Reflecting on our progress in 2019

by GiveWell 3 min read22nd May 2020No comments

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GiveWell grew significantly in 2019. We hired 13 full-time staff members, bringing our total size to 37, and expanded our ability to take on new projects across domains. We feel positioned to do more and better work going forward as a result.

We see a strong indication that the amount of funding we directed to our recommended charities increased last year, too. While we haven't reconciled all giving from 2019, the value of donations we processed increased by about 30% in 2019.

We're proud of what we accomplished in 2019. We also fell short of some goals last year. Most notably, we failed to make as much progress as we planned in researching new areas of global health and poverty alleviation.

This blog post provides a brief look at our key successes and failures last year. A more detailed accounting of how our progress in 2019 compared to the goals we set is available on this page.

Successes

Hiring new staff

Years of planning for our needs and recruiting efforts culminated in hiring 13 new staff to join our small team in 2019. GiveWell ended last year over 50% bigger than it was at the end of 2018.

We hired across the domains of our work: seven joined the research team, two joined the outreach team, three joined the operations team, and one will serve as Managing Director. We expect each staff member will enable us to accomplish more and achieve better outcomes across these key areas of our work. Below, we highlight a few senior hires whom we expect to help steer the direction of our work.

  • Managing Director. We hired Neil Buddy Shah as our first Managing Director in late 2019. Buddy will work closely with GiveWell's CEO Elie Hassenfeld to set GiveWell's high-level strategy. He will also engage with the international development community to learn from and contribute to discussions of how to do as much good as possible and to identify promising funding opportunities. We expect Buddy to start at GiveWell this summer.
  • Research. We've been looking to hire senior researchers to expand our ability to assess new types of evidence since 2016. We described in early 2019 how our research is evolving and how we hoped to hire additional experienced researchers to enable us to do this work. We hired Alex Cohen and Teryn Mattox as Senior Fellows in 2019.
  • Outreach. We've gradually been expanding our outreach work since 2017. In 2019, Steph Stojanovic and Jim Bobowski joined GiveWell as a Major Gifts Officer and VP of Marketing, respectively, and will lead our future work on donor retention and acquisition.
  • Operations. Our Director of Operations, Whitney Shinkle, who joined GiveWell in 2018, built out her team by bringing on three new staff members in 2019.

GiveWell's expansion enables us to improve in each area of our work. For example, we hope to make progress this year on evaluating new research areas as well as looking for new, cost-effective room for more funding in the areas in which we've traditionally worked. We also expect to increase the amount of money we direct to our recommended charities with our expanded outreach team.

Increasing the amount of funding we direct to recommended charities

We see an early indication that we directed more money to our recommended charities in 2019 than we did the previous year: the value of donations we processed in 2019 grew by around 30%.

Directing funding to our recommended charities is one of the main metrics to which we hold ourselves accountable. We aim to grow the amount of money we move to our top charities each year.

The "donations we processed" figure doesn't account for the donations that were made through our partner organizations and directly to our recommended charities, but we think it's a good sign of our continued influence last year. We'll share the final figure later this year, once we have more information.

Shortcomings

Making progress in understanding new areas of research

In May 2019, we wrote that we planned to make progress on exploring new areas of research in 2019. In particular, we planned to focus on public health regulation and ways to support government aid agencies. [1] Due to shifting responsibilities among the research team, we did not make progress in this area last year.

We had planned for a single staff member to focus on this work. As this person's responsibilities evolved throughout the year, they were unable to dedicate significant time to this project. This led us to deprioritize making progress in this area.

Conclusion

The above highlights don't tell the full story of what we achieved---we had a busy year! Listing everything we worked on in 2019 would lead to a very long post. But, to briefly share a few other interesting projects (this list is non-exhaustive):

  • We published research on moral weights. This was the culmination of over two years of research and will inform and improve our ability to make difficult tradeoffs in our funding decisions going forward.
  • We recommended a $1 million Incubation Grant to support the work of Fortify Health on whole wheat flour iron fortification in India. We believe Fortify Health, a young organization, may one day become a GiveWell top charity.
  • Four staff members visited Malaria Consortium, our current top recommendation for donors, to deepen our understanding of its seasonal malaria chemoprevention work in Burkina Faso.

We're proud of what we accomplished last year and look forward to sharing our plans for 2020 in a forthcoming post. Additional details on our 2019 goals and progress are available here.


  1. "We plan to look into several new areas in 2019, including public health regulation and possible paths to support government aid agencies.... We also plan to continue our investigation into possible paths to support government aid agencies; in particular, we plan to complete an investigation into an opportunity to do so in the area of results-based financing." GiveWell blog, GiveWell's plans for 2019, May 16, 2019 ↩︎

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