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Comment author: aeschenkarnos 25 December 2010 02:09:46PM 0 points [-]

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 http://www.givewell.org/international/top-charities/villagereach/donate 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 author: alexanderis 26 December 2010 01:00:52AM *  6 points [-]

I don't know what metric you're using to determine whether CN or GiveWell has a significantly higher online profile, but "charitynavigator.org" returns ten times as many hits on Google as "givewell.org"

No doubt about it, Charity Navigator evaluates more charities, but they're able to do so because they use a substantially less rigorous methodology. They carry out a fundamentally different function: they're a watchdog group, aiming to avoid fraud, while GiveWell conducts research to try to find excellent charities, a much more difficult task. (Looks like Yvain makes this point above).

Because it's younger and appeals to a smaller group of people that want to maximize their impact, GiveWell moves substantially less money than Charity Navigator (though it's growing).

Edit: I've been a fan of the GiveWell project for quite some time, and have an informal agreement to join GiveWell as an employee in mid-2011. I'm a student and was commenting simply on my own behalf, without any discussion with GiveWell. After Holden commented, I emailed him to say that I had commented, and he recommended that I disclose my plan to work for them.

Comment author: clarissethorn 25 December 2010 05:42:06AM *  16 points [-]

The second point is something that really gets me. It seems to me that rather than feeling bad about donating to one charity rather than a more efficient or more "important" other charity, we should feel bad about spending money on frivolities rather than donating to charity. Nonprofit organizations are forced to compete against each other for slender resources in many ways, including donor dollars -- why can't they compete against things that have less moral value instead? It would be awesome if there were more social pressure to donate to charity rather than going to the movies or buying pretty clothes.

Interestingly, however, there is some social stigma against donating "too much". A few years ago, there was a New York gentleman who donated a much larger than "normal" percentage of his money to charity, as well as his kidney, plus some other stuff. (I'm sorry, I really wish I could remember his name, but I am very sure I have these details correct, because I read a lot about it at the time.) People speculated in the press about his mental status and other children mocked his kids at school, although his family was hardly left poor by the experience, and his health was not endangered.

In terms of the point in the OP about the lawyer who should be working overtime rather than volunteering ... I struggle with this so much. I spend most of my time doing activism, and I have friends who spend more time than I do (who do things like take very low-paying part-time jobs in order to finance spending most of their time doing activism), but most of us are sex-positive activists, and sex-positive activism is arguably an extremely "low priority" type of activism. If we are concerned about saving more lives, for example, then we should be dedicating our time to other types of activism, or we should be using our intelligence to get awesome jobs and then spending the money on charity. However, I (for one) have tried dedicating all my time to doing activism that seemed "more important" (HIV in Africa) rather than the activism that is most interesting to me (various types of sexuality stuff in America), and I was both less happy and less effective. I am also very sure that I would be unhappy if I dedicated my considerable IQ to becoming a corporate bitch and then donating lots of money, rather than working directly on the issues I care about.

Additionally, it is undeniable that someone has to work on the issues I care about, or else who would I donate money to even if I had a lot of it?

Comment author: alexanderis 25 December 2010 07:27:14PM 4 points [-]

I think the guy you're thinking of is Zell Kravinsky.