Holden Karnofsky

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Holden Karnofsky is a co-founder and co-executive director of charity evaluator GiveWell[1] and one of three managing directors of the Open Philanthropy Project, which was originally a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures.[2][3]


Karnofsky graduated from Harvard University with a degree in social science in 2003.[1] He then worked for the Westport, Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates.


At Bridgewater Associates, Karnofsky met his future GiveWell co-founder Elie Hassenfeld. In 2006, Karnofsky and Hassenfeld founded a charity club in which they and other Bridgewater employees pooled money and investigated the best charities to donate the money to.[4] In mid-2007, Karnofsky and Hassenfeld created a fund called the Clear Fund, using donations from their colleagues, and quit their jobs to work full-time on GiveWell, whose goal was to allocate the money in the Clear Fund to the best charities.[4]

Karnofsky and Hassenfeld are the executive directors of GiveWell. Karnofsky is one of three managing directors of the Open Philanthropy Project, an outgrowth of GiveWell Labs (a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures) which became independent from GiveWell in late 2015.[2][3]

Astroturfing incident[edit]

In December 2007, Karnofsky was discovered posting a question about the organization to MetaFilter using another individual's name, and then posting an answer about GiveWell with his own name but without disclosing his affiliation with GiveWell. The negative publicity led Karnofsky to resign from the role of executive director, though he was later reinstated.[1] The board cut $5000 from his salary to pay for a professional development course he would be required to take.[5][6][7][8][9] The incident had negative repercussions on GiveWell's reputation. Karnofsky's claim that the incident had been due to sleep deprivation and offer to donate to MetaFilter were mocked by users of the site.[10]


Karnofsky identifies with the ideas of effective altruism and has both represented and engaged with the effective altruist community. Karnofsky is a moral consequentialist who does not believe that values such as justice and liberty are intrinsically important. He believes that it is important for GiveWell to increase the racial and gender diversity of its employees, which the organization has taken steps towards.[11]

He has debated other nonprofit leaders on the importance of field visits, which he believes are important but not sufficient in evaluating the effectiveness of charitable programs.[12]

In August 2014, after the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced the end of its Nonprofit Market Initiative (one of GiveWell's major early funders), Karnofsky wrote a post on the GiveWell blog offering his thoughts on the program, informed by his experience as a recipient of its largesse.[13] The Hewlett Foundation responded in a comment on the post, and Jacob Harold responded on the GuideStar blog.[14]

Karnofsky has shared his thoughts on career choices for people who seek to do good in an interview with Benjamin Todd for 80,000 Hours[15] as well as elsewhere.[16][17]

Karnofsky has elaborated on the Open Philanthropy Project's approach to cause prioritization in an interview with 80,000 Hours.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Our People". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Leadership Team". Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Karnofsky, Holden (August 20, 2014). "Open Philanthropy Project (formerly GiveWell Labs)". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Strom, Stephanie (December 20, 2007). "2 Young Hedge-Fund Veterans Stir Up the World of Philanthropy". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  5. ^ Strom, Stephanie (January 8, 2008). "Founder of a Nonprofit Is Punished by Its Board for Engaging in an Internet Ruse". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  6. ^ Strom, Stephanie (January 15, 2008). "Nonprofit Punishes a 2nd Founder for Ruse". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Our Shortcomings". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  8. ^ "GiveWell". Mefi wiki. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  9. ^ Stannard-Stockton, Sean (January 8, 2008). "Holden Karnofsky & GiveWell". Tactical Philanthropy. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  10. ^ Kamenetz, Anya (May 1, 2008). "When the Giving Gets Tough. A nonprofit startup set itself up as a watchdog — then showed how easy it is to lose your own credibility.". Fast Company. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  11. ^ Matthews, Dylan (April 24, 2015). "You have $8 billion. You want to do as much good as possible. What do you do?". Vox. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  12. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (March 20, 2014). "Big Impact vs. Big Promises. Many charities claim more impact than cash transfers. How many deliver?". Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  13. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (August 5, 2014). "Thoughts on the End of Hewlett's Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative". GiveWell. Retrieved August 5, 2015. 
  14. ^ Harold, Jacob (August 5, 2014). "Dialogue about the Hewlett Foundation's Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative". GuideStar. Retrieved August 5, 2015. 
  15. ^ Todd, Benjamin (April 29, 2013). "Interview with Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of GiveWell". 80,000 Hours. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  16. ^ Hurford, Peter (October 11, 2013). "My Careers Conversation with Holden Karnofsky". Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  17. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (January 23, 2014). "Conference Call on Altruistic Career Choice - January 2014". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  18. ^ Todd, Benjamin (October 3, 2014). "Interview: Holden Karnofsky on cause selection". 80,000 Hours. Retrieved August 5, 2015.