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GiveWell logo.png
Founded 2007[1]
  • Holden Karnofsky
  • Elie Hassenfeld
Type Charity evaluator
United States IRS exemption status: 501(c)(3) under the name "The Clear Fund." EIN/Tax ID: 20-8625442[2]
Area served
Key people
  • Holden Karnofsky
  • Elie Hassenfeld
12 full-time employees (as of September 2014)[4]

GiveWell is an American non-profit charity evaluator and effective altruism-focused organization. Unlike other charity evaluators, GiveWell focuses primarily on the cost-effectiveness of the organizations that it evaluates, rather than traditional metrics such as the percentage of the organization's budget that is spent on overhead.[5] GiveWell recommends several charities per year. In 2014, its top recommendations were the Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, and the Deworm the World Initiative.

Principles for selecting charities[edit]

Focus on developing world charities[edit]

Though GiveWell does not explicitly focus on recommending international charities, most of its top recommendations have been for organizations that work in the developing world. GiveWell argues that the best charities working in the developing world are far more cost-effective than the best charities in the developed world.[6] However, GiveWell has previously recommended some charities in the US, including KIPP (Houston branch)[7] and Nurse-Family Partnership.[8]

Room for more funding[edit]

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 much additional funding the charity can use, the activities that additional funding will be used for, and how well the effect of current funding can be extrapolated for additional funding. GiveWell has published a guide on room for more funding[9] and has a number of blog posts on the topic.[10]

Heuristics to identify outstanding charities[edit]

Unlike other charity evaluators such as Charity Navigator, GuideStar, Philanthropedia and Great Nonprofits, GiveWell is not focused on rating large numbers of charities. GiveWell focuses on identifying outstanding charities that are proven, cost-effective, scalable, and transparent. It performs detailed reviews only for those charities that, based on its preliminary investigations, hold clear promise of being outstanding. Its 2011 international aid process review explains, "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."[11]

Evidence of impact[edit]

GiveWell believes 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 does not assume that the charity is effective. Charities that do not provide data indicating positive impact rarely receive a full review from GiveWell.[12]

Overhead spending[edit]

Though some charity evaluators give negative ratings to charities that spend a large fraction of their budgets on administrative expenses and fundraising,[13] GiveWell does not consider this a good metric for evaluation, because overhead spending can make an organization more effective in accomplishing its goals.[14]

Evaluation process[edit]

Identifying candidate charities[edit]

GiveWell uses a number of sources to identify candidate charities for further investigation and rating.[11] It accepts candidates for evaluation from charities, donors, and others. In addition, GiveWell considers organizations that receive grants from 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. It considers 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 also considers domain-specific charity lists, winners of various awards, and lists of charities highlighted by other charity evaluators and donor groups.[11]

To be eligible for evaluation from GiveWell, charities must perform a program that GiveWell believes has strong evidence of success (such as salt iodization) or must perform rigorous evaluations of its impact.[15]

Investigating and rating charities[edit]

There are several ways in which GiveWell seeks evidence of cost-effectiveness and positive impact for charities. GiveWell has conversations with charity staff members and experts in relevant fields. Notes from these conversations are posted on its website.[16]

Since 2011, GiveWell staff have been performing site visits[17] for all potential top-rated charities and posting, where possible, audio and photographs of their visits.

GiveWell also uses external sources to evaluate philanthropic interventions (for example, microfinance). These include:

GiveWell regularly publishes updates on the activities of all current and past top-rated charities.[18]


Top-rated charities[edit]

GiveWell provides detailed reviews of each of its top-rated charities as well as other standout charities. It also lists reasons for rejecting other charities.[19] 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.

Year Top-recommended charities at end of year
2014[20][21] (Official list released December 1, 2014) Top charities: Against Malaria Foundation, Deworm the World Initiative, GiveDirectly, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.
Standout charities: Development Media International, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition's Universal Salt Iodization Program, International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, Living Goods.
Good Ventures made grants of $5 million each to GiveDirectly and AMF, $3 million to SCI, and $250,000 to Deworm the World Initiative and to each of the standout charities.
Taking into account the money already allocated by Good Ventures, GiveWell's recommended optimal giving allocation was: $5 to AMF (67%), $1 to SCI (13%), $1 to GiveDirectly (13%) and $.50 to DtWI (7%) for every $7.50 given.
2013[22][23] (official list released December 1, 2013) Top charities: GiveDirectly ($2.5M target), Schistosomiasis Control Initiative ($1M target), Deworm the World Initiative ($2M target). GiveWell did not provide numerical rankings in 2013. Instead it set minimum targets of the amounts it would like to see each charity raise, and recommended that donors fund each charity to the minimum target before donating in excess of the targets.[22] On December 20, 2013, GiveWell published another blog post stating that for donors who "have a high degree of trust/alignment" with GiveWell, they recommended donating to GiveWell itself, until GiveWell was able to raise $850,000 in additional revenue.[24]
2012[25][26] (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.[27][28] Against Malaria Foundation was removed from the list of top-rated charities on November 26, 2013 due to issues related to room for more funding.[29]
2011[30][31][32] (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[33] 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[34] 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[35] 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.

Guidelines for donations[edit]

GiveWell provides recommendations on charitable giving [36] and suggestions for individuals on how to do research and what questions to ask when evaluating charities.[37]

Criticisms of charities[edit]

GiveWell generally does not focus on providing negative feedback to charities. However, GiveWell has sometimes criticized popular charities, including 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.[38]

GiveWell has not listed any disaster relief charities as top recommendations and has made general arguments against donating to disaster relief.[39] However, GiveWell publishes analyses of disaster relief efforts and recommendations within the disaster relief category after major disasters, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake,[40] the 2011 Japan Earthquake and tsunami,[41] and the East Africa/Somalia famine.[42] In addition, GiveWell has a blog category devoted to disaster relief.[43] Among the charities that GiveWell has recommended in the context of disaster relief are Doctors without Borders, Partners in Health, and Direct Relief.

The Open Philanthropy Project (formerly GiveWell Labs)[edit]

Shallow overviews[edit]

As part of its work related to GiveWell Labs, GiveWell publishes shallow overviews of general causes.[44] These are distinct from its charity recommendations and reviews. The first shallow overview appears to have been published in April 2013.[45] but GiveWell appears to have first officially announced shallow overviews in a blog post in May 2013.[46] As of September 2013, shallow investigations have been conducted in the areas of anthropogenic climate change, detection of near-Earth asteroids, migration (intra-country and international), volcanoes, geoengineering, nuclear security, business environment, infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, and the treatment of animals in industrial agriculture.[44] GiveWell staffer Holden Karnofsky discussed more about the purpose of shallow overviews in a conversation with Giving What We Can representatives and other effective altruists.[47]

Grants made as part of GiveWell Labs (the Open Philanthropy Project)[edit]

Some of the grants made by Good Ventures were made as a result of work done on GiveWell Labs.

Date of announcement Recipient Amount Details
September 27, 2012 U.S. Cochrane Center, part of the Cochrane Collaboration $100,000 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.[48][49]
May 2013 Center for Global Development for Millions Saved $50,000 Recommended by GiveWell.[50]
July 3, 2013 Center for Global Development $300,000 $100,000 each for three years to support operating expenses.[51]
March 2014 Center for Global Development to support the research of Michael Clemens $1,184,000 The grant would be paid out over 3 years to the Center for Global Development to support research led by Senior Fellow Michael Clemens, on GiveWell's recommendation.[52][53]
July 2014 ImmigrationWorks Foundation, the 501(c)3 sister organization to ImmigrationWorks USA $285,000 The recipient is a group that advocates for freer movement of low-skilled workers for employment to the United States.[54] The grant was recommended by charity evaluator GiveWell.[55]

Reception and impact[edit]

Money moved and web traffic[edit]

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.[56] They also provide an updated summary of their money moved statistics on their Impact page.[57]

Year Money moved in USD at current prices (not adjusted for inflation) Additional notes
2007-2009 total 1.2 million
2010 1.6 million
2011 5.3 million[58] Excluding funding by Good Ventures and money committed to GiveWell Labs, the money moved was $3.3 million.
2012 9.5 million[59] Excluding funding by Good Ventures, the money moved was $5.8 million.
2013 17.36 million[60] Excluding Good Ventures, total funding was $8.1 million.
2014 28 million[61] Excluding Good Ventures, total funding was $12.7 million.

Partnerships with philanthropies and use by other charity recommenders[edit]

In June 2012, GiveWell announced a close partnership with Good Ventures, a philanthropic organization with similar aims that was co-founded by Cari Tuna and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.[62]

In March 2010, GiveWell announced[63] 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.

The website The Life You Can Save, based on an eponymous book by Peter Singer, bases its recommendations of top-rated charities on the recommendations provided by GiveWell and Giving What We Can.

Reception of GiveWell's 2013 recommendations[edit]

On December 3, 2013, Good Ventures (an effective philanthropy organization that works in close collaboration with GiveWell) announced a grant of $2 million to GiveDirectly, so that only $500,000 of the minimum target specified by GiveWell for GiveDirectly was not yet raised. Good Ventures also announced that it would match up to $5 million in funds donated to GiveDirectly till January 31, 2014 (with a limit of matching $100,000 per individual donor), suggesting that the actual amount needed from individual donors to achieve GiveWell's minimum target would be $250,000 (assuming no very large donors).[64] GiveWell wrote a blog post responding to the Good Ventures announcement, stating that they had recommended the grant but not the donation matching.[65]

Effective giving advocacy group and charity evaluator Giving What We Can published a blog post on December 12, 2013, stating that they continued to recommend Against Malaria Foundation as their top charity, despite it getting delisted by GiveWell.[66]

Reception of GiveWell's 2012 recommendations[edit]

Charity evaluator and effective giving advocacy group Giving What We Can had multiple blog posts with critical analysis of GiveWell's 2012 recommendations.[67][68] GiveWell's recommendations were also critiqued on the 80000 Hours website[69] and elsewhere.[70] The Wonkblog, a blog of the Washington Post, also published a piece on GiveWell's recommendations.[71]

Media coverage[edit]

GiveWell has been covered by various news organizations including NPR,[72] CNBC,[73] CBS MoneyWatch,[74] Business Week,[75] and Forbes.[76] USA Today[77] and the Wall Street Journal[78] 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.[71]


GiveWell was founded in 2007 by two former Bridgewater Associates investment analysts, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld.[79][80][81] In 2008, GiveWell's initial funding was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Nonprofit Market Initiative, the goal of which was to ensure that "by 2015, ten percent of individual philanthropic donations in the US (or $20 billion), would be influenced by meaningful, high-quality information about nonprofit organizations’ performance."[82][83] The Hewlett Foundation continued to be a major funder of GiveWell for several years. In March 2014, the Hewlett Foundation announced that it was ending the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative.[83] A GiveWell blog post in August 2014 offered GiveWell's thoughts on the ending of the initiative.[84]

In June 2012, GiveWell announced a close partnership with Good Ventures, and Good Ventures has been one of GiveWell's main funders since then.[62]

In September 2011, GiveWell announced the creation of GiveWell Labs, which was created in order to research and fund more diverse philanthropic causes.[85][86] In August 2014, GiveWell Labs was rebranded as the Open Philanthropy Project, to better reflect its mission as well as the fact that it was not solely a GiveWell project but rather a joint venture between GiveWell and Good Ventures.[87]

Astroturfing incident[edit]

In late 2007, GiveWell's founders promoted the organization on several internet blogs and forums, including MetaFilter, using astroturfing.[88]

GiveWell's board of directors investigated and found that an "inappropriate promotion"[89] had occurred involving the founders Karnofsky and Hassenfeld; as a result, both were fined $5000, and Karnofsky was relieved of his executive director role.[88][90] GiveWell issued a public apology[91] and, as part of its transparency policy,[92] 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."[93] Karnofsky was later reinstated as Board Secretary and Co-Executive Director.[4]

See also[edit]

Effective altruism-related topics[edit]

Other organizations[edit]


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External links[edit]