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GiveWell logo.png
Founded 2007[1]
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
37 full-time employees (as of July 2016); this includes staff who work on the Open Philanthropy Project[4][5]

GiveWell is an American non-profit charity evaluator and effective altruism-focused organization.[6][7] Unlike any 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.[7][8] GiveWell recommends several charities per year. In 2015, its top recommendations were the Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, and the Deworm the World Initiative.[9] GiveWell moved over $100 million to its top charities in 2015.[10]

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.[11] However, GiveWell has previously recommended some charities in the US, including KIPP (Houston branch)[12] and Nurse-Family Partnership.[13]

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

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.[6] Rather, 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.[6] 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."[16]

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.[17]

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,[18] GiveWell does not consider this a good metric for evaluation, because it argues that overhead spending can make an organization more effective in accomplishing its goals.[19]

Evaluation process[edit]

Identifying candidate charities[edit]

GiveWell uses a number of sources to identify candidate charities for further investigation and rating.[16] 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.[16]

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.[20]

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.[21]

Since 2011, GiveWell staff have been performing site visits[22] 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.[23]


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.[24] GiveWell's top recommended charities at end-of-year are given in the table below. Until 2015, the list of recommended charities was refreshed annually, usually in late November. Starting 2016, the refresh frequency changed to twice a year, in June and November.[25][26]

Year Top-recommended charities
mid-2016[25] No change in list of top charities from 2015. Updates to room for more funding estimates at various execution levels. GiveWell did not recommend that Good Ventures make any mid-year grants.[25]
2015[9][27][28] (official list released November 20, 2015) Top charities: Against Malaria Foundation, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Deworm the World Initiative, and GiveDirectly.
Standout charities: Development Media International, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition's Universal Salt Iodization Program, Iodine Global Network (formerly International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders), Living Goods.
GiveWell recommended that Good Ventures make end-of-year grants to AMF ($22.8 million), DtWI ($10.8 million), GiveDirectly ($9.8 million; this was separate from the three-year $25 million grant made in August), and SCI ($1 million), plus $250,000 each to each of the standout charities. Their recommendation to donors was to give money at the current margin to AMF, but they provided a more detailed comparison to address donors who had other goals.
2014[29][30] (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[31][32][33][34][35] (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.[36]
2012[35][37][38] (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.[39][40] 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.[41]
2011[42][43][44][45] (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[46] 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 (#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[47] 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[48] 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.

The reporting of room for more funding using execution levels[edit]

Starting with its 2015 recommendations, GiveWell provided a more granular breakdown of its estimate of charities' room for more funding by breaking it down into execution levels. GiveWell defined the following three execution levels:[25]

  • Execution Level 1: The amount of funds needed to achieve a 50%+ probability of not being bottlenecked for funds over the next year.
  • Execution Level 2: The amount of funds needed to achieve an 80%+ probability of not being bottlenecked for funds over the next year.
  • Execution Level 3: The amount of funds needed to achieve a 95%+ probability of not being bottlenecked for funds over the next year.

GiveWell also defines some gaps as capacity-relevant, but there are no unfilled capacity-relevant gaps for top charities (all capacity-relevant gaps have so far been filled by Good Ventures).[27]

Mid-2016 funding gaps for top charities[edit]

In its blog post with a mid-2016 charity refresh, GiveWell estimated funding gaps for its top charities.[25] These funding gaps (in millions of US dollars) are below. The funding gaps up to a later execution level are cumulative, i.e., they include the funding gaps up to earlier execution levels.

Organization Funding gap up to Execution Level 1 Funding gap up to Execution Level 2 Funding gap up to Execution Level 3
Against Malaria Foundation 11.3 18.6 29.1
GiveDirectly 22.2 30.0 30.0
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative 10.1 10.1 10.1
Deworm the World Initiative 0 0 6.0
Total 44.6 58.7 75.2

2015 funding gaps for top charities (along with comparison with actual money moved)[edit]

In its blog post announcing its 2015 top charities, GiveWell estimated funding gaps for each of its top charities.[27][49] These funding gaps (in millions of US dollars) are below. Funding gaps already take into account the funds recommended for Good Ventures to donate. The funding gaps up to a later execution level are cumulative, i.e., they include the funding gaps up to earlier execution levels.

Organization Funding by Good Ventures Funding gap up to Execution Level 1 Funding gap up to Execution Level 2 Funding gap up to Execution Level 3 Actual money moved excluding Good Ventures, and position relative to funding gaps[10][50]
Against Malaria Foundation 22.8 27.5 51.4 75.4 15.45 (56.2% of Execution Level 1 funding gap)
GiveDirectly 9.8 24.8 45.7 74.3 19.36 (78.1% of Execution Level 1 funding gap)
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative 1.0 4.9 16.5 25.3 2.66 (54.2% of Execution Level 1 funding gap)
Deworm the World Initiative 10.8 0 3.2 8.2 1.08 (33.7% of Execution Level 2 funding gap)
Total 44.4 57.2 116.8 183.2 38.55 (67.39% of Execution Level 1 funding gap)

Guidelines for donations[edit]

GiveWell provides recommendations on charitable giving[51] and suggestions for individuals on how to do research and what questions to ask when evaluating charities.[52]

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.[53]

GiveWell has not listed any disaster relief charities as top recommendations and has made general arguments against donating to disaster relief.[54] However, GiveWell publishes analyses of disaster relief efforts and recommendations within the disaster relief category after major disasters, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake,[55] the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami,[56] and the East Africa/Somalia famine.[57] In addition, GiveWell has a blog category devoted to disaster relief.[58] 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[edit]

The Open Philanthropy Project started out as a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures (a philanthropic organization co-founded by Cari Tuna and her husband Dustin Moskovitz, one of the co-founders of Facebook)[59] that tries to identify the most effective ways to give money to a wide variety of causes.[60] The project identifies important and neglected problems and tries to fund tractable approaches to solve those problems. The project conducts analysis and data collection.[61] As of 2016, it is still not entirely separate from GiveWell, but there are plans to make it a separate organization.[62]

The Open Philanthropy Project started out as GiveWell Labs in 2011 but made little progress until 2013.[63][64]

The name was changed to Open Philanthropy Project in August 2014[63] to separate it from GiveWell and also to avoid exclusive association to GiveWell since it is a collaboration with Good Ventures. However even after this initial brand change, updates to Open Phil were still posted to the GiveWell blog.[60]

In April 2015, Open Phil announced a partnership with Kaitlyn Trigger and Mike Krieger (co-founder of Instagram). Trigger and Krieger pledged $750,000 over two years while Open Phil would provide information and include Trigger in team meetings.[6][65][66]

In September 2015, Holden Karnofsky announced on the GiveWell blog that it would launch a separate website for Open Phil by the end of 2015.[67] By February 2016, updates to Open Phil were posted to the Open Phil blog rather than the GiveWell blog (as was previously done).[68]

As of March 2016, the Open Philanthropy Project is not an independent organization i.e. it is still a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures, who share office space and information (to an extent). However Open Phil is in the process of becoming an independent organization.[69][70]

Reception and impact[edit]

Money moved[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 the Open Philanthropy Project, the money moved was $3.3 million.
2012 9.5 million[74] Excluding funding by Good Ventures, the money moved was $5.8 million.
2013 17.36 million[75] Excluding Good Ventures, total funding was $8.1 million.
2014 28 million[76] Excluding Good Ventures, total funding was $12.7 million.
2015 110.1 million[10][77][78] Excluding Good Ventures, money moved attributable to GiveWell was a little under $40 million, with over half of it coming from donors who each gave $1 million or more.
GiveWell estimated an additional $7–10 million in donations with uncertain attribution that it may have influenced, and $4.8 million in grants it partially influenced.

Money moved to top charities from Good Ventures[edit]

Below are the details of the money moved to GiveWell top charities, mostly at GiveWell's recommendation (with the exception of $5 million out of the $7 million granted to GiveDirectly in 2013).

Organization December 23, 2011 (top charities)[79] August 6, 2012 (standouts)[80] December 28, 2012 (top charities)[81] December 3, 2013 (end-of-year)[33][82][83][84] December 1, 2014 (end-of-year)[30] August 3, 2015 (one-off)[85][86][87][88] November 20, 2015 (end-of-year)[27] Total
Against Malaria Foundation 500,000 -- 1,250,000 -- 5,000,000 -- 22,800,000 29,550,000
GiveDirectly -- 100,000 500,000 7,000,000 5,000,000 25,000,000 9,800,000 47,400,000
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative 250,000 -- 250,000 750,000 3,000,000 -- 1,000,000 5,250,000
Deworm the World Initiative -- -- -- 1,500,000 250,000 -- 10,800,000 12,550,000
Nyaya Health -- 50,000 -- -- -- -- -- 50,000
KIPP (Houston branch) -- 50,000 -- -- -- -- -- 50,000
Small Enterprise Foundation -- 50,000 -- -- -- -- -- 50,000
Innovations for Poverty Action -- 50,000 -- -- -- -- -- 50,000
Pratham -- 50,000 -- -- -- -- -- 50,000
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition's Universal Salt Iodization Program -- -- -- -- 250,000 -- 250,000 500,000
Development Media International -- -- -- -- 250,000 -- 250,000 500,000
Iodine Global Network (formerly International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders) -- -- -- -- 250,000 -- 250,000 500,000
Living Goods -- -- -- -- 250,000 -- 250,000 500,000
Total 750,000 350,000 2,000,000 9,250,000 14,250,000 25,000,000 45,400,000 97,000,000

Money moved to top charities from donors excluding Good Ventures[edit]

The numbers are guesstimates since not all donations influenced by GiveWell's recommendations were correctly attributed to GiveWell. The table below is restricted to the four organizations that are currently top GiveWell recommendations, since they receive the bulk of the money donated; more details about other charities are in the referenced links.

Organization Money moved in year 2011[73] Money moved in year 2012[74] Money moved in year 2013[75] Money moved in year 2014[76] Money moved in 2015[10][77] Total
Against Malaria Foundation 1,810,237 4,579,514 2,490,588 4,434,478 15,445,609 28,760,426
GiveDirectly 86,146 729,359 3,482,865 4,061,487 19,364,385 27,724,242
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative 510,480 861,548 1,440,184 3,340,403 2,657,389 8,810,004
Deworm the World Initiative -- -- 642,836 878,044 1,080,068 2,601,348

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.[89]

In March 2010, GiveWell announced[90] 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.[citation needed]

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).[33] GiveWell wrote a blog post responding to the Good Ventures announcement, stating that they had recommended the grant but not the donation matching.[83]

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 no longer being recommended by GiveWell.[34]

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.[91][92] GiveWell's recommendations were also critiqued on the 80000 Hours website[93] and elsewhere.[94] The Wonkblog, a blog of the Washington Post, also published a piece on GiveWell's recommendations.[95]

Media coverage[edit]

GiveWell has been covered by various news organizations including the New York Times,[35] NPR,[96] CNBC,[97] CBS MoneyWatch,[98] Business Week,[99] and Forbes.[100] USA Today[101] and the Wall Street Journal[102] 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.[95] Dylan Matthews discussed the work of GiveWell and Good Ventures on the Open Philanthropy Project, in the broader context of the effective altruism movement, in an article for Vox.[6] The Huffington Post published an article about GiveWell's work discussing its relationship with the ideas of effective altruism popularized by Peter Singer, and also including an interview with GiveWell co-founder Elie Hassenfeld.[7]


GiveWell was founded in 2007 by two former Bridgewater Associates investment analysts, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld.[103][104][105] In 2008, GiveWell's initial funding was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Nonprofit Marketplace 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."[106][107] 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.[107] A GiveWell blog post in August 2014 offered GiveWell's thoughts on the ending of the initiative.[108]

In June 2012, GiveWell announced a close partnership with Good Ventures, and Good Ventures has been one of GiveWell's main funders since then.[89]

During 2012, GiveWell relocated from New York to San Francisco into a shared office space with Good Ventures.[109]

In September 2011, GiveWell announced the creation of GiveWell Labs, which was created in order to research and fund more diverse philanthropic causes.[110][111] 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.[112]

Astroturfing incident[edit]

In late 2007, GiveWell's founders promoted the organization on several internet blogs and forums, including MetaFilter, using astroturfing.[113]

GiveWell's board of directors investigated and found that an "inappropriate promotion"[114] had occurred involving the founders Karnofsky and Hassenfeld; as a result, both were fined $5000, and Karnofsky was relieved of his executive director role.[113][115] GiveWell issued a public apology[116] and, as part of its transparency policy,[117] 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."[118] 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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