GiveWell’s Plan for 2012: Top-Level Priorities

Note: The Open Philanthropy Project was formerly known as GiveWell Labs. Before the launch of the Open Philanthropy Project Blog, this post appeared on the GiveWell Blog. Uses of “we” and “our” in the below post may refer to the Open Philanthropy Project or to GiveWell as an organization. Additional comments may be available at the original post.

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 picture

Broadly, we see the key aspects of GiveWell - the areas in which we can improve - as

  1. Research expansion: finding additional outstanding giving opportunities.
  2. Research maintenance and systemization: keeping our research up to date, while allocating as much responsibility as possible to junior staff. This includes regular updates on charities that we have directed significant funding to.
  3. Research vetting: checking the quality of our research and providing evidence for this quality.
  4. Outreach: working to increase awareness of GiveWell, traffic to our site, conversion of website traffic into donors and followers, etc.
  5. Fundraising/operating: maintaining the organization.

These are broadly similar to the areas for improvement we’ve listed in the past. And as in the past, we feel that the first two of these - finding more outstanding giving opportunities and staying up to date on those we’ve found - are at the core of our work and remain our top priorities. The basic reasoning:

  • In 2011, as in 2010, we experienced substantial growth despite not making outreach a major priority for the year. We believe this is because producing quality research - while taking “low-hanging fruit” on the outreach side - leads to strong growth in referral links, organic search performance, and word-of-mouth. From surveying our largest donors, we believe that it is common for such donors to read our reports relatively carefully.
  • We believe that our chances for growing over the long term are highly dependent on our providing as much “room for money moved” as we can in the most outstanding giving opportunities possible, while doing as much due diligence as possible to maintain a strong reputation.
  • Letting up on the quality of our research would be a major risk. A highly dedicated effort to outreach would not clearly have greater returns (just in terms of attracting attention) than continuing to improve the quality of our research.

We are planning some work on #3-#5 above, but believe that we can perform strongly in both areas without making them major priorities for the year.

Our priorities and goals

#1: make significant progress on GiveWell Labs, the new arm of our research process that will be open to any giving opportunity, no matter what form and what sector. A future post will discuss the specifics of our plans and hoped-for progress on GiveWell Labs. This initiative represents a substantial new opportunity to both find great giving opportunities and expand our potential target audience (more).

#2: Find more top charities under the same basic framework as our existing recommendations. A future post will elaborate on our plans for this.

Our current top charities have significant room for more funding, so it would not be catastrophic (though it would be highly undesirable) to end 2012 without new top charities. Because of this, we view GiveWell Labs as slightly more crucial for 2012. However, we plan substantial work on both and anticipate that the quality of our standard research will continue to improve significantly.

#3: Expand our team. We are currently recruiting Research Analysts; we are also thinking about whether hiring for more specialized roles may more efficiently increase our capacity. We hope to have at least eight full-time employees by the end of 2012.

Other goals include:

  • Regular updates on the charities we have moved the most funding to.
  • Putting some time into more deeply investigating research questions that are particularly important to us, such as the risks of population growth and the benefits of deworming. These sorts of investigations are along the lines of the 2011 investigation that ended with our finding major errors in cost-effectiveness estimates published by the World Health Organization, and rethinking how we use these sorts of figures.
  • Updating our research on disaster relief.
  • Raising any funding needed to finance the expansion of our team.
  • Revisiting our process for having our research subjected to formal external review.
  • Improving our process for tracking and processing donations (more).
  • Low-hanging fruit on the “outreach” front:
    • Improving our website to reflect some specific feedback we’ve recently gotten.
    • Further conference calls and community events to discuss our research (rather than simply writing about it).
    • Any other opportunities we see to make reasonable potential gains on the “outreach” front without excessive investment on our part.

Leave a comment