Dec 12, 2017
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and they can provide you with better donation options that reduce fees and allow for tax deductibility outside the US.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)