The GiveWell Blog

GiveWell from A to Z

To celebrate the end of 2023, we’re highlighting a few key things to know about GiveWell—from A to Z. These aren’t necessarily the 26 most important parts of our work (e.g., we could include only “transparency” or “top charities” for T) but they do fit the alphabet, and we’ve linked to other pages where you can learn more.

All Grants Fund. Our recommendation for donors who have a high level of trust in GiveWell and are open to programs that might be riskier than our top charities.

Bar. We set a cost-effectiveness bar, or threshold, such that we expect to be able to fully fund all the opportunities above that level of cost-effectiveness. This bar isn’t a hard limit; we consider qualitative factors in our recommendations, as discussed here. This post also discusses our bar in more detail.

Cost-effectiveness. The core question we try to answer in our research is: How much good can you do by giving money to a certain program? This blog post describes how we approach cost-effectiveness estimates and use them in our work.

Donors. Unlike a foundation, we don’t hold an endowment. Our impact comes from donors choosing to use our recommendations.

Effective giving organizations. Organizations like Effektiv Spenden fundraise for programs we recommend and provide tax-deductible donation options in a variety of countries. We’re grateful to these national effective giving organizations and groups like Giving What We Can that recommend our work.

Footnotes.1Our research materials wouldn’t be complete without footnotes; they support our commitment to transparency. Citing our sources and explaining our claims makes it possible for people to check our work for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

Generalizability. How well evidence generalizes to different settings, including variations in program implementation and the contexts where a program is delivered. Also called “external validity.”

Health workers and community distributors. The people who deliver many of the programs we support; includes both professional health workers and distributors who receive stipends to deliver programs in their local communities. For example, community distributors go from household to household to provide seasonal malaria chemoprevention to millions of children.

Incubating new programs. We partner with the Evidence Action Accelerator and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) Incubator to scope, pilot, and scale up promising cost-effective interventions.

Judgment calls. We aim to create estimates that represent our true beliefs. Our cost-effectiveness analyses are firmly rooted in evidence but also incorporate adjustments and intuitions that aren’t fully captured by scientific findings alone. More in this post.

Kangaroo mother care. A program to reduce neonatal mortality among low-birthweight babies through skin-to-skin contact to keep babies warm, breastfeeding instruction, home visits, and more.

Leverage. How our funding decisions affect other funders, either by crowding in additional funding (“leverage”) or by displacing funds that otherwise would have been used for a given program (“fungibility”).

Mistakes. Transparency is core to our work. Read here about mistakes we’ve made and lessons we’ve learned.

Nigeria. One of the countries where we most often fund work. (Our work is generally concentrated in Africa and South Asia.) New Incentives, one of our top charities, currently works exclusively in northern Nigeria, where low baseline vaccination rates make its work especially valuable.

Oral rehydration solution + zinc. A low-cost way to prevent and treat dehydration caused by diarrhea. We’ve been interested in ORS/zinc for a long time (going back to 2006!), and recently funded the CHAI Incubator to conduct a randomized controlled trial in Bauchi State, Nigeria, studying the extent to which preemptively distributing free ORS/zinc directly to households increases usage by children under five.

Plasmodium falciparum. The parasite that causes most lethal cases of malaria. Malaria prevention is one of our largest areas of work, receiving over 30% of the funding we directed in 2022.

Questions. In the spirit of truth-seeking (one of our core values), we ask difficult questions so we can make well-considered recommendations.

Randomized controlled trials. Studies that provide particularly strong causal evidence for the impact of a program. They underpin many of our recommendations, but we also consider other experimental or observational evidence, especially when RCTs aren’t feasible (more here).

SPAQ (sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine + amodiaquine). The medications used in seasonal malaria chemoprevention, which protects young children (who are most at risk) during the time of year when malaria is most common.

Top Charities Fund. Our recommendation for donors who want to give to the programs we have the highest confidence in.

Unrestricted fund. Our recommendation for donors who are open to supporting both GiveWell’s operating expenses and our recommended programs. If we raise more unrestricted funding than we need for our operating costs, we will grant out the excess.

Vitamin A supplementation. Twice-annual supplementation campaigns like those supported by Helen Keller International reduce the risk of death from infectious diseases for children with vitamin A deficiency.

Water chlorination. Programs like chlorine dispensers and in-line chlorination disinfect unsafe water, reducing diarrhea rates and preventing mortality.

X-cash. We use unconditional cash transfers as a benchmark for comparing opportunities, such that we estimate a program to be “12x cash” if we believe it’s 12 times more impactful per dollar than giving money directly to people living in poverty. In other words, if we estimate that a program is 12x cash, we think donating $100 to that program does as much good as donating $1,200 to a program that delivers unconditional cash transfers.

Y-RISE. One of several organizations we have funded to conduct new research on topics of importance to us. The Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE) identifies and tests promising health and livelihood interventions and researches the effects of scaling up programs.

Zero fees. Our operations are funded by donors who choose to support us through our Unrestricted Fund. 100% of all other donations (minus standard bank and credit card fees) will go to the fund or organization of your choice.

Notes

Notes
1 Our research materials wouldn’t be complete without footnotes; they support our commitment to transparency. Citing our sources and explaining our claims makes it possible for people to check our work for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

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