The GiveWell Blog

How GiveWell’s research is evolving

To date, most of GiveWell’s research capacity has focused on finding the most impactful programs among those whose results can be rigorously measured. This work has led us to recommend, and direct several hundred million dollars to, charities improving health, saving lives, and increasing income in low-income countries.

One of the most important reasons we have focused on programs where robust measurement is possible is because this approach largely does not rely on subject-matter expertise. When Holden and I started GiveWell, neither of us had any experience in philanthropy, so we looked for charities that we could evaluate through data and evidence that we could analyze, to make recommendations that we could fully explain. This led us to focus on organizations that had impacts that were relatively easy to measure.

The output of this process is reflected in our current top charities and the programs they run, which are analyzed in our intervention reports.

GiveWell has now been doing research to find the best giving opportunities in global health and development for 11 years, and we plan to increase the scope of giving opportunities we consider. We plan to expand our research team and scope in order to determine whether there are giving opportunities in global health and development that are more cost-effective than those we have identified to date.

We expect this expansion of our work to take us in a number of new directions, some of which we have begun to explore over the past few years. We have considered, in a few cases, the impact our top and standout charities have through providing technical assistance (for example, Deworm the World and Project Healthy Children), supported work to change government policies through our Incubation Grants program (for example, grants to the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention and Innovation in Government Initiative), and begun to explore areas like tobacco policy and lead paint elimination.

Over the next several years, we plan to consider everything that we believe could be among the most cost-effective (broadly defined) giving opportunities in global health and development. This includes more comprehensively reviewing direct interventions in sectors where impacts are more difficult to measure, investigating opportunities to influence government policy, as well as other areas.

Making progress in areas where it is harder to determine causality will be challenging. In my opinion, we are excellent evaluators of empirical research, but we have yet to demonstrate the ability to make good judgments about giving opportunities when less empirical information is available. Our values, intellectual framework, culture, and the quality of our staff make me optimistic about our chances, but all of us at GiveWell recognize the difficulty of the project we are embarking on.

Our staff does not currently have the capacity or the capabilities to make enough progress in this direction, so we are planning to significantly increase the size of our staff. We have a research team of ten people, and we are planning to more than double in size over the next three years. We are planning to add some junior staff but are primarily aiming to hire people with relevant experience who can contribute as researchers and/or managers on our team.

GiveWell’s top charities list is not going to change dramatically in the near future, and it may always include the charities we recommend today. Our top charities achieve outstanding, cost-effective results, and we believe they are some of the best giving opportunities in global health and development. We expect to conclude that many of the opportunities we consider in areas that are new for us are less cost-effective than those we currently recommend, but we also think it is possible that we will identify some opportunities that are much more cost-effective. We believe it is worth a major effort to find out.

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GiveWell’s money moved and web traffic in 2017

GiveWell is dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of our analysis. In addition to evaluations of other charities, we publish substantial evaluation of our own work. This post lays out highlights from our 2017 metrics report, which reviews what we know about how our research impacted donors. Please note:

  • We report on “metrics years” that run from February through January; for example, our 2017 data cover February 1, 2017 through January 31, 2018.
  • We differentiate between our traditional charity recommendations and the work of the Open Philanthropy Project, which became a separate organization in 2017 and whose work we exclude from this report.
  • More context on the relationships between GiveWell, Good Ventures, and the Open Philanthropy Project can be found here.

Summary of influence: In 2017, GiveWell influenced charitable giving in several ways. The following table summarizes our understanding of this influence.

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GiveWell’s outreach and operations: 2017 review and 2018 plans

This is the third of three posts that form our annual review and plan for the following year. The first two posts covered GiveWell’s progress and plans on research. This post reviews and evaluates GiveWell’s progress last year in outreach and operations and sketches out some high-level goals for the current year. A separate post will look at metrics on our influence on donations in 2017. We aim to release our metrics on our influence on donations in 2017 by the end of June 2018.

Summary

Outreach: Before 2017, outreach wasn’t a major organizational priority at GiveWell (more in this 2014 blog post). In our plans for 2017, we wrote that we planned to put more emphasis on outreach, but were at the early stages of thinking through what that might involve. In the second half of 2017, we experimented with a number of different approaches to outreach (more on the results below). In 2018, we plan to increase the resources we devote to outreach primarily by hiring a Head of Growth and adding staff to improve our post-donation follow-up with donors.

Operations: In 2017, we completed the separation of GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project and increased our operations capacity with three new hires. In 2018, our top priorities are to hire a new Director of Operations (which we have now done), maintain our critical functions, and prepare our systems for increased growth in outreach.

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Review of our research in 2017

This is the first of three posts that form our annual review and plan for the following year. This post reviews and evaluates last year’s progress on our work of finding and recommending evidence-based, thoroughly-vetted charities that serve the global poor. The following two posts will cover (i) our plans for GiveWell’s research in 2018 and (ii) GiveWell’s progress and plans as an organization. We aim to release our metrics on our influence on donations in 2017 by the end of June 2018.

Summary

We believe that 2017 was a successful year for GiveWell’s research. We met our five primary goals for the year, as articulated in our plan post from the beginning of the year:

Our primary research goals for 2017 are to:

  1. Speed up our output of new intervention assessments, by hiring a Senior Fellow and by improving our process for reviewing interventions at a shallow level.
  2. Increase the number of promising charities that apply for our recommendation. Alternatively, we may learn why we have relatively few strong applicants and decide whether to change our process as a result. Research Analyst Chelsea Tabart will spend most of her time on this project.
  3. Through GiveWell Incubation Grants, fund projects that may lead to more top charity contenders in the future and consider grantees No Lean Season and Zusha! as potential 2017 top charities.
  4. Further improve the robustness and usability of our cost-effectiveness model.
  5. Improve our process for following the progress of current top charities to reduce staff time, while maintaining quality. We also have some specific goals (discussed below) with respect to answering open questions about current top charities.

We achieved our five primary goals for the year:

  1. Our intervention-related output was greater than in any past year, although we still see room for improvement in the pace with which we complete and publish this work (more). We hired a Senior Fellow and published nine full or interim intervention reports in 2017, compared to four in 2016.
  2. We increased the number of promising charities that applied for our recommendation (more).
  3. We added two new top charities: Evidence Action’s No Lean Season (the first top charity to start as a GiveWell Incubation Grant recipient) and Helen Keller International’s vitamin A supplementation program (which joined our list as a result of our charity outreach work). We continued to follow our current Incubation Grant recipients and made several new Incubation Grants to grow the pipeline of new top charities (more).
  4. We made substantial improvements to our cost-effectiveness analysis (more).
  5. We reduced the amount of staff time spent on following our current top charities. We also completed 17 of the 19 activities outlined in last year’s plan (more).

We discuss progress on each of our primary goals below. For each high-level goal, we include (i) the subgoals we set in our last annual review, (ii) an evaluation of whether we met those subgoals, and (iii) a summary of key activities completed last year.

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GiveWell’s money moved and web traffic in 2016

In September 2017, we posted an interim update on GiveWell’s 2016 money moved and web traffic. This post summarizes the key takeaways from our full 2016 money moved and web traffic metrics report. Note that some of the numbers, including the total headline money moved, have changed since our interim report. Since then, we decided to exclude some donations from our headline money moved figure (details in the full report), and we corrected some minor errors.

This report was highly delayed (as discussed in the interim update). We expect to publish our report on GiveWell’s 2017 money moved and web traffic much more quickly; our current expectation is that we will publish that report by the end of June.

GiveWell is dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of our analysis. In addition to evaluations of other charities, we publish substantial evaluation of our own work. This post lays out highlights from our 2016 metrics report, which reviews what we know about how our research impacted donors.

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Update on our work on outreach

GiveWell’s impact is a function of the quality of our research and the amount of money we direct to our recommended charities (our “money moved”). Historically, we’ve focused mostly on research because we felt that the quality of our recommendations was a greater constraint to our impact than our money moved.

This has changed. Outreach is now a major organizational priority. The goal of this work is to increase the amount of money we direct to our top-recommended charities.

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