Are charities helping? We don’t know. A Blog by The GiveWell Blog

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Are charities helping? We don’t know. A Blog by The GiveWell Blog

GiveWell is an independent, nonprofit charity evaluator. We perform in-depth research on charities to help people accomplish as much good as possible with their donations.
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Are charities helping? We don’t know.


The 3BL Media blog roll is a select list of the most influential, respected, and authoritative voices in corporate social responsibility. Compiled from the 3BL Media staff’s extensive contacts with longtime CSR commentators, these blogger soffer relevant news, opinions, and ideas about all things CSR in one convenient place.    

Thursday, October 22, 2009 - 3:20pm


 In a recent debate, David Hunter’s article on the nonprofit sector has taken heat for its assertion that “While nonprofits work incredibly hard, with passion and dedication, and often in incredibly difficult circumstances to solve society’s most intractable problems, there is virtually no credible evidence that most nonprofit organizations actually produce any social value.”

We agree with the claim for the sectors we’ve examined, which we believe are similar to the sectors Mr. Hunter has examined: particularly thorny areas such as charities working to improve education and international charities addressing extreme poverty overseas. These are problems on which experts have struggled for decades to make any progress, and while we don’t necessarily agree that most charities are failing to produce value, we agree that most charities cannot produce any credible evidence that they are. This is different from the claim that Sean Stannard-Stockton attributes to Mr. Hunter (”most nonprofits and the social sector as a whole is not currently producing social value”), but it still means that it’s very hard for a donor to give with confidence.

The information we have

Our belief is based on two years of looking for this evidence; we’ve published the full details of our findings online, and you can see our summary of international charities (only 19 out of 320 examined publish any impact-related evaluation reports) and U.S. equality of opportunity charities (only 6 of 83 examined provide credible impact-related reports, and 2 of these show negative or no impact).

In addition, in a guest post on the GiveWell Blog, David Anderson of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy estimates that 75% of rigorous evaluations show weak effects, no effects, or negative effects.


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