As an EA, I’ve tried to make my mark by earning to give and doing enough direct work to understand the organizations I’m giving to and find outstanding giving opportunities that are neglected by others. Based on my thinking, I’m going to be donating to Charity Science Health, Rethink Charity, the Sentience Institute, and the Wild-Animal Suffering Research Institute and I encourage other EAs to do so until their funding targets are met.
Based on this doc and my thinking, I am going to be donating $42.5K spread among these groups -- $25K to Charity Science Health, $12.5K to Rethink Charity, $2.5K to Wild Animal Suffering Research, and $2.5K to Sentience Institute. I wish that I could donate more, but I have run out of personal funds to donate for 2017. I hope offering my recommendation can make a difference in allowing these groups to raise more money.
Criteria for Recommendation
The criteria I used for making these grants was as follows:
(1) Have clear “room for more funding” -- these organizations are constrained most by a need for cash and have a clear plan for how they would put that cash to good use throughout 2018.
(2) Have a clear risk of not meeting their funding goal -- These organizations may have existing donors, prospects, and a good fundraising strategy, but it doesn’t look like a “lock” that they will make their fundraising goal by any means.
(3) Clear a bar of being “impactful enough” for the EA community to be worth funding -- I’m not arguing that these organizations are the best use of funds following a thorough cause and organization prioritization analysis, but that after a good amount of reflection these organizations represent outstanding opportunities that I think are better than the community average, such that they are clearly “good enough” to pass a “multiplayer counterfactual analysis for deciding where to donate”.
I’ve used these criteria for a fair amount of my past donations and feel that they have led to very impactful donations -- while I think some organizations may be more impactful per dollar overall, the marginal donation is not as useful as they are highly likely to have been able to fundraise it already with much less effort and there is less at risk (e.g., whether a program happens at all versus whether it is scaled up further).
Especially with the rise of a large amount of institutional investment from the Open Philanthropy Project, I expect individual donors like me to have more impact by finding and funding opportunities that OpenPhil is unlikely to find, likely to pass on for reasons I don’t agree with, or too small to be worth funding.
Why Charity Science Health?
Charity Science Health is a heavily researched attempt by EAs to create a new GiveWell top charity. They use SMS reminders to help new mothers get their newborn children the correct vaccinations at the correct times. Current evidence suggests this could increase vaccination rates by +8.7 to +17.5 percentage points. They have been a recipient of GiveWell incubation grants twice now and they may be twice as cost-effective as AMF.
This year, they’re looking to run a high-quality randomized controlled trial to make sure that their program works the way they are implementing it in the areas they are implementing it. This is an expensive undertaking, however, and even after forecasting a lot of institutional support and other donors, they are still looking to raise an additional $495,000 USD over the next 2.5 years (or $247,500 over 1 year).
Money donated to Charity Science Health toward this RCT would either, if negative, free up a group of talented EAs to move on to the next idea, or, if positive, keep CSH on a path toward moving millions of dollars to a more cost-effective intervention. I previously estimated that trying to create a new GiveWell top charity could be very impactful, and revisiting that analysis with updated numbers one year later shows the same conclusion.
CSH seems like a great way to grow GiveWell’s portfolio of top charities, or at least learn a lot through failure. Already, Joey and Katherine at CSH are helping mentor other groups to do the same, such as Fortify Health and one other group potentially launching. I’m pretty confident these additional attempts would not have happened had CSH not continued. Based on this, I am going to donate $25,000 to Charity Science Health.
You can read more in their main funding doc.
You can donate online at their PayPal. If you are making a donation of $1000 or more or are seeking tax deductibility outside the US, please send an email to Peter QC, their operations officer, at email@example.com, and they can provide you with better donation options that reduce fees and allow for tax deductibility outside the US.
Why Rethink Charity?
Rethink Charity is fundraising for three projects:
Students for High Impact Charity (SHIC), a group aiming to teach high school students about effective altruism, is raising $115,000 to test their curriculum in a workshop setting for 2018. I previously did some analysis and gave SHIC start-up funding last year, and this year I think they’re on a good track. They’ve now revised their strategy to focus more on fewer students, allowing for higher control of the message and faster feedback. They’re also focusing more on data collection, including through a partnership that will allow them to track donations made by students over time. I think their curriculum has some really great content and I’m excited to see it developed in a clearer manner with more data! You can learn more information in the SHIC funding doc.
The Local Effective Altruism Network (LEAN) is seeking $164,500 to coordinate and support local EA groups across the world. After working on an impact assessment across the EA Survey and the Local Groups Survey, LEAN is focusing on key areas of support to help local groups grow, such as customized advice, written guides, technical support, and grantmaking for specific projects. LEAN is also working to coordinate a lot more with CEA on both strategy and helping level up individual groups through grantmaking. I’m also excited for LEAN to continue to build the evidence base for what works and what doesn’t in local groups. You can learn more information in the LEAN funding doc.
Lastly, RC Forward is looking for $90K to fund a straightforward way to allow Canadians to make tax deductible donations to some of the best charities. A large amount of that $90K is solely to cover fees to make donations free for Canadian donors, encouraging them to donate more. Last year, this project was run under Charity Science (though with the same point person running it) and was restricted to global poverty charities. It moved over $500K last year, which suggests a lot of demand is already there and we just need to supply a solution. This year, the project is now being run as RC Forward and the list of causes has been expanded to include nonhuman animals and far future causes. Learn more in the RC Forward funding doc.
RC Forward offers an opportunity with a pretty clear benefit over donating to GiveWell top charities, whereas LEAN and SHIC offer much more speculative but promising ways of growing the EA movement. I still think both LEAN and SHIC have a substantial risk of not being cost-effective, but I’m far more confident that there is sufficient analytical work going on now that failure would be detected and learned from. Given the amount of information they’re generating, I’m confident we’ll all learn something important even if either (or both) projects fail. Based on this, I am going to donate $12,500 to Rethink Charity over 2018. This donation will be unrestricted for them to allocate across their projects as they see fit.
Donation instructions to Rethink Charity are available here, or you can contact Tee Barnett at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Why Wild-Animal Suffering Research?
Wild-Animal Suffering Research has been working to analyze wild-animal suffering as a cause and continue on the path toward tractable interventions. I do not personally take wild animal suffering to be an obvious issue, as I think it is possible that either some wild animals do not have net negative lives and that some wild animals do not have sufficient moral weight to be worth prioritizing compared to other work to help human and nonhuman animals. That being said, I do think work to help wild animals could end up wildly cost-effective and that this possibility is worth investigating. “Wild-Animal Suffering Research” is a descriptively named group that is aiming to do just that, with an ask for $161,205.
Research for the past year included a proposal for creating “welfare biology” as a field, outlining some initial theory around measuring wild animal suffering, an investigation that finds euthanasia of elderly elephants as unlikely to be promising, an investigation of the harms from parasite load, an analysis of the impact of population control methods on the welfare of vertebrates, and the same for invertebrates.
After reading all of their research at length and spot checking it (e.g., checking random citations to make sure they match the claim being made and randomly searching myself to see if I could find any citations that dispute a claim made by the paper), I find that their work is of good quality. The three staff members worked part time to only have one full-time equivalent work over 2017, and the pace of output produced looks good given that work amount, especially for a new org that also had to focus on setting up shop, fundraising, and outreach. Growing to 3+ FTE to expand research is a priority for them next year.
Overall, these results appear to me to be good starts on very difficult problems, though much more work will be needed. I’d particularly like to see much more work exploring the capacity for animals to suffer to the best of our knowledge (perhaps along the lines of Luke Muelhauser’s work), information on the quality of life in the wild for various species, and work to identify some potential interventions.
For the next year, Ozy Brennan aims to start work on identifying tractable wild animal interventions, Persis Eskander aims to start work on assessing humans’ impact on wild animals, and Georgia Ray aims to start work to assess the capacity for wild animals to suffer. This lines up pretty well with my impressions for what are valuable things to research in this space. Based on this, I am going to donate $2,500 to Wild-Animal Suffering Research.
You can read more in their main funding doc.
You can donate online through their website.
Why Sentience Institute?
Sentience Institute produces research to inform animal advocacy techniques. In the past year, they’ve published a summary of foundational questions in animal advocacy, a nationally representative survey of American adults on various animal issues, a case study on adoption of nuclear power and implications for adopting new meat technologies, and a case study on the British anti-slavery movement (with 721 references!). Additionally, they are still working on a book manuscript entitled The End of Factory Farming that aims to detail humanity’s transition to an animal-free food system and be published by Beacon Press in Fall 2018.
Sentience Institute aims to raise $185,000 to support their existing growth through 2018 and make another hire (growing to a total of four staff). They aim to publish The End of Factory Farming, which they hope will raise the profile of EAA in public discourse and shift the animal-free food movement in a more impactful direction, and better present Sentience Institute’s research. They also aim to expand their research agenda to cover case studies such as GMOs, voter turnout, and anti-smoking campaigns.
Sentience Institute appears committed to their research agenda, but may consider pivoting to movement-based work such as recruiting new advocates, producing a guide to effective animal activism, and creating a job board. I think they are also considering doing more public outreach based on End of Factory Farming. I feel less excited about this direction, but could see it being worth experimenting with.
I think that progress in animal welfare is bottlenecked by more fundamental-level research as to what interventions are worth prioritizing, rather than the organizational-level research that Animal Charity Evaluators is most known for (though ACE has recently expanded their fundamental-level research work by launching an experimental research division and greatly expanding their review of leafleting). I could see research from Sentience Institute potentially helping surface considerations that help prioritize better within the animal welfare space.
The research output seems pretty good given the staffing, the work of setting up the organization, and other workload. After vetting, I also find their research also seems to be of good quality. I’d be eager for their case study and survey work to continue, to learn more relevant insights. I’d also be curious for them to do the expert interviews mentioned in their lower priority research agenda. Based on this, I am going to donate $2,500 to Sentience Institute.
You can read more in their main funding doc.
You can donate online through Effective Altruism Funds.
Appendix A: Caveats and Disclosures for Recommendations
I feel like I have put enough time now into understanding the work in animal welfare, global poverty, and community building as to make informed and reasonably confident funding recommendations in those spaces, but I am very uninformed about organizations working outside these areas, such as those working on existential risk and far future. My impression, however, is that OpenPhil has done a good job filling up the funding gaps in this area and that there are very few organizations that would meet the criteria I’m using for these recommendations.
Some of these recommendations may be biased with me wanting to see my friends get funded, outside of considerations of impact. I have been good friends with many employees and senior staff at both Rethink Charity and Charity Science Health for years. I’m also on the board of Charity Science Health. On the other hand, while I know Jacy and Kelly at Sentience Institute, I’m not close friends with them and I barely know the people at Wild-Animal Suffering Research. Also, I have no formal relationship with Sentience Institute and while I’m listed on the WASR website, all that really means is that I get to review some of their papers and make comments prior to publication.
Appendix B: Why Not Just Donate To EA Funds?
EAs may be tempted to defer to EA Funds rather than donate to these organizations, on the belief that if these organizations really are as worthwhile as I say they are, they will be funded by the fund managers of the relevant funds (e.g., Global Poverty Fund funding CSH, the Animal Welfare fund funding Sentience Institute and Wild Animal Suffering Research, and the Community Fund funding Rethink Charity). I certainly think this is possible and hope EA Funds sends money these organizations. I’m writing this post in part because I hope it might help influence EA Funds managers, in addition to other EA donors.
That being said, I’m concerned that the values and views of EA Funds managers may not be representative of me and I’m hoping for more diversity in how EA donations are made. I’m concerned about overly centralizing decision-making in the hands of a few fund managers. Lastly, I’m worried about the lack of transparency in EA Funds.
Ultimately, I’m aiming to have my recommendations compete in the same market as EA Funds and you can decide who you want to trust more. I hope that others who have the time may take independent investigations into these and other organizations and come to their own funding decisions.
(Update: It looks like Lewis Bollard already made grants for his EA Funds recommendations in November to both Wild Animal Suffering Research and Sentience Institute. I’m glad! I made my recommendations independently prior to learning about Lewis’s choices and it’s nice to see we agree there. It looks like even after these grants that both organizations still meet the criteria of having clear room for more funding and a risk of not making all of their funding goals and I don’t think we could count on EA Funds to fill any more of their funding gaps.)
I haven't yet gotten around to writing up where I plan on donating in 2018 (I already maxed out my 2017 donations in February), but I've been thinking along the same lines. Recently I've been leaning toward donating to these smaller, riskier organizations because I see a lot of value in helping new orgs grow and learning what they can accomplish--especially because the established charities that I like best have gotten a lot of funding recently and have room to scale up before they start to hit the limits of their funding.
Cool! I look forward to seeing your reasoning!
That’s an awesome selection! I’m also planning to support WASR in 2018 and perhaps longer, and I’m about to donate CHF 5k from my 2018 budget (for tax reasons) to their fundraiser.
I’m particularly optimistic about the field of welfare biology because it can draw on enormous resources in terms of institutions, biology and ecology research, and scientific methodology to generate break-throughs in an area that has been greatly neglected so far. The situation may be similar to that of medicine in the early days (1800s or so) when the foundations for systematic inquiry into health had finally been laid and then just needed to be applied to generate invaluable new insights.
Surely many animals in the wild have net positive lives, but so do many humans around the world. I think it’s valuable to research how we can improve the well-being of humans who suffer – perhaps even to the point of having net negative lives, but not necessarily – and so I value the same even more for wild animals who are so much more numerous and still live under worse conditions at much higher rates.
There’s also a Sentience Politics initiative going on in Switzerland (automatic translation) that has a shot at banning factory farming in the whole country via a popular vote. I see this in the same reference class as, for example, the ban on battery cages in California, though on a smaller scale because of the lower population size. Import of factory-farmed products may be more difficult than in the case of California, though, which is a big plus for the initiative. And they’re also far short of their fundraising goals.
I agree with this. Just to expand a bit - wild elephants might generally have net positive lives, but there still might be worthwhile interventions, e.g. to ensures some number that would have been killed by predators instead die in their sleep. The most relevant question is not whether wild animals have net positive lives, but how much their welfare could be improved per dollar.
That's a great way of putting it. Thanks for the clarity!
What would this entail? should we start a new thread for this? sounds great but small-medium farmers could get their butts whipped if its implemented too broadly no?
Sophie and Meret will know more, but from what I’ve heard, they’re pretty much on board with it because it will shift demand toward them. I can point Sophie to this thread if you’d like a more detailed or reliable answer than mine. ;-)
[Disclaimers: speaking only for myself, although I do some work for Open Phil.]
I think that that many EAs are overestimating the degree to which this funding changes the marginal returns of individual donations, for a few reasons:
In my view the larger shift induced by Open Philanthropy is that the returns to using one's labor, knowledge, and other resources to create opportunities that it will find competitive have gone up (since they are more likely to be able to grow later if successful). That is a boost for several of the organizations you mention, but can also apply to larger organizations whose activity tends to produce those opportunities through other channels than being a new organization (e.g. by building pipelines for new scientists or activists, research that better prioritizes options, demonstrations that technical projects can make progress).
So I don't think that the arguments in the post are sufficient to establish this:
I agree that CSH looks attractive for a donor who would otherwise give to AMF, that WASR and SI make sense for a donor who might otherwise give to The Humane League (as demonstrated by, e.g. Lewis' EA Funds grants), and that providing access to donation methods for Canadian donors could pay for itself for those donors (with some caveats about distributional details, and due diligence).
However, I don't think that increased Open Philanthropy funding provides adequate reason to dismiss the cause area of existential risk reduction for marginal funds (and in fact my own view is that the most attractive marginal opportunities lie in that area, directly or indirectly).
Thanks Carl, it's good to know that there are RFMF opportunities in topping up AI grants.
My reasoning for not donating to AI projects right now is based much less on a RFMF argument and more on not knowing enough about the space. I think I know enough about opportunities in global poverty, animal welfare, and EA community building to recommend projects there with confidence, but not for AI. I expect it would take me a good deal of time to develop the relevant expertise in AI to consider it properly. I have thought about working to develop that expertise, but so far I have not prioritized doing so.
I don't understand how that logic leads to thinking it's a good idea to donate to the causes you're thinking of donating to. Donating to a cause area because you can identify good projects within it seems like the streetlight effect.
If you think that AI stuff is plausibly better, shouldn't you either want to learn more about it or enter a donor lottery so that it's more cost-effective for you to learn about it?
My excuses in order of importance:
1.) While I do think AI as a cause area could be plausibly better than global poverty or animal welfare, I don't think it's so plausibly better that the expected value given my uncertainty dwarfs my current recommendations.
2a.) I think I'm basically okay with the streetlight effect. I think there's a lot of benefit in donating now to support groups that might not be able to expand at all without my donation, which is what the criteria I outlined here accomplish. Given the entire EA community collaborating as a whole, I think there's less need for me to focus tons of time on making sure my donations are as cost-effective as possible, and more just a need to clear a bar of being "better than average". I think my recommendations here accomplish that.
2b.) Insofar as my reasoning in (2a) is some "streetlight effect" bias, I think you could accuse nearly anyone of this, since very few have thoroughly explored every cause area and no one could fully rule out being wrong about a cause area.
3.) There is still more I could donate later. This money is being saved mainly as a hedge to large financial uncertainty in my immediate future, but could also be used as savings to donate later when I learn more.
[Note: I work on existential risk reduction]
Although I laud posts like the OP, I'm not sure I understand this approach to uncertainty.
I think a lot turns on what you mean by the AI cause area being "Plausibly better" than global poverty or animal welfare on EV. The Gretchenfrage seems to be this conditional forecast: "If I spent (lets say) 6 months looking at the AI cause area, would I expect to identify better uses of marginal funding in this cause area than those I find in animal welfare and global poverty?"
If the answer is "plausibly so, but probably not" (either due to a lower 'prima facie' central estimate, or after pricing in regression to the mean etc.), then I understand the work uncertainty is doing here (modulo the usual points about VoI): one can't carefully look at everything, and one has to make some judgments on what cause areas look most promising to investigate on current margins.
Yet if the answer is "Probably, yes", then offering these recommendations simpliciter (i.e. "EA should fully fund this") seems premature to me. The evaluation is valuable, but should be presented with caveats like, "Conditional on thinking global poverty is the best cause area, fund X; conditional on thinking animal welfare is the best cause area, fund Y (but, FWIW, I believe AI is the best cause area, but I don't know what to fund within it)." It would also lean against making ones own donations to X, Y etc., rather than spending time thinking about it/following the recommendations of someone one trusts to make good picks in the AI cause area.
This is what captures my views best right now.
An additional point to take into account when it comes to examining the research on AI as possible space for donations: as a scientific domain the topic of AI risks and safety can easily fall under the public/academic funding, even under the assumption that it is currently underfunded. To this end, individual applicants (precisely those who would be conducting research by means of donations) can apply for individual PhD and postdoc grants. There are numerous opportunities of that kind across EU. Moreover, the funding agencies (e.g. in Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, etc.) will employ expert refereeing system (sometimes even asking the applicant to suggest suitable referees) to assess the project and its effectiveness (which I find very relevant from the perspective of EA). If we take this into account, then a number of other organizations that can't be so easily funded via already existing institutional channels becomes much more urgent.
P.S. Great post, Peter, only now saw it.
To attempt to complement what Peter already said,
This is why EA rarely falls into what can accurately be described as a "streetlight effect". We aren't looking for one set of keys, we're looking for a bunch of keys (threats to human welfare) and theres a bunch of us drunkards, all with differing abilities and expertise. So I'd argue if its dark somewhere, those with the expertise need to start building streetlights, but if the lights getting brighter in certain areas (RCTs in health) then we need people there too.
Do you have quantitative views on the effectiveness of donating these organizations, that could be compared to other actions? (Or could you point me to any of the links go to something like that?) Sorry if I missed them.
I focused more on identifying organizations that met the three criteria I outlined and then vetting them individually. Because I was just looking for organizations I felt confident in being "good enough to be considered above average", I did not take the time to develop quantitative views for them yet. I'm also not sure if such views would be useful.
For Charity Science Health, I'd rely on "What is the expected value of creating a GiveWell top charity?". While published in Dec 2016, I've revisited the underlying numbers in May 2017 and Dec 2017 and found them to still be roughly the same. Notably this estimate is for value of time spent on the project rather than value of marginal funding, but I think the two would be roughly equivalent.
For the Sentience Institute or the Wild-Animal Suffering Research Institute, I have a rough guess as to the value of cause prioritization efforts, generally speaking and I think these organizations would fall under that. Again, this estimate is looking at the value of time spent rather than value of marginal funding, but that shouldn't really matter.
For Rethink Charity, I don't have any quantitative estimates at this time. I tried making one for the Local Effective Altruism Network (LEAN) last year, but was held back by not having any quantitative information about local groups. LEAN has put a lot of time into improving this quantitative situation this year, publishing one report and aiming to publish more. This should make constructing a quantitative estimate possible.
Charity Science Health also featured really good RCTs in their proposal that you can see in their proposal or just google. LMK if I should link them.
There is also the promise of future data in this arena. JPAL, WHO, and a few other orgs are setting their sails to investigate this as well, so the decent data will be getting much better. If WHO and JPAL are interested theres at the least something big to investigate for sure, and to get that data you need programs to be active.
Lewis Bollard is now (March 2018) recommending additional grants to Wild Animal Suffering Research ($100k) and Sentience Institute ($70k) through the EA Animal Welfare Fund, which may change the room for funding situation for those organizations.
Ahoy all, first post here super excited!
Charity Science Health - Do they detail the plans for their RCT? Have the looked at the current research for contexts in which the intervention is more or less effective?
The RCTs are promising but I would think the cash they are asking for would get them something north of 2k participants (correct me if thats naive).
Also, is their code open source/do they need some one to code for em? Have they looked at charging clinics a small fee for the repeat customers or would that burn them most likely?
Congrats on first post.
You can see our most detailed current plans for the RCT in this concept note or this spreadsheet. We are still nailing down the partners we are working with and the end line budget we will have, so they are subject to some change. We have considered the existing evidence base fairly carefully and you can see our summary of other studies here.
We have estimates at different sample sizes, but generally we are looking in the 5k-20k range of participants dependent on funding and exact study design.
Indeed our code is open source and we would love help on it. We are about to put up a volunteering/internship opportunity to help us with it. You can see the code here.
Sadly clinics would not provide funding for our program, at least not the low income clinics in our target areas. It might be different with private clinics, but they generally target demographics that are less productive to send reminders to (due to having higher baseline vaccination rates)
That Code link is broken, check it. Would love to star it and take a look :) Im crazy buzy (arent we all?) but it might be worth a look for sure.
GL on those RCTs! heres to getting 20k samples!
Fixed now :)
Could you say more about this? When I look at their metrics, it's a little unclear to me what failure (or success) would look like. In extremis, every group rating LEAN as ineffective (or very effective) would be an update, but it's unclear to me how we would notice smaller changes in feedback and translate that to counterfactual impact on "hit" group members.
Similarly, for SHIC, if they somehow found a high school student who becomes a top-rated AI safety researcher or something similar that would be a huge update on the benefit of that kind of outreach. But the chances of that seems small, so it's kind of unclear to me what we should expect to learn if they find that students have some moderate changes in their donations but nothing super-high-impact.
Thanks for writing this! This influenced me and my thoughts about donations.
I think this says about all that needs to be said about whether this kind of search procedure is likely to yield optimal donation targets!
I can't tell if this comment is positive or negative toward my criteria. Would you mind elaborating?
OP wasnt refering to the orgs he was donating to but a seperate problem domain he doesnt have expertise in.