The GiveWell Blog

June 2018 open thread

Our goal with hosting quarterly open threads is to give blog readers an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about GiveWell or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at or to request a call with GiveWell staff if you have feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

You can view our March 2018 open thread here.


  • Drake Thomas on June 14, 2018 at 4:35 pm said:

    It seems like most short summaries of GiveWell research give brief descriptions of what a particular charity does, and its rough effectiveness; in the more in-depth studies, one finds plenty of consideration and weighing of different factors for moral importance, but it seems this doesn’t usually make it out of such longer (and thus less accessible) reports.

    Is there somewhere where one can see some medium-length looks at the benefits and drawbacks of different causes, as weighed by moral considerations? For instance:

    “Charity A’s benefit originates primarily from saving lives of young children; if you’re an anti-natalist or concerned about overpopulation, you may place a lower value on its work. Current evidence (Smith et al. 2003) suggests that the death of a child in region X rarely leads to the parents having an additional child that would not otherwise have been born, so the number of total human lives is likely net positive (potentially relevant if you value current and future lives equally).”

    “Charity B provides definite short-term benefits from a hedonic perspective, but the evidence for substantial long-term impact remains thin; whether you prioritize more long-term efforts may affect your valuation of B. Givewell currently believes around 20% of the expected impact of B comes from short-term benefits, and 80% from the long-term efforts (despite the uncertainty about their existence).”

    “We currently estimate that with 10% probability, charity C is able to reduce the number of chickens in factory farms (not moving them to humane environments, but simply decreasing the marginal number of chickens in existence) by around 17 per dollar donated; however, this relies on a single study (Jones et al. 2014) whose veracity and methods are uncertain. We expect that a more probable level of efficacy is around $5 per negative chicken, though a study funded by Animal Charity Evaluators is likely to provide more evidence which will be incorporated into our 2019 report. The importance of C’s work is dependent on the extent to which one considers chickens to be moral patients, and (conditional on their moral value) whether the existence of additional chickens in factory farming conditions is a moral harm.”

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on June 15, 2018 at 6:58 pm said:

    Hi Drake,

    Thanks for the question. We do not have a medium-depth page of the precise nature you describe. We really appreciate the suggestion, and we’ll consider putting something like this together.

    We have a few additional resources that may be helpful in thinking about this question:

    * A detailed write-up examining how various views of population ethics might lead you to update your view of the cost-effectiveness of our top charity the Against Malaria Foundation: link.
    * A look at how GiveWell’s approach to moral weights compare to other global actors: link.

    Our cost-effectiveness model is the primary place in which weights of moral considerations are explicitly drawn; in the “Moral weights” tab, you can see how staff members assign different moral values. We also summarize the key differences between our top charities, including the different outcomes from which their recommendations are drawn (about which individuals might have varying moral intuitions), in a table in this blog post: link.

    We will keep your interest in this type of content in mind going forward, as we consider how best to present our research.

    Thank you for the suggestion!

  • As a reaction to recent atrocities, a non-profit called RAICES is receiving a huge influx of money to help families reunite with their loved ones (~$10MM to date). I can’t seem to find information about their non-profit on GiveWell or CharityNavigator. I want to help this noteworthy cause but am also hesitant to contribute to this non-profit. The skeptic in me wonders if they have the infrastructure set up to utilize the huge sum of money appropriately. What are the steps I need to take to ease my concerns to make the best impact on the situation (and future similar situations to come)?

    Read more:

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on June 20, 2018 at 5:30 pm said:

    Hi JY,

    We’re sorry – this isn’t an area that we have looked into. Our general advice for donors interested in accomplishing a lot of good with their donation is here:

  • Evan Witt on June 26, 2018 at 6:59 pm said:

    In learning about effective altruism (and preparing to hopefully take the Giving What We Can Pledge), I’ve wondered a little about the usefulness or even appropriateness of, well, marketing and iconography. GiveWell doesn’t seem to offer any merchandise: is that a deliberate move? Is there a GiveWell stance on marketing, or popular outreach?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on June 27, 2018 at 8:58 am said:

    Hi Evan,

    We do think there is an important role for outreach in raising awareness of our work; in fact, outreach is a major organizational priority this year. Our goal in prioritizing this work is to increase the amount of money we direct to highly effective charities. We currently have identified much larger funding gaps at the organizations we recommend than we expect to fill with our current donor base, and so we’re planning to more proactively seek out new donors going forward.

    We’re still in the process of determining how we should approach our outreach work. We wrote about some of our initial efforts in this space in late 2017. We hired a Head of Growth who started earlier this month and is in the early stages of developing a strategy for increasing our growth.

    On merchandise, specifically: We used to sell T-shirts and sweatshirts (here), but decided to stop because it was taking too much of our staff time and we had other, higher priorities. We may offer merchandise again in the future.

  • Colin Rust on June 29, 2018 at 4:17 pm said:

    Catherine (in response to Evan’s question), a suggestion in case you haven’t thought about it:

    You could try selling T-shirts and the like via a service like CafePress. Once you’ve set it up and uploaded the designs, it should be minimal work for GiveWell employees,.

  • Tracy (GiveWell) on July 2, 2018 at 6:12 pm said:

    Hi Colin,

    We’ve looked into using similar services in the past, but so far, we haven’t found a service that both minimized staff time and produced high-quality prints. We have not tried out CafePress, though, and appreciate the suggestion to look into it!

  • My (not very recent) experience with CafePress was that logos etc. started to come off almost immediately. I'd view the T shirts as being almost single use from that experience, and mugs as nonviable too: having to take extra care and watching the loved image fade anyway was annoying. This may have changed, but more research definitely needed.

    – And at least this is a research organisation, right? :-/

    [Note to staff: something odd here: the preview showed gibberish when I typed an apostrophe in “I’d” above, and is now showing gibberish for the opening double quote in this sentence. Having to type the HTML entity ' (ampersand a p o s semicolon, just to be clear) to get an apostrophe suggests a bug; will be interesting to see how this renders when posted.]

  • [hm, apostrophes and quotes seem to render fine when posted: it’s just a bug in the preview you see while writing the comment]

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on September 12, 2018 at 2:37 pm said:

    Hi Conrad,

    Thanks for letting us know about your experience with CafePress; we will keep that in mind if we move forward with a service of that nature.

    Regarding the issue of blog comment previews—we apologize for this bug; to our knowledge, it does not impact the final comments. We’re considering whether to prioritize asking someone we work with to look into a fix. We’re sorry for any trouble it caused you.

Comments are closed.