The GiveWell Blog

What I wrote in the Gates Foundation survey

Hey, the Gates Foundation is finally showing some interest in what others think. Here’s what I wrote in response to “Please share any comment or opinions you have about our web site.”

Not enough information. Not even close to enough information. Where are your evaluations & technical reports? Where’s your evidence for whether you’ve saved lives, how many lives you’ve saved, whether you’ve made any traction on education, what you think works in education? All I see is a list of grantees with 2-sentence descriptions (no account of how you choose them over other applicants) and a bunch of generalizing, salesy publications that don’t get specific about what was observed, how it was observed, and what specific practices you advocate. Glad you’re finally inviting feedback, because there are other people in existence trying to figure out where to give. As the leading foundation, you have an opportunity to create dialogue about how to help people as well as possible, and affect others’ giving as well as your own. This website does a great job burying that opportunity. Also, the look&feel is pretty drab.


  • Sean Stannard-Stockton on November 4, 2007 at 11:47 am said:

    Holden, I get the impression that you are very authentic in your desire to make the world a better place. But my take is that a submission like the one you wrote will be dismissed out of hand because you used your normal writing style of sharp criticism. A real person is going to read that submission and their natural defense mechanisms are going to kick in and tell them to ignore you.

    I know your style works with some people. But most of the people you are trying to influence are going to tune you out because of their normal defense mechanisms.

    We’ve all got to do our own thing and you certainly know better than me what’s best for you, but just wanted to give you a heads up that they way you say what you do (the content of which is almost always correct in my view) keeps you from having more influence.

  • Holden on November 5, 2007 at 2:05 pm said:

    Thanks for the input, Sean. You may have identified a tragic flaw of mine. I do try to nice up when absolutely necessary (for example, when dealing with our grant applicants, who I fear will not be comfortable being as blunt with me as I am with most people) … but only when absolutely necessary. It’s obviously not natural for me.

    I don’t think the Gates survey is one of the times when this matters (I doubt anyone but a bored admin is going to see any of those comments, and I think my chances of getting noticed are about 1/1000 with my tone vs. 1/2000 with a more neutral tone). And we’ve made an explicit decision with the blog to let me be me (otherwise I couldn’t blog with as much frequency or enthusiasm). I agree with you, though, that there are times to tone it down.

    When I fail, you can help (and you have before). I think the world has benefited a lot from the kind of people who can listen to the screaming guy on the fringes, and put his revelations into a language that more people speak.

  • Gates Keeper on November 14, 2007 at 12:17 am said:

    Hey, Holden, I like your “WAKE UP” style of putting things.

    Have you noticed that the Gates Foundation doesn’t blog the redesign process so there are no Comments and we cannot act based on what others are saying and doing?

    That’s participation, Gates’ style.

  • To be fair, I think the same criticism applies to every other foundation I know of. But Gates is in a particularly good position to be a leader, partly because of their evaluative capacity and partly because of their name, and it seems like an extra-big shame that they have a content-less website like everyone else.

  • Gates Keeper on December 3, 2007 at 5:20 am said:

    Fair? As they say in the programme: “If you want fair, go to a fairground.” Keep up the good work.

    Gates Keeper

  • Gates Keepers on January 1, 2008 at 3:23 am said:

    Holden, I no longer respect your WAKE UP style. It is time for you to wake up and resign.

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