Website to watch

GiveWell – more change for your dollar

I saw this website when it was first launched in 2006 and I’ve watched its development ever since. It was created by some (twenty-something i.e., Gen Y) refugees from the hedge fund industry who wanted to apply their tools of investment analysis, investigation and comparison to charities and to saving lives. When they started, they made assumptions that were flawed and ran into all sorts of difficulties but what I found remarkable was that they were completely transparent about their failings through it all. They have a section, Our shortcomings, which archives all their mea culpa’s and apologies. They learnt on the job and the transparency is a credit to them and mirrors the transparency they want to see develop in the charitable sector if it is to live up to its promise and intentions of saving and improving lives.

So what is GiveWell? It’s an independent, nonprofit charity evaluator. They describe themselves as finding ‘outstanding giving opportunities and publish the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give’. Their point of difference is that unlike existing evaluators, ‘which focus solely on financials, assessing administrative or fundraising costs, we focus on how well programs actually work – i.e. their effects on the people they serve’.

We all know how complex and challenging this impact measurement is and so hats off to them. It is surely a model which will grow in importance in global philanthropy. The rationale for GiveWell is that even in the US, land of ‘billanthropy’ or the sport of billionaires, individual donors give more than 100 times each year what the Gates Foundation spends. And individuals are not provided with any quality information on outcomes in making these choices. GiveWell’s mission is to ‘create a global, public, open conversation about how best to help people’.

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