That Time a Hedge Funder Quit His Job and Then Raised $60 Million for Charity
Friday, March 27, 2015
Elie Hassenfeld had an enjoyable and lucrative career in finance. Then he discovered an unusual passion.
“I found myself staying up Friday nights till 3:00 in the morning, reading academic papers about diarrhea,” he recalled. “If you ever find yourself doing that, you know it might be time to look for something new.”
In 2006, Hassenfeld and several colleagues at a Connecticut hedge fund formed a “charity club” to help them make informed decisions about their giving. Each person would pick a cause (Hassenfeld’s was water in Africa) and then research the best charities working on that cause (hence his late-night studying of waterborne diarrheal illnesses).
Two members of the group, Hassenfeld and Holden Karnofsky, found the work so satisfying that they created GiveWell, whose mission is to help people answer the question, “Where should I give to accomplish the most good?”
Answering that question is surprisingly difficult. Very few charities participate in rigorous controlled trials to prove their work is effective. Of the ones that do, many don’t make their findings public.
But donors increasingly want evidence showing that their contributions will actually make an impact, and these donors have clout. In the United States, individuals collectively give far more money to charities than foundations and corporations combined.