The GiveWell Blog

General progress and plans for GiveWell as an organization in 2015

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

Previous posts have discussed our 2014 progress on, and 2015 plans for,

This post outlines our plans and thoughts on issues that cut across these two projects, and pertain to GiveWell the organization as a whole.

Our staff has expanded significantly, and we expect to expand further.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • For most of 2013, Holden and Alexander were the only staff putting much time into the Open Philanthropy Project. In 2014, we shifted more of their time to the Open Philanthropy Project, as well as ~all of Howie Lempel’s time. These additions made it possible for the Open Philanthropy Project to make substantial progress, covered previously. Recently, we’ve added two more full-time staff to the Open Philanthropy Project team.
  • Through 2013, Elie was intimately involved in all charity reviews. He participated in most calls with charity representatives and carefully reviewed the details of all charity-review-related written work. This changed substantially in 2014 with newer staff taking on more research and management responsibility. These additions made it possible for GiveWell to produce much more in 2014 than in 2013, as covered previously. In 2014, we added 5 new staff members who primarily work on top-charities-related work. Natalie Crispin is now the direct supervisor for seven staff members.
  • We are hoping to involve more Research Analysts in the Open Philanthropy Project, particularly for helping with writeups of cause investigations and grants. Because of this, and our desire to build still more capacity for evaluating potential top charities, we are hoping to add 4-8 additional Research Analysts over the next 12 months. There are two future Research Analysts (previously Summer Research Analysts) who have accepted offers and are starting mid-year.
  • In addition, we are starting to seek cause-specific hires for the Open Philanthropy Project (discussed previously), 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.

Improving management was a major focus of 2014. With our larger staff, we have put a lot more attention into recruiting-, training- and retention-related matters. We’ve implemented regular one-on-one meetings, employee satisfaction checkins, and a variety of practices to help staff engage with GiveWell and with each other (regular roundtables on topics of interest, social events, etc.) We’ve also been continually experimenting with moving more responsibilities – including management itself – to employees other than Elie, and as of early 2015 Natalie has taken over management of seven employees. We believe that running an organization of this size has some qualitative differences with running a ~5-person organization, and we’ve put deliberate attention into adapting. We may be writing more about this in the future.

We are planning to launch new websites for both GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project this year. We are working with the brand experience firm Cibo on both websites, and are aiming to launch both in April. This is a major time investment for us.

We have several reasons for launching new websites. First, the current GiveWell website was created in 2009 on a low budget, and we think it has major room for improvement. Second, creating separate websites for GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project is another step in the direction of creating clear separation between the two (more below). Finally, it is possible we will receive an unusual amount of publicity in 2015: we know of three different books on the subject of effective altruism, and one more that will feature it prominently, all slated to be published in 2015.

We are continuing to work toward separating GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project as brands, websites, and – eventually – organizations. In 2014, we struggled with confusion between the two. People we contacted as part of our Open Philanthropy Project work often Googled us, looked at GiveWell, and came away with mistaken impressions about what sorts of giving opportunities we seek for the Open Philanthropy Project. We have been taking small steps to ameliorate this (such as more consistent use of email addresses and signatures), and in 2015 we plan to further work toward separation. In addition to launching a new website for the Open Philanthropy Project – to which we will be moving relevant content currently on – we will begin conversations about what it would look like to form two separate organizations.

At the same time, we still see substantial overlap between the skills needed for the two projects. If GiveWell gets to the point of having spare capacity, this capacity could be very valuable to the Open Philanthropy Project. Such capacity could include Elie Hassenfeld’s time, if GiveWell becomes less dependent on his involvement; it could also include more junior staff, who could help with creating public writeups on our work among other things. Being able to flexibly allocate employees between the two projects is still valuable for us at this time.

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. Details are at our December 2014 update. For people donating to GiveWell by webform for regranting to top charities, we have added an option to allocate 10% to GiveWell unrestricted.

Outreach is still not a top priority for us. Our top priority for the Open Philanthropy Project is research (finding outstanding giving opportunities); we feel we have a long way to go on this front before it will make sense to put much effort into outreach. Our top priority for GiveWell is strengthening capacity and making the operation sustainable without needing as much involvement from the co-founders, which could result in a stronger Open Philanthropy Project (see above) as well as a more robust GiveWell.

In light of GiveWell’s maturing research process, and some early signs that growth in money moved from smaller donors is slowing (more in our upcoming metrics report), there is a growing argument for putting more effort into outreach. Still, we see strengthening capacity as the more important goal for the coming year, especially in light of (a) the potential benefits for the Open Philanthropy Project; (b) the fact that there are now substantial efforts outside of GiveWell aiming to drive more donations to our top chariites. The latter include several organizations promoting generous, effective giving as well as the books mentioned above.

We are putting substantial time into new websites this year, which we feel is probably the highest-value activity for outreach. In the future, if GiveWell becomes less dependent on co-founder involvement and higher-capacity, we may further increase our attention to outreach.

We don’t see other major issues (in the “cross-cutting between Open Philanthropy Project and traditional work” category) that need addressing in 2015.


  • Taymon A. Beal on March 17, 2015 at 2:22 pm said:

    What needs do you hope for the new GiveWell website to fulfill that the current one doesn’t? Is it primarily a matter of being taken more seriously as an organization with a less minimalistic website, or are there other factors?

  • Holden on March 18, 2015 at 9:50 pm said:

    Taymon, our main goals are:

    • To improve the look & feel (aesthetics)
    • To make it easier to find some of the most important content re: why we take the approach we do
    • To have more intuitive navigation and page layouts, reducing clutter while doing a better job surfacing related blog posts and other content
    • To improve the experience on mobile
    • To separate the GiveWell and Open Philanthropy Project websites

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