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It's tax time and I'm looking at where to donate. I'm skeptical that I should be giving to the GiveWell charities because:

  • GiveWell in intricately tied to Open Philanthropy and Open Philanthropy seems to have the capacity to fill any deficits in GiveWell charity funding each year. This means that a donation to GiveWell charities is effectively a donation to Open Philanthropy (because it frees up some of their funds) and whatever they're giving grants to. (As someone keen on global development and preventative health I'm not as aligned with Open Philanthropy's broader work).
  • In 2021-2022 GiveWell rolled over funds into the next year because they felt that the top charities had enough. They've said they no longer do this but it suggests to me that they tend to be in the ballpark of fully-funded.
  • It's hard to find up-to-date data on GiveWell about the current "Room For More Funding" of their top charities.

Does anyone have any insights on whether a donation to a GiveWell charity is useful at the moment?




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Open Philanthropy has significantly cut back its allocation to GiveWell. “In our GHW portfolio, we decided — and announced last year — that we would scale back our donations to GiveWell’s recommendations to $100M/year, the level they were at in 2020

I would also not read too much into GiveWell’s decision to hold onto funds for a year. They do that sometimes when they have an opportunity which they expect will be good, but which hasn’t yet been fully vetted; or if there is an opportunity that isn’t quite ripe yet for some reason. This has as much to do with expectations about next year’s fundraising as it does about todays opportunities.

Something else you might consider is, if you didn’t give to GiveWell, where would you give? And would that other opportunity be better or worse, in expectation?

The Open Phil report you link to says:

in April their median projection for funding raised in 2024 from sources other than Open Philanthropy was $421 million, compared to ~$117 million five years earlier.


Having that funding available allows GiveWell to cover many of its highest-ROI opportunities regardless of our support

This suggests that Open Phil is pulling back funding as GiveWell finds funding from non-Open Phil sources. I suspect that if GiveWell was getting fewer non-Open Phil donations Open Phil would pick up the slack again.

Donations to GiveWell ... (read more)

Philanthropy advisor for GiveWell here, chiming in to confirm that we’re funding constrained! The most recent Top Charities Fund allocation went to a grant that we estimate saved a life for every $3,200 donated (grant page to come on our website)-- not every opportunity we fund this year will be that cost effective, but our research team continues to identify really excellent opportunities and we don’t expect to raise enough money this year to fill them all.Looks like people have shared useful links already; you might also be interested in the blog post we published yesterday describing how we communicate about our need for more funding.

It sounds like you're saying that GiveWell in general is funding constrained because it can't give out all the grants it would like to. My question was specifically whether the top charities (AMF, Malaria Consortium, Helen Keller, New Incentives) are fully-funded.

This question is important to me because I am Australian and unable to tax deduct donations to GiveWell but can tax deduct donations to the top charities.

Henry, apologies for the delayed response-- I'm still sorting my notification settings here and didn't get pinged that you had replied. I can confirm that we are seeing ongoing gaps at our Top Charities specifically (we approved a $41m grant to AMF just last week; grant page to come). As you may know, GiveWell directs funds on a grant by grant basis--if you'd like your gift to benefit from the investigations of our research team, you can contribute to the Top Charities Fund by giving through EA Australia. We coordinate with them to distribute according to our assessment of the best grant opportunities of our Top Charities each quarter.  

The section "What more donations will enable" from November 2023 looks relevant. Some excerpts below: https://blog.givewell.org/2023/11/21/givewells-2023-recommendations-to-donors/

"We set our cost-effectiveness threshold such that we expect to be able to fully fund all the opportunities above a given level of cost-effectiveness. Currently, we generally fund opportunities that we believe are at least 10 times as cost-effective as unconditional cash transfers to people living in poverty (i.e., “10x cash“). But there’s nothing magical about the 10x cash threshold. We’d be very excited to recommend programs that are 6x cash, for example, if we had enough funding—a program that’s 6x cash might save a life for less than $15,000."

"If we had a very weak Giving Season this year and expected donations to continue lagging, we might have to raise our cost-effectiveness threshold to something like 12x cash and fund fewer programs going forward. In contrast, with exceptionally strong growth in donations we might be able to use a bar of 8x cash, expanding the set of opportunities we can fund."

The year in question, when they decided to hold some cash for a few months, it was because they had been researching new giving opportunities that were 10x cash and wanted to be able to use the money for that, rather than dropping the bar. (GiveDirectly criticised them for this and said they should've effectively lowered their bar to 1x cash in order to use the funds as soon as possible; they thought GiveWell's decision would be indefensible to the world's poorest people.)

That's a great link, cheers

In 2021-2022 GiveWell rolled over funds into the next year because they felt that the top charities had enough. They've said they no longer do this but it suggests to me that they tend to be in the ballpark of fully-funded.

I think I would draw the opposite conclusion from this specific piece of evidence - it suggests that, unlike most charities, they're willing to say "yeah we got enough for now", so we should infer that when they don't say this they actually could use some more.

Tangential to OP/GiveWell counterfactuals, it's worth commending Against Malaria Foundation uniquely not holding assets and seeming intent on spending all revenue: https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/203069841

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AMF does. Quoting Rob Mathers' (AMF CEO) recent post, emphasis mine:

Many recognise the impact of AMF’s work, yet we still have significant immediate funding gaps that are over US$300m. ...

There is already a significant shortfall in funding for malaria control activities, including for net distribution programmes so miraculous things will have to happen in the coming year if we are to get anywhere close, globally and across all funding partners, to where we need to be to be able to drive malaria impact numbers down. Counterfactually of course, if the funding that is being brought to bear was not there, the number of people affected by malaria would be horrifically higher. Currently there are ~620,000 deaths a year from malaria and 250 million people fall sick. 

The Global Fund is the world’s largest funder of malaria control activities and has a funding replenishment round every three years, with funding provided by global governments, that determines the funds it has available across three disease areas: HIV/Aids, malaria and TB. The target for the 2024 to 2026 period was raising US$18 billion, largely to stand still. The funding achieved was US$15.7 billion. The shortfall will have major ramifications and we are already seeing the impact in planning in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the two countries in the world worst affected by malaria, for the 2024 to 2026 programme. Currently only 65% of the nets desperately needed will be able to be funded. We have never had this low a percentage of funding at this stage, with limited additional funding forecast.

The latest actual publicly-available RFMF figure I can find for AMF, and the other top GW charities, is here from Q3 2020, which is probably what you're referring to in the OP by "It's hard to find up-to-date data"; back then it was just $37.8M, nearly an order of mag lower, although I'm not sure whether Rob's and GiveWell's RFMF figures are like for like.

OP as an actor is hard to model, but I would guess that increased donations to GiveWell would come from other parts of their Global Health and Well-being umbrella, not their global catastrophic risks work. 

I'm noticing I don't have a very good mental model for this (if I assume you're interested primarily in maximising effective GHD donations). Would love other people's insight.

I saw that OP's bar for funding was about ~$50 per DALY averted in Oct 2023. Excerpt from OP below:

We’ve reduced the annual rate of our funding for GiveWell’s recommendations because our “bar” for funding in our Global Health and Wellbeing (GHW) portfolio has risen substantially. In July 2022, it was roughly in the range of 1100x-1200x; we recently raised it to slightly over 2000x. That means we need to be averting a DALY for ~$50 (because we value DALYs at $100K) or increasing income for 4 people by ~1% for a year for $1 (because we use a logarithmic utility function anchored at $50K).

Some more questions: 
How do GiveWell's current top charity recommendations each sit at $/DALY-averted?

Does that mean that we can expect a donation to GiveWell to be buying DALY-aversions for >$50? (But less than what?) (I know that doing this calculation is not always a great idea, but keen to know how OP and GiveWell are thinking about this if they have) 

What are reasonable alternatives to consider in this space? (I'm aware of other great non-GHD donation opportunities)

Re:fully funded, my vague mental model is they have a list of projects, ordered in some way, and then they fill till they run out of money +/- saving for future opportunities. Would love to know whether this is accurate.

Cheers for the practical post question.

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