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Wikipedia defines astroturfing as follows: "Astroturfing is a neologism for formal public relations campaigns in politics and advertising that seek to create the impression of being spontaneous, grassroots behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass AstroTurf..."
The two founding staff of GiveWell, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld, inappropriately promoted GiveWell on several blogs and in email forums. In these promotions they either hid or disguised their identities, and did not reveal their associations with GiveWell. Their actions were discovered and both founders acknowledged and apologized for their acts. The Board of Directors took action; demoting and fining both employees, posting a public statement about the event and actions taken, and offering to return any gifts to donors that so desire. The Board also established several new working procedures to put in place appropriate controls, to ensure the current work of the organization continues, and to meet commitments to donors and non-profit partners.
The full account of these inappropriate activities is available here.
Mr. Karnofsky's apology is here.
The statements of the Board of Directors are here:
Holden Karnofsky's public apology is available here.
Holden has agreed to continue working with GiveWell as a program officer, and will be participating in professional development opportunities (at his own expense) to build his skills as an organizational representative and leader. Elie Hassenfeld has taken a pay cut and is now focused entirely on the core functions of his program officer role.
The actions of the Board are summed up in the statements noted above. In addition, an executive committee of the board has been set up and is meeting every two weeks, regularly reviewing workplans and outputs of the staff members, and reaching out to donors and potential donors. The Board is also continuing its work assessing the longer term viability, strategies, and focus for the organization.
He was demoted from Executive Director to program officer. He was fined $5000 and will seek professional development support to build his organizational skills. He has been relieved of his responsibilities as spokesperson for the organization. More information is available in the Board' statements on the GiveWell Blog.
He was reprimanded and fined $5000.
Holden and Elie were each fined $5000. This will come directly out of their salary. $5000 is being allocated to professional development opportunities for Holden. The remaining $5000 will be used to augment grants to the GiveWell causes.
The Board has significantly increased its involvement in the daily operations of the organization, is closely monitoring the staff work, is managing relationships and communications with external donors and constituencies. An executive committee of the board is managing these responsibilities.
An executive director is responsible for managing the organization, its vision, operations, and external relationships. A program officer is responsible for conducting due diligence and program review, and implementing the program strategies developed by the Board of Directors.
GiveWell is a startup organization that is attempting to do something totally new - online, transparent grant making. To have expected to do so without making any mistakes would have been hubris. We believe strongly in the potential of the idea, and are committed to carrying it out as far as we can. While these events were a setback, we believe the idea is worth pursuing. We are also committed to meeting our existing obligations to our donors and nonprofit partners.
Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and the appropriate member of the board will get back to you.