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Why I give directly: The evidence

In this week’s “why I give directly” blog series, Ian Turner talks about the values he looks for in a charity, and his reasons for choosing GiveDirectly in particular.

Ian Turner by scenic waves

I’ve been struggling with how to give effectively for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I came across a charity as committed to evidence and to its beneficiaries as GiveDirectly. Most charities seem to be run primarily to meet the needs of donors or staff, rather than for beneficiaries; GiveDirectly stands out as one where donors and staff take a back seat to the needs of the needy. It’s clear based on the organization’s behavior that the most important people at GiveDirectly are the poor. This focus on results is one of the main reasons I give to GiveDirectly.

Of course, you can’t expect to effectively help people at any kind of scale without evidence. If there’s one thing development science has made clear, it’s that anecdotal or even systematic survey-based evidence doesn’t mean much. Both charity and beneficiary can feel great about an intervention that is actually making things worse. GiveDirectly starts with an intervention with evidence of impact and cost-effectiveness, which few enough charities do, but then follows up on that with a continuous collection of new evidence combined with an openness to experimentation.
If that were all there was, GiveDirectly would still have a strong case for itself. But through my interactions with the organization, it’s become clear that their commitment is not just to evidence – it’s to the poor. Most international charities’ websites prominently feature photos of relatable smiling children, but not GiveDirectly, because of respect for beneficiaries’ privacy and security. Many charities seem to resign themselves to a certain degree of corruption among their staff, but GiveDirectly is willing to install intrusive internal controls to actively prevent corruption.

When you combine all this, a picture emerges of an organization lead simultaneously by head and heart – run in a way that elevates the poor above other stakeholders, but also with a clear and strong commitment to use of evidence whenever possible. That’s the kind of organization I’d like to support, which is why I’m proud to give to GiveDirectly.