One of the roles of
What We Can (GWWC) is to help its members and other interested
people figure out where to give. If you go to their site and click
giving" they list
Fund and the
Fund, both of which our family donated to
in 2022. Showing funds first reflects
view (and mine!) that most people should donate via funds: a
grantmaker with time and resources to determine where money is most
needed can generally do a better job allocating funds than an
One of the big downsides of donating via a fund, however, is that you
have to trust its grantmakers are allocating your money in line
with what you would want. Perhaps they have different values
or ways of thinking about uncertainty, risk, and evidence.
Or perhaps they're just not very good at their job. One of GWWC's
roles is evaluating
these funds, helping people figure out who to trust, but if you're
more skeptical GWWC also recommends individual charities.
They maintain a list of charity
evaluators they trust, and if one of those evaluators recommends a
charity then GWWC will list it prominently on their site and badge it
as "top rated". You can see these on GWWC's donating page
if you scroll down past the funds.
There was recently some discussion
on the EA Forum around one of these evaluators, Founders Pledge, and one
of their recommended charities, StrongMinds. In March 2019,
Founders Pledge performed a detailed investigation of StrongMinds, decided that their work
treating depression in low-income countries was highly cost-effective,
and wrote up a public evaluation explaining this decision (summary,
details). GWWC then listed StrongMinds as a top-rated
charity. All makes sense.
While Founders Pledge has continued to follow StrongMinds' work and
stands by their recommendation, they haven't had the resources to
update their public review. Since Founders Pledge continues to
recommend StrongMinds, GWWC continues to consider it a top-rated
This is not a great situation: if you want to be giving to individual
charities because you don't trust grantmakers deciding privately what
most needs funding, you don't want to be taking Founders Pledge's word
that StrongMinds is still a highly cost-effective opportunity. How has
their funding outlook changed over the last nearly four years? Have
there been more recent studies on their work or on this kind of
A case with even less public information is Suvita. GWWC
recommend Suvita because Founders Pledge's Global Health and
Development Fund made a grant there in July 2022. GWWC links to that
2022 grants writeup which has a single paragraph on Suvita.
I think what Founders Pledge is doing here is fine; this is a
reasonable level of transparency for a fund making a $50k grant. On
the other hand, for a charity that GWWC is promoting directly to
donors it's very little to back up a designation of "top rated".
(After sharing a draft of this post with Founders Pledge they linked
me to a more
detailed writeup on Suvita, but it isn't currently linked from the
rest of their site or from GWWC.)
On the EA Forum I proposed that one of GWWC's requirements for
endorsing recommendations from their trusted evaluators be that
they're supported by current public evaluations. In the case of
StrongMinds, once Founders Pledge's public evaluation became stale
GWWC could have removed the "top rated" badge. GWWC's response was
that they thought their current policy was correct because "our goal
is primarily to provide guidance on what are the best places to give
to according to a variety of worldviews, rather than what are the best
explainable/publicly documented places to give."
In this case, I don't think this should be their goal. The biggest
advantage I see to GWWC pointing people to specific charities, not
just funds, is that this simpler approach supports people in directing
their money effectively even if they don't trust the private decisions
of evaluators. This doesn't work without recommendations being backed
by reasonably detailed public current evaluations.
Note that this doesn't require that most donors read the evaluations:
lower-trust donors still (rightly!) understand that their chances of
funding work that's pretty different from what they thought they were
funding are much lower if an evaluator has written up a public case.
On the other hand, there are several reasons why a donor willing to
take an evaluator's word for how effective a charity is might still
prefer to donate to an individual charity instead of a fund:
Taxes. Donations to, for example, StrongMinds are
tax-advantaged in 22
countries while donations via the EA Funds platform are only
tax-advantaged in 3. If the fund is planning on granting to charity X
this year, then you donating to X has similar effects to donating to
Preference adjustments. Perhaps you agree with a fund in general, but
you think they value averting deaths too highly relative to improving
already existing lives. By donating to one of the charities they
typically fund that focuses on the latter you might shift the
distribution of funds in that direction. Or maybe not; your donation
also has the effect of decreasing how much additional funding the
charity needs, and the fund might allocate more elsewhere.
Ops skepticism. When you donate through a fund, in addition to
trusting the grantmakers to make good decisions you're also trusting
the fund's operations staff to handle the money properly and that your
money won't be caught up in unrelated legal trouble. Donating directly
to a charity avoids these risks.
These are real concerns, but they're the kind of concerns
sophisticated and committed donors are likely to have. These are the
kind of people who are much less likely to put a lot of weight on a
"top rated" badge, or to be on the fence about whether to
donate. Supporting donors in these kinds of situations is good, but
that mostly just requires listing the charities, not marking them as
"top rated". Overall, I still think limiting the "top rated" badge and
promotion to charities that have current public evaluations is the
right choice for GWWC.
Disclosure: my wife used to be President of GWWC, but I haven't run
this post by her and I don't know what she thinks of this proposal. I
sent a draft of this post to GWWC and Founders Pledge; thanks to Sjir
at GWWC for discussion on the Forum that led to this piece, and to
Matt at Founders Pledge for his quick responses.