The following is a statement from the GiveWell Board of Directors. Audio and materials from the meeting are located here. Additional materials related to this statement will be posted soon.
The board has amended its original statement as of January 11, 2008 at 830pm est. Please note the addition of paragraph 5.
The Board of Directors wishes to emphasize that GiveWell was, is, and will remain committed to the goal of helping those in need by performing and publishing high quality research on charities within selected spheres for free and discretionary use by all interested parties. We are committed to the goals of improving philanthropy and increasing transparency in the sector by publicly sharing our process, our criteria, our methodologies, our deliberations, and our findings. Furthermore, we remain committed to engaging in public dialogue about how best to achieve these goals and encourage continued comment about our organization’s work.
The Board believes that the acts of misrepresentation that were committed are indefensible and are in direct conflict with the goals of the organization, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.
The board apologizes for any violations of public trust resulting from Mr. Karnofsky’s actions.
Effective January 3, 2008, Holden Karnofsky has been removed from his position as Executive Director of GiveWell and from his position as Board Secretary. The Executive Director position is now vacant; Tim Ogden will serve as interim Board Secretary. In addition to being removed from his positions, a financial penalty has been imposed on Mr. Karnofsky. While we are removing him from the Executive Director position, we believe that his previous contributions outside of the acts noted above have demonstrated a commitment to the goals of the organization and have been important to accomplishing GiveWell’s work. As a result, Holden will be moved to a Program Officer position, where we believe he will be valuable in helping GiveWell meet its outstanding commitments to applicants and donors. He will also participate in a program of professional development and mentoring.
In response to the actions by Elie Hassenfeld which were inconsistent with GiveWell’s core values of transparency and honesty, the board has decided to impose a financial penalty. We believe that Mr. Hassenfeld’s previous commitment to the goals of GiveWell demonstrates that he can continue to make a positive contribution to the work of the organization in the future in his current role as a program officer.
The GiveWell Board of Directors will begin meeting bi-weekly to develop and approve operating plans for GiveWell and to discuss the organization’s strategy and future. We will institute an organization-wide communications policy that will mandate that all staff and members of the Board of Directors explicitly disclose their affiliation with the organization when communicating with others. The policy will be made public once it has been completed.
We would also like to make clear to all donors to GiveWell since December 1 that we will contact them directly about these recent changes and will provide them the opportunity to have their gift returned if they so choose.
Bob Elliott, Chairman
Greg Jensen, Treasurer
Tim Ogden, Interim Secretary
In addition to the above statement from the Board of Directors as a whole, we would like to separately add the following about Holden’s actions, given our greater personal experience with him than other board members’.
We would like to make clear that the actions that Holden took to conceal his identity were improper and indefensible, as were his attempts to ameliorate the situation by offering a financial contribution.
While in this situation Holden acted improperly, we would like to emphasize that we believe Holden’s commitment to the GiveWell cause is genuine. Those who have commented that his involvement in GiveWell is an attempt to run a scam on the public or to gain financially are simply wrong. His substantial sacrifices financially and personally to take GiveWell from an idea to a reality demonstrate his passion for the values of the organization.
In addition, we would like to emphasize that we believe and have seen in action his stated commitment to the values of openness and honesty. While there are many incidents where Holden did not clearly identify his affiliation with the organization, we view these actions to be the result of his core mistake of thinking improperly about how to represent himself when communicating online.
In our previous professional and personal experiences with Holden, he has shown directness and honesty with those around him, and demanded the same from others. He has acknowledged weaknesses and worked with sincerity to improve those limitations. And, in the past when he has realized that his behavior or thinking was wrong, he not only been willing to change his mind and accept explicit personal responsibility, but take steps to ensure that similar action does not happen again.
It is clear to us that he has realized that his actions were improper, taken responsibility for his actions, and is committed to making sure that he communicates in a way that holds true to the values of honesty and transparency moving forward. We know Holden is committed to these values and expect that he will demonstrate to the community that this behavior was not consistent with his character through his continued work at GiveWell.
We recognize that people can make mistakes and that they can learn powerful lessons from those failures. When we think about the whole picture of Holden, and view his mistakes in the context of his contribution to GiveWell so far as well as his character prior to this project, we believe that he will continue to make a positive impact for the organization in the future.
Bob Elliott, Chairman
Greg Jensen, Treasurer