Holden Karnofsky is a co-founder and co-executive director of charity evaluator GiveWell and one of three Managing Directors of the Open Philanthropy Project, a spinoff of a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures.
Karnofsky graduated from Harvard University with a degree in social science in 2003. He then went on to work at the Westport, Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. Some of his work at the hedge fund got mentioned in financial newspaper Barron's.
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. 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.
GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project
Karnofsky's early attempts to market GiveWell ran into trouble when, in December 2007, he 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, and the Board cut $5000 from his salary to pay for a professional development course he would be required to take. The incident had negative repercussions on GiveWell's reputation for months to come, but in May 2008 Karnofsky confidently told Fast Company that, past incidents notwithstanding, GiveWell continued to have valuable insights to offer to the domain of nonprofit evaluation and its forthcoming fundraising rounds would focus on that.
Karnofsky was later reinstated in his role as Executive Director.
Karnofksy is one of three Managing Directors of The Open Philanthropy Project, an outgrowth of GiveWell Labs (a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures) which is scheduled to spin off from GiveWell in late 2015.
Public writing and speeches
Karnofsky identifies with the ideas of effective altruism and has both represented and engaged with the effective altruist community. An article by Dylan Matthews about effective altruism for Vox included many comments from Karnofsky about particular cause areas as well as about the overall consequentialist moral philosophy that motivated him. Karnofsky has also defended GiveWell's approach in articles in venues such as the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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. The Hewlett Foundation responded in a comment on the post, and Jacob Harold responded on the GuideStar blog.
- "Our People". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- "Leadership Team". Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- Karnofsky, Holden (August 20, 2014). "Open Philanthropy Project (formerly GiveWell Labs)". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- 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.
- Strom, Stephanie (December 20, 2007). "2 Young Hedge-Fund Veterans Stir Up the World of Philanthropy". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- 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.
- Strom, Stephanie (January 15, 2008). "Nonprofit Punishes a 2nd Founder for Ruse". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- "Our Shortcomings". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- "GiveWell". Mefi wiki. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- Stannard-Stockton, Sean (January 8, 2008). "Holden Karnofsky & GiveWell". Tactical Philanthropy. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- 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.
- "Impact". GiveWell.
- Karnofsky, Holden (March 3, 2015). "GiveWell’s Progress in 2014 and Plans for 2015: summary". GiveWell. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
- 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.
- 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.
- Karnofsky, Holden (August 5, 2014). "Thoughts on the End of Hewlett’s Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative". GiveWell. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
- Harold, Jacob (August 5, 2014). "Dialogue about the Hewlett Foundation’s Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative". GuideStar. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
- Todd, Benjamin (April 29, 2013). "Interview with Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of GiveWell". 80,000 Hours. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- Hurford, Peter (October 11, 2013). "My Careers Conversation with Holden Karnofsky". Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- Karnofsky, Holden (January 23, 2014). "Conference Call on Altruistic Career Choice - January 2014". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
- Todd, Benjamin (October 3, 2014). "Interview: Holden Karnofsky on cause selection". 80,000 Hours. Retrieved August 5, 2015.