The GiveWell Blog

GiveWell’s progress in 2014 and plans for 2015: Summary

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 2014 and what it means for the future. Future posts will elaborate.

Money moved to our top charities was ~$28 million, compared to ~$17 million in 2013. Excluding Good Ventures, money moved to top charities went from ~$8.1 million in 2013 to ~$12.7 million in 2014.

We made major progress on building capacity, and plan to continue expanding.

  • At the beginning of 2014, we had 11 full-time staff and 1 Conversation Notes Writer; as of today, we have 18 full-time staff and 8 Conversation Notes Writers.
  • Non-senior staff (note 1) have been taking on significantly more responsibility, as senior staff have focused more on the Open Philanthropy Project and management. In particular, all four new charity reviews (DMI, IGN, GAIN, and Living Goods) as well as all three site visits were led by non-senior staff.
  • Of our current full-time staff, five work primarily on the Open Philanthropy Project, while the other thirteen do a mix of top charities work and cross-cutting work (including managing Conversation Notes Writers, vetting content from both projects, and administrative work). Currently, our payroll expenses are roughly evenly allocated between the two projects.
  • We are hoping to add 4-8 additional Research Analysts over the next 12 months. There are three future Research Analysts (two of whom were previously Summer Research Analysts) who have accepted offers and are starting mid-year. We are hoping to involve more Research Analysts in the Open Philanthropy Project, particularly for helping with writeups of cause investigations and grants, as well as build still more capacity for evaluating potential top charities. In addition, we are starting to seek cause-specific hires for the Open Philanthropy Project, and we have started to advertise for an Outreach Associate position to help us continue to maintain relationships with a growing number of people who give significantly to our top charities.

Our work on top charities produced much more output than in past years.

In the coming year, we hope for a similar level of output, while further improving the quality of our research, particularly when it comes to the transparency of our cost-effectiveness analysis and the reliability of our room for more funding analysis. We hope to do this while further reducing the role of senior staff, and shifting some capacity to the Open Philanthropy Project.

We feel that our top charities generally improved as giving opportunities. There were no new additions to the list, though some of this year’s “standout charities” may become top charities in the future. Against Malaria Foundation returned to our list for reasons related to room for more funding. A combination of new evidence and successful scaling up improved our confidence in all four organizations.

The Open Philanthropy Project progressed and evolved substantially, though it came short of our stretch goals.

  • We made substantial progress on our main priorities: U.S. policy and global catastrophic risks. The precise nature of our goal (commitments to causes) shifted, but we have completed a substantial number of high-level cause investigations and decided on our working cause priorities. We are now shifting our focus from cause investigations to aiming for major grants and/or hires.
  • We made less progress than hoped on other cause categories: scientific research funding and global health and development. For 2015, our main goal (a stretch goal) is to form clear priorities within scientific research funding, comparable to where we currently stand on U.S. policy and global catastrophic risks.
  • We have recently been prioritizing investigation over public writeups, and our public content is running well behind our private investigations. We are experimenting with different processes for writing up completed investigations – in particular, trying to assign more of the work to more junior staff.

We are planning to launch new websites for both GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project this year. Creating separate websites for GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project is a step in the direction of creating clear separation between the two. We are also hoping to begin conversations about what it would look like to form two separate organizations.

Fundraising remains a priority. We are currently fundraising for unrestricted support, supporting a team that is allocated flexibly between Open Philanthropy Project and our more traditional work.

Note 1: In this post, senior staff refers to Elie, Holden, and Alexander. Many staff took on additional responsibilities throughout 2014, so this refers to senior staff as of January 2014, not as of today.