Our mistakes

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:

  • 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 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.

Inaccurate reporting of a significant recurring donation (discovered in 2023)

What happened?

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.

How have we improved?

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.

Problems with the quality, consistency, and transparency of our content and recommendations (2020–2022)

What happened?

There were several issues with our recommendations during this period:

Our other content also had several issues:

  • Much of our content was quite old, and some of it was out of date. In many cases we flagged this at the top of the page, but in some (in particular, our charity pages) we did not do so and so could have misinformed some of our members.
  • We have been too slow to provide a new public impact evaluation for Giving What We Can itself: our last impact evaluation dates from 2016, and though Giving What We can has only existed in its current form since 2020, we should have produced an evaluation in 2021/2022 rather than in 2023.
  • There were sometimes issues with the quality of our cause pages. For example, there were errors in our page on community building for effective altruism which were documented in the page’s research notes.
  • Finally, we believe that how we discussed our “high-impact cause areas” may have been misleading. By saying that we “found four high-impact cause areas” on our front page, we implied that we had conducted research that we had not in fact done.

How have we improved?

We have made several changes to our content and processes to address these mistakes:

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 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:

  • 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 organisation grow and develop to a greater extent. Giving What We Can now operates independently of CEA, with Luke as Executive Director.

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 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.

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.