If you donate to the best charities, you could do astonishing amounts of good. But finding the best charities is extremely difficult. That’s why Giving What We Can recommends thoughtfully relying on charitable giving experts, who’ve done a lot of that hard work already.
This page outlines what charitable giving experts are, how to decide which ones to trust, and more information about Giving What We Can’s trusted evaluators.
What are charitable giving experts?
On this page, we’ll focus on two kinds of charitable giving experts:
Charity evaluators — These are organisations that investigate charities to help donors make an informed decision about where to give.
Grantmaking organisations — These are organisations that investigate funding opportunities to evaluate which seem best, and provide funding directly.
Often, organisations are involved in both of these activities. For example, GiveWell researches which organisations save or improve lives the most for every dollar they’re given. It shares this research publicly and uses it to inform its Top Charities. In this respect, GiveWell is acting as a charity evaluator that donors can use to be more cost-effective. But it also uses this research to inform its grantmaking, where it directly allocates funds to organisations.
Both charity evaluators and grantmaking organisations seek to find the best available funding opportunities. If you’re looking to do the same with your donation, it’s likely you can have a bigger impact by relying on their expertise.
The best charitable giving experts are obsessed with finding the most impactful opportunities. They aren’t just looking for which charities sound good — they want charities that have an impact.
For example, rather than relying on rules of thumb like, “How much does the CEO get paid?” evaluators should instead ask, “How much good will this charity do for every dollar we give them?”
Even for experts, finding the most cost-effective funding opportunities is hard — it’s important to take a rigorous approach and use the best methodology and evidence available.
This doesn’t always imply using the most advanced quantitative modelling techniques (as these aren’t useful in every area). But it does imply careful reasoning about which types of models and evidence to use and collect in which situations, and then doing sufficient research to collect the evidence one needs to make grantmaking and recommendation decisions.
The more transparent a charitable giving expert is, the easier it is to assess whether you should trust them. In particular, you want to know:
What criteria do they use to evaluate funding opportunities?
What is their process for making these evaluations?
Do they share their findings publicly, and explain their reasoning?
Does the organisation acknowledge their mistakes, and learn from them?
It’s difficult to know how much to evaluate transparency, as in some cases, it can be costly:
Grantmaking organisations are often in positions of power over the organisations they fund. If they always publicly shared their reasoning for making or not making grants, it could unduly damage organisations they choose not to fund.
Sometimes the most impactful grants can be very difficult to explain, or rely on confidential information. If grantmakers always had to justify their decision publicly, this could: (a) reduce their capacity to make impactful grants, as they’d need to spend considerable time communicating their decisions; and/or (b) incentivise them to make grants that may seem good, but not actually be good.
Still, all else equal, the more transparent a charitable expert is about how they evaluate their grants, the better.
Aligned with your values
Ultimately, evaluating charities necessarily involves making value judgements. For example, suppose we knew that if we gave $1,000 each to charities A, B, and C:
Charity A would double someone’s income for 10 years.
Charity B would add four healthy years to someone’s life.
Charity C would remove 200 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Which is best? The answer is going to depend on your values. Charitable giving experts can try to investigate how to make these comparisons, and make these kinds of value judgements thoughtfully — but reasonable people are always going to disagree, so it’s important to find an organisation whose values you share.
Our trusted evaluators
Giving What We Can does not conduct primary research into charities. Instead, we rely on several other organisations that do. We call these our “trusted evaluators,” and their work helps us ensure that our community members can have the biggest possible impact with their donations.
We, the Giving What We Can research team, have chosen these experts because of our subjective impression that they meet a strong standard, according to the criteria above. In 2023, we intend to do a thorough reevaluation of all our current trusted evaluators, in addition to evaluating new potential trusted evaluators.
As mentioned above, GiveWell is a research organisation that investigates which charities save or improve lives the most per dollar. It shares this research publicly, to help donors find the most cost-effective charities, and it also manages several funds which allow it to directly support the highest-impact opportunities it identifies.
GiveWell is focused on improving the lives of people in the relatively short term. You might think we can have a bigger impact by improving the lives of nonhuman animals or protecting future generations.
You might think GiveWell is overly reliant on a specific methodology (generally focused on 'cost-effectiveness analysis'). You might think this means it misses harder-to-evaluate but potentially more impactful approaches to improving the lives of people today, such as improving economic growth. (See here for more on this critique.)
You might disagree with how GiveWell makes certain value comparisons, such as the value of adding an additional healthy year of life compared to the value of doubling someone’s income.
Conflicts of interest: Both GiveWell and Giving What We Can have received funding from Open Philanthropy.
Founders Pledge is a philanthropic organisation that conducts research to provide donation advice to its members — entrepreneurs who have made a pledge to give a portion of their personal proceeds on liquidity to charity. Founders Pledge also shares its findings with the general public. Like GiveWell, it also manages several grantmaking funds.
Rigour — Founders Pledge’s research team regularly provides comprehensive reports which carefully reason through how it decided which charities to recommend.
Transparency — Founders Pledge publicly shares reports detailing how it chose its recommended charities. However (as discussed below), Founders Pledge is somewhat less transparent than GiveWell.
Why might you not trust Founders Pledge?
Founders Pledge covers a lot of cause areas with a small research team compared to GiveWell, meaning it spends less researcher time per recommendation.
You might disagree with the value and methodology choices it makes — for instance, in how it relies on subjective wellbeing as an important metric.
It doesn’t have an “our mistakes” section on its website.
It is also less transparent than GiveWell about its internal view about which of its recommended causes or charities it believes are the most cost-effective given particular values.
Conflicts of interest:
Giving What We Can’s Director of Research, Sjir Hoeijmakers, was formerly a Senior Researcher at Founders Pledge. (Founders Pledge was a trusted evaluator before Sjir joined.)
Both Giving What We Can and Founders Pledge have received funding from Open Philanthropy.
Animal Charity Evaluators
Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) thoroughly researches various animal charities to find the organisations that help animals the most per dollar. It does this each year and publishes detailed reviews of its findings. ACE also manages its Recommended Charity Fund and Movement Grants Fund, which disperse grants to its top-rated and promising charities.
Transparency — ACE publishes its findings publicly, and has a mistakes page.
Why might you not trust ACE?
ACE exclusively focuses on nonhuman animals. You might think you can have a bigger impact by focusing on humans.
Despite having produced a large volume of reports, ACE is driven by a relatively small team and so is unlikely to have the same capacity for rigorous analysis as a much larger organisation like GiveWell.
You might disagree with ACE’s focus on the culture of animal charities, instead thinking it’s better to just focus on the charities’ results. (See here for some criticism of ACE that relates to its assessment of a particular organisation’s culture.)
Longview Philanthropy is a research and grantmaking organisation that advises large donors on how to have the most impact with their philanthropy.
Longtermism — The idea that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time
Scientific mindset — Being informed by the latest research from the natural and social sciences whenever possible.
Intellectual honesty — Only making grants to organisations Longview’s team thinks is best, and never simply telling philanthropists what they want to hear.
Why Longview is one of our trusted evaluators
Longview designs and executes bespoke giving strategies for large donors, using evidence and reason to fund outstanding opportunities to protect future generations.
Focus on impact — Longview has an outstanding reputation among other experts in longtermist philanthropy for its grantmaking.
Rigour — Longview has a highly capable team of grantmakers and researchers who often collaborate with other experts so that they can direct funding as cost-effectively as possible.
Transparency — Giving What We Can collaborates with Longview on specific grants, so has some insight into Longview’s work. However, unlike the trusted evaluators mentioned above, Longview generally works with private donors (usually giving at least $1 million USD per year), and much of its work isn’t public. This makes it more difficult to externally evaluate.
Why might you not trust Longview?
Longview does not provide a list of charitable recommendations for you to follow. The primary way you can use Longview’s expertise is by donating to the Longtermism Fund. You might choose not to do this because:
You don’t agree with Longview’s longtermist approach or doubt its expertise.
You are concerned that it does not publicly share all of its grants or the reasoning behind them.
Focus on impact — EA Funds’ approach directly aims to find the most cost-effective opportunities.
Rigour — The EA Funds team includes a range of expert grantmakers who are able to vet potential grants.
Transparency — EA Funds has a grants database describing the grants it makes and also provides payout reports (such as this one), which describe some of the reasoning behind each grant. This provides enough information for the cost-effectiveness of the grants to be externally evaluated. In some cases, EA Funds provides grants to anonymous recipients, though it always aims to strike a reasonable balance between transparency and impact.
Giving What We Can acquired EA Funds’ donation platform and we have worked closely with the EA Funds team in the past (for example, Fabio Kuhn is a software engineer for both EA Funds and Giving What We Can).
Both Giving What We Can and EA Funds have received funding from Open Philanthropy.
Other charitable giving experts we want to look into
In 2023, in addition to reevaluating our current trusted evaluators, we aim to investigate several organisations in the effective giving space that we think are promising. The following is a tentative list of additional charitable giving experts we are considering investigating in 2023: