GiveWell April 22, 2008 7:32 PM   Subscribe

The GiveWell Affair gets some press on Fast Company. MetaFilter is mentioned.
posted by jazon to MetaFilter-Related at 7:32 PM (126 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Wow I was all set to sort of like that article after it actually accurately explained just what it was that Holden/Eli did, but the narrative seems to get really muddled right at the page break and then it just doesn't recover. It just seems to push those old "oh those rebel young people!" buttons and trot out the same tired statements about how little we know about non-profits' programs and operations when I don't get the feeling, from reading a lot of MeFi back and forth in addition to other things, that that's true at all.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:43 PM on April 22, 2008 [6 favorites]


Huh. Guess it did give well for old Holden after all.
posted by dersins at 7:51 PM on April 22, 2008


It doesn't give Miko credit, either.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:58 PM on April 22, 2008


On the other hand, it didn't mention our living in our respective mothers' basements. Small blessings.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:01 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's a slightly odd photo and caption combo. The satisfied superhero pose doesn't ooze humility and... chastisement? chastity? chasteneditude?... the noun form of chastened.
posted by CKmtl at 8:18 PM on April 22, 2008


Oy.

What jessamyn said about the article. And this makes me want to scream and tear my hair, or cry, or laugh hysterically: But markets thrive on information--scarce in the nonprofit world, which has no P&L statements, no Standard & Poor's, no Yelp.com.
posted by rtha at 8:25 PM on April 22, 2008


Ack, I think I'm going to be sick.
posted by hadjiboy at 8:27 PM on April 22, 2008


The article quotes a comment from fourcheesemac.

That original Givewell thread almost broke my computer.
posted by marxchivist at 8:29 PM on April 22, 2008


Holden's internet banishment by the Givewell board lasted exactly a month. Let's see how long before he's right back on the board himself in his old executive director position.
posted by netbros at 8:29 PM on April 22, 2008


Doesn't surprise me. Young writers like that are really flaky about their research and don't do a good job tempering the biases.
posted by dw at 8:46 PM on April 22, 2008


That original Givewell thread almost broke my computer.

Then for god's sake don't read sans quoi.
posted by dersins at 8:49 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Terrible suck up article. The little scammer.
posted by LarryC at 8:52 PM on April 22, 2008


It doesn't give Miko credit, either.

The funny thing is that I wasn't that involved in the actual revelation of what GiveWell was up to -- reported the self-link and then went off to a New Year's event or something. It was when I got back that the whole thing had blown up, astroturfing had been discovered, 'donation' offered, etc. Then the organization itself started to look really interesting and that of course was fascinating to discuss, but I can't really take any credit for the initial discovery of the extent of the strategy.

I liked that Fast Company had such a clear succinct explanation of what the problem was, but perpetuating the "charities don't report" myth really is a shame and does reveal some lack of awareness of the ways they do report. Also the "vicious mob" characterization crops up again. The quote about how often this wheel has been invented was a good one:
"the philanthropic road is littered with the carcasses of people who thought [applying business practices to nonprofits] was going to be easy."
Some months later, I'm still most weirded out by the deep disconnect between the values and knowledge of some members of the wealthy donor sector and the values of the charities they say they want to support.
posted by Miko at 8:56 PM on April 22, 2008


The article really bypasses the fundamental lack of judgment that caused the kerfuffle in the first place, chalking it up to their excessive enthusiasm and moxie more than anything. "Aw, they just got a little carried away, is all, since they care so much. No biggie..." is the message I took away from it.

Based on the quotes, the board seems pretty dismissive of the whole thing too, which is disappointing. And yes, they don't look particularly chastised in that photo, do they?
posted by gemmy at 8:58 PM on April 22, 2008


Then for god's sake don't read sans quoi.

Ok, I'm not going to read the 3K+ comments in that thread.

So can somebody please answer the question for me? Was or was not sansgras the new Kaycee?

It makes me think that any MeTa thread that reaches above, say, 600 comments, should have a little postmortem by one of the admins attached at the top. Something to the effect of :

"We debated about this for a while. X, Y, and Z cancelled their accounts. In the end, it was decided that A and B were true, and that we would do C to make sure that this Never Happens Again."

Something like that.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:12 PM on April 22, 2008 [16 favorites]


So can somebody please answer the question for me? Was or was not sansgras the new Kaycee?

There was no definitive answer, though the simpler and more charitable interpretation suggested not. She hasn't been seen since, regardless.

It makes me think that any MeTa thread that reaches above, say, 600 comments, should have a little postmortem by one of the admins attached at the top.

I've had thoughts like that at moments when my hands were idle. Without the "that reaches above, say, 600 comments," qualification, even. In reality, it'd be a good thing to use the wiki for, and to an extent this happens with epic threads since they tend to be About something.

I don't think there were actually even 600 comments about sansgras, though; by that time I think we were already finding out that u.n. owen was back under her SO's account, and by about the 1000 comment mark we were pretty much just pissing about.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:23 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


My mom doesn't even have a basement.
posted by Sailormom at 9:33 PM on April 22, 2008


Did we ever find out how much Karnofsky and Hassenfeld earn from their salaried positions at GiveWell?
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:36 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


pretty much just gloriously pissing about
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:38 PM on April 22, 2008


The SansGras thread, the apex of my internet life post www.

My rowing calluses are getting soft, my oar is cracking dry. Where to now?
posted by Dr. Curare at 9:51 PM on April 22, 2008


I believe it was $60-65K.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:53 PM on April 22, 2008


"We debated about this for a while. X, Y, and Z cancelled their accounts. In the end, it was decided that A and B were true, and that we would do C to make sure that this Never Happens Again."

Yes! And then we could meta the summary if we disagreed with it, and debate whether or not it was an accurate statement of the outcome.

I can see no reason for this to fail.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:40 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


So did Givewell hire a new executive director?
posted by Staggering Jack at 11:03 PM on April 22, 2008


I'm pretty sure they just planned on waiting a while for us to stop paying attention then resume their scummy business as usual.
posted by puke & cry at 11:21 PM on April 22, 2008


I'm pretty sure they just planned on waiting a while for us to stop paying attention then resume their scummy business as usual.

Much like an elephant, MeFi never forgets.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:05 AM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Credibility is hard to gain and easy to lose, and restoring it will be GiveWell's big challenge--tough for an organization aspiring to be an evaluator. As it starts a round of fund-raising this quarter...

The article is an ad.

As to their workforce changes, I don't think they exist but on little (fund raising) bits of internet. There's nobody new listed on the Our People page. They even have the gall to retain this little bit from the FAQ: However, we take the position that transparency - the willingness to share all the details of our decisions in public - is more valuable by far than any of these qualities, or than any quality of a grantmaker. In other words, your single best reason for trusting us is that you don’t have to.

Everything to do with these guys rubs me slimy. Yech.
posted by carsonb at 12:12 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


We're big and grey like that.
posted by dhammond at 12:12 AM on April 23, 2008


to share all the details of our decisions in public

"Our new grant recipients announced! 25 Gees to the Crack Pipe Network!"
by Holden at 3:36am mood: lapsy XD
posted by carsonb at 12:16 AM on April 23, 2008


Much like an elephant, MeFi never forgets.

And when we see something we don't like, we piss on it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:39 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter is mentioned.

Shoulda been a helluva lot more than mentioned. Crap journalism, this.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:58 AM on April 23, 2008


It really does seem that no publicity is bad publicity...the 'spotlight' being shined on them in this article is hardly scrutinising (even when the article's tagged under 'Social Responsibility'). Then again, wouldn't a lot of FastCompany's readership be the kind of startup/marketing fucks who'd look at a situation like this and say "I wish I'd thought of the same thing" or "I admire their moxy".

I see in their sidebar a discussion on 'flogs - fake blogs started by advertisers' and they even ask the question on whether they're a 'smart strategy' or not. It's creepy that one would even consider it legit.

Meanwhile on Wall Street, fourcheesemac's stock is rising following a sidebarring quickly compounded by a FastCompany article...OH WHEN WILL THIS BUBBLE BURST?
posted by cosmonik at 1:00 AM on April 23, 2008


Yeah, this is advertising.

The worst thing about the GiveWell debacle is that it put at risk a service that's sorely needed in the nonprofit world.

Did they just copy this sentence from GiveWell's blog?
posted by roll truck roll at 1:22 AM on April 23, 2008


Less moxy, more mojo.
posted by ersatz at 2:42 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


The article also fails to mention that not only were they promoting Givewell, they were also damning the competition in the same breath.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 2:47 AM on April 23, 2008


This depresses me. Somehow I thought things would turn out otherwise.
posted by Locative at 3:12 AM on April 23, 2008


This depresses me. Somehow I thought things would turn out otherwise.

Aw, don't let it get you down. If it helps, just repeat to yourself over and over, "This isn't journalism. This isn't journalism!" until the fnords jump off the page and skittle away like a glitter curtain of sparkle.
posted by carsonb at 3:28 AM on April 23, 2008


Your media outlets are spectacularly full of shit. They are the monkeys racing the motorboats around our heads as we stand nostril-deep in the lake of liquid poo. Hell, they filled up the lake in the first place.

It shouldn't be any surprise. It shouldn't depress you. It should fill you with righteous fucking rage.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:41 AM on April 23, 2008 [10 favorites]



Much like an elephant, MeFi never forgets.

And when we see something we don't like, we piss on it.


And when aroused, we...

*recalls disturbing images from the discovery channel*

nevermind
posted by Sparx at 3:50 AM on April 23, 2008


People generally, and most of the press, for sure, don't really care about how things are, but how they scan as a quick vignette without the effort of much thought, research or boring detail/data/reality.

Get yourself a hook (we're YOUNG, IVY LEAGUE, and used to be HEDGE-FUND ANALYSTS!) and a sound bite (TRANSPARENCY IN GIVING!), add a saucy attitude and beat it to death, and everyone who loves concept morsels over sinewy facts will lap it up and beg for more. No matter what, apparently. This article is a love letter - and a dead easy 500 words for the reporter. Unfortunately, there will always be a soft place for the Holden Karnofskys of the world while those with more merit, more knowledge, more compassion, and a hell of a lot more ethical fiber will continue struggling against odds to make a real difference.

Chastened? I think the photograph speaks louder than the text.
posted by taz at 4:06 AM on April 23, 2008 [10 favorites]


I even feel like the extra hook is the "Sure they screwed up, but that's just part of fighting for what's right in the sleepy unaware world of non-profit giving!" and the whole scam part has just been rolled into their MO. Bleh.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:18 AM on April 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


good call taz. They really look like they want to be the google guys of the charity world.

cept' without the moral decency of a company that makes money from advertising.

i really hate the misnomer of "non-profit". They're profiting. themselves. they're being paid. and by the sound of it, a lot. and thats a lot of money that has to be paid by people contributing to charity, before the money ever goes near an actual charity. unless i'm completely misunderstanding the set up because they're Ivy league clever guys who've introduced a paradigm shift to online philanthropy.
posted by galactain at 4:18 AM on April 23, 2008


Hard to believe that "the Village Voice nominated [kamenetz, who wrote the article] for a Pulitzer prize in feature writing..." for a series she wrote a while back. If this article is an example of her present writing, she must be on a downward spiral.

This whole Givewell fiasco reminds me of Sidney Lumet's Q & A, [SPOILER ALERT] in which the assistant district attorney, played by Timothy Hutton, discovers that the DA is an incredibly corrupt person with a sordid past who's involved in all sorts of crimes, including having people murdered, but is told that no charges will be pressed against him anyway (the DA can't be linked to the murders, but there are plenty of lesser crimes which can be linked to him), basically because people aren't interested or don't care about his wrongdoings. When the frustrated and idealistic asst. DA is notified of this fact, and realizes that the DA will get away with everything and even get to keep his job, he goes apeshit and completely trashes an office. That's how this GiveWell business and how it's being "covered" in the media makes me feel sometimes. A bit hyperbolic, I know (I'm not destroying any furniture), but that's sort of how this whole thing makes me feel inside.
posted by Devils Slide at 4:33 AM on April 23, 2008


No, it is not hard to believe. It is the debased normal state of affairs. It's the spreading numbness of lowered expectations.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:53 AM on April 23, 2008


Get yourself a hook (we're YOUNG, IVY LEAGUE, and used to be HEDGE-FUND ANALYSTS!) and a sound bite (TRANSPARENCY IN GIVING!), add a saucy attitude and beat it to death, and everyone who loves concept morsels over sinewy facts will lap it up and beg for more. No matter what, apparently.

Hey taz, will you do PR for me? I believe these guys are pretty sleezy, but after reading your rendition, I thought they sounded cool for a second. Perhaps you should go into the image makeover business? Obviously, I really need a new hook and soundbite.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:05 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


If this article is an example of her present writing, she must be on a downward spiral.

Nowadays, any article that isn't just blatantly wrong on several facts, especially in the tech or science field, is a good article.
posted by smackfu at 5:49 AM on April 23, 2008


Since when has Fast Company ever produced an article that wasn't just a thinly-veiled advertisement?

The whole point of the publication is to run PR for the latest projects of various venture capitalists & investment bankers. Burma Shave signs had more journalism in them.
posted by aramaic at 5:53 AM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


No, it is not hard to believe. It is the debased normal state of affairs. It's the spreading numbness of lowered expectations.

I first read stav's comment above in the 'Recent Activity' view, and thought it was a part of the 'Crack' thread. I suppose it's equally applicable here.
posted by cosmonik at 6:17 AM on April 23, 2008


It was veiled?
posted by Mister_A at 6:17 AM on April 23, 2008


I wholly support the idea of the MeTa Post-Mortem. If one has to be away for a few days, there's so much on the blue and the green to try and catch up on that all I can really do is scan the front page of the grey for scandals. An executive abstract would warm my cockles.
posted by pineapple at 6:21 AM on April 23, 2008


Some months later, I'm still most weirded out by the deep disconnect between the values and knowledge of some members of the wealthy donor sector and the values of the charities they say they want to support.

What I found surprising is that major organizations would keep their research "proprietary" How bizarre. Why would someone who believed that they had found the best way to help people keep it secret, so that only they could be most effective. What the GiveWell thread really illustrated for me was that there are a lot of people in the "Charity game" who are more interested in ego, competition, and even money for themselves then doing optimal good. Maybe they do some good, or even a lot of good, but damn. I just seems so shady to my naive middle class eyes.

I don't think there were actually even 600 comments about sansgras, though; by that time I think we were already finding out that u.n. owen was back under her SO's account

Wow.
posted by delmoi at 7:10 AM on April 23, 2008


Fast Company? More like Fat Company. In a party hat, no less.
posted by Eideteker at 7:12 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


But Karnofsky, with a flash of the zeal that got him attention and then into trouble, interrupted. "At least I believe that GiveWell continues to have something unique to offer this problem," he said. "I believe that what we have to offer is going to be what's focused on rather than the mistakes we've made."

Yeah, you keep believing that. The rest of us will continue to assume that you are an unethical sleaze who couldn't maintain your 'transparency', the primary tenant of your charity, for more than two weeks after your initial public exposure.

The only thing I can be grateful for is that you decided to keep the same name. I like knowing that no matter how hard you try to minimize the damage, whenever anyone decides to vet your organization, they are going to see this fiasco attached to it.
posted by quin at 7:45 AM on April 23, 2008


Since when has Fast Company ever produced an article that wasn't just a thinly-veiled advertisement?

Totally. And what stavros said earlier.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:46 AM on April 23, 2008


"When the giving gets tough"?! "We fell on our face"?!

That's so innocent. So passive. As if Givewell isn't running a scam disguised as philanthropy. They used typical scam tactics, and they got caught. It's not hard to give, but it's hard to effect real change in the world, and I don't think that's something they understand at all, espite all their lofty claims about analyzing other organizations' results.

It sounds like the fall was rather short in both distance and timeframe, so big deal. It also sounds like they are spinning it into a pretty story to pick themselves up again. Clever.
posted by Tehanu at 7:49 AM on April 23, 2008


Since I have never head of Fast Company, I remain unimpressed. I am going to the beach and then buying myself a treat (like a hot dog from a stand or an ice cream, yum!), because charity begins at home.

P.S. My mother has a dirt basement and I have never lived in it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:56 AM on April 23, 2008


Get press
cause intarwebs kerfluffle
get MORE PRESS
??
PROFIT!!!
posted by dabitch at 8:06 AM on April 23, 2008


The only thing I can be grateful for is that you decided to keep the same name.

Yeah, I'm sure the legitimate Australian charity which had the name first is equally thrilled about that.
posted by box at 8:08 AM on April 23, 2008


I'd like to have seen Holden say, "After we stopped bleeding from the Metafilter pile-on, we realized there were some incredibly helpful comments there that articulated both the soft spots in our business plan and ways for us to meet our goals far more effectively.

"We also gained some new insights into the charity industry as a whole, from the ground up, and what it means to have an open online presence. And it got people talking. So I think in the long run, the astroturfing debacle was a win."

Yeah well. A person can dream, can't they?

I want to say a giant thank you to everyone who participated in those threads, they were just about the meatiest things I've ever read online. In fact, I seriously overdosed and am still munching away on it a little at a time, especially the parts about modding strategies and what happens when worlds collide.
posted by merelyglib at 8:46 AM on April 23, 2008


Oy, I'm famous, sort of -- did I really write that cheesy "Lexus and Cristal" line, oh dear!

Memories, memories
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:12 AM on April 23, 2008


Every time the Givewell scandal comes up (in my mind or otherwise), I think of this insightful and hilarious comment by BitterOldPunk:
You know, I'll bet they were chuckling about how brilliant this idea was when someone said, "...and the best part is, we'll even give some of the proceeds to charity!" and then everyone burst out laughing.
posted to MetaTalk by BitterOldPunk at 4:16 PM on December 31, 2007
It's funny because its true.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:18 AM on April 23, 2008


'the primary tenant tenet of your charity'

It was bugging me.
posted by jacalata at 9:32 AM on April 23, 2008


(I hope it's clear that my comment above is tongue-in-cheek. I was gonna put 'I, for one, welcome our new Metafilter overlords' but I thought it'd be too over the top. I really do hope they took some of the stuff in those threads to heart though.)
posted by merelyglib at 9:44 AM on April 23, 2008


What infuriates me the most about that article is this assessment of the metatalk thread:

At the time, he claimed a lack of sleep had led to his "lapse in judgment," an excuse that helped fuel a vicious pile-on in MetaFilter's comment threads

Ms. Kamenetz, I've seen Vicious Pile-Ons in chat rooms and SomethingAwful and 4chan. I know Vicious Pile-Ons from the Pretty Flowers mefi thread. Vicious Pile-Ons are a friend of mine.

Ms. Kamenetz, that was no Vicious Pile-On.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:45 AM on April 23, 2008 [7 favorites]


I've read the threads, and remember when this went down. But I seem to be missing something big, for reals. What was the 'very bad thing' they did? I want to be outraged but not w/o a reason. Astroturfing strikes me as more of a venial sin, so what was the thing that damns them to hell and everlasting, shuddering contempt?
posted by dawson at 10:00 AM on April 23, 2008


Astroturfing strikes me as more of a venial sin, so what was the thing that damns them to hell and everlasting, shuddering contempt?

Doing it on the Green, natch.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:03 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Give Well? Give 'em hell.
posted by klangklangston at 10:12 AM on April 23, 2008


Ms. Kamenetz, that was no Vicious Pile-On.

I would disagree. I seem to recall people in the thread calling for firings and a disbanding of the organization and such. And then when all those things didn't happen, people were shocked, shocked!! How dare they not take us seriously! Some people in the thread had an incredibly inflated view of their own self-importance, which someone from outside the community, who is less used to how we do things around here, would pick up on right away. It's a shame, too, as it seems that a lot of the more interesting things in the thread were eclipsed. I wouldn't consider that thread one of our finest hours.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:16 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


- Doing it on the Green
- Pretending it was a momentary lapse in judgement when they'd been doing it for at least two weeks on a variety of other sites
- Offering Matt money by way of "apology"
- Not just astroturfing their own org, but talking shit about other, established charities while astroturfing
- Being dumb enough to get caught, and then clearly not getting why what they did was bad, bad, bad
posted by rtha at 10:26 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


dawson, it was the astroturfing for himself + astroturf bad-mouthing other charities, + setting up an email account bearing the name of a new employee to do further astroturfing.

konolia commented,: "You know, I think maybe you just need to go out and get a real job, then give your own money to a good charity." I think that was well-received because many people felt that the entire GiveWell enterprise may be as concerned with self-promotion and self-regard as it is with helping people.

He was pretty forthright about it, once he got caught. (We wouldn't know about #3, I don't think, if he hadn't just come out and told us).
posted by ibmcginty at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2008


Oh, that was to dawson.

I have a cold and am not very coherent right now.
posted by rtha at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2008


I seem to recall people in the thread calling for firings and a disbanding of the organization and such.

You consider that vicious? It seems a perfectly appropriate response to me. I agree with Greg Nog: I've seen vicious, and that wasn't it.
posted by languagehat at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2008


Appropriate for us, maybe, but I don't think the thread made a stunning case for why people outside of this community should think so, particularly once a lot of people started saying the same things over and over.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


The only good thing to come of this was the brilliant wrap-up song in Music.
posted by team lowkey at 10:50 AM on April 23, 2008


OK, I do understand. It seemed as if they were setting up some front and keeping the money themselves. It appears their main problem was being unethical re total transparency, having no class by suggesting other organizations were shady, and trying to pose as Heroic Guys, and then not acting appropriately ashamed by throwing themselves on rusty swords.
Perhaps I'm simply too liberal (haha) but I still see this as an error in judgment and, perhaps, delusions of grander and too 'eager' attempt to make amends. Re konolia's remark, they gave up very provocative jobs in order to, I assume, raise more than they alone could give. They became to enamored of their own importance, but didn't deceive people for the purpose of lining their own pockets and diverting monies earmarked for charity into offshore bank accounts.
I guess I instinctively compare them to, say Bill Clinton, and see their intentions as more positive than negative. I remain disappointed, but not angry.
get better rtha, I have a kick ass chicken soup recipe
posted by dawson at 10:50 AM on April 23, 2008


I remain disappointed, but not angry.

I think that part of the anger comes from the fact that actions like theirs make it difficult to give open trust to a group that is supposed to be doing 'good' but from the very outset, seemed to be engaging in unethical practices, and it's exacerbated by the fact that they had gotten all sorts of media play on the fact that they were doing this under the auspices of being transparent.

Stupidity can be forgivable, hypocrisy is a harder pill to swallow.
posted by quin at 10:59 AM on April 23, 2008


Appropriate for us, maybe

No, I mean appropriate for anyone who grasps the seriousness of their actions. Not everyone does, obviously, even here.
posted by languagehat at 11:06 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Appropriate for us, maybe, but I don't think the thread made a stunning case for why people outside of this community should think so, particularly once a lot of people started saying the same things over and over.

It is not the responsibility of the Metafilter community to make that case, that was the responsibility of the journalists and editors who initially gave Givewell such glowing coverage, to make the necessary corrections.

If they had any integrity, they would have followed up on their own stories, but to do so would have exposed too much of the shoddy work they do.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:28 AM on April 23, 2008


dawson: Re konolia's remark, they gave up very provocative jobs in order to, I assume, raise more than they alone could give.

This is the very definition of a Freudian slip.

I'm sure they know that the amount of annoyance they've provoked on the web is more than any one of them could have brought to the surface alone.

I guess I instinctively compare them to, say Bill Clinton.

'Liberal' indeed. No liberal instinctively compares anybody to Bill Clinton. And it makes absolutely no sense to in this case.

Most of all because you're trying to judge moral things in a vacuum. I wouldn't want to leave Bill Clinton alone with women I care about, but that says nothing about his effectiveness as president, which was higher than any other as long as I've been alive from the perspective of political science. Not that he should be lauded as a person; this is merely the fact. And I wouldn't give too much of a shake if Holden Karnofsky was a minor executive for a for-profit company; the sort of thing he did happens all the time in that sphere, and has no major net impact. But the net impact of a propadandizing and self-promoting campaign that includes a fair amount of pointed and underhanded criticism of other public entities is potentially catastrophic in the world of often fragile or vulnerable charity organizations. This is especially true when most non-profits really aren't trying to promote themselves, and don't have the attitude or the PR dollar to defend against silly attacks. Good accounting on non-profits already exists, and GiveWell is not merely superfluous; it's a bad thing for charity at large.

That's why people are pissed off. Because, while it's not really a terrible thing for Holden to have taken a shit on a bathroom floor at an old gas station in southern Arizona, he took a shit in the middle of concourse A at O'Hare. Charity is important.
posted by Viomeda at 11:31 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how people writing about this miss one of the most important points, which was that Holden was actually badmouthing other charities Heifer International while promoting his own brand.
posted by delmoi at 11:55 AM on April 23, 2008


Good comment on the Fast Company site, Alex.
posted by LarryC at 12:05 PM on April 23, 2008


The only good thing to come of this was the brilliant wrap-up song in Music.

Oh, wow. I missed that, and it is amazing. Thanks for the link.

We take the world on
You and me
Committed to transparency


As I listened, in terms of the narrative of the song (not so much the real life versions), I imagine it as a down and brokenhearted modern day Batmananti-hero sadly lamenting recent events with his Robinfaithful sidekick, who has seriously fucked up. Their crimefightingphilanthropic misadventures have ended badly, and they return to the Batcavehedge fund to mull things over before they arise to fightgive another day.
posted by Tehanu at 12:37 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


As a Fast Company subscriber, I'm really annoyed by this. Going in, they seemed like a magazine that mostly understood net culture, and the reasons why things like astroturfing are so insidious, but articles like this (and they're hyping of Facebook) are signs of their increasingly tin ear.
posted by drezdn at 1:34 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


... but didn't deceive people for the purpose of lining their own pockets

That's debatable.

They weren't pimping their charity, they were pimping their charity evaluation service. A service that is of questionable merit, as people in the original thread(s) pointed out.

Whatever donations or grant money they receive doesn't go directly to, say, the building of schools in Africa. A chunk of that goes into their pockets for providing the service of deciding which charities build the schooliest schools per dollar in Africa. A pretty big chunk: if I recall correctly they were talking about giving a $25k grant, while the two of them were receiving ~$60k each.
posted by CKmtl at 1:53 PM on April 23, 2008


I seem to recall people in the thread calling for firings and a disbanding of the organization and such. And then when all those things didn't happen, people were shocked, shocked!! How dare they not take us seriously! Some people in the thread had an incredibly inflated view of their own self-importance, which someone from outside the community, who is less used to how we do things around here, would pick up on right away.

The calls for the disbanding of the organization where mainly after it came to light that the whole thing was a sham. You need a fairly dim view of the MeFi community to think we'd call for that kind of blood over a self-link, no matter how scummy.
posted by cillit bang at 1:53 PM on April 23, 2008


signs of their increasingly tin ear.

As a subscriber, your loudest voice would be to cancel your subscription, telling them as much. If enough subscribers did that, they might change their editorial policy.

(Ok. A louder voice has you boycotting their advertisers.)
posted by Dave Faris at 1:56 PM on April 23, 2008


TPS: every board I've ever read has comments by people with an overinflated sense of self-importance. And pretty much every thread I've ever read that isn't heavily modded has posters from the Department of Redundancy Department that get louder and louder as the thread winds down. Maybe I'm giving people too much credit, but I think anyone who would have bothered to read the thing would know that, and take the worst of it with a grain of salt.

I know that I read a few things that made me wince, or roll my eyes, or laugh at the unintentional comic relief. I skimmed, I scanned, I pored, I went away with my brain too full of words and ideas and came back later to skim, scan and pore some more. I don't believe I'm so unique that I'm the only person out there who did the same.

I also think that there were few ('insiders' OR 'outsiders') who actually read the whole thing. I'd bet that by the time the Phil part came to a boil most everyone was gone, which is a pity, because that was some seriously good shit right there.

Not the Best Of Metafilter? I think you might be holding it to too high a standard there. Best Of The Web? Good god yes.
posted by merelyglib at 2:13 PM on April 23, 2008


Finally seeing it in the context of the magazine makes it even more annoying. I'm not going to cancel my subscription, though that is a good suggestion Dave Faris, but I might write them an email to explain why they shouldn't hold up a company like Givewell as the future of Philanthropy.
posted by drezdn at 4:13 PM on April 23, 2008


Your favorite charity sucks.
posted by Brian B. at 4:19 PM on April 23, 2008


Your favorite charity sucks.

Is that you John Wayne Holden? Is this me?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:10 PM on April 23, 2008


According to the magazine article, $300 billion dollars was given to charity in America alone in 2006, with 75% of that coming from individual contributors. This is BIG business with a lot less oversight than some of those individual contributors should feel comfortable with.

Keeping GiveWell out of this for now, it would be an admiral undertaking by another group or even current groups out there now, to attempt to collect and then provide more information about just how much of those contributions are being utilized the way the contributors imagined. Wherever there is a lot of money, the potential for corruption seems to follow.

I read here often enough to know that the majority of vocal mefites believe that many major for-profit companies are corrupted by their lust for either power or the dollar. Why would not-for-profits or non-profits be any different?

GiveWell's stated goal was admirable, and remains so. Should their idea be thrown out because Holden and Elie astroturfed or because they themselves were not "transparent"? I personally think not, but I still sense that is not the majority view here about these two and about GiveWell also.

Would it be fair to judge the whole of MetaFilter by sockpuppets who have frequented here? We know they exist here, and we accept that. Maybe we only accept the funny sockpuppets? Or maybe we only accept the sockpuppets who let us KNOW they are sockpuppets, because that is "transparent". Maybe we would only be upset if a sockpuppet earned money?

This is a very internet saavy group here, and the confusing thing to me is how harshly we judged Eli and Holden for things we see every day on line. Was it as simple as them trying to "fool US", and we would have none of that on OUR turf, but particularly on the green? I think that is way too simplistic an answer, just as I think it is too simplistic to say it was because their behavior flew in the face of their stated desire for "transparency" among non-profits.

What gives?
posted by LiveLurker at 5:55 PM on April 23, 2008


This is a very internet saavy group here, and the confusing thing to me is how harshly we judged Eli and Holden for things we see every day on line

Please demonstrate another example of a sock-puppet account used the same way Eli and Holden used their sock-puppets, for the same purpose.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:29 PM on April 23, 2008


Can you tell me what you think their purpose was, Blazecock Pileon? That would help to give context to my answer.
posted by LiveLurker at 6:49 PM on April 23, 2008


While I am waiting for your answer, I will say that the motivations of sockpuppets and astroturfers is as varied as the people who do either.
posted by LiveLurker at 7:06 PM on April 23, 2008


You know, LiveLurker, I wasn't going to do this. I remember your comments from the tail-end of the last givewell thread; you seemed willfully obtuse then, and that doesn't seem to have changed.

In small words: Self-linker posts to the blue, gets post spiked, gets banned. Self-linker does the same in the green, which is even worse, really, but the consequences are the same.

Most of these self-linkers are shilling for commercial sites, or their own blogs.

Holden et al founded an organization whose watchwords were TRANSPARENCY, TRUST, and HONESTY. And they knowingly, willingly, and eagerly threw those supposedly close-held ideals out the window here and on other sites. And were happily talking shit about other organizations they saw as "competition."

We could give a shit about the shilling, really. But get metafilter riled about about hypocrisy? Just don't.

Why is this so hard for you to understand? What they did is not, actually, stuff we see "all the time", at least, not in the green. And even if it's hugely prevalent, it still doesn't make it right.

Claro?
posted by rtha at 7:07 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


And you know, frak me - I said it better and shorter above.
posted by rtha at 7:21 PM on April 23, 2008


You know what I don't get? Bees. What the fuck is up with those crazy little fuckers?
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:31 PM on April 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


I'm sure BP will offer his response soon, so please don't mistake this as an attempt to put words into his mouth, but I think I can take a crack at LL's "what was their purpose" question.

It seems pretty clear that Holden and Elie's actions were calculated attempts to create the impression of grass-roots positive word of mouth about their organization where there was none. The ethical lapse comes from that dishonesty. If I were a professional (lawyer, doctor, contractor, etc.) attempting to attract clients I would be bound either by law or the ethical standards of whatever professional organizations I belong to to not engage in bad faith attempts to get referrals. In short, I could not trick people into seeking my services, and that is exactly what Holden and Elie did. They actively sought, through subterfuge, to trick people into using their service. When you do that, everything else you do comes into question.

And what is true for commercial enterprises ought to hold double for organizations that are ostensibly there to appeal to our better nature. Lots of people think, deep in their heart of hearts, that lawyers or doctors or whatever are basically crooked, but when people start getting that impression about a charity, it has done something horribly wrong.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 7:31 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Can you tell me what you think their purpose was, Blazecock Pileon? That would help to give context to my answer.

You know what? I'm really not going to play your rhetorical games with you. I'm just not interested. If you're a grown adult with any lick of common fucking sense, and you don't live on planet Mars, you'll figure out your context for yourself.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:12 PM on April 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


We agree on so much, Doublewhiskey. Where we might differ, although maybe not, is that I still think their idea was a good one, and worthy of follow through, either on their part or on the part of others. For lack of a better way to put this, I fear that the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater here.

I know that at least for the vocal mefites, Holden and Elie have no credibility. Further I notice that each additional article about these two has been more forgiving of these two, which continues to anger our group even more. In fact, authors of said articles have been denegrated for not "seeing" the way this group sees it.

I am simply pointing out that sockpuppets and astroturfing are every day occurances on the internet. I also pointed out that sockpuppets live and breathe here with immunity often enough to have me ask why we would ignore that sometimes, yet not at other times?

Do we have a pecking order here of BAD sockpuppets or astroturfers, and if so, then let's talk about that. Or perhaps it makes more sense to come at this in a more positive way? Can any of us imagine when either of the above would be an ok thing to do?
posted by LiveLurker at 8:28 PM on April 23, 2008


I am simply pointing out that sockpuppets and astroturfing are every day occurances on the internet. I also pointed out that sockpuppets live and breathe here with immunity often enough to have me ask why we would ignore that sometimes, yet not at other times?

Ooh! Ooh! I know this one! How about:

We don't wink at astroturfing or sockpuppetry when professional ethics, personal responsibility, and common fucking sense would seem to indicate that it would be in gross violation of the same to do so.

Does that work?

Holden's job, for which he was handsomely paid, included being the face of GiveWell. He was (in fact if not in title) their main PR guy. As such it was his job to make GiveWell look good and appealing, and his actions did exactly the opposite. He blew it on the job, and got canned for his troubles. If you screwed up at your job as badly as he screwed up at his you would likely suffer the same fate.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:40 PM on April 23, 2008


As Scott found out over on Waxy.org, Metafilter stands alone in banning self-linking. People use sites like digg to self-promote all the time. Sockpuppets are allowed here provided they aren't used to mindfuck people... and paying $5 to make a one-time joke answer in a thread is practically encouraged.
posted by Dave Faris at 8:43 PM on April 23, 2008


And yes, I know he wasn't canned, but "demoted for his troubles" has no panache.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:44 PM on April 23, 2008


Most rational people would not agree that a sockpuppet on Metafilter to tell stupid jokes is equivalent with a sockpuppet used to astroturf a charity and trash the hard-earned reputation of other non-profit organizations.

Since you make this blind equivalence without any fact-based defense for it, I have to wonder if a) if you're just a garden variety troll, b) just a shill for some non-profit organization or another, or, c) just a simple-minded fool. Perhaps even, dare I say it, a combination of the above.

You know, even if you were just another anonymous Internet troll, I still wouldn't put you on the same Plateau Of Asshole as the one on which GiveWell's CEOs reside.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:44 PM on April 23, 2008


See, that's the crux of the matter, Blazecock Pileon. I am a grown adult, and I have determined my own context of the "GiveWell/MetaFilter" mash-up...for me at least. I consider myself to be a good member of this community, with a very definite minority view on this topic, yet here with an open mind.

I would shudder at an expectation that all vocal mefites share the same view.
posted by LiveLurker at 8:53 PM on April 23, 2008


I have determined my own context of the "GiveWell/MetaFilter" mash-up

That's rich. Care to enlighten us as to the nature of that context? By which I mean to ask how you came to the conclusion that Holden and Elie's premeditated attempts to deceive people in order to increase their organization's standing carries the same moral weight as the various and sundry Astro Zombies we have kicking around these parts.

Now, from your past comments I would guess that you draw that conclusion from the fact that obfuscation of identity is a relatively common practice on the internet. No argument there from me except to say that Holden and Elie were not obfuscating their identities for obfuscation's own sake, and so I don't think your conclusion holds water. It requires me to assume that the posters (obvious) intent does not matter. Clearly it does, and if you take intent into account I can't see where Holden and Elie's actions are anything but despicable.

What am I missing?
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 9:06 PM on April 23, 2008


Dave Faris: Who's Scott? My name's Andy. :)
posted by waxpancake at 9:12 PM on April 23, 2008


I would shudder at an expectation that all vocal mefites share the same view.

I would too. Good thing that's not what's in dispute.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:24 PM on April 23, 2008


Why is it that I feel a pile on coming? The adjectives and adverbs are taking on a distinctively negative tone here?

Hey, lighten up! Please?

I am simply a community member who doesn't agree with the majority of vocal mefites. I asked some questions that I think are important for us to answer as a community. Your a, b, c above was not helpful, Blazecock Pileon, but in the spirit of wanting this community to be the best it can be? I guess I am d. none of the above. I am not a troll, nor a shill nor simple-minded.

Granted, I can appear "trollish", even "shillist" I suppose, and on some evenings, most definitely more "simple-minded" than I would want to admit. But this is NOT one of those evenings.

If you have no interest in self introspection, let alone group introspection, so be it. Just lay off making ME the issue. I am further suggesting that Holden nor Elie are not so much the "issue" you want them to be. I am suggesting that we talk about whether it makes sense to have more accountability, more transparency, in the non-profit world where there is supposedly $300 billion dollars in play with little to no oversight.
posted by LiveLurker at 9:31 PM on April 23, 2008


According to the magazine article, $300 billion dollars was given to charity in America alone in 2006, with 75% of that coming from individual contributors. This is BIG business with a lot less oversight than some of those individual contributors should feel comfortable with.

Keeping GiveWell out of this for now, it would be an admiral undertaking by another group or even current groups out there now, to attempt to collect and then provide more information about just how much of those contributions are being utilized the way the contributors imagined. Wherever there is a lot of money, the potential for corruption seems to follow.


The thing is that this sort of point was already discussed to exhaustion in the original GiveWell threads. It's too much to ask to rehash the argument here. If you really care about nonprofit accountability, there are many organizations you can get familiar with that are mentioned in threads. You'll also be able to see you premise put forth and see the thorough responses in full giving a clear idea of the current state of affairs of nonprofit reporting, governance, and transparency. There's arguably a lot more oversight in this sector than in the for-profit sector - and ultimately, donors don't have to give if they're uncomfortable. The potential for corruption follows human beings wherever they wander; it was ever thus. If you want to look for it in the nonprofit sector, you will find it, just as you will find it to an equal or greater extent in the for-profit, public, and religious sectors.
posted by Miko at 9:32 PM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


I am suggesting that we talk about whether it makes sense to have more accountability, more transparency, in the non-profit world where there is supposedly $300 billion dollars in play with little to no oversight.

That's not what you said up above. You asked why GiveWell should be given such harsh treatment for astroturfing when there are sockpuppets on MetaFilter who have done the same things that have resulted in criticism of GiveWell's two CEOs.

When you were directly presented with the request to qualify and defend this relationship you asserted, you then moved the goalposts of the conversation into another sports area five blocks down the road. Smells like trolling to me.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:49 PM on April 23, 2008


Who's Scott? My name's Andy.

Yes, okay, whatever, but the real question is what was it like to work with Willie Aames? Were you two as good of friends in real life as you were on camera?
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:04 PM on April 23, 2008


"Do we have a pecking order here of BAD sockpuppets or astroturfers, and if so, then let's talk about that."

Yes. Of course we do. It's almost like how there's a pecking order where people who swindle pensioners are judged more harshly than people who steal a loaf of bread to feed their families. Or how graffiti is worse when it's "Die Nigger" than when it's "Fuck Bush."

And, I'm sorry, you're gonna get treated like a retard if you don't understand that context and intent matter.
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 PM on April 23, 2008


From my perspective there are multiple issues here, Blazecock Pileon. All of them fairly well laid out in my first few posts. This community will choose to talk about them or not.

It's late here. I said what I said and asked what I asked hoping to see some dialogue within the community, with the express purpose of making this a better community. If the community chooses to see me as a troll, there is little I can do about that. I appear to be a lone voice, and I have no problem with that on its own. This lone voice needs some sleep now however.

Goodnight all.
posted by LiveLurker at 10:33 PM on April 23, 2008


"GiveWell's stated goal was admirable, and remains so."

I had something to say but Miko did so just above.
posted by arse_hat at 11:07 PM on April 23, 2008


The Givewell threads were huge, but there is a ton of informed nuts-and-bolts information scattered in there about how charities work, many of which demonstrate how simplistic and shallow the Givewell approach can be in very many instances. Anyone who really wanted to evaluate how useful a middle-man organization like Givewell is, or could be, or should be - the hows, whys and wherefores - will find a lot of meat to pick over in those discussions.

But I really do think that upon deciding to insinuate yourself into a field such as charitable giving, especially when setting yourself up to judge and evaluate the efforts of groups actually involved in the work of giving and working for causes.... First Do No Harm. Posing as various disinterested person-on-the-street entities to hype your organization that has actually done nothing yet, has very little expertise in the field, and may not really understand the everyday mechanics of the groups they seek to red-light or green-light is not good... and trying to damage the credibility of other charity organizations from behind that same mask just sucks. Is this how to give well? Not in my book. Admirable? Actions speak louder than oily PR-speak, and I would now never trust this group to be anything but self-serving.
posted by taz at 12:13 AM on April 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Who's Scott? My name's Andy. :)

Whatever you say, Chachi.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:42 AM on April 24, 2008


And sorry about that, Andy. You must have heard that all the time in school, and hate the references.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:55 AM on April 24, 2008


"Do we have a pecking order here of BAD sockpuppets or astroturfers, and if so, then let's talk about that."

All astroturfers are bad. Some sockpuppets are bad. Sockpuppeting astroturfers are particularly bad. Using a sockpuppet and another account to atstroturf is extra bad. Using a sockpuppet and another account to atstroturf and slag your IRL workplace competition is super duper extra bad. I'm not against us talking about this LiveLurker, but there was an awful lot of discussion in the last few GiveWell threads and I don't think much has changed.

It's fine that you don't agree with what seems to be majority opinion here (that what Holden and Eli did was both wrong in a business sense and a MeFi sense) but I don't think the issues you are raising are really confusing or debatable points insofar as most people here seem to sort of grok the difference between good and bad sock puppets -- and we have mods to sort of smooth out the issues with sock puppets that straddle the line -- and what's okay to do here and what's not.

While the media seems to have a hard time getting their head around the issues involved in this particular set of events, the MeFi community while it may vary in level of outrage, is not really conflicted about this. Holden did a really bad thing that was very against the rules here. The fact that he did this while occupying a position of responsibility and trust in a newish heavily-hyped "think outside the box, ultimate transparency" non-profit was a secondary though also very curious set of circumstances. The reaction here was more, I think, to the latter occurrence than the former and debate about that issue doesn't really need, in my opinion, to bring in any MeFi policy-type things than it already does.

If you have a question about MetaFilter policy or "why don't we do it this way instead of that way?" please feel free to toss it out there, but just wanting to "start a discussion" about astroturfing and/or sock puppets when there's not really, to my mind or to others', any big issues to talk about seems a little odd. What do you want to talk about? This community is endlessly navelgazing and thoughful, but I'm not sure what we'd be revisiting here that hasnt already been talked about.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:13 AM on April 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


From my perspective there are multiple issues here, Blazecock Pileon. All of them fairly well laid out in my first few posts. All of them fairly well laid out in my first few posts.

While I am waiting for your answer, I will say that the motivations of sockpuppets and astroturfers is as varied as the people who do either. ...Do we have a pecking order here of BAD sockpuppets or astroturfers, and if so, then let's talk about that. Or perhaps it makes more sense to come at this in a more positive way? Can any of us imagine when either of the above would be an ok thing to do?

LiveLurker, here's where I think you are dead wrong. One, that you think you laid your argument out well, and two, the notion that sockpuppet = astroturfing, and astroturfing = not a big deal or really even all that bad, and hey, let's brainstorm a positive application of it.

Under the noise, I keep seeing a statement from you that boils down to "my REAL point is that GiveWell had good intentions, even if Holden and Elie screwed up. That's the only thing I care to discuss."

Which is fine -- even if it is a minority opinion here (since many at MeFi seems to feel that, since Holden and Elie founded the org, and allegedly on top of a core of ethics that are in 100% opposition to their tactics, the org is permanently damaged).

But the second you conflate that with the suggestion that astroturfing and sockpuppetry are equal -- either equally acceptable, or equally unacceptable... and anyone who disagrees is a hypocrite (which is what you did right here) -- then yeah, it's trolling.

Astroturfing is not the same as sockpuppetry. Technically, you could argue that anyone who doesn't register at MeFi as Realfirstname RealLastname -- providing a driver license to prove it -- is a sockpuppet. Of course, at MeFi we have refined that definition further, and therefore the community standard is that sockpuppetry is fine as long as you play by the rules and don't use it to be an asshole. But still, sockpuppetry that isn't used for evil isn't any more deceptive in and of itself than using "LiveLurker" or "pineapple" as a username.

Astroturfing, on the other hand, has been widely deemed unethical, deceptive, manipulative propagandizing.

Your choosing not to acknowledge the difference, fine as it may be, is where the wheels keep falling off in this discussion.

So, while I suspect that this is actually just a pet cause for you, and that you secretly crave the opportunity to jump into GiveWell threads and be willfully obtuse, while proclaiming piously from your cross that you're just one poor soul with a valuable minority opinion, trying to be heard by the ranting masses -- though I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt going forward --

I'm going to just assume that you haven't been aware of the conflicting, confusing contradictions you've laid out here, and that now you have more clarity and can argue a real position, since you're so passionate about playing devil's advocate in this community.

Also, fwiw I don't think you're a shill for a non-profit. I think you shill for Heather. But that's a different discussion for a different time.
posted by pineapple at 7:23 AM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


OR WHAT JESSAMYN SAID.

PREVIEW IS FOR WIMPS.
posted by pineapple at 7:25 AM on April 24, 2008


LiveLurker: "If you have no interest in self introspection, let alone group introspection, so be it. Just lay off making ME the issue. I am further suggesting that Holden nor Elie are not so much the "issue" you want them to be. I am suggesting that we talk about whether it makes sense to have more accountability, more transparency, in the non-profit world where there is supposedly $300 billion dollars in play with little to no oversight."

Ha ha. That's the best part of the original thread, in my opinion. Seasoned experts like Miko explaining why micromanaging non-profits and requiring them to offer the same level of documentation and reports as a for-profit corporation would simply not work.

I still stand by what I posted there: increased accountability towards funders almost always entails decreased accountability towards the poor you are trying to serve.

Corporations are motivated by profits and sales of goods and services, which means that their behaviors are ultimately driven by the customer. The customer has to buy the service, so the company's usefulness/appeal is in a direct relationship to its success in sales. There are no such financial incentives for non-profits, and increased offering of goods and services actually decreases their bottom line. The more services and goods they offer, assuming a non-infinite amount of funding, the fewer resources they have for administrative costs, including documentation and reporting. And vice-versa.

I'm not saying that non-profits shouldn't be aware of the money that they're spending, or the effectiveness of various programs. But demanding information at the level that hedgefund managers generally seek would kill a small dynamic NGDO.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:06 AM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I still stand by what I posted there: increased accountability towards funders almost always entails decreased accountability towards the poor you are trying to serve.

Amen and amen.

To return to something I said back in those threads: If granting agencies want increased accountability, they need to pay for it with increased indirect cost funding. Demanding more accountability and not paying for the administrative people and time needed to provide that accountability ultimately serves no one. Period.

Which is why, in the end, GiveWell is EPIC FAIL waiting to happen. Not only are they demanding a lot of knowledge up front, as far as I can tell they're not paying indirects.
posted by dw at 9:01 AM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm just going to add in here with the choir...most non-profits do a shitload of work to be accountable and transparent. Over 50% of my job is doing that - ensuring that we set things up in such a way that we will have data and research at the end to demonstrate that we did something well, or that we didn't. And I'm not counting the seemingly endless budget meetings and cost projections.

Is there corruption? Absolutely. As has been said, this is the case everywhere - governments, religions, for-profit, non-profit, cops, arms dealers, etc. Is oversight needed? Of course.

What tires me out is folks coming forward and saying: OMG! The non-profit sector has lots of cash & they don't work like the profit world. Therefore, they must need better oversight - oversight like for-profits get! Come and learn. Sit down and talk with us about what we do, and how we know what we do works. We're constantly trying to improve, and we're usually well aware of short comings in our methodologies. But stop thinking that we're either a) a bunch of feel-good twits who just want to try to make things better, but are clueless about how things work in the "real" world; or b) that we're a bunch of corrupt folks laughing our asses off as we take donations and public funds while providing nothing. Frankly, both of those are insulting.
posted by never used baby shoes at 12:36 PM on April 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


The tribe has spoken.

But dammit, did that elephant have to piss on my new umbrella?
posted by LiveLurker at 5:01 PM on April 24, 2008


I love bees.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:36 PM on April 24, 2008


If it has not been mentioned yet, they get more good press in freakanomics.
posted by Dr. Curare at 6:57 PM on April 24, 2008


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