Holden Karnofsky

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Holden Karnofsky
Photo of Holden Karnofsky

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]


Before GiveWell[edit]

Karnofsky graduated from Harvard University with a degree in social science in 2003.[1] At Harvard, he was a member of the Harvard Lampoon. He then went on to work at the Westport, Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. Some of his work at the hedge fund was mentioned in financial newspaper Barron's.[4]


At Bridgewater Associates, Karnofsky met his future GiveWell co-founder Elie Hassenfeld. In 2006, Karnofsky and Hassenfeld started a charity club where they and other Bridgewater employees pooled in money and investigated the best charities to donate the money to.[5] In mid-2007, Karnofsky and Hassenfeld formed 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.[5]

In June 2012, GiveWell announced a close partnership with Good Ventures, the philanthropic foundation tasked with giving away Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz's wealth. Good Ventures has been one of GiveWell's main funders since then as well as a major donor to GiveWell-recommended charities.[6]

Under Karnofsky's leadership, the annual money moved to GiveWell-recommended charities increased from $1.6 million in 2010[7] to $110 million in 2015.[8]

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.[9][10][11][12][13] 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.[14]

Open Philanthropy Project[edit]

Karnofsky is one of the three managing directors of the Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil). Open Phil is an outgrowth of GiveWell Labs, a collaboration of GiveWell and Good Ventures for more speculative giving.[15][2][3] Open Phil is tasked with giving away the bulk of Moskovitz's multi-billion dollar wealth. As of February 2017, it has made publicly disclosed grants totaling about $87 million, excluding GiveWell-recommended grants (see Open Philanthropy Project#Grants made for more).[16] One of these grants (a total of $30,000,000) went to AI safety nonprofit OpenAI.[17]


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.[18]

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.[19]

In August 2014, after the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced the end of its Nonprofit Marketplace 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.[20] The Hewlett Foundation responded in a comment on the post, and Jacob Harold responded on the GuideStar blog.[21]

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[22] as well as elsewhere.[23][24]

Karnofsky has elaborated on the Open Philanthropy Project's approach to cause prioritization in an interview with 80,000 Hours.[25]

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. ^ Forsyth, Randall (December 5, 2006). "Tis the Season -- to Spend Our Way to Wealth? As the economy depends on consumers like never before, their sources of spending are dwindling.". Barron's. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ Holden (2012-06-28). "GiveWell and Good Ventures". 
  7. ^ "Impact". GiveWell. 
  8. ^ Heishman, Tyler (May 13, 2016). "GiveWell’s money moved and web traffic in 2015". GiveWell. Retrieved May 14, 2016. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Strom, Stephanie (January 15, 2008). "Nonprofit Punishes a 2nd Founder for Ruse". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Our Shortcomings". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  12. ^ "GiveWell". Mefi wiki. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  13. ^ Stannard-Stockton, Sean (January 8, 2008). "Holden Karnofsky & GiveWell". Tactical Philanthropy. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Matthews, Dylan (April 24, 2015). "You have $8 billion. You want to do as much good as possible. What do you do?". Vox. Retrieved March 19, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Grants Database". Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved March 18, 2016. 
  17. ^ http://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/global-catastrophic-risks/potential-risks-advanced-artificial-intelligence/openai-general-support#Relationship_disclosures
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (August 5, 2014). "Thoughts on the End of Hewlett’s Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative". GiveWell. Retrieved August 5, 2015. 
  21. ^ Harold, Jacob (August 5, 2014). "Dialogue about the Hewlett Foundation’s Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative". GuideStar. Retrieved August 5, 2015. 
  22. ^ Todd, Benjamin (April 29, 2013). "Interview with Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of GiveWell". 80,000 Hours. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  23. ^ Hurford, Peter (October 11, 2013). "My Careers Conversation with Holden Karnofsky". Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  24. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (January 23, 2014). "Conference Call on Altruistic Career Choice - January 2014". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  25. ^ Todd, Benjamin (October 3, 2014). "Interview: Holden Karnofsky on cause selection". 80,000 Hours. Retrieved August 5, 2015.