The GiveWell Blog

Staff members’ personal donations for giving season 2019

For this post, a number of GiveWell staff members volunteered to share the thinking behind their personal donations for the year. We published similar posts in previous years.1See our staff giving posts from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013. Staff are listed in order of their start dates at GiveWell.

You can click the below links to jump to a staff member’s entry:

Elie Hassenfeld

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

I feel the same way I have the last two years, when I’ve written, “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.”

Natalie Crispin

I will be giving my annual gift to GiveWell for granting at its discretion to recommended charities.

We will most likely use this funding to support Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program, which we estimate averts the death of a child for $2,300. I’m excited to support Malaria Consortium both on the strength of the evidence for the high impact and modest cost of SMC and on the strength of Malaria Consortium as an organization.

I’ve had the opportunity over the last ten years to work directly with each of our top charities, to scrutinize the information they give us, and ask them approximately a gazillion questions. All of our top charities have put an exceptional amount of effort into helping us to understand how they work and what impact they have. And that, of course, is a small part of what they do to run exceptional programs. I am very glad to be among their supporters.

Josh Rosenberg

I’m planning to give the same way that I did in previous years (slightly more explanation on my approach to giving is here):

  • 80% to GiveWell for granting at its discretion to recommended charities. GiveWell’s top charities are the most cost-effective ways to help people that I know of. I see Malaria Consortium’s work on seasonal malaria chemoprevention (the current default option for discretionary funding) as a robust and highly effective giving opportunity.
  • 10% to animal welfare charities. I believe that animal welfare is a particularly important and neglected problem.
  • 10% to charities that work to reduce global catastrophic risks. I would like to see future generations thrive, and I am compelled by moral arguments that suggest this is an extremely important priority. However, I have struggled to find particularly promising giving opportunities to support this goal. I plan to place this portion of my giving into a donor-advised fund with the expectation that I will allocate it when a promising opportunity arises in the future.

Catherine Hollander

This year marks my fifth giving season as a GiveWell employee. I’m grateful to continue to work with this group of thoughtful individuals and excited to support the top charities identified via my colleagues’ research. This year, I plan to give 100% of my year-end donation to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program, a GiveWell top charity that we believe is highly cost-effective and in need of additional funding ($36 million over the next three years).

I am choosing to give to Malaria Consortium directly, over giving to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion,” because I value interventions to promote health and avert deaths very highly. I have been impressed with the organizational strength of Malaria Consortium, on top of the evidence illustrating that SMC is an effective way to prevent malaria.

I continue to strive to give regularly, in order to maintain a habit and to encourage myself to think concretely about what I believe by putting my own money at stake. I do this by committing to make my largest donation at the end of each year. I may also make smaller donations throughout the year if exciting opportunities arise or for personal reasons.

Andrew Martin

I’m allocating my annual donation to GiveWell for “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” I think that GiveWell as a whole is better able to assess which top charity could make the best use of additional funding at a particular time than I am as an individual donor.

In our 2019 top charity announcement blog post, we wrote:

“The top charity we model as having the highest impact per additional dollar can change throughout the year. To inform our understanding, we ask our top charities to provide us with updated information on an ongoing basis. For example, a top charity may share that it has found new opportunities for impact, such as the potential to work in a new country with a significant need for its program.”

Our blog posts on our allocation of discretionary funds from the fourth quarter of 2018 and our allocation of discretionary funds from the first quarter of 2019 are good examples of how GiveWell makes decisions about allocating discretionary funds. After taking the $10.1 million it allocated to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program from Q4 2018 into account, GiveWell determined that additional funding from Q1 2019 would likely have a larger impact if it was allocated to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)—both Malaria Consortium and AMF had funding gaps with similar cost-effectiveness, but AMF’s funding needs were more urgent at the time.

It seems likely that GiveWell will allocate my donation this year to Malaria Consortium—as of November 2019, GiveWell estimates that it has the highest priority remaining funding gap among our top charities. But I’d prefer to allow GiveWell to allocate my donation at its discretion, rather than donate to Malaria Consortium directly, in order to give GiveWell additional flexibility in case it receives new information and changes its prioritization of remaining funding gaps.

Isabel Arjmand

I’m generally happy with the balance across types of giving that I struck in previous years.

The sizable majority of my annual giving, 83% this year, will go to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” It’s important to me that most of my charitable giving be geared towards having as much of a positive impact as possible. I would be excited for my donation to go to any of our eight top charities as I believe all of them are doing high-quality, cost-effective work, and I’m especially excited about the prospect of my donation going to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program, as I believe is most likely. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Malaria Consortium in Burkina Faso earlier this year and I was impressed by what the program looked like in action.

While most of my giving is oriented toward trying to “do the most good” in a utilitarian sense, the remaining 17% is divided across causes I feel motivated or even obliged to support for “good citizenship” or other reasons, with the same amount going to each of the below bullet points. Like Michael Eddy (below), I think that some cause areas might be extremely important and effective but lend themselves less well to GiveWell-style evaluation; I don’t want to neglect them entirely because of that.

  • GiveDirectly and StrongMinds because I’m excited about their existence and their influence in the global health and development space. (I wrote more about this in previous years.)
  • Cool Earth and the Clean Air Task Force, two organizations addressing climate change through very different approaches.
  • ProPublica for its investigative journalism on topics like U.S. immigration and civil rights violations.
  • Sogorea Te Land Trust, an Indigenous women-led organization in Oakland, inspired by a sense of responsibility to the communities that are native to the area where I live.

I’d like to be able to understand well the impact of donations in areas outside GiveWell’s recommendations, like climate change or human rights, and make donations that I can feel confident in. Each year when I begin the project of looking for organizations outside GiveWell’s recommendations, I’m frustrated anew by how challenging it is—not only could it easily be a full-time job, but the information a person needs generally isn’t available. It’s a good reminder for me of the value of GiveWell’s work and it motivates me as a donor to give so much of my donation to our recommended charities. In the absence of in-depth research, I look for organizations with a theory of change I believe in, a decent amount of information online about their programs and finances, and to the extent possible, a track record of successful work. Each of the organizations above is one that I’d like to materially support and signal support for, although given the small scale of my donations I’m not sure how feasible that is. Making these smaller donations also encourages me each year to engage with issues I care about by (briefly) researching these areas.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity I have to make these donations, the research GiveWell has done that informs the bulk of my giving, and the many conversations I’ve had with colleagues that make my decisions more thoughtful and informed.

Nicole Zok

I’m planning to donate to GiveWell for granting to recommended charities at its discretion.

I can see good arguments for donating marginal funds to either Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program or the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). In particular, we estimate the cost-effectiveness of AMF and Malaria Consortium’s funding gaps, after accounting for funding that we recommended the Open Philanthropy Project donate to our top charities, to be very similar (AMF at 17x as good as cash transfers, and Malaria Consortium at 16x cash). Given the general uncertainty in our cost-effectiveness estimates, I don’t take this to be a meaningful difference.

Since the cost-effectiveness of the remaining funding gaps is so similar, other differences between the two charities—including our subjective assessment of organizational strength, the timeline on which funds would be spent if donated to each charity, the funding gaps that remain after giving season, and any new funding opportunities that charities may identify in the short term—will be more important factors in deciding where to allocate funding that’s donated to GiveWell for granting to recommended charities (assuming there are no significant changes to our estimates of the cost-effectiveness of the remaining funding gaps). We expect to have more information about some of these factors in early 2020, and I expect that will enable us to make a more informed decision about where to allocate marginal funding. I also believe that GiveWell collectively is better equipped to make this decision than I am individually.

Dan Brown

I will give 91% of my 2019 charity donation to GiveWell to allocate to recommended charities at its discretion because I would like GiveWell to have the flexibility to react to new information when allocating these funds. I expect these funds will be directed to Malaria Consortium, as explained in this post.

I will give 5% of my donation to Stonewall (UK), an organisation tackling discrimination against LGBT people. Whilst I have focused most of my donation on global health and development, I would also like to support a more justice-focused cause. I have fairly limited information with which to choose amongst charities in this area as I’m not aware of a GiveWell-type organisation to help direct my donation. However, I would like to see more done to tackle homophobia in sport, and the main organisation I am aware of that has tried to do this is Stonewall (UK) (through its Rainbow Laces campaign).

I will give the remaining 4% of my donation to Afrinspire. I have donated to this charity for a number of years. To my knowledge, the money I donate is used to help pay for school costs for orphaned children in Kampala (through the Jaguza Initiative). I do not expect this to be as cost-effective as other charitable giving opportunities, but I do not think it would be responsible to unexpectedly decrease this donation now that I am paying more attention personally to cost-effectiveness.

Olivia Larsen

I was a GiveWell donor before I started working at GiveWell, and I’m excited to continue supporting GiveWell’s recommended charities with my donation this year.

I’ll be giving 100% of my donation to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion.” I’m continually impressed by the thoughtfulness that goes into the decision of where to allocate funds, and I’d be excited for my donation to go to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program (our best guess of where this quarter’s discretionary grantmaking will go)—or to an even more cost-effective giving opportunity!

I feel very lucky to be in a position to be able to give to charity at all, and the prospect of being able to save a life (in expectation) for around $2,300, as we estimate seasonal malaria chemoprevention can, is really inspiring to me.

Steph Stojanovic

My husband and I have been GiveWell donors for a number of years. We were impressed by the rigor of the research from afar and I can confirm that it is even more impressive when you’re on the inside! In the past, we’ve split our giving between GiveWell top charities and meta-effective altruism (EA) organizations. This year, we plan to do this same.

We already gave half of our giving directly to AMF in a period in which GiveWell was prioritizing their funding gaps (i.e. when GiveWell was directing discretionary funding to AMF). The reason behind donating direct to charity instead of GiveWell’s discretionary fund was a boring tax deductibility reason. We will be giving the other half of our annual giving to One For The World (OFTW). OFTW is a grantee of GiveWell Incubation Grant funding, and my husband sits on their board. OFTW promotes effective giving at colleges across the country, asking students to pledge 1% of their future earnings to GiveWell recommended charities. For us, supporting OFTW is similar to supporting GiveWell operating expenses—it’s a great way to get leverage as a donor and help spread effective giving beyond traditional EA communities. It’s also important for us to support the organizations we are involved with, so we are happy to be able to support both GiveWell and OFTW this year.

James Snowden

I plan to allocate the majority of my annual giving directly to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program, and a smaller portion to GiveWell to grant at its discretion.

The majority of my giving is decided together with my family, who have a preference to donate directly to an organization rather than through my employer. This year, I recommended that my family give to Malaria Consortium. I think Malaria Consortium is an excellent giving opportunity from a variety of different perspectives (cost-effectiveness, robustness of the evidence base, room for more funding, organizational strength, transparency, and limited downside risk). While I think all our top charities are good giving opportunities, I believe Malaria Consortium has the most robust case, so I’m excited to support them again this year.

I’m planning to give my personal donation to GiveWell to grant at its discretion for the same reasons outlined by Andrew above.

I also considered giving to the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention (CPSP), one of GiveWell’s Incubation Grantees that I follow closely. CPSP works on a highly neglected issue and I believe their chosen strategy (reducing suicides through assisting governments in the targeted regulation of highly hazardous pesticides) has a track record of success. I chose not to support CPSP personally this year because GiveWell will be considering a grant renewal in 2020, and I expect to have more information at that point.

Michael Eddy

I divide my annual giving into two buckets:

  • giving that aims to directly improve people’s lives; and
  • giving that aims to address the root causes of unjust systems

For my giving that aims to directly improve people’s lives, I’m directing the entirety of my donations to GiveWell to grant at its discretion. Like others, I find that programs like Malaria Consortium’s SMC program, which can avert a child’s death for around $2,300, to be an extremely good use of my resources. Furthermore, after having joined GiveWell recently, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the credibility and rigor of the analysis and the thoughtfulness of the staff.

At the same time, I find it unconscionable that we live with political, economic, health, and legal systems that allow such deprivation to persist. While these systems and the institutions that undergird them are difficult to affect, I’d expect the most effective ways to make human progress to not be directly measurable or evaluable using rigorous evidence. GiveWell’s focus on interventions that have strong evidence & clearly measurable outcomes is one known limitation of our research, and so in my personal giving I continue to explore what effectiveness looks like when supporting organizations and individuals to shape the institutions they live in.

This is a broad area and I have spent limited time understanding where charitable resources can go the furthest. While I aspire to give in cause areas that are important, tractable and neglected, in practice, I rely mostly on organizations that I have been impressed with through my career, cause areas that motivate me and the recommendations of trusted contacts who work on these cause areas, including Norma Altshuler & colleagues at the Hewlett Foundation. This includes:

  • Young1ove a youth-led, evidence-based movement that adapts and scales-up health and education programs. I am particularly impressed with their commitment to a long-term partnership model working hand-in-hand with the government of Botswana to generate and use evidence.
  • Namati an organization that advances justice by mixing direct delivery through a grassroots network of legal advocates with a broader network of organizations advocating for larger-scale legal change.

In addition, a cause area I’m particularly motivated by and find to be particularly neglected are organizations which elevate the voices of LGBTQ+ citizens to advocate for and defend their rights in the countries in which they live. In many countries, same-sex relations are illegal (in part due to colonial-era laws), which is just one of many deprivations faced by the marginalization of gender and sexual minorities. My giving in this bucket is particularly informed by a friend who wrote his PhD thesis on the issue. I primarily donate to Astraea Foundation, an organization that regrants to grassroots organizations, but also donate directly to a few more local organizations including:

Finally, I do a small amount of giving each year to free services that survive off of user-contributions, organizations addressing issues in my local community and giving aligned to causes that my friends and family support.

Kimberly Huynh

I plan on allocating my annual gift as follows:

  • 70% to GiveWell to grant at its discretion
  • 10% to charities that work on climate change mitigation (preventing or reducing greenhouse gas emissions)
  • 20% to miscellaneous organizations in honor of various family members and friends

I have allocated the largest share of my annual gift to GiveWell because it is highly important to me to donate to a place where I know my giving will have an impact. I have opted to let GiveWell allocate my donation at its discretion because I believe that I will do more good by being flexible. Namely, GiveWell’s staff members who work directly with its top charities understand these charities’ immediate financial needs better than I do.

I am donating to organizations that work on climate change mitigation because I would like to put a greater stake in its progress beyond my own related graduate research. I have not yet reviewed the cost-effectiveness of climate change-related organizations to a degree I feel confident in. My percent contribution to charities in this issue area is thus relatively small and will likely be divided between at least a couple of different organizations.

I plan to investigate climate change-related organizations more deeply next year. In turn, my percent contribution to this area will likely increase at the expense of my miscellaneous donations. In the future, I would like to fix my contributions to climate change-related organizations to my own actions. For example, I may choose to donate a sum equal to the number of miles I have flown that year multiplied by a percentage chosen in advance. By fixing my donations to my actions, I hope to think more critically about my carbon footprint and to act with greater intention.

My remaining donations are primarily gift donations for loved ones. The majority of this was to Médecins Sans Frontières on behalf of my younger brother per his request.

Teryn Mattox

In 2019, my family has given roughly half of our charitable donations to GiveDirectly and half to high-impact farmed animal welfare organizations. I joined GiveWell in the fall. After several months of learning more about the GiveWell process, in 2020 we will shift our donations away from GiveDirectly and towards one or two of the relatively higher-impact top charities that most closely align with our personal priorities. Specifically, my partner and I value deaths averted more highly relative to increased income than is reflected in GiveWell’s moral weights. We are also more risk averse with our giving than GiveWell is—that is, we are less willing to donate when there is very wide uncertainty around magnitude of impact. As a result of these two considerations, we will focus our giving on malaria prevention programs over deworming programs in 2020.

We will continue to give roughly half of our donations to organizations promoting animal welfare. This is based on the intensity of the suffering inflicted upon animals, the sheer number of factory-farmed animals being brutally tortured each year, the potential impact of our donations in reducing this suffering, and our beliefs about the importance of animal suffering relative to human suffering. After conversations with individuals at Open Philanthropy Project, we have decided to give about half of our animal welfare-related donations to the Effective Altruism Animal Welfare Fund.

Jim Bobowski

My family has allocated our 2019 giving in three directions. Approximately 15% is directed towards non-profits associated with our child such as school, Cub Scouts, and athletic organizations that we support throughout the year. Approximately 35% is directed towards additional causes personal to our family, including animal welfare and tackling heart disease. Fifty percent of our annual giving will be directed to Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention program. Candidly, we were torn between allocating this money to “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion” versus giving to Malaria Consortium. While we 100% believe in GiveWell’s method and are confident it leads to optimal outcomes, the research team’s recent update estimating one life saved for every $2,300 donated to Malaria Consortium won the family vote. The possibility of saving a life or two seemed more tangible to our household and was the deciding factor for this in 2019.

Notes   [ + ]

1. See our staff giving posts from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Comments

  • What’s GiveWell’s discount rate for cash flows related to its giving? In other words, if GiveWell had to choose between receiving money this year versus next year, what interest rate would make you indifferent?

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on December 13, 2019 at 5:37 pm said:

    Hi Sam,

    I’m interpreting this to mean: “if GiveWell had to choose between receiving money to grant to our recommended charities this year versus next year, what interest rate would make you indifferent?” Please let me know if you’re asking about funding to support our own operations or individual staff giving choices instead of this.

    Whether to give now versus later is a difficult question. There are a few relevant considerations, in addition to the likely rate of investment return for the donor if they save their funding to donate later:

    • The discount rate for program participants. We set a discount rate of 4% for economic consumption in our cost-effectiveness model, implying that it’s 4% worse for top charity program participants to receive funding next year rather than this year. We don’t discount health benefits, but expect giving opportunities in health are getting less cost-effective as child mortality declines.
    • Our best guess of whether we’ll identify more cost-effective programs to recommend in the future. We’re always looking for top charities that may potentially be more cost-effective than our current top charities.
    • How quickly we expect costs for our top charities to grow. For example, are health commodities becoming more expensive, or charity staff salaries?

    We are unsure of the correct answers to the above questions, but we do use our best guesses to inform our actions. We consider this question explicitly when we make annual recommendations to Open Philanthropy, a philanthropic organization that is a major supporter of our top charities, about how much it should allocate to our top charities. This year, we wrote:

    “Last year… [o]ur analysis suggested that giving opportunities would become less cost-effective over time at a faster rate than we would expect funders to earn investment returns. That analysis implied that giving now would have a greater impact than giving later…

    “This year… Open Philanthropy provided us with an analysis indicating that it may be preferable to use a slower rate of spending than GiveWell used in 2018. Although we did not have a chance to review this work carefully (and we plan to spend more time considering and extending this analysis in the future), we believe we are likely to recommend that Open Philanthropy spend these funds more slowly in the future.”

    We chose the rate at which we advise Open Philanthropy spend its funds based on our estimate of the nominal rate of return that Good Ventures will earn, as well as our best guess on the considerations in the bulleted list above. This year, taking the rate of return we expected and the above considerations into account, we recommended that Open Philanthropy spend its funds slightly more slowly than in the past. We expect to spend more time thinking about this going forward.

    In summary, this is a tough question, and we’re not sure of the exact right answer!

  • Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I found Emma Trefethen’s piece on discount rates linked in the CEA spreadsheet especially useful and answered many of my questions.

  • Rajat Dhameja on January 2, 2020 at 6:03 am said:

    So nice to read about many initiatives and explaining in a good amount of detail about GiveWell funding process and accountability. As a former physician and now hospital administrator, I understand the importance of attention given to Malaria and Vitamin A deficiency and GiveWell’s programs to address these and other conditions.

    regards,

    Rajat Dhameja, MD, MHA

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on January 2, 2020 at 12:59 pm said:

    Thanks for the kind words, Rajat!

Comments are closed.