GiveWell’s progress in 2012

This is the first post (of five) we’re planning to make focused on our self-evaluation and future plans.

As in past years, we’re going to be posting our annual self-evaluation and plan as a series of blog posts. This post summarizes what changed for GiveWell in 2012 and what it means for the future. Future posts will elaborate.

For us, the major developments of 2012 were:

  • We continued to strengthen our partnership with Good Ventures. In 2011, we made contact with Good Ventures, a new foundation, and they made grants totaling $750,000 to our top-rated charities. During 2012, we have been working more closely with Good Ventures, including playing a significant role in $1.1 million worth of grants made to organizations that are not top-rated GiveWell charities. Good Ventures also made $2 million in grants to GiveWell top charities in 2012.
  • We relocated to San Francisco. During 2012, we decided to move our office (and staff) from New York to San Francisco. As of February 2013, we have completed the move. We are sharing office space in San Francisco with Good Ventures.
  • Growth in money moved was strong, but appears to be slowing relative to the previous 100% per year pace. Our total money moved for 2012 was over $8.5 million (we haven’t yet finalized the tally), compared to a bit over $5 million for 2011; excluding two particularly large and unrepresentative donors, it was ~$5.5 million for 2012 as compared to ~$3.4 million for 2011.
  • Our staff capacity has grown slower than we had hoped. We currently have a staff of five full-time employees and one part-time employee, compared to five full-time employees at the end of 2011; in last year’s plan we expressed a hope that we would have eight full-time employees by this time.

    We continue to believe that we have more work than staff capacity our current size, and recruiting will be a major priority for 2013.

  • We conducted a thorough review of GiveDirectly and added it to our list of top charities, in addition to conducting deeper research in a number of areas of global health and nutrition that we had not previously investigated in depth. We anticipate continuing to look for more top charities in the global health and nutrition field in 2013, particularly organizations working on interventions we have not previously prioritized, but our work in 2012 has led us to suspect that room for more funding will be an ongoing issue as we consider new interventions.
  • Our process for conducting research on new charities has become more systematic and replicable. We now have relatively stable pattern of initial phone calls and document requests to prioritize organizations, followed by a “deep dive” review of highly promising organizations (including a site visit), along with an intervention report and cost-effectiveness analysis for the intervention a potential top charity conducts. In addition, more thorough (pre-publication) internal and (post-publication) external reviews of our core research products have also made us more confident in our recommendations than we have been previously.
  • We did not make as much progress as hoped on GiveWell Labs, our effort to conduct research on other causes. Upping our staff allocation to GiveWell Labs, and thus the progress we make on it, is a major priority for 2013.

Overall, in 2012 our research and our influence both improved significantly, but we see substantial room for more improvement, particularly with our work on GiveWell Labs and with the development of our organizational capacity. We continue to believe GiveWell has enough impact to justify its operating expenses, and hope to have much more impact in the future.

Of course, we also made plenty of mistakes in 2012, and we’ve recently updated our shortcomings log to reflect them. Perhaps most importantly, our process for considering GiveDirectly as a potential top charity started later in the year than it should have, leading us to miss our goal of having our “giving season” updates ready by November 1st; this also meant that our co-founders played a larger role in investigating GiveDirectly than they ideally would have (due to time sensitivity), which had negative consequences for the time we were able to put into GiveWell Labs and for the long-term development of our organizational capacity.

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