Our Mistakes

You do not have Javascript enabled. Some elements of this website may not work correctly.

As Giving What We Can has grown and changed as an organization, we recognize 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:

  • To acknowledge ways our mistakes have affected others
  • To share information about problems you may have observed with our work
  • To help you assess whether you think our corrective measures are adequate

When you evaluate us as an organization, 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: July 2021

Mixed messages and unclear communication about the Pledge (2014-2017)

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 emphasize that the Pledge is a career-long commitment to consider carefully rather than in haste. We recommend the temporary Try Giving 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.

Steps we took to improve: In 2017, we added more information to our FAQ about this topic, as well as a post clarifying the nature of the Pledge.

Not following through on Giving What We Can during 2016-2020

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 CEA 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:

  • The Pledge signup form was broken for two weeks in 2017.
  • After an update to the platform where members recorded their donations, some functionality that had been present in the old version, such as the ability to record recurring donations, was not added to the new version for more than a year.
  • The "How rich am I?" calculator was based on increasingly outdated statistics until an update in 2019.

Steps we took to improve:

  • The platform now provides all the functionality of the old donation recording platform, plus additional features like the ability to see progress both during a set time period (such as a year) and over the course of one's lifetime.
  • With help from Rob Wiblin and Phil Trammell, we updated the "How rich am I?" calculator in 2019 to use more recent data.
  • In 2020, we hired Luke Freeman to run Giving What We Can. He revamped the website, improved communications with members, and began to hold events for members to help the organization grow and develop to a greater extent. Giving What We Can now operates independently of CEA, with Luke as Executive Director.