You can get a more detailed, referenced version of our story here.
GiveWell started with a simple question: where should I donate?
As a group of eight friends, employed in the finance industry and researching these questions in our spare time, we discovered that it isn't a part-time job. The issues charities address - from fighting disease in Africa to improving education in the U.S. - are extremely complex, and useful information about what different charities do and whether it works isn't publicly available anywhere. When we asked private foundations to share what they'd found and help us with our decisions, they refused. We believe that information about how to help people should never be secret.
We also believe that small donors matter. Gifts from big foundations make the headlines, but individual donors give nearly 60 times as much as the Gates Foundation and nearly 5 times as much as all foundations combined. If we can guide even a small portion of individual donors to the best giving opportunities we can find - the most effective, cost-effective organizations in need of additional funding, we can have more impact than any mega-donor. If we can create dialogue and openness about what charities do, we can get the world's best minds working on its biggest problems. And ultimately, we can change the rules of the game: we picture a market that rewards charities for their ability to help people, not just for their marketing.
In 2007, two of us, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld (bios), left our jobs, raised $300,000 in startup funds from former coworkers who believed in us and our mission, and started GiveWell as a full-time project.
The full history of our progress and business plans, detailing our efforts since then, is available on our progress page.