The goal of GiveWell is to help a large chunk of individual giving to become more effective (i.e., to help people more). As such, the two most important questions about our project are:
1. Can we produce useful, actionable research for donors?
2. Will donors use it?
Our first year was focused on #1. We raised money only from people who knew us, because we had no track record and no existing research to point to. We told our donors that if they funded our startup, we would produce a first set of useful, actionable reports for donors. We’ve now done that.
Now the big question is whether our research can move a lot of donations. The bottom line about GiveWell is that if our research ends up influencing a lot of people’s giving, the project will work: sharing information will be worth charities’ time, and doing research will be worth our time and expense. If we can’t influence donors, then our research isn’t worth doing, and we’ll rightly go out of business. We’re not going to answer this question fully in the coming year, but we’re hoping to get a start on it.
That’s why we’re introducing the GiveWell Pledge, which aims to demonstrably increase our influence while preserving donor choice. A GiveWell Pledge is a formal, advance commitment to give to one or more of the charities we recommend after an additional year of research. The donor gets the final choice of charity, and pays no fee to us, but we get the benefit of being able to (a) show exactly how much money we’re moving; (b) show our direct donors, the ones who pay our operating expenses, whether we’re succeeding in our mission; and (c) show the charities we’re asking for information what’s in it for them.
This is different from the model used by philanthropic advisors (in which donors pay extra for research) and from the model used by independent evaluators (which have no “carrot” to get detailed information from charities). We’re hoping it will maximize our chances of doing research that is both thorough and sustainable. For more, see our official plan for the coming year.