He's baaaaaaa-ack. December 10, 2008 7:40 PM   Subscribe

It's coming up on that most wonderful givewell time of the year.

This year, Holden Karnofsky (the "co-founder of GiveWell.net") wants to let you all know that instead of volunteering this holiday season, it's a much better idea to research charities instead.

Previously, enough to spawn a wiki entry. Take-home message: Miko still rules, Holden still sucks.
posted by tractorfeed to MetaFilter-Related at 7:40 PM (112 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Is this kind of like when you joke with your siblings about how bad a fart smelled that one of you dealt years ago?
posted by Burhanistan at 7:42 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are you referring to the one that prematurely de-needled the tree, or the one that melted all the bows on the presents?
posted by carsonb at 7:48 PM on December 10, 2008


What is this about? How is he baaack?
posted by sweetkid at 7:56 PM on December 10, 2008


No...please. Just ...no..... Not another 73,000 comment thread....dear god...
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:57 PM on December 10, 2008


I guess there's still plenty of money in charity.
posted by box at 8:04 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


There's a lesson here about how even people who are proven to be lousy and bad for an organization can nonetheless remain in control. At some point you have to ask whether these organizations are anything more than a vehicle for the people running it. I'm sure GiveWell has gotten Holden invited to a great many parties and his number in the rolodex of many wealthy "donors". You have to ask whether that was the purpose all along.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:07 PM on December 10, 2008


I'm still giving my money directly to the panhandling winos instead.
posted by jonmc at 8:07 PM on December 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


The weirdest thing about the Givewell episode was Phil Cubeta.
posted by jayder at 8:14 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


Good comments on that marketplace page... with the HTML stripped out of them, sadly. I encourage you to write better comments directly to American Public Media management. Listener opinion counts at Marketplace.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:22 PM on December 10, 2008


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by An Infinity Of Monkeys at 8:22 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


If nothing else, you have to acknowledge that getting the hell out of hedge funds was probably a decent plan.

Way to go with the good timing on that, you miserable gits.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:23 PM on December 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


I mean, if you *volunteer*, you might have to rub elbows with those disgusting needy proles. Ewwww, gross!

Much better to go to the club, my dear, and let your money work *for you*, while Holden Karnofsky takes a cut supporting Givewell's administrative expenses.

Holden knows it's all about the money: "I believe that to many charities, using volunteers is a way to get people personally involved with, excited about, and personally invested in the organization so that they’ll donate and fundraise, the real value-added."


(Oh, as I noted somewhere previously (a comment in a deleted FPP?), Holden, after being removed from the board of Givewell in January for spamming metafilter:
The board apologizes for any violations of public trust resulting from Mr. Karnofsky’s actions.

Effective January 3, 2008, Holden Karnofsky has been removed from his position as Executive Director of GiveWell and from his position as Board Secretary.
was restored to the board in September:
Board of Directors
. . . .
Holden Karnofsky (Secretary) see bio above. (Holden was added to the board at a meeting on 9/8/08. A recording and minutes from that meeting will be available shortly.)
Meanwhile, the only non-director employee was let go, apparently because Givewell had nothing for him to do. But things seem to be picking up at Givewell, or at least there are more frequent entries on their blog. Maybe the collapse of hedge funds has made more of the best and the brightest clever young wizards interested in burrowing into charity.)
posted by orthogonality at 8:23 PM on December 10, 2008


can't he find something good to do, like volunteer for the palin 2012 committee?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:31 PM on December 10, 2008


I heard Holden tonight, and just last night Lucy Bernholz was on their show. Could they really find no one for these stories but current and former Givewell board members?
posted by gladly at 8:38 PM on December 10, 2008


It's my opinion that most charity ranking sites and middleman-type organizations are massive scams.

Look at Network for Good, for instance. If you want to make a donation through GuideStar, the biggest and most reliable charity database out there, you do it through them. For the massive favor of allowing you to donate using a credit card, they skim 4.75% off the top. Or Just Give, which takes 3% of each donation. Or Charity Navigator, which purports to be the premiere charitable evaluation service but only analyzes nonprofits making 250K and over each year.

If you work for a well administered, lean nonprofit that's community-based or benefits a small group (for example, people with a particularly rare or underdiagnosed illness) you may as well not exist for most of these services (including GiveWell). Most well run nonprofits of any size squeeze each dollar till it bleeds, and the last thing they need is some other organization taking a cut. They also don't need the added blow of being marginalized because they aren't rich and powerful enough to catch a middleman's eye. It's really telling that none of these services even make a symbolic gesture toward helping small organizations grow.

The best part? All of these services are themselves nonprofits, which means they also collect donations and enjoy tax exempt status!

Ultimately, if you want to find out about the group you are giving to, you can almost always go to GuideStar and read their 990s free of charge to get the same information these other services offer at a price. Or, if they are local to you, you can check them out for yourself, or just look around you to see the impact they are making. To maximize your donation, donate directly to the organizations you support and do it with a check, because credit card companies do not exempt charities from their charges. Your money should go to those to whom you intend to give it.
posted by melissa may at 8:39 PM on December 10, 2008 [16 favorites]


gladly writes "Could they really find no one for these stories but current and former Givewell board members?"

Presumably the NPR people know the Givewell people from the Ivy League schools they attended together. Or vacations in the Hamptons. Or the best Manhattan night-spots.

Or as Scooter Libby observed in his jail house letter to Judith Miller, "They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them."
posted by orthogonality at 8:45 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


DOGROSE: That's fine, jonmc—but you could maximize the impact of your contributions by doing some research at GiveWino.net. We actually feel that when people insist that as many pennies of my dollar as possible need to go straight to the winos, what they're doing is they're leaving out a lot of the overhead that's needed to hire great people at the liquor store, to provide material for self-pleasuring in the recycling bins, to figure out what really works, in terms of Popov v. Wild Irish Rose, and to do a good job.

There are a lot of winos out there, and I'm sure we'll be seeing more and more on our sidewalks and in our doorways. There are many doing great work in self-medication, and if you are close enough to one, then that may be all you need to have a lot of confidence that they're doing quite well with the nihilistic obliteration of self that cheap booze offers.

But, you know, if you're not in that position, and you're trying to find a wino that you can have confidence in that you haven't heard much about, I think it's the wrong approach to try and guess yourself which of these new, unproven winos really has what it takes. I think that oftentimes in wino-giving there's too much discussion given to the next, big, great revolutionary idea that's going to solve the root cause of not having spigots of Everclear 180 on every corner, and not nearly enough attention given to, "Hey, what are the things that already work and how can we get more of them?"

JONMC: dogrose is the co-founder of GiveWino.net. That's a group that studies the effectiveness of winos and advises donors about them. dogrose, thanks a lot.

DOGROSE: Yeah. My pleasure.
posted by dogrose at 8:59 PM on December 10, 2008 [18 favorites]


Is this the thread with the desks?

Wait, what day is it?
posted by krinklyfig at 9:01 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, I'm having <F5> flashbacks. This is worse than Palin. Is that possible?
posted by lysdexic at 9:09 PM on December 10, 2008


"Compound" is easily my favourite chocolate, interest, and bone fracture.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:10 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Terrible interview questions. The last one allows Holden to conflate "local" with "unproven" and "bigger" with "established," and completely leaves out the choice of "local and proven," as melissa may mentions above. But if everyone focused on local charities they know firsthand, then who'd need GiveWell?
posted by mediareport at 9:12 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Compound" is easily my favourite chocolate, interest, and bone fracture.

Don't forget patriotic housing!
posted by maxwelton at 9:16 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Jeez, I've been working through TakeBad, and they kind of suck.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:17 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


God, I love Givewell. It's healthy and delicious and I can indulge while feeling good about myself.

Oh wait, I'm thinking of Snackwells.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:27 PM on December 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


Karnofsky: I would actually make a different suggestion. I would say that if you're finding yourself this year with more time and less money than you usually have, I would encourage you to put that time into researching and really thinking hard about where you're giving rather than volunteering. I think volunteering is often adverstised as being more than it is for a very specific reason. Which is that volunteering is often about recruiting donors. And so what I would say is that there is some volunteer work that's certainly valuable, especially if you have a particular skill such as . . . let's say you're a cleft palette surgeon and you're going over to perform corrective surgeries. But a lot of time, when a charity's asking you to volunteer, what they're really trying to do is get you involved, get you excited, and the real benefit to them is the donation anyway.

Wait, I get it. So, if you are unemployed, AND have extra cash during Christmastime and the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, you're better off following this guy's advice, because volunteering is a sham to recruit donors, get you involved and excited, when really, you could just simply give your money to him instead. Where do I sign up?

(Unless of course, you're not entirely useless to the community — if say, you are a surgeon giving out free services.)
posted by iamkimiam at 9:30 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


God, this is like some loathsome holiday cartoon special that sucked so bad you couldn't believe it and then, blammo, next Christmas the fucking Snorks Breakdancing Christmas with Menudo is on again.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:10 PM on December 10, 2008 [14 favorites]


Please please please let this be the thread where we talk shit about Kai Ryssdal.
posted by dhammond at 10:25 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


The.
posted by Caduceus at 10:33 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Please please please let this be the thread where we talk shit about Kai Ryssdal.

What's wrong with Kai Ryssdal? His voice is so sexy, almost as good as Scott Jagow when it comes to wry bemusement.
posted by Locative at 10:34 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's it. I hate him because he's just too perfect!
posted by dhammond at 10:42 PM on December 10, 2008


Initial Thoughts, In Sequential Order:

i. Man, that bastard, again?
ii. Man, Miko is so cool.
iii. That wiki entry was my idea.
iv. Oh Marketplace Money, no!
v. Hey, the first MeFi/Karnofsky Google result is a mention of some university speech he gave, what gives?
vi. OH MY HOLY FUCK, I HAVE TOTALLY PISSED THE ENTIRE YEAR AWAY
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:43 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


This makes me want to kill bats with a whip, in the dark, blindfolded.
posted by isopraxis at 10:57 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


isopraxis: don't kill me...

I couldn't believe the anti-volunteering comment in there. What's the point throwing money at an organisation if there's no one to actually make use of the resources? SOMEONE has to take care of it, at least.

urgh, seriously, dude.
posted by divabat at 11:13 PM on December 10, 2008


Burhanistan, and then remember, how the entire front pew turned around and looked, and you looked over at the baby like its diaper needed changing? Oh man.
posted by salvia at 11:50 PM on December 10, 2008


You do have to respect someone who gives you a chance to use the phrase "unmitigated gall." I can also whip out "temerity," which I think is underused.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:03 AM on December 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


Jeez, I've been working through TakeBad, and they kind of suck.

If what you really want this holiday season is "really suck", and not "kind of suck", I recommend that you give all your money to GrabSuck.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:29 AM on December 11, 2008


No thanks, I gave well at the office.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:36 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Has anyone with authority referred Marketplace to Metafilter's "coverage" of GiveWell, Karnovsky, and his board? By "authority", I mean "the juice to make them pay attention".
posted by reflecked at 12:41 AM on December 11, 2008


Hi Holden. You're reading this thread, right? Happy holidays. And, well, try to redeem yourself, man. Really, you should, I think.

Otherwise, did you MeFiers notice that our own gen made a comment on that site with the interview? Go gen! I'll reprint it here:

COMMENTS
Comment | Refresh

By Gen Kanai
From New York, NY, 12/11/2008

Marketplace should not be giving airtime to people who do not have the credentials to be speaking about the topic in question. Karnofsky himself was removed from his Executive Director position at GiveWell due to "improper and indefensible" actions.

Please see these sites for more information.

http://mssv.net/wiki/index.php/Givewell

http://blog.givewell.net/?p=212
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:47 AM on December 11, 2008


Google had them in for a Tech Talk a while back. Of course Google has a bunch of oddballs coming through the techtalks now so that doesn't mean much but still.
posted by Skorgu at 2:57 AM on December 11, 2008


Being new to the scene here, this is the first I'm hearing of the GiveWell controversy. Fascinating stuff. I wonder: seeing as how Karnofsky was fired from his position at GiveWell for being improper and acting indefensibly, why is Marketplace giving him a platform? Are no other charity founders available to give a short interview? I don't understand this.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:16 AM on December 11, 2008


and... it's Holiday Limbo Time again with Holden Karnofsky, folks! How low can he go???

discouraging people from volunteering? wow. He's such a slimy grub.
posted by taz at 4:01 AM on December 11, 2008


Initial Thoughts, In Sequential Order:

1. Hey, it's a GiveWell thread. This will be good.
2. Seriously? Volunteering is irresponsible? Holden should read "Giving," if he's going to stay in this business.
3. Why is it that, if ordinary folks notice someone jaywalking we can make a citizen's arrest, but we can't fire this guy when we notice his incompetence? Or, you know, deny his company non-profit status, or just reroute all their donations to Doctors without Borders?
3. I should post something in the thread so I can follow the shenanigans.
4. What should I post? Snarky one liner? Ooh... Alvy's got a good model, there.... 'Initial Thoughts.' Hmmm... how did my thoughts go?
5. Jeeze... this is hard. I clicked over to answer some e-mails before I finished the thread. I guess I'll just make something up.
6. Wow. Even my made-up thoughts are boring, although... maybe my made-up thoughts are more boring than my actual thoughts? When are they going to invent psychic transcripts?
7. "Read that back," I'd say. The transcriptionist: "Is Kai Rysdol as hot as he sounds? 'Cause he sounds like Ken doll with a degree in finance. I'd hit that." Uh oh... "Strike that, it'll reset the cooter-clock!"
7. OH HOLY FUCK I JUST PISSED AWAY TEN WHOLE MINUTES MAKING A COMMENT ON METATALK
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:30 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I actually wondered if Holden really was back the other day: this user, who'd only made a couple of comments at the time and smelled a bit socky, recommended Givewell on Ask MetaFilter (the comment and responses to it were pruned - is Givewell completely verboten on Ask?).
posted by jack_mo at 5:03 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing writes "seeing as how Karnofsky was fired from his position at GiveWell for being improper and acting indefensibly, why is Marketplace giving him a platform?"

Because (see my long comment above) GiveWell reinstated Holden to the Board as soon as the heat was off.
posted by orthogonality at 5:08 AM on December 11, 2008


jack_mo writes "I actually wondered if Holden really was back the other day: this user, "

"jeeves" does radiate the sense of entitlement that parents pay good money to Andover to get for their precious brats.
posted by orthogonality at 5:12 AM on December 11, 2008


I was throwing shit at the radio yesterday when I heard this.

Volunteering is just a way for those nasty, sneaky nonprofits to worm some cash out of you! Yeah! They're like cults!

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Holden talks with great authority about things he doesn't know shit about. Christ, what an asshole.
posted by rtha at 5:58 AM on December 11, 2008


what's the point throwing money at an organisation if there's no one to actually make use of the resources? SOMEONE has to take care of it, at least.

Oh, managing the money is for the PAID employees at the charities/organizations; volunteers just take their jobs!
posted by inigo2 at 6:24 AM on December 11, 2008


As someone who's blessed with the opportunity and flexibility to be transitioning to full-time work for a really great non-profit NGO working in the 3rd world environment...

a) If I ever meet Holden Karnofsky (and, given my new line of work, there's a significant chance that I might), I am going to punch him in the face, and scream "THAT'S FOR METAFILTER, BITCH."

b) If I ever meet Miko I'm going to hug her. And scream "THAT'S FOR META..." Never mind.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:40 AM on December 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


Wait, I thought the point of GiveWell was to research the effectiveness of charities so that individual donors didn't have to? But now Holden Karnofsky says we should be doing this, instead of volunteering? Even the astroturfing had some kind of obvious motive. This is just baffling.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:52 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's extra ironic now because it turns out that hedge funds and investment banks are now not-for-profit charitable institutions. Poor Holden's gone full circle.
posted by stet at 6:58 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


The more things change...
Holden is able to weasel out of things and emerge smelling of lilacs. Must be nice to be able to clean your reputation with "donations" as soon as anyone spots some malfeasance.
posted by subbes at 7:05 AM on December 11, 2008


I wonder: seeing as how Karnofsky was fired from his position at GiveWell for being improper and acting indefensibly, why is Marketplace giving him a platform?

Because Givewell happily swept this more or less under the rug, and Marketplace doesn't have any motive to go looking under the rugs of low-stakes interviewees? What Holden and Elie were pulling here and elsewhere is embarrassing bullshit, but it's not a sexy enough story to have much potency outside a web context. Which is a shame—I still think it speaks to a pretty crappy overarching ethical sensibility by those two—but that's the truth.

It's possible that some of the feedback they're getting now that they've committed a bit by conducting that interview may spawn some murmur of Oh, Hrm, but it's just as possible that it won't go any further than those comments on the story.

Are no other charity founders available to give a short interview?

How many other charity founders were marketing themselves and putting themselves out there as potential interviewees? It's possible Marketplace heard about GiveWell by genuine random word of mouth or something, but isn't it more likely that there was a little PR involved? That Holden won the PR lotto/horserace, rather than acing some metaphorical Best Charity Founder Interviewee exam?

And if you don't know that there's anything wrong with the interviewee you've got, and there's something unusual he's willing to say and defend, why not run with that guy?

I actually wondered if Holden really was back the other day: this user,

I looked pretty thoroughly and couldn't find anything to make me suspicious. If it's GiveWell, they've gotten a lot better about being sneaky, but I really doubt it's anything but an actual coincidence.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:08 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wait a minute.

"Effective January 3, 2008, Holden Karnofsky has been removed from his position as Executive Director of GiveWell and from his position as Board Secretary."

...and now...

Board of Directors...

Holden Karnofsky (Secretary) see bio above. (Holden was added to the board at a meeting on 9/8/08. A recording and minutes from that meeting will be available shortly.)

Yuck.
posted by Alison at 7:10 AM on December 11, 2008


I find it oddly convenient that there are still recordings from two board meetings that have never been made available. First, the one from December 2007 when allocations were announced, and then from 9/8/08 when Karnofsky was reinstated as a board member. "Shortly" is apparently longer than three months in Givewell time.
posted by netbros at 7:17 AM on December 11, 2008


This cat is sheisty as hell.
posted by cashman at 7:24 AM on December 11, 2008


So if Holden is on the board, is he a volunteer? Is that his job? I went hunting around the GiveWell site and couldn't figure that part out.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:10 AM on December 11, 2008


Hah, as soon as I heard Kai Ryssdal say "Givewell" last night, I launched into a rant about it to my husband and therefore didn't actually hear the interview. Can't believe that jerk suggested that people not volunteer.
posted by misskaz at 8:12 AM on December 11, 2008


I'm starting to actively hate this guy, instead of being merely dismissive.
posted by aramaic at 8:25 AM on December 11, 2008


Hah, as soon as I heard Kai Ryssdal say "Givewell" last night, I launched into a rant about it to my husband

Same here, except it was my wife. I think I frightened her a little with my apparently unmotivated loud cursing. Despite cortex's excessively rational and evenhanded explanation above, I can't fucking believe they gave that guy all that air time. Christ, what an asshole.

Also: the.
posted by languagehat at 8:27 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


oh man, i hope we hound this guy for the rest of his life. really, i hope we really really hang onto this grudge for ever and ever because it will never get tiresome.
posted by shmegegge at 8:41 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm of the opinion, rather like Dante was, that Hell has different "levels," as it were.

I like to think of hell as a hotel. When you die, if you don't go to heaven, you show up in the lobby for Hell, and they look up your reservation and check you in. Like in many real hotels, Hell keeps certain premium level floors for their extra-special customers. Except instead of bigger rooms with softer robes and a cheese plate and a better view, in Hell you get a hotter room with more rabid badgers and jagged glass and poison ivy growing all over.

These rooms are reserved for people like Holden.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:55 AM on December 11, 2008


Blazecock Pileon : If what you really want this holiday season is "really suck", and not "kind of suck", I recommend that you give all your money to GrabSuck.

So you're advocating that I once again support my local hooker charities? Oddly, I'd still feel better about that than providing money to Givewell.
posted by quin at 8:58 AM on December 11, 2008


Jesus, Marketplace. What the hell?
posted by Tehanu at 9:20 AM on December 11, 2008


I believe that to many charities, using volunteers is a way to get people personally involved with, excited about, and personally invested in the organization so that they’ll donate and fundraise, the real value-added.

I think volunteering is often adverstised as being more than it is for a very specific reason. Which is that volunteering is often about recruiting donors. And so what I would say is that there is some volunteer work that's certainly valuable, especially if you have a particular skill such as . . . let's say you're a cleft palette surgeon and you're going over to perform corrective surgeries. But a lot of time, when a charity's asking you to volunteer, what they're really trying to do is get you involved, get you excited, and the real benefit to them is the donation anyway.

I was surprised to hear this from Mr. Evidence himself. Because it's not true, and I'd love to see the data he's using to support this assertion. At my institution, our volunteers are vital and produce a tremendous savings over having to hire out that work.

Or maybe, because he made sure to say it's a belief and something he "thinks" and not a true assertion, he won't need to produce any data. In reality, I suspect this is simply a way to goose listeners to donate cash -- because, once again, it's year-end tax-advantage donation time, there's an operating budget to meet and the fiscal year is winding down, and a lot of new people just heard the name GiveWell.
posted by Miko at 9:25 AM on December 11, 2008 [7 favorites]


I happened to catch part of this interview in the car yesterday, but missed the introduction. All I heard was the guest's warning against focusing too much on the percentage of donations that go to overhead costs. I thought it was a reasonable point. Then I heard it was the Givewell guy and now I may have to quit Metafilter in disgrace.
posted by mullacc at 9:40 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Using GiveWell is better than volunteering. This will GiveWell.
posted by ersatz at 9:46 AM on December 11, 2008


I left a reasonable comment over at Marketplace and I suggest others do the same.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:47 AM on December 11, 2008


If Mr. Karnofsky was removed from his position of Executive Director and no new executive director was ever hired, who's running the place now?
posted by Staggering Jack at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2008


orthogonality: "jeeves" does radiate the sense of entitlement that parents pay good money to Andover to get for their precious brats.

jeeves is OK by me.
posted by desjardins at 10:03 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's unsettling that someone who mistrusts nonprofits so much has gotten himself positioned as an expert on the field.
posted by salvia at 10:05 AM on December 11, 2008


Staggering Jack: they hired him back.

(hey that rhymes!)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:14 AM on December 11, 2008


Mike, did you bother to look at what Holden0 linked to?
posted by ALongDecember at 10:24 AM on December 11, 2008


I'd love to see the data he's using to support this assertion.

Data? We don't need no steenking data!

The nonprofit I volunteer for has three paid staff and almost 300 volunteers. It would be completely idiotic to expect people to donate enough money to hire that many people. Idiotic and counterproductive.
posted by rtha at 10:25 AM on December 11, 2008


"How can I help?

We are always looking for people who are interested in donating, volunteering, and/or helping to spread the word. Click here to get involved." emphasis mine

But remember, kids, they're just after your money!
posted by rtha at 10:33 AM on December 11, 2008


I worked at an agency that used volunteer opportunities as a chance to recruit donors. They obviously didn't ask every volunteer as that would have been ridiculous since a lot of our volunteers were students. But when we had church groups come in from the wealthier suburbs to go on street outreach trips with us we would eventually pitch them if they stuck around long enough and felt compelled to do more than just volunteer. Tons of grassroots organizations do this. It's a great way to build an ongoing relationship with your donors; they fee like they're giving more than just money because they are actually involved in your agency's function. It's a total win/win.

I'm also a little concerned about Metafilter playing Internet cop with this guy. I'm sorry, but those comments on the Marketplace site and many in this thread vibe stalkerish to me. I think you should have new evidence that this guy is still up to no good or be able to support the assertion that he learned nothing from his experience last year before continuing to haunt him with evidence of a past crime everytime his name pops up online.
posted by The Straightener at 10:37 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


because, once again, it's year-end tax-advantage donation time, there's an operating budget to meet and the fiscal year is winding down,

And if I call correctly, didn't the majority of Givewell's operating budget go right into the pockets of Holden Karnofky and his little buddy whose name I forget in the form of grossly inflated salaries?
posted by dersins at 10:50 AM on December 11, 2008


Holden Karnofky

Karnofsky. Holden Karnofsky. Damn I hate typos.
posted by dersins at 10:55 AM on December 11, 2008


I think you should have new evidence that this guy is still up to no good or be able to support the assertion that he learned nothing from his experience last year before continuing to haunt him with evidence of a past crime

That's very generous of you. Will you also be urging Illinois voters to give Blago another chance after he gets out of the slammer?
posted by languagehat at 10:58 AM on December 11, 2008


I'm also a little concerned about Metafilter playing Internet cop with this guy.

OK, for a $500 donation I'll submit his name into the queue to be re-evaluated and potentially re-ranked.

If he is not re-ranked, I'll return the money, minus a small "processing fee" cut.
posted by aramaic at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2008


I agree that it's weird to stalk him, and I generally stay away from GiveWell as a topic for that reason. But when something like this comes up, it's hard to not look like I'm stalking when what I'm actually doing is maintaining my solid critical stance against the foundational philisophy and assumptions of this organization. The misrepresentation is, hopefully, in the past, but will remain as part of the organization's character - still, I don't think there's reason to beat on them for that any further. There's a separate thread that is really about discussing their view of the nonprofit sector and how they wish to overhaul it, and that's a legitimate discussion. It should probably best take place elsewhere, but it's been tough because I don't want to engage with GiveWell itself anymore.

As to donors/volunteers: nonprofits have multiple, overlapping circles of constituents, and part of developing an organization is definitely to make the best use of each of those subcommunities. For instance, you may have a board of volunteer leaders who give, ask for donations, and oversee the organization. You may have frontline volunteers who stuff envelopes, greet and serve people, pack boxes, sweep, or whatever it is that needs doing at the most concrete level. You have donors who don't do anything, and donors who are also volunteers. These groups overlap. When it's time to fundraise, it's stupid to ignore the people who are your strongest proponents, and among them are those who already show the commitment to your organization that volunteering entails. So it makes sense to direct annual fund and other giving appeals to your volunteer base.

But it is an oversimplification to say that these volunteers are there for the central purpose of being recruited as donors. That's not correct. It varies with the organization, but our volunteers actually contribute to the development and delivery of the program. Our organization benefits from thousands of hours of volunteer service that ranges from floral design, exhibit preparation, archaeology object cataloguing, serving food, greeting guests, leading tours, doing garden work, and demonstrating skills. Without the hours they give, we would not be able to maintain this program without making cash outlays for the same work, which is integral to the program. The monetary value contributed in kind through the donation of their hours would be not less than $80,000 and that's averaging $8.00/hour without fringe. We have 25 fulltime paid employees and a volunteer corps of over 400, only maybe 25% of whom are members or donors.

Development officers recognize that volunteers are a mixed lot; some are moneyed, and could move their way up the donor pyramid, giving greater and greater cash gifts, and sometimes that happens. But a large part of the volunteer force does volunteer work in lieu of cash donation - they don't have the money to give in the first place, so their hours are contributed instead. Or they belong to City Year, or the local university, and have more time and energy than cash; or perhaps the volunteer experience and credit is their motivator.

In addition, there are the less material realities that the GiveWell philosophy consistently shunts aside: that many nonprofit organizations exist at least in part to build a community. That's in my groups' mission statements, and is a simple reality for healthy organizations. That community is a group of people who uses the channel and resources provided by the nonprofit to achieve something they wish to see in the world. Taken in the aggregate, they are the nonprofit. Some people find themselves satisfied by check writing, but that is not true for most people in the sector. They are seeking an experience and a more meaningful existence, and they choose to align themselves with the organizations so that they can gain those intangibles. This is why even some of our most well-heeled donors and trustees enjoy signing up for volunteer roles and are regularly working onsite for free. They don't need the money, and they're not volunteering in leiu of giving - they are volunteering because the experience adds value to their lives and furthers the mission they care about.

Organizations grow, develop, attract new supporters and donors, and set new agendas because of the involvements of people working in social ways together - not just financial ways. These are not businesses, they are complex associations organized toward social ends, and they can't be completely measured by market data. By minimizing the importance of volunteerism, Karnofsky reduces the philanthropic impulse to a simple math problem, excludes people from involvement in the nonprofit community, and ultimately shows contempt for the very reasons most non-wealthy people choose to support charitable efforts.

Mike, did you bother to look at what Holden0 linked to?

Assuming you mean mean and not somebody named Mike, to what link are you referring? The Marketplace transcript didn't seem to contain any specific links.

God, this topic is so addicting, but I think The Straightener is basically right - MetaFilter as "the place that beats on GiveWell" isn't the right way to go.
posted by Miko at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2008 [13 favorites]


Holden is able to weasel out of things and emerge smelling of lilacs.

And yet he still looks unbelievably smarmy in the article photo.

In regards to the anti-volunteerism: what an asshole. Did they challenge that in the interview? I'll have to listen to it later tonight.
posted by odinsdream at 11:06 AM on December 11, 2008


Assuming you mean mean and not somebody named Mike, to what link are you referring?

ALD was quoting "geremiah", Mike.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:24 AM on December 11, 2008


geremiah was full of bullshit.
He was good to his own bottom line.
I never understood how anyone could believe him,
But I lolled when he drank his whine.
He always had some mighty fine whine.

Sing it: Joy to the gray...
Give well, the Mefi way, now.
Joy to the Mike Miko in the deep gray pit,
But please just end this shit.
Holden needs to end his shit.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:51 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Miko, I wasn't accusing you of stalking, I'm sorry if it came across that way. It makes perfect sense that you have a lasting intrest in the topic because it directly intersects with your career and you have a lot of knowledge on the subject. However, a lot of the people posting to Marketplace and making nasty comments here have nothing substantial to say about philanthropy, have no professional experience in the nonprofit world and are saying little more than, "DUDE'S A DICK READ THE METAFILTER FAQ." That vibes stalkerish to me.
posted by The Straightener at 11:54 AM on December 11, 2008


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IF THIS IS FLASHING, HOLDEN KARNOFSKY ISN'T A DICKBAG
posted by Damn That Television at 12:11 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, so he was hired back. Got it.

This topic makes me sad. What a perfection corruption of the entire concept of "charity".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:29 PM on December 11, 2008


Ah, memories of Holden Karnofsky, Elie Hassenfeld and their long-winded, arrogant and pompous buddy, Phil Cubeta (from Gift Hub). And lest we forget the related 'Rachel Tension brouhaha'. Interesting times, interesting times.
posted by ericb at 12:29 PM on December 11, 2008


Ah, so he was hired back. Got it.

Well -- to be precise -- he was never really fired. He was demoted (to program officer, I believe) and stripped of being Board Secretary.

He's been reinstated in the Secretary position ... and I suspect has resumed the Executive Director position, since it appears he and Elie are the only two full-time staff members.
posted by ericb at 12:36 PM on December 11, 2008


From their website:
"This page logs mistakes we've made, strategies we should have planned and executed differently, and lessons we've learned. Because we are a startup organization working in areas we have little experience with, it is particularly important that we constantly recognize and learn from our shortcomings."
posted by ericb at 12:39 PM on December 11, 2008


Because we are a startup organization working in areas we have little experience with...

Gives me a lot of confidence in why anyone should listen to your position regarding volunteerism.
posted by ericb at 12:43 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


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I would like to favorite this twice, please.
posted by odinsdream at 12:56 PM on December 11, 2008


ALD was quoting "geremiah", Mike.

Glad cortex got the joke. I was just looking at the old AskMe post and I was laughing about how he called you out for actually trying to answer and called you mike instead of Miko.
posted by ALongDecember at 1:06 PM on December 11, 2008


"Our Shortcomings"

Where have I seen this before? Oh, yeah...

I'm a bad doctor.

That's what kind of gets me about this whole thing. Our Sunday School went through some book called politically or spiritually incorrect that I can't find now that had a chapter on "what's so bad about making money doing good"? Going on about how we for some reason just don't like it when people make lots of money while working for charity.

Well, this guy is part of why. For-profits are pretty much about the money. They have a reason for living (i.e. their products) but if there's no money, they don't exist. You know that there are good people there who believe in whatever they're doing , but you also know that there are folks out to get the most money possible, product be damned.

Non-profits aren't about the money. They need it, but that's not why they exist. We have a (maybe unrealistic) expectation that the people working there believe in what they're doing and want to be there for more than money. It's not "just a job".

This guy is about the money, sees everyone else as competition rather than partners, and wants to coast on charm. That's why I sputter, anyway.

However, as Dad likes to say: ILLEGITIMI NON CARBORUNDUM!
posted by lysdexic at 1:24 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Boy, I just reread that original Ask thread, and skimmed the original MetaTalk thread. I forgot how weaselriffic they/he were, and how cool it was to watch them get taken apart, with complete justification and a fair amount of restraint. Wow.

I'd also like everyone to congratulate me in hushed and reverent tones for having been prescient enough to be the FIRST TO FAVORITE 15547. It was nothing, really. You're too kind.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:36 PM on December 11, 2008


I think you should have new evidence that this guy is still up to no good or be able to support the assertion that he learned nothing from his experience last year before continuing to haunt him with evidence of a past crime everytime his name pops up online.

I totally agree, but based on the non-Metafilter-wiki-focused comments on the Marketplace board — which comprise the majority — would it seem that his radio interview suggests that he hasn't, in fact, learned much from his experience last year, if he is pushing the same ideas that many have already discredited?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:47 PM on December 11, 2008


Marketplace usually does a better job researching stories, which was probably a bit more disappointing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:50 PM on December 11, 2008


We have a (maybe unrealistic) expectation that the people working there believe in what they're doing and want to be there for more than money.

In my experience this isn't unrealistic. I give grant-writing workshops (run by a charity), and have interacted with hundreds of people who work for, or volunteer for, not-for-profits. Many people working for nonprofits, particularly in executive positions, would be paid a lot more in the for-profit world but they want to be part of something that will make the world a bit better. Not-for-profits are mission driven, not profit driven, and so are many of the people who work there.

I've been following Givewell and their aggressive stance since before Holden appeared on Metafilter, since they caused quite a stir in the sector, and I think this comment has actually nailed for me one of the reasons I've never trusted Givewell. I've never had the impression that Holden and co were out to make the world a better place. It seems to me he saw an opportunity to make a name for himself and grabbed it with both hands, using all the publicity-grabbing techniques money could buy which he learned in the commercial world. Which is not to say that the not-for-profit world is a sweet and fluffy place and that we're all saints, or that he doesn't have some good points about duplication and efficiency. But the issues are way more complicated than he makes them out to be, and the sector is way too varied to make the types of generalisations he makes. He really needs to get out there and work for a small, already established, direct service not-for-profit before he starts chucking stones.
posted by andraste at 2:00 PM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


When I first saw this thread I didn't even know if I wanted to follow it again - it took up a lot of my energy last time 'round. But then it turned into longboating, so that was okay.

Longboating anyone?
posted by Phire at 2:37 PM on December 11, 2008


This guy...sees everyone else as competition rather than partners...

Yep. A recent Givewell blog topic/post: Finally, a competitor!

By the way, in that posting Elie states:
"Guidestar offers very brief summaries of a charity’s programs off its 990, but nowhere can I see the specifics of each of its activities. We’re currently working on building such a tool for international aid, with the help of some great volunteers.]"
From the "volunteers" hyperlink:
"As we get more systematic about our research process, we are able to use volunteers more effectively (and in fact have several working well now, with more slots open)..."
posted by ericb at 2:49 PM on December 11, 2008


ALD was quoting "geremiah", Mike.

God, I'm an idiot. Sorry. The funniest part was that when I read it, I was like "That's SO weird, that was the same mistake made in the original AskMe..." and I still didn't get it. Yeesh - capital Duh.

By the way, the Marketplace charity series continued tonight, and featured an interesting and extremely tongue-in-cheek commentary on how nonprofits could be so much better if they were more like businesses. Dan Pallotta makes some interesting points about why our expectations for charities are so different from those in private sector organizations, but I think he's headed toward a different conclusion than I would make from the same premises - I'd have to read the book to be sure, though. Anyway, worth a listen.
posted by Miko at 4:10 PM on December 11, 2008


lysdexic and Miko: how about social enterprises - using business models for social good? It's something advocated by Nic Frances (who first implemented the ideas in poverty help organisation Brotherhood of St Laurence) and it's taken off all over the world.
posted by divabat at 5:15 PM on December 11, 2008


Well, I'm very active in a couple of organizations that advocate the triple bottom line approach as a self-conscious strategy for growth and community imrpovement - but I really think the ideas behind social enterprise are not at all new, and that as long as we've had a merchant class, we've had business institutions who were knit into the fabric of life, making money and doing good in varying proportions and for more than one audience at a time. In a sense, even nonprofits are social enterprises as well - we buy from suppliers, deliver services, create jobs, and generate plenty of other economic activity in the service of our missions.
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on December 11, 2008


I got to this section in the wikipedia article: "Social Enterprise, Grudging Progress in Non-Profits and Schools", where it talks about how schools and other non profits "need to" find more outside funding because it's just not coming from the state.

And I'm going to get up on my own private soapbox and say "that's just Not Cool". Unsubsidizing higher education and commercializing elementary education is one of the biggest mistakes we're making. Now you've got to spend time (and money) wooing donors, and telling them just what they'll get for their money. Yes, I understand it benefits the students, but we could have bought the same things with other monies that we didn't have to spend to get.(previously, I mean)

I can understand the need to show that you're actually making a difference with someone's donation, or with taxpayer money, for that matter. What I don't like is having to "package" things and "sell" them to people and hope they like you (or it, or something totally unrelated) enough to go ahead and give you the money.

</soapbox off>

The different definitions of SEOs (ha!) listed look interesting, and not all that different from places like Goodwill or the Y's. Certainly more diversified.

I think there's room at the table for all of these things, the main point being that the non profits exist to help the community, not to gain or take from it. They also see each other as partners in a journey, not rivals in some sort of race.
posted by lysdexic at 8:39 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


we could have bought the same things with other monies that we didn't have to spend to get.

Which comes right back around to the whole reason nonprofits have special designation from the state and some have a tax exemption: because they're assumed to be doing work on behalf of the state, operating under public oversight to benefit the greater good ...the idea being that that is, you could say, more efficient than expecting private industry to do it at private-industry prices, or expecting the government to develop even more arms and branches to serve the same purposes.
posted by Miko at 8:54 PM on December 11, 2008


the issues are way more complicated than he makes them out to be, and the sector is way too varied to make the types of generalisations he makes. He really needs to get out there and work for a small, already established, direct service not-for-profit before he starts chucking stones.

Quoted for truth. (I actually wrote almost the same thing before shortening down to my last comment.)
posted by salvia at 9:26 PM on December 11, 2008


What bugs me about Karnofsky (and Givewell in general) are two pronouncements he has made:

--- He says not to worry about the percentage of a charity's funds that go to overhead.

--- He says don't volunteer, you're not really doing any good, they only want you to volunteer so that you will get excited and make a donation, which is what they are really after.

Taken together, this advice basically amounts to "sit down, shut up, give them your money, don't bother actually trying to get involved, and don't ask how much of your money actually goes to the people you are trying to help."

It is idiosyncratic to say the least, and would seem to go against the concerns that many donors have about how their money is spent.
posted by jayder at 11:48 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


tractorfeed: my hat is off to you! i can't believe you had the patience to sit on this post for a year. thanks for the laugh & the fun!
posted by msconduct at 5:30 PM on December 12, 2008


msconduct -- you think that tractorfeed waited a year to post this?

WTF -- he/she and others heard Holden's interview this past Wednesday on "Marketplace" and was/were concerned with what the charlatan had to say. It appears that Holden, Elie et. al. crank up their P.R. campaigns at years'-end, seeking to strike a position in the world of charity/non-profit giving -- about which they themselves have admitted they know little. Their incompetence/hypocrisy provides "the laugh & the fun!"
posted by ericb at 7:55 PM on December 12, 2008


cortex wrote:

I actually wondered if Holden really was back the other day: this user,

I looked pretty thoroughly and couldn't find anything to make me suspicious. If it's GiveWell, they've gotten a lot better about being sneaky, but I really doubt it's anything but an actual coincidence.


For sure - I didn't think Holden & co. would be nuts enough to pull the same stunt again, just that it was funny peculiar to see a brand new, sock-looking user boosting GiveWell on Ask MetaFilter.
posted by jack_mo at 3:01 AM on December 13, 2008


Every time I see the title of this thread this song starts playing in my head...
posted by Tenuki at 11:51 PM on December 13, 2008


orthogonality: Or as Scooter Libby observed in his jail house letter to Judith Miller, "They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them."

I shot them an email at commentary@marketplace.org encouraging them to get a backbone. They should have Givewell on the show, but without any context or challenging questions the bit is nothing more than a short advertisement for Givewell. Perhaps I am expecting too much from a show that wants to sound smart, literate and witty, and play the "happy music" rather than be critical.

I listen to Marketplace- and it is disheartening to witness modern media in action. The program was entirely uncritical of Givewell or Karnofsky, no background, nothing. Just read the press release and then ask a few fluff questions.

This takes the cake:
RYSSDAL: All right, well let's get to the econometrics here, then. How do I know what to look for when I want to maximize the charitable return on my dollar?

ECONOMETRICS! - with its models that are useful in predicting and verifying data, as opposed to random guessing.
So what's the answer Karnofsky provides? "A lot of times..."

Econometrics Marketplace style.
posted by zenon at 11:36 AM on December 15, 2008


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