4 Questions one of the most effective NGOs asks before giving



Benter showing me her greenhouse in Kenya

I visited GiveDirectly in Kenya this summer and write about them in Where Am I Giving? GiveWell ranks GD as one of the most effective nonprofits in the world. GD gives direct cash payments to extremely poor families and allows them to make their own decisions on how to spend that money.

I don’t think all giving can be measured, but GD’s impact can, and they measure it better than almost any other NGO. So when it comes to asking question about how to give and whom to give to it’s worth listening to their advice.

GD’s 4 questions to ask before giving:

1. Can I tell where my dollar (or pound, mark, etc.) will go? This one is the most basic, but surprisingly hard to answer. Charities often run many programs, some through subcontractors or “local partners,” and it isn’t easy to figure out where a donation will end up. “Gift catalogues” are a classic example – these make it seem like you can choose what to give, but typically the fine print says the charity will still do whatever it thinks is best with your donation. (GD answer: no surprises here – when you give, we transfer your money directly to someone living in extreme poverty.)

2. Is there rigorous, experimental evidence of the impact it will have? We look for very basic things – do charities have an easy-to-find “evidence” section on their website with results from a rigorous, randomized controlled trial? Or do they talk about “theories of change” and what they “believe” works? (GD answer: our very first transfers were part of an RCT, now published in a top economics journal, and we have 7 more evaluations now in progress.)

3. How much does the good / service cost to deliver? This one is so obvious it seems embarrassing to ask, but the reality is we haven’t found many charities that report their unit costs and clearly explain how they calculate these. (GD answer: it costs us between 10.7 and 11.6 cents to deliver a dollar in Kenya, Uganda, or Rwanda.)

4. How poor are the people we’re helping? The evidence we’ve seen says that we can have a much bigger impact by helping people who are starting with less. Pretty intuitive. But we’ve had a hard time finding charities that actually quantify how well they are doing at locating the poorest. (GD answer: recipients live on an average of around $0.75 / day.)

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