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TL;DR

  1. Effective giving is well-evidenced giving.
  2. Effective evidence is transparent evidence.

SoGive’s recent donor survey finds that there is a cohort of EA-aligned donors who donate a portion of their budget to speculative projects – projects with promising cause areas and theories of change, but little evidence. Moreover, they feel uncertain about whether that’s the right allocation. They’d like to feel more confident in their giving, connect with donors who are interested in similar projects, and have a positive impact on the effective giving ecosystem with their donations, insights, and time.

Is this you? We can help you:

  • Make evidence-based gifts that you feel confident in, across a range of cause areas
  • Be a contributor to transparent research, so that the community can discover a promising organization that makes you passionate or curious
  • Connect with other donors with similar interests – share your thoughts, or jointly fund a research project
  • Connect more deeply with the data-driven ecosystem that drew you to effective altruism

If you are interested in advice or a commissioned piece of research to support your effective giving, contact spencer@sogive.org.

Context

Over the years, SoGive’s strategy has been evolving, but one constant is a passion for evidence-based, research-backed giving.

Since 2017, SoGive has been on a mission to help donors make more evidence-based giving decisions. For several years, this was done by providing cost-effectiveness estimates for a growing list of UK-based charities.

In 2018, major donors in the network of SoGive’s co-founder and CEO, Sanjay, started approaching him for personal donation advice. To facilitate this advice, Sanjay and the SoGive volunteers began conducting deep research, as well as publishing their research on the EA Forum for the community.

This interest from major donors prompted the question, are there gaps in the advising available for major donors in EA? If so, what are they?

In June 2023, SoGive hired me (Spencer) to determine whether and how to expand our donor advising, and carry out that plan. Since then, I have been collecting the perspectives of mid-level and major donors to understand their needs. I have also been forming a picture of the advisory services that exist for EAs.

The following update to our strategy is informed by the survey of donor needs that I conducted from July to September. Some further analysis of that survey is forthcoming. But we wanted to let you know how we can help you as soon as possible – so you get to see our relaunch announcement first!

Mission

Our mission is to ensure that all mid-level and major donors can make evidence-based gifts. That applies whether research on their interests already exists, or whether their interests are speculative/niche within EA.

Evidence

We will do this by conducting commissioned, donor-driven research into under-evidenced charities that projects that our clients are interested in.

Connection

We will (A) work with individuals and (B) connect donors together to commission research as a group on a project that they’re jointly interested in.

Transparency

We aim to publish as much of this research as possible, so that the entire community benefits from knowledge creation.

Support

In addition to commissioned research, we will also be continuing high-touch advising services for major donors, including custom allocations plans, support on questions around moral weights, and meetings with charity leadership.

How did we come to this?

Donors give to a mix of cause areas

Our survey this summer found that the EA donors in our network are interested in a variety of cause areas. We asked respondents what they think are the most pressing global problems. The top three answers (out of 19 options) were a near-tie spread across cause areas: “Global poverty and health,” “Animal welfare,” and “Risks from general, agent-like artificial intelligence.”

This is not only due to a mixed group of respondents – it is because most of our respondents engage (formally or informally) in worldview diversification when they give. Out of the 34 respondents who disclosed where they typically donate, 65% indicated that they simultaneously give to multiple cause areas, e.g. animal welfare and GHD, or longtermism and EA meta, or EA and non-EA projects.

Donors want to make evidence-based giving decisions, but they are drawn to speculative projects

So many of us became interested in EA because of careful and rigorous research, such as the research done by GiveWell. High-quality research gives us comfort that our giving is achieving our goal of making a genuine impact. Many mid-level and major EA donors continue to defer to expert grantmakers and evaluators like GiveWell.

However, our survey shows that 18% of our respondents give to small EA projects (which are typically difficult to find evidence for), and 24% give to non-EA projects.

The goal of these donors is still to make a genuine impact! They believe there is great promise in the under-evidenced projects they’re giving to. They feel uncertain, but they hope that if there were evidence for the cost-effectiveness of their recipient charities, these charities would come out on top.

In our survey, our respondents reported that some of their greatest uncertainties about where to donate were “Unsure about charities’ cost-effectiveness,” and “Unsure whether to give to speculative or highly evidenced charities.” Whether donors were mid-level, major, or unable to currently surpass blocks to their giving, these were consistent concerns.

In general, respondents had a mix of empirical and philosophical uncertainties – indicating a need for a mix of concrete research and assisted moral reflection.

Available services

But donors are not currently getting all the support they need to make evidence-based decisions about whether to give to small or niche projects (by virtue of them being small and undiscovered).

They also need more support on how to allocate their gifts across multiple cause areas. We are not aware of any organizations that provide 1-1 advising with a worldview diversification focus to the general population of mid-level and major donors. Organizations that make a point of working across cause areas are currently restricted by a demographic element like occupation (e.g. Founders Pledge) or geographical region (e.g. Effektiv Spenden).

Desired services

Our respondents most commonly indicated that a very valuable service would be “Selecting which charities to donate to.” They also indicated most commonly that a service that would help them resolve their uncertainties is “A network of other donors to discuss donations with.”

Details of our services

Donors close to £10k in total giving per year

We can:

  • Update you on our research by email
  • A couple times a year, have an advising call to relay recent promising funding opportunities and work through uncertainties
  • Provide opportunities to fund and guide research with a group of other similar donors, if such donors are in our network

If you are a donor in this group, you may wish to reflect on what are the most promising, but under-evidenced charities that you’d like to give to – if the charity is sufficiently interesting to you, you might want to forego donating for a year and fund research on them instead. Why?

  • You have more clarity on where to donate the next year (and in years to come)
  • You have impacted the effective giving community by contributing to a healthy, transparent research ecosystem
  • You can shine a spotlight on the charity that makes you passionate and curious, so it gets noticed by the community
  • You can meet other donors with the same interests 

Who knows how much you will enjoy being a part of impactful research?

Donors close to £100k

SoGive wants to have as much impact as we can  – this means we are incentivized to spend more time advising larger donation budgets. With that in mind, we have the capacity to provide a services like these (in addition to the above) to donors in this range, with more availability to assist larger portfolios:

  • Recommend promising donation opportunities as they come up
  • Track your interests actively; connect you with donors who have similar interests; create some research proposals into common but under-evidenced projects
  • Summarize some public research based on your interests
  • In some cases, include you in meetings with charity leadership or facilitate a few meetings for you per year

Donors close to £500k

In addition to the above, we can:

  • Facilitate or include you in a number ofcharity meetings per year
  • Create more custom, commissioned research proposals for you

Donors £1m+

In addition to the above, we can:

  • Create custom allocations plans for you each year
    • Facilitate more Q&As with promising charities, with significant research informing our agenda
  • Create a small amount of research communication or giving strategy content for you without commission
  • Beyond the above, create more custom, commissioned research proposals for you

Is this for you?

Reach out if you:

  • Have £10,000 or more to donate (even over £1,000,000), and would benefit from support
  • Wish there was more evidence for or against a particular project
  • Want to collaborate with other donors on research

What you can expect from SoGive

More of this: evidence and transparency, across cause areas

We expect to publish our commissioned research as often as possible. You can expect more articles on global health like our in-progress StrongMinds sequence, as well as more sophisticated work on longtermism, like improved research building on thresholds for cost-effectiveness.

We expect to be publishing research in many cause areas, so we can be a resource for the large number of donors with varied interests. Since we hire on temporary contracts, we can do short projects on any cause area, instead of having full-time staff members always working on each major area. This means we can afford to work with highly specialized contractors on more niche projects than a large office with permanent researchers.

We also expect to take on more 1-1 advising hours, now that we have a full-time staff member on this.

Less of this: shallow cost-effectiveness analyses

For the time being, we will not be updating our database of cost-effectiveness in the UK. Although respondents in our survey also rated shallow analyses as useful, we do not currently have the capacity to keep it up to date. We believe it will be more impactful to advise mid-level and major donors and complete donor-driven research, so we can directly influence donations where we are certain they are being considered.

Work with us

If you’d like to support our work, you can commission research with us or make a contribution towards our £15,000 funding gap this year. Feel free to contact me at spencer@sogive.org or book a call with me at https://calendly.com/spencer-rose-ericson/halfhour.

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