The GiveWell Blog

We’d like your thoughts

On two things:

1. The raging debate between me and Elie on how you should evaluate a large charity. Here’s the intro; here’s my take; here’s Elie’s response. What do you think? If you’re not sure, which of us do you like better?

2. Our new website designed specifically for fundraising/networking. The goal is a site that hooks and sells people who have never heard of us before. How is it?

Don’t be shy, now.


  • Jason R on August 15, 2007 at 9:22 am said:

    I am in Holden’s camp. I want to know how smart/reasonable/visionary/practical/funny the people in the organization are, and that should be the goal. Of course spot check to see if they are effective (and having evidence for that is part of being smart and caring that what you are doing works). The overall assessment should be holistic, with no one litmus test. Obviously easily producing lots of evidence for effectiveness for every program should be a huge plus. The first stage focus on effictiveness was smart (to filter out for what Elie is concerned about). Now tell me about the other qualities. It’s possible that some of the programs are funded by others, are not things which the charity is as passionate about, and not much effort is spent on effectiveness check (if the funders don’t provide funding for it).

    I would do something like:

    1) If you could only devote your time and resources to one program to help with Cause 5, what would it be? Why? What makes you believe that it does/will work? Is it leveragable? How much reseources do you need?

    2) Do you currently have such a program? Explain how it fits or would fit in your organization (should it be a bigger part? If so why not?). (obviously having the program up and running would be a plus, but not having should not be the kiss of death).

    3) List all the programs that your organization currently runs or plans to run in the near future in order of importance to you (where you think you are making most of a difference/additional dollars would make most of a difference. Don’t necessary list in terms of current size, because other factors such as grants may dictate how money is spent). Gives us a sense of how big each program currently is as a share of what you do. If possible include evidence of effectiveness for the top program (it may be the same as answer to part 1).

    For each program list on a scale of 1-5 how easy it would be to produce evidence of effectiveness (where 5 is trivial, 4 possible with modest work, 3 possible but hard, 2 herculean, 1 impossible). For any program that is a 5 pls include all the evidence (don’t worry about overwhelming us). The more good evidence of effectiveness for different programs you produce the better off you will be, but this is one consideration. (This should give Elie some sense of how much they measure effectiveness). Expect to get questions on what you provide.

    Once we receive an application we will probably ask for evidence for one program that you list (if we don’t have enough evidence for overall effectiveness). This is part of our due dillegence, spot checking. We won’t ask for effectiveness for something listed as 1 (we know you won’t produce it, but we may for anything else). At this stage you will have at least 2 programs judged. And you should feel free to prefer a charity that has provided evidnce for more.

    Then once you are between 2-3 charities, and you inform them that they are near the top, I would ask for some more evidence if you don’t feel confident on effectiveness yet.

  • Allan Benamer on August 15, 2007 at 8:14 pm said:

    If an org can’t explain its own current activities, how can you judge its future? That seems to be the gist of Elie’s argument and I think that’s the right take on this issue. If you can’t find an org that does a good job of keeping records of its own failures and accomplishments I don’t think you’re going to get a good prospectus from them on future activity.

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