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I'm starting an EA aligned non-profit called High Impact Athletes that is aiming to funnel donations from current and retired pro athletes and their fans towards the most effective orgs in the world.

It's still early stage but I wondered if there were any pro or ex athletes hiding in the EA Forum who might be interested in supporting the idea? I believe pro sport is a relatively untapped space for EA and potentially has huge pulling power if the athletes get their fans on board.

Many thanks,

Marcus Daniell




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I'm a university professor (senior lecturer, is what we call it down under) and sport psychologist, so if ever you want me to speak to how involvement in your project can actually increase the quality of athletes' motivation and therefor performance, I can hopefully act as a credible source for an interesting angle to sell it.

Would love to! Have PM'd you. Cheers

Interesting idea! A few reactions:

  • Outreach to poker players has an advantage over outreach to athletes, in that i) intelligence is a central requirement of being a good poker player, whereas it's only a secondary requirement of being a good sportsperson in general, ii) thinking about expected values and rationality is a central component of the way poker is played. Whereas it's only a medium-sized part of how sports in-general are played.
    • Edit: a lot of people seem to have been offended by this line of reasoning. But it's unavoidably true: people who calculate expected values and engage in meta-reasoning for their day job will, on average, be vastly more interested in philosophical questions related to impact evaluation, and better equipped to solve difficult societal problems, than those who don't.
  • Maybe poker players are richer, relative to how rare their skill is, due to the fact that their sport is played with money. I imagine a larger fraction of poker players are pro than tennis players, at least.
  • However, athletes are more often well-known. So maybe it makes sense for athletes to mostly focus on raising funds, running for office, things that use things other than just money.

Still, it's a cool idea - interested to see how it develops!

Hi all, thought I'd jump in here with a few comments.

I think Ryan brings up a fair point in that the thought patterns of poker players may be MORE naturally aligned with EA than other sports. I do, however, think that pro athletes are more focused on optimisation and potential shortcuts than the average person, given how short sport careers are and how hugely impactful a good shortcut/efficiency can be on career earnings. The focus is always on 'better', and I think I can use a narrative along those lines to help bring other athletes into alignment with EA principles.

Also, there is already an EA charity in the poker space, REG, who do a great job. So my question to myself some months ago was where could I make the most marginal impact given my skillset and network? I concluded that I have a very rare 'in' with pro athletes given that I can approach them from the same level rather than with manager-speak. I think this translates across codes, and have already had some buy-in from athletes in other sports than my own.

Ultimately the biggest snowball will be made with the buy-in of fans, but I also think this is a strength of the area - a lot of people seem t... (read more)

I think the optimization mentality is a really big deal. There's a reason the deliberate practice literature focused on the sports and arts. To the extent that this is translatable to other endeavors (as you and jsteinhardt alludes to), this can be a really big deal for optimization endeavors in EA. What does "code" mean in this context? Different language codes spoken among different sportspeople? I think this makes a lot of sense. As Ryan and others have mentions, there might also be non-monetary EA goals that are useful as well, for example policy goals that are more cosmopolitan and future-oriented, or inspiring/mentoring future generations of researchers and policymakers.
Marcus Daniell
Hi Linch, By 'code' I mean sport. I've spoken to athletes from around 8 different sports thus far and have generally seen a lot of interest. But the big challenge is to go from hearing 'that's a cool idea' to 'how can I donate'. I agree that inspiration and mentorship could both be huge, and I would also say that they begin from the same point of communication and education in the athlete community. The athletes can't pass on what they don't yet know.

Those who downvoted this: how do you think we're supposed to make good strategic decisions without having a forthright discussion of the pros and cons of different approaches? See others' much harsher versions of this argument!

I think the issue with your comment was that someone said "I want to do some good, can anyone help me?" and your response reads as"oh, well, you and your type don't seem as smart or important as another group of people" which seemed needlessly rude to me. I say it was needless because, pace your follow up comment, there was no strategic decision to make; it wasn't as if the decision was to help fundraise from athletes or poker places, but just a request for assistance relevant to the former group.

Hey Ryan, I didn't downvote; but was somewhat annoyed after the first paragraph. I don't have anything against the second and the third; I actually like them especially the third one.

Intuitively, I didn't like your first reaction because it feels too stereotypical: "athletes are dumb." Also, your argument presupposes that high intelligence is needed to engage/understand EA ideas, which feels a bit cringy [as it is sort of self-praising].

I think these considerations might be valid, but they don't feel decisive. [I think they would be fine as a part of a larger discussion about pros/cons or how to do outreach to athletes better. Also, lately, I become much more confused about good conversational norms…]

OK, that's interesting, but it's not what said: that brains do help with being a good sportsperson - they're just not a predominant feature, as in poker!

Re intelligence, well, no it's not necessary for engaging with EA (I didn't say it was). But it obviously helps - a lot of EA-fans are at top universities, and smarts also help with figuring out how to do good.

Is the poker-vs-sport difference decisive? Well, poker is an extremely frustrating and difficult game/sport. A top pro-player can lose money for months, due to the swings involved. It's much easier than in sport to go on tilt. Dealing with such uncertainty is exactly the sort of thing that can help with thinking impassively about uncertain philanthropic interventions. So maybe!

Marcus Daniell
I'd push back on the last paragraph here - granted, some sports are salary based and relatively financially secure from year to year. Tennis and many other individual sports are the opposite and purely based on how many matches you win. Given the huge expenses inherent in flying to tournaments and hiring coaches, many weeks are break-even or losses, even at the highest level. If dealing with this sort of uncertainty helps with EA alignment then it bodes well for approaching athletes from many individual sports.
Makes sense! How people deal with the uncertainty could also be informative. If they talk about calculating the expected value (in earnings) of a tournament, or expected points won from a shot, or get excited about sport statisticians' work generally - then that would be extra-encouraging.
I personally wouldn't pay that much attention to the particular language people use--it's more highly correlated with their local culture than with abilities or interests. I'd personally be extra excited to talk to someone with a strong track record of handling uncertainty well who had a completely different vocabulary than me, although I'd also expect it to take more effort to get to the payoff.
Sure, I think your views are much more nuanced (sorry, I didn't make it clear). The items I listed are kinda my low-effort impression; in the same mode, I could be tricked into believing the post is written by a mediocre writer when it is actually written by GPT-3). These impressions caused annoyance.   [At this point, I might be overthinking it; forgot how I actually felt.]
I didn't downvote, but the analysis seems incorrect to me: most pro athletes are highly intelligent, and in terms of single attributes that predict success in subsequent difficult endeavors I can't think of much better; I'd probably take it over successful startup CEO even. It also seems like the sort of error that's particularly costly to make for reasons of overall social dynamics and biases.
Good point. I think I'd rather clarify/revise my claims to: 1) pro athletes will be somewhat less interested in EA than poker players, mostly due to different thinking styles, and 2) many/most pro athletes are highly generally capable but their comparative advantage won't usually be donating tournament winnings or doing research. Something like promoting disarmament, or entering politics could be. But it needs way more thought.
Thanks! 1 seems believable to me, at least for EA as it currently presents. 2 seems believable on average but I'd expect a lot of heterogeneity (I personally know athletes who have gone on to be very good researchers). It also seems like donations are pretty accessible to everyone, as you can piggyback on other people's research.
Jonas V
Just saw this now and strong-upvoted it; as one of the REG cofounders, I agree with your first point. (I actually kind of disagree with your second point – the poker industry often plays up how rich poker pros actually are, and the poker pros play along, but in reality many aren't that wealthy as it seems.) Despite this, I feel excited about HIA!
alex lawsen (previously alexrjl)
I also didn't downvote but the first bullet point comes across really badly, and that's speaking as someone who's had considerably more success in poker than sport. My guess is that the downvotes are because of that.
Is the offensive part that intelligence might be useful, or that poker players might be more intelligent?

Like Mischa, I think it's easily read as cringy and self congratulatory i.e. 

"thanks for trying but I'm not sure you're smart enough to join our cause."

If I'd wanted to make that point, I'd probably have gone for something like:

> (probably as the third point) "however, I think that outreach to sportspeople might be much harder than to poker pros. Some EA ideas are quite counterintuitive, and there's a lot of very similar reasoning in poker/EA, while in general I wouldn't expect pro sports people to be as familiar with things like expected value reasoning".

alex lawsen (previously alexrjl)
Seperately to why this was downvoted, I think your second bullet point is wrong. I expect that the top few earners in sport are at least an order of magnitude better off than in poker, and the set {pro sportspeople} earns at least three orders of magnitude more in total than {poker pros}.
Yes, the very richest sportspeople have ~$1B to poker players' ~$0.1B. But the top sportspeople are rarer in their talents because ~100x more people try to play e.g. soccer than poker. Pro sport seems to pays less well than poker for any given level of talent. In order to equal the donations of poker players, you might have to get players who are quite elite and famous, or assemble a group across different sports. Whereas for poker it's a tight-knit group of unknown nerds - easier to do!
alex lawsen (previously alexrjl)
I'm not sure why you're dividing by the number of people who try to play sport? If you include in your definition of "poker pro" everyone who plays poker, on average they are losing money. I'd be prepared to bet that, counting "earner" as "someone with positive lifetime earnings", the nth highest earner in sport is making more than the nth highest earner in poker for all n.  
What you divide by just depends what question you're trying to answer. I don't think we really want to know about the total earnings, or the earnings of a player with a particular ranking, as these would assume that you can capture some large fraction, or some top-tier part of the total market. On those measures, "all people" is the best pool to recruit from. More interesting questions [if you're trying to raise donations] are things like "what are the average earnings?" or "how well-paid is an individual with a certain level of extraordinariness?". If you need to be a one-in-a-million soccer player to earn as much as a one-in-a-thousand poker player, then the soccer players are more sparse, more famous, and harder to recruit than equivalently rich poker players.
alex lawsen (previously alexrjl)
"If you need to be a one-in-a-million soccer player to earn as much as a one-in-a-thousand poker player" But you don't, unless you define "poker player" as "winning poker player" and "soccer player" as "anyone who's kicked a football".
Aaron Gertler
As a data point, I downvoted the original comment but removed the downvote after reading the edited version, which I think is phrased a lot better.  In cases where a comment is edited after other comments critique it, I wonder if we should gently encourage a norm of having the removed words be crossed out, rather than deleted entirely? It is of course an author's right to remove anything they no longer endorse, but it can be confusing to see comments refer to material that no longer exists.

re: your first reaction

I think outreach to some athletes might be easier than you think. As part of them rely on evidence-based advice from their coaches. It is plausible that personal experience will make it easier for them to see value in and relate to GiveWell's approach to giving.

Further, maybe, attitudes towards evidence-based medicine could be a proxy to guide outreach initially?

Hi Ryan, I think your comment is useful but incorrect as it's written. Your comment implies that the intelligence or rationality of athletes is a major factor in whether this organisation will be successful. I've seen vaguely EA-related outreach to founders, poker players, and people who inherit loads of money. The thing these groups have in common are that they've got lots of money to donate that they got all at once, which athletes also have. I don't think we should get hung up on "intelligence", rationality or ability to think in bets.

For what it's worth, I think that EA related outreach to heirs seems much less promising than to founders or pro poker players. 

Successful founders are often extremely smart in my experience; I expect pro poker players are also pretty smart on average.

I've seen vaguely EA-related outreach to founders, poker players, and people who inherit loads of money. The thing these groups have in common are that they've got lots of money to donate that they got all at once, which athletes also have. I don't think we should get hung up on "intelligence", rationality or ability to think in bets.

Founders, poker players, heirs, and sportspeople actually have vastly different levels of wealth. Founders have wealth ranging up to >$100B. Heirs up to >$30B. For sportspeople, it's <$1B, much less on average. For Poker players, it's <$0.1B. In other words, poker players are not among the biggest funders in EA anymore. Rather, if they are to have a really big impact, it will be by contributing their time and influence. Liv Boeree, for example, is doing a lot of social media, and some others are switching into research roles. In other words, they're doing things where their intelligence and rationality is front and centre. The amount of funds of a typical pro athlete may be similar or less than that of these top poker players. So I would expect that the intelligence or rationality of athletes will be a major factor in their impact.

My intuition was that pro athletes have more "cognitive horsepower" than average (and are much more able/willing to work hard, which also seems like a really valuable trait). I searched "average iq of athletes" on Google scholar and found this meta-analysis from 2019 that looks at cognitive function of pro-athletes vs. non‐elite athletes, seemingly supporting this. From the abstract:
It seems likely that pro athletes are more intelligent than average, but I'd be very surprised if they were as intelligent as pro poker players on average.

(moved elsewhere)

For context, I assume you are this Marcus Daniell?

The most similar organization to High Impact Athletes that I'm aware of is Raising for Effective Giving, which recruited a lot of top-tier poker players to donate some of their winnings to EA-aligned charities.

While there are a few high-profile actors and musicians prominently linked to EA, no professional athletes come to mind for me. However, given the size and prominence of some EA-aligned charities, I'm sure they've had brushes with pro athletes in the same way other charities do. For example, Michael Phelps participated in one of the first big fundraising events from the Against Malaria Foundation.

Hi Aaron, yes that's me!

I've had a great chat with Stefan from REG who couldn't bring to mind any athletes outside of the poker space. I am basically trying to bring REG's model into the pro sport space (beginning with tennis due to my personal relationships there).

Phelps is an interesting one. No idea how I'd get in touch with him but if he's been exposed to the ideologies already he could be an easier ask than most.

Thanks for the reply!

Aaron Gertler
I haven't heard of Phelps being involved in anything EA-related since then, so I'd guess this was just a random charity event to him (one among many). Rob Mather of AMF organized the swim event, so he may know whether any of the high-level swimmers from that fundraiser continued to be involved with AMF afterwards.

This sounds like a great idea Marcus!

I’d love to put you in touch with Charlie Bresler, the Executive Director of The Life You Can Save. In addition to being an avid tennis fan, Charlie has been very interested in working with athletes to promote effective giving for a long time. TLYCS has worked with a bunch of celebrities before (though unfortunately no athletes yet), most recently as audiobook narrators for the 10th anniversary edition of the book the organization is named after. If you PM me your email address I’ll connect the two of you.

Amazing! Have PM'd you. Cheers

Hi Marcus, I think this sounds like a great idea.

There are a number of communities that have been created across the EA space which bring together people with a professional affiliation (I see Aaron has mentioned REG, which is likely the most similar to your concept). I don't believe this has been done with pro athletes before.

I founded and run a group called SoGive which raises funds and does analysis on charities.

I would be happy to connect with you and support you if that would help; I'll send you a direct message on the EA Forum.

Thanks Sanjay, I'll pm you!

It's a cool idea! Athletes do seem to have a lot of very flexible and general-purpose fundraising potential, I think it makes a lot of sense to try to direct it effectively. Charity Entrepreneurship (an incubation program for founding effective non-profits) works with Player's Philanthropy Fund (a service which helps athletes and other entities create dedicated funds that can accept tax-deductible contributions in support of any qualified charitable mission) to help our new charities who have not completed the fairly complex process of formally registering as a non-profit get off the ground. You can actually see us on the roster, alongside various athletes. This doesn't mean we are actually working with athletes - we are just using some of the same operations infrastructure, but it might be a useful thing to know. In general I've noticed that there is quite a bit of infrastructure similar to PPF aimed at helping athletes do charitable fundraising, which I think is a good sign that this idea is promising.

Hi Ishaan, cool idea. At this point I'm not intending to set up officially as a tax-deductible charity. The athletes will be donating from all over the world, so creating a broad enough network of orgs would be a huge undertaking. At first I'm purely intending to act as an educator and a connector to the charities themselves. Perhaps down the line once this thing has more momentum it would make sense to talk to PPF. Thanks for the input!

Hey Marcus, sorry I’m late to the party on this one. I’m a professional triathlete and also EA-curious, so if you need another body to throw at this cause let me know! Cheers, Kevin

This seems like an fantastic opportunity. Another athlete who certainly seems to be following a Giving What We Can-style approach, is Sadio Mane. He could be a potential recruit / model, whether he joins High Impact Athletes or not. From this article.

“Why would I want ten Ferraris, 20 diamond watches, or two planes? What will these objects do for me and for the world? I was hungry, and I had to work in the field; I survived hard times, played football barefooted, I did not have an education and many other things, but today with what I earn thanks to football, I can help my people,” Mané explained. “I built schools, a stadium, we provide clothes, shoes, food for people who are in extreme poverty. In addition, I give 70 euros per month to all people in a very poor region of Senegal which contributes to their family economy. I do not need to display luxury cars, luxury homes, trips and even planes. I prefer that my people receive a little of what life has given me.”

Sounds like a good dude. Any idea how I could begin to approach someone like that? My area is tennis and I haven't had a huge amount of network crossover into football. Cheers

It looks like he is represented by Germany's Arena11, so my first three stops would be reaching out to Liverpool, its ownership group FSG, and Arena11. (Perhaps a German member of the EA community can help with running down an Arena11 contact who works with Björn Bezemer, his agent.) TBD if any of those three will reply... but those would be the first three avenues I'd try. https://www.forbes.com/companies/arena11-sports-group/#13990f5720cf https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenway_Sports_Group

The founders of bigleagueimpact.org attended the 2015 EAG and expressed a very similar goal. I'm not sure what's happened since; it looks like they were either unsuccessful or there may have been some value drift.

This is a bit tangential, but I expect that pro athletes would be able to provide a lot of valuable mentorship to ambitious younger people in EA--my general experience has been that about 30% of the most valuable growth habits I have are imported from sports (and also not commonly found elsewhere). E.g. "The Inner Game of Tennis" was gold and I encourage all my PhD students to read it.

Matthew Dellavedova is on Momentum's board, and they're an EA-aligned org, so I suspect he might be EA-sympathetic (or at the very least familiar with it).

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I’d like to keep up-to-date on what you’re doing. I don’t have chance getting anywhere close to an interesting level anymore in the sport that I do (climbing, mostly bouldering), but I might occasionally meet those who do. (No worries, I can be tactful. ^^)

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