Giving What We Can aims to review its progress and plans every six months, and to publish the conclusions on the blog. In addition to the usual review of the previous 6 months of and plan for the following 6 months, in this case one of the trustees of the Centre for Effective Altruism (Nick Beckstead) produced a review of Giving What We Can as a project. This blog post and the following one contain the headline conclusions of these and links to them.
The first six months of the year have been an important period of learning for Giving What We Can, and have indicated that we should shift our focus more towards individual discussions of charity effectiveness and donation, away from mass methods of communication. GWWC has continued to grow steadily, and expected money moved to effective charities seems to be well worth the money invested.
Giving What We Can’s mission is moving money to the world’s most effective charities. Each of our members commits to donating at least 10% of their income to the most effective poverty relief charities. Therefore, the key metric we use to measure our progress is the number of members we have. In the first half of this year we gained slightly fewer new members than we did in the preceding 6 months, but about the same number as we had in the 6 months before that; this may indicate that the December giving season has a noticeable effect on our membership numbers. This was steady growth for the period, but meant that we ended it on 329 members, which was slightly below our goal.
We set an ambitious target for this period because it included the second half of a press push we had organised in December, which we were hoping would increase member growth. Having updated the website with an improved look and a blog with meant readers could be kept up to date with new research developments, our aim was to publicise the organisation and website as widely as possible to get members. The media campaign was a big success in terms of coverage, with articles on Giving What We Can in the Sunday Times and the New Statesman and on Sky, BBC Breakfast and NPR, among others. This coverage did not lead to as many new members as we had hoped.
Our best guess for why membership growth following the media push wasn’t higher is that taking a pledge to donate 10% of your income is a big step for someone to take simply from reading a media article. This would indicate that we ought to take a more personal approach, and that it would be good to have a more gradual way for people to get involved. The most important lesson we drew from this was that we needed to learn more about the process which leads to people joining Giving What We Can.
In order to learn more about that process we interviewed members, and did a survey with interview follow-up of people who weren’t previously involved with Giving What We Can. Two findings were particularly interesting. One was that people who heard about Giving What We Can through the media had typically not needed much persuading to join, indicating that media pieces (at least of the fairly brief form we got) didn’t tend to have much persuasive force. The other was that people who weren’t interested in joining Giving What We Can became so after having an in-depth conversation about it. These indicate that in order to make more impact on people’s behaviour, we should focus more on having in-depth and ongoing conversations with people. For more details, our full six month review is here.
Over this period, we worked both on first order research into finding effective charities, and on more methodological questions, such as what the best ways are to find great giving opportunities, whether it’s better for people to donate now or invest to give later and what the appropriate age-weighting for DALYs is.
With regard to methodological questions, we produced research papers on the topics we set out to, but they generated less interest than we had expected. Investigating individual charities was reasonably successful. Our individual charity research resulted in finding a charity which we consider to be an opportunity for very high leverage, Project Healthy Children. We also wrote reports on a few other charities which seemed promising, though we did not end up recommending them. However, this research required a large time input, and in order to find a charity which is in expectation more effective than AMF (for example) and for which our estimate is equally reliable and exact would take far more resources, since charities in areas which are effective and have low uncertainty are more likely already to have been found. Overall, we think that at the moment it would be more effective for Giving What We Can to focus on driving donations to charities we know to be cost-effective than on trying to find better charities. Therefore, over the next six months we will be concentrating on outreach. In order to achieve that, we will produce blog content which aims to interest people in the idea of cost-effective giving and to drive traffic to the website.
The performance review of Giving What We Can for 2011 and 2012 estimated the return from gaining one member as being $17,000 to the most effective charities, counter-factually adjusted and time discounted. There was a very large range on this figure. Over 2012, the year in which Giving What We Can took on staff, the cost per member was calculated to be $260. The review contains the conclusions from the 2011 giving survey (the results from the 2012 survey weren’t all in at the time the review was written). Of the over 60% of members who had filled in the survey, 90% had kept their pledge. Approximately 70% of members donated to recommended charities. One question we were particularly interested in was whether members who had joined as students continued to give when they entered employment, since many of our original members were students who now have jobs. Of people in that category, just over 70% responded to the survey, and of those nearly all had kept their pledge. This is a very good sign. Although this obviously does not mean they will definitely continue giving for their whole career, it seems less likely that a person will cease giving once they have begun than that they would fail to start.
The review contained various useful lessons. One was the importance of increased data centralisation – of having one system which captures all our relevant data. We are putting this into practice by making increased use of our CRM. With the arrival of a full-time Director of Community, Ben Clifford, we are able to have one person collecting and analysing all our member data. Another recommendation made by the review was to have a real-time donation mechanism, rather than an annual survey. This would make it easier for people to let us know about their donations, and thus for us to track our impact. We aim to do this in our next iteration of the website, in which we plan to introduce ‘personal dashboards’, which will allow people to keep a record of their giving, and tell them how much they have achieved with that giving.
The first 6 months of 2013 were an important learning time for Giving What We Can. The most important lesson was that we should try out a way of encouraging people to gradually increase their level of giving, and provide as much support and personal discussion as possible – it is not enough to simply present the information to as many people as possible. The next blog post will describe how we plan to put it into practice. The conclusion of the performance review was that the expected amount raised for extremely cost-effective charities by Giving What We Can appears to be well worth the resources invested in it.