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Re: [givewell] Fwd: Cooperation incentives for charities

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  • Elie Hassenfeld
    Hi Ian, It was more that transparency incentives in general were not a good enough reason to recommend funding. -Elie ... Hi Ian, It was more that transparency
    Message 1 of 5 , Dec 30, 2012
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      Hi Ian,

      It was more that transparency incentives in general were not a good enough reason to recommend funding.


      On Sun, Dec 30, 2012 at 11:15 PM, Ian David Moss <mossinator@...> wrote:

      Thanks, Elie, I appreciate the response. I am curious, though, about why you decided against recommending for the sake of transparency. Was there new information about VillageReach specifically that caused you to re-evaluate, or was it more that the logic you cite below made you feel that transparency incentives, in general, were not a good enough reason to recommend funding?

      On Sun, Dec 30, 2012 at 10:28 PM, Elie Hassenfeld <elie@...> wrote:

      Hi Ian,

      We have continued to follow VillageReach and did consider potentially recommending funding for them for the sake of "transparency incentives." 

      I don't think it's accurate to say that VillageReach is suffering because it was too honest with a funder. The only thing VillageReach coud have done to maintain its rating was to continue being transparent with us. If it had withheld information, we wouldn't have recommended it. Instead, because it continues to be transparent, we continue to publish information about it, and some (albeit a small proportion) of our donors continue to support it. The fact that these donors maintained their support reduces the problem you're bringing up.

      It's also worth noting that VillageReach received over $2 million as a result of GiveWell's recommendation. I'd guess that the message most non-profits would takeaway were they to consider VillageReach's case is that by being transparent VillageReach gained significant funding that it otherwise would not have. VillageReach has also been reasonably successful raising funds for other initiatives, so there's no evidence that its transparency has harmed it.


      On Sun, Dec 30, 2012 at 11:48 AM, Ian David Moss <ian.moss@...> wrote:

      Hi guys,
      On a related note, I'm getting ready to donate to GW's recommended charities and have been thinking a bit about VillageReach. In your July 26 blog post, you stated that while your view of the effectiveness of VR's pilot project has changed, "we continue to view VillageReach as a highly transparent “learning organization” (capable of conducting its activities in a way that can lead to learning). Over the past few years, VillageReach has provided us with the source data behind its evaluations enabling us to do our own in depth analysis and draw our own conclusions. That work has contributed to our own growing ability to evaluate impact evaluations and determine the level of reliance that can be placed on them. We will be talking with VillageReach about how more funding could contribute to more experimentation and learning, and we will likely be interested in recommending such funding – to encourage such outstanding transparency and accountability, and learn more in the future."

      Later on in the post, you write:

      "Groups like VillageReach are creating a new dialogue around charitable giving, and it’s important to us that this type of behavior is supported. We want to encourage VillageReach and other groups to share information about how their programs are going, and we want to continue to see more experimentation and learning. So, we are seriously considering recommending donations to VillageReach, not despite the struggles it’s had but because it’s had these struggles and is being honest about them."

      These sentiments are very nice and make a lot of sense to me, but it doesn't seem like the plan to recommend funding (even on a limited basis) to reward VillageReach's honesty and experimentation ever materialized. As Vipul notes, the laser-like focus on the top 3 charities does make it seem like VR has effectively been "de-funded" by GiveWell. I feel that the need to support experimentation and learning is important, and the lack of follow-through here sends the message, whether intentionally or not, that VR was too honest with a funder and now is suffering for it. Your thoughts?


      On Thu, Dec 27, 2012 at 7:52 PM, Alexander Berger <alexander.is@...> wrote:

      We thought this exchange about our shift away from emphasizing the "standouts" list might be of some general interest:

      Vipul Naik wrote to us, asking:

      Dear GiveWell folk,

      I've been thinking a bit about the change you introduced this year
      regarding discontinuing the list of standout charities and
      domain-specific top recommendations on your main page and
      concentrating all your energies on your top three recommendations. I'm
      wondering how this affects the incentives for charities to cooperate
      with you in the review process.

      One possibility that occurred to me is that charities will be more
      likely to view cooperating with GiveWell as a high-upfront-cost,
      very-low-probability-of-reward endeavor, which may make them reluctant
      to cooperate with you. In the past, making it to a list of standout
      charities or domain-specific top recommendations might have been
      sufficient incentive to cooperate with GiveWell. With the new system,
      there are few immediate payoffs for a charity unless it's convinced it
      can make it to the top list.

      I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On the plus side,
      it means that charities that aren't really a good fit for GiveWell
      would self-select out of getting reviewed. On the other hand, some
      charities that hold promise for the long term but are unlikely to get
      a high rating at present may be put off by the process, so you may not
      get an opportunity to follow their progress from the time of inception
      to the time that they may be ripe for getting a good rating.

      Of course, it's possible that I am wrong about this and that
      charities' incentive to cooperate is not much affected by the changes
      in your recommendation style.

      One small change I could think of, however, might be worth
      considering. In your reviews of charities that you decide not to
      recommend, you might add two tiny sections:

      (1) What kind of new evidence would change your mind and make you
      re-investigate the charity?

      (2) With the existing evidence, are there other reasonable priors
      (normative or descriptive) that people may have that make the charity
      worth donating to?

      The presence of these sections could help make your reviews more
      useful to people who want to gain knowledge of a charity and are
      already strongly considering donating to it, while requiring minimum
      additional effort on your part. It also gives charities some idea of
      the kind of things they'd need to do in order to convince you of their
      utility. With both of these, charities have more to gain from getting
      reviewed by you and linking to your reviews of them.


      We responded:

      Hi Vipul,

      We don't expect to see big changes in the kinds of participation we're getting from charities as a result of this switch. Although it does obviously decrease the number of organizations receiving significant funds as a result of GiveWell's recommendations, we don't think it materially impacts the expected value of a recommendation (since we don't think it will have much impact on the total money moved), and we also doubt that charities considering our process are doing complex expected value calculations. More importantly, we've observed a substantial increase in our access due to our growing influence, and we expect that to dwarf the impact of this change. (It's also worth noting that we only want engagement from promising charities, and we think that such charities are more likely to see that they have a shot at the top spot.)

      Nonetheless, we think both of your specific proposals are worth considering:
      1. For most organizations we look at, we don't see realistic short term steps that would lead us to a recommendation, but in the past we've tried to communicate privately with organizations where that has been the case (e.g. GiveDirectly, Cochrane) and have seen some success; we'll think about trying to make that feedback more public, but if we do it's likely to be for a small subset of organizations.
      2. Our reviews of most charities we recommend receive very little traffic, so we're hesitant to spend much more time on them. That said, we're considering trying to do more to foreground organizations that we haven't investigated as deeply but believe may be as good as some of our recommended organizations, depending on donor values or preferences.
      Thanks for the question and happy holidays!


      Alexander Berger
      Research Analyst

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