EA Meta Fund Grants – July 2020

by agdfoster10 min read12th Aug 202020 comments

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This is the July 2020 payout report for the Effective Altruism Meta Fund, one of the Effective Altruism Funds.

Fund: Effective Altruism Meta Fund

Payout date: August 7, 2020

Payout amount: $838,000.00

Grant author(s): Luke Ding, Alex Foster, Denise Melchin, Matt Wage, Peter McIntyre

Grant recipients:

Grant rationale:

The EA Meta Fund made the following grant recommendations in the July 2020 round:

  1. 80,000 Hours - $300k
  2. Founders Pledge - $200k
  3. The Future of Humanity Foundation - $200k
  4. WANBAM (Women and Non-Binary Altruism Mentorship) - $80k
  5. gieffektivt.no - $30k
  6. RC Forward - $15k
  7. EA Netherlands - workshops for professionals involved in policymaking - $13k

In this grant round, we focused on both well-established and early-stage organizations. While there is higher uncertainty in funding early-stage projects, we think there is also significant value. Much of this value comes in the form of new information on what works and what doesn’t, which can be used to inform future efforts to maximize impact.

Below are some of the key considerations behind our grant decisions. As with the previous rounds, these summaries are by no means meant to be read as complete or exhaustive cases for each grant. They are based on a series of internal conversations between the fund managers, as well as with the grantees, incorporating our past experience, knowledge, and judgment. While risks and reservations for these organizations have been taken into account, we do not discuss them below in most cases.

Applications

If there is a meta initiative that you would like us to consider for a future grant, please complete this form.

Questions

Please send any questions about the Fund to jonas.vollmer at centreforeffectivealtruism.org.

80,000 Hours - $300k

80,000 Hours aims to resolve skill bottlenecks in fields relevant to addressing the world’s most pressing problems. To do this, they carry out research into how talented individuals can maximize the impact of their careers, produce online advice, identify readers who might be able to enter priority areas, and provide these readers with free in-person advice and connections to mentors, job openings, and funding.

Categories: Talent-leverage, scale-stage

  1. We have made grants to 80,000 Hours (80k) in a number of past grant rounds (see our previous payout reports here), and we continue to view 80k as one of the most impactful meta opportunities available.
  2. As 80k is becoming one of the largest recipients of EA Meta Fund grants in total, we spent more time in the last two rounds trying to bolster the thoroughness of our evaluation.
  3. We reviewed 80k by focusing on four main areas:
    1. Content: 80k's online content is, in our opinion, consistently very high quality. The core aim of their content is to increase reach and generate initial interest among their target audience. There may be a small number of people who change their career path based on content alone, but most seem to benefit from direct in-person advice.
    2. Podcast: performs a similar function to their text-based content. The reach of the podcast is 10x lower than other content, but it seems to generate much higher engagement per person.
    3. Job board: drives engagement and supports 80k's end goal of connecting talented people to high-priority jobs. The job board consistently receives a high number of views, generating over 60,000 click-throughs last year.
    4. One-to-one advising and headhunting: direct in-person advice with individuals who could enter 80k's priority career paths.
  4. 80k seems to have continued to make strong progress on their metrics during 2019. Some key updates include:
    1. Replacing the earlier careers guide with their key ideas series.
    2. Releasing 20 podcast episodes, gaining ~370 subscribers per episode.
    3. Carrying out ~40 headhunting searches for top-priority organizations, making ~100 qualified submissions, and tracking 11 placements.
    4. Providing career advice to 244 people. 64% of those who provided feedback rated the advice as a 6 or 7 (out of 7) for usefulness.
    5. Advertising 1,224 positions on their job board and sending over 60,000 clicks through to vacancy pages.
    6. Releasing 33 new pieces of content, although this is less than expected compared to their target of 50.
  5. We believe that the impact of recruiting and community-building efforts often follows a heavy-tailed distribution, and we agree with the 80k team that a large portion of their long-term impact may come from an unexpected source. While 80k seem to have had some significant measurable impact, we expect that much of the value of their work will come from hard-to-measure qualitative sources, such as growing the number of people interested in effective altruism. Over the years, 80k has been one of the largest sources of people first learning about EA. We see their role here as having especially high potential upside.
  6. Having reviewed their metrics and tangible outcomes, we found ourselves regularly coming back to one qualitative argument in particular:
    1. Taking a macro view, if skill bottlenecks are genuinely holding back the growth of high-priority cause areas, we think that we should be willing to spend significant resources to overcome them. We see the potential downside of underinvesting in mitigating these bottlenecks as far outweighing that of overinvesting.
    2. 80k remains the primary group appearing to make progress in this clearly challenging domain. This argument does not supersede the need for cost-effectiveness, but does encourage us to put higher strategic priority on qualitative arguments for additional potential upsides.

Note: Peter McIntyre recused himself from this grant evaluation.

Founders Pledge - $200k

Founders Pledge encourages startup founders and investors to sign a legally binding pledge to donate a percentage of their personal exit proceeds to charity. Once the pledge is realized, Founders Pledge supports pledgers to decide where to give in order to have the most positive impact.

Categories: Capital-leverage, scale-stage

  1. We have made grants to Founders Pledge (FP) in two previous grant rounds (see the reports here and here).
  2. FP has continued to achieve impressive top-line metrics. They currently have over 1,400 pledgers and over $2.4bn in pledge value. Every year to date, their pledge value has increased by 100-150% year-on-year, based on venture capitalists’ valuations of their pledgers’ businesses (% pledged * % equity held by founders * $ post-money valuation at last investment round).
  3. Alongside raising pledges, FP also focuses on supporting their pledgers to give to high-impact areas. Since 2015, over $19m has been given to high-impact charities recommended by FP. FP estimates that their research and advice played a significant role in $8m out of this total. Over a third of all donations made by FP pledgers to date have gone to high-impact charities. FP’s research and advisory team, which focuses on supporting pledgers to give to high-impact charities, has grown from 2 to 8 people since 2018.
  4. It is worth noting that the time lag from pledge to exit to donation is generally between five and ten years. Given FP’s fast-growing pledge value, we expect their work to date to result in a total donation volume orders of magnitude higher than the numbers stated in the previous paragraph. So long as FP maintains a high growth rate, their costs should be expected to grow at least several years ahead of their outcomes.
  5. FP has made significant cuts to their operating budget in light of COVID-19. We are keen to see their remaining funding gap filled to avoid further cuts where possible.
  6. As we noted when we last made a grant to FP, we also wish to highlight that their less quantifiable outcomes seem particularly promising. One of their goals is to have a long-lasting positive effect on the culture of smart major philanthropy and, given the continued exponential growth of the value of their network, the prospect of them achieving this goal seems important to take into consideration, despite being highly uncertain.

Note: Luke Ding recused himself from this grant evaluation.

The Future of Humanity Foundation - $200k

The Future of Humanity Foundation is a charitable entity that is being set up to increase the operational capacity of (and relieve operational bottlenecks for) the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI), a research centre based at Oxford University. FHI works on big-picture questions for human civilization and explores what can be done now to ensure a flourishing long-term future. Their research covers macrostrategy, technical AI alignment, AI strategy and governance, and emerging biotechnologies.

Categories: Capacity-building, early-stage

  1. This dual-entity setup has been tried and tested by the Forethought Foundation, which plays a similar role for Oxford's Global Priorities Institute (GPI). Given the apparent success of the Forethought Foundation using a similar methodology, we are keen to see strategies of operational leverage further explored and experimented with. We see this as potentially highly valuable information for the wider community, as well as being a form of leverage for FHI's work in general.
  2. Research from FHI, and particularly from its director Nick Bostrom, has been influential in shaping the field of research and policy work focused on safeguarding future generations. Nick is the author of over 200 publications, including Anthropic Bias (2002), Global Catastrophic Risks (2008), and the New York Times bestseller Superintelligence (2014).
  3. We see this as a promising meta initiative because The Future of Humanity Foundation is aiming to leverage FHI’s operations and increase its overall impact. (FHI itself also acts as a meta initiative to some degree, because it provides scholarships, promotes important ideas through popular science books, and trains early-career researchers through its Research Scholars Programme.) The goal of the foundation is to maximize the impact of the work done by FHI by providing financial, operational, and administrative support to further FHI's research activities, enable research collaborations, and support the hiring of research talent. We expect that The Future of Humanity Foundation would give FHI the ability to execute more quickly, while still maintaining the benefits of being a research centre at a world-leading university.

WANBAM (Women and Non-Binary Altruism Mentorship) - $80k

WANBAM aims to increase retention and improve diversity within the wider effective altruism community. The project is experimenting with achieving this via connecting and supporting a global mentorship network of women and non-binary members of the effective altruism community.

Categories: Talent-leverage, early-stage

  1. This is a second grant to an early-stage project that has shown promising initial results. Much of our reasoning behind the previous grant still stands; see the relevant payout report. We continue to believe that mentorship, when done well, has the potential to be effective in a number of ways, despite being inherently challenging to measure. In our view, two major potential updates of this project are that it could (a) make the EA community more diverse by increasing retention of its women and non-binary members, and (b) improve the community’s welcomingness.
  2. As with any field, there is a community built around effective altruism, which affects talent pipelines, culture, and other hard-to-evaluate metrics. Our view is that positive diversity in a community is valuable in and of itself and seems very likely to have notable effects on the success of communities in general. Given that a lack of diversity is also intuitively self-reinforcing and harder to correct the longer it is left unchecked, we are pleased to see tractable and sensible projects attempting to address this.
  3. This project seems to have done well with initial funding. Both mentors and mentees have given positive feedback, and WANBAM seems to have succeeded in enlisting senior talent as mentors and board directors. Some of the project's achievements:
    1. There have been ~60 mentorship pairings so far.
    2. 62% of participants gave a score of 10/10 when asked if they would recommend WANBAM to a friend.
    3. Demand appears to be increasing: in November 2019, WANBAM had 72 applications, while in June 2020, there were 97 applicants.
  4. To date, Kathryn Mecrow-Flynn, the project lead, has been spending ~50% of her time on WANBAM. Given the positive results so far, we felt willing to take a larger bet on this project, funding Kathryn to go full-time.
  5. Beyond the immediate benefits to the mentees involved in this project, we think there may be longer-term benefits for the wider EA community should this initiative be successful: a more diverse and retentive community could lead to a stronger talent pool and greater long-term impact from the movement overall. As with our initial grant, we hope to gain information on what does and does not work and whether mentorship schemes, in general, could be an effective tool for movement building.

gieffektivt.no - $30k

gieffektivt.no is a donation portal based in Norway that fundraises for GiveWell’s top charities ("gi effektivt" means "give effectively"). The project promotes the idea of donating effectively and makes donations easier by lowering transaction costs and offering tax refunds to Norweigian donors.

Categories: Capital-leverage, early-stage

  1. This is an early-stage grant to a project that has achieved promising initial results. As with all early-stage grants, we expect there to be high value of information in testing this opportunity and potentially high upside if this project works out. In general, we expect the experimental value of the early-stage grants we make to be greater than the direct impact of these grants.
  2. gieffektivt.no has moved ~$1m to GiveWell-recommended charities to date, while being run entirely by volunteers (with some administrative support from EA Norway). ~$400,000 of this total was raised in 2019, representing 62% growth year-on-year. Our grant will partially fund gieffektivt.no to hire a project lead to work on the platform full-time.
  3. gieffektivt.no estimates that ~30% of the funds they have raised to date would not have been raised without the platform, and that this number is increasing as they grow and reach new donor groups. This is based on donor surveys, which found that a significant proportion of donors were not already browsing EA sources of information and guidance. We think that these initial results seem promising enough to fund the project through to the next stage.
  4. If their current growth continues, we might expect them to direct around $1m of counterfactually adjusted funds towards GiveWell top charities; their costs for that period are likely to be on the order of $100,000.
  5. With a full-time project lead in place, gieffektivt.no plans to:
    1. Test and improve growth and outreach methods, including campaign improvements, paid advertising, business outreach through talks and events, targeted outreach towards high-net-worth individuals, and improved relationship management with their most valuable donors.
    2. Optimize their work through donor analysis to better understand their donor base and motivations, improvements to the platform system and website, and improved coordination and recruitment of their volunteers.
  6. gieffektivt.no has a few candidates lined up for the full-time role who have been involved with the project previously. They also plan to have an open application process to review other candidates. The grant will go towards funding part of the successful candidate’s first year of salary (the remainder is expected to be made up with other grants and private donations), as well as some technical development and general expenses.

RC Forward - $15k

RC Forward is a donation platform through which Canadians can make tax-advantaged donations to high-impact charities located in and outside of Canada. RC Forward is a project of Rethink Charity. This grant is to fund a new website and improved customer relationship management infrastructure.

Categories: Capital-leverage, early-stage

  1. We made a grant to RC Forward in July 2019, and the core reasoning behind this grant still stands (see the payout report here).
  2. RC Forward appears to fill a valuable niche for Canadian donors. The platform has two main benefits: (1) their recommended charities receive more money from the same size of donation due to tax advantages, and (2) some donors may choose to donate when they otherwise wouldn't have, or would have donated less.
  3. We expect that the majority of RC Forward's impact comes from the latter benefit. While the counterfactual impact here is challenging to measure, we are encouraged by two observations:
    1. RC Forward has told us one account of a donor who made a significantly higher donation than they were originally planning to due to the tax advantages offered by the platform. Given RC Forward’s small budget (~$200,000 for 2020), even 1-2 donations like this would likely be sufficient to give RC Forward a good multiplier.
    2. In an independent evaluation, Rethink Priorities estimated that every $1 donated to RC Forward’s operations in 2019 resulted in $6 donated to high-impact charities that would otherwise not have been given. The underlying assumptions used to reach this estimate were based on existing literature on donation fees, tax incentives, and platforms’ ease of use (2019 analysis here and the assumptions used here).
  4. In 2019, RC Forward moved ~$1.5M to their recommended charities. Since 2017, they have moved a total of ~$5M. Money moved in 2019 was lower than 2018 due to a large one-off donation made in 2018. In general, we do expect much of RC Forward’s impact to come from donations of this type, so we are keen to see if they can continue to achieve strong counterfactual donations year-on-year.
  5. We think that RC Forward provides a valuable service for Canadian donors, and we would like to ensure they have sufficient budget to continue their core work. In early 2020, RC Forward began charging a 4% fee on donations in order to cover most of their operating costs. This grant will top-up RC Forward’s budget; the expected use is to improve the website and develop an internal CRM system.

EA Netherlands (Lisa Gotoh and Jan-Willem van Putten) - workshops for professionals involved in policymaking - $13k

This is a one-off grant to develop a series of workshops on implementing EA principles in policymaking for policy professionals in the Netherlands (initially focusing on policy officers, with the option to expand the target audience to politicians and to organizations that work with the government).

If the initial workshops are successful, EA Netherlands intends to start charging attendees for the workshops in order to fund the project on an ongoing basis. If successful, the workshops might also be translated into English and shared with other effective altruism organizations.

Categories: Policy, early-stage

  1. As with all early-stage grants, we expect there to be high value of information in testing this opportunity and potentially high upside if this project works out. In general, we expect the experimental value of the early-stage grants we make to be greater than the direct impact of these grants.
  2. The project was initiated by a former civil servant at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is now supported by EA Netherlands. The project was launched following positive feedback from ministry employees who attended an EA workshop run by the project initiator – there were requests from the participants for a follow-up workshop on how to implement EA principles in policymaking.
  3. The initial workshops will cover three main themes: investments in foreign development, safe development and use of artificial intelligence, and improving decision-making under deep uncertainty. The workshops will focus on raising awareness and offering tools for long-term policy planning, data-driven approaches, and policy research and evaluation.
  4. We anticipate that the outcomes of this project will be challenging to measure, but we were willing to take a bet given the small grant size and the potential upside if the project is successful. We expect that the main potential upside from this project is the opportunity to build stronger networks in the policy space.

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