with Spencer Greenberg
the podcast about ideas that matter

Episode 096: Why it's so hard to have confidence that charities are doing good (with Elie Hassenfeld)

March 17, 2022

How does GiveWell's approach to charity differ from other charitable organizations? Why does GiveWell list such a small number of recommended charities? How does GiveWell handle the fact that different moral frameworks measure causes differently? Why has GiveWell increased its preference for health-related causes over time? How does GiveWell weight QALYs and DALYs? How much does GiveWell rely on a priori moral philosophy versus people's actual moral intuitions? Why does GiveWell have such low levels of confidence in some of its most highly-recommended charities or interventions? What should someone do if they want to be more confident that their giving is actually having a positive impact? Why do expected values usually tend to drop as more information is gathered? How does GiveWell think about second-order effects? How much good does the median charity do? Why is it so hard to determine how impactful charities are? Many charities report on the effectiveness of individual projects, but why don't more of them report on their effectiveness overall as an organization? Venture capitalists often diversify their portfolios as much as possible because they know that, even though most startups will fail, one unicorn can repay their investments many times over; so, in a similar way, why doesn't GiveWell fund as many projects as possible rather than focusing on a few high performers? Why doesn't GiveWell recommend more animal charities? Does quantification sometimes go too far?

Elie Hassenfeld co-founded GiveWell in 2007 and currently serves as its CEO. He is responsible for setting GiveWell's strategic vision and has grown the organization into a leading funder in global health and poverty alleviation, directing over $500 million annually to high-impact giving opportunities. Since 2007, GiveWell has directed more than $1 billion to outstanding charities. Elie co-led the development of GiveWell's research methodology and guides the research team's agenda. He has also worked closely with donors to help them define their giving strategies and invest toward them. Prior to founding GiveWell, Elie worked in the hedge fund industry. He graduated from Columbia University in 2004 with a B.A. in religion.

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Host / Director
Spencer Greenberg

Josh Castle

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