Added October 2022: From 2020 to 2022 we used the name “Maximum Impact Fund” to refer to the fund used to support the highest-priority funding needs among our top charities each quarter. In September 2022, we changed the name of this fund to the “Top Charities Fund” to better describe what opportunities this fund supports; more information here.
For this post, a number of GiveWell staff members volunteered to share the thinking behind their personal donations for the year. We’ve published similar posts in previous years.1See our staff giving posts from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013. Staff are listed alphabetically by first name.
You can click the below links to jump to a staff member’s entry:
- Andrew Martin
- Catherine Hollander
- Devin Jacob
- Elie Hassenfeld
- Isabel Arjmand
- James Snowden
- Jim Bobowski
- Justin Loiseau
- Miranda Kaplan
- Natalie Crispin
- Neil Buddy Shah
- Nicole Zok
- Olivia Larsen
- Steph Stojanovic
- Teryn Mattox
- Whitney Shinkle
It’s remarkable to me that the programs of GiveWell’s top charities—several of which we estimate can save a life for $3,000 to $5,000—are bottlenecked by limited funding. With additional funding, we expect that our top charities could scale up their work further or expand their programs to new countries.
I’m excited to make a very small dent in our top charities’ funding gaps by giving my annual donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund.
This year, I am planning to give 80% of my donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund. I am excited to support all of our recommended organizations. I am glad for the research team to choose where my donation can achieve the most when it’s granted—plus, I look forward to the email letting me know what impact my contribution had.
I plan to allocate the remaining 20% of my donation to support criminal justice reform and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). These decisions have been informed by the work of Chloe Cockburn and Alexander Berger at Open Philanthropy.
Most years, I save up and make all of my donations at the end of the year. While I am allocating the majority of my donation this year in December as usual, I also made several donations throughout the year to social justice organizations.
This year I am giving 22% of my donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund. In previous years I have selected specific GiveWell-recommended charities to support, for reasons varying from greater confidence in specific interventions to placing less value on saving lives relative to improving lives. This year I gave most of my charitable budget away prior to the end-of-year giving season, and am choosing to give the remainder to the Maximum Impact Fund, where I am confident it will do a lot of good.
My other giving in 2020 breaks down as follows:
- Social justice and policy-related causes – 25%. This includes organizations working on issues including immigration, the Black Lives Matter movement and criminal justice reform, COVID-related campaigns not related to health care, support for labor activism, etc.
- Domestic political campaigns – 19%. I donated more than I usually do to political campaigns this year.
- Nonprofit news organizations – 7%. For example, CalMatters, The Center for Investigative Reporting, etc. Much of this giving is done jointly with my partner.
- Local charity, both formal and informal – 19%. This is a rough estimate of cash gifts to people in my community and a local mutual aid organization.
- GiveWell-recommended charities, various – 7%. In the course of my regular work I make many small donations through GiveWell while testing payment platforms. These are spread somewhat randomly amongst our top charities, with occasional gifts to standout charities as well. I choose not to refund these donations, which results in a somewhat haphazard allocation of charitable dollars. I am comfortable with that because I believe all of the charities on our list do great work, and I’m not particularly concerned with optimizing the impact of all my donations.
We’re giving the vast majority of our donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund. GiveWell’s top charities have huge, direct impacts on the people they serve.
We also gave smaller amounts to other organizations: ~10% to a political campaign, ~5% to support people in our local community who were struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and much smaller amounts to other organizations.
With my annual giving, the most important thing to me is to have an impact on improving the lives of people who are in need and to play a small role in alleviating global inequality. I’m extremely lucky to be in a position to donate, and I believe I have an obligation to give away a portion of my disposable income. There is so much injustice and suffering one could address, but of all the issues in the world, global poverty and inequality is especially massive—and it’s an area where, thanks to GiveWell, I can have an impact.
So, I’ll be giving the vast majority (over 80%) of my donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund. The Maximum Impact Fund is, as the name implies, the best place I know of to donate in terms of expected impact.
I feel conflicted about giving any of my annual charitable contribution to something other than the Maximum Impact Fund, because the most important aspect of my giving is how much it helps other people. But I’m inclined to support some other causes that I believe to be very important, but that lend themselves less well to GiveWell-style evaluations in some cases, and that in other cases may well be less impactful per dollar donated. The rest of my giving will go to:
- Organization(s) working to address climate change. I haven’t chosen one yet, but I plan to look at the research done by Founders Pledge and by Giving Green, and also consider Earthjustice, which I’ve given to in previous years.
- The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), to support and facilitate immigration to the U.S. I learned about IRAP through the work of Open Philanthropy.
- GiveDirectly (in Africa, not its U.S. program). As a financially privileged person in the U.S., I like the idea of giving some cash directly to people who really need it. I essentially believe that in an ideal world, the distribution of global wealth would be radically different, and a donation to GiveDirectly is a small step toward and signal of support for that future. This donation is small because I expect the Maximum Impact Fund has a greater impact on global poverty per dollar donated.
I also made small donations to racial justice organizations and political organizing, and to directly support people in need, earlier this year. Those donations were more emotionally motivated and came out of what I’d otherwise have spent on myself rather than my charitable budget.
This year, I’m giving all of my donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund. GiveWell’s recommendations continue to be the best way I know of to help people.
Earlier this year, I considered giving to organizations working to address racial injustice in the United States or the U.K. I decided not to. My conception of justice is centered on inequality. The greatest source of inequality in the world continues to be the accident of where someone is born. I think I can do more to create a just world, as well as help people as much as possible, by continuing to focus my giving internationally through GiveWell.
Although not by design, my family typically gives in three categories about equally each year. One third is directed locally toward community programs (school, Scouts, sporting programs) that we have a direct connection with and need support. One third is directed domestically to causes outside of our community. The final third is directed internationally, so we consciously think about and help people who face incredible economic and health hardships.
Our end-of-the-year decision was made significantly easier this year. Since we contributed extensively to political races, we needed to allocate only our international giving, a task made easier through the Maximum Impact Fund. After a year working at GiveWell and seeing the rigor and care with which the research team approaches each funding decision, I am convinced there is no better way I can help people abroad than entrusting Elie and the research team to allocate my family’s donation.
We also decided to take a portion of our planned 2021 international giving and turn it into a recurring GiveWell donation, also directed to the Maximum Impact Fund. I am hopeful that doing this will make giving more naturally embedded in our lives. I’m also hopeful it will provide our research team a bit more funding throughout the year and flexibility over which programs they support.
My partner and I focused our giving this year on three overlapping objectives: maximize impact, increase incomes, and reduce climate change.
- To maximize impact, we gave to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund. We especially like this fund because it allocates money based on timely opportunities and overall room for more funding among GiveWell’s top charities.
- Since we personally place a higher value on increasing incomes relative to saving lives than GiveWell, we also gave directly to GiveDirectly. With COVID-19, we expect GiveDirectly’s transfers have had a greater cushioning effect on household economic shocks than normal.
- We are in the process of offsetting our (current and future) family’s carbon footprints. Rather than directly offsetting via carbon credits, we believe radical policy change and innovation are more likely to mitigate catastrophic climate change. We are therefore donating our carbon-footprint-equivalent cost to organizations working on these issues. This year, we donated to the Founders Pledge Climate Change Fund to take advantage of its match offer, but would otherwise have donated to the Clean Air Task Force (CATF). The CATF is included in the Founders Pledge’s prospectus and is also recommended by IDinsight’s Giving Green initiative.
Though I haven’t been as thoughtful as I’d hoped to be this year about charitable giving, I’m happy to report that the majority of my family’s total giving will go to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund.
My partner and I are longtime monthly donors to GiveDirectly, have remained so this year, and plan to continue that support in the future. We think the idea behind GiveDirectly’s work is important, and with our contributions we hope to both directly finance GiveDirectly and encourage the practice of empowering those living in poverty by providing them with cash they can use as they see fit. Ultimately, though, I want the bulk of our giving to do as much good as possible, and donating to the Maximum Impact Fund both is more cost-effective and allows GiveWell the flexibility to respond to changing levels of need among our recommended charities. Earlier this year, we committed to donating the federal stimulus payments we received in response to COVID-19, a total of $2,400; after many months of hemming and hawing, we’ve decided that all of that money will go to the Maximum Impact Fund.
Beyond that, my partner and I have made many small donations throughout the year to a number of causes, including organizations advocating for racial justice, journalism nonprofits, political campaigns, and individuals we know facing financial hardship here and abroad. Together these gifts made up probably no more than 20% of our total giving. In many of these cases, we felt fairly confident that a small amount of money would mean a great deal to the recipient and would be near-immediately forgotten by us. Though I hope to continue steering more of our giving to the most cost-effective opportunities possible, I imagine we’ll always reserve some of it for similar funding emergencies that are literally or metaphorically closer to home.
We will be giving our annual gift to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund.
GiveWell is considering a few options for allocating Maximum Impact Fund donations received in the last quarter of 2020, including both life-saving and income-increasing programs. We are unlikely to be able to close all of the highly cost-effective funding gaps we see this year, and I am excited to help narrow the gap.
I’ve had the opportunity over the last ten years to work directly with each of our top charities. In early 2020, it looked like this year would be very different from past years. At the start of the pandemic, it seemed inevitable that the programs our top charities support would be significantly disrupted, if not fully cancelled, for an indefinite amount of time. But these predictions did not play out, with most programs going forward close to their original schedules with modifications to keep health workers and program participants safe. This is in no small part because of the flexibility and dedication shown by the staff of our top charities and their partners in government health and education ministries, who redesigned programs, handled new logistical challenges, stepped up coordination in a time of remote work, and added new processes to already full workloads. I am very glad to be among their supporters.
The overall goal of my partner’s and my giving is to improve the well-being of living beings as much as possible. Therefore, we plan to split our giving this year roughly evenly between:
- GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund, because it has incredibly cost-effective, direct impacts on saving and improving lives, better than anything I have been able to find elsewhere.
- IDinsight, because of its work to ensure that large-scale poverty alleviation programs are informed by rigorous evidence on what is most effective. I also used to be CEO and co-founder of IDinsight and believe in its long-term potential to create large-scale improvements in people’s lives, especially through its partnerships with governments across Africa and Asia and with large, evidence-oriented funders and nonprofits like GiveWell.
- Animal welfare causes, supporting a collection of opportunities to reduce animal suffering.
For the past few years I’ve been donating 10% of my income, which is what I intend to do ~indefinitely. I believe that most of my impact comes through my work, but also find it incredibly motivating that as an individual donor I can save multiple lives per year with my donations.
I feel like someone says this every year, but I think GiveWell’s research team is in the strongest position it’s ever been in, and I believe even more strongly than in previous years that our recommendations are some of the best opportunities I could give to. Since I want my donation to go where it’s most needed, I’m giving to the Maximum Impact Fund. When I’ve donated to this option in past years (what we previously called “grants to recommended charities at GiveWell’s discretion”), knowing that some of my own money was on the line made me feel a lot more invested when it came time to think about where to direct this funding. I think that’s a helpful motivator, though not a crux for why I chose this option.
This year in particular, lots of causes have tugged at my heartstrings. Humanity has come an incredibly long way in the past 100,000 years (I’d much rather be alive now than at any other time in the past), but it’s clear that there’s still a lot that could be better for the people on this blue dot. All of the reminders this year of the many ways in which people are suffering have really solidified for me that there will always be tons of causes in need of support, which makes me feel even more committed to spending my scarce resources in a way that I believe will do the most good (according to my values). I believe that my donation to the Maximum Impact Fund will save a couple of children’s lives, and I don’t know of anything I’d rather support.
I’m very excited that I gave the vast majority of my annual donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund! I continue to be thrilled at the prospect of being able to donate to charities that can save a human life for just a few thousand dollars, and I’m very lucky to be in a financial position to donate.
With most of my annual charitable giving, I want to have as much of an impact as I can. But I also come across opportunities during the year to support causes I care about, and it feels important to me to contribute toward those (most notably, a few different bail funds in the United States) as ways to take tangible action toward values I hold, rather than spending on myself.
My family committed to giving 10% of our income several years ago. We will likely split our giving between GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund and unrestricted support of One for the World. We think it’s important to support groups that introduce new audiences to effective giving. My husband is a former board member of One for the World, and we give to it because we think it is doing a good job of spreading the concept of effective giving to college and graduate students. If I didn’t work at GiveWell, we would donate to GiveWell in an unrestricted manner to support operations and outreach expenses, but it feels a little weird to pay some of my own salary in a roundabout way, so we chose the Maximum Impact Fund instead! It is the best way to maximally leverage GiveWell’s research expertise.
I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to make the world a better place through both my day-to-day work and my monthly giving. I am so proud of and excited by the work we do at GiveWell to find giving opportunities that improve the lives of the global poor, and I think the Maximum Impact Fund is one of the best ways donors can improve human welfare with their money.
I also strongly weigh the welfare of animals in the moral calculus that drives my giving. In 2020, my family decided to transition nearly all of our giving to organizations promoting animal welfare. I feel comfortable making this switch given the amount of time and energy I devote to furthering GiveWell’s work improving the lives of the global poor. We felt particularly compelled to do this based on the intensity of the suffering inflicted upon animals, the staggering numbers 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. We give to a variety of organizations promoting farmed animal welfare, most of which are recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators. We also give to the Effective Altruism Animal Welfare Fund and give additional money to several of the charities endorsed by the fund.
I am a relative outlier among GiveWell staff. I believe strongly in GiveWell’s work and the need for effectiveness to be a critical consideration in deciding where public and private “development” dollars are spent. However, I also feel a particularly strong obligation to support people who are suffering harm caused by other people. There are a lot of nuances that could be drawn, but generally I am most concerned by war, criminal and political violence, and related social injustices. Not least among the reasons that I find them particularly galling is the degree to which these problems disrupt and prevent access to simple, well-known, cost-effective life improvements like basic health care, particularly for vulnerable people.
This year I am giving ~10% of my donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund. I think all the programs GiveWell recommends do excellent work, and I trust the research team to identify where these funds can do the most good at any given time.
The remaining ~90% went to a number of organizations that work in areas less amenable to GiveWell’s particular analyses (though I hold out hope that future years might see more work in these arenas). I mostly donate to organizations with which I and/or respected colleagues have personal professional experience and that I believe to be making good efforts to demonstrate effectiveness.
Of this amount, the majority went to organizations that work on:
- International conflict mitigation: supporting refugees and internally displaced persons, positive peace-building efforts, and economic redevelopment.
- Domestic social justice: racial and restorative justice, immigration, anti-human trafficking, and anti-domestic violence.
A small minority was directed to organizations that address my concerns less directly. These organizations work on:
- Specific political campaigns and democracy-building
- Environmental conservation and climate change
- Nonprofit news
My volunteer time this year went mostly toward U.S. political campaigns, as well as some advocacy on behalf of U.S.-based racial equity organizations.
A lot more diversity in giving than I would have guessed! Thanks a lot to all for being so open to sharing. I give ~50% to the maximum impact fund, and the remaining to a charity influencing public policy, as well as one in the child education/care space. And I must confess that I do feel guilty about not giving 100% to GiveWell maximum impact fund, given that my other donations might not be as cost effective. Endeavoring to increase the % to GiveWell over time, but in the meantime this post at least makes me feel a little bit better. 🙂
Hi Joseph, thank you for the kind comment and for supporting our recommended charities! We’re glad you enjoyed the post, and grateful for your giving.
Thank you for a fascinating blog post! And you certainly shouldn’t feel guilty Joseph for making an incredible difference through your donations. The one thing that stands out to me is that very few staff seem to be giving to GiveWell itself? Given that donating to GiveWell advertising can lead to vastly more money being raised for high impact fund charities than giving directly to the high impact fund, why aren’t more GiveWell staff giving to GiveWell advertising? Certainly not a criticism in the slightest but I’d love to know why? Perhaps I’m missing something? Thanks.
Hi Robert, thanks for the question! I can’t speak for all GiveWell staff, but I know several GiveWell staff this year and in past years have spoken about feeling strange about donating to their employer or believing that as staff they aren’t in a good place to provide GiveWell with a broad base of donor support, despite thinking GiveWell operating support is a good donation opportunity. These are the most prominent reasons for not giving to GiveWell’s operations that I’ve heard discussed. Steph wrote about feeling strange about donating to her employer in her entry in 2020 and a few staff members wrote about these concerns in past posts here and here.
— Isabel (GiveWell staff member)
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