GiveWell’s Self-Promotion

GiveWell promises to be the “world’s first completely transparent charitable grant maker.” But a recent effort by the organization’s co-founder, Holden Karnofsky, to promote GiveWell has forced him to apologize for being less than open with the public.

On his organization’s blog, Mr. Karnofsky writes that he had a “horrible lapse of judgment” by hiding his identity on Metafilter, an online message board. In anonymous messages, he asked for ideas on how to choose a charity to support and then “answered” by touting GiveWell’s evaluations of nonprofit groups.

The act of self-promotion was uncovered by Metafilter members and deleted because it violates the Web site’s rules.

Tim Ogden, a GiveWell board member, writes on
Metafilter that the incident will be discussed at the next board meeting. “Speaking entirely for myself, I believe this to be a quite serious issue because of the conflict between what Holden did here, and the goals of GiveWell to encourage more information, more transparency and more real accountability in charitable giving,” he writes.

Mr. Ogden also praises Mr. Karnofsky’s intentions and his effort to notify the board promptly of the questionable move. Lucy Bernholz, another GiveWell board member, also defends Mr. Karnofsky on her blog.

Phil Cubeta, a financial and charitable-giving adviser and author of the Gift Hub blog, writes that Mr. Karnofsky doesn’t need to be raked over the coals for too long for this. “Let us forgive Holden, once he has taken the lesson to heart, as we would hope to be forgiven in our turn. His talent it too great for him to be sent to the Dumpster forever,” he writes.

What do you think? Will the incident hurt GiveWell’s reputation? Or is it a minor incident? Share your views by clicking on the “comments” link below.

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