The GiveWell Blog

Discrepancies between our views and our website

There are times when the views expressed on our website can become out of sync with the internal views of staff. Because of the way we run our process, this effect is most pronounced in October and November, just before our annual recommendations refresh. At that time of the year, we’re generally taking the final steps to make decisions about e.g. adding new recommended charities or downgrading existing recommendations.

While we would ideally like to keep our website and internal views in sync in real-time, this is infeasible for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s often the case that we have an intuition that an investigation will turn out a certain way, but because details can matter dramatically (for example, a small discrepancy in data can lead to a major rethinking of how the data was put together and what it represents), we don’t want to close the investigation until we’ve nailed down all the details we can.
  • Writing up our views, with support, takes time, and we often change our views in the process.
  • We have a general practice of running potentially sensitive content – as well as any content that references not-already-public materials – by the relevant charities before publishing it. This can often lead to substantial delays.
  • Our top charities recommendations are particularly high-stakes, and we believe that a public announcement that we’re even strongly considering a particular change could affect an organization (and thus affect our relationship with it). We’ve made the determination that it’s generally best to feel fairly confident in a change before indicating publicly that it’s taking place; this may mean discussing the change with our Board and others, as well as the charities involved, first.

The approach we’ve chosen to take is to focus on having our recommendations be maximally up-to-date at the time of year when they are maximally relevant (December). This means identifying final contenders in August or September and planning deep-dive activities such as site visits at that time, and focusing in October and November on finalizing and writing up our findings.

In October and November, it’s generally the case that we’re finishing our investigations, and it’s not a good time to take on the work (of carefully communicating and discussing our thinking) that publicly previewing our changes would involve. Once we complete our investigations, our focus shifts.

If we were highly confident in a major change, we would announce it quickly. But generally, the longer it’s been since our last refresh, the more likely it is that we are finalizing some changes that aren’t yet public.

Because of this, we’re adding a note to our top charities page alerting users to this issue and pointing to this post.


  • Randall on October 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm said:

    So it sounds like something will change in the recs this year, but we don’t find out what for a month–suspense! Fun times. 🙂

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