Research Outline

Fund (Invest or Donate) Research


To understand the donation journey of foundations, family offices, employees with corporate matching programs, donor-advised fund (DAF) managers, and individual donors find who to donate to by identifying any challenges and pain points in the process, the tools used (e.g. consultants, online platforms) and spending on these tools, and how they track the result of their donation to inform a strategy to channel more donations to organizations.

Early Findings


Selection process

  • Different foundations have different ways of choosing who to donate to. As an example, the Charity Science Foundation uses the online platform GiveWell as their main guidance regarding which charity to pick.
  • Furthermore, this foundation proposes the use of charity evaluators, clarifying that there are two subgroups to choose from. These are threshold charity evaluators and top charity evaluators.
  • Threshold charity evaluators require charities and organizations to meet a minimum of base criteria. Some platforms performing this type of evaluation are Guidestar, Charity Watch, and Charity Navigator.
  • Meanwhile, top charity evaluators perform in-depth research on the charities they recommend according to certain metrics and considerations. GiveWell, as a prime example, performs profound research on each charity, and it bases its recommendation on the impact that can be done with additional donations. Other top charity evaluators include Animal Charity Evaluators.
  • Other foundations have a more direct approach. Such is the case of the Bil and Melinda Gates Foundation. Instead of using charities evaluator platforms, this foundation has a four-step process to award grants and make investments.
  • These steps are concept development, pre-proposal, investment development, management and close.
  • The concept development phase directly refers to the selection of an organization or grantee. To do this, the foundation employs program officers who are in charge of evaluating any ideas or proposals, determine if these are aligned with the goals of the foundation, and make a decision on whether to proceed to the next step or not.
  • The Ford Foundation takes a similar approach by employing program officers that evaluate ideas and promote the creation of grant proposals that go into a consideration process.
  • The Ford Foundation has approximately 60 program officers. Each officer has an estimated salary of $174,383, meaning that the foundation spends approximately $10.4 million annually in salaries for the employees that select the charities and grantees.

Summary of Findings

  • We used this initial hour to assess the availability of the information and to provide initial findings related to how foundations select the organizations they are going to donate to or in which they are going to invest.
  • We found that these processes can vary across foundations, and have used specific foundations to provide examples of how these processes take place. In addition, we identified that platforms such as GiveWell, Charity Navigator, and Animal Charity Evaluators are used by different donors to select their charities. Additional information could be provided with further research.
  • While we have assessed that information about the selecting process is available for family offices, employees with corporate matching programs, DAF managers and individual donors, we did not have time to provide this information as part of our initial findings. We could provide additional information with further research.
  • We did not have time to address the pain points, challenges, and tracking systems used by foundations, family offices, employees with corporate matching programs, DAF managers and individual donors. We could gather this information with further research.
  • During our initial search, we were unable to find specific information regarding how much these types of donors spend searching for an organization or charity to donate to. While we provided information about salaries of program officers at the Ford Foundation, this data cannot be extrapolated to all foundations nor used as a general marker. Specific spending information during the selection process could not be found during our initial search.