Talk about transparency. which just launched, and which I wrote about here, uses community reviewers to assess giving opportunities for donors. They've developed and posted their criteria for these reviews. The ratings process includes criteria and scoring on these parameters:

  • Strategies and Activities

  • Fiscal responsibility

  • Relevance

  • Self-evaluation process

  • Evidence of effectiveness

Reviewers also post "unanswered questions" and a list of the sources they used to create their ratings. A more complete description of the process is found here. GiveWell maintains a blog here.


Abiezer Coppe said...

Givewell isn't exactly a scam, but it is run by some pretty unscrupulous bastards, who take half the money as salary. See this metafilter thread. They also engage in shady promotion and astroturfing (both Holden and Elie). And their whole business is premised on the idea that they should be decided which charities are worthwhile and which are not.

Alex Reynolds said...

In an article discussing the intersection of free market techniques and charitable giving, we should also notice the types of marketing techniques being applied to the promotion of self-described charities, and be aware of the conflict of interest which often results therefrom.

In the private sector, we find Microsoft, for example, to anonymously and surreptitiously edit portions of the Wikipedia online encyclopedia [1]. Microsoft was unable to advertise or modify people's impressions of its actions without direct editing of this informational resource through misrepresentation of its public identity.

Called Astroturfing [2], we have discovered that GiveWell itself uses these same techniques of misrepresentation of itself and of other charities, using an anonymous or falsified online presence, in promotion of its own operation [3]. Specifically, its founder Holden Karnofsky assumed multiple, non-self online identities to not only promote GiveWell, but to tarnish the reputation of other charitable organizations.

GiveWell's board is currently evaluating the use of these techniques by Karnofsky, but one of the board members has apparently has undertaken some of this activity herself [4], promoting GiveWell without indicating her position within the organization.

It is unclear what, if any, laws or policies GiveWell's actions violate, with respect to conduct of an NPO in the United States. But a discussion of whether charitable organizations should behave this way is important, particularly with respect to the tax-exempt status GiveWell enjoys, and — with respect to GiveWell as the "free market idealization" of the charity — the overhead spent on salaries to the founders and board members.


Lucy Bernholz said...

The two preceding comments were posted in January of 2008. The original post was posted in February of 2007. At the time the post was written (February 2007), I had no formal affiliation with GiveWell. I joined the Board of GiveWell as a volunteer in June 2007 and receive no compensation nor any expense reimbursement for doing so.

The accusation above that I promoted the organization without revealing my affiliation is unfounded and anachronistic, as I had no affiliation at the time. Please refrain from making unfounded accusations on this website.

Alex Reynolds said...

You also have a Huffington Post article here [1] which appears to coincide time-wise with your board membership in June 2007.

While you should be congratulated for your disclosure of affiliation with YouthGive in that article, it may have, in hindsight, been wise to discuss any potential future affiliation with GiveWell.

The ultimate message to you is one of transparency and disclosure, in light of serious transgressions of trust by your organization's lead representative.


Lucy Bernholz said...

Thank you Alex, for your thoughts on disclosure and transparency - I hope to continue to improve regarding my disclosure practices.

A full discussion of the timing of affiliations and disclosure can be found in the comments section of the December 31 Philanthropy2173 post. The HuffPo post was published prior to my joining the Board of GiveWell.