The GiveWell Blog

GiveWell’s progress in 2011

This is the first post (of six) we’re planning to make focused on our self-evaluation and future plans.

As in past years, we’re going to be posting our annual self-evaluation and plan as a series of blog posts. This post summarizes what changed for GiveWell in 2011 and what it means for the future. Future posts will elaborate.

For us, the major developments of 2011 were:

  • New contacts with major donors and the launch of GiveWell Labs. Prior to 2011, we had only one contact whom we would have classified as a “megadonor,” i.e., someone who seemed to have a reasonable chance of making extremely large gifts (in the range of $1 million or more) in the reasonably near future if we could generate good enough giving opportunities. In 2011, we made contact with several more, including Good Ventures.

    We realized that these contacts made it both more possible and more important to produce research of use to major philanthropists. We therefore launched GiveWell Labs, a new arm of our research process that will be open to any giving opportunity, no matter what form and what sector. GiveWell Labs made little progress in 2011 aside from being launched, but we expect it to be a major priority for 2012.

  • Our money moved grew significantly, hitting $5 million for 2011. This was partly a function of the major donors mentioned above, but partly a function of continuing to see strong growth in money moved from smaller donors. Excluding GiveWell Labs and Good Ventures, our money moved figure roughly doubled over last year, which was consistent with the growth we’ve seen in past years.
  • Our general level of “access” improved significantly. By “access,” we mean the ability to get relevant people (including charity staff, foundation staff, and academics) to engage with us and discuss relevant issues. This makes it possible to learn about relevant issues more quickly, improving both the quality and speed of our research, and reduces the problem of missing potential top charities because of their reluctance to engage with us.

    We believe that our access improved partly because of our relatively strong “money moved” figure for 2010, which we highlighted on our new For Charities page, and partly because of our improved reputation and network. Good Ventures has been very helpful on this front.

  • Our needs (and opportunities) for more staff are growing. Over the summer of 2011, we had 7 total staff (2 of them temporary) and still felt that we could benefit from more capacity. We currently have 5 total staff. Prior to 2011, we had never had more than 4 total staff at one time.

    As we become more systematic and thorough, we see more opportunities to improve our research by hiring; GiveWell Labs may introduce the need for more capacity as well. And the increased level of attention we get has increased administrative work.
    Recruiting will be a major priority for 2012.

  • We were successful in raising more operating funding. Fundraising was our #2 priority for 2011. We met our goal, with some help from both institutions and individuals. We balanced our budget for 2011 and project a balanced budget for 2012; if we succeed in making more good hires, we will need to raise more to cover our costs for 2013.
  • We identified two strong top charities and intensified our focus on global health and nutrition. Identifying top charities was what took the most effort in 2011. We believe it’s no accident that all of the strongest charities we’ve found so far are within the broad area of global health and nutrition. We will be focusing on this area intensively in 2012; we believe that deeply investigating a set of priority interventions (and the organizations that carry them out) is the most promising route to finding more outstanding giving opportunities.
  • We drew substantial attention for our work on disaster relief (particularly relating to the Japan crisis in March) and errors in World Health Organization cost-effectiveness figures. We believe that these contributed to our improvements in money moved, website traffic, and general reputation. We will continue to maintain our disaster relief research and will continue to deeply investigate research questions that are important to us.

Overall, it was a very encouraging year. Our work, our reputation and our influence all improved significantly, and we see substantial room for more improvement. We believe GiveWell now has enough impact to justify its operating expenses, and hope to have much more impact in the future.

Of course, we also made plenty of mistakes in 2011, and we’ve recently updated our shortcomings log to reflect them.


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