The GiveWell Blog

Staff members’ personal donations for giving season 2016

For this post, GiveWell staff members wrote up the thinking behind their personal donations for the year. We made similar posts in 2013, 2014, and 2015. After Elie and Holden, staff are listed in order of their start dates at GiveWell.

Elie Hassenfeld

For my year-end donation, I’m planning to give to GiveWell for regranting.

I already gave a significant portion of this year’s donation to a political campaign, so I’m planning to give less at the end of this year than I have in previous years.

I spend most of my time working on GiveWell’s research, so it’s likely not surprising that I plan to follow our recommendation. I think the quality of the research our team produced this year was higher than it has ever been. In particular:

  • We significantly increased our focus on organizations’ funding gaps and have a better picture of how GiveWell-directed funds could interact with other funders than we had in the past.
  • Our cost-effectiveness analysis was subject to significantly more staff debate than it was in the past, leading to several important changes that, I believe, improved the model.
  • David Roodman is in the midst of a deep investigation of the evidence for deworming. His analysis of that intervention has significantly improved our understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of this evidence.

The option I considered most seriously instead of following GiveWell’s recommendation was supporting organizations I know about through the Open Philanthropy Project’s work on biosecurity and pandemic preparedness, which I’m very involved in. The two options I considered seriously are iGEM and the Center for Health Security. As far as I know, these are both extraordinary organizations that I would be excited to support in Open Philanthropy’s absence. Given Open Philanthropy’s work in this area, I’m uncertain about the impact of additional funds.

I also considered saving to give later. My intuition is that there are few opportunities that I would personally decide I wanted to give to in the future that I would be unable to convince someone else to give to instead. That led me to decide to give now instead of later.

Holden Karnofsky

My personal giving is very small compared to the giving I advise on. I’ve chosen to focus my personal giving on: (a) things that larger donors I advise can’t or won’t do; (b) checking boxes I want to check for considering myself a personally moral/ethical person, which is related but not identical to trying for maximum expected positive impact on the world.

Earlier this year, I gave to a political campaign that I considered important and high-impact per dollar. This falls under (a) because there are per-individual contribution limits.

I expect that I will see future opportunities in category (a) as well, but I don’t see any at the moment that seem a good match for my level of giving, so I considered a few possibilities:

  • I thought about simply saving my money for future opportunities.
  • I thought about participating in the donor lottery mentioned by Tim, Ajeya and Helen—I think it’s a very interesting idea and I am on board with the arguments for how it can be beneficial.
  • I thought about reallocating my giving to another individual, someone who is quite value-aligned with me and quite knowledgeable, and thinks differently enough that they might see opportunities I don’t. As a general point, I think reallocating to others addresses a similar issue to the donor lottery—trying to consolidate donations so that a smaller number of people can put in a greater amount of effort – and it seems to me that it is a better way of doing so when one has a person in mind they’re comfortable reallocating to. (Of course, hybrid approaches are possible too —one could reallocate to a person who then plays the lottery, with the winner of the lottery considering reallocation as well.)

I haven’t finalized my decision yet, but I am leaning toward the last option. The “EA Giving Group” DAF mentioned by Nick is one possibility, and there are others as well.

Regarding (b): every year, I want to give a significant amount to “charity” as conventionally construed, straightforwardly helping the less fortunate. I generally believe in trying to be an ethical person by a wide variety of different ethical standards (not all of which are consequentialist). And I wouldn’t feel that I were meeting this standard if I were giving nothing (or a trivial amount) to known, outstanding opportunities to help the less fortunate, for purposes of saving as much money as possible for adversarial projects (such as political campaigns) and/or more speculative projects (such as work related to artificial intelligence). I think the best giving opportunities in this category are GiveWell’s top charities, so I will be giving a portion of this year’s donation there, following the recommended allocation.

One more comment: this year I am considering donating an unusually large amount because I think tax rates are likely to fall soon.

Natalie Crispin

I continue to believe that GiveWell top charities are the best option for impact-focused giving for individuals and I plan to give most of my annual gift this year to GiveWell for regranting at its discretion to top charities. I am grateful for all the work, thoughtfulness, and hours of debate that my colleagues put into the recommendations, and I believe that the recommendations are as strong as they’ve ever been. I am excited to support the most effective charities I know of.

At a smaller scale, I’m planning to make a number of “good citizenship” donations. I’m distressed by the growth of illiberalism and disregard for the truth in our society. I don’t expect to be able to make an impact against these threats with my dollars, but hope that setting aside a small portion of my charitable budget for this cause leads me to think seriously about the issues involved and have conversations with people who know more than I do about this. I feel that it’s an important time to be an engaged and alert citizen and it’s important to me to have some skin in the game.

Alexander Berger

I’m planning to give 80% of my charitable contributions this year according to the GiveWell recommended split. I think the main updates on our top charities since last year are positive, and I continue to be very excited about giving to them. Additionally, I wasn’t really involved in the GiveWell top charity selection process at all this year, and at this point I don’t see any grounds for differing with my colleagues on their recommended split.

That said, I feel mildly less urgent about these opportunities than I did last year, because I think they may be available longer than I had suggested then and because I’ve become somewhat more optimistic about the possibility that the Open Philanthropy Project will find considerably more impactful opportunities in the future. (These considerations are mainly why I recommended that Good Ventures not significantly increase its contributions to top charities this year, but I’m not reducing my giving to save more for the future because I think it’s good for me to be in the habit of giving meaningfully each year.)

With the other 20% of my giving:

  • As with last year, I’m planning to give 5% to GiveWell for operating expenses. At this point, I value the top charities research but am primarily a consumer rather than a producer of it, and I think it’s totally appropriate for me to contribute to pay for it. This decision probably doesn’t matter this year because I think GiveWell is likely to hit its excess assets policy in the coming year due to the separation of the Open Philanthropy Project, so the marginal contributions to GiveWell’s operating expenses will just be passed on to top charities. But I hope that I can save my colleagues some time on fundraising efforts and promote the idea that it’s a good choice for donors who use GiveWell’s research to direct some portion of their giving to it.
  • Also in line with last year, I’m giving 5% to GiveDirectly. As I said then, “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… 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.”
  • For the first time this year, I’m planning to give 10% of my giving to organizations focused on farm animals. I still don’t feel like I have any real grasp on how to weigh animal organizations against those focused on humans, but I believe that animal suffering is worthy of some moral concern, and having seen Lewis’ work up close, I no longer feel that 0% is the right portion of my portfolio to be allocating to these issues. That said, I’m not sure if this will prove a sustainable level for me: at this point the case for me here is almost entirely intellectual rather than emotional, and I’m hoping that starting to give in this area might help me begin to feel more emotionally motivated by the cause.

As in past years, I considered and ultimately decided against devoting my annual giving to one of the organizations we’ve come across at Open Phil. I continue to spend the bulk of my working hours on Open Phil’s policy efforts, 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).

Timothy Telleen-Lawton

Giving to GiveWell’s recommendation is not quite as attractive to me this year as it has been in past years because my expectation that my donations might reach better opportunities elsewhere has increased. Even if I am able to find opportunities that I am more excited about, I expect GiveWell’s recommendation to remain my primary suggestion for family, friends, and others who aren’t planning to spend a lot of their own time on the process.

I expect that seriously considering non-GiveWell opportunities would take a substantial amount of time, so I have signed up for a donation lottery to save that time in expectation, and justify spending more time in the 5% chance that I win.

Options that I already know I would want to investigate if I won the lottery:

  • Giving the money to people who I believe would make the decision at least as well as I would (as measured by my values)
  • Trying to influence very long-term outcomes
  • Improving animal welfare
  • Capitalizing on unique political opportunities
  • Speculating on small projects that I believe I have a comparative advantage in discovering or evaluating
  • Regranting to top charities by giving to GiveWell

I would also like to think more about ideal donor behavior in a community of donors that want to cooperate and have overlapping but non-identical values and beliefs, and substantial uncertainty. For example, I would like to consider when and how the following are appropriate:

  • Spreading gifts among plausibly-ideal opportunities versus highest expected value only
  • ‘Coordinating’ with Open Phil as an individual donor in its priority cause areas
  • Giving to one’s employer
  • Aggregating donations, such as donation lotteries and passing donations to other donors
  • Saving for later giving

I continue to make donations to some organizations that provide services I value, on the expectation that this is a good practice for people to follow generally in order to offset the cost of providing those services and signal its value. The vast majority of such donations this year went to CFAR; I particularly benefitted from attending a workshop in January.

Josh Rosenberg

I plan to give 65% of my charitable budget to GiveWell for regranting to top charities. I generally follow GiveWell’s recommended allocation for my global poverty-related giving unless I have very strong reason not to. This helps to ensure that I debate any of my personal disagreements with the recommended allocation with my coworkers, which could ultimately influence much more funding than my personal donation. And, if my arguments don’t succeed, it ensures that I factor in my coworkers’ knowledge and values to my giving decision. Ultimately, I feel confident in our recommended allocation this year and am excited to support it.

That said, there were many difficult judgment calls that went into our final recommendation. The allocation decision we made that I was most unsure about was not prioritizing some further funding to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) work above part of the Against Malaria Foundation’s (AMF) and the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative’s (SCI) remaining gaps. I think there is a strong argument that Malaria Consortium is roughly as cost-effective as these other opportunities, and it seems unlikely that Malaria Consortium would hit diminishing returns at the level of funding it received ($5 million). Also, I think that Malaria Consortium may be a stronger option than AMF for donors who put especially high weight on strength of evidence and cost-effectiveness. (This year, for most staff members, about 60%+ of the benefits of AMF in our cost-effectiveness analysis came from averting adult malaria mortality and improving childhood development, but the evidence base for both of these impacts is relatively limited.) However, I ultimately felt that it was reasonable to prioritize the next tier of AMF and SCI funding gaps above Malaria Consortium since those gaps had similar cost-effectiveness and have been more thoroughly vetted. (For full disclosure, I was the main researcher who worked on reviewing Malaria Consortium—it’s possible that those who interact directly with a charity are more often biased in favor of it.)

I already gave 30% of my charitable budget to a political campaign earlier this year because I believed that it was among the most cost-effective uses of my money.

With the final 5% of my charitable budget, I plan to give to charities that promote farm animal welfare. I have not yet fully worked out my view on the cost-effectiveness of these charities, but I’m convinced enough that they could be outstanding opportunities that I want to provide some funding to them.

Other options that I considered were organizations that work on reducing the likelihood of global catastrophic risks and organizations that work against authoritarianism. However, I wasn’t able to feel confident enough in any particular organization to be willing to donate to it. I hope to learn more about these types of organizations in the future and hope to see more public debate about the best groups to donate to in these causes.

Another factor in deciding against additional donations to relatively speculative giving opportunities (beyond my political donation) was that I have a strong desire to tangibly help people in the near term. Even if I give a larger portion of my donations to more speculative causes in the future, I always want to make sure that I’m doing my part to provide significant support to those who are worst off.

Rebecca Raible

I have not yet decided where I am going to give this year; this post only represents my preliminary thoughts. I do not plan to spend a large amount time thinking about my donation this year, given its relatively small size, so the conclusions I reach are probably close to those I will ultimately act upon.

I probably won’t give to a GiveWell top charity this year. But, if I were going to, I would likely give to SCI, based on my estimates of GiveWell’s top charities’ cost-effectiveness and room for more funding. This year, differences between staff members’ conclusions in GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) were largely driven by the inputs related to:

  • Value judgments (e.g. how to weigh improving a life against preventing a death).
  • Our confidence in the evidence for the developmental effects from deworming and bed nets.

You can find my inputs and other staff members’ in the CEA linked above.

I think it makes sense to adjust my views towards the median staff views on parameters related to evidence. I’m not sure whether or not it makes sense to adjust my value judgments towards the staff medians, but right now I lean against doing so. If I change our CEA so that everyone shares my value judgments, then AMF and the Malaria Consortium appear to be as cost-effective as GiveDirectly. Sightsavers comes out as about 5x as cost-effective as GiveDirectly, SCI 8x, and Deworm the World 10x. Deworm the World is already fully funded through its “Execution Level 2” gap and I doubt that more funding next year would significantly affect its plans, given the slow rate at which it has used funding in the past. SCI, however, is only funded partially through its Execution Level 2 gap. So, SCI would be my first pick.

However, I suspect I won’t give to any of GiveWell’s top charities this year, because I think there are other giving opportunities that better match my values. For example, I value animal welfare, and, although I haven’t looked into the calculations closely, my understanding is that the number of animals you’d have to be willing to trade off against a human to make GiveWell’s recommended charities look better than farm animal welfare charities is high. (For an example of a rough estimate of the cost-effectiveness of corporate campaigns, see here. Although note that corporate campaigns may be significantly more cost-effective than other animal welfare interventions). Therefore, I may choose to give to Animal Charity Evaluators, one of their recommended charities, or organizations that Lewis recommends. I’m also pretty excited about reducing global catastrophic risks, but I have even less certainty about which organizations are doing great work in this space.

I have considered giving to the options Nick and Ajeya describe, but these choices are somewhat logistically challenging for me this year. It’s likely that I’ll give to opportunities like these in the future.

Nick Beckstead

This year I am donating to the “EA Giving Group” DAF (donor-advised fund). Since 2012, one of my side projects has been working with a private individual (who has provided the vast majority of the funds and prefers to remain anonymous) to make donations to organizations working in the effective altruism space and organizations working on mitigating global catastrophic risks (especially potential risks from advanced AI). We meet every three weeks to discuss potential donation opportunities and make decisions, and we both keep up with activities in the space through relationships we’ve built up over time. The DAF is jointly controlled by me and this partner.

A list of donations we’ve made in the past (without dollar amounts) is available here (arranged by year and decreasing order of grant size). The organizations that received the most funding were the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA), the Future of Life Institute, 80,000 Hours (part of CEA), and Founders Pledge. I think these grants have gone well overall, as has our support for Charity Entrepreneurship and the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. In most cases, we supported these organizations relatively early in their existence, and we’ve mainly supported them when they were new or relatively young.

Over the last year, Open Phil has also made grants in these areas based on my recommendations. I anticipate that there will be some cases where a grant would be a good fit for this DAF but not Open Phil. However, with Open Phil as a funder in this space it has been harder to find opportunities that are as promising and neglected as we were able to find previously.

I don’t yet know what this DAF will support in the coming year, but it will probably have a similar flavor to what was supported in the past.

I am making this donation instead of a donation to GiveWell’s top charities primarily because (i) I think this is more optimized for influencing long-term outcomes for the world (which is my primary altruistic objective—reasoning here) and secondarily because (ii) I think we have a good chance of getting a “multiplier effect” where support of the effective altruist community eventually results in more total donations to GiveWell’s top charities and other things I find comparably good.

If you want to make a contribution to this DAF, then fill out this form.

This might be a good fit for people who have some combination of the following properties: interest in effective altruism and/or global catastrophic risks, context needed to assess our (still early) track record, trust in my judgment and/or my partner’s judgment, limited time/context available to make donation decisions themselves. We update contributors on grants made a couple of times per year.

Helen Toner

This year, I am giving to the donor lottery set up by Carl Shulman and Paul Christiano. My reasons are largely similar to those described in the linked post and by Ajeya elsewhere in this post: creating a chance that my donation will be large enough to significantly affect the recipient organization, and reducing the time I spend thinking about where to donate unless my donation is that size. In keeping with the latter point, I haven’t thought hard about where I would give if I ended up winning the donor lottery. Some organizations and areas I would want to consider include the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Animal Charity Evaluators, the International Refugee Assistance Project, and organizations working against populism/authoritarianism/nationalism.

Sophie Monahan

While I believe that all of GiveWell’s recommended charities are excellent giving opportunities, I plan to deviate from GiveWell’s recommendation and give 100% to GiveDirectly this year.

GiveWell’s recommendation is informed by our estimation of the comparative cost-effectiveness of donations to our top-recommended charities. This model is heavily influenced by a small number of inputs related to the trade-off between the value of consumption benefits and the value of preventing deaths, especially of very young children (see “Parameters” tab rows 7, 53, 63, and 64). Since last year, it has become increasingly clear to me that my values differ somewhat from GiveWell’s as a whole. I am uncertain about the stability of my own values, and very uncertain about the values of those I aim to benefit and whether these last are likely to be closer to my values or to GiveWell’s values.

My values differ from GiveWell’s in the following ways:

  1. I value increasing household consumption comparatively more highly than averting deaths of very young children. For more, see the comments on rows 7, 53, and 63 of the “Parameters” tab of GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness model.
  2. I am more skeptical that deworming has effects similar to those described in Baird et al. 2015 in the contexts where GiveWell-recommended charities work. I have not seen David Roodman’s forthcoming blog post on this topic, but he has written, “My confidence fell in the generalizability of that finding to other settings, as discussed in the next post.”

These values lead me to believe that GiveWell’s top-recommended charities are roughly similar in cost-effectiveness. (My results for charities range from 0.3x-2.2x as cost-effective as GiveDirectly, which is well within my margin of uncertainty for our model accuracy and for my value judgements.) However, based on our collective values, GiveWell has prioritized the top-tier funding gaps for every other top charity above the top-tier funding gap for GiveDirectly. Thus, we expect that GiveDirectly will be constrained by funding this year and will downsize somewhat. Because I believe that GiveDirectly’s cost-effectiveness is similar to that of other top charities, and that GiveDirectly is strong or strongest on other key considerations such as evidence of impact and transparency, yet GiveDirectly will be underfunded compared to other top charities, I believe that additional contributions are best given to GiveDirectly.

Laura Muñoz

Though I have not yet finalized my giving decisions for this year, they will likely be similar to last year’s, and for similar reasons. I will give a portion to GiveWell top charities for regranting, and a portion specifically to GiveDirectly. I will also give a portion to social justice, advocacy and human rights organizations. One of these organizations will be Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA), an underfunded healthcare consumer advocacy organization whose work and impact I understand well due to a personal connection. I believe their work will be especially critical in fighting cutbacks to programs that provide access to healthcare. More research on charities in the abovementioned categories remains to be done before I make my final decisions.

I will also likely give to Strong Minds after doing a little more research, for reasons similar to Chelsea’s and Isabel’s.

Catherine Hollander

I plan to give the majority of my year-end donation to GiveWell’s recommended charities. Among GiveWell’s top charities, I plan to give 75% of my donation to the Against Malaria Foundation, in line with GiveWell’s recommended allocation. I spent a significant amount of time with the GiveWell research team this year and feel more confident in GiveWell’s year-end recommendations as a result; reading my colleagues’ contributions to this post is a reminder of why I value the recommendations put forward by this group.

I plan to deviate from GiveWell’s remaining recommended allocation (25% to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative) and provide the remaining 25% of my donation to the Malaria Consortium for its work on seasonal malaria chemoprevention. I value improving health outcomes highly (and relative to income-improving interventions), although like Sophie I am uncertain about the stability of my values, as I remain relatively early in my charitable giving.

I am planning to make a smaller number of donations to charities working to support domestic causes and social justice, in addition to my gifts to GiveWell’s recommended charities, to fulfill what I see as my civic responsibility.

Andrew Martin

This year, I’m planning on following GiveWell’s recommended allocation of donations to top charities: 75% to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) and 25% to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI). I agree with my colleagues that, taking grants GiveWell recommended to Good Ventures into account, an allocation of 75% to AMF and 25% to SCI is best for contributing towards filling the most valuable remaining funding gaps among our top charities.

Before deciding on donating according to GiveWell’s recommended allocation, I considered several other donation options:

  • Giving part of my donation to covering GiveWell’s operational costs: 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 allocate some of their donation to do so.
  • Giving part of my donation to GiveDirectly: Last year, I allocated 10% of my donation to GiveDirectly, mostly because the idea of allocating some of my donation to a “low-risk” opportunity (i.e., I was highly confident that it would do some significant good) appealed to me as a donor. After more intensive engagement with our cost-effectiveness analysis this year, I don’t find this consideration as salient as I did last year.
  • Giving part of my donation to Malaria Consortium for its work on seasonal malaria chemoprevention: I have wavered between allocating 25% of my donation to Malaria Consortium or SCI. My best guess is that additional donations to Malaria Consortium would be highly valuable, since I think that seasonal malaria chemoprevention is roughly as cost-effective as bed nets, and since GiveWell capped its recommended grant from Good Ventures to Malaria Consortium at $5 million, since we know significantly less about the organization and the intervention than we do for our other recommendations. Additionally, the amount of funding that GiveWell recommended Good Ventures grant to SCI would fill all of SCI’s execution level 1 funding gap and half of its execution level 2 funding gap, but it seems likely that Malaria Consortium still has a large unfilled execution level 1 funding gap (see this blog post for definitions for these terms). However, given our relatively limited knowledge of seasonal malaria chemoprevention and Malaria Consortium, and given my uncertainty about whether to interpret the differences between the cost-effectiveness of bed nets, seasonal malaria chemoprevention, and deworming given my values and inputs into our cost-effectiveness analysis as meaningful, I’ve decided to default to my colleagues’ wisdom and follow GiveWell’s recommended allocation.

Lewis Bollard

I will again give exclusively to farm animal welfare groups for similar reasons to last year:

  • Farm animal welfare is important: Roughly six billion caged layer hens, 15 billion broiler chickens, and 80 billion fish are confined globally at any time, and many suffer from mutilations and inhumane slaughter.
  • Farm animal welfare is still neglected, though less so than before: The Open Philanthropy Project and other new donors have brought much-needed funds to the field, but farm animal welfare philanthropy remains tiny compared to the problem’s scale.
  • Farm animal welfare is more tractable than ever: The unexpectedly rapid success of corporate cage-free campaigns has created a window of opportunity to push for further reforms—especially global cage-free, broiler chicken, and farmed fish welfare policies.

I was torn this year on my recommendations. The Open Philanthropy Project’s farm animal welfare grants have significantly reduced the short-term need for more funding at the most effective groups, so my dollar might go further at groups we’re not funding. In particular, my dollar would probably go furthest at smaller groups that we’re unlikely to fund soon due to the time required to investigate them. But I also didn’t want to devote time to investigating these groups for my personal donations, or to donate blindly to groups I haven’t investigated yet. (After discussing a draft of this post with my coworkers, we’re now going to put more thought into whether there might be an efficient way to get some of these groups funded, such as by finding a re-grantor.) So I’ve decided to support the groups I’m already most excited about, most of which are grantees:

  • I plan to support the five advocacy groups that I believe are primarily responsible for the major recent US and international corporate wins for layer hens and broiler chickens: The Humane Society of the US Farm Animal Protection Campaign, The Humane League, Mercy for Animals, Humane Society International, and Compassion in World Farming USA.
  • I also plan to donate to Animal Charity Evaluators, which I’ve recently become more positive on and believe (like the groups above) would benefit from a broader donor support base even if we do fund it.
  • I also plan to donate to the Good Food Institute, which I believe is the most effective non-profit working in the important space of promoting technological alternatives to animal products.
  • I donated earlier this year to Citizens for Farm Animal Protection, the group that ran the successful Massachusetts farm animal welfare ballot measure, because I believe ballot measure campaigns are important and benefit from a broad base of support.

Chelsea Tabart

I plan to split my gift this year between Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program and Strong Minds, a charity that treats women in Uganda with depression through talk therapy groups led by community workers. Strong Minds’ program has randomized evidence of effectiveness, is in my assessment potentially highly cost-effective, and is supported by monitoring published online.

I plan to allocate 50% of my giving to Malaria Consortium because on my values and assumptions (as entered in GiveWell’s publicly available 2016 cost-effectiveness analysis) seasonal malaria chemoprevention is the most cost-effective, evidence-backed giving opportunity I am aware of. My decision to differ from GiveWell’s recommended allocation for giving season 2016 relies on the difference between my personal values and those of the median GiveWell staffer. As some readers are aware, GiveWell’s assessment of the relative cost-effectiveness of its recommended organizations rests, among other things, on how the median GiveWell staffer makes two controversial philosophical tradeoffs. The first is how many years of roughly doubling a person’s income is as valuable an additional year of healthy life. The second is how many child lives are equal to the value of one adult life. Relative to the values underlying our recommendations, I value improving health more highly than increasing wealth, and I consider the value of saving the lives of young children to be much closer to the value of saving the lives of adults.

My decision to allocate 50% of my giving to Strong Minds is both more speculative and more personal. I have decided to give 50% to Strong Minds over GiveWell charities for three reasons. Firstly, I think mental health is one of the most neglected areas in global health funding and innovation, and I want to incentivise and celebrate early-stage, evidence-driven, transparent organizations like Strong Minds. Second, I believe that the suffering experienced by adults with moderate to severe mental illness and their dependants and loved ones is often underestimated. It is plausible to me that giving to Strong Minds may improve well-being as much as GiveWell’s most effective charities. Finally, mental health treatment has fundamentally changed my life and the lives of many of my loved ones. For that reason, I consider it a personal privilege to donate to an organization making effective health services available to women facing stigma and difficult circumstances without comparison in the developed world.

Sarah Ward

I gave most of my charitable giving budget for this year to GiveWell (for grants to recommended charities at its discretion, so to AMF) in January, shortly before I left my prior job. I timed my donation this way to take advantage of my former employer’s generous charitable donation matching program.

I haven’t settled on final proportions yet, but I will probably give about half of the remainder of my annual contributions to GiveDirectly and the other half to nonprofits working to preserve political freedom and the rule of law in democratic societies. I spent very little time engaging in our top charities selection process this year, and was torn between donating to SCI to align with our updated recommendations and donating to GiveDirectly. Like Alexander, I value GiveDirectly as a benchmark for other organizations and interventions. This, along with my lack of deep engagement in our charity evaluation process, skepticism about the cost-effectiveness of deworming (for reasons similar to Sophie’s), and desire to limit the amount of time I spend thinking about where to give, led me to settle on GiveDirectly.

Chris Somerville

My largest donations during the past ten years or more have been to several Universities where I was a student or a faculty member. They are all public Universities and are always starved for funding. In 2016 my largest gift by far was to UC Berkeley, which currently obtains only 12% of its financial support from the State of California and is running a large deficit. In contrast to the other Universities ranked in the top six in the world, all of which are private, UC Berkeley is public and about 40% of the Berkeley undergraduates are from low income families and are eligible for Pell grants from the federal government. Thus, Berkeley is a particularly powerful engine for upward social mobility. My family was poor but I was able to earn enough working nights and summers to pay my way through a public University. I am grateful to the excellent education I received and want to pass that opportunity along. (My second largest gifts have been to pay for the tuition and living expenses of several relatives).

Ajeya Cotra

This year, I gave approximately 55% of my donation budget to a political campaign in mid-October. I plan to give the remaining 45% to the donor lottery set up by Carl Shulman and Paul Christiano. This lottery allows me to contribute a certain amount of money to a common fund, in exchange for a probability of deciding the allocation of the whole fund that is proportional to the amount of money I put in. There are three main reasons I prefer giving to this lottery over donating to a charity directly:

  • I can stop worrying about where to give unless I win. If I win, I will control several times as much money as I put in, so then I can justify spending much more time and energy optimizing this decision than I could if I were allocating my individual contribution.
  • Even if I were fairly confident about what charity I would give to if I were to win the lottery, giving a large chunk of money at once would allow me to have influence and access to that charity which I wouldn’t have been able to achieve with a smaller donation: for example, my donation might enable the creation of an entirely new sub-program in that charity.
  • I think the lottery is an interesting innovation in how people give, and I want to contribute to it having a healthy launch and signal my support for the idea of experimenting with giving in this way.

In the spirit of the lottery, I haven’t thought very much at all about where I would give if I won—but currently, I am weakly leaning toward Animal Charity Evaluators, based largely on a single conversation with Lewis.

Chris Smith

I plan to contribute 80% of my year-end giving to the END Fund. When my personal views are accounted for in our cost-effectiveness analysis, deworming charities have the highest expected value. I chose the END Fund over our other deworming charities based on its room for more funding.

Although I am giving to the END Fund, I would not be comfortable broadly recommending deworming organizations to all my friends and family members wondering where to give. It’s possible that our deworming charities accomplish very little, and not everyone shares the view that the best charities to give to are the ones where contributions have the highest expected value.

I intend to split the last 20% of my annual donations among GiveWell’s other top charities and a few organizations that don’t fit into GiveWell’s evaluation framework.

I won’t be contributing any portion of my donations to GiveWell’s operating costs. I would be uncomfortable donating to my employer, and I would prefer that donating to GiveWell does not become a norm among staff.

Isabel Arjmand

GiveWell’s recommendations represent the most convincing estimate I’ve seen of where to give money in order to do the most good per dollar, in terms of averting deaths and improving lives, and they are also reasonably well-aligned with my values. For that reason, I’ll be giving the bulk of my year-end donation (two-thirds) to GiveWell top charities according to our headline recommendation.

I find some of my coworkers’ arguments for deviating from our headline recommendation compelling. For example, I think it’s plausible that Malaria Consortium has an unfilled funding gap on par with AMF or SCI’s. However, I’ll be following the standard GiveWell recommendation, giving 75% of what I’ve allocated for top charities to AMF and the remaining 25% to SCI. At this point in time, I don’t believe I have any insights that would make me confident in deviating from the collective wisdom of the GiveWell research team. While I’m uncertain about the impact of deworming, my best-guess inputs to our cost-effectiveness analysis find it to be more cost-effective in estimation than most of my coworkers’ do, and so in the case of SCI, I’m comfortable giving to an opportunity that I view as risky but with a nontrivial chance of high impact per dollar.

The remaining one-third of my year-end giving will go to causes that are less evidence-backed in some cases but highly-aligned with my values, namely in terms of furthering social justice and my own civic engagement. Similarly to Holden, I believe in trying to be ethical according to a variety of ethical standards, including nonconsequentialist ones. I also view financial support as a means of engaging with causes I care about and signaling my support for organizations that do work I’d like to see more of. Prior to finalizing how I will allocate this portion of my giving, I hope to continue to discuss promising giving opportunities with coworkers and friends. As of now, I tentatively plan to support:

  • Causa Justa :: Just Cause: As a resident of a predominantly Latinx, predominantly working-class neighborhood in Oakland, I see supporting Causa Justa :: Just Cause—a Bay Area-based grassroots organization supporting housing rights, immigrant rights, and racial justice—as a means of supporting the community in which I live.
  • Planned Parenthood: I want to support an organization that provides and advocates for reproductive health services in the United States, and Planned Parenthood is one I am familiar with and trust. I haven’t yet decided whether I will give to Planned Parenthood or to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
  • International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP): Refugee resettlement is a cause I feel personally drawn to, and I admire IRAP’s focus on systemic advocacy.
  • Strong Minds: Mental health is another cause I feel passionate about supporting. My colleague Chelsea brought this organization to my attention, and I’m excited about the opportunity to support a program that is providing much-needed mental health care to women in Uganda. In my opinion, mental health is severely underfunded worldwide, and I would like to see Strong Minds scale up and possibly inspire the creation of more evidence-based mental health programs around the world.
  • GiveDirectly: This is a bit different from the other organizations in this list, in that it is one of GiveWell’s evidence-backed, underfunded top charities. While I believe GiveDirectly is most likely less cost-effective than AMF and SCI, I want to support its work as an organization that is empowering people living in extreme poverty, carrying out programs that allow for autonomy, and doing rigorous research on its programs. I’ve placed it in this category because I’m donating to it primarily because I see it as supporting a model of distributive justice that I would like to see further developed, rather than because I believe it is the most cost-effective giving opportunity available to me this year.

I considered supporting a variety of other causes with this portion of my giving, including environmental justice, animal welfare, criminal justice reform, preventing homelessness in the Bay Area, and justice for Native people in the U.S. In the end, I limited myself to the five causes above in order to keep each donation large enough to feel meaningful. I imagine I might make a significant contribution to political advocacy in the first half of 2017, but I’m currently uncertain what form that might take.

I briefly considered but decided against donating to GiveWell unrestricted to support our operating costs. I believe it makes sense for donors who value our research and recommendations to support GiveWell financially, but as an employee, I—like many of my colleagues—don’t believe I’m in a good position to diversify our donor base.

Comments

  • I always love this annual post.
    I notice that more staff than usual (it seems) are giving to political campaigns or policy advocacy organizations as opposed to traditional charities that GiveWell recommends. I suppose this is related to the fact that this is an election year, but maybe also the rise of Donald Trump and authoritarianism. I wonder about, in a time like this, there is a strong rationale for refocusing donations from traditional charities to advocacy or political organizations, and how GiveWell might approach this issue.

  • Matthew on December 22, 2016 at 9:48 am said:

    Thanks for taking the time to reflect and share your own charitable donation decisions so openly. I find it helpful to hear your perspectives, and value your insights as I consider my own giving decisions. Thank you for your work.

  • As someone who studies judgment and decision-making from an academic perspective, it seems to me that, in cases where staff members’ personal giving diverges from GiveWell’s overall recommendations, one of the staff members’ (implicit) concerns seems to be that GiveWell’s overall recommendations might be rather susceptible to small changes in parameter values. I wonder: has GiveWell investigated this systematically? That is, how robust are GiveWell’s conclusions to small changes in various parameter values? For instance, how might the recommendations change if the recommendations were based on the mean, rather than median, GiveWell staff member judgment (given that the mean is more prone than the median to the influence of outliers)? How might the recommendations change if the recommendations were based on the judgments of staff members one standard deviation below or above the mean? Or if the recommendations were based on the judgments only of those staff members who belong to underrepresented minority populations? Etc. On a related note, I wonder if diversifying (e.g., in terms of race/ethnicity and national origin) GiveWell’s staff might lead to different overall recommendations. Let me end by wishing the GiveWell staff Happy Holidays and expressing my appreciation for all they do!

  • Christian (GiveWell) on January 4, 2017 at 9:28 pm said:

    Hi Huff—

    You’ve raised a great question. We spent a lot of time examining how outcomes from our cost-effectiveness model were influenced by the selection of different values—especially for parameters with a wide range of plausible inputs. Indeed, because there is a great deal of uncertainty in many parameters, it is possible for the model’s results to change significantly with new information or different opinions on what an appropriate guess is. That said, we have reexamined the model each year, asking staff members to participate in discussions about important parameters and gathering additional data and completing additional analysis to inform parameter values, and the overall conclusions of the model have remained fairly consistent.

    While we do rely heavily on the median of staff members’ results in our cost-effectiveness model, it’s not the only thing we consider. Before making our final recommendations, we looked at our model from several different perspectives. For example, we looked at how senior staff members’ views differed from junior staff members’ views and how outcomes differed when taking the median entry for each parameter value rather than the median of each staff members’ results.

    I fully agree with your point that having a different or more diverse set of staff could influence how our models come out. A number of subjective values judgments are made in our model, and people approach those judgments in very different ways. We encourage donors who engage deeply with our work to try filling out our cost-effectiveness model with their own values. You can find a link to our cost-effectiveness model here.

  • Vipul Naik on January 9, 2017 at 2:38 am said:

    It would be great if this post had a ToC with links to individual staff members, so that it’s easy for people to link to a specific staff member’s donation decision and reasoning (particuarly since I’ve seen lots of links to this post pointing at the reasoning of specific staff members).

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