[ Question ]

Is COVID an opportunity for non-EAs to give effectively?

by warrenjordan1 min read22nd Mar 20203 comments



I've seen social media campaigns that are fundraising for charities that may not be effective as an EA would deem as such.

Based on this recent post, the recommended organizations are related to biorisk, x-risk or neglected work on COVID. I know in my network, which I am the only EA I know of, this may not resonate with them. Yet, I see several of them donating funds to COVID in ways that are not effective as they could be.

Thus, I see this as an opportunity to influence my peers to donate effectively if they choose COVID as their priority right now. It may not create as much impact as an EA would hope for, but I believe it may create a marginal impact.

The difficult part is what organization to recommend to my non-EA peers that would appeal to them while being marginally effective. I don’t have a good sense of which one that is yet until more evidence / discussions circulate among the EA community.

One may argue that AMF, MC or HKI needs the money now more than ever as they will become neglected areas. That makes me uncomfortable because if I were to make this argument to a non-EA, it may come off as a “low blow” or that “I’m using COVID as an opportunity to make a point.”

I believe the goal with this is to empower people to give effectively, no matter the cause area. I believe that's a better approach than trying to debate with them to give to another cause area that would be more effective than COVID - I think that will come later.

I’m curious to hear thoughts on this and perhaps people can recall times during disaster relief, where they influenced their peers to give effectively during those times and if they continued to give effectively in other cause areas.


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I think a lot of people will be interested in giving right now, and you can influence your friends by sharing a favourite charity or talking about your own donations.

However, I would also caution all of us to "read the room" as this situation evolves. A lot of our friends will be suffering from losing jobs or loved ones and it might sometimes be harmful to ask them for charity donations.

Personally, I think the Centre for Health Security might be a pretty good bet, as they genuinely are doing prominent COVID-related work, but were also already an excellent donation opportunity from an x-risk/longtermist perspective (in my view, based largely on Founders Pledge's recommendation and Open Phil's donations, rather than separate new info of my own). So I'd guess that CHS passes the "related to COVID" test for non-EAs.

CHS may fail the "doing something tangible and easy to understand" test. If you think that'd be an issue for your networks, maybe the best option from Sanjay's post would be Univursa Health or Development Media International (just based on my impression after reading that post - I have no prior knowledge of Univursa).

I would also be cautious about just trying to point out to non-EAs that non-COVID things will be especially neglected, as they may find that reasoning callous or misguided if their first exposure to it is during this crisis. But you could try to first suggest what the best donation opportunities that are COVID/pandemic-related are, and then point out in a very non-pushy way how other things may be especially neglected right now, and thus especially valuable to donate to. Sort of like an intellectual point that they can take or leave, with you having first accepted and respected their starting point of interest in COVID specifically.

This is roughly what I plan to do in a Facebook fundraiser for CHS. Inspired partly by your question, I wrote up my planned text for the fundraiser, my rationale for it, and my open questions here.

Note: I lean towards longtermism. For people more convinced by arguments for other cause areas such as global health and development or animal welfare, I think there's probably more of a real tension between (a) trying to gently steer people interested in supporting work on COVID towards more effective donation opportunities, versus (b) recommending what you truly think is at least highly effective.

But maybe (not sure) this would be a time for just doing (a) anyway, given that there's a lot of scope for that right now. This could be based on moral uncertainty, or could be a sort of moral trade with longtermists. Alongside this, such people could personally continue to donate their resources to whatever they think is highest value.