The GiveWell Blog

March 2019 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 December 2018 open thread here.


  • Morgan Lawless on March 18, 2019 at 6:30 pm said:

    GiveWell accepts direct donations to help fund its operating expenses. With more funding, I would expect GiveWell might be able to identify charities even more effective than current top charities, or be able to direct more donations to current top charities. Would GiveWell consider writing a blog post comparing the expected value of a donation to GiveWell directly and a donation to a GiveWell top charity? Funding for GiveWell must be higher in expectation in some scenario, for if that were not true in any case, then it means GiveWell would have been better off not existing at all, which I understand not to be the case.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on March 22, 2019 at 6:04 pm said:

    Hi Morgan,

    Thanks for your question. We understand why you would want this, but unfortunately, we don’t plan to do this.

    Coming up with a cost-effectiveness estimate for GiveWell’s operations funding would require making a number of extremely speculative, subjective judgment calls—substantially more than we make when we estimate the cost-effectiveness of our current top charities, or even when we explore new research areas and assess Incubation Grants. We wouldn’t expect people to put a lot of trust in this sort of estimate of our cost-effectiveness, nor would we think it to be highly accurate. Since this estimate would be low-quality, we wouldn’t want rely on it to convince people to give to GiveWell’s operations.

    We do plan to significantly increase our spending over the next few years as we expand the scope of our research and our outreach, and will be looking for continued growth in our operating support to do so. We plan to continue sharing information about our progress and plans, which we hope is informative for donors who are considering supporting our operations.

  • Brent on March 22, 2019 at 8:27 pm said:

    Which of your recommended charities work directly in areas affected by Cyclone Idai?

  • Isabel Arjmand on March 28, 2019 at 10:15 pm said:

    Hi Brent, thank you for the question.

    None of our recommended charities work specifically on providing relief from Cyclone Idai. Due to the time-sensitive nature of requests for disaster relief recommendations (GiveWell top charity reviews generally take hundreds or thousands of hours over the course of a year to complete), and our impression that funding isn’t always the bottleneck to more relief—either because of logistical challenges on the ground or because the media coverage of a disaster leads to a large number of donations—we would guess that, in general, our top charities represent more cost-effective opportunities for additional marginal donations.

    We’ve written about some of these issues in our quick reviews of relief for the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the 2011 famine in Somalia. We have also written some general tips for disaster relief giving in the past, which are available here.

    If you’re interested in which of our top charities work in countries affected by Cyclone Idai (Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar), note that the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative works in Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar; Helen Keller International provides vitamin A supplementation in Mozambique; the Against Malaria Foundation works in Malawi; and the END Fund‘s deworming program works in Zimbabwe.

    – Isabel (GiveWell Research Analyst)

  • Milan Griffes on April 4, 2019 at 11:42 am said:

    Curious if anyone can give more context about the recent board changes, especially around how the decision-making process was structured:

  • Milan Griffes on April 6, 2019 at 2:15 pm said:

    Does GiveWell have a research plan for addressing the modeling issues raised in this post? (Optimizer’s Curse & Wrong-Way Reductions)

    Summary of the issues here:

  • ODEKE NICHOLAS EMMY on April 11, 2019 at 2:14 am said:

    Hi , I request that your service reach Uganda’s rural areas because really people are down there suffering and would get helped with your humanitarian services offered and i also request to coordinate the programme . Thank you and remain blessed

  • Josh (GiveWell) on April 14, 2019 at 2:41 pm said:

    Hi Milan,

    We’ve considered this issue and discussed it internally; we spent some time last year exploring ways in which we might potentially adjust our models for it, but did not come up with any promising solutions (and, as the post notes, an explicit quantitative adjustment factor is not Chris’s recommended solution at this time).

    So, we are left in a difficult spot: the optimizer’s curse (and related issues) seems like a real threat, but we do not see high-return ways to address it other than continuing to broadly deepen and question our research. In the case that Chris highlights most — our recommendation of deworming — we have put substantial effort into working along the lines that he recommends and we continue to do so. Examples of the kind of additional scrutiny that we have given to this recommendation includes:
    – Embracing model skepticism: We put weight on qualitative factors relevant to specific charities’ operations and specific uses of marginal funding (more). We generally try not to put too much weight on minor differences in cost-effectiveness analyses (more). We place substantial weight on cost-effectiveness analyses while doing what we can to recognize their limitations and bring in other forms of evidence.
    – Re-examining our assumptions through vetting: we asked Senior Advisor David Roodman to independently assess the evidence for deworming and he produced extensive reports with his thoughts: see here and here.
    – Having conversations and engaging with a variety of deworming researchers, particularly including skeptics. E.g., we’ve engaged with work from skeptical Cochrane researchers (e.g. here and here), epidemiologist Nathan Lo, Melissa Parker and Tim Allen (who looked at deworming through an anthropological perspective), etc.
    – Funding additional research with the goal of potentially falsifying our conclusions: see e.g. grants here and here.

    We will continue to take high-return steps to assess whether our recommendations are justified. For example, this year we are deepening our assessment of how we should expect deworming’s effectiveness to vary in contexts with different levels of worm infection. It is also on our list to consider quantitative adjustments for the optimizer’s curse further at some point in the future, but given the challenges we encountered in our work so far, we are unlikely to prioritize it soon.

    Finally, we hope to continue to follow discussions on the optimizer’s curse and would be interested if theoretical progress or other practical suggestions are made. As Chris notes, this seems to be a cross-cutting theoretical issue that applies to cause prioritization researchers outside of GiveWell, as well.

  • Milan Griffes on April 15, 2019 at 4:05 pm said:

    Hey Josh,

    Thanks for the care & attention you put into your reply.

    I think the vetting work a la Roodman & deworming is a great idea for addressing some of the thorniness of the issue.

    Glad to hear that you’re following discussions of the issue – totally agree that it arises for other cause prioritizers too.

  • Milan Griffes on May 4, 2019 at 11:51 am said:

    Any thoughts on how the new Blattman paper (showing effects of a $300 cash transfer are roughly the same as effects of a job offer, on a 5-year horizon) will influence GiveWell’s modeling of GiveDirectly?

  • Milan Griffes on May 9, 2019 at 12:48 pm said:

    Just curious… why is the VP of Marketing role listed as based in Oakland? (I thought offices were in SF?)

  • Catherine Hollander on May 10, 2019 at 11:38 am said:

    Hi Milan,

    We are planning to move offices from San Francisco to Oakland, CA, this year, and so have listed roles that are currently open for our new location.

  • Josh (GiveWell) on May 14, 2019 at 7:05 pm said:

    Hi Milan,

    We haven’t yet had a chance to review that paper in detail, but my rough guess is that it would most likely lead to a relatively small update for our modeling of GiveDirectly. For reasons discussed in footnote 1 here (, we expect that changing assumptions about the longer term benefits of cash transfers is unlikely to hugely affect our cost-effectiveness estimate. That said, we are aware of a few longer term follow-up papers showing that effects of cash transfers may fade relatively quickly, so we hope to revisit our assumptions by reviewing all of the latest relevant literature. I think there is a small chance that by thinking more deeply about the latest research we would significantly change the assumptions of our models in difficult-to-foresee ways. Due to other priorities (to be detailed in a forthcoming post on our 2019 plans), we may not ultimately have the capacity to closely review this research in 2019.

  • Milan Griffes on May 22, 2019 at 1:17 pm said:

    Thanks for the replies, Josh & Catherine 🙂

    Could you say some more about the recent changes to the GiveWell board, especially around how the decision-making process was structured?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on May 28, 2019 at 9:17 am said:

    Hi Milan,

    Elie explains the reasons for the change in his letter here.

  • Milan Griffes on May 31, 2019 at 6:19 pm said:

    Thanks, Catherine.

    I took a look at the letter – some questions I have after reading it:

    – Why wasn’t the recording of the April 2019 board meeting made public? (As far as I can tell, recordings of all previous board meetings have been made public.)
    – Was there a catalyzing event that led to the decision to reduce the number of board members? If so, what was this event?
    – Did Rob, Brigid, and Tom volunteer their resignations, or were they asked to resign?
    – Which current member(s) of the board is most likely to provide an accountability function to GiveWell’s executive leadership?
    – Going forward, under what conditions will GiveWell decide to expand the number of board seats?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on June 3, 2019 at 6:59 pm said:

    Hi Milan,

    I’ve responded to each of your questions in turn:

    – Why wasn’t the recording of the April 2019 board meeting made public? (As far as I can tell, recordings of all previous board meetings have been made public.) We plan to share the recording of the meeting publicly, as we typically do. In the past, we have often had a lag of multiple months between the meeting date and publishing the recording.

    – Was there a catalyzing event that led to the decision to reduce the number of board members? If so, what was this event? There was no catalyzing event. Senior leadership and the Board regularly discuss the Board’s role and state.

    – Did Rob, Brigid, and Tom volunteer their resignations, or were they asked to resign? We are not planning to share this on their behalf, as we consider this private information between the individual Board members and GiveWell.

    – Which current member(s) of the board is most likely to provide an accountability function to GiveWell’s executive leadership? The role of the Board is to provide accountability for GiveWell’s work, and so we expect all current members of the Board (other than Elie) to serve that function.

    – Going forward, under what conditions will GiveWell decide to expand the number of board seats? We will consider expanding the number of seats on a case-by-case basis, and make decisions by weighing the benefit of adding the person to the Board relative to the cost of doing so.

  • Milan Griffes on June 4, 2019 at 10:59 am said:

    Thanks, Catherine.

    I look forward to listening to the recording, once it’s up.

  • Colin Rust on June 4, 2019 at 7:34 pm said:

    In your cost effectiveness analysis (CEA), why does GiveWell consider estimated increases to consumption, but not also improvements in health?

    In brief, it seems to me that holding consumption constant, better health is a good thing and at least in principle ought to contribute to the CEA.

    In a little more detail, I think GW supported charities have, broadly, three kinds of benefits to human well-being:

    1. reduced mortality,
    2. improved health and
    3. increased consumption.

    All three I would argue are intrinsic goods. But only #1 and #3 are counted in the CEA, not #2.

    Now of course, there is some interaction between #2 and #3. Indeed, that’s the case you make for deworming: that via improved health (deworming) it indirectly ultimately promotes consumption. On the other hand, GiveDirectly more directly targets #3, but it wouldn’t be surprising that it indirectly benefits #2 (because less poor people can afford better nutrition and medical care, are less stressed, etc.). But just because #2 and #3 interact causally, it doesn’t mean that they are equivalent. My expectation is that by not counting #2, you tend to overrate on a relative basis charities that directly target #3 (GD) vs charities that directly target #2 (e.g. deworming).

    My 2 cents. I’m sure folks at GW have thought about this much more carefully than I have. Maybe what’s going on here is that under reasonable moral views, in practice the increased consumption you can get per charitable dollar is just worth a lot more than the improved health. Or maybe I’m missing something more basic. Anyway, I’d be interested to better understand your thought process here.

  • I recently found out that PayPal will cover the costs of donation via their PayPal Giving Fund.

    I don’t see GiveWell on there but AMF and GiveDirectly are listed.

    Compared to sending a check to GiveWell for re-gifting how do you think this compares? They also seem to offer a 1% match during the end of year giving season, though as you’ve written about it’s not clear how to consider that impact.

    Any thoughts?

  • Erin (GiveWell) on June 14, 2019 at 1:53 pm said:

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for reaching out! We are not currently enrolled in PayPal Giving Fund. We had participated in the past, but we found that the donation data provided to us was administratively burdensome to process and enter into our records, so we decided to un-enroll from the program. However, it’s possible that PayPal Giving Fund has made changes to their charity features since then, and we may look into re-enrolling at some point in the future.

    Our current recommendation for donors giving directly to charity is to give to AMF, though we recommend that donors who are open to it choose “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” over that option.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on June 20, 2019 at 3:45 pm said:

    Hi Colin,

    We’ve responded to your comment in our June 2019 open thread.

Comments are closed.