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2020 research review: Our latest findings and future plans

We discuss what our Research team learned in 2020 and our plans for 2021.

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▲ Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

COVID-19 changed our lives in 2020, but tackling the pandemic is just one of the many global challenges we face. In 2020, the Founders Pledge Research team not only identified some of the best organizations working to quash the pandemic, but also published new research and charity recommendations focusing on a range of different global issues affecting people and animals alive today and generations yet to come. Through giving to these organizations, you can multiply your impact and ensure you are supporting some of the very best charities in the world.

In 2020, our Research team:

  • recommended 19 new funding opportunities;
  • published four new research reports and three major updates to existing research; and
  • continued to improve our data-driven methodology to identify great causes and charities.

In this post, we dive into our 2020 research outputs and set the stage for 2021.

New research

This year, we produced new reports on housing affordability and homelessness in the US and UK, psychedelic-assisted mental health treatments, and Investing to Give. In these reports we recommended the work of five great nonprofits. To highlight just one example, we now recommend the Usona Institute, which supports research on psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression. We think these treatments are sufficiently promising that donations to Usona are about as cost-effective as donations to our existing recommendations in the field of mental health.

Impact-focused philanthropists should also check out our report on Investing to Give, which explores whether donors should give to the world’s top charities right now, or invest and give a larger amount in the future. We built a quantitative model to understand the trade-offs in this choice. Because our investments will grow and we will learn more about the best funding opportunities over time, our model suggests that philanthropists can likely increase their impact by investing at least part of their pledge and giving more in the future.

Finally, when the Coronavirus pandemic hit we published giving recommendations for our COVID-19 Fund, set up in partnership with Silicon Valley Bank. We had previously identified pandemic preparedness as a high-priority area for philanthropists to support. Throughout the pandemic we have continued to work with highly-impactful policy organisations such as the Center for Health Security and the Nuclear Threat Initiative to strengthen governments’ response to this pandemic and improve our defences against the next one.

Updated reports

2020 was also a big year for updating our existing research in three important cause areas: animal welfare, climate change and safeguarding the future. In addition to a major update to our Climate Change Report, which included two new high-impact giving opportunities (TerraPraxis and Carbon180), we produced two other in-depth reports on the climate impact of different lifestyle choices and the climate implications of President Joe Biden’s win.

We have also grown the number of recommendations for future-focused - or longtermist - philanthropists to five after updating our Safeguarding the Future Report. In addition to the Center for Health Security and the Center for Human-Compatible A.I., we now recommend the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s bio department, the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, and the forecasting research of Professor Philip Tetlock and his collaborators. The Coronavirus pandemic provided a harsh reminder of our civilization’s vulnerability to catastrophic global risks, and we continue to believe that philanthropists can have a big impact by supporting efforts to help governments and individuals be better prepared for future threats.

We also released an updated report on animal welfare which expanded the number of high-impact recommendations in this space from one to five. On animal welfare issues, at least, 2020 saw encouraging progress. The proportion of farm animals housed in more humane systems continues to grow in the US and Europe, while alternative protein startups raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors. Yet much work remains to be done in this space. Since animal welfare issues are so neglected, we believe that philanthropists can have a huge impact and spare thousands of animals from lives of suffering by supporting these organizations.

Finally, we added a new high-impact recommendation in the field of education: Teaching at the Right Level Africa, an organization which works with governments across Africa to implement and scale-up highly-effective educational strategies.

Methodological improvements

Last year we also continued to enhance our research methodology to make better cost-effectiveness estimates and ensure our recommendations are as accurate as possible. Many of these improvements are documented in our new and improved Our Approach to Charity document. We also:

  • Introduced a new method for evaluating seed-funding opportunities;
  • Discussed how we use expected value calculations and forecasting to evaluate riskier funding opportunities like policy advocacy;
  • Expanded our use of Bayesian updating to better estimate the cost-effectiveness of promising, but under-studied, interventions; and
  • Posted two public reports on more experimental, early-stage research into economic growth and cross-species cost-effectiveness comparisons in order to gather feedback and prioritize our future research.

We think further improvements to our Bayesian analyses, seed-funding model and policy advocacy methodology will allow us to analyze a much broader range of interventions and possibly identify more high-impact funding opportunities in the year to come.

Looking ahead

While it seems like much of 2021 is still shrouded in uncertainty, both for our team and for the world at large, we expect to build on the progress we made last year. Throughout this year we will continue to refine our methodology, produce deeper and more diverse recommendations, and highlight the very best giving opportunities in neglected philanthropic areas such as protecting future generations, improving the lives of the global poor, and alleviating the suffering of factory-farmed animals. We will also maintain our rigorous standards, ensuring that Founders Pledge members can be confident in the reliability, transparency and, above all, cost-effectiveness of the organisations we recommend as high-impact.

Now we’re looking forward to what will hopefully be a brighter, healthier year. There’s so much good to be done, and we’re excited to get started. If you’re a Founders Pledge member and would like to discuss how to make your giving as impactful as possible in 2021, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your Community Manager.

  1. New research
  2. Updated reports
  3. Methodological improvements
  4. Looking ahead

About the author


Stephen Clare

Former Researcher

Stephen is a former Researcher at Founders Pledge. Previously, he was a Program Analyst for the United Nations Development Programme in Rwanda. He has also worked on climate change projects with the UN in Panama and the Youth Climate Lab in Canada. Stephen has an M.Sc. from McGill University and a B.Arts.Sci. from McMaster University.