Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates


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I’m Sam, the Project Lead at Effective Altruism Funds. As the year closes, I wanted to write up a summary of what EA Funds is, how it’s organized, and what we’ve been up to lately. Hopefully this will be a useful resource for new donors deciding whether the Funds are right for them, give existing donors more information about how Funds is run, and provide an opportunity to give feedback that helps us make the product better.

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Project Overview

What is EA Funds?

For anyone who hasn’t substantially interacted with Funds, here’s a quick overview to get you up to speed.

From the EA Funds About page:

Effective Altruism Funds is a platform where you can donate to expert-led philanthropic ‘funds’ with the aim of maximizing the effectiveness of your charitable donations.

As an individual donor, it’s often very difficult to know if your charitable donations will have an impact. It’s very hard to do thorough investigations of individual charitable projects. It’s also hard to know whether the charities you want to support are able to usefully deploy extra funding, or whether giving them more money would be subject to diminishing returns.

Effective Altruism Funds (or EA Funds for short) aims to solve these problems. We engage teams of subject-matter experts, who look for the highest-impact opportunities to do good.

EA Funds is comprised of four Funds, each covering a specific cause area. The Funds are Global Health and Development, Animal Welfare, Long-Term Future, and Effective Altruism Meta (formerly the EA Community Fund).

In addition to the Funds, the EA Funds platform also supports donations to a range of individual charities, as well as hosting the (currently annual) EA Funds Donor Lottery. It’s also the home of the Giving What We Can Pledge Dashboard, where Giving What We Can members/Try Givers can track/report progress against their Pledge, and donations made through the platform are reported automatically.

Who is EA Funds for?

EA Funds is probably best suited to relatively experienced donors, who are comfortable with delegating their donation decisions to the respective Fund management teams. Our Fund management teams are generally looking for grants that are high-impact in expectation, which means that they may choose to recommend grants that are more speculative. This is likely to lead to a higher variance in outcomes – some grants may achieve a lot and some may achieve very little. Overall, the hope is that the full portfolio of grants will be higher-impact than simply donating to a specific highly-recommended charity. This approach is sometimes referred to as hits-based giving (I personally like to think of it as ‘chasing positive black swans’).

If you’re thinking of donating to the Funds, you should read through the EA Funds website (including each Fund’s scope and past grant history) to make sure you’re comfortable with the level of risk offered by EA Funds.

My guess is that most individual donors (who aren’t spending significant time investigating donation opportunities) will probably improve the expected impact of their donations by donating to EA Funds (as compared to, say, donating directly to a charity in a cause area represented by one of the Funds). However, this is just a guess, and I am obviously not an impartial observer. As we build out better monitoring and evaluation infrastructure, it’s possible that in the future we’ll be able to make more definitive claims about the expected impact of donating to the Funds.

Structure of Fund management teams

EA Funds is a project of the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA), a registered nonprofit in the US and the UK. CEA provides the legal and operational infrastructure for EA Funds to operate within, and is ultimately legally responsible for all grantmaking.

Each Fund is managed by a Fund management team, who are responsible for providing grant recommendations to CEA. Most Funds have a multi-member Fund management team, with the exception of the Global Development Fund.

Each Fund management team has a Fund Chair, who provides overall direction for the Fund and coordinates with CEA to provide grant recommendations. As it currently stands, the Chair does not get any additional voting rights, and grant decisions are made with input from the whole team (though the specific decision-making process differs slightly between Funds). The Chairs are also responsible for recommending the appointment of other members (decisions to appoint Fund management team members are ultimately made by CEA). Some Funds (Long-Term Future, EA Meta) have additional advisors, who do not make (or vote on) grant recommendations, but provide feedback and advice on grantmaking.

CEA ensures that grant recommendations are within the scope of the recommending Fund, screens grants for large potential downside risks, and conducts due diligence to ensure that grants are legally compliant (e.g. are grants for proper charitable purposes etc). Grant recommendations must be approved by CEA’s Board of Trustees before being paid out.

Direct donations to effective charities

In addition to the four Funds, the EA Funds platform allows donors to recommend direct donations to a number of individual effective charities. This is to increase the usefulness of the product for both donors (who can choose to donate to any combination of Funds and charities through the same platform, and Giving What We Can members can have their donations tracked automatically) as well as the charities themselves (who can receive tax-deductible donations in jurisdictions that they don’t currently operate in).

At the moment the process for adding charities to the platform has been fairly opportunistic/ad-hoc, and the inclusion criteria have largely been based on judgement calls about community evaluations of their relative impact. At this stage we’re not planning to actively solicit new additions to the platform, however we remain open to supporting highly-effective projects that would find inclusion on the platform advantageous for tax-efficiency reasons. If you run a project that you think has a defensible claim to being highly effective, and would benefit from being on EA Funds, please get in touch (please note that the project will need to be a registered charity or fiscally sponsored by one).

Project status and relationship to CEA

At the moment, EA Funds has a staff of ≈1.3 FTEs:

  • I (Sam Deere) lead the project, handling strategy, technology, donor relations etc.
  • Chloe Malone (from CEA’s Operations team) handles grantmaking logistics and due diligence

Other staff involved in the project include:

  • Ben West, who oversees the project as my manager at CEA
  • JP Addison, the other member of technical staff at CEA, who reviews code and splits some of the technical work with me

Currently EA Funds is a project wholly within the central part of the Centre for Effective Altruism (as opposed to a satellite project housed within the same legal organization, like 80,000 Hours or the Forethought Foundation). However, we’re currently investigating whether this should change. This is largely driven by a divergence in organizational priorities – specifically, that CEA is focusing on building communities and spaces for discussing EA ideas (e.g. local groups, EA Global and related events, and the EA Forum), whereas EA Funds is primarily fundraising-oriented. As such, we think it’s likely that EA Funds would fare better if it were set up to run as its own organization, with its own director, and a team specifically focused on developing the product, while CEA will benefit from having a narrower scope.

It’s still not clear what the best format for this would be, but in the medium term this will probably look like EA Funds existing as a separately managed organization within the Centre for Effective Altruism (à la 80,000 Hours or Forethought), reporting directly to CEA’s board. At first, CEA would still provide operational support in the form of payroll and grantmaking logistics etc., but eventually we may want to build capacity to do some or all of these things in-house.

Longer-term, it may be useful for EA Funds to incorporate as a separate legal entity, with a board specifically set up to provide oversight from a grantmaking perspective. Obviously this would represent a large change to the status quo, and so isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

(However things shake out, I wouldn't expect any organizational changes to materially change the Funds, their structure, or their management.)

Recent updates

Recent Grantmaking

  • The Global Development Fund recommended a grant of just over $1 million to Fortify Health
  • November 2019 grant recommendations have been made by the Animal Welfare Fund ($415k) and the EA Meta Fund ($330k).
  • The Long-Term Future Fund has also submitted November grant recommendations, which are currently undergoing due diligence and will be published soon.

Project updates

  • Most of the content on EA Funds (especially that describing individual Funds) hadn’t been substantially updated since its inception in early 2017. The structure was somewhat difficult to follow, and wasn’t particularly friendly to donors who were sympathetic to the aims of EA Funds, but had less familiarity with the effective altruism community (and the assumed knowledge that entails). At the beginning of December we conducted a major restructure/rewrite of the Funds pages and added additional information to help donors decide whether EA Funds is right for them.
  • The Funds are again running a donor lottery, with $100k and $500k blocks, giving donors a chance to be able to make grant recommendations over large pots of money (both lotteries close on 17 January 2020).
  • We're currently making plans for 2020. Our main priorities are likely to include improvements to our grantmaking process, with an emphasis on making past grants easier to monitor and evaluate. (This is still under active discussion, so our priorities could change if we come to the conclusion that other things are more important.)

Public Data

We’ve recently launched a publicly-accessible dashboard to show various statistics about the Funds. It’s still fairly new, and currently just shows YTD donations, so if there’s a statistic you’d like included, leave a comment or email funds@effectivealtruism.org.

YTD Donations, all EA Funds (interactive version)