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Impact Matters just launched today, an organization that is trying to complement GiveWell by auditing charities across sectors for their use of evidence and impact. In their own words:

We believe in a simple philosophy: choose your cause with your heart, but your nonprofit with your head. A powerful mission is just the start. Diligent donors then ask the next question: does the nonprofit use and produce appropriate evidence of impact on that mission?

We conduct “impact audits”, short-term engagements with two objectives:

  1. Help nonprofits: Guide nonprofits in strengthening their use and production of appropriate evidence of impact.
  2. Help donors: Certify to donors that an organization is appropriately evidence-based.

The result is simple: nonprofits get tailored guidance on how to improve their use of evidence, and donors can be confident their charitable dollars are advancing the mission they care about.


ImpactMatters was founded by Yale economist Dean Karlan and his former student Elijah Goldberg in 2015 to solve two critical gaps in the nonprofit sector. First, nonprofits that want to be more evidence-based in their work often don't have the expertise or guidance to figure out how. Second, while we now know a lot more than a few decades ago about what does and doesn't work, for example to increase literacy or reduce child deaths, it is often difficult to map that evidence-base to nonprofits.

Enter the impact audit.


We call these two gaps the "nonprofit rating" problem. Many nonprofit organizations struggle to use evidence to guide their decision-making. Similarly, many donors struggle to assess the impact of nonprofits. An impact audit solves these related challenges:

  1. Provides value back to the nonprofit: Following the review, we provide a detailed private management letter to the organization. The management letter includes specific recommendations for how the nonprofit can improve its program and operations. In addition, the letter directs the nonprofit to resources and organizations that can help with specific needs. ImpactMatters does not serve as an consultant, but rather provides independent recommendations for how the nonprofit can improve its work.
  2. Certifies appropriately evidence-based nonprofits to funders: ImpactMatters believes donors should choose their cause with their heart, but their nonprofits with their head. Our impact audits make choosing a nonprofit easier, by certifying nonprofits as appropriately evidence-based. Often, we will look for evidence from a randomized trial to make that certification. However, a core belief at ImpactMatters is that not every nonprofit needs a randomized trial: some programs cannot be tested with randomized trials, and others can rely on randomized trial results from elsewhere. We look for appropriate evidence, making the process selective while still allowing recommendations across a range of causes. As a result, donors can give with their heart while remaining confident in the impact of their philanthropy.


We define success as follows:

  • Organizations shift towards more evidence-based programming as appropriate
  • Donations shift to appropriately evidence-based organizations
  • Impact audit standards are adopted by others, creating a market for impact
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Note they have been taken over by Charity Navigator; this has strong potential, but I'm concerned that it may not be done right. (See linked shortform post).

Hm, curious how specifically this differs from GiveWell.

They just say whether the charity is using an evidence-backed intervention or not, rather than trying to find the most effective organisation.

In particular, they apply this across all causes, providing options for donors out of global health and cash transfers.

Sorry I didn't respond sooner, but yeah, Ben seems right from what my colleague who's running it says.

I notice that ImpactMatters is using messaging I thought was EA-developed ("Choose a cause with your heart, but give with your head") and has one charity in common with TLYCS ("Possible"). Do you know how much EA overlap they have?

Dean Carlan has a long history of work on charity effectiveness and rigour long pre-dating EA. He has said on twitter that they took a lot of influence and inspiration from EA charity evaluators (esp Givewell). I think the best way of looking at this and much of his other work (for example Innovations for Poverty Action) is that it is EA-aligned organisation but not part of Effective Altruism as a "thing" since it comes from a different community and background and has a narrower focus ("are these charities effective at what they do" v "what overall is the most effective thing we can be doing")

Again, sorry for not responding sooner, but AlasdairGives is right from what I understand.

How is ImpactMatters finding organizations to send Impact Audits? Are they by the request of the non-profit or would they be done in a non-solicited manner?

At the request I believe. They also don't release failures - the idea is you just don't get certified, so it doesn't create a disincentive for working with them.

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