Comment by aeschenkarnos on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2011-01-09T08:37:13.584Z · LW · GW

Alright. You've given an explanation here that seems reasonable to me, and you've continued to run GiveWell for significantly longer than I would have expected if you were just in it for yourselves. For what it's worth, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and I wish you well in your mission.

Comment by aeschenkarnos on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-25T14:09:46.986Z · LW · GW

Only if you assume that (a) donors are actually aware of an 85%:15% split in the charities' disfavor; (b) approve of that. I would expect the naive assumption to be on the order of 90%:10% in charities' favor, but maybe that's just me.

Now, their donation pages for separate charities eg do state that the donation is direct to the charity, which is .a good thing.

So it's "I'm willing to take your money for me, but if you want to give it to X, give it to X directly" vs "I'm willing to take your money for me to split between me and X, or you can give it to X". Now on the face of it, that looks like X would get more money in the second scenario, as you point out. However there is an inherent naive assumption there that the split will be fair to X. If Donor A wanted to give $50 to Charity Navigator and $50 to charities through Charity Navigator, A has to give those amounts separately. If A wants to give $50 to Givewell and $50 to charities through Givewell, A may be tempted to just give $100 to Givewell under the assumption that Givewell will split it $50/$50. I suggest that donors who assumed that Givewell will be splitting at 50%/50% or better, have been if not deceived, at least permitted to operate under a false assumption where the one who could correct the assumption (ie, Givewell) benefits from not doing so. I think the split with potential breach of trust is more ethically dubious than the known split.

I'll admit that it's possible that Givewell have cleaned their act up since 2007. But they seem to have a significantly higher online profile than Charity Navigator, while also seeming to have a smaller number of charities rated and smaller amount of money donated due to their influence, which "smells funny" (or if you prefer, triggers heuristic estimates of suspiciousness) to me.

Comment by aeschenkarnos on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-25T12:31:51.355Z · LW · GW

I'd classify it as an indicator of Holden Karnofsky's sense of ethics, personally.

Charity Navigator also makes the claim of analyzing charities' performance and I can't speak to the relative quality of the two sites' metrics, but Charity Navigator apparently only takes donations directly for itself. This is more transparent - $1 given to them is $1 to them, and $1 given to Charity X at Charity Navigator's recommendation is $1 to Charity X. On the other hand, $1 to "Givewell and whatever charities Givewell recommends", given to Givewell, will be divided up as Givewell pleases, and unless I'm missing something fundamental, it pleased itself to divide it $640K (Givewell) : $110K (donated) in 2009. I'll admit to a complete lack of surprise at that.

Comment by aeschenkarnos on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-25T11:17:01.999Z · LW · GW

GiveWell is ethically questionable and taking them (and their metrics) at face value is dubious wisdom. Here's why.

They are not just a "site that collects and interprets data", they collect actual money and disburse less of that money, to charities who are rated according to a highly questionable system, which was made up by people with little experience in charity and lots of experience in hedge funds.

Seems to me they are a self-inserted middle-man, whose business model is to leverage the human charitable impulse into an opportunity to scoop off a little or a lot of cream for their precious little selves. According to their financial statements in 2009 they took in ~$750K and gave out ~$110K. That's quite some overhead.