Holden Karnofsky

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Holden Karnofsky
Photo of Holden Karnofsky
EducationHarvard University (BA)
OccupationNonprofit executive
Known forCo-founding GiveWell and Open Philanthropy

Holden Karnofsky is an American nonprofit executive. He is a co-founder and co-chief executive officer of the research and grantmaking organization Open Philanthropy. Karnofsky co-founded the charity evaluator GiveWell with Elie Hassenfeld in 2007 and is vice chair of its board of directors.


Education and early career[edit]

Karnofsky graduated from Harvard University with a degree in social studies in 2003.[1] At Harvard, he was a member of the Harvard Lampoon.[2] After graduating, he worked at Bridgewater Associates, an investment management fund based in Westport, Connecticut.[3][4]


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.[5] 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.[5]

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

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.[9]

Under Karnofsky's leadership, the annual money moved to GiveWell-recommended charities increased from $1.6 million in 2010[10] to $110 million in 2015.[11] As of 2020, he is vice chair of its board of directors.[12]

Open Philanthropy[edit]

Karnofsky is co-chief executive officer of Open Philanthropy, a research and grantmaking foundation whose main funders are Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz.[13] Open Philanthropy is an outgrowth of GiveWell Labs, a collaboration of GiveWell and Good Ventures for more speculative giving.[14][15][16] As of August 2019, Open Philanthropy has made around 650 grants to over 370 unique organizations, disbursing a total of $857 million.[17]


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.[18] He believes that it is important for GiveWell to increase the racial and gender diversity of its employees, towards which the organization has taken steps.[19]

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.[20]

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.[21] The Hewlett Foundation responded in a comment on the post, and Jacob Harold responded on the GuideStar blog.[22]

Karnofsky has shared his thoughts on altruistic career choice and elaborated on Open Philanthropy's approach to cause prioritization in an interview with Robert Wiblin for the 80,000 Hours podcast[23] as well as elsewhere.[24][25][26]


  1. ^ "Holden Karnofsky '03". Committee on Degrees in Social Studies. Retrieved 2021-09-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ Krug, Laura L. (2003-05-14). "Class Day Speakers Chosen to Provoke Laughter, Thought". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2021-09-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ Roose, Kevin (2011-04-08). "Pursuing Self-Interest in Harmony With the Laws of the Universe and Contributing to Evolution Is Universally Rewarded". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2021-09-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  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. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Strom, Stephanie (January 15, 2008). "Nonprofit Punishes a 2nd Founder for Ruse". New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Holden (2012-06-28). "GiveWell and Good Ventures".
  10. ^ "Impact". GiveWell.
  11. ^ Heishman, Tyler (May 13, 2016). "GiveWell's money moved and web traffic in 2015". GiveWell. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  12. ^ Europa Publications, ed. (2020-08-16). "GiveWell—The Clear Fund". The Europa International Foundation Directory 2020. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-000-28768-4.
  13. ^ "Who We Are". Open Philanthropy. 2015-03-26. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  14. ^ "Team: Holden Karnofsky". Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  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. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (August 20, 2014). "Open Philanthropy Project (formerly GiveWell Labs)". GiveWell. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  17. ^ "Grants Database". Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  18. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (February 16, 2017). "Radical Empathy". Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (August 5, 2014). "Thoughts on the End of Hewlett's Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative". GiveWell. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  22. ^ Harold, Jacob (August 5, 2014). "Dialogue about the Hewlett Foundation's Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative". GuideStar. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Hurford, Peter (October 11, 2013). "My Careers Conversation with Holden Karnofsky". Retrieved August 4, 2015.
  25. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (January 23, 2014). "Conference Call on Altruistic Career Choice - January 2014". GiveWell. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
  26. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (June 5, 2021). "My current impressions on career choice for longtermists". Retrieved November 10, 2021.

External links[edit]