Charity Selection Process

OFTW’s partner selection process has two distinct stages: the selection of the full portfolio, and the selection of ‘OFTW Top Picks.’ The first stage is conducted by GiveWell on an ongoing basis according to their existing criteria and process. The second stage is conducted by OFTW each spring.  

Stage 1: Selection of full portfolio

This stage is carried out by GiveWell on an ongoing basis, and we provide a short overview of this process below. A full overview of GiveWell’s charity selection methodology can be found here.


Like One for the World, GiveWell’s mission is to improve the lives of people living in extreme poverty, and it selects charities that help achieve that goal. GiveWell uses four broad criteria to select its charities:

  • Evidence of effectiveness: priority given to programs that have been studied rigorously and repeatedly, whose benefits can reasonably be expected to generalize to larger or different populations

  • Cost-effectiveness: based on estimations of figures such as “cost per life saved” or “cost per economic benefit produced” - note that these calculations often involve value judgements as GiveWell have written about here

  • Room for more funding: what will additional funds — beyond what a charity would raise without GiveWell's recommendation — enable the charity to do, and what is the value of these activities

  • Transparency: charities must be open to GiveWell’s thorough and skeptical review of programs in addition to public reporting of review materials

To identify charities to recommend, GiveWell employs a rigorous process of evaluating potential interventions and charities focused on them. GiveWell uses the following steps to make its recommendations:

  1. Identifies ‘priority programs’ - representing the most evidence-backed approaches to helping the global poor - through review of academic literature and independent research

  2. Determines eligibility of charities: either works on ‘priority program’ and/or has compelling evidence for its own program (e.g. GiveDirectly)

  3. Reviews eligible charities based on four criteria (described above). Review is conducted through conversations with charities, investigations of charity documents, discussions with other funders of the charities, and site-visits.

  4. Follows up with recommended and eligible charities extensively over future years to deepen understanding of activities and progress over time

Stage 2: Selection of ‘OFTW Top Picks’

In keeping with our founding criteria and principles, we use four criteria to select our Top Picks:

  • Strength of evidence. We prioritise organizations that have a strong evidence of positive impact

  • Cost effectiveness. We prioritise organizations that achieve a larger positive impact per dollar donated ('bang for buck').

  • Direct impact and simplicity of programs. We have a preference for organizations that reduce preventable deaths and assist people living in extreme poverty directly

  • Track record and cultural fit. We have a preference for organizations with a longer track record of success and those that appeal well to our donors

We expect our charities to perform very well on each of these four criteria, but recognise that they will have different strengths and weaknesses on these four criteria. In particular, as in financial investments, there is often a tradeoff between the strength of evidence (uncertainty or variance) and the cost effectiveness (expected value or mean), and we will communicate this to our members in our evaluations.

In addition, we try to ensure that our overall portfolio achieves the following goals:

  1. Persistence of portfolio. We have a preference to avoid making wholesale changes to our Top Picks each year to help us to market a smaller group of charities to our members.

  2. Diversity in programs. We have a preference to maintain diversity in the programs executed by charities in our portfolio .

  3. Diversity in geography. We have a preference for diversity in the countries in which our charities operate.

These goals are designed to couple our selection criteria with major principles of our organization and our commitments to our members.

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In 2019, our selection process was conducted via the collaboration of two teams:

  • Qualitative Team - interacted deeply with GiveWell’s existing qualitative research (example: AMF) by reviewing literature, external sources, and scoring charities along 4 criteria.

  • Quantitative Team - understood and analyzed GiveWell’s cost effectiveness analysis (CEA) - investigated assumptions and key leverage points of analysis, provided personal adjustments, and incorporated ‘moral weights’ of team members and the OFTW executive committee

The two teams started the process by conducting independent research over subsets of GiveWell’s recommended charities. Throughout the process, team members cross-pollinated research and discussed strengths and weaknesses across charities. Quantitative team members served as experts in cost-effectiveness, while qualitative team members provided expertise in charity research at a broader level.

To conclude the process, group discussions were conducted and the team collectively selected the OFTW Top Picks, guided by the four criteria and principles mentioned above.

For a detailed analysis of the partner selection process and background on previous years, see here.