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RS38 - Holden Karnofsky on Evidence-based Philanthropy

Release date: July 3, 2011

Our guest Holden Karnofsky joins us to discuss Givewell, the nonprofit organization he founded. Givewell is devoted to investigating charities and NGOs to determine how much of an impact they’re having. You could call it “evidence-based philanthropy.” He discusses how Givewell evaluates charities, and what the research has to say about various controversies as well as the conventional wisdom in the nonprofit world: Can large charities be efficient? Is the percentage of the donation that goes to expenses really a useful metric? Should we focus on problems closer to home instead of giving to foreign countries? Do microfinance NGOs like Kiva or Grameen Bank live up to their claims? And should or can charities be evaluated objectively?

Comment on the episode teaser.

Holden's picks: "Core Economics", "More Than Good Intentions", and "Portfolios of the Poor".

Reader Comments (6)

I found the guest extremely well-spoken and rational.

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Esres

Holden was lucid and articulate. I appreciate this podcast for directing me to the GiveWell website, from which I now donate with confidence.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGus

Glad to hear it, both of you! The more people I meet from Givewell, the more impressed I am with their rationality.

November 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Galef

the recommendation is not 'Core Economics' but 'Poor Economics' by Esther Duflo & Abhijit W. Banerjee. Her YouTube talk (by Esther Duflo) covers 3 subjects with Ariely-type rigour of evidence based solutions to identify optimum delivery of international aid. (Vaccine, Malaria Nets, Education). I expect Holden has as lucid, cogent and inspiring review of international aid as he does charity. Coincidentally i listened to informative fourthought Gordon Bridger(How I Failed to Save The World Or Forty Years of Foreign Aid)08 Feb 2

May 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnt Bovill
I'm suspicious of any Organization that is dealing with a big amount of Money. I feel that it will always get in the way of what the ultimate goal was trying to achieve. It only makes things more complicated than they need to be by 'muddying the water' as ethical practices fall behind sharp business protocols. I just wish there was a better way to get the direct tangible resources to the places that need it the most .
November 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
Very interesting that the quest for charitable budgetary "efficiency" has led to insufficient staff salaries and poor program management, thus leading to lower efficacy and thus lower actual efficiency.

So sad the microfinance trend hasn't worked out well. Poor people probably really need gifts, not loans.

Givewell seems like a charity selection company that functions sort of like a Venture Capital Firm or Hedge Fund.
January 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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