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  • Writer's pictureJoey Savoie

The Curriculum of Charity Entrepreneurship's 2020 Incubation Program

A focus on co-founder pairing and usable outputs for your charity (e.g. a fundraising plan)—these are the two tenets Charity Entrepreneurship’s (CE) 2020 incubation program for high-impact NGOs is built on. This allows participants to hit the ground running with their charity startup after only two months. ​

The new program structure is influenced by CE’s first batch in 2019 that helped to form six charities (see charities started in 2019). The key takeaway from participants and organizers was to make this year’s program even more action-oriented: First, by helping participants find a co-founder through additional in-person exercises. Second, by allowing the teams to work on the essential building blocks of a new charity, including cost-effectiveness analysis, budget, a one-year plan, fundraising documents, and much more. While these priorities add activities, the program has retained its two-month duration (July/August 2020). Content previously taught in person is now mostly moved to an online handbook on how to start an effective charity. This book will be shared publicly for the benefit of the broader NGO and effective altruism community. The 2020 charity incubation program will be divided into five phases:

  1. Pre-Program: Handbook

  2. Program: Classes and Team Building Exercises (2 Weeks)

  3. Program: Project Work in Different Groups (3 Weeks)

  4. Program: Project Work in Final Groups (4 Weeks)

  5. Post-Program: Decision on Seed Grant


In early July 2020, CE’s handbook about starting an evidence-based charity will be released. The 100+ page book will address key lessons capturing the major areas of scaling a charity startup. The lessons apply to all cause areas of Charity Entrepreneurship 2020, from health policy and animal welfare to mental health and family planning. The book is informed by the experience of CE’s curriculum team in supporting incubated charities and co-founding GiveWell-incubated charities Charity Science Health and New Incentives. It also builds on the vast literature in the domains of startups, management, evaluation, and measurement, bringing together renowned experts such as the partners at startup incubator Y Combinator and the 2019 Nobel Laureates in Development Economics.

This is the basic table of contents for the Charity Entrepreneurship Handbook includingselected sample chapter topics:

  • Introduction to Charity Entrepreneurship

    • Advantages (e.g. impact)

    • Disadvantages

    • Personality fit

    • ...

  • Getting a good start

    • Finding a high-impact intervention

    • Identifying the right co-founder

    • ...

  • Making good decisions

    • Mental models for decision making

    • Epistemology

    • Planning

    • Cost-effectiveness analysis

    • Monitoring and evaluation

    • ...

  • Getting support for your decisions

    • Fundraising

    • Financial planning and budget

    • Management and hiring

    • Communications

    • Working with mentors

    • ...

One key feature of the CE Handbook is that it goes beyond suggesting the best way forward; it provides actionable templates that can be easily implemented. Instead of just reading about the ideal budget, for instance, participants will be able to build on budget templates in Google Spreadsheets that have worked well for charity startups in the past.

We further provide each participant a personally recommended third-party book in a CE-related domain and share information on further resources, including through reading lists.


The program’s first two weeks in summer 2020 consist of classes and team-building exercises.

The classes cover the takeaways of the CE Handbook with a focus on interactive discussions on how to best implement the lessons in different contexts.

Team-building exercises are a fun way to get to know each other better and look for a suitable co-founder match. Exercises include telling each other your life story, discussing moral dilemmas, and conducting personality tests.

Classes and team-building exercises are mixed on the daily schedule, which keeps energy levels high. In addition, the CE team also conducts one-on-one meetings to discuss the individual goals of each participant.

Each day is expected to be structured as follows:

  • 9-11am: Class

  • 11-12pm: Team-building activity (or one-on-one meeting)

  • 12-1pm: Lunch

  • 1-3pm: Class

  • 3-4pm: Team-building activity (or one-on-one meeting)

  • 4-5pm: Class

  • After 5pm: Optional social activity

Classes on making good decisions include:

  • Tools, science, rationality

  • Tools of effective altruism

  • Long-term planning

  • Problem-solving

  • Cost-effectiveness analysis

  • Monitoring and evaluation

  • Budgeting and planning

  • Task management

  • Top interventions researched by CE

Classes on getting support for your decisions include:

  • Communication

  • Hiring and human resources

  • Fundraising

  • How to talk to mentors and experts

  • Picking and working with co-founders

  • Management

  • Negotiations

  • Self-care


The next three weeks are all about project work. In groups of varying sizes, you prepare draft outputs critical for every charity, from a theory of change to a fundraising plan. The constant team change allows you to test your compatibility with potential co-founders under close to real working conditions. Moreover, all groups work on the building blocks for the charities that will eventually be founded. So you prepare a draft theory of change for one of the suggested charities, say, on mental health. This draft is then picked up by the actual founders in the last stage of the program and finalized as the real theory of change for this charity (see below). Each day during this period consists of two slots of 3-hour project work, interrupted by lunch. At the end of the day, there is a one-hour lightning round to discuss the main challenges of the day’s projects. In this phase, you use the templates in the CE Handbook and prepare initial drafts of:

  • Research summaries (based on the research collected and prioritized by CE over months)

  • Strengths and weaknesses of an intervention and how to mitigate them

  • Theory of change

  • Geographic assessment (where to implement the intervention)

  • Cost-effectiveness analysis

  • Monitoring and evaluation plan

  • Stakeholder map

  • One-year-plan

  • Budget

  • Fundraising proposal

  • Donor list

  • Basic website

  • Organizational values

  • Finalization of co-founder pairing

Based on participants’ work throughout the week, they rank their favorite co-founders and interventions each Friday in a confidential survey. Preferences might shift as time goes on, and the CE team helps you answer any open questions in this regard. At the end of the three weeks, participants make their final selection of intervention and co-founder. The CE team recommends charity team compositions based on the collected preferences. The participants are now ready to start the final phase with their co-founders!


The final four weeks build on the previous project work. In their actual teams, co-founders take the draft project outputs to the next level. The early versions of theory of change, one-year-plan, budget, etc. are refined. The CE team provides participants with feedback on particularly tricky tasks, such as cost-effectiveness analyses. As this phase builds on the last one, the list of projects is similar to the above but with a more narrow focus and a higher level of depth. The program ends with this final phase. The various outputs—from theory of change to budget—come together in a fundraising proposal that summarizes the charity’s plans and financial requirements for the first year of operations.


Fundraising proposals must be handed in one week after program end, and are then reviewed by CE leadership. Grants from $25,000 up to $100,000 per charity are awarded to the startups most likely to have a high impact.

CE’s funding decision is based on 20+ criteria that capture the impact potential of the intervention, the planned implementation of the intervention, progress made to date, funding requirements, and the strengths of the co-founding team.

The above outline should give a good overview of Charity Entrepreneurship’s 2020 Curriculum. The work on our curriculum and handbook continues, so the structure and content may continue to change until the program starts on June 29. Let us know if you have additional thoughts about how to make the program as effective as possible for charity entrepreneurs!


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