Lots has been written about this so I wrote a poem instead along with my thoughts and related links at the bottom. I lead the team at Giving What We Can, views are my own.

Poem

Years ago we were struck by big problems: they were so extremely funding constrained.

One-by-one we saw a big impact: by making them less extremely funding constrained.

We didn't wait for permission, we gave from our own pockets first. It became our mission to put others first.

Our thrifty community dug into the data. We made money go further, we made things go better.

Each dollar paid dividends, each DALY gained a good end. Progress felt slow, but was needed, we know.

Constraints were consistent, opportunity cost felt: "Should I pledger further? Should I become a researcher?"

A driven community with compassion so big: we found more neglected problems, solvable, and big.

We said "more research needed", traded money for time: found researchers, founders and then funders aligned.

Some problems found funders more quickly than founders, yet others found moneypits so desperate to fill.

Give trillions in cash or keep coal in the ground? What about the backlash if our decisions aren't sound?

As we made progress we hit the mainstream. Among the first questions: "Why's my cause unseen?"

We're resource constrained, I wish it weren't such: "Yes, we want to help everyone, but we only have so much!"

Our work's still so small in the scheme of the world. Still, let's be more ambitious: let's build a dreamworld.

We need many folks to be stoaked by our mission. We need many funders, founders, and passion.

Experimentation is something we now know we can try: don't let fear of funding be why you don't apply.

But for the foreseeable future your dollars still count: for every life that you help we mustn't discount.

Our mission 'aint over, we're at the start of our road. We need your help: let's make some inroads.

So give what you can and get others involved. Let’s keep working together to get these problems solved.


Postscript

It can be quite difficult to ‘feel’ the fact that all of these things are true at the same time:

  1. We have increased available funding by an order of magnitude over the past decade and increased the rate at which that funding is being deployed
  2. We don't want lack of funds to be the reason that people don't do important and ambitious things; and yet
  3. Yet in most cases we are still extremely funding constrained

I find it painful (and counter-productive) to see these messages floating around:

Whereas I think the better (more truthful and constructive narratives) are:

  • We have a more decent shot at having a significant impact
    • We have more resources which helps us:
      • Double down on things we have good evidence for
      • Justifiably spending more on research and experimentation
      • Become more diverse (e.g. doesn’t require someone to have enough personal resources to take big risks, we can fund people to attend a conference/retreat they couldn’t otherwise afford etc) and therefore find more excellent people to participate in this grand project.
  • The situation is nuanced:
    • The funding situation varies significantly by cause (e.g. a top AI safety lab can likely pay above market rates for salaries for a decent junior researcher while many jobs in global health will be lower paying and still very competitive)
    • Different funders have different priorities and approaches to funding (e.g. it can be much harder to get funding for a more speculative global health project than an equally speculative longtermist project)
    • A lot of the money is concentrated in a small number of donors/evaluators/grantmakers (another reason I think that more diversification here is good)
    • The wrong messages about money could be incredibly damaging
      • Just like we need to be around other topics like careers (e.g. many articles have been written about people hearing that we’re talent constrained and then how it feels to not get “an EA job”).
  • We still need much more funding:
    • As I said in my comment on this post, it pains me deeply that AMF (and many other super robust high-impact charities) still have a funding gap
    • We've already identified far more opportunities than we can possibly fund with our current resources (e.g. megaprojects are all currently out of reach, GiveWell can't fully fund its top charities, GiveDirectly is still an incredible opportunity etc).
    • We’re uncertain about the pipeline of funding coming in the future
      • We don’t want to spend it all too quickly
      • We still want to be very careful with how we spend the money we do have
  • Finally:
    • Giving is still one of the most accessible ways that almost anyway can immediately start having a meaningful impact on important causes
    • Fundraisers and other “big tent” activities help increase our reach and have a nice flow on effect to things like career changes

So please don’t let fear of getting funded for something be your reason for not doing it: be ambitious. But also bear in mind that a lot of good projects aren't getting funded and people aren’t getting hired that would otherwise be if we weren’t still so (extremely) funding constrained. And if you can help provide more funding then please do: It can still be incredibly impactful!


These posts posts make most of these arguments better than I do:

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I always appreciate reading your thoughts on the EA community; you are genuinely one of my favorite writers on meta-EA!

Thanks Miranda, that is very kind of you to say!

This poem really made me smile; thanks for writing it Luke :)

Thanks for letting me know 😀

Hey, I think an important question is, "is it better for [the person asking this question] to donate or work directly", and I think it's not healthy to try solving this question by trying to think if EA is more talent constrained or money constrained (approaching this as a complicated research question), but rather asking specific orgs what they prefer. What do you think?

Yep, absolutely!

A lot will come down to comparative advantage and context and that’s not a bad way of finding out. That being said the organisation might not know well enough on many edge cases to say it to someone and it could fall prey to the social desirability bias etc. However, not hiring someone is sometimes a signal that the money is more valuable than the labour they’d get.

Anyways, we are constrained on many fronts but also growing in many fronts. Sometimes there are cases where there are fewer constraints (eg lots of money earmarked but not enough talent) but those are narrow cases and don’t apply to “EA”.

My main concern is how often I’ve seen people publicly write and say in person things along the lines that EA is overfunded (eg the examples I gave in my postscript ). It baffles me, concerns me, and I think does a lot of damage.

Why can't someone donate and work directly? 

I think Yonatan may have been talking about additionally donating the difference in salary from a higher paying job, but otherwise, yes – of course – a lot of people do both (ourselves included!).

+1 to Luke's answer

 

I mainly want to push the EA away from "is EtG cool or is working directly cool [for everyone]" to "have each person consider what's better for their specific case (probably by talking to orgs they could work for)"

[Mainly to Jack,] I also do have a prior that if you're both working directly and also donating, then the vast majority of your impact is probably coming from one of them.

I think so because:

  1. It would be an unlikely coincidence, I think, if they'd both have a similar amount of impact
  2. Priors from Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately (I found this very convincing)
  3. Priors from EA analyzing charities that improve the world in many ways, but we usually try picking only one of those "ways" to quantify the impact of the entire charity (which seems correct to me)

Got thoughts about this?

(This is kind of off topic to the rest of my post but I think it's interesting)

Thanks for clarifying, both.

Yes Yonatan, I think that's correct. It just surprises me how often people seem to say 'most of impact comes from my direct work so I shouldn't donate at all'.

In almost all cases, direct work + donating > direct work only

While that is probably mostly true (afaik), note that (in my opinion) many direct workers aren't being paid enough (in the current situation, maybe it will change), so I'd hesitate "pushing" them to donate some of what they're getting

So I guess this hinges on what we mean by "enough". If your position is "most people in direct work are paid below their potential market value" - yes, absolutely. But I don't really see that as relevant to "are they paid enough to donate a %." If we considered those things to be the same, we could end up doing endorsing some strange ideas, e.g. "I'm a consultant at Accenture paid $200k/year but I could be a consultant at McKinsey paid $400k/year, so I shouldn't have to donate."

If we consider those questions separately, then "enough" looks different. Clearly most people in direct work are paid enough to survive in a high cost of living city in a high income country; many are paid enough to be comfortable; some are paid enough to be considered rich by any reasonable standard (top few % in their own country, let alone globally).

One bit of signal here is that so many people in direct work do seem to be donating and don't seem to be making large sacrifices to do that.

It sort of comes back to one of the original EA arguments - what is that extra worth to you versus someone else?

I love this!

I agree we are still funding constrained. Minor point:

Our spendthrift community dug into the data. We made money go further, we made things go better.

Spendthrift: a person who spends money in an extravagant, irresponsible way. But do you mean the opposite? I've always thought the definition was confusing.

Ahah, TIL! That is confusing. Have changed to "thrifty".

Thanks for pointing that out 😀 

It seems worth it to me for EA to direct at least a fraction of its current reserves toward accomplishing smallish, tangible goals, to help create an image of legitimacy to the general public and increase the chances of continuing to attract funding in the future.