United States IRS exemption status: 501(c)(3) under the name "The Clear Fund." EIN/Tax ID: 20-8625442
Focus on identifying outstanding charities
GiveWell staff have expressed the view that it is preferable to donate to one outstanding charity (or a few outstanding charities) that can do real good with one's money rather than donate to a mediocre charity or split one's charitable donations between multiple charities. To this end, GiveWell focuses its resources on identifying outstanding charities that are proven, cost-effective, scalable, and transparent.
Generally, GiveWell focuses on preparing detailed reviews only for those charities that, based on their preliminary investigations, hold clear promise of being outstanding. For instance, in their 2011 international aid process review they write: "Our focus is on finding outstanding charities rather than completing an in-depth investigation for each organization we consider. For that reason, we rely on heuristics, or meaningful shortcuts, to distinguish between organizations and identify ones that we think will ultimately qualify for our recommendations."
Unlike other charity evaluators such as Charity Navigator, GuideStar, Philanthropedia and Great Nonprofits, GiveWell is not focused on rating large numbers of charities. This makes GiveWell of limited use for people who are already strongly in favor of donating to a specific charity and want to get ratings and reviews for it. In this respect, GiveWell is quite similar to Giving What We Can, though the latter focuses on a much smaller set of recommended charities and does not publish so many detailed reviews.
Burden of proof on charities
GiveWell staff believe that the burden of proof for establishing success should fall on the charity. For this reason, when charities do not clearly disclose information or provide evidence that their programs are having the desired positive impact, GiveWell staff assume, for the purpose of their reviews, that the charity is not having the desired positive impact. As noted in the previous section, charities that don't have any data or evidence indicating positive impact rarely even get a full review from GiveWell.
In one of the sections of their Giving 101 basics they write: "Conventionally, most people expect that charities are probably accomplishing good unless there's proof that money is being misappropriated. We disagree: we think that charities can easily fail to have impact, even when they're doing exactly what they say they are."
Greater focus on developing world charities
Addressing a United States audience, GiveWell staff write in their Giving 101 section that the best charities working in the developing world provide much greater value for donor money than the best charities operating in the United States (and other developed world countries). For this reason, GiveWell focuses its resources on investigating the top charities in the developing world, and most of its top-rated charities have been operating there. However, GiveWell does investigate promising US charities. In the past, GiveWell has recommended some US charities for US-specific categories. US charities that have been recommended by GiveWell include KIPP (Houston branch) and Nurse-Family Partnership.
Focus on room for more funding
One of the key ways that GiveWell seeks to distinguish itself from other charity evaluators is through its focus on scalability, which it calls "room for more funding" — how many more funds can the charity absorb, what activities will it use those funds for, and can the success of present activities be extrapolated to future activities? GiveWell has published a guide on room for more funding and has a number of blog posts on the topic.
Skepticism of fundraising and promotional materials
GiveWell staff are skeptical of many of the metrics quoted by charities in their fundraising and promotional materials. For instance, in a joint press release with Great Nonprofits and Philanthropedia, they explain why the "overhead ratio" is a bad way to measure the effectiveness of charities.
GiveWell staff are also skeptical of anecdotal evidence, particularly when such evidence is unaccompanied by quantitative data.
Funding and operating partnerships
Operating costs are not funded by the individual donors GiveWell seeks to direct but rather by private donor groups including The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. GiveWell also announced a close partnership with Good Ventures in June 2012.
Identifying candidate charities
GiveWell uses a number of sources to identify candidate charities for further investigation and rating. They accept charity name submissions from charities, donors, and others. In addition, GiveWell also uses as a starting point the lists of grantees of impact-focused foundations and grantmaking bodies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Children's Investment Fund Foundation, Mulago Foundation, Skoll Foundation, Jasmine Social Investments, and Peery Foundation. They consider charities that are participating jointly with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and Innovations for Poverty Action in the evaluation of their programs. GiveWell staff also consider domain-specific charity lists, winners of various awards, and lists of charities highlighted by other charity evaluators and donor groups.
Investigating and rating charities
GiveWell investigates charities empirically, under the assumption that different charities face different burdens of proof, depending on the amount of data available. They consider many financial issues in the process of attempting to sort charities by their overall utility based on each charity's reach and impact.
GiveWell identifies top charities in many domains, including education, health, and economic empowerment based on a number of criteria.
A charity must be a few things to rank highly with GiveWell: Proven, not by anecdotes and stories, but by systematic and representative data (with domain-specific metrics); Cost-effective for their domain, although these estimations are necessarily rough, and cross-comparison for this criteria is difficult; Scalable and able to use increased funding effectively, since charities can become over funded; and Transparent, since charity organizations must be trustworthy and willing to demonstrate their effectiveness to donors that do not want to waste their money.
GiveWell ascribes a large amount of weight to the idea that a charity should publish 'monitoring and evaluation reports', based on the belief that this means that the charity is committed to actually testing its own impact and effectiveness. Similarly, it is considered promising if the charity has chosen a sort of program that has been proven to be effective.
GiveWell provides a regularly updated list of top-rated charities in each of these areas.
Since 2011, GiveWell staff have been performing site visits for all potential top-rated charities and posting, where possible, audio and photographs of their visits. In addition, GiveWell regularly publishes updates on the activities of all current and past top-rated charities. The frequency of updates on each charity may vary between 3 months and 1 year depending on the nature of its activities and the amount of money that was moved to the charity.
Investigating causes and background research
In order to successfully evaluate programs operated by charities, GiveWell staff need some background knowledge on the general efficacy of various types of program. Some of the sources that GiveWell uses to build this background knowledge are:
- The Cochrane Collaboration (for health-related and medical interventions)
- The research of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and Innovations for Poverty Action, particularly their randomized controlled trials.
- The findings reported in the book Millions Saved: Proven Successes in Global Health.
- The Disease Control Priorities Report.
- The Copenhagen Consensus
GiveWell staff also offer commentary on programs that are not seeking funds and that GiveWell is not planning to evaluate, if understanding these programs helps with a better understanding of the causes that GiveWell is investigating. Examples include GiveWell backgrounders and blog posts on the Millennium Villages Project,microfinance, and meta-aid questions.
In September 2011, GiveWell announced GiveWell Labs, which they described as "an arm of our research process that will be open to any giving opportunity, no matter what form and what sector." In subsequent blog posts, GiveWell provided more details about GiveWell Labs, and there is now a separate page on the GiveWell website with details about GiveWell Labs. GiveWell Labs aims to directly make large grants to charities that have huge potential upside. GiveWell has over $1 million in pre-committed funds to GiveWell Labs but, as of November 2012, they have not announced any grants and are still investigating causes and charities.
GiveWell has concentrated on categories of impact: developing-world health, developing-world poverty, U.S. early childhood care and education, U.S. K-12 education, and employment assistance in New York City. It provides a regularly updated list of top-rated charities in each of these areas.
GiveWell recommends international-health causes because the problems to be addressed are more straightforward and very cheap.
GiveWell's top recommended charities at end-of-year are given in the table below. The official list is typically released in the last week of November, which is the week after Thanksgiving in the United States.
|Year||Top-recommended charities at end of year|
|2012 (official list released November 26, 2012)||Against Malaria Foundation (#1), GiveDirectly (#2), Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (#3). GiveWell recommended a donation ratio of 7:2:1 to these three charities. GiveWell also published additional blog posts explaining how it ranked its top charities.|
|2011 (official list released November 29, 2011)||Top charities: Against Malaria Foundation (#1) and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (#2). GiveWell also identified six standout organizations: GiveDirectly, Innovations for Poverty Action, KIPP (Houston branch), Nyaya Health, Pratham, and Small Enterprise Foundation. GiveWell discontinued identification of standout organizations the next year (2012).|
|2010||VillageReach was the top recommended charity, and one of only two getting a Gold rating. The other top-rated overall charities were Stop TB Partnership (#2), Against Malaria Foundation (#3), Small Enterprise Foundation (#4), Village Enterprise Fund (#5), and Chamroeun (#6) -- all of these were given a Silver rating. The top-rated recommended United States charities were KIPP and Nurse-Family Partnership, both getting Gold ratings. In late November 2011 (the next year), GiveWell indicated that it believed that both VillageReach and the Nurse-Family Partnership are still outstanding but have limited room for more funding; hence, it did not advise donors to give to them.|
|2009||VillageReach was the top-rated charity. Other top charities were the Stop TB Partnership (#2), Nurse-Family Partnership (#3), KIPP (#4), Against Malaria Foundation (#5), Population Services International (#6), Partners in Health (#7), the Global Fund (#8), Teach for America (#9), and Pratham (#10).|
|2008||The top charities in "International aid" were Population Services International and Partners in Health. Top charities in the US included KIPP, the Nurse-Family Partnership, and the HOPE program for employment assistance in New York City.|
On September 27, 2012, GiveWell announced its first "Quick Grant" recommendation: it recommended that partner organization Good Ventures make a grant of $100,000 to the U.S. Cochrane Center, part of the Cochrane Collaboration. The idea behind "Quick Grants" was that GiveWell could recommend to specific large donors to quickly grant a sum of money to an organization that was in urgent need of funds, even though GiveWell had not had time to investigate the organization thoroughly enough to put it in GiveWell's list of recommended charities.
Guidelines for charity evaluation
In addition to providing rankings for charities overall, GiveWell provides detailed reviews of each of its top-rated charities, a list of all charities that it has considered along with reviews of many of these, a list of Giving 101 basics and suggestions for individuals on how to do research and what questions to ask when evaluating charities.
Previously, GiveWell also published a list with the top charity in each of the causes it was investigating. However, this list was removed in GiveWell's November 2012 refresh of its top charity list.
GiveWell generally does not focus much effort on, and does not publish detailed reviews of, charities that they do not believe hold the promise of being outstanding. However, GiveWell staff do occasionally comment critically on celebrated charities that they think do not live up to the hype. These include Kiva, Grameen Foundation, Heifer International, Smile Train, UNICEF, Acumen Fund, the Robin Hood Foundation, the Millennium Villages Project, the Worldwide Fistula Fund, and the Carter Center.
In the wake of the scandal surrounding Greg Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea and his non-profit Central Asia Institute, GiveWell staff wrote a blog post explaining how the scandal vindicated GiveWell's focus on outstanding charities with a proven track record, in contrast with the approach used by GuideStar and Charity Navigator.
GiveWell's overall top-rated charity recommendations have not been in the area of disaster relief and GiveWell staff have made the case against disaster relief being the focus of charitable donations. However, GiveWell also publishes analyses of disaster relief efforts and recommendations within the disaster relief category after major disasters, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and the East Africa/Somalia famine. In addition, GiveWell has a blog category devoted to disaster relief. Among the charities that GiveWell has recommended in the context of disaster relief are Doctors without Borders, Partners in Health, and Direct Relief International.
Reception and impact
Money moved and web traffic
Around February of every year, GiveWell publishes a complete self-evaluation in a series of blog posts. In addition, GiveWell publishes quarterly reports (in the form of blog posts) about its web traffic and money moved. They also provide an updated summary of their money moved statistics on their Impact page.
|Year||Money moved in USD at current prices (not adjusted for inflation)||Additional notes|
|2007-2009||total 1.2 million|
|2011||5.3 million||Excluding funding by Good Ventures and money committed to GiveWell Labs, the money moved was USD 3.3 million.|
Partnerships with philanthropies and use by other charity recommenders
In March 2010, GiveWell announced a partnership with GuideStar through GiveWell's participation, along with Great Nonprofits and Philanthropedia, in the TakeAction@GuideStar program. This program allows donors to see detailed information from GiveWell, Great Nonprofits, or Philanthropedia, where available, when looking up a charity on GuideStar.
GiveWell does not have a formal relationship with charity evaluator Giving What We Can, but Giving What We Can does reference (and occasionally critique) GiveWell's reviews of the charities that it recommends.
Reception of GiveWell's 2012 recommendations
Charity evaluator and effective giving advocacy group Giving What We Can had multiple blog posts with critical analysis of GiveWell's 2012 recommendations. GiveWell's recommendations were also critiqued on the 80000 Hours website and elsewhere. The Wonkblog, a blog of the Washington Post, also published a piece on GiveWell's recommendations.
Media and blog coverage
Givewell has been mentioned in or interviewed by various news sources including NPR,CNBC,CBS MoneyWatch,Business Week, and Forbes.USA Today and the Wall Street Journal mentioned GiveWell as an organization that can help donors research and choose charities. In December 2012, the Wonkblog of The Washington Post published a detailed post reviewing GiveWell's end-of-year charity recommendations.
Both the bloggers (Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen) at the economics blog Marginal Revolution are fans of GiveWell. They have referenced GiveWell in blog posts about aid to Japan after the 2011 Japan earthquake and the controversy surrounding the Millennium Villages Project.
GiveWell has also been mentioned and referenced many times on the Tactical Philanthropy blog.
GiveWell's board of directors investigated and found that an "inappropriate promotion" had occurred involving the founders Karnofsky and Hassenfeld; as a result, both were fined $5000, and Karnofsky was relieved of his executive director role. GiveWell issued a public apology and, as part of its transparency policy, included the incident on its website at a page called "Shortcomings" with the stated purpose: "This page logs mistakes we've made, strategies we should have planned and executed differently, and lessons we've learned." Karnofsky was later reinstated as Board Secretary and Co-Executive Director.
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