Early signs show that you gave more in 2020 than 2019—thank you!

by GiveWell4 min read11th May 2021No comments

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GiveWellEffective altruism funding
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Our donor community appears to have given significantly more in 2020 than 2019, according to early data on donations we processed.

Growth was strong relative to previous years—even 2019, which also had strong growth—and across many different dimensions. Overall, donations to GiveWell more than doubled in 2020.

We estimate that these donations will collectively save more than 12,000 lives; provide over 2 million deworming treatments to children, leading to an approximate increase in that group’s lifetime earnings of more than $21 million; and deliver almost 3,000 cash transfers to low-income households. For simplicity, the impact estimates in this paragraph exclude some donation types, and so don’t represent the full impact of donations to GiveWell in 2020.[1]

“Donations to GiveWell” refers to donations that we received directly:

  • It includes donations to GiveWell for our recommended organizations—including for the Maximum Impact Fund—and unrestricted funding, which may be used for our operations.[2]
  • It excludes donations that were made directly to our recommended organizations (via their own donation platforms) as a direct result of our research, or to other groups that accept donations for GiveWell and/or our recommended organizations, since we don’t yet have complete information about those donations.[3] It also excludes GiveWell Incubation Grant funding.[4] Most donations from Open Philanthropy, a major philanthropic grantmaker with which we work closely, are part of this excluded category because they were made directly to our recommended organizations.[5]We expect these excluded donations to account for a large proportion of total funding we influenced last year. For example, in 2019, we received $54.9 million in “donations to GiveWell.” When we received complete information about donations made directly to our recommended organizations or groups supporting them due to our research, and included them in our assessment of our influence, the amount of money we tracked increased to $155.1 million.[6]

While this post is only a preliminary look at our donors’ collective giving last year, the early signs show incredible growth. Thank you to our donor community!

The takeaway: donations to GiveWell more than doubled

We received more than twice as much funding in 2020 as we did in 2019.

All amounts are rounded to the nearest $100,000. This chart excludes most support from Open Philanthropy and most GiveWell Incubation Grants.[7]

A caveat: we can slice our data in many different ways. Please take care when comparing the figures in this post to previously-published data on our metrics, which may include or exclude donations differently. (And don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments!)

The details: growth was strong across many dimensions last year

Amount given by donor size category

In 2020, we saw growth in total donations from every donor size category.

All amounts are rounded to the nearest $100,000. Donors’ size buckets are determined by their total giving over the course of the metrics year.

Amount of unrestricted funding

Donors collectively gave more than twice as much unrestricted funding in 2020 as in 2019.

Unrestricted support is especially valuable to us because of its flexibility. We use it to support our operations and may grant it to our recommended organizations, following our “excess assets” policy, which caps the amount of funding we can hold for our own work.

All amounts are rounded to the nearest $100,000.

We expect to grant a portion of the unrestricted support we received in 2020 to organizations we recommend.

Number of donors

The total number of donors who gave to GiveWell in 2020 was up 67% from the previous year. Over 40,000 donors gave to GiveWell last year.

What caused this growth? (It’s hard to say!)

As far as we can tell, the vast majority of our growth was organic: people found GiveWell and donated, for reasons we can’t directly attribute to our outreach efforts. For example, people may have searched for “effective donations” online and landed on GiveWell’s website, or heard about GiveWell from a friend and decided to donate.

It’s difficult to measure the impact of our outreach activities, such as advertising, on our growth. Many donors neither report what causes them to donate (by filling out our donor survey) nor give in such a way that we can independently determine what led them to give (for example, by donating through a custom link we share on a podcast advertisement).

Even when donors do report their donation as being due to a particular activity, we may still be missing important parts of the story. For example, if someone donates because their friend told them about GiveWell, and the friend heard about GiveWell through a podcast, we would guess the donor would be likely to report this as a “personal referral” and that we wouldn’t know that the podcast played a role at all. This challenge, while not unique to GiveWell, makes it difficult to tell satisfying stories about what leads people to give.

That said, we do have some limited data. In 2020, we tracked about $5 million in growth that was directly due to our outreach efforts. Now, moving into the realm of speculation: we know that 2020 was an unusual year, and it’s likely that some donations are attributable to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the United States’ Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was designed to encourage charitable giving.[8] Several large donors told us that the CARES Act influenced the amount they gave last year. More speculatively, while many people have experienced economic hardship due to the pandemic, for some donors pandemic restrictions in activities last year might have freed up some disposable income, which they chose to donate. It seems likely to us that these factors contributed to the growth that we saw among our donor community.

We’ll publish a complete metrics report later this year

For now, we’re celebrating this early positive news and the huge impact that our donor community had last year. Thank you for your generosity during this difficult time.

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