How important is marginal earning to give?


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Some observations:

  • Most of GiveWell’s senior staff are moving over to the Open Philanthropy Project.
  • This year, GiveWell had to set explicit funding targets for all of their charities and update their recommendations in April to make sure nobody ran out of room for more funding.
  • My understanding is that Good Ventures (a) probably has more money than the current discounted cash flows from the rest of the EA movement combined and (b) still isn’t deploying nearly as much money as they eventually will be able to.
  • Open Phil has recently posted about an org they wish existed but doesn’t and funder-initiated startups.
  • I can’t remember any EA orgs failing to reach a fundraising target.
  • Effective altruism is growing quickly; many EAers plan to earn to give but are currently students and will increase their giving substantially in the next few years.

These observations make me feel generally weird about earning to give: Good Ventures and other large foundations can fund a ton of stuff, and there are many individual EA donors who can fund the good ideas that aren't worth large funders engaging with for whatever reason (at least, many relative to the available opportunities). So it might be important to have more people trying to spot opportunities and start effective charities with support from large funders or current EtGers. For instance, the Gates Foundation has 1200 employees trying to help them deploy their money (and that’s presumably not counting the people who help them start new organizations); applying a similar ratio to Good Ventures would suggest they should have on the order of 100 people helping them, whereas today they have ~10.

Given that doing a normal job and making large donations is psychologically more attractive than trying to start nonprofits for a lot of people (including myself), this suggests that marginal EtGers (also potentially including myself?) might want to give more weight to trying to find opportunities to start new effective organizations, and leave the funding to people like Dustin Moskovitz.

One counterpoint might be that “large funders” are not actually that large; for instance, 72% of total giving is from individuals, but I don’t know if that ratio holds for global poverty or other causes EAs are interested in. And even if it does, it seems like you have to be a certain size of organization to raise grassroots funds effectively, and right now we don’t have enough orgs of that size.

I’d love to get other people’s thoughts on this.