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 2020, 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
- Audrey Cooper
- Elie Hassenfeld
- Isabel Arjmand
- James Snowden
- Maggie Lloydhauser
- Natalie Crispin
- Olivia Larsen
- Roman Guglielmo
I’m planning to give 100% of my donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund (MIF). I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year working on the cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) that GiveWell uses as a major input into allocation decisions for the MIF. My work on the CEA, as well as my observations of all the care and thoroughness that my colleagues put into research on where to allocate MIF funding, increases my confidence that this is the best option for my personal donation.
My family generally sets aside 10% of our income for charitable giving. This year, we’ll be supporting GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund, to save lives and alleviate poverty, and the International Refugee Assistance Project, which focuses on both advocacy and direct service for displaced people. We also make a small monthly gift to a criminal justice-focused organization working to provide alternative sentencing options in our city.
Throughout the year, we make a few additional donations that typically come out of our regular spending budget, rather than the money we’ve set aside for giving. For instance, we make gifts in honor of friends, for birthdays/special occasions or when they’ve organized a fundraiser for a cause they’re passionate about. We also make small donations to organizations in our neighborhood (such as the local community garden and an agency serving people experiencing homelessness) and to organizations that we benefit from but that are technically nonprofits (museum memberships, etc.). I think of these donations as paying into organizations that are providing public goods and making my city a better place, rather than as cost-effective charitable donations. Together, these types of donations represent a small portion of our giving—less than 1% of our income.
This year, we’re giving to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund.
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.
As part of my job, I spend a lot of time thinking about the questions: what should GiveWell be doing differently? What should we be researching that we’re not? What should we be directing funding to that seems out of scope today?
When I come across giving opportunities that seem as if they might be as cost-effective as or better than the Maximum Impact Fund, I’ve taken the approach of working to change GiveWell and our process so that we, institutionally, are evaluating and recommending those opportunities. That’s why, at the moment, GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund is the best thing I see to support.
My thoughts on my giving are generally the same as what I wrote last year. The vast majority of my giving this year will be split equally between global health and well-being and reducing factory-farmed-animal suffering. I don’t have a principled reason to split it fifty-fifty, but am choosing that allocation as a default this year, since I think both causes are important and (likely) cost-effective; in the past, all my giving has gone to human well-being, and I’ll probably revisit the balance again next year.
- Global health and well-being. Within this area, I’m giving the vast majority of my donation to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund, for the same reasons as many of my colleagues—I think our recommended programs do outstanding work, and I don’t know of a way to help people more per dollar. I’m excited to see how we choose to allocate this funding early next year. Additionally, I’m considering making smaller donations to GiveDirectly (for the same reason I wrote about last year) and D-Prize (I like the idea of supporting global health and development organizations that are largely created and led by people in the communities they serve, which is my perception of a lot of D-Prize’s funded programs).
- Farm animal welfare. I believe that the treatment of factory-farmed animals is morally abhorrent, and while I value the well-being of humans more highly than that of non-human animals, I think factory farming causes so much suffering that it’s worthy of serious consideration. I haven’t given to farm animal welfare in the past, partly because of my perception that Open Philanthropy largely has that area covered in terms of funding, relative to how well-funded cost-effective global health and development programs are. But, given how rapidly GiveWell’s funds raised have grown, it no longer seems clear to me that effective farm animal welfare opportunities are better-funded. After considering recommendations from Animal Charity Evaluators, Open Philanthropy, and my colleague Teryn, I’ll likely give to Faunalytics, The Humane League, Fish Welfare Initiative, and the Effective Altruism Funds Animal Welfare Fund.
Because of how excited I am about what a dollar can do in the above areas, I’m not currently planning to make any substantial donations outside these areas, even though there are other issues I find compelling. Sometimes I make small, ad hoc donations to local or personal causes as they come up, but I don’t keep track of those or consider them part of this “budget.”
I’m very lucky to have the resources I need to live a happy life, with some left over to give away, and since there’s so much need in the world, I see giving away a portion of my disposable income as both an obligation and an important opportunity.
I’ll probably give my personal donation to the Maximum Impact Fund this year, but I haven’t decided yet.
The lens I take on my giving:
- I want my giving to help people as much as possible.
- I focus my giving on helping people in low- and middle-income countries.
- I think the vast majority of my personal impact will come from my career rather than my personal donations. I think it’s helpful for me to put thought into my personal giving decisions, as a check on whether GiveWell is still the best option for “donors like me,” but I don’t want to spend time investigating specific opportunities.
The most important reason I’m likely to give to the Maximum Impact Fund is that GiveWell is the institution I trust most to allocate my giving to where it can have a lot of impact. I think additional funding will translate to more cost-effective programs that help a lot of people.
The “case against” that I find most compelling is: as GiveWell allocates larger amounts of funding, we are prioritizing investigating large opportunities we expect to lead to greater overall impact over smaller opportunities that may lead to more cost-effective impact. I think that’s the right decision for GiveWell to maximize its impact as an institution, but it means that smaller (but potentially more cost-effective) opportunities that don’t fit our criteria are more likely to be neglected. A donor who was in a particularly strong position to discover and assess these opportunities might be able to have even more impact.
So, while I expect to still give to the Maximum Impact Fund, I put a bit more time than usual into considering alternatives.
Options I’ve considered include:
- Giving to GiveWell grantees I know well through my work. Grantees who I was the lead investigator for include the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention, Pure Earth, Vital Strategies, and the team behind a randomized controlled trial on face mask use (including Innovations for Poverty Action and Y-Rise). I’m excited about the work these organizations are doing, but I don’t expect to give to them personally because I worry about mixing my personal donations with my role as a Program Officer.
- Giving to individuals or organizations working in effective altruism. I think Rethink Priorities has produced some high–quality research in global health and development. Because I interact with Rethink Priorities in a professional capacity, I don’t expect to give to it personally.
- Giving to potential future grantees. Sometimes I come across opportunities that seem particularly promising, such that my best guess prior to conducting an investigation is that they’re more cost-effective than marginal funding to the Maximum Impact Fund, but it might not be worth the time to build the full case for the grant for a small amount of funding. However, GiveWell has adopted a new, lighter-touch grantmaking process for these kinds of opportunities, which I expect to mean we can investigate these grants more efficiently in the future. I’m not excited about getting out ahead of grantmaking I expect to do in a professional context.
- The Effective Altruism Global Health and Development Fund. I don’t expect to give to the Effective Altruism Global Health and Development Fund, because I don’t think there’s a meaningful difference between giving to that fund and giving to the Maximum Impact Fund (because they funge with each other).
This year, as in past years, my husband and I are giving a percentage of our income to causes we care about. Prior to my working at GiveWell, we had struggled with the global health and development portion of our giving. This year, we are excited to have given the majority of our donations to GiveWell unrestricted. I’m excited by the incubation grants we are considering funding right now, which I hope will generate huge funding areas for GiveWell supporters in the future. I feel that unrestricted donations are the best way for us to support this work in a way that gives maximum discretion to our remarkably talented research team.
We are also making much smaller gifts to local environmental organizations in each of our hometowns, as well as the civil rights nonprofit where I used to work. Our giving this year has been greatly informed by my first few months at GiveWell, and looks quite different from past years.
We will be giving our annual gift to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund.
2021 was an amazing year for the impact of the GiveWell community. Donors’ support for the Maximum Impact Fund grew tremendously in 2021, after growing tremendously in 2020. At first, this made me nervous. There’s surely no shortage of problems to try to solve, but what if we couldn’t identify the promising solutions quickly enough? And, to be sure, we haven’t fully caught up to the generosity yet (as we wrote about recently). But what I’ve learned this year is that when we ask our existing grantees and potential grantees to “think bigger,” they have no trouble doing so. I continue to be excited about giving to the Maximum Impact Fund because I hope we can keep asking, “What’s next?”
This year, I’m planning to give 100% of my Giving What We Can Pledge to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund. I’m very excited about the giving opportunities our research team has identified and will identify in the future!
Since I’m a student again this year, my donation budget is more limited than it was when I was working full time. But with GiveWell’s top charities’ ability to purchase and deliver an insecticide-treated net for under $5, or a vitamin A supplement for $1.10, what feels like a relatively small amount to me can go a long way toward helping people living in low- and lower-middle-income countries with basic needs. I continue to be both humbled and energized by the good that I can do through GiveWell’s top charities!
Only two years out of college, with loans to pay off and still a lot to learn about personal finance, I find it hard to know how to think about giving. At the same time, I want to help effective organizations tackle the world’s problems, and hopefully make this a consistent part of my life sooner rather than later.
Over the past year or so, I’ve read (that is, listened to) some of the books that underpin the ideas of effective altruism, like The Life You Can Save, The Most Good You Can Do, and Doing Good Better. Their arguments convinced me that, if I spend money on things I don’t really need (as I certainly do), then I should also be able to muster something to give to people in need—and that, whatever the amount, I should give to organizations that have demonstrated the ability to use my contribution effectively.
This year, I probably won’t meet the 5% of income suggested in The Life You Can Save, but I do plan to donate small, probably equal amounts to the organizations below, which work on problems spanning global health and poverty, climate change, voter suppression, and animal welfare. I hope to increase my donations in years to come, aspiring to that 5% or beyond.
- GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund
- Evergreen Collaborative
- Clean Air Task Force
- Greenpeace International
- Sunrise Movement
- Fridays For Future
- Environmental Voter Project
- Fair Fight Action
- The Humane League
Thanks for sharing your thinking process on charitable giving. It is very helpful to hear from people who concentrate on this all day and helps confirm what a great, simple choice the Maximum Impact Fund can be.
It’s fantastic that GiveWell empowers its staff to choose where their giving is directed. Some nonprofits may just pay their employees less to ensure that the funding goes where senior leadership deems best. But allowing GiveWell’s talent to autonomously decide where their donations go is so motivating and psychologically fulfilling.
I hope GiveWell also provides the option for staff members to defer a portion of their salary to be given to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund if they are not itemizing their taxes. For middle-class US income-earners with conventional tax situations, it can be difficult to write off more than the standard deduction.
It would be a shame if employees were enduring an unnecessarily high tax incidence simply because they gave back money they were paid, rather than never having been paid that money to begin with.
Thank you all for everything that you do!
I think that’s a great tax idea–a permanent deferment, right? Since most charities I know closely (like most businesses) hire friends of employees, I don’t like my donations to go to pay cushy crony salaries at private-industry levels for work that’s in the great atmosphere I imagine for charity work. This deferment would fix that objection nicely. People who wouldn’t donate shouldn’t work for charities, anyway.
Is animals’ suffering any less than human suffering? Suffering is suffering; pain is pain. I feel they’re equal. Humans are slightly better able to help themselves, too, and the animals I know personally are ALL nicer than the nicest human I know, including me. I hadn’t thought of this in the context of charitable giving. Thanks, Isabel.
I’m glad this was helpful! Thanks for following our work.
Thanks for this suggestion! We haven’t considered this in the past, but I have passed the idea on to our HR team.
We hope that the rigorous hiring process and the equitable compensation at GiveWell allow us to avoid the pitfalls you mention. That said, we definitely love that so many of our employees invest in important charitable causes with their funding in addition to their time and talent. Thanks for sharing your ideas!
This is a great and compassionate blog. We really need to walk the extra mile to help. May God bless all the people behind this. Thank you.
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