The GiveWell Blog

December 2020 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 2020 open thread here.


  • My wife and I just gave to GiveWell for the first time this year. It was a small donation, but we were doing our research and testing the waters. It is our intention to give a percentage of our 2020 donations to GiveWell. I just wanted to say thank you for all the hard work. It feels impossible to navigate the water of charities, and GiveWell (at least for now) doesn’t seem to raise any red flags.

    Likewise, it is also feels impossible to express deep emotion through a keyboard. After seeing Kevin Carter’s “The Struggling Girl” photo and reading his last words, my ability to empathize was overloaded. I broke down to tears, and set out to find meaningful ways to help.

    Thank you for the ability to do something effective with the blessings my family has been given.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 18, 2020 at 11:37 am said:

    Dear anon,

    Thank you so much for your kind words! We really appreciate your support. Thank you.

  • Oscar Delaney on December 18, 2020 at 8:31 pm said:

    As many of us in EA consider the merits and costs of patient philanthropy, I think it would be helpful to get some info from GiveWell. Do you expect the real dollar price of a unit of moral value (eg an under-5 life saved) to change much over the next decade, or another timescale you prefer? My intuition would be that as extreme absolute poverty decreases and philanthropic dollars swell, it should become increasingly difficult to find incredibly good giving opportunities on the margin. However, I haven’t seen this borne out in the few years I have known about GiveWell, so it would be great to hear your thoughts, while acknowledging predicting the future is inherently speculative.
    If over GiveWell’s lifespan the price of saving a life hasn’t increased in real terms, perhaps that would provide support for the idea of investing money and giving later. Intuitively, though, I don’t like the idea as it seems callous to present suffering.

  • I’d like to know more of your thoughts on the “Crowding out other motivations for vaccinating children” risk of New Incentives’ CCT program. As soon as I saw this program recommended on GiveWell, I thought of the study that found that a tardiness fine at daycares caused tardiness to increase rather than decrease. I’ve heard similar concerns raised about parents paying children for good grades (it might reduce the intrinsic motivation to learn). I would love to donate to a vaccination program, but I see this incentive issue as a serious risk of a program like New Incentives’. Do you have plans to examine this consideration in more detail?

  • Ethan Kennerly on December 21, 2020 at 8:40 pm said:

    Hello charity evaluator expert,

    Is GiveWell aware of an experiment or quasi-experiment to measure the leverage of any charity evaluator for charities that GiveWell would consider as standout charities?

    Today my mentor sent me an article from Vox that praised GiveWell. The author also suggested considering donating to GiveWell or another effective charity evaluator. This year, GiveWell has educated me on at least two dozen charities, a dozen topics, and meticulous methods for analyzing the marginal impact of a dollar donated.

    This is probably something might not be studied until years later than 2020, yet the Vox article reminded me to ask a question I had been interested in since I saw some charity evaluator’s claim that they were leveraging donations.

    I can vaguely imagine how to conduct such an experiment, yet I recognize an experiment on donations to a charity evaluator is not be a priority compared to experiments on donations to charities themselves.


  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 23, 2020 at 5:04 pm said:

    Hi Oscar,

    Thanks for your question! We recently estimated how room for more funding and cost-effectiveness would change in the future. We aimed to inform the question: how should a donor choose between giving now and saving to give later? We researched this question by conducting shallow case studies of changes in the cost-effectiveness and room for more funding of ~10 health programs between 2000 and 2020, and we projected those changes (along with other basic adjustments) into the future.

    Our analysis was consistent with our existing view that giving opportunities are getting worse over time. However, we note that trading off charitable giving today vs. the future requires considering a wider range of parameters beyond how giving opportunities are changing over time (e.g., asset returns). It is likely we will do additional work on this question going forward.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 23, 2020 at 5:05 pm said:

    Hi Connor,

    Thanks for your question! It sounds like you’ve seen our thoughts on this factor here. As we note there, we think it is unlikely that this would significantly offset the benefits of New Incentives, but that we have to date spent limited time examining this. We’ve spoken with a few experts on this topic but are unsure if we’re going to do additional research on this going forward.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 23, 2020 at 5:07 pm said:

    Hi Ethan,

    Thanks for your question! To confirm: are you looking for an analysis of the cost-effectiveness of donating to GiveWell or other organizations that recommend giving opportunities?

    We think it would be difficult to calculate this figure with a comparable degree of confidence as our cost-effectiveness estimates for our top charities (which also involve uncertainty). Influence-oriented activities, such as encouraging people to donate, are particularly challenging to measure and attribute.

  • Oscar Delaney on December 23, 2020 at 11:15 pm said:

    Hi Catherine, thanks for your response. I like that GiveWell is very open with its research and analysis (the CEA spreadsheet, for instance) so I’m a bit surprised I haven’t seen this analysis of two decades of giving opportunities. I’d be excited to read it! Am I missing it somewhere, or is it yet to be finalised and published, or are you planning to keep it just in-house?
    On a separate topic: like you, I am generally sceptical of the additionality of donation matching schemes and so tend not to use them, instead donating directly to GiveWell or GiveWell-recommended charities. However, here are two interesting specific examples I’d appreciate your thoughts on:
    What do you think of Harvard psychologists’ initiative Giving Multiplier? It seems to me that it is a decent idea to provide matching funds in this case, as I am pretty convinced by their reasoning that it will lead to overall more money going to the highly effective charities. Perhaps we are just preying on other people’s irrational instincts though by using Giving Multiplier (as if someone really valued a less-effective charity a lot, they would probably be better off just donating to it directly), not sure how morally problematic this is though.
    What about Double Up Drive? It seems like a nice idea, but probably roughly equal value to donating directly to GiveWell given that matching money would very likely be donated to highly effective charities anyway.
    I’m also interested to hear where your podcast advertising matching scheme is up to (I have heard the ads on a few podcasts I listen to!), are the results in yet on how effective each podcast was for getting new donors? Also, are you looking for more people to provide matching funds, and if so what is the minimum amount to be logistically worthwhile?

  • Tom Delaney on December 24, 2020 at 4:05 am said:

    Hello everyone,
    I work in several urban poor communities of Lucknow, India; primarily helping people on educational and healthcare issues. Over the past year, I’ve also been involved in helping people get gas connections (by subsidising half the upfront cost, which is often the inhibiting factor). The transition from cooking with wood to gas seems like a nice triple win: lower carbon emissions, lower fuel costs, reduced smoke. Recently I tried to crunch the numbers as best I could, and it turned out to be a seemingly great intervention, on a par with or better than top GiveWell charities. I wanted to share my back-of-the-envelope assumptions and calculations in a google sheet (, as I’d like your input on whether these seem in the ballpark.
    A brief summary:
    Economics: Typical families cooking with wood spend around Rs 30 per day; whereas gas costs work out to about half this. This translates to a saving of around Rs 5,000 per year – USD 70, a large sum considering the meagre income of these families, and that the upfront cost of a gas connection is only Rs 3,200.
    Climate: Based on my survey, typical families are using around 4kg wood per day; releasing about 2 tonnes CO2e per year; whereas families using gas consume on average 0.3 kg per day; releasing 0.5 tonnes CO2e per year (Ref: This translates to a saving of 1.5 tonnes CO2e. Calculating over 3 years (my guesstimate of background rate of transition to gas) and dividing by the Rs 1,600 (USD 22) subsidy I give, this corresponds to about USD 6/tonne CO2e saved.
    Health: About 0.5 million Indians die each year due to indoor air pollution, which is largely caused by inefficient wood stoves ( With a few guesstimates, this translates to 0.025 DALYs lost per person per year of exposure to wood smoke (ie 40 years of exposure knocks off 1 year of life). Again assuming a 3 year timeframe and 5 people per household, this translates to 0.35 DALYs saved per connection gained; or about USD 60/DALY.
    If my calculations are in the ballpark, then this fairly simple intervention gives an astonishingly good return. Hence I’m interested in your thoughts on whether this cost-effectiveness analysis seems reasonable, and what factors I’m missing.

  • Ethan Kennerly on December 25, 2020 at 9:58 pm said:

    To confirm: are you looking for an analysis of the cost-effectiveness of donating to GiveWell or other organizations that recommend giving opportunities?


    Thank you for the considerate reply.

    Yes. I see how the general question of influence might remain expensive forever. As a simpler curiosity, I would welcome citations to any specific marketing campaign A/B test results from a charity evaluator or aggregator. In an A/B test (or RCT) two or more variants of a common campaign are compared.


  • Catherine (GiveWell) on January 4, 2021 at 5:37 pm said:

    Hi Oscar,

    Thanks for your questions! You’re correct that we haven’t published our giving now vs. later analysis yet, though we think it is likely that we will in the future, and that we will do additional analysis on this topic.

    We have written about our latest views on donation matching here. We’re still assessing the impact of our year-end matching campaigns for 2020, including podcast matching, and determining our outreach and marketing plans for 2021, including whether to run additional matching campaigns. No update on that quite yet as it’s early in the year—but we appreciate your question about finding additional support for that work if we do more in the future!

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on January 4, 2021 at 5:39 pm said:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your question! We looked into the evidence for clean cookstoves, including gas stoves, in 2019 and published an initial report here.

  • ANGELO TOMEDI on January 14, 2021 at 2:21 pm said:

    I have a question/comment regarding the cost-effectiveness analysis for AMF, which seems to be based on the Cochrane review’s results for mortality benefit for children under five. I am puzzled as to why you did not also include the results of the Gamble Cochrane review (“Insecticide-treated nets for preventing malaria in pregnancy”) that showed that ITNs improve pregnancy outcome, specifically fetal loss. I would think that preventing stillbirths would be a very important benefit from ITN distribution and should be considered in the benefit column of the cost-benefit analysis.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on January 14, 2021 at 4:55 pm said:

    Hi Angelo,

    Thanks for reaching out!

    You’re right that our model focuses on the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)’s impact on child mortality, adult mortality, and on its potential developmental effects. We focus on modeling a few key outcomes in our cost-effectiveness analysis to reduce the likelihood of error and to make working with the model more tractable.

    However, we agree with you that AMF has other potential benefits, including averting stillbirths. We account for these by applying more informal adjustments to our final modeled cost-effectiveness estimate. In the case of preventing stillbirths, we apply a positive adjustment of 9%. You can see this in cell B182 in the “AMF” tab of our model.

    We discuss why we focus on modeling key outcomes, rather than all potential outcomes, in more detail in this blog post, in the section titled “Why did GiveWell’s analysis of spillovers focus on effects on consumption? Does this imply that GiveWell does not value effects on other outcomes?”

    We also briefly discuss the Gamble Cochrane review in our review of the evidence for mass distribution of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets:

    “Gamble et al. (2006) focused on the effects on pregnant women; it examined fewer studies than Lengeler (2004a) (6 vs. 22). It connected ITNs with statistically significant reductions in the risk of low birthweight and fetal loss (only in women with four or fewer previous pregnancies) and in placental malaria (overall), but not in anemia/haemoglobin measures.

    “We focus here on Lengeler (2004a) because (a) it reviewed more studies; (b) it had a general-population focus and was thus more in line with the programs we seek to evaluate and the effects we seek to assess (particularly the effects on mortality).”

    I hope this answers your question. Thanks again for reaching out!

  • Hi all,

    Do you connect donors with the charity they give to when a donation to a specific charity is made?

    There is important work to be done in transparency and accountability to be sure, but I have concerns that you may be acting as gatekeepers rather than facilitators and cutting charities feet out from under them if they can’t cultivate these groups of donors. Any business that didn’t own its own customers would be disadvantaged, no?

    Is this something you have considered and what is your position on it?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on February 17, 2021 at 1:54 pm said:

    Hi Kelsey,

    Thanks for your question! We ultimately leave this up to donors, depending on how they prefer to make their donations (to GiveWell for the support of our recommended charities, or to our recommended charities directly) and whether they indicate that they would like their information to be shared with our recommended charities (if donating to GiveWell) or with GiveWell (if donating to our recommended charities).

    When a donor donates to GiveWell in support of one of our recommended charities, they can select an option to: “Share my name and contact info with the charities I support, so that they can email me.” (This on our donate page, as well as the forms for individuals giving via checks, bank transfers, and securities.) You can read more about why we collect donations on behalf of our recommended charities here.

    Donors may also choose to support our recommended charities directly. We ask that they let us know if they do so that we can track how much impact we’re having. We also understand that donors do not always choose the option to let us know, and so we do not always learn of support that was due to our research nor have the ability to contact these individuals.

    We agree that there are downsides to not being able to communicate with the audience using your work. We also believe there are upsides for donors in choosing how they are contacted and by whom. We are excited to connect with donors who are open to being contacted by us and we imagine that our recommended charities are, too!

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