The GiveWell Blog

Staff members’ personal donations for giving season 2017

For this post, GiveWell staff members and contributors wrote up the thinking behind their personal donations for the year. We made similar posts in previous years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016). Staff and contributors are listed in order of their start dates at GiveWell.

You can click the below links to jump to an entry:

Elie Hassenfeld

This year, I’m planning to donate to GiveWell for granting to top charities at its discretion.

GiveWell is currently producing the highest-quality research it ever has, which has led to more thoroughly researched, higher-quality recommendations that have been compared to more potential alternatives than ever before. Personally, I only spent about a third of my time on top-charities-related research in 2017, so I’m thrilled by the quality of the research the GiveWell research team produced this year.

In making this decision I also talked to Lewis Bollard (about animal welfare) and Nick Beckstead (about effective altruism movement building and long-term future giving opportunities) but ultimately felt that the funding gaps that GiveWell’s top charities face were more pressing given the Open Philanthropy Project’s support of their respective portfolios.

Natalie Crispin

I continue to believe that GiveWell top charities are the best option for impact-focused giving for individuals and I plan to give my annual gift this year to GiveWell for granting at its discretion to top charities. I am grateful for all the work, thoughtfulness, and hours of debate that my colleagues put into the recommendations, and I believe that the recommendations are as strong as they’ve ever been. I am excited to support the most effective charities I know of.

Josh Rosenberg

This year I’m planning to give:

  • 80% to GiveWell to grant to top charities at its discretion. I believe that GiveWell’s top charities are among the most effective ways to help people. I know how intensely our team has scrutinized these giving opportunities and am excited to give based on our research.
  • 10% to the long-term future EA Fund. I would like to see future generations thrive. This podcast provides a good summary of some arguments for the moral importance of helping future generations. Based on my experience following the Open Philanthropy Project, I believe that donations to this fund will be put to good use.
  • 10% to charities focused on farm animal welfare. I believe that the welfare of farm animals is a particularly important and neglected problem. I expect to choose a farm animal welfare charity to give to based on Animal Charity Evaluators’ recommendations. I look forward to using its research and would be excited to see similar charity evaluation organizations exist in other domains (e.g., policy-related giving).

I chose to diversify a portion of my giving because I want to signal my interest in a variety of important cause areas that I believe people should be considering and I want to continue to engage with the strongest giving opportunities in other domains to help myself reflect on which donations seem to be most effective. I focused most of my giving on global health and development since GiveWell’s top charities have the most pressing funding gaps I am aware of. If I knew of a strong case for a particular giving opportunity in another cause area, I would be open to changing my allocation in the future.

I also considered giving to the global health and development EA Fund. I think that this fund would be a good option for donors who (a) are open to higher-risk, higher-reward giving opportunities in global development, and (b) have a high degree of trust in GiveWell (Elie is the manager of the fund). The description of the fund notes that GiveWell’s Incubation Grants (GIG) program has not been hampered by insufficient funding to date. However, I think it may be useful to know if there is a large pool of donors who would like to see more GIG-type giving on the margin; giving to this fund would be a good way to show support for GIG. I ultimately chose not to donate to this fund because a substantial portion of my job is to work on GIG, and I would rather leave it to external observers to assess whether they think it deserves further support. (I see GiveWell’s top charities differently because we’ve thoroughly publicly justified the case for giving to these charities.)

Sophie Monahan

I believe that all of GiveWell’s recommended charities are excellent giving opportunities. I believe that donating to GiveWell for granting to recommended charities is an excellent option (allowing valuable flexibility) for donors whose values align well with GiveWell’s. (On values: more, more, more.)

This year, I am giving to No Lean Season for the following reasons:

  • I place greater value on reducing near-term poverty for adults and children of all ages relative to preventing deaths of very young children, compared to GiveWell as a whole. I also value certainty in the near-term impact of programs relatively more. According to my values, No Lean Season and GiveDirectly are undervalued by GiveWell. Therefore I believe that their funding gaps are a higher priority for people with values like mine.
  • I am giving to No Lean Season despite the fact that this year, GiveWell recommended sufficient funding to No Lean Season to fill its highest priority funding gap (to implement its program in Bangladesh in the next three years), citing reasons other than pure considerations of cost-effectiveness,1“While No Lean Season’s cost-effectiveness is at the lower end of our top charities (~5x cash transfers), we see additional reasons to prioritize this gap. We believe No Lean Season is the top charity where there is the strongest case to be made for “upside”; our cost-effectiveness analysis may not capture the potential impact of scaling a new program that could lead to greater visibility and funding for a novel type of program.” GiveWell blog: Our top charities for giving season 2017 which may not repeat in future years. Therefore, I believe that marginal donations to No Lean Season are likely to increase No Lean Season’s multiyear funding.
  • I am also moved by reasons of sentiment—I led GiveWell’s evaluation of No Lean Season and was very impressed—and to promote the visibility of this new top charity.

Catherine Hollander

I plan to give 90% of my donation to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) and 10% to No Lean Season. I trust GiveWell’s review process and its recommendation of AMF as having one of the highest-value funding gaps to fill.

Like Sophie, I plan to support No Lean Season to increase the visibility of a new charity on the list, and because it is the charity review I have engaged with most deeply and personally in my time at GiveWell—I traveled with Sophie and Christian to Bangladesh to visit No Lean Season and review its work in September. I plan to limit my donation to No Lean Season to 10% of my total gift because I do not believe its need for funding is as pressing as that of AMF.

Andrew Martin

This year, I’m planning to donate to GiveWell for granting to top charities at its discretion.

I think the case remains as strong as ever that donating to GiveWell’s top charities is an exceptional opportunity for donors who want to maximize their impact. Even after accounting for Good Ventures’ $75 million in grants based on GiveWell’s recommendations this year, we believe that our top charities still have a large amount of room for more funding and that additional donations will accomplish a lot of good.

I’ve decided to donate to GiveWell for granting to top charities at its discretion—rather than donating directly to individual top charities—because I believe it’s valuable for GiveWell to have the flexibility to provide funding to whichever top charities have the most pressing funding needs.

Chelsea Tabart

I plan to donate to GiveWell for granting to top charities at its discretion this year. Another year of exposure to the thoughtful, rigorous work of my colleagues has increased my belief in GiveWell’s research process, and I’m excited that my giving can be a small part of the exceptional work our top charities do.

Christian Smith

I’m planning to direct all of my year-end donations to GiveWell for granting to top charities at its discretion. Several of our charities have large, high-priority funding gaps, and I’m excited to be supporting work that I expect to have a large positive impact.

I think there are reasonable worldviews and ethical positions that would make thoughtful giving in other cause areas (e.g. basic research, animal welfare, or improving the far future) appear much more cost-effective than thoughtful giving to organizations involved in global health and development. I considered directing some of my donations towards these cause areas, but ultimately had a preference for supporting causes in global health and development. I feel fine about this decision, but I may have approached my giving differently if I were not working for GiveWell.

Isabel Arjmand

The allocation of my charitable giving this year will be quite similar to what I did last year, though with a slightly higher proportion going to GiveWell’s top charities. As a general note, I’m inclined to diversify my giving between (1) organizations that are promising from a utilitarian point of view (like GiveWell’s top charities) and (2) those that appeal to different moral considerations.

I’m excited to give 75% of my donation to GiveWell for granting to recommended charities at its discretion. My understanding of GiveWell’s research is much deeper than it was at this point last year (when I was a fairly new staff member), and I remain very enthusiastic about the quality of GiveWell’s recommendations. Especially as someone whose moral values are very close to the median values in our cost-effectiveness analyses, I think giving for granting at GiveWell’s discretion is my best option for impact-focused giving. I considered giving directly to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program, as I think that it may have the highest-impact remaining funding gap of our top charities, but ultimately the flexibility of giving to GiveWell’s discretionary fund and my trust in GiveWell’s judgment lead me to prefer that option.

Additionally, I plan to give 5% of my donation to GiveDirectly, a GiveWell-recommended organization that I also supported last year. I’m supporting GiveDirectly because I think it’s an exceptionally strong, innovative organization with high potential for ‘upside,’ including the potential to serve as a model for other organizations. I’m thinking of the rationale for this portion of my giving as somewhere in between what I describe in the previous paragraph and what I describe below.

Like last year, I’m thinking of the remainder of my charitable contribution (in this case, 20%) as serving a different, less impact-focused purpose. My goals with this portion of my giving are to promote more justice-focused causes, further my own civic engagement, and signal support for work I’d like to see more of. I’d be surprised if any of the organizations below were as cost-effective as GiveWell’s top charities; I also haven’t vetted them with an intensity that comes anywhere close to the rigor of GiveWell evaluations. Of the four organizations among which I plan to divide this donation, the first two are organizations I supported last year, and the remaining two are new to my list.

  • Causa Justa :: Just Cause: As I wrote last year, I see supporting Causa Justa :: Just Cause—a Bay Area-based grassroots organization supporting housing rights, immigrant rights, and racial justice—as a means of supporting the community in which I live.
  • Planned Parenthood: Reproductive justice and access to healthcare continue to be important to me. Particularly given the absence of a GiveWell-recommended organization providing these services abroad (which I’d guess may be more cost-effective), I’m happy to donate to a U.S.-based organization that I’m personally familiar with and have confidence in.
  • ProPublica: I’m donating to ProPublica in support of its high-quality independent journalism, which I think is critical to a well-functioning civic society.
  • Earthjustice: I decided this year to support an organization working on climate change and environmental justice, and after researching the space briefly, I found Earthjustice—which focuses on environmental protection via legal advocacy—most compelling.

James Snowden (Research Consultant)

This year, I donated monthly through the Effective Altruism Global Health and Development Fund, so I’ve already made the majority of my personal annual donations this year. At the end of year, I set my priorities for the next year, and adjust my automatic monthly donations accordingly.

In practice, donating to the Global Health and Development Fund is similar to donating to GiveWell for granting to top charities at its discretion, as Elie is the fund manager. My primary reason for donating to Effective Altruism Funds rather than directly to GiveWell is that I want to signal support for a project I think is valuable.

I plan to continue giving 80% of my donations to the Global Health and Development Fund, but now donate 10% each to the Animal Welfare Fund and Long-Term Future Fund. I think animal welfare and improving the long-term future are extremely important (more so than I did last year). I don’t feel I have enough context to independently evaluate organizations in this area so want to outsource my decisions to Lewis Bollard (for animal welfare), and Nick Beckstead (for global catastrophic risks). I’m uncertain whether, given Good Ventures’ support for animal welfare and the relatively small number of funding opportunities, there’s substantial room for more funding in that area. But I think the ‘worst case scenario’ is that I funge with Good Ventures, which I’d still think was a reasonably good outcome.

I also considered:

  • Donating to the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention, which received a GiveWell Incubation Grant in August 2017. I was the primary researcher working on this GiveWell Incubation Grant and believe it’s a potentially very cost-effective (though risky) giving opportunity. I decided not to donate because the Incubation Grant is intended to fully cover the organization’s costs for two years.
  • Donating to Malaria Consortium’s Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) program. Having spent more time looking into SMC this year, I believe it’s a more cost-effective giving opportunity than Against Malaria Foundation (our recommendation to donors this year is 70% Against Malaria Foundation and 30% Schistosomiasis Control Initiative). I decided not to donate to the SMC program this year because (i) we recommended that Good Ventures grant $27.9 million to Malaria Consortium this year (as compared to $2.5 million for AMF), and I don’t have a strong view that SMC would be more cost-effective on the margin after this grant; (ii) I think allowing GiveWell to regrant at its discretion allows for more flexibility; and (iii) I place more weight in GiveWell’s aggregate view than the inside view of any individual researcher (including myself!)—although I think there’s value in thinking about this independently to identify if GiveWell is making decisions I disagree with.
  • Continuing to donate only to the Global Health and Development Fund. I think there’s a strong argument for just donating to the opportunity you think is best in expectation, rather than diversifying. I decided to diversify a fairly small amount because (i) it more accurately signals that I care about those areas and (ii) it motivates me to learn more about those areas than I otherwise would have (although I don’t expect this to be a major priority for me).
  • Donating a larger proportion to the Animal Welfare and Far Future funds. Given my relatively greater knowledge in global health and development, I don’t yet feel comfortable giving a greater proportion to areas I know less about.

Aside from my personal giving, I advise a small foundation on its grantmaking. We haven’t yet decided where to give this year, and this will partly depend on the priorities of others involved in the decision.

Notes   [ + ]

1. “While No Lean Season’s cost-effectiveness is at the lower end of our top charities (~5x cash transfers), we see additional reasons to prioritize this gap. We believe No Lean Season is the top charity where there is the strongest case to be made for “upside”; our cost-effectiveness analysis may not capture the potential impact of scaling a new program that could lead to greater visibility and funding for a novel type of program.” GiveWell blog: Our top charities for giving season 2017


  • Vipul Naik on December 12, 2017 at 9:35 am said:

    Thank you for implementing the suggestion I made last year to have a table of contents and links for each donor!

  • Scott Leibrand on December 12, 2017 at 1:27 pm said:

    Has GiveWell considered the possibility of allowing staff, particularly those planning to give their income back to GiveWell for re-granting, to instead take a pay cut and thereby avoid paying income taxes on the portion of their giving that falls below the IRS personal exemption? If the personal exemption gets raised, as looks likely, that should allow GiveWell staff to avoid itemizing (if they don’t have a mortgage or other significant deductions), thereby allowing them to increase their total donations by a few thousand dollars each.

    I’m not a tax lawyer or accountant, but if this works like I think it does, it would seem that this would be a good model to pioneer for other companies to potentially follow. If employers could make pre-tax donations to charities on their employees’ behalf, that would seem to be more tax efficient than employees making the donations from after-tax income.

  • Josh (GiveWell) on December 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm said:

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for the question. We have considered this before, but decided not to fully investigate what it would take because implementing it wouldn’t be straightforward. If enough staff asked us to look into it more deeply, we’d reconsider.

  • Antonio Andrade on January 1, 2018 at 11:49 am said:

    Re Scott L’s comments about the Personal Exemption, here’s a bit of ‘tax education.’ The Standard Deduction relates to itemizing. For 2018, that is being increased for single people from $6350 to $12,200. For married couples the figures are roughly double. So there is no tax benefit to itemize if you have lessthan those amounts.

    The Personal Exemption amount is $4050 per person. In 2018, that deduction, which is applied after the Standard Deduction from your income is eliminated. So in effect combining the increase in the Standard Deduction with the loss of the Personal Exemption results in a lot less of a tax benefit than reported in the press—depending on how large your family is.

    The net effect of this change will have a chilling effect on donation considerations. This will likely result in less donating for tax purposes for those who want to combine donating for worthy causes with some tax relief from themselves/ their family.

    The net effect of these cha

  • Scott Leibrand on January 2, 2018 at 12:27 am said:

    Antonio: looks like your comment got cut off.

  • Antonio on January 2, 2018 at 11:11 am said:

    Thx for catching that. It was a matter of leaving my comment in mid sentence and going back to clarify a point or two by inserting the actual figures.

    When I returned to the end of my text, I could not locate where I left off so I redrafted the end of my comment. I guess I failed to scroll down far enough.

    Sorry for the confusion.

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