The GiveWell Blog

Staff members’ personal donations for giving season 2015

For this post, GiveWell staff members wrote up the thinking behind their personal donations for the year. We made similar posts in 2013 and 2014. After Elie and Holden, staff are listed in order of their start dates at GiveWell.

Elie Hassenfeld

My wife and I are planning to follow GiveWell’s recommendation and give 100% of our donation to the Against Malaria Foundation because it has the highest-impact funding gap I know of.

Last year, we gave significantly more to GiveDirectly than GiveWell recommended because I put less weight on cost-effectiveness analysis than other staff. I remain ambivalent about putting so much weight on cost-effectiveness estimates because they are subject to numerous debatable assumptions, but I’ve changed my mind based on work we did over the past few months. We put significant effort into debating our cost-effectiveness model (.xls) and encouraged all GiveWell staff to input their own values into the model. The resulting strong consensus that cash is significantly less cost-effective than bednets/deworming persuaded me to put more weight on cost-effectiveness analysis in my giving this year.

Finally, I’m not donating to GiveWell for similar reasons to what Holden wrote in 2013. Absent that consideration, I would consider direct support of GiveWell to be an outstanding giving opportunity.

Holden Karnofsky

I’ll be following GiveWell’s recommendation to donate to AMF. I had little involvement with our work on top charities this year, but I spent the last couple of weeks (prior to our announcement) catching up by reading our reviews, examining our cost-effectiveness analysis and participating in staff conversations. I was very engaged in the decisions about our final recommendations, and I feel good about them.

I did strongly consider our other top charities:

  • This year I tried a slightly different approach with cost-effectiveness: rather than make a series of quantitative “conservative” adjustments to the deworming estimate, I tried to make what I thought was a fairly generous (and not skeptical or “conservative” estimate) and then do my adjustment for skepticism informally outside the calculation, as advocated here. In the end, I came out feeling that deworming looks solidly stronger than both bednets and cash, but I’m sufficiently uncertain about my analysis that I’m deferring to the results that came out of the staff-wide exercise, which imply that deworming and bednets are on roughly even turf. I feel that I had every opportunity to make the case for my preferred inputs to other staff, so to the extent they weren’t convinced, I want to put weight on their views.
  • I always feel tempted to support GiveDirectly, no matter what our analyses say. The numbers are so uncertain, and GiveDirectly is so clearly (in my mind) the strongest organization as an organization, that there is always a case for it. But thanks to the support from Good Ventures, I feel that they have ample support to continue developing as an organization, and AMF’s funding gap (post-Good-Ventures-grants) is more pressing and compelling.

There are a few organizations that have come to my attention through the Open Philanthropy Project that I considered supporting; we’ll likely be making a post later on giving opportunities sourced through the Open Philanthropy Project that may be a good fit for individuals. But ultimately AMF’s funding gap is more compelling to me. (That said, there are certainly giving opportunities we’ve identified through the Open Philanthropy Project that I would have donated to, if Good Ventures hadn’t funded them at what I consider an appropriate level.)

Natalie Crispin

I plan to follow GiveWell’s recommendation to give 100% to AMF. I am excited to support a recommendation that is the result of a bunch of thoughtful people putting their heads together to answer the question of where an individual donor can do the most good.

I believe that all four of our top charities are excellent giving opportunities and I am very happy that they are receiving significant support as a result of our recommendation. I think that the system we used this year to rank funding gaps by priority and recommend that Good Ventures fill the highest priority gaps is an improvement over how we have approached this in the past. It allows me as an individual to support the highest priority unfunded opportunities without having to make guesses about how to coordinate with other individuals.

I considered allocating a portion of my gift to GiveWell, but decided against it. I believe that donors who find our research valuable should consider helping us to raise the funds we need to operate and to diversify our funding base by giving a portion of their gift to GiveWell. As an employee, I don’t think I’m in a good position to play the role of a financial supporter.

Alexander Berger

What I wrote last year is even more true this year: I think our recommendations this year are stronger than they were last year, and I’m excited to support them. And since I’ve been (even) less involved in our top charities research this year than in previous years, I’m also inclined to just follow the recommended GiveWell allocation (i.e. 100% to AMF).

I’m particularly struck this giving season by just how strong a recommendation AMF is. We believe that AMF can fairly reliably fill a gap in global bednet coverage and avert child deaths for something on the order of every $3,000 donated. I’m much more skeptical than some of my colleagues about how much we can learn from our cost-effectiveness models, particularly for deworming, but I see the case for bednets as being quite strong. And even if we are off by a factor of several times, which I think is absolutely possible, I see that as remarkably cost-effective: for comparison, common estimates put the value of a statistical life in the United States at around $5 million. I suspect that the opportunities to fill these gaps will be eliminated by other funders in the next decade or so, or that genetically modified mosquitos will eliminate the need for anti-malaria bednets altogether, and accordingly, I see a strong reason to give sooner rather than later to fill these gaps. Of course, as always, our recommendations rely on tough judgment calls, and we could be mistaken in myriad ways.

That said, I’m planning to deviate from our recommendations with two gifts, totaling 10% of my annual giving:

  • 5% to GiveWell for operating expenses. As I wrote last year, I think GiveWell is a relatively mature research product at this point, one that I value greatly, and I think it makes sense for individuals who value the research to give part of their gift to pay for it. The main reason here is non-consequentialist: I don’t like the dynamic of us asking donors who are considering giving a large amount of money based on our research to direct it to us instead of our top charities. We do this, rather than making the rounds of all our donors to ask them to give a portion of their gifts to GiveWell, because it is much more time-effective. I think that’s the correct decision, but it would be better still for us not to have to because our donors had adopted a norm of giving a portion of their gift to cover GiveWell’s operating expenses. Because money donated to our operating budget is largely fungible with money donated to top charities, I see this as a pretty costless decision. Last year I gave 10% to GiveWell, but I think with our money moved as high as it is, it’s reasonable to estimate the costs of delivering our recommendations as a lower proportion of money moved this year. (Also, I wanted to give some to GiveDirectly, and at 10% each that felt prohibitively costly.)
  • 5% to GiveDirectly. I continue to feel that they are a uniquely outstanding organization and add a huge amount of value by serving as a benchmark against which other organizations and interventions can be compared. With Good Venture’s gifts this year, I don’t think that my contribution will add as much value with GiveDirectly as it would elsewhere, but if I didn’t give significantly to GiveDirectly this year, I’d want to again within the next few years to renew my claim to being a “supporter” and because I find them a particularly valuable organization to be able to discuss when making the case for giving a lot.

In an earlier draft of this document, I was planning to give 10% to GiveWell and none to GiveDirectly, but I felt that a 5% and 5% split would better reflect my long-term plans to continue to support GiveDirectly, and that 5% is both a meaningful and sustainable level of support for GiveDirectly and not so much that the opportunity cost of not giving it to AMF is enormous. I also think that 5% of money moved is a reasonable estimate of GiveWell’s costs to deliver the top charity recommendations at this point, though the fact that most people likely won’t contribute “their share” continues to argue in favor of those who are willing to do so giving more to support GiveWell’s operating costs.

I also considered, but decided against, two potential deviations from GiveWell’s recommended allocation:

  • Giving to one of the groups that we’ve investigated for the Open Philanthropy Project. Like Holden, I don’t think we’ve found anything yet that seems to reliably beat GiveWell’s current recommendations to individual donors, though there are opportunities I would have wanted to fund if the Open Philanthropy Project hadn’t. I also spend nearly all of my working hours on the U.S. policy side of the Open Philanthropy Project, and see supporting other organizations with my charitable contributions as an attractive form of diversification (even though I don’t generally think it’s useful to diversify in charity).
  • Saving some portion of my giving for political (i.e. non-501(c)3) contributions or giving to opportunities too small to be investigated within the Open Philanthropy Project. In 2014, I spent the half of my planned annual giving that I had saved in 2013 to help get WaitList Zero off the ground, and I’m happy that I had the capacity to make that gift. However, I didn’t encounter a similarly attractive opportunity this year, and I could frontload my giving next year if something similarly urgent and attractive came along, so I don’t see much need to save this year for that possibility.

A final note: as I’ve read other staff members’ plans for their giving, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to work with such a thoughtful and dedicated group. I’m really grateful for all of the work that they do to produce our top charity recommendations. Thanks folks.

Timothy Telleen-Lawton

I’m planning to take GiveWell’s recommendation and focus on giving to AMF, with the exception of 5% of my donation to GiveWell to (a) represent the true cost of finding the giving opportunities, and (b) increase GiveWell’s donor base (though as an employee I think it means less coming from me).

I think there are other compelling giving opportunities out there that – due in part to not knowing as much about them – are generally riskier than GiveWell’s recommendations but may have a higher upside. I think that it’s possible – using just publicly available information and a few days or weeks of time – that I would be able to convince myself to donate a portion of my gift to some of those non-GiveWell opportunities (and I look forward to understanding other staff members’ attempts to do this). However, I currently believe that taking time to do that myself would directly come out of time I spend to improve GiveWell’s work, and I would expect it to have a significantly lower chance of positive impact.

Sean Conley

I’m planning on following GiveWell’s recommendation and donating to the Against Malaria Foundation.

I believe all 4 of our top charities are outstanding giving opportunities and I’m excited that they’ll all receive substantial funding. I think our blog post with our refreshed recommendations does a good job of laying out the reasons why AMF is currently GiveWell’s primary recommendation for individuals, but for me in particular the cost-effectiveness of insecticide-treated nets, the strength of evidence regarding their impact, and the high global need for more bednets to combat malaria make AMF especially compelling.

Unlike some others, I’m not planning to donate to GiveWell itself. As an employee, I don’t think that I provide the financial diversification that’s valuable to GiveWell from wider support from individuals, and in general I don’t feel like everyone using GiveWell’s research should feel obligated to also donate to GiveWell.

Josh Rosenberg

This year, I’m planning to allocate my charitable budget as follows:

  • 85% to AMF. I’m giving the large majority of my donations to AMF because I generally agree with the reasoning laid out in our top charities announcement post; I see AMF as a strong organization running a cost-effective and evidence-backed program that can effectively use additional funds.
  • 10% to GiveDirectly. I’m giving part of my charitable budget to GiveDirectly because (a) I see donations to GiveDirectly as having large potential upside, (b) I want to reward GiveDirectly for being an outstanding organization, and (c) I want to provide some of my funds directly to individuals to allow them to decide how the funds should be spent. To elaborate on (a): I believe that our cost-effectiveness analyses have historically undervalued donations to GiveDirectly because it is too difficult to model factors such as GiveDirectly’s potential effects on other actors. For example, GiveDirectly’s work may shift large amounts of government and donor spending to cash transfers that would have otherwise been spent on less effective programs, and GiveDirectly’s research may lead to a wide variety of benefits. It is hard to know whether additional donations to GiveDirectly meaningfully increase its ability to have indirect benefits like these (especially after accounting for Good Ventures’ $25 million donation), but GiveDirectly is still a relatively young organization, and I would not be surprised if more funds support projects that carry high upside, such as learning how best to distribute cash in Uganda, where mobile payment networks are not as ubiquitous as in Kenya.
  • 5% to non-GiveWell recommended charities. I believe that it is important to keep an open mind about how to give to help others as much as possible. Since I spend a huge portion of my time thinking within the GiveWell framework, I want to set aside some of my time and money for exploring opportunities that I might be missing. I am not yet sure where I’ll give these funds, but I’m currently leaning toward giving to a charity focused on improving farm animal welfare.

I am not planning to give to GiveWell to help cover its operating expenses because I am a GiveWell employee and would feel uncomfortable donating to GiveWell for reasons similar to what Holden described in 2013, but I encourage others who value our work to consider giving a portion of their charitable budget to GiveWell.

Jake Marcus

I’m donating 90% of my budget for charitable giving this year to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) and 10% to GiveWell to support the research that produces the top charities recommendation. The possibility that deworming has a very large impact doesn’t seem likely enough to justify giving to deworming charities over AMF. I’m tempted to donate to GiveDirectly, because of the robustness of the case for giving there, but donating to AMF instead seems like a bet worth taking for the chance of having a larger impact. I see the 10% to GiveWell as the price of using its recommendation service.

Rebecca Raible

I plan to give 10% of my donation to GiveDirectly, at least 10% to cause areas outside of global health and development, and the rest to GiveWell for regranting to top charities.

For my giving this year, I want to:

  • Give to the best opportunities that I know of.
  • Support entities that make it easier to identify the best opportunities.
  • Spend more time considering giving opportunities I haven’t previously engaged with much.

10% to GiveDirectly

  • I think of GiveDirectly as an important tool helping donors evaluate the quality of other giving opportunities. I am excited by GiveDirectly’s vision of a world where all donors ask “is this better than giving cash?” when considering a giving opportunity, and I want to support GiveDirectly in causing that world to exist. I’m somewhat worried that if GiveDirectly does not maintain its momentum (e.g., if it contracts in Kenya next year, which seems possible) this will significantly set back the project of using cash as a universal benchmark for aid. I am particularly uncertain of how bad a loss of momentum could be.
  • I’m also not sure how much weight I should put on some of the harder-to-quantify benefits GiveDirectly provides, such as the value of the research GiveDirectly supports and the possibility that GiveDirectly influences large institutional funders to only fund programs that are as good or better than cash; I think I want to put more weight on these factors than our current recommendation does. I’m especially interested in the possibility of GiveDirectly running a study on a lifetime basic income guarantee (GiveDirectly recently spoke of its interest in such a study during its donor call on December 2, 2015) and I would like to see GiveDirectly receive enough funding for such a study.
  • Finally, I want there to be strong incentives for other organizations to operate as transparently and competently as GiveDirectly, and I think that when donors establish a norm of giving some portion of their donation to excellent organizations, we help create this incentive. I don’t think that the whole burden of providing this incentive should be left to Good Ventures.
  • I’m not sure that the above three points justify giving as much as 10% to GiveDirectly; my appreciation for GiveDirectly’s excellent execution might be inflating my donation. I’m not sure what to do with this concern; for now, I’m noting this possible bias and hope to discuss my reasoning more with others in the near future.

At least 10% to other cause areas
I want to make myself explore giving opportunities outside of those that GiveWell recommends; I know I haven’t given due attention to other giving opportunities that the effective altruist community is excited about. I’d like to avoid getting stuck in a pattern of donating to GiveWell’s recommendations simply because I know them well, and it seems wise to challenge this pattern early in my donation history. This post discusses some of the forces that make it difficult to change one’s mind about cause areas and suggests that setting aside donations for other cause areas may help counter these forces. The author – my colleague, Claire Zabel – only recommends a $20 donation; I don’t think $20 would be enough to motivate me to significantly look into other areas, but 10% of my total donation should. I also find Claire’s arguments (some of which are below) for giving to non-GiveWell organizations this year fairly compelling.

The rest to GiveWell for regranting
I’m guessing that this portion of my donation will end up going to the Against Malaria Foundation, which I’m excited about for the reasons discussed in our blog post. However, giving the donation to GiveWell for regranting allows some flexibility in case something unexpected occurs that causes GiveWell to decide that another opportunity is better. It also ensures that my donation to the Against Malaria Foundation will be unrestricted (not designated to nets only).

Other thoughts
I’m still considering whether or not I would like to give to other organizations that make it easier to evaluate giving opportunities; I may decide to give a small percentage of my donation (5% or so) to GiveWell and/or Animal Charity Evaluators.

Milan Griffes

This year, the bulk of my charitable giving (approximately 85%) is to AMF, due to its cost-effectiveness and its ability to productively use more funding. I am also making a smaller donation to GiveDirectly (approximately 10% of my charitable budget), because I want to support the norm of cash transfers as a benchmark for other charitable giving. Finally, I am making a small donation to the Wikimedia Foundation (approximately 5% of my charitable budget), which, as an avid user of Wikipedia, I consider a payment for services rendered (rather than an altruistic donation).

To arrive at this decision, I participated in discussions about how we should set our allocation, looked carefully at our comparative cost-effectiveness analysis, read our top charities post, and read sections of our reviews of AMF and GiveDirectly to answer questions I had about their programs.

I am giving the entirety of my 2015 charitable budget this year. I do not think that giving opportunities for individuals in the future will be substantially better than giving opportunities today; I am persuaded by the argument that good done in the present probably compounds over time; and I believe that it is important to develop a habit of giving regularly.

My 2015 charitable budget is substantially lower than the amount I gave in 2014. Two reasons for this: (1) on reflection, I believe that I was overzealous with my giving in 2014, and (2) I believe that one of the most important financial projects I can undertake in my 20s is building a substantial amount of liquid savings, in order to improve my financial independence, increase my flexibility and ability to pursue ambitious projects, and prepare for a comfortable retirement.

David Roodman

The year isn’t over, so I don’t know exactly how my percentages will shake out. Having just clicked Donate on several sites, I’m at:

  • 1/2 to AMF, because I trust my colleagues.
  • 1/6 to the Center for Global Development, a historical favorite of Open Phil and my former employer–in honor of retiring president Nancy Birdsall, who gave me one of the biggest breaks in my life.
  • 1/6 to Martha’s Table, a direct-service charity in DC, where I live.
  • 1/6 to the Country Dance and Song Society in its centennial year. CDSS probably doesn’t save many lives, but it changed mine when I was young and has enriched it ever since; and I will soon serve on its board.

Helen Toner

I’m still working on putting aside a basic savings buffer for myself, so my annual giving is very modest. I hope that it won’t be too long before I can begin donating more serious sums (or deliberately saving for future giving). But for now I’m mostly giving to build the mental habit, as well as to provide GiveWell with an extra donor in their count. This year I think my decision is pretty straightforward: I’ll be donating to the Against Malaria Foundation. I enjoyed being part of the intense debate and discussion around our cost effectiveness analyses and top charity recommendations this year, and I feel good about the results that we’ve published, especially for a small-time donor like me.

Sophie Monahan

I plan to give according to the GiveWell recommended allocation this year: 100% to AMF.

Overall considerations: I don’t believe that I have access to information (empirical or moral) which puts me in a better position than GiveWell as a whole when it comes to evaluating where to donate most effectively. I have read the top charity reviews; I followed the process which led to the recommended allocation; I examined GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis (and consider it a tool to summarize rough estimates). My intuitions do not deviate significantly from those which led to the recommendation that individual donations go to AMF. I believe my time is better spent on my standard work for GiveWell than on further evaluating this year’s recommendation. To me, giving means not only giving money but also giving up personal preference and personal power over the use of that money in favor of collective good.

How to donate: GiveWell’s page for donations to AMF directs donors to AMF’s website rather than to a GiveWell donation collection page (the way GiveWell collects donations for other top charities). I would like to use AMF’s preferred method of receiving donations unless there is good reason not to. I plan to donate via bank transfer because I resent (perhaps more than is reasonable) credit card fees on charitable donations. I prefer to donate unrestricted to AMF to support its organizational flexibility, and because I think it may be beneficial for AMF to pay some non-net distribution costs. In general, I value the coordination flexibility offered by the option to donate to GiveWell for regranting to top charities, but this year it seems to me that AMF’s funding gap is large enough that GiveWell’s funds for regranting to top charities are likely to simply go to AMF, and so I can be moved by AMF’s preference for receiving donations directly through its website.

Giving to GiveDirectly as a benchmark: For many of the same reasons that others have discussed in this post, I feel an intuitive pull in favor of giving to GiveDirectly: (a) to support the use and growth of cash transfers as a benchmark in effective giving, (b) because I have a high degree of certainty in the impact of cash transfers, (c) to support the expansion of an excellent organization into research, (d) to promote the empowerment and self-agency of people (which I consider to plausibly be a better candidate intrinsic good than life or health). I have decided not to allocate a part of my giving budget to GiveDirectly this year because I believe that GiveWell’s allocation recommendation process adequately took our estimates of GiveDirectly’s impact and funding needs into account. I am in favor of giving to GiveDirectly for reasons that go beyond its measured cost-effectiveness, and so I count giving to them as personal expenditure outside of my giving budget. I would be delighted for friends and family to give to GiveDirectly in lieu of gifts to me; because of the clear case for cash transfers and narrative of empowerment, I think of GiveDirectly as an especially attractive option to discuss with people in my life who do not already think about effective giving.

Why I’m not giving to support GiveWell’s operations: It seems very likely to me that GiveWell itself cost-effectively achieves valuable outcomes (i.e. identifying and moving money to cost-effective organizations). However, I have not seen evidence that GiveWell has a funding gap of comparable value to AMF’s funding gap; it seems plausible to me that GiveWell does not have a significant need for additional funding, and that any such high-value need would be attractive to large funders who work with GiveWell. (This is not based on any non-public information; GiveWell has not yet put together information about its operational funding needs this year.) So long as GiveWell doesn’t have a demonstrated unfilled funding gap, I don’t feel a need to divert a portion of my giving budget or personal budget to GiveWell operations.

Why I’m giving now rather than later: It is very important to me to give now rather than later because (a) I suspect that the increasing large-funder interest in effective charity (1, 2, 3) may outpace the identification of evidence-backed giving opportunities; (b) due to my moral intuitions, I place a great deal of value on alleviating human suffering, global poverty and disease, inequality and barriers to opportunity, and rather little value on many of the prospective future Open Philanthropy-style large funding opportunities such as global catastrophic risks and animal welfare; (c) I am much more confident that I will give now than that my future self will give—I can imagine many factors which could lead my future self to not donate money.

A note about averting infant deaths vs improving lives: I place lower value than do my colleagues on averting infant deaths. This does not ultimately lead me to prefer donation to GiveDirectly over AMF because (a) my moral intuition is not sufficiently strong or robust to cause me to defect from a decision made by collective expertise, and (b) there is some indication that reducing the burden of malaria may have effects on children’s development, which seems plausible and valuable to me.

Laura Muñoz

Giving now
I feel compelled to give now even though I am still building my financial safety net, I anticipate putting a lot more thought into my personal giving strategy in the near future, and I expect to gain a greater understanding of philanthropy in the coming years. Similar to many staff members in this blog post:

  • As a young adult, I want to establish a habit of giving annually.
  • Giving a portion of my own money motivates me to strongly consider my value system and the impact I want to have on the world.
  • There are giving opportunities now that I believe are very good.

Where I’m donating this year
This year, my altruistic donations will be in two categories.

  1. GiveWell’s recommended charities – After witnessing and participating in this year’s top charity allocation discussions and reading this blog post that explains our 2015 top charity recommendations, I decided to follow GiveWell’s recommendation to donate to the Against Malaria Foundation due to its high cost-effectiveness, need for additional funding, and strength of evidence.
  2. Social advocacy organizations – My vision for a better world requires systemic change. The existence of advocacy organizations that are working to better systems that perpetuate inequality and suffering is critical, yet it’s really difficult to compare their work to the type of work done by GiveWell’s top charities. I am excited for the Open Philanthropy Project to continue investigations in this space, and hopefully come out with recommendations for giving opportunities that are competitive with GiveWell’s top charities and fit for donors of my size.

    This year, I will be allocating a portion of my giving to two nonprofits that work on systemic change. The first is Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA), an organization whose work I have come to understand quite well due to a close personal connection (my mom is executive director). The other organization is yet to be determined.

    My reasoning for giving in this space:

    • Advocacy has the potential to bring about long-term change that will effectively and continually improve many lives, even though it can be difficult to quantitatively assess. I have observed specific examples of advocacy work and the impact it can have – In NoHLA’s case, through facilitating access to affordable, quality health care for low-income families. The impact of organizations like this one cannot be measured by GiveWell-style top charity quantitative metrics, but I still believe my dollar will be effective, especially in the long run. More on policy-oriented philanthropy in this blog post.
    • There are a lot of neglected causes in this space. Even though health policy related causes are a major target of philanthropic spending, there can be neglected parts of a popular field. For example, there are very few organizations that represent the voice of healthcare consumers and bring the perspectives of vulnerable populations to health policymakers; this need led to NoHLA’s creation.
    • Advocacy can be tractable (tractability is explained in this post). NoHLA is able to effect changes that improve access to health care for thousands of people. For example, this victory allowed 11,000 people who were kicked off their Basic Health insurance plans to re-enroll. Another example of NoHLA’s direct impact can be found here.
    • My individual, small donation can make a difference to an advocacy organization like NoHLA. Although much advocacy work is funded through grants and is therefore more suitable for large funders, advocacy organizations such as NoHLA rely on individual donations. NoHLA has a small staff, and therefore little capacity to fundraise. Small donations are key to NoHLA’s ability to respond to health care access issues that arise quickly and without time to solicit grant funding. NoHLA needs additional individual donations in order to adequately cover all the responsive work that it could and should be doing.
    • It will motivate me to learn about other causes. Looking for another giving opportunity outside of the GiveWell scope will help me increase my own awareness of systemic issues, the work that is being done to address them, and the impact that can be achieved by giving to different causes (see Josh’s and Rebecca’s posts about giving outside of the GiveWell sphere).
    • I am personally invested in social justice and equality, and I want to play a part in moving towards social justice in my own community as well as abroad because (a) I feel responsible – I think the act of contributing to systemic change efforts is a good heuristic for people like me who are lucky to benefit from privileges granted by an unequal societal system. Because of my participation in structures that perpetuate injustice for others, it seems only fair that I educate myself about how to better these systems and contribute to the effort. (b) I have a personal stake in social justice issues – As a Latina woman and as someone who spends emotional energy grappling with my participation in systems that oppress others and myself, it is in my own self interest to contribute to these efforts.

    Independent advocacy organizations are able to create accountability of existing power structures and push for changes that promote justice. I would like my giving in this space to encourage others who care about altruism to learn more about the sphere of social justice.

Catherine Hollander

This year, I am planning to give 95% of my charitable budget to the Against Malaria Foundation, GiveWell’s top-ranked charity. This is my first giving season since I began working at GiveWell, and I feel convinced by our process for recommending AMF’s funding gap as the top priority for donors. I arrived at this decision by participating in staff discussions leading up to our 2015 top charity recommendations, reading our blog post explaining our rankings, and reading the updated reviews for each of our top charities. Due to its need for more funding, the strength of evidence behind AMF’s work, and its cost-effectiveness, I am excited to support the Against Malaria Foundation.

I am planning to give the remaining 5% of my donation to a charity that works to improve the treatment of animals in industrial agriculture, as evidence suggests that these animals experience extreme suffering during their lifetimes. I think the benefit of considering outside opportunities and challenging my own assumptions about giving, which Rebecca discusses in her post above, is worthwhile — and what I’ve read from GiveWell’s research and conversations related to the treatment of animals in industrial agriculture, as well as my impressions from additional sources, as an important, underfunded cause is compelling to me. I am considering giving to Mercy for Animals or The Humane League, which are recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators (Claire discusses this organization in her post below). However, I am less familiar with the organizations operating in this space than I am with GiveWell’s top charities, and thus plan to make a significantly smaller gift in this cause area. I also remain slightly unsure whether I will donate to these charities from my charitable giving budget or as a personal expenditure, given my higher level of confidence in our recommended charities.

I am planning to give now, versus give later. I think establishing the habit of giving regularly to charity is a worthwhile endeavor, and I agree with Holden that having my own money at stake helps me think more concretely and realistically about where I should be giving.

Andrew Martin

For similar reasons to Helen (above), my charitable donation this year will be modest, but I still want to establish a habit of donating annually. This year, I plan to give 90% of my donation to AMF and 10% to GiveDirectly.

I’m excited to be giving a large majority of my donation to AMF because of the cost-effectiveness of a marginal contribution towards filling its Execution Level 1 funding gap (discussed in this blog post). I’m deviating somewhat from GiveWell’s recommended allocation by giving 10% to GiveDirectly, mostly because I personally like the idea of some of my donation going to an intervention with an unusually low burden of proof. GiveDirectly also has considerable room for more funding, and I think there are some potentially large upsides to filling more of its funding gap, including the increased use of cash transfers as a benchmark for judging the value of other development spending, and what we might learn from its ongoing studies and experimentation.

I have chosen to not make an unrestricted donation to GiveWell. As a GiveWell employee, I don’t think I’m in the best position the diversify the donor base for covering GiveWell’s operating expenses, though I think it’s valuable and reasonable for others who use GiveWell’s research to do so.

Claire Zabel

I am not yet certain where I am giving this year, and have several more topics I plan to research before I make a final decision. However, it is very likely that I will split my donation budget between a charity that focuses on reducing the suffering of nonhuman animals on factory farms (Animal Charity Evaluators and/or one of its top charities), and Raising for Effective Giving (REG).

Like GiveWell, Animal Charity Evaluators (on whose board I serve) evaluates charities to finding outstanding giving opportunities. However, it focuses on helping nonhuman animals, and its research has led it to recommend top charities that aim to reduce the suffering of animals on factory farms.

Animal suffering in factory farming is intense; animals are kept in extremely crowded conditions, and left to endure them without relief from illnesses and injuries. There are strong reasons to suspect we drastically underestimate the moral disvalue of factory farming. For example, increasing our assessment of its moral importance might be inconvenient— it might mean we are complicit in a serious moral wrongdoing. And, there is historical precedent for minimizing the suffering of those that are different from us and members of our community, which could lead to widespread undervaluation of farm animal wellbeing. I want to contribute to efforts to face this problem effectively.

Raising for Effective Giving conducts outreach in the poker community to convince players to pledge portions of their winnings to effective charities, including GiveWell and ACE’s top charities and ACE and GiveWell themselves. Thus far, REG has raised multiple dollars for its recommended charities for each dollar donated. It is now expanding into other areas, such as gaming and finance, and I think its likelihood of success in these areas is uncertain and difficult to evaluate.

REG is a small, funding-constrained organization, and I believe I and other small donors can greatly impact the speed with which it expands and experiments with new models. I find its attempts to create new norms of effective giving in different communities interesting and potentially promising. But overall, I consider this donation a very risky bet, which may well have very little impact but has a small chance of having a large impact.

Nicole Ross

I think there are good reasons to give now:

  1. I think GiveWell’s top charities are strong giving opportunities.
  2. I’m fairly convinced, at least at an intuitive level, by the argument that empowering people now will “earn interest” at a higher rate than money saved.
  3. I think that the exercise of giving on a regular basis has high instrumental value in cultivating a norm of giving to effective charities and in forcing myself to confront the practical reality of my values.

When considering my own particular case, however, I think I have greater reason to give later. I’m disabled, which for me means that I have complicated and variable health costs. Because of this, I’m currently prioritizing saving in order to provide for my current and future health costs. The hope is that I will not need to touch the bulk of my savings and can donate those at the end of my life.

Since I think that giving now is somewhat likely to have a greater impact than giving later due to the “earned interest” from empowering people, I’ve worried that my decision to currently prioritize saving essentially means that I’m valuing my health over the combined health of many others. Taking the long-term view, though, I think this worry falls apart. By taking care of my health throughout my life and treating my symptoms, I am doing my best to ensure that I can remain an active member of society. This means that, by the end of my life, I’ll hopefully have been able to do more to improve the lives of others than if I decided to give now.

Even though I am currently prioritizing saving over giving, I still think it is important to give a small amount each year for the reasons I listed above. I also think that the practice of making giving decisions with real money is important to my ability to make the best giving decisions I can at the end of my life.

I’m still unsure how to determine what percentage of my income I should give this year. If I didn’t have my health considerations, I would have wanted to give 10% of my income, but, given these considerations, that seems too high. So I’ll be picking a lower percentage of my income and reevaluating this decision each year.

This year I plan to donate to AMF for my altruistic donations. Although I find the arguments for donating a portion of my budget to GiveDirectly very compelling, I think there should be a high bar for me to deviate from GiveWell’s recommendation this year because:

  1. I’m new to GiveWell and there is much I don’t fully understand yet.
  2. I trust GiveWell’s process and thoroughness, particularly after participating in the allocation discussions this year.

I currently don’t have any disagreements that meet this bar, so I plan to donate all of my altruistic donations budget to AMF.

Lewis Bollard

I plan to give exclusively to charities focused on reducing farm animal suffering. I think I can reduce the most suffering by focusing on farm animals for three reasons:

  • Farm animals are suffering a lot: About 70 billion land animals, and many more farmed fish, are slaughtered globally every year — many after short, miserable, and painful lives.
  • The field is not crowded: Fewer than 100 advocates are working full-time, and less than $30M is spent, globally every year to reduce the suffering of these 70 billion+ animals, so my donations are needed, and may go further.
  • Farm animal groups are gaining traction: On small budgets, advocacy groups have driven major reforms — like the EU’s farm animal welfare reforms, California’s Prop Two, and 100+ corporate animal welfare pledges — collectively reducing the suffering of hundreds of millions of animals.

I don’t yet know which groups are the most effective at reducing farm animal suffering. (The Open Philanthropy Project’s grants in this space will be based on far more rigorous evaluation than my personal giving.) Given that uncertainty, I plan to pursue two goals in my donations:

  • Supporting proven groups: I’m going to primarily donate to three groups whose accomplishments I feel most confident about: the Humane League, Mercy for Animals, and the Farm Animal Protection campaign of the Humane Society of the United States. (Disclosure: I previously worked at the HSUS, though not in the Farm Animal Protection campaign.) My picks closely match the new “top charity” recommendations of Animal Charity Evaluators. In fact, we only differ in that I don’t yet know enough about the track record of Animal Equality, ACE’s third top charity, and I feel more confident in the track record of the HSUS Farm Animal Protection campaign, which ACE recognizes as a “standout,” but not “top,” charity.
  • Supporting promising groups: I plan to make small donations to about a dozen other farm animal groups for two reasons. First, I recognize the high degree of uncertainty on current and future impact, and think some of these groups may be very effective. Second, I want to support a startup-like approach to farm animal advocacy — encouraging groups to pursue high-risk strategies, with the majority expected to fail, but a small number having the potential to achieve exponential change. In particular, I want to support groups focused on international farm animal welfare and new technology, both high-risk areas where high-impact also seems possible. I’m still finalizing my list of groups in this category, and don’t think sharing it now would be helpful.

Finally, two disclaimers. First, my personal giving does not reflect plans for the Open Philanthropy Project. Second, I’m learning a lot in my conversations and research in this job, and I expect my future giving will change to reflect what I’m learning.

Comments

  • Maxwell Fritz on December 9, 2015 at 10:39 am said:

    This is always one of the most useful posts to me each year – please continue making it, and thank you GiveWell staff for sharing your thoughts.

  • Julia Wise on December 9, 2015 at 11:28 am said:

    My favorite post of each year. Thank you!

  • Vitor Margato on December 9, 2015 at 8:08 pm said:

    Excellent post, thanks!

  • Colin Rust on December 9, 2015 at 8:57 pm said:

    I agree with everyone else, this is always a great post. Like the “Mistakes” entry on the main menu, it’s a tribute to GiveWell’s culture: individual employees express their own views and commitments that may not perfectly align with the “house view”. And that’s fine. In fact, it’s great.

  • Conn Nugent on December 10, 2015 at 8:49 am said:

    Ditto.

  • Alex: “A final note: as I’ve read other staff members’ plans for their giving, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to work with such a thoughtful and dedicated group. I’m really grateful for all of the work that they do to produce our top charity recommendations. Thanks folks.”

    Wholeheartedly agreed.

  • Christoph on December 19, 2015 at 4:09 pm said:

    I totally agree with everyone commenting here before me: this is a very helpful post, and i has also influenced my own giving this year. It would be interesting to know to which extent you discussed personal donation choices before writing those texts. Did the topic come up frequently in informal situation (at lunch, etc.)? Maybe you even took some time out of your schedule for discussing your opinions on this subject?

    I am also glad that animal welfare is now considered a worthy issue by GiveWell (in the beginning, this was not the case, as this blog post indicates: http://blog.givewell.org/2010/12/27/animal-welfare-charities/) That is one reason I am looking forward to learning more about the results of the Open Philanthropy Project. (However, I don’t think the case for animal charities is as rigorous as for GiveDirectly or AMF, and ACE still has a long way to go before becoming “the GiveWell for animal charities”. For these reasons I’m reluctant to give to animal causes this year, though I expect this to change in the (hopefully) near future.)

Comments are closed.