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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 global
Key people
  • Holden Karnofsky
  • Elie Hassenfeld
Employees 12 full-time employees (as of September 2014)[4]

GiveWell is an American non-profit charity evaluator and effective altruism-focused organization created in 2007 by two former Bridgewater Associates investment analysts, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld.[5][6][7]


Focus on identifying outstanding charities[edit]

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.[8] 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[9] 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[edit]

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[10] 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[edit]

Addressing a United States audience, GiveWell staff write in their Giving 101 section[11] 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)[12] and Nurse-Family Partnership.[13]

Focus on 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 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[14] and has a number of blog posts on the topic.[15]

Skepticism of fundraising and promotional materials[edit]

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,[16] 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[edit]

Operating costs are not funded by the individual donors GiveWell seeks to direct but rather by private donor groups.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundationfirst funded GiveWell in 2008 and has, over the years, been one of GiveWell's main funders through its Nonprofit Market Initiative, whose goal was 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."[17][18] In March 2014, the Hewlett Foundation announced that it was winding down the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative.[18] A GiveWell blog post in August 2014 offered GiveWell's thoughts on the ending of the initiative.[19]

In June 2012, GiveWell announced a close partnership with Good Ventures, and Good Ventures has been one of GiveWell's main funders since then.[20]

Identifying candidate charities[edit]

GiveWell uses a number of sources to identify candidate charities for further investigation and rating.[9] 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.[9]

Investigating and rating charities[edit]

GiveWell investigates charities empirically, under the assumption that different charities face different burdens of proof, depending on the amount of data available.[21] 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.[5]

GiveWell co-founder Holden Karnofsky (right) in discussion with a Seva Mandir representative. Udaipur, Rajasthan, August–November 2010.

GiveWell identifies top charities in many domains, including education, health, and economic empowerment based on a number of criteria.[22]

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.[22]

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.[22]

GiveWell provides a regularly updated list of top-rated charities in each of these areas.[23]

Since 2011, GiveWell staff have been performing site visits[24] 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[edit]

In order to 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:[25]

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,[26] microfinance,[27][28] and meta-aid questions.[29]


Top causes[edit]

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.[30]

Top-rated charities[edit]

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
2013[23][31][32] (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.[31] 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.[33]
2012[34][35] (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.[36][37] 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.[38]
2011[39][40][41] (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[42] 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[43] 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[44] 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 charity evaluation[edit]

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,[45] a list of Giving 101 basics[46] and suggestions for individuals on how to do research and what questions to ask when evaluating charities.[47]

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.

Non-recommended charities[edit]

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.[48]

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[49] 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.

Disaster relief[edit]

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.[50] However, GiveWell also publishes analyses of disaster relief efforts and recommendations within the disaster relief category after major disasters, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake,[51] the 2011 Japan Earthquake and tsunami,[52] and the East Africa/Somalia famine.[53] In addition, GiveWell has a blog category devoted to disaster relief.[54] Among the charities that GiveWell has recommended in the context of disaster relief are Doctors without Borders, Partners in Health, and Direct Relief International.

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

Creation of GiveWell Labs[edit]

In September 2011, GiveWell announced GiveWell Labs,[55] 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,[56] and later made a separate page on the GiveWell website with details about GiveWell Labs.[57] GiveWell Labs has aimed to directly make, and recommend, large grants to charities that have huge potential upside.

Rebranding as the Open Philanthropy Project[edit]

On August 20, 2014, a post on the GiveWell blog announced that GiveWell Labs was being 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.[58]

Shallow overviews[edit]

As part of its work related to GiveWell Labs, GiveWell publishes shallow overviews of general causes.[59] These are distinct from its charity recommendations and reviews. The first shallow overview appears to have been published in April 2013.[60] but GiveWell appears to have first officially announced shallow overviews in a blog post in May 2013.[61] 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.[59] 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.[62]

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

GiveWell has not explicitly listed grants attributable to GiveWell Labs, but 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.[63][64]
May 2013 Center for Global Development for Millions Saved $50,000 Recommended by GiveWell.[65]
July 3, 2013 Center for Global Development $300,000 $100,000 each for three years to support operating expenses.[66]
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.[67][68]
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.[69] The grant was recommended by charity evaluator GiveWell.[70]

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.[71] They also provide an updated summary of their money moved statistics on their Impact page.[72]

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[73] Excluding funding by Good Ventures and money committed to GiveWell Labs, the money moved was USD 3.3 million.
2012 9.5 million[74] Excluding funding by Good Ventures, the money moved was USD 5.8 million.
2013 17.36 million[75] Excluding Good Ventures, total funding was USD 8.1 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.[20]

In March 2010, GiveWell announced[76] 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 USD 2 million to GiveDirectly, so that only USD 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 USD 5 million in funds donated to GiveDirectly till January 31, 2014 (with a limit of matching USD 100,000 per individual donor), suggesting that the actual amount needed from individual donors to achieve GiveWell's minimum target would be USD 250,000 (assuming no very large donors).[77] GiveWell wrote a blog post responding to the Good Ventures announcement, stating that they had recommended the grant but not the donation matching.[78]

Carl Shulman wrote on his personal blog that, judging from GiveWell's explanation for its 2013 end-of-year recommendations, the optimal course for donors may be to hold onto their money for giving in 2014 or 2015 rather than donate to GiveDirectly, despite its being the most highly recommended by GiveWell.[79] Shulman's reasoning was that the quality of top recommendations for GiveWell would probably be much higher in 2014 or 2015. He cited two main reasons: Against Malaria Foundation may be able to resume bednet distribution, and GiveWell Labs might be able to make recommendations by 2015. He followed up with a post with more detailed reasoning on the role that Good Ventures funding to GiveWell's recommended charities played in affecting the value of marginal donations and room for more funding.[80]

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.[81]

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.[82][83] GiveWell's recommendations were also critiqued on the 80000 Hours website[84] and elsewhere.[85] The Wonkblog, a blog of the Washington Post, also published a piece on GiveWell's recommendations.[86]

Media and blog coverage[edit]

Media coverage[edit]

Givewell has been mentioned in or interviewed by various news sources including NPR,[87] CNBC,[88] CBS MoneyWatch,[89] Business Week,[90] and Forbes.[91] USA Today[92] and the Wall Street Journal[93] 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.[86]

Blog coverage[edit]

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[94] and the controversy surrounding the Millennium Villages Project.[95]

GiveWell has also been mentioned and referenced many times on the Tactical Philanthropy blog.[96]

Astroturfing incident[edit]

In late 2007, GiveWell's founders promoted the organization on several internet blogs and forums, including MetaFilter, using astroturfing.[97]

GiveWell's board of directors investigated and found that an "inappropriate promotion"[98] had occurred involving the founders Karnofsky and Hassenfeld; as a result, both were fined $5000, and Karnofsky was relieved of his executive director role.[97][99] GiveWell issued a public apology[100] and, as part of its transparency policy,[101] 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."[102] 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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