When you go to GiveWell's Donate page, one of the questions is,

How should we use your gift? We may use unrestricted gifts to support our operations or to make grants, at our discretion:

And you can choose the options:

  • Grants to recommended charities

  • Unrestricted donation

I notice I'm reluctant to pick "Unrestricted," fearing my donation might be "wasted" on GiveWell's operations, instead of going right to the charity. But that seems kind of strange. Choosing "Unrestricted" gives GiveWell strictly more options than choosing "Grants to recommended charities" because "Unrestricted" allows them to use the money either for their own operations, or just send it to the charities anyway. So as long as I trust GiveWell's decision-making process, "Unrestricted" is the best choice. And I presumably do trust GiveWell's decision-making, since I'm giving away some money based on their say-so. But I'm nevertheless inclined to hit "Grants to recommended charities," despite, like, mathematical proof that that's not the best option.

Can we talk about this a little? How can I get less confused?

Showing 3 of 4 replies (Click to show all)

Holden has written about donation restrictions on the GiveWell blog back in 2009 (bold and italics in original):

  • We would guess that cases fitting the conditions for “meaningful restricted funding” are rare – i.e., when you give to a multiprogram organization, your donation usually will expand what they want to expand, regardless of how you restrict it.
  • We have a general aversion to restricting donations. It seems like “micromanaging” an organization in this way is asking for trouble: the charity may avoid your intentions using technicalities or spend th
... (read more)
4mindspillage5yI wouldn't make a restricted donation to a charity unless there was a cause I really cared about but I didn't think the charity behind it was well-run and I didn't know a better way of helping that cause. I do not consider money to keep a good charity running as "wasted"--if anything I am deeply dubious of any charity which claims to have minimal to no administration costs, because it's either untrue (the resources to manage it effectively must come from somewhere, maybe from the founders' own personal resources) or a likely sign of bad management (they think that skimping on the funds needed to manage it effectively in the name of maximizing the basket of "program expenses" is a good organizational strategy). An organization that I think is well-run wants to spend on its cause as much as possible, but is mindful of needing to spend on itself also. If it cannot spend on itself--to hire good staff, to have good training, to use resources that cost money and save time, to plan its strategy and maintain regulatory compliance, to do whatever else an efficient organization needs to do--how can it possibly have the capacity to spend well on its programs? The money to sustain that charity is providing for its cause to be effectively addressed now and into the future. "Unrestricted" says that you believe GiveWell is competent to make these allocations correctly between itself and its recommended charities. For GiveWell in particular, if you do not believe they can do this, why do you think they can evaluate other charities' effectiveness? Presumably you want to give to the other charities because GiveWell has told you they are worth it, because you think GiveWell is competent at assessing organizational effectiveness. (For other charities, I would have lower expectations for assessment ability--but still I expect that I want to give to one in particular because it is effective at spending for its cause. There are few causes where you do not have much choice of how to di
2DanielLC5yThere's a big difference between trusting someone about a third party and trusting someone about themselves.

Open thread, Dec. 15 - Dec. 21, 2014

by Gondolinian 1 min read15th Dec 2014309 comments


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