Many people have been asking about where they can donate to fight COVID-19, so we asked a couple of advisors for their initial thoughts on which opportunities could be especially high-leverage.

We haven’t evaluated how these compare to donation opportunities in other areas,1 but if you are keen to donate specifically to COVID-19-related work then read on.

1. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

Personally, I would donate to the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins (CHS), which researches biosecurity and advocates for better policy. It takes donations here, or you can donate through the Effective Altruism Funds.2

  • They’ve been one of the most influential sources of information and analysis for helping inform policymakers’ response to the crisis, for instance releasing influential situation reports at least once a day since January 22nd.
  • Getting the policy response right seems like a crucial lever in navigating the crisis, and requires comparatively little funding.
  • They had a good track record of work on pandemic preparedness before the crisis, and received a large grant from Open Philanthropy in 2019.3
  • My best guess is that if the CHS has urgent funding needs during the crisis, those needs will be met by other donors, especially Open Philanthropy. However, the Center’s budget is large, so in the longer term I expect it could make productive use of additional funding, helping to improve the policy response to future pandemics. This seems like an advantage to me (because I think future pandemics are a highly pressing issue, and I think the CHS is likely among the better longtermist donation opportunities in general).

2. The Gates Foundation COVID-19 Funds

If you want your donation to be focused more fully on COVID-19, a safe bet would be either of the new Gates Foundation COVID-19 funds.

  • Their main focus is on vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics,4 which seem likely to be key levers for ending the crisis. Several tens of billions of dollars on research could eventually bring the crisis to an end — a tiny amount compared to spending on healthcare capacity and economic stimulus, which are both in the trillions.
  • There still seems to be room to fund this work, and unfortunately it doesn’t seem like governments have already funded all of the obvious opportunities (although it’s possible the funding will still materialise with some delay). For instance, Gates just funded the construction of 7 vaccine factories, with an intention to double down on whichever one or two turn out to be best. See another illustrative article. However, I expect funding for policy work is even more neglected than funding for biomedical interventions.
  • More generally, the Gates Foundation has been ahead of the crisis, and started working on it in January.
  • They have expertise in global health and biomedical research grantmaking.
  • In general, I think the Gates Foundation has a good track record within the areas it focuses on.

3. The Center for Global Development

If you would like to focus more on helping the global poor through this crisis – who are receiving less attention and are in a worse position to deal with it – one option would be the Center for Global Development, which takes donations here.

  • They have a successful track record in advocating for policies to help the global poor.
  • They’ve recently decided to make the response to COVID-19 in middle and low income countries a significant focus, and are developing policy advice for these countries, who are often unable to access the expertise they need from multilateral bodies like the G-7 and the World Bank.
  • They have received significant grants from Open Philanthropy, both in the past, and recently for their efforts on COVID-19 in particular.
  • Like the Center for Health Security, this is a large centre, so we expect it can absorb significant funding although we don’t know how much of it would be deployed during this crisis. If the money is not deployed against COVID-19, however, then I expect it will be put to good use working on other policy issues that affect the global poor.

If you’d like to do your own research or are a large donor

The choices above all seem likely to be useful. However, the speed of the crisis means that grantmakers in this area are overstretched. If you’re willing to invest significant time, and especially if you have some relevant expertise and are looking to donate more than six figures, you could consider trying to find and vet opportunities yourself. This may allow you to have a greater impact than sticking with these safer choices that are less neglected.

For example, you could consider trying to identify small but high-upside projects that contribute to the key bottlenecks to progress, focusing on any areas where you have an existing network and expertise.

But be careful about using up time from relevant experts (e.g. asking for a disproportionate amount of materials before making a decision), and about funding projects that others think are a bad idea – you may fall prey to the ‘unilateralist’s curse’ (read more about how to avoid accidentally making things worse).

One way to get more specific ideas is to look at what Open Philanthropy and the Gates Foundation are funding in this area.

There are also more ideas in this article by SoGive.

Another idea is to use prizes to incentivize the development of new treatments. Alex Tabarrok has written a primer on using prizes to address pandemics. There are already some prizes for work on COVID-19. For example, Emergent Ventures has already allocated prizes to the researcher who discovered that COVID-19 had spread in Washington, a 17 year old who designed a data dashboard, and a company selling test kits. You could offer to top these up, increasing the size of the incentive.5

If you intend to donate over $200,000, you can get in touch with Jacob Trefethen ([email protected]), who is currently making grants in this area.

See all our other content on COVID-19.

Notes and references

  1. Unfortunately these ideas have had much less scrutiny than a normal donation recommendation due to the rapid pace of the crisis. If you’re going to donate in conditions like these, you have to make decisions with much less confidence than normal.

  2. You could also make a similar case for the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which normally works on biorisks as well as nuclear risks, and is currently focusing significantly on COVID-19.

  3. Open Philanthropy is the largest foundation that takes a broadly effective altruism approach to deciding where to give, and we think has a good track record of grants. Note that we’re also funded by Open Philanthropy.

  4. One of the funds is also focusing on efforts to help the global poor who are affected, which seems neglected relative to wealthy countries’ responses.

  5. If your top up is small compared to the original size of the prize, returns will be roughly linear, so the effect of your donation will be similar to the last dollar of the original amount.