

We incorporated the following information into our estimate of Malaria Consortium’s funding needs in January 2020: a $33.9 million grant we recommended in November 2019; the revenue Malaria Consortium raised through the end of 2019; and Malaria Consortium’s updated budgets for 2020 to 2022.

We estimate that Malaria Consortium can now effectively absorb approximately $36 million for SMC programs in 2022 in Burkina Faso, Chad, Nigeria, and Togo.[7] This $36 million funding gap has the highest estimated cost-effectiveness among our top charities’ funding gaps after HKI’s work in Côte d’Ivoire.[8] We allocated the remaining $11.9 million in fourth-quarter discretionary funds to Malaria Consortium’s SMC program as our second priority.

SCI Foundation

We wrote in November 2019 that SCI had not, at that time, identified opportunities to effectively absorb additional funding. We moved it to a new, separate category off of our top charities list: “Top Charities without capacity to use new donations effectively at this time.”

We also decided to wait until 2020 to consider whether to make an “incentive grant” to support SCI’s work.[9] Subject to charities’ ability to use additional funding, we recommend annual “incentive grants” to each of our top charities to reward them for engaging in our intensive review process.[10] We were not confident in late 2019 that SCI could use additional funding.

SCI recently shared new information about funding gaps in the countries where it works. We now believe SCI can likely absorb additional funding (though we are uncertain about its total funding needs) and plan to recommend that it receive a standard $2.5 million incentive grant. We also moved SCI from the “Top Charities without capacity to use new donations effectively at this time” category to the regular top charities list.

We decided not to make SCI’s incentive grant out of our fourth-quarter discretionary funding. We recently received an $8 million donation that is partially restricted to GiveWell’s “top life improving nonprofit/s,” of which SCI is one. We estimate that our top charities that focus on programs to reduce mortality, such as HKI’s VAS program and Malaria Consortium’s SMC program, have more cost-effective funding gaps at this time, and we prefer to save our non-restricted discretionary funding for them.

Uncertainties in our decision

HKI’s VAS program

We don’t know whether, in the absence of a GiveWell grant to HKI, VAS campaigns in the districts formerly funded by GAC would be skipped or if HKI would reallocate other available funding to support these campaigns. Reallocation of HKI’s available funding would make its funding gap in Côte d’Ivoire less time-sensitive but would leave funding gaps for other work in a year or two. These new gaps would be our top priority to fill due to their high cost-effectiveness.

We haven’t resolved this question because we believe our discretionary grant to HKI will support the most cost-effective unfunded work we are aware of, regardless of time-sensitivity.

Malaria Consortium’s SMC program

We believe that our estimate of Malaria Consortium’s funding gap represents the maximum amount it can absorb effectively for its SMC program ($36 million). GiveWell donors’ $11.9 million discretionary grant will close some of this gap.

It is possible that other funders will also step in to fill some of this gap. In particular, we believe that one funder that supported SMC coverage in part of Burkina Faso in 2020 may choose to extend its support through 2022; this would decrease Malaria Consortium’s room for more funding by around $8 million. Even if this occurs, Malaria Consortium would still have a significant unfilled gap ($16.1 million) for its work in 2022.[11]

We thus expect that donations to Malaria Consortium today will support its work in 2022, which we generally expect to be highly cost-effective.

Our bottom line for donors giving today

We continue to recommend that donors give to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” We direct these funds where we believe they can be used most effectively.

For donors who wish to give to a specific charity, we recommend Malaria Consortium’s SMC program, as we believe it continues to have a highly cost-effective and large unfilled funding gap after receiving GiveWell discretionary funding.


Footnotes for this post may be found here.


  • Gary Godfrey on March 17, 2020 at 7:51 pm said:

    Thanks for posting this – I was about to ask about it on the open thread!

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on March 17, 2020 at 10:06 pm said:

    You’re welcome, Gary!

  • Roben Torosyan on March 21, 2020 at 1:36 pm said:

    Any recommendations for where to donate re: the COVID crisis?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on March 23, 2020 at 10:21 am said:

    Hi Roben,

    We discuss our plans for assessing opportunities in this comment:

    “We are exploring opportunities to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. We are prepared to make grants that explicitly target coronavirus or its broader health and economic effects, if they seem promising (i.e., appear to be at least as or more cost-effective than the charity to which we’d otherwise direct funds).

    “We would not be surprised if the coronavirus pandemic has significant negative impacts in low- and middle-income countries. We are also monitoring how the coronavirus pandemic may impact our current top charities’ programs.

    “We’re in the early stages of this work and will share more information, aligned with our usual transparency practices, as we have it.”

Comments are closed.