As Giving What We Can has grown and changed as an organisation, we recognise that our work has sometimes fallen short of the standards we have for ourselves. We believe we have made significant strides toward our current goals of professionalism, collaboration, and excellent implementation of our projects. But we also want to give context on some of our mistakes, both resolved and unresolved.
Here are some reasons why we have a page documenting our mistakes:
When you evaluate us as an organisation, we recommend using this page, but also looking directly at what we've produced, rather than just taking our word for things.
This is not an exhaustive list of every problem with our work. It mostly covers mistakes we made that affected outside stakeholders. We don't list all the ways our projects were inefficient or suboptimal. This page includes mistakes made between 2016 and 2020 when Giving What We Can was functioning as a part of the Centre For Effective Altruism's core operations.
Please contact us if you know of other items that should be listed here, or other ways we could improve.
Last updated: April 2023.
During our 2023 impact evaluation, we confirmed that a very large recurring donation from 2014 to 2023 was not accurately reported. The total difference between the amount reported, and the amount donated, was $96 million. Although this donation was not factored into any of our impact evaluations, it resulted in an incorrect representation of the total amount donated by our community, as seen on our front page.
Upon discovering the error, we removed the recurring donation, and corrected the past donations so they now reflect the amount given. We also provided a summary of the potential errors and limitations of our databases in our 2023 impact evaluation. We now have a system that alerts us of very large reported donations so that we can more quickly follow up on any that appear like they might not be accurate.
There were several issues with our recommendations during this period:
Our other content also had several issues:
We have made several changes to our content and processes to address these mistakes:
How we fell short: We view it as a mistake that we put relatively little staff time toward Giving What We Can after merging it with the Centre for Effective Altruism in 2016. The main person responsible for Giving What We Can since 2017, Julia Wise, already had full-time responsibilities on community health. As the tech team's capacity was split between several major projects, fixes to Giving What We Can tech problems sometimes took longer than they should have. Members received fewer communications than before, and website functionality was not what users expected. For example:
Steps we took to improve:
How we fell short: We encouraged student groups to run pledge drives which sometimes resulted in people taking the Pledge at a young age without being encouraged to seriously think it through as a long-term commitment. Some of our communications also presented the Pledge as something to be taken quickly rather than carefully considered.
Steps we took to improve: We updated GWWC's website and pledge campaign materials to emphasise that the Pledge is a career-long commitment to consider carefully rather than in haste. We recommend the temporary Try Giving pledge (now called a "Trial Pledge") to people who do not yet have a clear picture of their financial future.
How we fell short: Our communications about Giving What We Can did not always make some points clear (for example, whether the Pledge is completely binding regardless of personal circumstances, or whether you can end your Pledge.) This resulted in confusion in the community.