The GiveWell Blog

Changes to our top charity criteria, and a new giving option

Added October 2022: From 2020 to 2022 we used the name “Maximum Impact Fund” to refer to the fund used to support the highest-priority funding needs among our top charities each quarter. In September 2022, we changed the name of this fund to the “Top Charities Fund” to better describe what opportunities this fund supports; more information here.

Since 2007, GiveWell has maintained a list of top charities. The organizations and programs on that list have changed over time, but the goal has remained the same: to help donors decide where to give.

In service of that goal, we’ve spent roughly the last year working on a plan to add to and update our criteria for top charities, so that they accurately reflect our prioritization of funding opportunities and are more helpful to donors. The revised criteria emphasize programs from which we expect high impact, with the additional requirement that we have a high degree of confidence in our expectation.

We hope these changes will also draw a brighter line for donors between our top charities and other excellent funding opportunities we support, a distinction that we haven’t always made clear. Recognizing that some donors want to contribute to grants outside our top charities list, we’re also introducing a new giving option: the All Grants Fund. Providing this option as a complement to the Maximum Impact Fund is an important step as grants to programs outside our top charities become a bigger part of our work.

In this post, we will:

  • Explain why we are making these changes
  • Share our updated criteria and our updated top charities list
  • Explain how these changes affect donors’ giving options

Why we’re revising our top charity criteria

Our top charities list—and by association the Maximum Impact Fund—is often the first thing that people encounter when they’re introduced to GiveWell. We want it to be easy to understand why these programs are on our list.

Additionally, our top charity programs should reflect the kinds of giving opportunities that people are seeking from such a list. After soliciting feedback, we believe that most donors are looking for opportunities that are both high-impact (i.e., GiveWell expects donations will do a lot of good per dollar) and high-confidence (i.e., GiveWell is relatively sure that that expectation will bear out).[1]

By adding criteria that are more specific, we also hope to establish clearer guidance on when programs should be added or removed.

Our revised criteria

Previously, we listed four criteria for top charities: evidence of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, room for more funding, and transparency. These continue to be the criteria we’ll use to evaluate funding opportunities, but they no longer fully describe the few programs that we consider top charities. Those programs will meet the following additional, more precise criteria:

  • We’ve directed a significant amount of money to this program and seen it operate effectively at scale. A program meets this criterion if:
    • We’ve directed a single grant to it of at least $10 million or multiple grants totaling at least $20 million, and
    • We’ve supported the program as carried out by the implementing organization for at least one year.

It’s a good sign of our confidence if a program fulfills these two requirements. If we’ve provided significant, sustained support, that means we’ve already analyzed it thoroughly and judged it likely to clear our bar for funding. And if we’ve supported it for a year or more, it’s less likely (though possible) that we’ll receive information that would dramatically update our cost-effectiveness analysis.

  • We think there’s a high likelihood of significant impact from funding this program (as opposed to lower likelihood of enormous impact). The goal is to move grants with higher risk profiles into our other portfolio of grantmaking. For example, we fund public health advocacy because the potential benefit is so large that these grants have high expected value––even though there is a chance they do not have a significant impact. We feel that these programs are better suited to our other grantmaking (including the All Grants Fund) rather than top charities and the Maximum Impact Fund.
  • Typically, the overwhelming case for funding rests on the direct impact of a grant, not on the value of information we might gather through it. We don’t want to make grants from the Maximum Impact Fund when the case for support primarily focuses on generating valuable information to inform future grantmaking. For example, we recently made a grant to Precision Development to scope and plan an impact evaluation of its agriculture program in order to inform future grants we may make to it. While a good grant in expected value terms, it has not led us to make this program a top charity—we think the primary benefit of grants made through the Maximum Impact Fund should be directly producing outsized impact in the lives of others.
  • The program has funding gaps that meet our current cost-effectiveness bar. This is a check that there are specific opportunities within the program where we believe our funding will be deployed cost-effectively.

We describe the purpose of these additional criteria and how we will test for them on this page.

In accordance with the updated criteria, our top charities will be (in alphabetical order):

This update does not reflect any change in our thinking about the programs that do not meet the new criteria, and it will not impact our overall grantmaking priorities. Past top charity programs remain eligible for GiveWell grantmaking from the All Grants Fund and other sources of funding apart from the Maximum Impact Fund (which is restricted to top charities).

What this means for donors

The Maximum Impact Fund is our top recommendation for donors who want to be confident that their gift will have a strong impact. But we recognize that some donors have priorities or interests that may diverge from our top charities list.

The new giving option we’re introducing—the All Grants Fund—is for donors who want to support high-expected-value opportunities that we’re less sure about than our top charities. To be clear, these funds may also be allocated to top charities—they can be used for any grant that meets our cost-effectiveness bar (10x cash, as of this writing).

Recommending grants to non-top charity programs isn’t new to us,[2] but this area of our work has grown significantly in recent years. In 2021, we directed about $190 million in non-top charity grants (a little more than one-third of our total grant spending)[3] to a wide variety of programs, including lead exposure mitigation, tuberculosis treatment and prevention, and iron fortification. Some of the funding gaps we’re exploring in this category appear to be well above our cost-effectiveness bar, and in some cases may be meaningfully more cost-effective in expectation than some of our top charities. For example, we’ve recommended a grant to expand Evidence Action’s maternal syphilis screening and treatment program (write-up forthcoming) that we estimate could be around 35x cash.[4]

We’re excited by the success we’ve had so far in this area of our grantmaking, and invite like-minded donors to consider a gift to the All Grants Fund. You can read more about all the options available to GiveWell donors on our “Guide to GiveWell’s Giving Recommendations” page.

Frequently asked questions

What does this mean for your views on deworming programs and GiveDirectly?

Our views on GiveDirectly and the four deworming programs previously on our top charity list—The END Fund’s deworming program, Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative, SCI Foundation, and Sightsavers’ deworming program—have not changed. We continue to see these as exceptionally strong programs; however, they do not fulfill the new criteria we’re introducing.

Deworming. We have always supported deworming because we estimate it to be highly cost-effective—deworming programs are very inexpensive, and we think there’s a small chance they may lead to large income gains later in life. But we’re more uncertain about deworming than we are about our current top charities, so deworming doesn’t fulfill the second criterion on our list—a high likelihood of substantial impact. However, we expect to continue supporting deworming through grants from our All Grants Fund, as there continue to be funding opportunities in deworming that exceed our cost-effectiveness threshold, and we encourage donors who have supported individual deworming programs in the past to keep doing so (see links below).

GiveDirectly. We estimate that the funding gaps at our top charities are currently 10x as cost-effective as GiveDirectly’s cash transfer program, which we use as a benchmark. Accordingly, we haven’t directed marginal funding to GiveDirectly since 2015 (other than incentive grants), and GiveDirectly doesn’t fulfill the fourth criterion on the list above—having funding gaps that meet our cost-effectiveness bar (currently 10x cash)—even though we consider it an outstanding program.

We’re continuing to research GiveDirectly’s program, with a focus on whether there might be positive spillover effects into areas adjacent to where cash transfers are received that could increase our estimate of its cost-effectiveness. Additional investigation could substantially update our modeling of cash transfers.[5] If additional research leads us to believe GiveDirectly is similarly cost-effective to the marginal dollar we’d direct, we’d expect to consider it for future grants.

How can I continue supporting deworming programs or GiveDirectly?

Going forward, we will no longer accept donations on behalf of GiveDirectly and the four deworming programs previously on our top charity list. If you have an open recurring donation through GiveWell to one or more of these organizations, we’ll be contacting you shortly about your options for updating your gifts.

If you’d like to donate directly to these programs, you can do so through the links below. Please follow the instructions on each organization’s website or contact it directly for tax deductibility information in your country.

We’ve been in frequent communication about this transition with the above organizations, and we aim to assist GiveWell donors who support them in continuing to do so if they wish. If you have any questions about giving options for these programs, email us; we’ll be happy to connect you with these programs if we can’t help you ourselves.

How does funging affect my donation to the Maximum Impact Fund or All Grants Fund?

Your donation to GiveWell will support the fund or program of your choice, subject to our grant approval process. Donations you make to the Maximum Impact Fund will be allocated to the highest-priority funding gap among our top charities; donations to the All Grants Fund may be allocated to any opportunity, whether top charity or non-top charity, that we’ve decided to fund.

However, the true impact of your donation may be felt elsewhere, because it will affect how we decide to allocate other gifts from other donors. We call this funging (from “fungibility”). When you donate to the Maximum Impact Fund, you increase the pool of funding we have available to support top charities, which might mean that we end up allocating more of our flexible funding (such as the All Grants Fund) to non-top charity funding gaps.

Does this update make GiveWell too heavily invested in just a few interventions?

Our top charities list has always been limited to the small number of programs that met our rigorous criteria, and these changes will further narrow that list. We think this reflects our belief, laid out above, that the “top charity” label should be applied only to programs for which we believe there is a high likelihood that funding we direct will have a positive, highly cost-effective impact. We also know that, notwithstanding our heavy investment to date in our top charities’ focus areas, there’s still a lot of work to do in a world where over half a million people die from malaria each year,[6] and where we expect that a child’s life can be saved for a mere $3,500[7] spent on vitamin A supplementation.

Despite a shorter list of top charities, the range of programs we’re funding overall has grown. We’re investigating as many new interventions as we reasonably can (and we want to hire more research talent so we can do even more). We have around 350 programs in our new interventions pipeline right now, and active investigations open for about 60 of them; we think about 15 of those active investigations could result in grants. While it’s likely that most of these programs will never become top charities, we’re open to funding any opportunity that meets our cost-effectiveness bar and helps us achieve our mission of improving health and well-being for the poorest people in the world.

If you’d like to support grants we make to new interventions, we encourage you to donate to our new All Grants Fund. You can learn about other options for supporting GiveWell’s work on this page.


  • Brian Valerie on August 17, 2022 at 3:00 pm said:

    I no doubt speak for many donors who would like to support programs that improve the quality of lives (blindness, parasites, etc.) even though they don’t actually save lives. Thank you.

  • Barry L. on August 17, 2022 at 3:04 pm said:

    I saw the comment on fungibility, but that not withstanding, is there an option to donate to the ‘outer tier’ of opportunities in a way that excludes the Maximum Impact Fund if we wish to focus our giving on identifying new opportunities for cost-effective giving?

  • The massive potential of this organization is only matched by its unparalleled inability to evolve and think outside the box. This is why your “Maximum Impact Fund” is now reduced to four organizations with an exceedingly narrow scope.

  • Unpopular Opinion on August 17, 2022 at 6:06 pm said:

    If GiveWell cannot find any new interventions that it deems effective, anywhere in the world, what is the value of GiveWell’s research?

  • Miranda Kaplan on August 18, 2022 at 8:19 am said:

    Hi, Barry,

    Right now we don’t have an option for most donors to target their gift only at non–top charity grants. Donating to the All Grants Fund means that your gift could support one of these grants, but because we expect about three-quarters of our grant funding this year to go toward top charities, the more likely outcome is that it will be used to support top charity programs.

    But if you want to support our researchers’ efforts at finding new cost-effective programs, you could consider donating to GiveWell unrestricted. Unrestricted gifts are almost always used to fund our operations, including recruiting and paying more research staff, and we think building our research capacity will be key to expanding our grantmaking into new areas. We appreciate your support!

    You can read more about all the different options to give through GiveWell here.


  • Lisa Rachelle on August 18, 2022 at 2:20 pm said:

    How diverse do you expect the new All Grants Fund to be?

    Given that you mentioned in a previous comment that you expect three quarters of that fund to be allocated to top charities, I’m wondering how many grants you expect to make from the other quarter. And do you expect there may be more movement/innovation in that part of your overall portfolio?

  • Alex A on August 19, 2022 at 9:14 am said:

    I think it is long overdue that GiveWell does not rate the various deworming programs as top charities. Since the #wormwars of 2015, it has been clear that the single piece of research evidence for these hypothetical “large income gains in later life” is, at best, dubious. Various trials, Cochrane and Campbell reviews since that time have only added to the evidence against the likelihood of these existing.

    Kudos to GiveWell for finally having the cojones to change your mind about what is good evidence of impact.

  • Miranda Kaplan on August 19, 2022 at 7:55 pm said:

    Hi, Alex,

    To clarify, we haven’t actually changed our mind about the evidence on deworming—we’ve changed our criteria for top charities. We still see deworming as an excellent program, and we still want to fill cost-effective funding gaps for deworming.

    Our views on deworming remain the same as what’s laid out in our report: deworming is a very low-cost intervention with high expected value, but our certainty about it is lower than for our current top charities. So it doesn’t meet the second criterion for top charities that we’ve recently added (a high likelihood of substantial impact, as opposed to lower likelihood of enormous impact). That’s why we now plan to support deworming from pots of funding that aren’t reserved for top charities.

    I hope that’s helpful—thanks for your engagement!


  • Miranda Kaplan on August 25, 2022 at 2:03 pm said:

    Hi, Lisa,

    Apologies for the delay in responding! It’s a little hard to say how diverse grants from the All Grants Fund will be in the future. The range of programs we fund from All Grants will ultimately depend on many factors, including how popular this giving option is with donors, how many grant opportunities we end up identifying that clear our cost-effectiveness bar, and how large those grant opportunities are. Though we expect a lot of our All Grants funding will still go to top charity programs, we do see a lot of potential for growth and diversification in our pipeline of ~350 new-to-us interventions (of which we’re actively investigating about 60).

    In 2022 so far, we’ve recommended grants for in-line water chlorination in Malawi (up to $5.5 million), maternal syphilis screening and treatment in Zambia and Cameroon ($15 million), a program by the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) to incubate and test cost-effective health programs ($10.4 million), and Bridges to Prosperity‘s rural trailbridge program ($3.4 million), among others. (We’re still in the process of writing grant pages for these.) Some of these grants reflect continuing investigation in areas we’d funded previously, like maternal syphilis; others we’re brand-new to funding.

    And we’re currently exploring funding a wide range of other programs, including various interventions to improve maternal and neonatal health, such as kangaroo mother care; multi-micronutrient supplementation during pregnancy to improve birth outcomes; different programs promoting water treatment, such as supplying vouchers that participants can exchange for chlorine to treat their own water; and intermittent preventive treatment in infants (IPTi) for malaria.

    These investigations are all in different stages of advancement and at different levels of promisingness, and we can’t say yet how likely we are to make grants in any of these areas. Because we expect to be funding-constrained this year, we’re also prioritizing decisions about the highest-impact and most time-sensitive grants we’ve identified, and shifting some less time-sensitive grant decisions toward the end of the year, so we can assess them when we have a better sense of our available funding.

    A couple of other final points:

    One, several of the new intervention grants we’ve funded recently are research, scoping, or piloting grants that we’re making so we can learn more about programs in the hope of making more grants later. (One recent example is a grant to Precision Development to scope and plan an impact evaluation of its agricultural program.) We think this could increase the diversity of our grants portfolio by helping us make decisions about programs we’re currently less familiar with than our top charities.

    Two, the grant we’ve recommended to CHAI described above, and a similar grant to Evidence Action for incubating new programs, could potentially also lead to greater diversity—we’re funding these organizations in part to identify programs that seem promisingly cost-effective, but that we don’t have the capacity to fully explore ourselves.

    I hope that’s helpful!


  • Terry W. Donnelly on August 26, 2022 at 2:52 pm said:

    How can I direct some of my contributions to help the people of Ukraine ?

  • Miranda Kaplan on August 29, 2022 at 8:59 am said:

    Hi, Terry,

    We certainly sympathize with the desire to help Ukrainians in need. GiveWell’s focus remains, as ever, on finding the most cost-effective ways to save and improve lives on a daily, ongoing, longer-term basis. We generally don’t investigate giving opportunities related to humanitarian crises, such as war and natural disasters, so we unfortunately don’t have specific recommendations for giving to help relief efforts in Ukraine.

    That said, we have written about giving during a crisis in the past. That blog post isn’t strictly relevant to the situation in Ukraine, but you may find some of the content helpful as you vet options for support (or for further clarification of our views on giving to disaster relief in general).

    I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful!


  • Damian Kemp on November 14, 2022 at 6:22 pm said:

    To get back to what Brian Valerie said earlier, I am personally more interested in improving quality of life in an ongoing sense (preventing blindness, etc) than in saving the lives of infants. It seems that your calculations may currently value lifesaving medication for infants very highly, since it technically results in many years of healthy life, as per the metrics described here:

    However, maximizing potential healthy human life years could also be achieved by supporting programs working to block access to contraceptives, so that there are more humans. I am not convinced this metric (as currently defined) is ultimately that meaningful. Is there an effort underway to develop a more nuanced calculation of these “moral weights”? I understand this is a Larger Question, but it seems extremely relevant.

    Thank you!

  • Miranda Kaplan on December 1, 2022 at 5:15 pm said:

    Hi, Damian,

    Thank you for your engagement, and apologies for the slowness of this response!

    We’ve updated our moral weights since the 2017 blog post you cite, incorporating results of a survey of people in Ghana and Kenya who are demographically similar to those served by programs we fund (informally called the “beneficiary preferences” survey). You can find the summary of our 2020 moral weights here (and further explanation in that same doc). The results of the beneficiary preferences survey suggested that overall, respondents favored saving lives over increasing income. This led us to update our moral weights in two important ways: we now value averting a death more highly compared to increasing income, and we value averting the death of a young child more highly than averting the death of an adult or older child. Life-saving programs, such as our current top charities, began to look more cost-effective as a result.

    But because we aim for a holistic evaluation of all of a program’s benefits and downsides, deaths averted is not the only benefit we include in our cost-effectiveness analyses. We also include a program’s immediate impact on income, or effects on children’s future income/consumption (“development effects”), which is why we continue to direct grants to income-increasing programs. Recent examples include grants to Bridges to Prosperity and Precision Development, and we expect to continue to support cost-effective opportunities in deworming—these grants will simply come from different pots of funding not earmarked for top charities.

    And even though the primary benefit we model from our top charities is saving lives, these programs tend to also yield life-improving benefits. Those can be income-raising benefits, such as development effects, savings on medical costs, and (in the case of New Incentives) immediate increases in consumption due to the value of the cash transfers. We also factor in benefits of reductions in morbidity or improved health, such as vision benefits through Helen Keller’s vitamin A supplementation program, or reduced anemia through seasonal malaria chemoprevention. We explicitly model some of these benefits (see, e.g., here) and factor others in under “supplemental adjustments” (e.g., here).

    We know that some people might have different values that lead them to prioritize life-improving programs, and we encourage those who are interested to make a copy of our cost-effectiveness analysis and insert their own moral weights to see how that changes the outcomes. We also acknowledge that our approach to developing our moral weights, including the 2019 beneficiary preferences survey and how we chose to weight those responses versus other groups’ responses, has some significant limitations; we discuss some of the challenges of this project here. We hope to make more progress on improving our moral weights when we have sufficient research team capacity to do so.

    With regard to your thought about maximizing life years, we have moral weights for averting mortality and morbidity, but not simply for creating more life, and we don’t expect to incorporate a value for that into our moral weights structure any time soon.

    I hope that’s helpful!


  • Damian Kemp on December 2, 2022 at 11:15 pm said:

    “With regard to your thought about maximizing life years, we have moral weights for averting mortality and morbidity, but not simply for creating more life…”

    Good haha I was not literally advocating this, or under the impression that this was an element of GiveWell’s calculations, just making a point (maybe more snarkily than necessary).

    I really appreciate this response, thank you Miranda! This is great information, and it’s wonderful to see these moral weights laid out next to each other, in particular for morbidity, which was my main concern. It’s also great to hear about the beneficiary preferences survey, although I admit the phrasing is still concerning – the reduction of morbidity to “income” makes it hard to weigh against “loss of life”, and I’m not sure I’d trust the results of a survey that phrased debilitating conditions like blindness in such a reductive way. But it’s truly heartening that such a survey exists at all, and it’s great to see all the work going into these deeper questions, and into building nuance for these moral weights!

    This is very helpful! Thank you for everything you do!

Comments are closed.