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Re: Bandwagon versus contrarian giving?

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  • rachaelbarrett10
    The GiveWell analysis approach holds true in the long run. Today, IRC blogged about the need to remember and donate on behalf of efforts to address current
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 30, 2010
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      The GiveWell analysis approach holds true in the long run. Today, IRC blogged about the need to remember and donate on behalf of efforts to address current "man-made" disasters, e.g. DRC. 

      We need to mine the results of research and analysis and commentary post Tsunami relief response. The blog: Good Intentions are Not Enough posted a collection of different research, commentary on the Tsunami and the philanthropy-relief nexus, as recommended by ALNAP. Here is the link: http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/research/

      --- In givewell@yahoogroups.com, Brian Slesinsky <bslesinsky@...> wrote:
      >
      > GiveWell's analysis of which charities are doing the most good seems
      > to assume a slowly-changing landscape where analysis done now is
      > likely to still be mostly valid for a few years. But at the moment,
      > lots of people are donating to charities that work in Haiti. It seems
      > like what other people are doing should be taken into account.
      >
      > It's possible that there's a bandwagon or critical-mass effect, that a
      > large number of donations concentrated in one country could have a
      > major impact. There might be a lot of waste or misdirected donations
      > due to problems with coordination, but the impact of well-targeted
      > donations might be improved because other people are donating to
      > related causes, resulting in increasing returns for everyone. A
      > well-prepared organization such as Partners in Health might take
      > advantage of the opportunity to have a higher impact.
      >
      > On the other hand, if you think there are diminishing returns, a
      > better strategy is to look for overlooked charities in other countries
      > that might be getting less money than usual because of the attention
      > on Haiti - or perhaps look for opportunities to continue the work
      > started after a previous crisis.
      >
      > Any thoughts on this?
      >
      > - Brian
      >
    • Holden Karnofsky
      Interesting question; thanks. I think it s important to highlight that we ve emphasized the role of others funding in the research we ve done. We look for
      Message 2 of 4 , Feb 1, 2010
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        Interesting question; thanks.

        I think it's important to highlight that we've emphasized the role of others' funding in the research we've done.  We look for initiatives that have enough other support to be stable and scalable, yet are still highly underfunded in the sense that they can be scaled up further.  I think the cost-effectiveness estimates for our top charities are outstanding, reflecting (partly) the fact that they are in exactly this state of being stable/doable but underfunded.  

        That said, sudden changes in external events (as in Haiti) and in others' funding decisions (also as in Haiti) could, in theory, lead to sudden and temporary opportunities for donors to do even better.

        However:
        • There's a big question as to how practical it is for individual/casual donors to capitalize on such opportunities.  Our goal isn't to examine every opportunity possible, but to find great opportunities that can be reasonably presented to individual/casual donors, and that means to some extent focusing on the "easiest" options.  Foundations with their own research staffs may be better positioned to take advantage of sudden and temporary opportunities.
        • As argued at http://blog.givewell.net/2010/01/29/haiti-earthquake-relief-seems-less-cost-effective-than-everyday-international-aid/ , we don't feel that Haiti relief specifically offers an unusually good opportunity for donors - at least in terms of the "overall" cost-effectiveness of the total effort.  As Brian points out, a particular outstanding organization working on the relief effort could still have great cost-effectiveness, but this leaves us where we were before: we haven't yet identified any such charities, and recommend the ones we have identified as outstanding in general (http://www.givewell.net/charities/top-charities) until and unless we determine that a particular disaster relief charity is strong.
        We are planning more work on disaster relief, and we may come up with some way of identifying when a disaster leads to an unusually good opportunity.  But broadly, I think the opportunities we've found are very strong in terms of being neither financially non-viable nor overfunded.

        On Sat, Jan 30, 2010 at 1:40 PM, Brian Slesinsky <bslesinsky@...> wrote:
         

        Oops, after sending this I see that there's a new blog post about Haiti:

        Calculating the overall funding per person is useful for getting an
        overall picture but not entirely convincing. Suppose there are two
        organizations working in a region and one is very cost-effective while
        the other one spends a lot of money without much impact. If we average
        them then we wouldn't see the opportunity for funding the
        more-effective organization.


        On Fri, Jan 29, 2010 at 11:25 PM, Brian Slesinsky <brian@...> wrote:
        > GiveWell's analysis of which charities are doing the most good seems
        > to assume a slowly-changing landscape where analysis done now is
        > likely to still be mostly valid for a few years. But at the moment,
        > lots of people are donating to charities that work in Haiti. It seems
        > like what other people are doing should be taken into account.
        >
        > It's possible that there's a bandwagon or critical-mass effect, that a
        > large number of donations concentrated in one country could have a
        > major impact. There might be a lot of waste or misdirected donations
        > due to problems with coordination, but the impact of well-targeted
        > donations might be improved because other people are donating to
        > related causes, resulting in increasing returns for everyone. A
        > well-prepared organization such as Partners in Health might take
        > advantage of the opportunity to have a higher impact.
        >
        > On the other hand, if you think there are diminishing returns, a
        > better strategy is to look for overlooked charities in other countries
        > that might be getting less money than usual because of the attention
        > on Haiti - or perhaps look for opportunities to continue the work
        > started after a previous crisis.
        >
        > Any thoughts on this?
        >
        > - Brian
        >


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