Holden Karnofsky

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Holden Karnofsky
Alma materHarvard University
Good Ventures
Open Philanthropy Project
Known forEffective altruism

Holden Karnofsky is the chief executive officer of the Open Philanthropy Project[1] and a co-founder and board member of GiveWell.[2]


Before GiveWell[edit]

Karnofsky graduated from Harvard University with a degree in social studies in 2003.[2] At Harvard, he was a member of the Harvard Lampoon. He then went on to work at Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund based in Westport, Connecticut. Some of his work at the hedge fund was mentioned in financial newspaper Barron's.[3]


At Bridgewater, 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.[4] In mid-2007, with donations from their colleagues, Karnofsky and Hassenfeld formed a fund called "The Clear Fund", 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]

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.[2][5][6][7][8][9] The incident had negative repercussions on GiveWell's reputation.[10]

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.[11]

Under Karnofsky's leadership, the annual money moved to GiveWell-recommended charities increased from $1.6 million in 2010[12] to $110 million in 2015.[13]

Open Philanthropy Project[edit]

Karnofsky is the chief executive officer 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.[1][14][15] Open Phil is tasked with giving away the bulk of Moskovitz's multi-billion dollar wealth. As of August 2019, Open Phil has made around 650 grants to over 370 unique organizations, disbursing a total of $857 million.[16]


Karnofsky identifies with the ideas of effective altruism and has both represented and engaged with the effective altruist community. Earlier in his career, Karnofsky said he subscribed to a consequentialist moral framework that hoped to "give people more power to live the life they want to live". In recent years, he has written about the importance of extending empathy to all beings deserving of moral consideration, even when it is unusual or seems strange to do so.[17] 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 altruistic career choice and elaborated on Open Phil's approach to cause prioritization in an interview with Robert Wiblin for the 80,000 Hours podcast[22] as well as elsewhere.[23][24]


  1. ^ a b "Team: Holden Karnofsky". Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Our People". GiveWell. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  3. ^ 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.
  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. ^ Holden (2012-06-28). "GiveWell and Good Ventures".
  12. ^ "Impact". GiveWell.
  13. ^ Heishman, Tyler (May 13, 2016). "GiveWell's money moved and web traffic in 2015". GiveWell. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (August 20, 2014). "Open Philanthropy Project (formerly GiveWell Labs)". GiveWell. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  16. ^ "Grants Database". Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  17. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (February 16, 2017). "Radical Empathy". Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  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. ^ Wiblin, Robert (February 27, 2018). "Holden Karnofsky, founder of GiveWell, on how philanthropy can have maximum impact by taking big risks". 80,000 Hours. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  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.