# Our work on outreach

One of the core questions we’ve faced throughout GiveWell’s history has been whether to allocate our time to research (i.e., identifying and evaluating outstanding giving opportunities) or outreach (i.e., increasing the number of donors who are aware of GiveWell and use our research, and the amount of money we move to top charities). The question of “research vs. outreach” was one of the most common topics at board meetings in our early years, and new staff and supporters often ask us why we don’t focus more of our time on outreach.

Over the course of GiveWell’s history, we’ve taken many approaches to increase awareness of our work. We’ve tried all of these throughout our history, so we believe the experiences described below are reasonably representative of “what we’d expect to work today” rather than specific to a particular point in GiveWell’s development. The purpose of this post is to share our observations of what has worked and what hasn’t, in order to help people understand why we prioritize our time as we do and also in order to potentially help people thinking about their own outreach strategies.

The big picture is that:

• Proactive “marketing” has contributed little to our growth.
• Much of our most valuable publicity and promotion has come from enthusiastic people who actively sought us out.
• Supporters often take serious time, and vet our work, before becoming highly enthusiastic.

Because of this, we have generally felt that improving the quality of our research, and our existing audience’s understanding of it, has been the most important factor in our growth. We’ve consistently seen our best results come from focusing not on “How can we get people to find out about us?” but “How can we get the people who have already sought us out, shown interest and found us to become as enthusiastic as possible?”

More detail follows. We first discuss approaches that have not worked particularly well, then discuss the major factors in the growth we’ve seen.

Approaches that have not worked particularly well

These approaches either (a) have not had strong return-on-investment in terms of money-moved-per-hour-of-staff-time-invested or (b) do not seem likely to yield significantly better results if we put in additional time.

• Speaking opportunities. We’ve given a total of 50-100 talks – at companies (e.g., tech companies, banks, hedge funds, consulting firms), universities (undergrad, business and public health schools; both specific classes and broader community events), conferences, and smaller, personal events organized by GiveWell supporters. Few donors have found us via a talk. In hindsight, the costs of talks (e.g., practicing our talk, prepping slides, coordinating logistics, travel time) seem to have significantly outweighed the benefits. Over the past year or so, we’ve accepted invitations to speak, but only when (a) we can limit preparation time (e.g., by delivering our standard GiveWell talk rather than putting in serious preparation) and (b) travel time is low. We’ve also sometimes sent more junior staff to speak, partly for their training. Roughly speaking, I’d estimate that talks have yielded ~5-10 major supporters giving a total of approximately $200,000-$400,000/year. My best guess is that we have put in ~250-500 hours throughout our history into speaking opportunities.
• Networking with people who haven’t shown proactive interest in GiveWell. We’ve conducted hundreds of 1-on-1 meetings or phone calls with prospective donors. As a general rule, when we’ve initiated the meeting (i.e., a supporter of ours suggested we meet someone or we asked a supporter of ours to make an introduction), we’ve very rarely converted that person into a fan. A common pattern is that someone thinks GiveWell is a “great idea” but that this recognition rarely results in action, e.g., giving to GiveWell or our top charities. (This was a topic of discussion at a July 2010 board meeting.) Networking of this type has yielded a few major donors who collectively give ~$100,000-$150,000/year.
• Proactive media outreach. We’ve made various attempts to proactively encourage the media to cover us. We’ve had no notable success actively reaching out to the media; our media coverage has generally come via media reaching out to us. A fact that has further diminished our interest in allocating time to proactive media outreach is seeing the surprising (to us) results from what we would have considered major media. For example, we’ve seen limited returns – in terms of new donors – from appearances in newspapers like the Boston Globe and highly-trafficked major sites like Lifehacker, Reddit, and Gawker.
• Google AdWords. We have run AdWords consistently since GiveWell began, and it has consistently been our best performing (in ROI terms) proactive outreach strategy. However, while it has had a strong return on money invested, we have not found a significant number of large donors via AdWords. In 2009 (the latest year for which we have the data), we spent approximately $650 on AdWords during the last week of the year and counted$5,310 donated, see our 2009 metrics report (DOC). In 2013, we ran significantly more AdWords as part of the Google Grants program, leading to 202 donors. (We are not currently tracking the amount given, though we hope to be able to do this in the near future.)

We have also tried other outreach approaches at various times. We have (a) cold-called family foundations and corporate giving departments to encourage them to use our recommendations; (b) retained a professional designer to prepare materials as takeaways from talks and 1-on-1 meetings; (c) evaluated PR firms as a means for gaining broader media exposure. Both (a) and (b) resulted in significant time spent with little-to-no results. When we spoke with PR firms in 2009 and 2012, we found that the media coverage they expected to be able to generate for us was comparable to the media coverage we had already had which had not led to strong results (i.e., many donors/major donors) in the past.

(For those particularly interested in our early attempts at outreach, see our 2008 change of direction writeup.)

GiveWell’s growth

While the approaches described above have not worked particularly well, GiveWell has grown significantly. Some highlights follow; more information is available in our annual and quarterly metrics reports.

Comparing our current reach to that which we had in December 2009 is instructive. By December 2009, we had already appeared in (a) a major New York Times article, (which also led to appearances on CNBC and NPR) and (b) Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save (which led to multiple additional media mentions during his book tour), and (c) Nick Kristof’s book, Half the Sky. Notwithstanding these major drivers of “eyeballs” to our website, GiveWell’s reach remained relatively limited.

Another interesting comparison is to our first December, in 2007, when we had an abnormal traffic spike due to being featured in an NYT story that reached #3 on the most-emailed articles list. We saw a total of ~50,000 visitors to our site that month – over 1/3 as many as in December 2013 – but our total money moved that month was only ~$30,000 (compare to more than$4.3 million in December 2013, excluding Good Ventures).

Our growth has been a function of audience enthusiasm and word-of-mouth, much more than of media exposure and attention.

How have donors found GiveWell?

We know the sources of our growth because we have surveyed and prioritized getting to know our major donors.

Most of our larger donors have told us that they either (a) found GiveWell while proactively looking for a resource to help them decide where to give or (b) heard about GiveWell from a trusted source (most commonly Peter Singer, other media, or a close friend or colleague).

Excluding Good Ventures (the single largest supporter of our top charities) and other institutions (which have different approaches to giving), over the past 3 years, 95 donors have accounted for close to 60% of the total non-institutional money GiveWell directed to top charities or received to support its operations. (Combining these two figures offers a reasonable picture of the most committed users/largest supporters of GiveWell’s work.)

We have data on how 84 of these 95 donors found us, which is shown in the table below:

How donor found GiveWell Number of donors Amount given (USD millions)
Proactive 22 $4.9 Peter Singer 21$2.2
Personal 7 $1.6 New York Times 8$1.1
Referral 11 $0.6 Marginal Revolution blog 6$0.4
Other online 5 $0.4 Speaking opportunities 2$0.2
Networking 2 $0.1 Total 84$11.4

See this footnote for definitions and more technical discussion.

It is important to note that the success we’ve had when someone refers us (either via writing something or referring friends) has often been a function of specific individuals’ repeatedly and enthusiastically promoting us or discussing our work in public. This includes people in the media (or who frequently contribute in media) such as Peter Singer, Ken Stern, Nick Kristof, Alex Tabarrok and Stephanie Strom but also individuals like Jonah Sinick (who played a large role in introducing the LessWrong community to GiveWell) and Jeff Kaufman and Julia Wise (who have promoted GiveWell to their coworkers, friends and on their respective blogs). In general, we feel that high-enthusiasm, lower-profile promoters have benefited us far more than higher-profile, one-time endorsements.

Good Ventures

We excluded Good Ventures from the above discussion, but its story is important because it is the single largest donor to our top charities (having directed $12 million to those organizations over the past 3 years). Broadly speaking, Good Ventures came to GiveWell in the same way other major donors have. In a 2011 blog post, Cari Tuna, Good Ventures’ President, wrote, “I first learned about GiveWell about a year ago while preparing to transition from reporting to working in philanthropy full time. I read about the organization in Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save and, around the same time, met co-founder Holden Karnofsky through a mutual friend. Right away, I was struck by the rigor of GiveWell’s research, its commitment to transparency and the volume of thoughtful commentary about the nonprofit sector it already had produced in just three years. In April 2011, I joined GiveWell’s board. Since then, I’ve been increasingly impressed by the co-founders’ dedication to their work, humility about what they know and what they don’t, and ability to adapt the GiveWell model as they learn.” The importance of growing enthusiasm over time After finding us, the first step most people take is, in one way or another, vetting the quality of our work. Some vet us intensively by reading the GiveWell website extremely carefully, following our blog, corresponding with us directly via email or phone, and participating in in-person research discussions (which we hold periodically in New York and San Francisco) before giving making a significant (for them) donation (i.e., giving the amount they eventually intend to give on an annual basis). Others decide to give significantly relatively soon after finding us (though in most cases report doing substantial vetting of our work before they do so). We considered the donor patterns for our 50 largest donors (again excluding Good Ventures). We stopped at 50 solely in the interest of saving time and because as the dollar amounts fell, the overall picture was unlikely to change. We excluded 18 of these 50 donors because (a) we would guess that a change in donation size may have been driven by the fact that their first donation was early in GiveWell’s existence, and the change in donation size was likely a function of GiveWell’s growth rather than their comfort with our work, (b) gave so early that we don’t have easy access to their donation records, or (c) because 2013 was the first year in which they gave so we can’t yet know their “standard” donation size.Of the 32 remaining donors: • 16 donors representing$4.5 million made significantly larger (>2x) donations in subsequent years than they had in the first year they gave.
• 8 donors representing $1.3 million followed us intensively for at least a year before making any donation. • 8 donors representing$1.1 million made first donations that were more than half the size of their subsequent donations.

Again, Good Ventures mirrors the pattern followed by our major retail donors. Cari and Dustin met us in February 2011. After that meeting, Cari and Dustin expressed an intention to make a $100,000 grant to support GiveWell, and Cari joined GiveWell’s board and followed GiveWell’s work closely. In December 2011, Good Ventures donated$750,000 to our top two charities at the time. In 2012, Good Ventures contributed $2 million to our top charities, and in 2013, Good Ventures contributed more than$9 million. The most important/successful media we’ve had has come from the same dynamic: i.e., people who learned about/found GiveWell and often took the time to follow us reasonably closely until they were confident in the quality of our work. Some other media has simply come via reporters’ using referrals to find us.

Our takeaways

Many of our supporters imagine that exposure is the main bottleneck to our growth – that our appeal speaks for itself, and that the most important challenge we face is making people aware that we exist. But the analysis above tells a different story: proactive outreach has generally done little for us, while strong relationships with enthusiastic supporters (which develop over a significant amount of time) have driven strong growth.We continue to pick “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to outreach, taking opportunities to gain exposure that require relatively little of our time and effort. However, the bulk of our energy goes into making our research as strong as possible and building relationships with the people who rely on it, and we believe this is the most important driver of our past and future growth.

Definitions:

• Proactive – the donor told us that s/he was actively searching for a source like GiveWell at the time s/he found us.
• Personal – the donor knew Elie or Holden personally before they started GiveWell.
• New York Times – The New York Times has written about GiveWell many times; we have not tried to source donors to specific articles.
• Referral – the donor told us that s/he found us from a friend or coworker who recommended GiveWell.
• Other online – the donor told us that s/he found us online but we do not have the exact source or there was only 1 donor who found us via this source.
• Speaking opportunities – the donor told us that s/he learned about GiveWell via a talk we gave.
• Networking – we met the donor through general networking (i.e., asking people we knew to introduce us to people they know or people we knew making active introductions to their network).

Note that the sources we use for each donor are often not mutually exclusive. For example, many donors who proactively started looking for a source like GiveWell came across Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save; others, had always intended to give significantly but had not started yet. Once they read Peter Singer’s book and learned about us, they started giving more. In the former case, we’ve catalogued the donor as “Proactive” and in the latter as “Peter Singer.” It is also true that Peter Singer has authored several articles in the New York Times and some donors may report either Peter Singer or New York Times if they found us via one of these articles. Peter Singer himself told us that he found GiveWell via our appearance in the New York Times Giving Section in November 2007, which we understand to have been caused by Times’ reporters finding and following our blog.

• Peter Hurford on April 2, 2014 at 1:50 pm said:

“Roughly speaking, I’d estimate that talks have yielded ~5-10 major supporters giving a total of approximately $200,000-$400,000/year. My best guess is that we have put in ~250-500 hours throughout our history into speaking opportunities.”

That’s $400/year/hour to$1600/year/hour, which seems like very impressive returns. Why then are talks seen as disappointing? Is all the low hanging fruit just gone and the next marginal talk isn’t worth it? Or do GiveWell staff just have more valuable things to do with their time?

Notably, you haven’t mentioned hours for other types of outreach so the calculation can’t be continued, but this seems to tell a different story for the impact of outreach.

• Peter Hurford on April 2, 2014 at 2:26 pm said:

Also, thank you for putting this together. It’s very useful to know.

• Tyler Heishman on April 2, 2014 at 5:58 pm said:

I agree with Peter; thanks for putting this together as it’s useful to see and think about, and I am curious about his question.
___

“We’ve tried all of these throughout our history, so we believe the experiences described below are reasonably representative of “what we’d expect to work today” rather than specific to a particular point in GiveWell’s development.”

I’m a bit surprised or confused by this. Over your history, you’ve been improving (doing more research, and learning how to do it better). Wouldn’t that cause you to believe that the impact of outreach would be higher now than earlier? Have you attempted to look at the impact of outreach over time?

Also, have you considered other factors that might lead your past results to not be reflective of future efforts? E.g. I’d be curious if there is increasing awareness and support for effective altruism generally that could be make the environment more open to your outreach.

___

Also, have you had a chance to discuss these findings with any similar organizations? I’d be interested both in learning if they have similar observations and also if there were opportunities for partnering together, i.e. a new approach to your outreach that’s more targeted to groups likely to be passionate about your work.

• Daniel Spohn on April 2, 2014 at 6:39 pm said:

Some questions that came to my mind after reading the post:
1) Should the limited impact of former outreach activities really lead to the conclusion that givewell’s future impact can be maximized by allocating marginal resources rather into more research than into the most promising outreach opportunities?
2) Is there really so limited potential for improving outreach and so few remaining untried outreach potentials?
3) Would results of outreach be different if GiveWell would make it one of its priority tasks and would strive for same rigor and excellence in area of outreach as in area of research and would try to reach out to leading experts (for different areas of marketing/outreach) same as you do in research?
4) May same outreach activities that you did in the early days of givewell have different impact today where you have a longer track record and have endorsements from very reputable people other donors trust in?
5) Is there anything you could do beyond research and blogging in order for people to „become as enthusiastic as possible“ and to facilitate that they share their enthusiasm with other potential donors and to have them exchange ideas about how to spread the word.

Your growth over the last years has been impressive. Still there are so many people out there who give to charity and have no idea that an organization such as givewell exists, which may help them making better giving decisions. In non-English speaking countries there may be very few donors who know about givewell and also outside your core demographics there still seems to be a lot of potential to reach audiences who never heard of givewell before and could potentially become enthusiasts.
For many years I did not donate because I lacked the confidence that my donation will really have the desired impact and felt overwhelmed by the task of evaluating which charity may be a better giving opportunity. I suspect there may be many people in a similar situation, not knowing about givewells research.

• Alexander on April 2, 2014 at 9:12 pm said:

Thanks all for the questions and comments.

Peter – I think declining marginal returns are part of the story, though it’s difficult to know what the functional form of the relationship might look like. The data is exceptionally lumpy – a couple of talks which we think changed a couple of individuals’ donation behavior account for the large majority of the benefits Elie specified, but:

• we don’t really know the counterfactual (i.e. whether the relevant individuals would have found us and donated anyway)
• it’s not clear whether we can know in advance which talks those important ones might be.

The bigger reason we don’t see these figures as terribly attractive is the opportunity cost: the hours going into these speaking opportunities have almost always been senior staff (primarily Holden and Elie), which is in relatively fixed supply. A couple hundred hours of their time could make a big difference in our core research output, so we see reallocating them towards outreach as being quite costly. Even within outreach, it’s not at all clear that marginal public talks are the best use of resources – things like periodic calls with major donors may be more effective, though we don’t have a comparable estimate.

I do think that these figures are compatible with more outreach being valuable at the margin if less senior staff could take it on, but (1) there is often an expectation amongst audiences that people who present will be senior and (2) that would still require a significant investment in management and training.

Tyler – A couple points:

• In dollar terms, our outreach does seem to have become more effective over time, in the sense that the vast majority of the funds Elie is discussing came for the first time in 2013. However, we don’t think we’ve gotten much “better” at outreach in itself; we think we’ve had more credible research that prompts people to be more willing to donate more.
• I think you’re right that there is increasing awareness and support of effective altruism generally, but I see that as broadly fungible with our outreach efforts, rather than as increasing the returns to them.
• It’s certainly possible that we could improve our outreach capacity and skill by investing a lot more time in it, but we see that time as coming at a significant cost to our research potential, and given what we see as the strong continuing returns to additional investment in research, that’s not a tradeoff we’re excited to make.
• We haven’t formally discussed this with other organizations. We generally try to be pretty thoughtful about taking opportunities where we believe that people who are excited about our message are clustered, but our experience has long been that GiveWell is a pretty niche interest, and that our fans tend to be pretty diffuse. This isn’t something we’re complaining about, but it suggests that a lot of the highest returns to outreach might involve interacting with people who have already identified themselves as interested in some way rather than in broad outbound marketing. I think Elie’s post above makes the case that that has been historically successful for us pretty convincingly.

Daniel – just to be clear, we’re not planning to cut the amount of time or effort we devote to doing outreach, we’re just not planning to significantly increase it. (Even that last point may be too strong – I could readily imagine us hiring someone to work full time on outreach in the next year or two.) We agree that we’re still far short of reaching all of the demand for our research, and with your implicit point that outreach could be done better, but at the margin, we think the returns to further senior staff focus on research outstrip the returns to further focus on outreach.

• Andrew on April 4, 2014 at 11:06 am said:

I’d summarize your model as passive exposure with interested people results in enthusiastic supporters who directly want to evangelize, donate, or work with you; proactive and costly exposure that reaches mostly people who are not captured by the vision, values, and approach has not had significant ROI.

My addition is that there is a significant difference between people who are interested and able to be made enthusiastic vs. those who don’t really find much excitement with you work, and that perhaps helping transform more people into the former group would be another type of proactive outreach.

My issue is that just relying on engaging those who already love the idea of your work really abandons much of giving and social impact work.

Perhaps GiveWell ought to think about finding out what makes those who are most “susceptible” different, and then seeing if marketing/programming can be aimed at getting other folks there as well. One idea might be organizing student groups at the high school and college level to issues of aid effectiveness, transparency, hierarchy of evidence, etc.

Perhaps this isn’t your fight, but perhaps it ought to be.

• Alexander on April 4, 2014 at 3:19 pm said:

Andrew – I think you’re broadly right here. The main thing I want to respond to is the idea that the view we take above is somehow a permanent conclusion – that we’re “abandoning” the possibility of ever focusing more on trying to convert people to really want our product – which is not the case. What Elie outlines above is the view that growth of the community that wants our product has been really strong, and seems to have been driven by a combination of hard work by advocates other than us (e.g. Peter Singer and many ardent fans) and partly driven by improvements in the quality of our product itself. We don’t see those basic dynamics changing in the short term, so for now we think the returns to our continuing to focus primarily on research seem high. This is not at all to say that others, especially those who have been most successful at it, shouldn’t be doing the kind of ambitious work you describe, or that we never will.

• Peter Hurford on April 5, 2014 at 4:06 pm said:

I suppose I’d be interested in more context. Returns in excess of \$1000/hour don’t strike me as “[a]pproaches that have not worked particularly well”. It certainly makes sense that working on research has higher returns (both generally and with regard to outreach), and that’s a great reason to focus on marginal research over marginal outreach, but what do you think this means for focus on outreach in the EA movement overall by non-Givewell staff?

• Alexander on April 7, 2014 at 3:23 pm said:

Peter – we definitely did not mean our comments above to describe our views about the overall allocation of effort in the effective altruism movement more broadly; we don’t see our argument above as bearing much on that question. Speaking for myself, and for reasons that aren’t covered in the above post, I see outreach efforts by the rest of the EA movement as being complementary to GiveWell’s research efforts, and I’d argue for the opposite conclusion: I think the rest of the EA movement should probably be aimed more at outreach than at the current margin. Of course, it’s a little hard to say how aggregate resources in the movement are allocated, so I could easily be mistaken in my perception of what the current margins look like. But I think the track record of some individuals who have informally devoted themselves to outreach for the movement (e.g. Jeff Kaufman and Julia Wise, who Elie mentioned in the post) has been sufficiently strong to suggest that others may be able to pursue similar efforts with very high returns.

• Tyler Heishman on April 17, 2014 at 6:35 am said:

Overall, it seems to me like a reasonable conclusion to continue to focus on research as the priority, and continuing the proactive outreach strategy of only going after “low hanging fruit” (at least for the short term, re-evaluating this periodically).

However, from what I can tell, this hinges a lot on the expectation that it requires senior staff to be successful at outreach (which I don’t think Elie mentioned at all, but Alexander brought up in the comments).

I think it would be informative (though I recognize difficult) to try to [crudely] quantify the value of, for example, the impact of a half person-year of junior researcher time over the last year. Is this a material impact to the quality of the research? To the extent that you?d expect less money moved? Alternatively, it seems that that time spent on outreach would provide a lot of value in the learning, with some reasonably probability it would be modest ROI. Does that make sense? I might not quite be framing this in the best way, so I’d be curious if other people have tried to think about this in similar ways.

And to be direct in my feedback, I don?t think the post does a very good job supporting the conclusion that making research as strong as possible will be the most important driver of future growth (maybe I’m still missing context or just being dense). Historically, focus on research has made sense to me, and I can believe that it was the right decision, but now with a fairly thorough base of research, I expect the room for improvement is dropping. And additionally, stating that proactive outreach hasn?t worked well seems mostly irrelevant since it hasn?t been an area of focus (at least since ~2008, when you didn?t have anywhere near as comparably good research backing the outreach). Do others agree or disagree with the quality of the post?

Could/should GiveWell have non-senior staff work on outreach? We don’t think that junior staff are generally able to carry out the most valuable outreach opportunities. These opportunities would include (a) speaking engagements, (b) meetings with donors, or (c) putting work into improving the communication of our research. Staff could eventually reach a point where they’re able to do this, but at this point, my guess is that they wouldn’t be able to add meaningful value on A, B or C. Newer staff do some limited outreach work as training; hopefully, some will be able to take on more responsibility in the future. Our impression is that in most other organizations, outreach to donors, especially bigger donors, is often considered the purview of relatively senior staff.

Are we underestimating the potential impacts of proactive outreach because the last time we focused on outreach full-time was in 2008? We’ve put significant, consistent effort into outreach over the years. I wouldn’t characterize any of the facts from the blog post as specific to a particular point in GiveWell’s history.

Given that we already have good research on many charities and topics, what is the value of additional research? I think additional research is going to drive future growth in money moved, but I also think you could be right (that research will not be as necessary to future growth in money moved as it has been in the past). I think our difference in opinion may come from whether we’re expecting future money moved to solely flow to top charities or look for opportunities from GiveWell Labs. My expectation is that a large proportion of future money moved will come to opportunities identified by GiveWell Labs, and we have to prioritize identifying those opportunities.

• Alexander on April 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm said:

Tyler – I just want to add that I don’t agree that “the post does [not do] a very good job supporting the conclusion that making research as strong as possible will be the most important driver of future growth.” While it’s not an ironclad proof, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect such proof for the vast majority of strategic decisions that organizations make. I found Elie’s arguments quite persuasive, though of course they do not close the question.

• Tyler Heishman on April 21, 2014 at 9:02 am said:

It seems reasonable to expect that growing GiveWell Labs research is more promising (e.g. more likely to drive growth in money moved) than expanded outreach efforts. Given that both would likely require significant senior staff time, I agree with allocating that time towards the research efforts.

I still think I don’t understand some of your rationale for the decision (and might therefore see the decision as a closer call than you), but it doesn’t seem important to explore further (and I certainly agree with Alex that it’s not reasonable to expect an ironclad proof).

• Rajat Dhameja on April 24, 2014 at 11:09 am said:

Really enjoyed reading about the various outreach efforts. GiveWell is a sich a well respected and renowned Organization. All the best wishes to enhance outreach and make a difference in people’s lives.

Rajat Dhameja, MBBS, MHA
Healthcare Executive
Los Angeles, CA

• David on May 1, 2014 at 12:38 pm said:

Elie, thanks for writing this very insightful article (as always).

As a donor for almost two years now, what finally converted me from simply being interested to actually giving money to GiveWell was indeed spending some time on this website and being amazed at the quality of your research and the level of detail that goes into your work, as well as your impressive ability for introspection and critical evaluation.

Living in a non-english speaking country, I feel that I would struggle to get many of my friends, relatives or acquaintances to become givewell donors exactly because they would have a hard time accessing the large amounts of material that you produce and that help convert people to your cause.

I was thus wondering, have you ever thought about translating your research, or at least part of it, in order to increase outreach to more regions of the world? How do you think this would rank compared to the other approaches you’ve written about in terms of cost effectiveness?

Thanks again for your terrific work,
David

• Elie on May 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm said:

David, thanks for your past support of our work and your thoughtful question. This is something we’ve considered, though not carefully.

I agree with you that there are benefits to translating our research, though I’m not convinced that the size of these benefits is worth the cost in time or money.

One issue is that our recommendations/research changes regularly. Would a translated site/set of research adjust quickly enough to the changes we made in English? For example, last year, we ran a long blog post on our decision to change the Against Malaria Foundation’s recommendation status, removing them from our top charities list. If non-English-speaking donors were to rely on a translated site, we would need to ensure that they had up-to-date information.

We could select pieces of past research that demonstrate the quality of our research, but choosing the right pieces to represent GiveWell in a foreign language would take us some time.

Finally, the more that we translate complicated pieces, the greater the risk that our content is misrepresented in a way we cannot detect.

That said, over the years people have translated GiveWell materials into foreign languages, and we’ve welcomed it. We would be excited about foreign language fans of ours translating parts of our work into their native languages and sharing it — this is just not a project we have the capacity to drive forward right now, or something that we’d be particularly excited to pay market rates for.

• David on May 2, 2014 at 9:40 am said:

I agree that any translated content would need to be kept up to date as part of GiveWell’s appeal comes from the fact that you make sure to always provide follow ups and updates.

I also understand the costs involved in translating your content with acceptable throughput and latency would be sizeable.

What is harder to estimate on the other hand, is the return in terms of new donors that such an initiative would reap. This is much more difficult to assess for me, even in terms of guessing a range, so I thought that maybe you would have a clearer idea. But I understand you’re not sure about it either, or at least you’re not convinced that the numbers would be worth it. In that case, and in the absence of data hinting at converting lots of potential new donors from this, it makes sense not to consider this matter a priority.

In any case, thank you for taking the time to answer my question.