How have you selected your top charities?

Our top charities are distinguished by the following qualities:

  • Serving the global poor. Low-income people in the developing world have dramatically lower standards of living than low-income people in the U.S., and we believe that a given dollar amount can provide more meaningful benefits when targeting the former
  • Focused on evidence-backed interventions. We have a high standard for evidence: we seek out programs that have been studied rigorously and repeatedly, and whose benefits we can reasonably expect to generalize to large populations (though there are limits to the generalizability of any study results). The set of programs fitting this description is relatively limited, and mostly found in the category of health interventions (though there is also substantial evidence on cash transfers).
  • Thoroughly vetted and highly transparent. We examine potential top charities thoroughly and skeptically, and publish thorough reviews discussing both strengths of these charities and our concerns. We also follow top charities’ progress over time and report on it publicly, including any negative developments. Charities must be open to our intensive investigation process — and public discussion of their track record and progress, both the good and the bad — in order to earn “top charity” status. We also provide a list of charities meeting our first two criteria for donors who are concerned that this requirement creates problematic selection effects.

We have conducted several comprehensive searches for charities with these qualities (see our process for details). We provide a full list of charities meeting the first two criteria above, and invite readers to let us know if they know of an eligible charity we have overlooked.

For more on our process and the reasoning behind it, see our process.

What are the pros and cons of giving to GiveWell’s top charities?

Our process for identifying Top Charities is rooted in our own struggles as donors and our attempt to find charities that were proven, cost-effective, and scalable, such that we could draw a maximally confident, linear, quantified link between donations and outcomes, along the lines of “$X per life saved” or “$Y per person enabled to get a job paying 20% more than they could have gotten otherwise.” (See our former criteria.)

We don’t believe that our top charities offer linear, reliably quantifiable returns along the lines of “$X per life saved,” but we do believe that they are distinguished from other charities by their focus on evidence-backed programs aiming to help the global poor and by their transparency and accountability, all of which we believe to be important qualities. (More at our criteria.)

Many, but not all, staff support GiveWell’s top charities with their personal giving.

We think the principal advantages of our current top charities are that:

  • They represent the best opportunities we’re aware of to help low-income people with relatively high confidence and relatively short time horizons. If you’re looking to give this year and you don’t know where to start, we’d strongly recommend supporting our top charities.
  • Due to the emphasis on thorough vetting, transparency, and following up, our top charities represent excellent learning opportunities, and we feel that one of the most desirable outcomes of giving is learning more that will inform later giving. Supporting our top charities helps GiveWell demonstrate impact and improves our ability to learn, and we are dedicated to sharing what we learn publicly.

Some counter-considerations:

  • We have strict criteria about the sorts of charities we recommend. These criteria are partly about achieving maximum impact, but partly about having recommendations that others can fairly easily be confident in.
  • Seeking strong evidence and a straightforward, documented case for impact can be in tension with maximizing impact, as argued at this post by the Open Philanthropy Project. (The Open Philanthropy Project was incubated at GiveWell and looks for giving opportunities that can be longer term, harder to assess, and harder to explain. It does not have official recommendations for individual donors.)
  • Thus, we think there may be many giving opportunities that are better than our top charities but don’t meet our criteria and/or are not known to us.
  • Even though we believe our top charities are backed by strong evidence, none of our recommendations are a ‘sure thing’ and a few carry a significant risk of failing to do much good.