You can have a major, positive impact today by choosing to support organizations backed by strong evidence: our top charities.
We recommend the nonprofits that offer the most impact per dollar we’re aware of. In fact, we estimate that you can save a life by donating $3,000-$5,000 to our top recommendation.
If you’re a longtime donor, you’ll recognize most of this year’s top charities. You may even wonder why our list hasn’t changed much. However, a tremendous amount of research—truly thousands of hours—has been done to ensure that these organizations continue to meet our high standards. And although there are many familiar names, one is entirely new: New Incentives.
We’re proud to share our recommendations and grateful to you for considering supporting them. We hope you’ll read on!
In this post, we’ll cover:
- How to give in 2020
- Our work on COVID-19
- Key research updates
- Introducing New Incentives
- Giving to GiveWell’s operations
- How to give efficiently
- Ways to learn more
How to give in 2020
Our nine top charities are the best opportunities we’ve found for donors to save or improve lives.
We conduct an intense, monthslong assessment of each top charity before determining it can be added to our list. All top charities meet our high standards for evidence of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and transparency. We believe they will use donations well.
However, our work to ensure that our top charities meet our standards isn’t the end of our process. We continually assess where funding is most needed within our list of top charities. Donors can support the highest-priority needs by giving to our Maximum Impact Fund.
The Maximum Impact Fund is our top recommendation for donors who want to do as much good as possible with their gift. We regularly make grants from the Maximum Impact Fund to our top charities. We direct these grants where we believe they will achieve the most good at the time they’re given.
Our top charities’ funding needs constantly change. For example, a top charity might identify an opportunity to work in a new country that requires more funding than it has on hand. Another might receive a large grant that fills its immediate funding needs. We continually monitor these changes and re-prioritize our top charities’ needs.
Giving to the Maximum Impact Fund is the best way to take advantage of our latest research and to ensure your donation is used as well as possible, even within this great group of organizations.
If you prefer to select an individual charity instead, our 2020 top charities are:
- Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program
- Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)
- Helen Keller International’s vitamin A supplementation program
- SCI Foundation
- Sightsavers’ deworming program
- New Incentives (new this year!)
- Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative
- The END Fund’s deworming program
They are listed in order of how we currently prioritize funding them. When we prioritize our charities’ needs at this time of year, we account for donations from the Maximum Impact Fund in the third quarter of the year and our recommendations to Open Philanthropy, the largest single donor to our top charities.
Open Philanthropy takes GiveWell’s recommendations into account when deciding how much to grant to each top charity. Usually, we make all of our recommendations to Open Philanthropy in November. This year, we made some of our recommendations in November and asked Open Philanthropy to make a second round of grants to our top charities in January 2021. If other donors fully meet the highest-priority needs we see today before Open Philanthropy makes its January grants, we’ll ask Open Philanthropy to donate to priorities further down our list. It won’t give less funding overall—it’ll just fund the next-highest-priority needs.
Our work on COVID-19
We spent several months in 2020 assessing potential giving opportunities that could mitigate the effects of COVID-19. We followed research about emerging needs and spoke with experts and charities, including GiveWell’s top charities, about the needs they foresaw or were experiencing.
As part of this work, we looked for giving opportunities outside of our top charities list that could be as cost-effective or more cost-effective than our top charities, although we had less confidence in the impact of these opportunities due to our short review timelines and the uncertain nature of the pandemic. We recommended six grants totaling $3,656,000. Beyond these six, we did not find opportunities that we believed to be as or more cost-effective than our top charities.
Our top charities implement crucial, cost-effective health programs that are continuing even during the pandemic. However, it was important to understand how the pandemic would impact their work—they all support programs that typically involve direct contact with people, such as hosting community meetings and visiting people’s homes. We looked at how our top charities adapted their delivery models during COVID-19, as well as funding needs and plans that were disrupted due to the pandemic. Overall, the pandemic had a fairly modest effect on the cost-effectiveness and funding needs of our top charities. We continue to recommend that donors support our top charities via GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund.
We plan to follow needs that continue to emerge due to the pandemic, which may lead us to make additional recommendations in the future.
Key research updates
All year long, we follow our top charities’ work to confirm that they continue to meet our standards and to understand their funding needs and plans. There are a few major ways in which we do this:
- We speak with each top charity regularly. Depending on whether we have major open questions, we typically check in every one to four months.
- We ask each top charity for detailed information on the delivery of its programs, so we can see if it’s successfully reaching people.
- We ask each top charity for its latest spending information and what it plans to do next.
- We monitor new academic research and conduct our own analyses to improve our understanding of our top charities’ programs.
This year, we completed several large research projects to improve our understanding of our top charities, including:
- Digging deeply into AMF’s monitoring. Although we always ask our top charities for information on the delivery of their programs, we conducted a particularly deep investigation this year into how AMF monitors whether it is successfully reaching people with malaria nets. We have higher confidence in our cost-effectiveness estimate of AMF as a result. (More)
- Updating how long we expect malaria nets to last. An important input into our assessment of AMF’s impact is how long AMF-distributed malaria nets last. This year, we did an analysis to more accurately estimate the coverage we should expect from its nets. This was a major project, but it did not significantly change our estimate of the durability of nets, although we now have much higher confidence in our estimate. (More)
- Improving how we model parasitic worm infections among populations reached by the deworming programs we support. We looked at data on the prevalence and intensity of worm infections to more accurately assess the impact of deworming treatments. We also updated the way we account for infection intensity. This project had a significant impact—sometimes positive, sometimes negative—on our cost-effectiveness estimates for the four deworming charities we recommend and led us to reprioritize their funding needs. (More in 2020 GiveWell cost-effectiveness analysis — version 2, “Deworm the World” tab, cell A41)
We also completed smaller projects, such as:
- Better understanding and more transparently sharing how GiveWell-directed support for malaria charities influences other malaria funders. We now estimate the impact on malaria funders in each country, rather than using a general estimate across countries. However, because our estimates did not significantly change in the largest countries in which AMF and Malaria Consortium work (the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, respectively), the overall impact on their cost-effectiveness was small. (More)
- Developing a new approach to modeling the impact of receiving vitamin A supplements on children’s future productivity and earnings in adulthood. In most countries, this led to a small decrease in our estimate of Helen Keller International’s cost-effectiveness. (More)
- Surveying a subset of our donors to understand how they compare the value of averting deaths at different ages to use as an input in our moral weights. This update had a minimal effect on our cost-effectiveness estimates for our top charities. (More)
In addition to all of our work to improve our understanding of our existing top charities, we also researched new, promising programs and charities to potentially recommend. We’re excited to announce a new top charity this year: New Incentives.
Introducing New Incentives
New Incentives incentivizes caregivers of infants to complete a series of routine, potentially life-saving childhood immunizations by providing them with a small cash transfer when each vaccine is given. It operates in North West Nigeria, where childhood immunization rates are low.
We named New Incentives a top charity this year after considering many factors, including the results of a high-quality study of its program. The study was conducted from July 2018 to February 2020 by IDinsight and was funded by Open Philanthropy at our recommendation. Based on that study, we estimate that New Incentives increases the use of incentivized vaccines by 22 percentage points.
The study results, combined with New Incentives’ track record and plans for scaling up, led us to calculate a high cost-effectiveness for donations to the program: $3,000 to $5,000 per life saved, comparable to our other life-saving top charities.
You can learn more in our New Incentives review.
Giving to GiveWell’s operations
GiveWell is a nonprofit. We rely on donations for our own operations. If you’re using our research to guide your giving, we hope you’ll also consider supporting GiveWell.
When you do, you’re contributing to the research we conduct and share with the public—like this blog post and all of the analysis that went into it. We recommend:
- If you’ve never given to GiveWell’s operations before, consider adding 10% to your donation in support of our work.
- If you’ve supported our operations in the past, we hope you’ll renew your support.
If you’re worried about us getting too much funding, please know that our “excess assets” policy prevents us from holding more funding than we expect to need for our own work in the coming years. It requires us to grant any operations funding we hold over a certain threshold to our recommended charities.
We also cap at 20 percent the proportion of our operating budget that any one individual or organization can contribute. This helps us avoid overly relying on a single source of support.
How to give efficiently
In addition to our recommendations for where to give, we also have advice for donors who want to know how to give to maximize the efficiency of their donations. See our:
- Tips for giving efficiently
- Advice for larger donors
- Table of country-specific tax-deductibility of our recommended charities. Note that for donors in the United States, the CARES Act provides additional incentives for giving in 2020.
Ways to learn more
Additional information is linked below:
Our latest cost-effectiveness analysis of our top charities. Please note that while we dedicate significant resources to making these estimates and while they are an important part of our work, we have significant uncertainty about the final figures. You can read more about this here.
While we aim to maximize the good accomplished per dollar donated, these estimates are only one factor we consider when deciding how to prioritize among our top charities’ needs. We also consider charities’ qualitative strengths and weaknesses, the urgency of their funding needs, and other factors.
- Qualitative assessments of our top charities are available here.
- Our up-to-date reviews of our top charities are linked from this page,
- You can contact us at email@example.com and in the comments below if you have any questions about our latest recommendations.
Thank you for being part of our community. We hope you’ll join us in funding these excellent organizations!
Footnotes for this post can be accessed here.
Hope you are fine. When are you choosing the best charities for the year 2021 and which criteria do you follow?
Hi Nalubega Harriet,
Thanks for your question! Our intensive process for reviewing a potential top charity typically kicks off many months, or even over a year, before we publish our recommendations. We assess potential top charities using these criteria.
We typically publish our annual top charity recommendations by Giving Tuesday, which was on December 1 this year.
Thoughtful and insightful analyses!
I see significant revisions of results in version 2. I appreciated the explanations and feel confident in how GiveWell is searching for better models in such a sparse space of ethics.
A number of times it has been emphasized that the results are rough estimates. Have you considered formatting the results as approximations?
Currently they appear as 1-digit precision single numbers. One result reads 14.1. Another result reads 14.9. Have you considered instead some estimate of a confidence interval with whole numbers? Just to attempt to articulate my question, one result confidence interval could be 4 to 24 and another could be 5 to 25. I’m not suggesting those numbers particularly. I would learn quite a bit about the real uncertainty from
reading how the confidence intervals overlap.
Hi Ethan Kennerly,
It sounds like you’re referring to our latest cost-effectiveness model, available here. I’m glad you found the explanations useful! In case you’re interested, you can see a full list of the changes that were made in 2020 here (and previous years are linked here).
To confirm, by “formatting the results as approximations,” do you mean only sharing rounded outputs in our model and/or including confidence intervals?
We use the model to reflect our best guess of the output or outcome of a program. We generally aim to communicate in our writing with rounded figures and/or ranges, to reflect the degree of precision we believe our model can have. See, for example, this linked section on our citations page for the top charities list.
We have considered but ultimately decided against including confidence intervals with our cost-effectiveness estimates, for a few reasons:
* We’re risk neutral; we’re glad to take on risk when the expected value of a donation is high. It’s not clear how confidence intervals would update us.
* Most of the uncertainty we have about our cost-effectiveness analyses comes from uncertainty about whether we’re modeling things in the right way and including and excluding the right factors. Using confidence intervals wouldn’t reflect our greatest source of uncertainty, which isn’t the individual parameters—it’s what we’re including and excluding in our model.
* Confidence intervals might be useful if we decided to regress our models to the mean—to apply an additional discount to wider confidence intervals, even if the programs have the same expected value. However, we already account for this type of uncertainty in our model by applying a replicability adjustment. This replicability adjustment incorporates our uncertainty about whether the effects seen in the studies we rely on are also found on the ground today.
So, while we think a confidence interval would have some value in communicating our uncertainty, it’s unlikely to substantially change our decisions. We thus haven’t prioritized adding such intervals, given the large time cost, to date. We may do so in future.
We published a 2017 blog post looking at the uncertainty in our cost-effectiveness analysis, which may also be of interest.
The links to the tornado charts and explanation that evidence for deworming is more uncertain than evidence for malaria is a perfect example of communicating uncertainty.
The moral weights for a logarithmic scale of consumption to wellbeing has impressed me as an elegant technique to fairly aggregate of wellbeing.
While looking at the GiveWell 2020 and Conventional moral weights, I had a question on the age-weighted years of life lost. There is an example of 37 and 30 for Conventional age-weighted years of life lost. That seemed to approximate the linked source. Then in the GiveWell column there is 117 and 83 age-weighted years of life lost. I felt confused about where those high numbers come from and what they represent. Is there an estimate that someone would live 117 age-weighted years?
Thanks for your question! The values of 117 in cell B8 and 83 in cell B9 do not refer to age-weighted years of life lost—they refer to the value that GiveWell staff assign to these outcomes, relative to our baseline value of 1 for a year of doubled consumption. Years of life lost is an input, but not the only factor we consider. You can read more about our most recent approach to moral weights here.
The conventional input does refer to “age-weighted years of life lost” as we think that is a reasonable approximation for normative values in the field.
I appreciate the confirmation of moral weights.
In this post, I appreciate the prioritized list of charities.
In the Cost Effectiveness Analysis, I am also grateful for the Funding Gaps projections for 2021-2023. Seeing which charities have which size of a gap specifically in 2021 helps me understand our priority for 2020.
Does GiveWell publish unfulfilled funding gaps of one the top charities from 2019 or a previous year? That would be a historical year of operation in which execution was constrained by funding. Seeing that would also help me understand the trend of consequence for a projected funding gap.
Glad it was helpful!
I understand why you’d be interested in such an analysis. We haven’t prioritized publishing an annual review looking back at our top charities’ unfilled funding needs, as we do not believe it would significantly improve our understanding of our top charities relative to our current practice. It is helpful to know this is something you would value.
We are in touch with our top charities about their evolving funding needs and priorities at several points throughout the year. In those conversations, we learn whether an organization did or did not expand into a geography that it told us it needed funding for. This is fairly easy to check!
If the organization didn’t expand to a geography that we expected it would have enough funding for, that might be because:
* it raised less funding from non-GiveWell sources than we expected,
* it faced logistical obstacles that were unrelated to funding, or
* its priorities changed.
If the organization did expand to geographies that we expected it would not have enough funding for, that might be because:
* it raised more from non-GiveWell sources than we expected,
* it faced non-funding bottlenecks in other geographies (thus freeing up funding for this geography), or
* its priorities changed.
We take this information into account as we make our quarterly “Maximum Impact Fund” allocations as well as publishing our year-end “room for more funding analysis” and qualitative assessment, which includes a consideration of how well the organization prioritizes its spending, for each of our top charities.
A very informative article. Thank you for sharing such an amazing information with us.
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