The GiveWell Blog

What is it like to work at GiveWell?

We (GiveWell) recently announced that we’re planning to expand the scope of our research and to roughly double the size of our full-time research staff (from approximately 10 to 20) over the next three years. I (James) am writing this post because I think GiveWell is an awesome place to work and I think now is a particularly good time to join.

I’ll start by telling the story of how I started working with GiveWell’s research team. Then I’ll explain why I think it’s a great place to work and how you can decide if you’d like to work here. Finally, I’ll add some notes on what the application process looks like, and how much time it’s likely to take if you reach the later stages.

If there’s anything you want to learn about that I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to get back to you.

I should acknowledge that I was asked to write this post because I like my job a lot. I hope you’re willing to put this publication bias to one side for a few minutes.

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How GiveWell’s research is evolving

To date, most of GiveWell’s research capacity has focused on finding the most impactful programs among those whose results can be rigorously measured. This work has led us to recommend, and direct several hundred million dollars to, charities improving health, saving lives, and increasing income in low-income countries.

One of the most important reasons we have focused on programs where robust measurement is possible is because this approach largely does not rely on subject-matter expertise. When Holden and I started GiveWell, neither of us had any experience in philanthropy, so we looked for charities that we could evaluate through data and evidence that we could analyze, to make recommendations that we could fully explain. This led us to focus on organizations that had impacts that were relatively easy to measure.

The output of this process is reflected in our current top charities and the programs they run, which are analyzed in our intervention reports.

GiveWell has now been doing research to find the best giving opportunities in global health and development for 11 years, and we plan to increase the scope of giving opportunities we consider. We plan to expand our research team and scope in order to determine whether there are giving opportunities in global health and development that are more cost-effective than those we have identified to date.

We expect this expansion of our work to take us in a number of new directions, some of which we have begun to explore over the past few years. We have considered, in a few cases, the impact our top and standout charities have through providing technical assistance (for example, Deworm the World and Project Healthy Children), supported work to change government policies through our Incubation Grants program (for example, grants to the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention and Innovation in Government Initiative), and begun to explore areas like tobacco policy and lead paint elimination.

Over the next several years, we plan to consider everything that we believe could be among the most cost-effective (broadly defined) giving opportunities in global health and development. This includes more comprehensively reviewing direct interventions in sectors where impacts are more difficult to measure, investigating opportunities to influence government policy, as well as other areas.

Making progress in areas where it is harder to determine causality will be challenging. In my opinion, we are excellent evaluators of empirical research, but we have yet to demonstrate the ability to make good judgments about giving opportunities when less empirical information is available. Our values, intellectual framework, culture, and the quality of our staff make me optimistic about our chances, but all of us at GiveWell recognize the difficulty of the project we are embarking on.

Our staff does not currently have the capacity or the capabilities to make enough progress in this direction, so we are planning to significantly increase the size of our staff. We have a research team of ten people, and we are planning to more than double in size over the next three years. We are planning to add some junior staff but are primarily aiming to hire people with relevant experience who can contribute as researchers and/or managers on our team.

GiveWell’s top charities list is not going to change dramatically in the near future, and it may always include the charities we recommend today. Our top charities achieve outstanding, cost-effective results, and we believe they are some of the best giving opportunities in global health and development. We expect to conclude that many of the opportunities we consider in areas that are new for us are less cost-effective than those we currently recommend, but we also think it is possible that we will identify some opportunities that are much more cost-effective. We believe it is worth a major effort to find out.

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Some history behind our shifting approach to research

The approach that GiveWell took from 2007-2011 had two crucial qualities: We have been passive. That is, we have focused on finding the best existing organizations and supporting them with no-strings-attached donations, rather than a more “active” approach of designing our own strategy, treating charities as partners in carrying out this strategy, and restricting donations…

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GiveWell’s plan for 2012: Specifics of research

[Added August 27, 2014: GiveWell Labs is now known as the Open Philanthropy Project.] We previously laid out our high-level priorities for 2012. The top two priorities are “make significant progress on GiveWell Labs” and “find more outstanding giving opportunities under the same basic framework as our existing recommendations.” This post elaborates on our plans…

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GiveWell’s plan for 2012: Top-level priorities

[Added August 27, 2014: GiveWell Labs is now known as the Open Philanthropy Project.] In previous posts, we discussed the progress we’ve made, where we stand, and how we can improve in core areas. This post focuses on the latter, and lays out our top-level strategic choices for the next year. The big pictureBroadly, we…

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