[ Question ]

How Dependent is the Effective Altruism Movement on Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna?

by deluks9173 min read21st Sep 202012 comments

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I am sketching out my current understanding of the situation. I would appreciate any corrections. I assume I am misunderstanding some of this.

Does the following seem fair to you: They account for at least 30% of total EA funding. They account for at least 50% of meta funding.

edit: It looks like the actual number is closer to 50-66% of total EA funding. Meta funding looks around 66%.

Givewell estimates that they directed or influenced about 161 million dollars in 2018. 64 million came from Good Ventures grants. Good Ventures is the philanthropic foundation founded and funded by Dustin and Cari. It seems like the 161 million directed by Give Well represents a comfortable majority of total 'EA' donation. (Is this true?). To give context here are some other relevant numbers. EAs in a recent survey gave around 16.1 million. ACE estimates it influences about 9 million in donations. edit: If you add up all the grants dated in 2019 Good Ventures gave ~272 million. In 2018 Good ventures gave ~190.5 million. 2020 hs 140 million granted so far. There is some lag after grants are decided.

Meta Charities and community infrastructure seem even more dependent on Dustin and Cari. Here are some estimates of how much funding some important organizations have received from Good Ventures per year recently -

  1. CEA - 2/3 of funding according to CEA
  2. 80K - ~90% of the yearly budget. Used to be part of CEA.
  3. FHI - 13.3 million in late 2018. The list of their large donors is small
  4. Givewell - ~50% of operating expenses. Very large cash reserves.
  5. Open Phil - "Our main funders are Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz"
  6. ACE - ~33% of the budget
  7. GPI - ~3.3million in 2020. In 2018 they estimated about 45% of total funding to date had come from Open Phil.
  8. Rethink Priorities - 48% of their budget (according to Peter Hurford)
  9. GWWC - Part of CEA
  10. Founders Pledge - ~5million in funding. Cannot find their total budget

I am sure some of these estimates are off. But it does seem like the community infrastructure is extremely dependent on Dustin and Cari? Here are some public sources I looked at and relevant quotes. All quotes are from the associated links:


--- CEA

https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/blog/fundraising-2019/#budget-summary-and-fundraising

https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/blog/ceas-2019-annual-review/#financials

https://assets.ctfassets.net/es8pp29e1wp8/hTeWHf44wuiHZlNMaeGdV/f2d45c48481091f356d8a7be829499bf/Final_-_2018_Form_990_-_CEA_-_signed__2_.pdf

"Our funding varies year-on-year, but approximately two-thirds of our funding comes from the Open Philanthropy Project. The rest comes mostly from a small number of major donors, though we also receive funding from other individuals and through initiatives such as EA Giving Tuesday. EA Global ticket revenues made up around 5% of our income." (from financials)

Core Budget 2019: 5,000,000

EA Grants and EA Community Building Grants: $3.7M

Cash: 13.8M in 2018 up from 10.6M in 2017 (13 million was in cash)

CEA grants in 2018: 2.85M (mostly to organizations)


--- 80K Hours

https://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/80000-hours-general-support-2019

https://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/80000-hours-general-support-2020

https://80000hours.org/about/credibility/evaluations/financial-accounts/

Grant: 2,893,125

Expected Budget 2020: 3,056,000


--- Future of Humanity Institute

https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2018-10-10-%C2%A3133m-boost-oxford%E2%80%99s-future-humanity-institute#:~:text=Oxford%20University's%20Future%20of%20Humanity,Faculty%20of%20Philosophy%20at%20Oxford.

https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/grant-announcement/

https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/global-catastrophic-risks/miscellaneous/future-humanity-institute-work-on-global-catastrophic-risks

https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/global-catastrophic-risks/miscellaneous/future-of-humanity-institute-research-scholars-programme

https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/support-fhi/

Grant: 13.3 million in 2018

Budget: unknown

"There are a few people and organizations that have made or pledged a significant contribution to FHI’s research (> £250,000). We would like to thank them for their impact on our progress over the years.

Alexander Tamas, Amlin plc, Elon Musk, European Research Council, Future of Life Institute, Leverhulme Trust, Luke Ding, Open Philanthropy Project, Oxford Martin School"


--- GiveWell

https://files.givewell.org/files/ClearFund/GiveWell_TCF_2019_Audited_Financial_Statements.pdf

https://www.givewell.org/about/gw-op-relationship (expenses capped at 20%)

https://blog.givewell.org/2013/09/17/balancing-support-from-good-ventures-vs-individuals/ - reasons why its bad to depend too much on Good Ventures

https://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/givewell-general-support-2020 - 2,245,570

https://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/givewell-general-support-20181 - $2,453,548

https://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/givewell-general-support-2018 - 751,179

Grants to other charities: 35,664,394 (basically people donating through GiveWell)

It looks like they got ~15m without restrictions and 35.75M with restrictions. Almost all of the 'with restrictions' was passed on. They had about 1.8M in management and General expenses and fundraising.

Total operating expenses: Very roughly 4.5M. Not sure how to count some things like payment processing fees. Salaries and payroll tax was about 3.5M. Full breakdown on page6 of the financials.

Large cash reserves: ~22M net assets without donor restrictions.


--- Open Philanthropy

https://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/our-progress-2019-and-plans-2020

https://www.openphilanthropy.org/about/who-we-are

It is pretty complicated financially. There is an LLC and 501c(3). Also multiple orgs make their grants.

"Staff who research potential focus areas or advance academic or scientific research or education are typically employed by the Open Philanthropy Project 501(c)(3), a nonprofit organization that primarily conducts research. Staff who investigate and recommend non-research grants or investments, distribute funds to grantees, evaluate our impact, and share our learning are typically employed by the Open Philanthropy Project LLC. Good Ventures does not currently have any employees of its own and instead largely relies on the research and recommendations of staff employed by Open Philanthropy. Open Philanthropy remains independent from Good Ventures, partly because we would eventually like to play a similar advisory role for other highly aligned major donors."

"We recommended over $200 million worth of grants in 2019. The bulk of this came from recommendations to support GiveWell’s top charities and from our major current focus areas: potential risks of advanced AI, biosecurity and pandemic preparedness, criminal justice reform, farm animal welfare, scientific research, and effective altruism."

"Outreach to external donors will remain a relatively low priority for the organization as a whole, though it may be a higher priority for particular staff." (they have a partnership with Ben Delo, initially 5million per year)

"Our main funders are Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook and Asana." (homepage)

"We typically recommend grants to the Open Philanthropy Project fund, a donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Support for the Open Philanthropy Project fund comes primarily from Cari and Dustin, though historically other donors have contributed as well. In some cases, we make grants directly from the Open Philanthropy Project 501(c)(3) or make recommendations to Good Ventures, the Open Philanthropy Action Fund (a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization), or to other entities, including some that are not primarily funded or controlled by Dustin or Cari."


--- Animal Charity Evaluators

https://animalcharityevaluators.org/transparency/financials/

https://animalcharityevaluators.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2019-tax-return.pdf

https://animalcharityevaluators.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2019.Audit_.Report.final_.pdf

https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/farm-animal-welfare/animal-charity-evaluators-general-support-2019 (650K for 2019 and 2020. It seems to be dated later. But ACE had some cash on hand?)

Grants given in 2019: 3,528,266

Grant from Good Ventures: 325K/year for 2019 and 2020

Budget: 1,037,345

Cash Reserves: 1,063,659 (another ~1M with donor restrictions)


--- Global Priorities Institute

https://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/global-priorities-institute-general-support-2020

https://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/global-priorities-institute-general-support

"In GPI’s short history to date, we have been funded by grants totalling £2.5m from the Open Philanthropy Project and donations totalling £3m from other private donors." [2018-2019]

Grant 2020: 3,298,715


--- Rethink Priorities

https://donations.vipulnaik.com/donee.php?donee=Rethink+Priorities

https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/farm-animal-welfare/rethink-priorities-farm-animal-welfare-research-2020

https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/farm-animal-welfare/rethink-priorities-farm-animal-welfare-research

https://www.rethinkpriorities.org/blog/2019/2/23/our-plans-for-2019#:~:text=We%20recently%20expanded%20to%20a,more%20information%2C%20email%20Marcus%20A.

Grant: 445K per year

~48% funded by Good ventures according to Peter Hurford (I asked directly)


--- Founders Pledge

https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/other-areas/founders-pledge-general-support-2018

Grant: $5,222,653

Budget: Not sure


--- Giving What We Can

(Part of CEA)

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4 Answers

This matches my understanding, however, I think it is normal for non-profits of the budget size that the EA ecosystem currently is to have this structure.

Bridgespan identified 144 nonprofits that have gone from founding to at least $50 million in revenue since 1970...[up to 2003]...we identified three important practices common among nonprofits that succeeded in building large-scale funding models: (1) They developed funding in one concentrated source rather than across diverse sources; (2) they found a funding source that was a natural match to their mission and beneficiaries; and (3) they built a professional organization and structure around this funding model.

- How Non-Profits Get Really Big

Some common alternatives are outlined here: Ten Non-Proft Funding Models.

Within this framework, I would describe the EA community currently using a hybrid between "Member Motivator" (cultivating membership of many individual donors who feel personally involved with the community - such as the GWWC model) and "Big Bettor" (such as the relationship between Good Ventures and the ecosystem of EA organizations).

I think total EA funding is something like (per year):

  • $250m Open Phil / Good Ventures
  • $80m from GiveWell (excluding Open Phil)
  • $50m other

So that's 66% Open Phil. Note that Open Phil seems to be 90%+ Dustin and Cari.

Sorry I don't have sources for these figures - they're my personal rough estimates. (Though Open Phil's grants are almost all published.)

One other thing to note is that funding is only one component of EA – we also have the value of the labour of community members and our ideas. Even if there was no funding at all, we could still accomplish a bunch (by going to work in existing institutions like govt., academia, non-profits, or working as volunteers).

Quick note on the figures for 80k: about 66% of our funding comes from Open Phil in recent years. You can't divide the size of the grant by our annual budget, because we're also building up reserves with the scale of the org. You instead need to divide the grant by our total income.

Unfortunately, I think this isn't far off. I am in the process of writing my first EA forum post and it specifically has to do with this. The amount of money moved by EA is currently extremely tied to the performance of Facebook. With approximately yearly major public image issues (Cambridge Analytica, political advertising, etc.), an increasing number of people leaving the platform and new generations not using Facebook, this is most definitely a concern. I am suggesting something to the effect of hedging against Facebook stock. (I don't know the state of Dustin's finances but I assume it is heavily correlated with FB stock.)

Givewell estimates that they directed or influenced about 161 million dollars in 2018. 64 million came from Good Ventures grants. Good Ventures is the philanthropic foundation founded and funded by Dustin and Cari. It seems like the 161 million directed by Give Well represents a comfortable majority of total 'EA' donation.

If you want to count OpenPhil's donations as EA donations, that majority isn't so comfortable. In 2018, OpenPhil recommended a bit less than 120 million (excluding Good Venture's donations to GiveWell charities) of which almost all came from Good Ventures, and they recommended more in both 2017 and 2019. This is a great source on OpenPhil's funding.