Direct Cash Transfers

GiveDirectly is a nonprofit that lets donors send money directly to the world’s poorest households. GiveDirectly believes people living in poverty deserve the dignity to choose for themselves how best to improve their lives — cash enables that choice.

What problem is GiveDirectly working on?

According to more than 300 independent reviews, cash is an effective way to help people living in poverty. Recipients of cash typically end up less poor and put cash towards improving different aspects of their lives. Cash can help drive a range of important, positive changes in people’s lives.

Yet, people living in extreme poverty rarely get to decide how aid money intended to help them gets spent. Cash transfers make up a very small proportion of aid and charitable giving.

What does GiveDirectly do?

Since 2009, GiveDirectly has given more than $580 million in direct cash transfers to more than 1.3 million people living in poverty. Research from GiveDirectly and others shows recipients spend the money on essentials like medicine, farm animals, school fees, clean water, solar lights, tin roofs, irrigation, and more.


In addition, GiveDirectly measures its impact through rigorous research, conducts pilot programmes and experimental tests, and reports on the evidence base for cash transfer programmes. It is currently testing:

  • A basic income programme in Kenya in which it is distributing cash to recipients for up to 12 years and collecting data on the impact of this programme compared to controls.
  • The impact of giving large cash payments to refugees (after a successful pilot in Uganda).

What information does Giving What We Can have about the cost-effectiveness of GiveDirectly?1.

GiveDirectly was previously a GiveWell top charity from 2012 to 2022. GiveWell’s decision to no longer recommend GiveDirectly was not based on any shift in thinking about GiveDirectly, but rather a change in GiveWell’s top charity criteria.

GiveWell uses cash transfers as a benchmark for determining cost-effectiveness, only recommending charities it believes to be at least 10x the cost-effectiveness of cash transfers (of the type GiveDirectly facilitates). Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that GiveDirectly is about 10x less cost-effective than GiveWell’s current top charities.

That said, after updating its criteria, GiveWell still stated, “GiveDirectly is one of the strongest programs that we’ve found in years of research and we continue to have a very high view of their work.” Additionally, donors may have good reasons for choosing GiveDirectly over (or in addition to) GiveWell’s top charities – including that cash transfer recipients have greater agency than recipients of the public health programs implemented by GiveWell’s top charities. (Cash transfer recipients can use the funds however they wish.) For more information about GiveWell’s assessment of GiveDirectly, see:

Founders Pledge’s research team also advised us that GiveDirectly may be listed on our platform, and Open Philanthropy has given GiveDirectly multiple grants in recent years.

Please note that GWWC does not evaluate individual charities. Our recommendations are based on the research of third-party, impact-focused charity evaluators our research team has found to be particularly well-suited to help donors do the most good per dollar, according to their recent evaluator investigations. Our other supported programs are those that align with our charitable purpose — they are working on a high-impact problem and take a reasonably promising approach (based on publicly-available information).

At Giving What We Can, we focus on the effectiveness of an organisation's work -- what the organisation is actually doing and whether their programs are making a big difference. Some others in the charity recommendation space focus instead on the ratio of admin costs to program spending, part of what we’ve termed the “overhead myth.” See why overhead isn’t the full story and learn more about our approach to charity evaluation.