Updates from Giving What We Can

post by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2015-11-27T15:04:48.219Z · EA · GW · Legacy · 11 comments


  Highlights & Key Numbers
  Key events
      Plans for July 2015 - June 2016
    Get Involved

At Giving What We Can, we're all about measuring impact. So, we regularly review our progress and activities. Here are some highlights from our 12 month period between July 2014 - June 2015.

We want to make sure that we're keeping members, donors, and the general public in the loop with what we've been doing, and what we've got planned for the future. If you need more detail, you can also download:

- The Giving What We Can review Jul 2014 - Jun 2015

- Our plan for the year ahead

Highlights & Key Numbers

From July 2014 - June 2015:

*   589 people took the pledge, more than doubling the number of members we had in June last year, which took us up to 1,118 members

*   New members pledged $170 million, bringing the total to $443 million 

*   Members reported that they  donated over $3.4 million

*   More than $1 million moved1 through the Trust to highly effective charities, donated by around 1400 donors2

*   15 new Giving What We Can chapters started around the world, bringing the total to around 40


Key events


Chapter Growth

We had a large surge in membership in December and January — 223 people joined in those two months alone (for comparison, that is nearly double the number who joined during the whole of 2013). This seemed to be spurred largely by a pledging event held by students linked with the chapter in Cambridge, and perhaps also by a rise in charitable activity associated with the giving season.

Around this time we realised it would be more efficient to move away from organising outreach events ourselves, towards supporting chapters to run these around the world. Jon Courtney, previously Director of Community, switched to Director of Outreach to focus more of his attention of chapters in March. 

As part of this new focus, in the first half of 2015 we supported the development of 15 new chapters, bring the total to around 40. We have also noted from Skype conversations with nearly 200 (15%) of our members that being able to connect with the community is important to many of us. Chapters therefore appear increasingly valuable not only as channels for reaching more people, but for supporting current members and sustaining the Giving What We Can community.


Pledge Wording

In November 2014 we changed the wording of our Pledge. Before this, the pledge specified that donations should be made to the most effective charities helping those in the developing world. We opened up the wording to make it more in line with the spirit which underlies Giving What We Can - that we should simply be helping others as much as we can. The change in wording allowed people who believe they can most effectively help others in ways other than fighting extreme poverty (or believe that that will be the case in future) to join. 

We chose to do this after several months consulting members and individuals within the effective altruism community. The community feeling within Giving What We Can seems to be unchanged. The benefits of the change are somewhat difficult to gauge so far. They will likely depend on the extent to which the effective altruism movement takes off and whether those affiliated with it do in fact end up joining and donating 10% to the most effective charities.


New Staff

In early 2015 we hired three new full-time staff; Alison Woodman joined as Director of Community and Hauke Hillebrandt became Director of Research in March. In April Sam Deere was appointed Director of Communications. 

Alison’s role will allow us to learn more about our current membership and therefore support our community, as well as track the impact we are having. Hauke is helping to develop a long-term research strategy and has written in-depth reports on each of our currently recommended charities. Sam is has been represented us in media appearances, talks and news articles, whilst also working on creating a new version of our website.


Important Lessons Learned

*   The full potential of chapters, particularly when they work on something they are really excited about – we estimate that the Cambridge pledge event led to 83 new members.

*   In research, our comparative advantage continues to be identifying crucial considerations, particularly those emerging from the academic literature – such as the link between soil-transmitted helminth infections and malaria. Continuing to keep up with these kinds of developments will therefore be a significant focus for us.

*   The usefulness of automating processes such as bookkeeping and some parts of outreach, and therefore the importance of having someone on staff with significant tech skills.

*   We have continued to be very fortunate in the volunteers we attract, which has been useful for research and for blog writing – not just our own, but also now for the Huffington Post. That is likely in part because of our excellent blog manager and in part because of being based in Oxford. Given the value this has brought, we should continue to try to be appealing for volunteers to work with.

*   We fundraised for our 2015 budget over a 2 month period in April - May. That was the wrong time of year from a tax perspective, and the long time frame meant we were uncertain about our financial position for a long time. We will therefore be fundraising for our 2016 budget over the first two weeks of December 2015.


Plans for July 2015 - June 2016

We recently released our 12 month plan for July 2015 to June 2016 which you can read in full here. Here’s a short summary of our goals and plans. Our primary metric for impact is number of members. We aim to have 2000 members by the end of June 2016.


Membership Pathway

Over this year a large part of our focus is going to be on improving our understanding of the journeys people take towards becoming members, and how we can improve them. We have developed a Pathway Model which makes explicit our underlying assumptions about how people move from being unaware of Giving What We Can to taking the Giving What We Can pledge, and offers suggestions of factors that influence whether they will advance through any of the intermediate steps.

Below are the main steps we have mapped out which influence the paths people to go through on the way to becoming members:

A) Making people aware of Giving What We Can and effective giving

B) Generating interest in hearing more 

C) Inspiring people to want to get involved

D) Encouraging people to become a part of Giving What We Can

E) Supporting people to remain long-term active members

It is likely that it will be higher value to put in work at some points of the pathway than others. One reason for this is the relative crowdedness of the different parts.

At the moment we are not planning to spend as much time on increasing awareness about effective giving and Giving What We Can as we are on later parts of the pathway. There are currently a number of people focusing on media attention for effective altruism and the relevant organisations, through books, mass media and conferences.

Two of the biggest ways in which we think we can contribute here are encouraging in-person meet-up groups and supporting people at later stages of the pathway. Supporting people at later stages of involvement seems more likely to be our comparative advantage, as it often requires long-term follow-up and time-consuming outreach to individual people, which volunteers are less likely to be in a good position to do.



We are currently in the process of carrying out a recruitment round, looking for both a research analyst and at least one person in an outreach role. The number of applicants we take will likely depend both on the quality of applications we receive, and how our fundraising goes.



We will be opening another round of fundraising at the beginning of December in order to raise our budget for 2016. In the next month we will be updating our impact evaluation estimates with recently-gathered data about donations made during 2014.


Get Involved

As always we’d love for more people to get involved in whatever ways they can. Here are just a few ideas:


*   Join a local group, or get in touch with Jon about setting one up if there isn’t one nearby

*   Write for our blog. We’re always looking for people who are enthusiastic about writing for our blog. Whether or not you have a clear idea of what you’d like to write about, get in touch with Carolina, our blog manager, if you’d be interested.

*   Give us feedback. If you have comments about our website, community support, research, local groups or any other aspect of our work, we’d always welcome them. You can send feedback to information@givingwhatwecan.org


1. $655,000 came through the main donation page advertised on our website, $258,000 via a separate link posted GiveWell’s website, and $155,000 from other sources such as payroll giving platforms.

2. We estimate around 18% of these donors have taken the pledge or are doing try giving, and the remaining 80% are additional donors.


Cross-posted from Giving What We Can


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by tomstocker · 2015-12-02T21:58:22.813Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks MIchelle, great to hear about your continuing fantastic work!

"In research, our comparative advantage continues to be identifying crucial considerations"

feels a little tautological/vague to me. Is there a particular interpretation of crucial considerations you were going for? Am I reading it right in thinking that you're key contribution here is challenging givewell's methods and joining the dots a bit more?

Replies from: ImmaSix
comment by ImmaSix · 2015-12-06T11:52:58.969Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Could you elaborate a bit more about GWWC's comparative advantage in research? What is GWWC in a good position to do, and what could better be done by e.g. GiveWell or academic research?

Replies from: HaukeHillebrandt
comment by Hauke Hillebrandt (HaukeHillebrandt) · 2015-12-07T13:39:32.577Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Tom and Imma,

thanks for the questions.

One example of crucial considerations are disease interactions that might have the potential to significantly influence the cost-effectiveness analyses of charities. One such disease interaction is that of deworming with malaria, which is obviously really relevant and important given that we recommend both malaria and deworming charities. We've reviewed the literature on this interaction this year and it turns out that deworming for STH might have some protective effects against malaria and thus deworming might increase malaria. Givewell has picked up on this and cited our review in their latest review of deworming: http://www.givewell.org/international/technical/programs/deworming#header-3

even if this interaction didn't turn out to be all too worrying, it could be a near miss (obviously if the effect size of this interaction would have been bigger, it would have been more likely to be on everyone's radar, but still).

And yes, even though we think very highly of Givewell and their research output, we also think that it is good to have at least one other independent source in this space.

Academic research is not usually doing what we do. They are reviewing the theoretical cost-effectiveness of an intervention to inform policy of big organisations in development. We are trying to bridge the gap between the scientific literature's theoretical cost-effectiveness estimates and the effectiveness of particular organisations. Also, the research field of cost-effectiveness research is still very young and even though some researchers are doing cost-effectiveness estimates in their particular field (e.g. estimating the cost-effectiveness of vaccines), there are few people who specialize in getting an overview of the different estimates and compare them. One exception is the DCP (DCP-3.org), but then again they are quite theoretical in the sense that their estimates are averages of big scale interventions that cater towards bigger organisations and health ministries.

Generally, even when discarding these considerations, there are good reasons for us having in-house expertise by research analysts: in order to communicate with our members and the general public professionally we need deep understanding of the topic for fact checking our materials and remain credible, which you can only get by doing some research on the topic ourselves.

This is what we write in our upcoming impact evaluation on our research: "Since our members are now consistently donating millions of dollars to effective charities each year, it is crucial that we continue to increase our in-house expertise on charity effectiveness. We must continually inform and fact-check our outreach and marketing, represent Giving What We Can at scientific conferences and meetings, talk to other key players in the development sector on eye-level, and, most importantly, ensure that we always recommend the most effective charities to our members. It is vital for us to stay abreast of relevant findings coming from both academic and non-academic sources, and to communicate these findings to our audience in an accurate and accessible manner. We are planning on hiring for one more full time equivalent research position. There are three reasons for wanting to increase our research capacity. First, due to increasing interest in effective altruism from the public, the media and potential members, we receive an increasing volume of questions about charity effectiveness, and these need to be answered swiftly and competently. There is also increasing demand for our researchers to give talks and answer questions on the results of their research; while this is excellent for our profile, it does place strain on our capacity. Secondly, as Giving What We Can grows and moves more money, our responsibility as stewards of donations becomes greater: we need to remain confident in the charities we recommend and scale up our research capacity accordingly. Granted that Givewell, another charity evaluator, has become increasingly professionalized, we still think that it is important to have at least one other organisation conducting research and keeping up with the literature on charity effectiveness. Finally, the community as a whole has blind spots on topics such as climate change, and it is imperative that we dedicate time to the issue. The distinctive feature of the effective altruism community is that we use evidence and analysis to come to decisions on where to donate; we cannot afford to leave serious gaps simply because of the time commitment required to look into them."

Replies from: HaukeHillebrandt
comment by Hauke Hillebrandt (HaukeHillebrandt) · 2015-12-07T19:06:08.866Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

One other benefit of our research is that we sometimes advise donors who are thinking about donating a substantial amount of money on where best to donate effectively. Sometimes these reports are tailor-made because donors have hard requirements and want to donate within a particular cause area. Often we think this is very effective use of our time, because we can influence a large amount of money.

comment by Peter Wildeford (Peter_Hurford) · 2015-11-28T04:54:49.237Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Michelle,

Thanks for doing this update. It's really great to hear about GWWC regularly, and I'm glad it's doing so well!

I'm curious how GWWC is driving the increase in membership. That's amazing! Are a lot of people signing via chapters, or do they come from somewhere else as well? The link you sent out about membership pathways, https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/about-us/pathway-to-membership, isn't working for me.

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2015-11-28T13:34:42.823Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Peter, Unfortunately, it's not as easy as you'd expect to find that out. In some cases we can tell fairly well what the ultimate nudge was. For example, Marinella has been writing to people who went to EA global but weren't gwwc members to chat to them about how they heard about gwwc and whether they were interested in getting more involved with it. In 100 hours of doing that, 8 people she wrote to joined gwwc following their conversation. We also ask both in joining forms, and in conversation once people have joined, how people initially found out about gwwc and whether there was some particular nudge that led them to join. People often don't remember either, and comparing the two methods indicates that neither are super reliable - eg often people don't mention a chapter in their join form, but do turn out to be part of one when they skype with Alison. So, chapters do seem to be very signficant, but it's hard to know how much so. That's particularly so because the route from there being a chapter to members joining can be somewhat circuitous. The pledge event in Cambridge last December which resulted in at least 80 members who wouldn't otherwise have joined was actually not run by the cambridge chapter, or even people who were involved with the chapter. On the other hand, the people who ran the pledge event knew about gwwc because of the cambridge chapter, so the chapter was a sine qua non of the 80 new members. 'Heard through a friend' comes up a lot (about a third of people), but it's not clear how often that friend is part of a chapter. The pathway picture on the GWWC blog post (https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/post/2015/11/highlights-from-2015/) show the percentatages of people that cite various different things as their first hearing of gwwc. You might also be interested in reading Alison's doc summarising things she learned from skyping her first 100 members (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1duBwFwxKpXJ8hZNIJlsz_nRRJ4btPg4Nzkvgvoq88CM/edit). She'll be doing an updated one of these in Dec or Jan. Sorry that link's not working! I'll looking into it.

Replies from: Peter_Hurford
comment by Peter Wildeford (Peter_Hurford) · 2015-11-28T17:18:35.729Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! I'll definitely try to look more into this at some point. :)

For the pathways, this link that I found elsewhere works: https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/sites/givingwhatwecan.org/files/attachments/givingwhatwecanpathway.pdf

comment by AlasdairGives · 2015-11-30T21:46:12.088Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am surprised the number of people donating via the trust but who are not GWWC members is so high. This 80% seems like a fertile source either of new members or a worrying statistic about the number of people who become aware of EA ideas but do not wish to change their behaviour to the extent of signing the pledge and I am not sure which

Replies from: aliwoodman
comment by aliwoodman · 2015-12-01T14:48:36.256Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Alasdair, The question of whether this group represents a good source of potential members is something we plan to look into in the New Year when we have increased our staff.

However, if it turns out this is not the case, I'm not sure that this should worry us. It could be for instance that they are simply a somewhat different demographic than most of our members meaning they're less likely to feel able to commit 10%, but nevertheless have taken onboard and acted on ideas about charity effectiveness. In any case it seems to make sense that there would overall be more people willing to donate to top charities than there are people willing to sign the pledge, since this is a bigger ask.

NB. I work at Giving What We Can :)

Replies from: Tom_Ash
comment by Tom_Ash · 2015-12-01T19:38:06.485Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yep, and the GWWC Trust is the official way to donate to GiveDirectly from the UK right? That could account for some of the donors.

I likewise don't think it's worrying or surprising that many people who choose to donate to effective charities don't give 10% of their income - like you say, that's a pretty big ask.

comment by ImmaSix · 2015-12-06T12:01:32.141Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

GWWC would like to focus on the later stages of the membership pathway, like long-term involvement. What does GWWC do for people who have been a member for a long time? What is the relative importance of that, compared to involving potential members and new members? Is losing members a significant risk?