The GiveWell Blog

GiveWell’s plans for 2020

Each spring, we share our plans for the year. Here, we highlight the work we plan to do in 2020 that is most likely to help us realize our mission of identifying and directing funding to highly cost-effective giving opportunities.1This post does not include a complete accounting of everything we plan to do in 2020. In particular, it does not include work aimed at primarily internal-facing results, such as improvements to internal staff communications. We focus on three projects:

  1. Expanding into new areas of research.
  2. Searching for new, cost-effective funding opportunities in our traditional research areas.
  3. Building our donor community.

Sharing our annual plans and publicly reflecting back on them a year later is our typical practice. This year, of course, is atypical. The plans we laid out internally at the beginning of the year have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The plans we share in this post take the pandemic into account, but we are more uncertain than usual about what will happen in 2020. We expect that much of our work will go forward as anticipated, but we will be flexible if there are unforeseen disruptions or changes to our research agenda that result from the pandemic.

Expanding into new areas of research

Grants in response to the pandemic

We have already expanded into a new area of work in 2020: grantmaking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t typically focus on high-uncertainty, short-timeline reviews of funding opportunities. However, we think that we should be open to making grants in a lower-information environment due to the potentially severe consequences of the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries, where we focus our work, and that acting sooner may be more impactful in preventing the spread of the disease. As of the publication of this post, we’ve made three grants for COVID-19 mitigation.

We plan to consider whether there are additional grants we should make in response to the pandemic. We will make these grants if we believe they are more cost-effective than the opportunities to which we would otherwise direct funds.

Prioritizing within public health regulation

We began this year with the goal of clarifying which areas were most promising within public health regulation, a relatively new-to-GiveWell domain that we see as potentially highly cost-effective but that we made limited progress in assessing last year.

We made a lot of headway on this work in the early months of 2020. We conducted research that led us to prioritize alcohol policy and pesticide suicide prevention and to deprioritize additional work on other areas such as air pollution, tobacco, and road safety. Shortly before the pandemic intensified, we also began an investigation into a potential alcohol policy grant we might make. We were delayed in completing our investigation of the alcohol grant because the potential grantee shifted its focus to COVID-19 response.

We have paused work on public health regulation for now, outside of an investigation into a potential grant renewal for the 2017 GiveWell Incubation Grant recipient Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention. We plan to do more work on public health regulation in the coming months or after 2020, depending on our capacity for work outside of assessing opportunities in response to COVID-19. When we return to public health regulation, we plan to complete our investigation into the alcohol policy grant mentioned above. At that point, we plan to reflect on what we’ve learned to date about public health regulation before deciding whether to do additional work in this area.

Searching for new, cost-effective funding opportunities in our traditional research areas

We continue to assess evidence-backed global health and poverty alleviation programs that may meet our traditional criteria. We significantly expanded our research team in 2019 and expect to make great progress in vetting new evidence and moving programs through our review process in 2020.

Our research process operates as a funnel: we start by conducting shallow reviews of a large number of programs, followed by in-depth reviews of the most promising. This year, we’re planning to assess a large number of programs at various stages of the funnel. Here, we highlight a few that we’re particularly excited about:

  • New Incentives. We recently received preliminary results from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of New Incentives‘ work. New Incentives provides cash incentives for caregivers in North West Nigeria who take their babies to a health clinic to receive routine immunizations. New Incentives is a GiveWell Incubation Grant recipient and the study of its work, which was funded by another GiveWell Incubation Grant, is the first RCT into which GiveWell has had significant input. This year, we expect to complete our review of the RCT results and to make a decision about whether to direct additional funding to support New Incentives’ work.
  • Evidence Action programs. We plan to complete additional research on two programs run by Evidence Action: GiveWell standout charity Dispensers for Safe Water and a maternal syphilis screening and treatment program.

We hope to conduct in-depth reviews of one to two other charities (most likely Precision Agriculture for Development and/or Sanku, though possibly others) as well, but may have limited capacity to do so due to COVID-19-responsive work.

Building the GiveWell donor community

We aim to grow the GiveWell donor community in 2020.

Our marketing team plans to reach new donors through advertising campaigns, including additional advertising on podcasts. The marketing team also plans to conduct and support research to inform updates to our website that may improve how we present information. For example, the team is examining how users engage with our website and where they may become confused or misinterpret our work, so that we can make improvements to those areas.

We’re hiring!

We have ambitious plans this year and are looking to hire staff to help us achieve our goals. If you think the plans above sound exciting, we encourage you to consider whether working at GiveWell would be a good fit for you. Many of our successful hires in the past have come through the community of people who engage with our work. You can read about the roles we’re hiring for here. Staff may work remotely and we accommodate flexible work schedules, including flexible hours. Additional details are in each job description.

We hope you’ll consider joining the team and sharing this with others who might like to. Thank you!

Notes   [ + ]

1. This post does not include a complete accounting of everything we plan to do in 2020. In particular, it does not include work aimed at primarily internal-facing results, such as improvements to internal staff communications.


  • Austen on June 8, 2020 at 12:49 pm said:

    The Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention seems to be making progress. India keeps banning more and more toxic pesticides which is remarkable considering the strong pesticide industry and lobby in that country. I think quicker progress could be had if there was more funding for activism like protests, and media materials like a Participant Media-style documentary.
    I think that the root source of extreme poverty is corruption and it is self-defeating to only engage in specific interventions without addressing the corruption. Poor countries will always be poor no matter how much Westerners donate unless corruption is reigned in. Partnership for Transparency Fund has effective ways to fight corruption in the Global South and is cost-effective since it is run by volunteers, but they cannot scale up with their small budget.

  • ofhsoupkitchen on July 28, 2020 at 8:55 am said:

    Knowing what is being spent where, by whom, and with what results is the basic foundation for increasing aid effectiveness and accountability for better development outcomes and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We believe transparency is critical to aid and development donors, recipient governments and civil society.

  • Sam Hilton on August 1, 2020 at 4:16 am said:

    In early 2019 GiveWell set out plans to expand the scope of research. You now write “We failed to achieve this goal. We devoted less staff capacity than expected to new areas of research”. This is an ongoing trend, the 2018 review said “We made relatively little progress in exploring new areas of research”.

    Could you elaborate on why this is so challenging, is it mostly about finding the staff time?

    As a donor who would like to see GiveWell expand the scope of their research I am wondering if there is anything I can do? Can I give restricted funds for this project, should I take on this work interdependently, etc?

    (Also as well as expanding GiveWell to look into new areas I would also be interested GiveWell working more on second order or longer run effects of international development charities.)

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on August 11, 2020 at 10:27 am said:

    Hi Sam,

    Thanks for your question! You’re right that we have made less progress in this area than we hoped for the last two years. We primarily attribute this to having a limited number of staff who were positioned to conduct this work, and those staff having many competing demands on their time.

    To address this, we have hired new researchers. This is made possible by donors who provide unrestricted funding, which we can use to support our operations, including staff salaries. We are continuing to hire and expect this will enable us to make additional progress in new areas and deepen our work in existing areas of research.

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