GiveWell: Unrestricted Fund


Effective Giving Research & Advocacy

GiveWell's Unrestricted Fund is the maximally flexible way to support GiveWell and its recommendations, as the Fund may support any GiveWell priority — including its grantmaking and its own operating expenses.

What problem is GiveWell working on?

GiveWell was founded in 2007 by a group of donors who wanted to accomplish as much good as possible with their donations. They found that there wasn't a strong source of information available on how to do this — so they decided to create one. Since then, GiveWell has spent hundreds of thousands of hours researching outstanding giving opportunities. GiveWell is based in Oakland, California.

What projects does the Unrestricted Fund support?

GiveWell generally uses unrestricted funding for operating expenses (which includes staff salaries, travel expenses, website maintenance, and other routine operational costs). However, GiveWell has an “excess assets” policy, specifying that once it surpasses a certain level of unrestricted assets available for its operations, it earmarks the excess for grantmaking, rather than continue to hold it for itself. This policy ensures that donors to GiveWell’s Unrestricted Fund do not need to worry about its room for more funding: when we have more funding than we can productively use ourselves, we use it to make more grants to the best giving opportunities we've found.

GiveWell also caps at 20% the proportion of its operating budget that any one individual or organisation can contribute (called the “single donor cap”). This helps GiveWell avoid overreliance on a single source of support. In practice, the single donor cap and excess assets policy are often activated at the same time. When its excess assets policy is triggered, GiveWell typically designates a portion of its largest unrestricted donation or donations as the “excess,” which ensures it’s also fulfilling the single donor cap. This means that for most donors, gifts to the Unrestricted Fund are spent on GiveWell’s operating expenses.

In 2021, GiveWell allocated about $11 million USD to its operating expenses and directed over $518 million to high-impact opportunities, including its top charities and other programmes.

Unsure how a fund is different from a charity? See our page about why we recommend donors give to funds.

What information does Giving What We Can have about the cost-effectiveness of GiveWell's unrestricted fund?

We looked into GiveWell in its capacity as a grantmaker in the global health and wellbeing space as part of our evaluators research (and as such, we recommend its Top Charities Fund, All Grants Fund, and top charities). However, we have not evaluated GiveWell’s own spending for its cost-effectiveness, and therefore do not list its Unrestricted Fund among our recommendations, although you can still donate to it via our donation platform.

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.