The GiveWell Blog

Anonymity rocks

I’ve been flooding our readers lately, so today I just want to brag a little bit about an aspect of our application process.

We provide a public online discussion forum as one way for our applicants to ask questions and give feedback. One of the advantages of that it lets our applicants criticize us anonymously – and unlike with a survey, that criticism doesn’t have to be after-the-fact and one-way, but can be a conversation while still retaining the anonymity.

Yesterday and today, we got our first concrete benefit from this particular policy. As you may have figured out, I am a pretty blunt person and can sometimes come across as nasty, sarcastic, flippant, etc. without meaning to. I got criticized for this by an applicant who, completely understandably, didn’t want to disclose their identity. My first reaction to the criticism was dismissive: I didn’t believe I’d actually said anything mean, just terse, and I was ready to write off the complaint as hypersensitivity (and I would have, if we’d collected the complaint through a traditional survey). But when I asked for examples, the anonymous party responded with good ones, and I realized s/he was right and I was wrong. I’m too used to my old workplace environment, where everyone I write to has met me, and won’t misinterpret what I say.

I can easily fix this, I just needed it pointed out. The result will be more appropriate communications with applicants, and that matters. And if not for the anonymous discussion, I’d just keep making the same mistake. Think about that. To others working in grantmaking (where those you work with often hesitate to be critical): you may be better with tone than I am, but what you-specific mistakes might you be making, and what are you doing to catch them?


  • M E-L on August 2, 2007 at 3:43 pm said:

    Bravo. I can’t tell you how many times I have longed for this ability — to tell a funder that I think their process is flawed or something like that — without fear of “reprisal” or disrupting the “relationship.”

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