Exciting news from the SoGive (virtual) office! 

Currently SoGive issues grants to several charitable organisations. Most of the funding comes from a small number of major donors. In order to seek out the highest impact choices, it is valuable for SoGive to also seek out giving opportunities which have a high risk/high reward profile. 

In order to do this, we are thrilled to announce the pilot launch of SoGive Grants which will allow individuals and organisations working on high-impact projects to apply for funding.

The total amount that we propose distributing via this mechanism will be dependent on the number and quality of applications we receive. Conceivably this could be anywhere from £20k to £500k. This range is large reflecting the fact that this is a pilot and there is some uncertainty about the nature of the applications we will receive.

Who is eligible?

We encourage applications from a broad range of projects that would appear high-impact as viewed through an Effective Altruism lens. We are particularly interested in work that focuses on the following:

  • Biosecurity/pandemic risk, especially those applications which cover “alternative” (i.e. not technical) ways of reducing pandemic risk; technical biosecurity (e.g. funding biologists to work on biosecurity) is also covered by other funders (e.g. the Open Philanthropy Biosecurity Scholarships)
  • Climate change, especially in ways that involve keeping fossil fuels in the ground
  • Research or policy work that enables the world to improve, preferably dramatically; research and policy work which appears effective through a longtermist lens is more likely to be viewed positively, although we may also consider neartermist work in this vein if there is a strong reason to believe that the work is neglected and high impact.

We do not encourage applications for AI safety research, as we believe there are several other funders in this space. 

Applications are open to organisations or to individuals, although please note that any individuals applying would need to set up a non-profit entity (e.g. a registered charity or social enterprise) in order to receive the funds; setting up a company limited by guarantee is relatively quick and straightforward in the UK - we haven't checked this for other jurisdictions. Organisations applying should be a non-profit entity, such as a registered charity (e.g. 501(c)(3) in the US), if the entity is not a registered charity, we are more likely to require references, and if the application comes from an individual who will create a bespoke legal entity, then we are highly likely to seek references.

You can be based anywhere worldwide in order to apply for a grant. Russia may be an exception to this; we have not investigated whether the Ukraine conflict would constitute a barrier to us providing grants to Russian organisations, and we plan to investigate this if we receive any interest in applying from any Russian applicants. If you are unsure whether you are eligible for a grant, please simply apply. 

If you have queries of a purely logistical nature, you may address those queries to isobel@sogive.org, however as much as possible we would encourage you to simply submit an application, and raise your queries as part of that process; as our application form is very similar to the EA Funds application form, applicants who have applied to EA Funds may not need material extra work to apply to SoGive Grants.

Grant applications will be shared and reviewed within the SoGive team, and may also be discussed with our donors if we want to make a positive recommendation. We may also share grant applications with trusted informal advisors in the relevant field to get their advice, if you would prefer us not to share your application (or parts of your application) further then please make this clear on your application.  

Note that this is a pilot, and the way we operate in the future may differ, assuming that this process is repeated.

 

Application Process

The application form can be found here.

The deadline for applications is May 22nd 2022 23:59 UTC.

If your proposal has potential then this process may involve up to 2 further meetings (likely via video call) sometime in June/July.

To allow time for this and for thorough vetting, final recommendations will be confirmed in early August, with payments made shortly afterwards.

Applicants requiring a quicker response are encouraged to apply to other sources of funding.

If you have any further questions which aren’t addressed in this document or our FAQs please contact isobel@sogive.org 

 

FAQs

How much funding can I apply for?

We are envisaging providing funding for projects in the range of £10,000-£150,000, but of course we can be flexible if we think your project is a really great fit.

I’ve already applied for funding elsewhere, should I still apply? 

If your project meets our criteria, then please still apply. There is a section in the application form which discusses other sources of funding, we appreciate your transparency on these matters.

Will you post a public report of those who receive grants?

Yes, we plan to provide a public report of successful grants. This is an initial pilot; if there are reasons why this turns out to be impractical, we may adjust our plans. If you have particular reasons why you believe the report should not be in the public domain, you will be able to let us know as part of the application process.

We’re an established organisation. Are we eligible to apply?

While we envisage applications from relatively early-stage organisations, we will also accept applications from more established organisations.

We’re a for-profit organisation, are we eligible to apply?

Unfortunately at this time we are unable to support grants to for-profit organisations.

Will I get feedback on my application?

All applicants will be notified of the eventual decision regarding their application. We expect to provide more detailed feedback to some, but not all of the applications.

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7 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:48 AM
New Comment

Would you be able to provide some more details on the source of the funds, please? I understand if this may be private. However, I think being transparent about where funders are sourcing their money from is a valuable norm in the funding space. 

Why do you think it's valuable? I don't think we have this norm already, and it's not immediately obvious to me how it would change my behaviour.

I agree that this norm does not largely exist at the moment, however, I would argue that there is a trend towards greater transparency in philanthropy (see Charity Navigator evaluations of charities and many other charity evaluator criteria that include transparency). I think part of this trend is driven by the EA movement itself and the radical transparency that is exhibited by GiveWell and Open Philanthropy, particularly when compared to funders that are older. 

I would argue that transparency is fundamentally and intrinsically important in a number of ways. I will share a few thoughts here but I don’t believe this is an exhaustive list and would require much more time to flesh out fully:

  • Power Asymmetries: I would argue that the redistribution of funds is essentially the redistribution of power. Resources (money) provide implicit and explicit power and consequently, the distribution of resources through philanthropy or any type of spending is power distribution. For this reason, philanthropic spending can exacerbate power asymmetries and it can create new power asymmetries. This power may manifest through which voices and ideas are given a platform, which cause-priority areas are perpetuated or otherwise, and who is given the power to make these determinations. In the Global Health and Development space, we have seen a very large push towards greater transparency in the movement towards ‘decolonizing development’. A great example of this can be seen in India, where the Supreme Court of India upheld laws that limit the ability of foreign donors to give in India. This is a tangible example of so-called ‘beneficiaries’ pushing back against the power involved with philanthropic giving and seeking to exercise greater control over the sources of funding. 
  • Conflicts of Interest: I currently assume that the donors to SoGive are morally and ethically aligned with EA philosophy and have generated their funds in ways that do not actively oppose the EA movement. However, this is just an assumption and I would prefer greater transparency to validate this assumption, especially given that “most of the funding comes from a small number of major donors”.  
  • Perceptions of procedural justice: Transparency is a core element of perceptions of procedural justice. SoGive’s program officers are essentially acting as fiduciaries to those that provided the funds. Now I appreciate the level of transparency provided on the methodology for assigning grant funding, I think this goes a long way towards increasing perceptions of procedural justive. However, I would argue that this would be enhanced by transparency on the source of funds, which the program officers are thereby distributing, to ensure that there is alignment through the full process of resource acquisition through to fund distributions. 

If one is interested in receiving funding, then I agree that many of these considerations may not be relevant to them. I would hope that those requesting funds care about the source of those funds and whether it is in alignment with their moral frameworks. 

I raised the original question in the hopes of better understanding SoGive’s philanthropic model, the source of its power, and the implications of SoGive on the Effective Altruism movement more generally. As we have seen, the EA funding space is essentially an oligopoly. From what I can see from SoGive’s website, I have great confidence in their methodology however I have been unable to find details on funding sources. 

I would hence urge greater transparency from SoGive on the sources of its funds. 

Hi Tony.Sena, thank you for your interest in SoGive’s work.

Thank you for raising your questions about transparency. I think it’s important that sources of funding are made as accountable as possible, so thank you for this.

It is not obvious to me that this type of transparency is a good idea, and I would certainly want us to have more rigorous justification for it before we go down this route.

(To be clear, some types of transparency are great.)

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Members of the EA community might have an interest in the things you allude to, namely:

  • the ways the donors have generated their funds; or 
  • whether the donors have the appropriate ethical or moral alignment. 

Is it right that this should be monitored by the community, or put into the public domain? 

Let me illustrate with two examples:

Example 1: Bob works for an investment bank and trades derivatives. He believes he earns more than he needs and donates a substantial sum each year. He is open about his philanthropy and feels good about it.

Example 2: Charlotte inherited a large sum of money from a family business. The business works in areas which she doesn’t agree with ethically. She has spent a lot of time wondering what she should do about the money she has. Is it wrong for her to donate it, given the money’s lugubrious origins? Is it any better for her to just keep the money? After much worrying, she has decided to donate the money, but would prefer not to draw attention to herself – she doesn’t feel good about the money and doesn’t want to be associated with it.

At the moment, I believe that the funds for SoGive grants would likely have provenances that most members of the EA community would not object to. (E.g. I don’t think most EAs would object to a donor who looked like Bob)

However I have gotten to know many donors over the years, and if someone who looked like Charlotte came along, I would like us to have a strong rationale for our actions before we discouraged her from contributing funding to SoGive Grants.

In particular, I would not want us to implement a precedent for making donors’ identities public unless we had heard the relevant perspectives. 

This includes the perspective of recipient organisations.

Just because EA has billions of dollars now, it doesn’t mean that all EA organisations are awash with money. As Joey’s extremely helpful article pointed out, there may be some organisations who are doing excellent, high-impact work, but who are still struggling for funding. 

If I were to guess, I don’t think our applicants would want us to scare off the Charlottes of this world. 

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Thank you also for the interesting example in India, written, interestingly, by someone who shares my first name. 

It is true that, as that article illustrated, some recipient/”beneficiary” organisations are pushing back against the power involved in philanthropy. 

However it’s also true that the organisations in most need of funding are also the least able to push back against this power.  Which suggests that the more in need of funding they are, the less valuable they would find this transparency.

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There are a number of practical implications which we would need to consider

  • Many of the donors we work with are time-constrained; we want to be confident that it’s a good use of their time before we add another item to their agenda
  • It’s not clear exactly whose identity we should be publishing. Some donors have signed up to definitely fund the successful applicants, some are in  various “waiting in the wings” roles (e.g. donors who will step in if there are enough strong applications, or may be willing to have the application forwarded if it’s strong enough, but the application would be subject to further scrutiny). For some of these donors, it may seem odd to name them as a source of the funds for SoGive grants; yet they may be deemed to have “power” (depending on exactly how power is defined). It may also seem odd to name them if they may end up providing no funding, so we need to understand whether it still helps to provide the identities of funders after the funding has occurred.
  • We need to understand what is needed to achieve the desired level of transparency. E.g. is it sufficient to say “XYZ charitable trust”? If I correctly understand the rationale for this transparency (and I’m not sure I do) then this probably isn’t sufficient. We might need to say “XYZ charitable trust, which is funded by Bob’s earnings. Bob works at ABC investment bank.” ABC investment bank might have a policy about having the bank’s name in the public domain, and implementing this transparency policy might require Bob to undergo cumbersome bureaucracy to get permission for the bank’s name to be mentioned in the public domain. If ABC bank understood the motivation for the transparency, they might believe (correctly?) that it allows another way for the bank’s reputation to be attacked. This could end up making Bob’s life harder.
  • This round of SoGive grants is a pilot for us. We haven’t lined up enough resource to consider this transparency question carefully. In this vein, I apologise in advance if I don't have capacity to answer further comments in a timely fashion, or possibly not at all.

 

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To be clear, these comments are not intended to definitely prove that your demand for transparency is misplaced, rather to demonstrate that it’s not obvious, and so we shouldn't rush in without a stronger rationale than we currently have.

Thanks for taking the time to engage with these arguments and provide detailed responses. 

I would argue against the fundamental premise of the arguments that you set out here. As I understand your position, the need and value for transparency in donor characteristics is something whose value should be proven. In the alternative, non-transparency is the status quo. To be frank, this troubles me. I would argue that transparency in philanthropic sources of funding should be the status quo and the onus should sit on the philanthropy to articulate why and for what reasons transparency is not possible with logistics and funder time and resource constraints holding very little weight (especially in light of funding being less of a general constraint in the space at this time). 

This conversation for me raises the larger question of who holds the power in philanthropy. In much of philanthropy, as you are similarly stating in your response, organizations have a policy where donors are able to stay anonymous and the sources of their funds are not made transparent to the public. Those seeking grant funds are often required to be radically transparent about their operations and plans for the use of these funds. The mere fact that donors hold resources also imbues them with relative power and different standards for public disclosure. 

I would urge EA-aligned funders to more deeply consider the implications of non-transparency in exacerbating many of the issues we have observed for decades in the Global Development sector. 

As you state, there is a shared desire that "sources of funds be made as accountable as possible". I agree with the logistical and operational challenges around the appropriate level of transparency, the reporting measures required, and where one draws the line. However, this is a situation where I hope that perfect does not get in the way of good. Iteration and experimentation around appropriate levels of transparency can help move the funding model toward a more equitable playing field. 

Could you share a Google Docs version of the application form? The FTX Future Fund linked this at the top, and I found it helpful for planning out the application with others.