I wrote this post quickly, drawing on some emails/messages I’d previously sent. You can use the headings as a summary and a way of working out which sections (if any) are relevant to you.
Epistemic status: I’m a guest manager on the EA Infrastructure Fund, I think what I say here mostly applies to the Long-Term Future Fund and maybe the Animal Welfare Fund, and I think other fund managers would mostly agree with what I say here. But I could be wrong, I haven’t properly run this doc by other EA Funds people, and this definitely is not an official EA Funds post.
This is the single most important point in this doc.
Applying is very often worthwhile in expectation, because:
- Applying should be quick
- EA Funds’ impact is more constrained by good applications than by funding available
- If you do have a project worth funding, getting it funded could be really fantastic for the world
Your application can be quick and unpolished
Writing EA Funds applications is in theory meant to take <2 hours, setting aside the time required to actually come up with the plan etc.
I know applicants often spend more than that, but they really don't have to - polish isn't important. Some of our grantees spent just 10 minutes on their application. (Though conceiving and planning the project is important, and isn't included in the 2 hours.)
Relatedly, some people feel happy to reach out to a fund manager for a call or to share a doc outlining their plans, but don’t feel ready to make an application. You can indeed talk to EA Funds before applying, and sometimes that’s the best move. But you can also jump straight to applying, even with similarly rough ideas, and just flag in the application that you're happy to resubmit if what you submitted is insufficiently detailed or thought through. You can see such an application as analogous to sharing a rough doc with 1 fund manager.
Your application can leave some questions open, can suggest multiple possible scenarios, and can “start a dialogue”
The application can be a "dialogue": you can apply without a 100% fleshed out idea or 100% explained reasoning, and just explicitly flag that and say you're happy to elaborate on things but that you wanted to get the application process started because it's time-sensitive.
Relatedly, you can list a range of possible scenarios and say how you'll decide etc. It may indeed be that the fund managers would then say they require more clarity/certainty before deciding, in which case they'll just tell you that and wait for your response.
If the evaluator decides they want you to clarify or expand on something, or wants you to focus on some subset of your projects, they'll probably just reach out to you with questions/suggestions.
It’s also often good to consider whether you could have more impact with more money, and/or to consider applying for a range of levels of funding and possible purposes. E.g., you can say the most important thing is $3000 to buy a laptop, but if you also got $10,000 you could do [other cool thing, which might be useful for some particular reason].
Here it’s worth noting that the fund managers are basically nice people who want to be helpful and increase the number of great projects which happen, so if your idea is actually promising, they’re unlikely to reject your application just because some points were insufficiently clear or some aspects should be changed.
Maybe think about pilots and proxies
Maybe think about whether there’s a way you could do a smaller version of something and get info on how useful the thing is, how best to do it, etc. Maybe apply just for that or list that as one of the scenarios you’d be happy to be funded for.
Maybe think big
Not all applications are approved, and many are approved in smaller versions than the original request, but also some are approved in larger versions. It seems quite often worthwhile in expectation to at least consider what a bigger project could look like, how more money could allow you to have more impact etc. and maybe to apply for that. If a smaller version of the project would be better, grantmakers will probably suggest that rather than rejecting you (unless your request was ridiculously big or starting with a smaller pilot would very obviously be better, such that your application implies bad strategic thinking or something).
You can apply for a planning/exploration grant
EA Funds sometimes provide grants solely for the purpose of figuring out what to do next, fleshing out proposals, etc. So e.g. you could apply to pay for a few weeks of time spent considering and fleshing out project ideas, then make a larger application for funding to execute on one of those ideas.
Encourage other people to apply!
If you know of other people who you think could have more impact (now or in the future) if they received an EA Funds grant soon, please tell them to consider applying! Even if they might not get funding, it could still be really impactful in expectation to suggest they try it out, and it shouldn't take them very long.
You could also share with them this post and List of EA funding opportunities.
You should consider applying to both EA Funds and other funders
Many projects will be in-scope for both EA Funds and other EA or non-EA funders. In those cases, it’s probably best to apply to multiple funders and just flag in your It’If you’ve applied to other funders, you should note that in your EA Funds application. But it’s totally fine to do that. E.g., it’ll often make sense to apply to both EA Funds and some Open Phil funding opportunity or the Survival and Flourishing Fund (see List of EA funding opportunities). As far as I think you should very likely apply to both EA Funds and Open Phil, and just note in each application that you've applied to both, unless the relevant Open Phil page recommends against doing that (I haven't read them all closely).
I know at least one EAIF grantee also applied to Open Phil and ultimately got approved by both (though at different levels / with different scopes), and then EAIF and Open Phil just coordinated on who would give what. I’m not personally sure if that's meant to happen, but nor do I personally see a problem with it. (Though I do think you should tell both funders you applied to the other one, and anywhere else you applied.)
Open Phil also refer some applications to EA Funds and you can indicate interest in that.
Decisions and transfers can be fast
As the site says: "The [EA Infrastructure Fund / Long-Term Future Fund] will respond with a funding decision within six weeks, and typically in just three weeks. If you need to hear back sooner (e.g., within just a few days), you can let us know in the application form, and we will see what we can do."
So just say that it's time sensitive, how time sensitive it is, and why, and I expect people would be able to decide within 2 weeks. Though it depends a bit on how high-stakes it is, how close a call it is, etc.
Usually money is transferred just once a month, I think, but if you need the money transferred sooner you can say (if and when the grant is approved) and I think it's then usually done very soon.
There’s usually some flexibility in how the money is used, and sometimes a lot of flexibility
EA Funds sometimes funds people for specific projects and isn't ok with them deviating much from the plan, sometimes funds people for specific projects but would probably be ok with them deviating from the plan, and sometimes funds people for a range of projects or for "whatever that person thinks would be best".
It doesn’t matter much whether you select EAIF or LTFF
(This all might also apply to EAIF vs AWF, but I’m less sure about that.)
If it’s not immediately obvious whether your project is better suited for EAIF or LTFF, you should probably read the pages about both funds and then just select whichever one seems probably more appropriate. That choice is probably only worth 0-5 minutes of thought. Here’s why:
- You can say you’re happy for your project to be referred to the other fund anyway.
- Your project might be in-scope for EAIF, LTFF, both, or neither. In any case, it doesn’t matter much which one you select.
- If your project is in-scope for EAIF or LTFF but you applied for the other one, I think the Chair of the fund you applied to will just pass the application on to the other fund.
- If your project in-scope for both funds, it probably doesn’t really matter in expectation who evaluates it. (It might be the case that one fund would be more likely to approve the application, but it’d be hard to say in advance which fund that would be or which fund would be making the “mistake” there, so it doesn’t seem worth trying to make decisions based on that.)
- If your project in-scope for neither fund, both would just reject it, or both would be similarly likely in expectation to refer it to some other funder.
Object-level suggestions I sometimes give
(Obviously these suggestions won’t be relevant to all projects, and would sometimes be actively bad suggestions to give - you could see this as like a checklist of things to maybe consider.)
- Improve your hiring processes
- Get advisors
- Often ideally core EAs with good judgement and good macrostrategic understanding
- Can be a board or not
- Can be formal or not
- Get feedback, mentorship, etc.
- What sources of feedback, "mentorship", etc. will you have as you conduct this project? How might you go about getting that feedback, "mentorship", etc.?
- Maybe don't scale too fast (though do make specific ambitious plans)
- Have a narrower focus, at least for now
- Consider downside risks and how to mitigate them (though it’s still good to generate ambitious ideas)
- Get a clearer sense of what evidence you’d hope to generate/see in future so you and we can have a clearer sense of whether this should be renewed, scaled up, reoriented/pivoted, scaled down, or shut down
- Think carefully about what name to choose for a new org, or rethink the current org name
- E.g., probably avoid explicitly using terms like “effective altruism” or “longtermism” in the org name itself
- E.g., don’t monopolise a topic/space (e.g., “EA Careers” would be a worse name than “80,000 Hours”, in part because it implies that it’s the sole org for that topic)
- “BERI is accepting applications from university-affiliated groups and individuals interested in receiving our support. Winning applicants would be eligible for free services from BERI, like purchasing equipment, food, and software, maintaining an Uber account for easy travel, and hiring experts for research support; see How does BERI help our collaborators? for more info on that. Eligible applicants include research groups, student groups, and individual researchers at all levels of academia."
I often suggest people at the very least daft an application.
Some people I talk to say that they are intending to apply “later” and when I check back in on them they still tell me “later”. I now suggest people draft that application now even if they plan on finishing and submitting it later. This takes what is otherwise a daunting and mysterious task and makes it much clearer what it is you are so hesitant about.
Also, maybe Don’t think, just apply!
Something else I now often tell people:
Relatedly, a few points that I now feel this post should've had more in mind are:
This is super helpful, thank you Michael!