Enabling giving, based on sound evidence

Giving Evidence works to get charitable giving based on sound evidence. It was founded by Caroline Fiennes, an acclaimed author and former award-winning charity CEO with over 10 years experience advising donors and charities. We work on improving the evidence ‘system’ across charities and philanthropy, and advising donors and foundations on an individual basis.

Caroline Fiennes is a great source of advice about charitable giving. She’s helped Eurostar become effective very rapidly” – Eurostar CEO Richard Brown Caroline Fiennes

To be effective, donors and non-profits need to use evidence: evidence about (i) what’s needed, (ii) what works, (iii) what the intended beneficiaries think of it, and (iv) what other entities are already doing. This is (obviously) important because some charitable interventions are much more effective than others, and only decent evidence can show which are which. Hence sound evidence is essential for giving to achieve much. This FT article rattles through the case for using evidence in charities and giving.
Yet evidence-based giving is current hard, and often impossible because the evidence doesn’t exist, or is unreliable, and/or is hard to find. So Giving Evidence works on this – on improving the quality, findability, and hence use of sound evidence by both operating non-profits and donors. We work on the ‘evidence system’.
For example, we have:
  • raised the issue of non-publication of research by charities, e.g., whether they do research by only publish the bits which flatter them. This ‘publication bias’ is rife in medical research, for example.
  • mapped the ‘evidence system’ (ie., how evidence is produced, shared and used by charities and donors) in education in less developed countries and in mental health in the UK.
  • identified various ways to improve findability of research and data produced by charities in UK criminal justice.


    “Ask and important question and answer it reliably”. Caroline addresses a group of donors.

  • produced two systematic reviews of the entire literature on topics to inform practitioners and donors in those areas: one in outdoor education commissioned by a funder, and one in Sail Training, commissioned by a membership body of practitioners
  • studied the many lessons from the way that evidence is produced and organised in medicine.
  • produced a paper with the University of Chicago outlining the questions about ‘how to give’ for which there is currently inadequate evidence (e..g, whether to give restricted vs unrestricted, make large vs small grants, be engaged vs hands-off)
  • produced evidence about one effective way of managing grants, in the form of a case study of good practice with the InterAmerican Foundation.
  • pointed out that the current system of charities producing research on which donors evaluate them is fatally flawed.

We raise donors’ awareness of the importance of good evidence e.g, by writing and speaking in the press and at events.

Caroline writes regularly for the Financial Times, has contributed to Freakonomics, BBC TV, Forbes, Money Week, The Economist, BBC Radio 4,  BBC Radio 5Live, Alliance Magazine, The Guardian, Stanford Social Innovation Review, the Daily Mail, Huffington Post and the charity sector press. (See here) She speaks at many conferences and events, e.g., Skoll World Forum, the Community Foundations of Canada, the Social Impact Analysts Association, Association of Charitable Foundations and Arab Foundations Forum. (Events listed here.)

Giving Evidence changes the debate about evidence of charities’ effectiveness. We produced the first data that charities’ admin costs don’t indicate their effectiveness, and analysis showing the evaluation of the first social impact bond won’t show whether it’s worked.   This outlines our campaigning work:

More information about Giving Evidence’s services for donors and recent client engagements is here. This 90 second video outlines how we help donors:

The Team

Caroline Fiennes founded and directs Giving Evidence.  She is one of the few people whose work has appeared in both OK! Magazine and the scientific journal Nature. She is a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University, and for three years wrote the ‘how to give it’ column in the Financial Times, and has advised many donors of many types on many issues over many years and in many countries. She often speaks at conferences and in the press, and is on boards of The Cochrane Collaboration (specifically Evidence Aid ), The Life You Can Save founded by ethicist Peter Singer, and the (amazing) Flemish Red Cross. She has worked with J-PAL at MIT and with its sister organisation Innovations for Poverty Action. She is described by Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler as “charmingly disruptive” 😉

More information about Caroline Fiennes is at www.carolinefiennes.com/about and she is on http://www.twitter.com/carolinefiennes

Our Advisory Committee informs and supports all our work and approach.

Our team includes;

Dr Sylvia McLain is a physical scientist, with a PhD in Chemical Physics who has worked at the intersection of Physics and Biology. She raised funding for, and ran, her own research at Rutherford Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US, King’s College London and the University of Oxford, where she led a research group. She has published in leading peer-reviewed academic  journals, won awards for research, given 40+ invited scientific and public talks and panel discussions.
She was for four years a raft guide on the Chattooga River in South Carolina

Dr Helen Owen is a PhD epidemiologist, with experience of various types of data-collection and analysis, both in the developed and developing world. She has studied anti-malarial bed-net distribution, and taught at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is working with Giving Evidence on a study of foundation effectiveness.

Isabel Kelly, director of Profit With Purpose, is a long-time colleague and ally. We collaborated on a strategy review of the Stewarts Law Foundation (a corporate foundation).

Katherine Cowan is an expert in collaborative approaches to prioritising research questions, as such is Senior Advisor to the James Lind Alliance which prioritises unanswered questions for medical research. She is working with Giving Evidence on our project around creating a mechanism for prioritising unasnwered questions around intensive animal farming.

Jess Haskins has worked on research and evaluation in health, quality improvement, criminal justice and philanthropy, and in social research in government for many years. Whilst at the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), she led research, evaluation and informative projects to improve capability and understanding of both commissioners and providers around evaluation and measurement of impact. Specifically, Jess advised on improving evaluation capability. She has spoken at a number of high level conferences, workshops, and panel events on the value of evidence, and use of high quality impact evaluations. Jess has worked at the University of Bristol on methodological projects relating to understanding bias in systematic reviews.

Dr Leonora Buckland has worked with Giving Evidence on the study of a C&A Foundation programme and on mental health. She has worked for various organisations in social entrepreneurship, social investment and philanthropy, including the Skoll Foundation, the Venture Partnership Foundation, and the London Business School. She has written for the Stanford Social Innovation Review on microfinance and European venture philanthropy, and wrota e report on European banks’ social and impact investment. She has worked in strategy consulting and in the civil service. She has a 1st class degree from Oxford University, a Masters in International Economics from SAIS, Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from Oxford University.

Diego Escobar worked with us on the work in Latin America for the Inter-American Foundation. Based in Mexico, he is Honorary Research Associate at the UCL Institute of Education’s EPPI-Centre, where he is involved in conducting systematic reviews. Previous work in the University of Guadalajara, the Ministry of Culture of Jalisco and as an independent evaluator for national and sub-national government agencies in Mexico has been both research and practice orientated, focusing on institutional development for accountability and effectiveness in the areas of social development and the arts. He has a master’s degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics.

Giving Evidence has several times worked with University College London’s EPPI-Centre (Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre), on producing systematic reviews; and twice worked with Keystone Accountability. Various other people advise on the design of our projcts on request, including Dr Ben Goldacre, and Professor Mike Clarke, former Chair of The Cochrane Collaboration globally.

Contact. To book Caroline to speak, or for advice about your giving, contact admin [at] giving-evidence [dot] com

15 Responses to About

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  6. Helen McAllister says:

    I just caught Caroline’s appearance on the BBC News channel at 5 o’clock talking about the Kids Company issue and the need for charities to be held and hold themselves more to account for how charity donations are spent and how they measure the effectiveness of the ways in which they spend those donations.

    I worked for an umbrella charity organisation in the third sector for several years and I found that when I tried to introduce what I had learned as a former Quality Assurance Manager, I met with strong resistance on all sides. Very few of the managers of charities,(often early public sector retirees on nice salaries, thank you very much) or indeed the local politicians and community leaders who ‘supported’ them wanted to measure what the outcomes were or how valuable those outcomes were by any kind of measurements (financial, social cohesion, individual happiness and potential etc.)

    I suspect they were terrified that if the records and account books were opened and the outcomes were measured, there would be a huge scandal about how much generously given donations have been wasted on grand-sounding vanity, grant-friendly sounding schemes that were never planned, never project managed and certainly never quality assured and so largely ineffective if they were delivered at all. As long as the managers, politicians, community leaders and disadvantaged group (often self-elected) representatives knew they were perceived as ‘doing good’, and were on their way to a OBE, they were happy.

    I was banging my head against a brick wall so I became totally disillusioned and I left the third sector, disillusioned.

    I wish i knew of an organisation with regional clout with which I could get involved to influence (if not force) local charities to implement simple QA methods to get the evidence-based best results for their donors’ bucks, If you know of such an organisation in the North East of England, I would be grateful if you could give me their contact details.

    Keep up the good work and I hope things can be changed before the donors’ get disillusioned and stop giving.

    All the best,
    Helen McAllister

  7. Patrick Taylor says:

    I come from a financial background and whilst not working in the charity sector I take a more than passing interest in organisations and effectiveness.

    As is my wont I looked at the KC Accounts some months ago and was more than depressed to note that Trustees children were being employed by the charity. I am not saying they were not valued and valuable employees but one thing I learned when in business is never get your lines of control/communication confused by extraneous factors

    And now we learn that the CEO’s personal chauffeur’s daughter was a boarder at a public school with a Trustee in common. The tangled web we weave to ……

    I have been reading various Charity Acts and reports and looking at the advice and workings of the Charity Commission and it really is quite messy. I am trying to get a sensible response as to whether Trustees van award up to £2.5million in bonuses to four executives of the trading arm of a charity.

    Simples …….not.

    I hope Helen you find some where worthy of your talents. Caroline keep up the excellent work.

  8. Patrick,
    Interesting comments. Are you able to reference those allegations? Thanks.

  9. Hans Gutbrod says:

    Indeed, very interesting comments (although chauffeur’s daughter with trustee in common isn’t yet too incriminating).

    As we have argued at Transparify (www.transparify.org), more transparency in all directions is a good thing – although we also need to be clear that quality charity work is tough, and doesn’t produce miracles. There is an infatuation with magic transformation, and we hope that transparency also leads to a better discussion, and more honesty on what it takes to make a difference.

  10. Ted Sherwood says:

    My small Australian contribution to encouraging giving with thought and transparency: http://www.tedsherwood.com.

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  13. Howard White says:

    Dear Helen (from last year’s comment)

    There is growing pressure to measure effectiveness using rigorous methods, including but not limited to randomized controlled trials. These methods have become common in International Development in the last 15 years, and are becoming more common in UK – for example through the Education Endowment Foundation. A good impact evaluation will look at process issues and so expose programmes not being implemented properly, or indeed at all.

    The resistance to being evaluated is not unique to non-profits!.

    These issues will be discussed at the What Works Global Summit next month wwgs2016.org, You can also read a bit more in my blog http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/evidence-based-policy-testing-policies-government-spend-public-money-better-systematic-reviews-a7208031.html

    I hope you have managed to find some accountable organization to work with

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