What Gives? Nonprofit Exec Stumbles Online

Judgment – it’s in shorter supplier these days, thanks to the ease of non-stop posting (and posing on ) the Web. Case in point is the judgment of Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of nonprofit research org GiveWell. Karnofsky masked his identity on an industry web site soliciting suggestions from visitors on the best source for comparing charities (hint: GiveWell). He then answered his own question by recommending GiveWell, all the while not disclosing his association with the organization. Curiously, though, he used his true identity on the latter posting.

No surprise, he was caught.

I commend GiveWell for responding quickly and deftly – it issued an apology, demoted Karnofsky, withheld his salary and plans to notify donors and let them retract their contributions.  This is good crisis management by the Board of Directors and the damage done to the nonprofit will likely be lessened by the Board’s rapid and smart actions.

Some have called for Karnofsky to be fired and the question becomes whether, because of the nature of the organization (a nonprofit which essentially rates charities), it is hypocritical to keep Karnofsky on board. My take is: give him another chance; while what he did was wrong and unethical, at least he is being admonished and rehabilitated by the Board. That is the charitable thing to do. As for GiveWell’s reputation, it will be interesting to track its progress in the coming weeks. As we know, this bad press will soon fade as the next bad judgment from another organization is exposed.

  • Alexis Chase