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A brief look at how some groups we’ve supported are responding to COVID-19

Organizations supporting and delivering public health and poverty alleviation programs have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in many ways. Here, we provide a brief look at how some of the groups we’ve supported are responding to the pandemic.
We share an example of a charity that continues to implement its health program, with modifications for social distancing and safety; charities that have paused their programs, but continue supporting their staff; and a charity that is allocating funding to pandemic-response efforts.
This is neither a comprehensive update nor a static one. The situation is evolving rapidly. We will share a more complete update on what the pandemic means for our top charities and their funding needs closer to the end of the year. We continue to recommend that donors give to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion,” which we allocate among our recommended charities where we see the greatest need.
What follows is a snapshot of what’s happening now.
Examples of how charities are responding
A charity that is continuing its program, but with modifications: Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program
Seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) is the delivery of anti-malarial medication to children under age five during the time of year when malaria transmission is highest.[1] The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that programs to prevent malaria, including SMC, continue during the pandemic.[2]
Malaria Consortium is a GiveWell top charity that supports SMC campaigns (primarily door-to-door) in the Sahel region of Africa.[3] We expect Malaria Consortium’s next SMC distributions to take place during the upcoming July-to-October rainy season.[4]
GiveWell-directed funding to Malaria Consortium’s SMC program is flexible. We don’t restrict its use to specific activities. That means Malaria Consortium can use GiveWell-directed funds to quickly adapt its distribution model to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Malaria Consortium will aim to provide personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, to its community SMC distributors. It also plans to provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, soap, bio-waste bags, and additional T-shirts and hijabs.[5] Malaria Consortium has instructed community distributors to maintain two meters of distance in their interactions and to share information on how to prevent COVID-19 while visiting each household.[6]

Image from Malaria Consortium’s visual aid for community distributors. SPAQ (sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine and amodiaquine) is medication to prevent malaria.
Overall, Malaria Consortium expects slightly higher costs for its campaigns as a result

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Why you’ll see more matching campaigns at GiveWell

Lots of charities run matching campaigns with claims like “Give today and double your impact!” We’re generally skeptical of these claims, which are true only if the matching donor would not have otherwise given to the charity.
We guess that many donors who are motivated to make a large gift to charity (as donors who put up funding for matches typically are) would do so whether or not their support is matched by others. What may often be happening with matching campaigns, then, is that a matching donor would have given to the charity anyway but has agreed to structure their donation as a “match” for marketing purposes. We’ve written about these concerns in the past.
But we don’t think matches are inherently problematic. In fact, if executed such that the matching donor would not have given otherwise, we believe they can be highly motivating for donors.
We’re aiming to increase the amount of funding we direct each year, and we’re planning to start regularly running matching campaigns in 2020 ourselves, in the hopes of reaching new donors and learning which channels are the most successful for marketing. We plan to take extra steps to structure our matching campaigns to offer a “true” match to the extent possible.
How we’ll structure matching campaigns
In order to make a more truthful claim about matching, we plan to verify that the donors who provide matching funds for GiveWell campaigns would not have otherwise donated. We are taking the following steps to do so:

Approaching donors who have shown interest in increasing GiveWell’s reach.
Asking if they would be interested in making an additional gift this year to underwrite our matching campaigns.
Assessing their giving history and our expectation of their likely giving in 2020 so that we can see if matching funds appear additive.
Confirming with potential matching donors that we are only interested in donations they would not have otherwise made.
Communicating to potential matching donors that we will only accept their gift in the amount we are able to match from other supporters. This might mean asking the donor to wait to give until the matching campaign is complete so that we only receive the correct amount, or returning unused funds to the matching donor.

It will be impossible to say with certainty that a matching donor would not have given

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June 2020 open thread

Our goal with hosting quarterly open threads is to give blog readers an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about GiveWell or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at info@givewell.org or to request a call with GiveWell staff if you have feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.
You can view our March 2020 open thread here.
The post June 2020 open thread appeared first on The GiveWell Blog.

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GiveWell’s plans for 2020

Each spring, we share our plans for the year. Here, we highlight the work we plan to do in 2020 that is most likely to help us realize our mission of identifying and directing funding to highly cost-effective giving opportunities.1This post does not include a complete accounting of everything we plan to do in 2020. In particular, it does not include work aimed at primarily internal-facing results, such as improvements to internal staff communications. jQuery(“#footnote_plugin_tooltip_1”).tooltip({ tip: “#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_1”, tipClass: “footnote_tooltip”, effect: “fade”, fadeOutSpeed: 100, predelay: 400, position: “top right”, relative: true, offset: [10, 10] }); We focus on three projects:

Expanding into new areas of research.
Searching for new, cost-effective funding opportunities in our traditional research areas.
Building our donor community.

Sharing our annual plans and publicly reflecting back on them a year later is our typical practice. This year, of course, is atypical. The plans we laid out internally at the beginning of the year have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The plans we share in this post take the pandemic into account, but we are more uncertain than usual about what will happen in 2020. We expect that much of our work will go forward as anticipated, but we will be flexible if there are unforeseen disruptions or changes to our research agenda that result from the pandemic.
Expanding into new areas of research
Grants in response to the pandemic
We have already expanded into a new area of work in 2020: grantmaking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t typically focus on high-uncertainty, short-timeline reviews of funding opportunities. However, we think that we should be open to making grants in a lower-information environment due to the potentially severe consequences of the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries, where we focus our work, and that acting sooner may be more impactful in preventing the spread of the disease. As of the publication of this post, we’ve made three grants for COVID-19 mitigation.
We plan to consider whether there are additional grants we should make in response to the pandemic. We will make these grants if we believe they are more cost-effective than the opportunities to which we would otherwise direct funds.
Prioritizing within public health regulation
We began this year with the goal of clarifying which areas were most promising within public health regulation, a relatively new-to-GiveWell domain that we see as potentially highly cost-effective but that

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Reflecting on our progress in 2019

GiveWell grew significantly in 2019. We hired 13 full-time staff members, bringing our total size to 37, and expanded our ability to take on new projects across domains. We feel positioned to do more and better work going forward as a result.
We see a strong indication that the amount of funding we directed to our recommended charities increased last year, too. While we haven’t reconciled all giving from 2019, the value of donations we processed increased by about 30% in 2019.
We’re proud of what we accomplished in 2019. We also fell short of some goals last year. Most notably, we failed to make as much progress as we planned in researching new areas of global health and poverty alleviation.
This blog post provides a brief look at our key successes and failures last year. A more detailed accounting of how our progress in 2019 compared to the goals we set is available on this page.
Successes
Hiring new staff
Years of planning for our needs and recruiting efforts culminated in hiring 13 new staff to join our small team in 2019. GiveWell ended last year over 50% bigger than it was at the end of 2018.
We hired across the domains of our work: seven joined the research team, two joined the outreach team, three joined the operations team, and one will serve as Managing Director. We expect each staff member will enable us to accomplish more and achieve better outcomes across these key areas of our work. Below, we highlight a few senior hires whom we expect to help steer the direction of our work.

Managing Director. We hired Neil Buddy Shah as our first Managing Director in late 2019. Buddy will work closely with GiveWell’s CEO Elie Hassenfeld to set GiveWell’s high-level strategy. He will also engage with the international development community to learn from and contribute to discussions of how to do as much good as possible and to identify promising funding opportunities. We expect Buddy to start at GiveWell this summer.
Research. We’ve been looking to hire senior researchers to expand our ability to assess new types of evidence since 2016. We described in early 2019 how our research is evolving and how we hoped to hire additional experienced researchers to enable us to do this work. We hired Alex Cohen and Teryn

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Why ongoing assessment of top charities leads to more impact: HKI’s vitamin A supplementation program

Charities must meet rigorous requirements to make our list of top charities. However, a common misconception about our work is that our assessment process ends with the naming of a top charity. Not so! We continually examine our top charities—in fact, four staff members are devoted to ongoing assessment of our top charities. We collect information to update our assessment of our top charities’ track records and to evaluate the effectiveness of their spending plans.
Continuous assessment is critical because we direct donations to our top charities on an ongoing basis. Donors can make a gift anytime throughout the year, and we want to ensure their support is directed to the charity or charities that will best use it. We formally assess where funds can be best used each quarter when we allocate “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” (discretionary funds).
We allocate discretionary funds based on our understanding of charities’ spending plans and their estimated cost-effectiveness. This is heavily informed by our understanding of the cost-effectiveness of the charities’ past work and track record to date. Although our understanding of charities’ spending plans is a key part of our allocation decision, we don’t restrict discretionary funds to a particular purpose within the program we recommend. Organizations may reallocate GiveWell-directed funding as new information becomes available.
This post will highlight how this combination of continual assessment and flexible funding leads to positive outcomes by sharing the recent example of our work with Helen Keller International (HKI)’s vitamin A supplementation (VAS) program, one of GiveWell’s top charities.
HKI’s vitamin A supplementation program
In late 2019, we allocated discretionary funding from GiveWell donors to HKI to support VAS campaigns in Bauchi State, Nigeria, from 2020 to 2022. VAS campaigns target preschool-aged children and are most impactful in areas with high rates of vitamin A deficiency. The World Health Organization recommends that children in these areas receive vitamin A supplements two to three times per year.[1] We recommend HKI’s VAS program because we believe that VAS reduces children’s mortality from infectious disease.[2]
HKI told us in July 2019 that VAS campaigns were ongoing in Bauchi State but that a 2018 government survey found very low coverage rates there. At the time of the survey, only 30% of individuals targeted for VAS in Bauchi State received it. HKI proposed

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