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Overview

Effective Ventures Foundation USA (“EVF US”) has appointed Zachary Robinson as its Interim CEO as of today. We’re also taking this time to announce that Effective Ventures Foundation (“EVF UK”) appointed Howie Lempel as its Interim CEO back in November.

EVF UK and EVF US together act as hosts and fiscal sponsors of many key projects in effective altruism, including the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA), 80,000 Hours (80k), Longview Philanthropy, etc. These charities (EVF UK and EVF US) previously did not have the position of CEO, and project leads (for CEA, 80k, etc.) reported directly to EVF boards for management oversight.

The FTX situation has given rise to a number of new challenges. In particular, there are financial and legal issues that occur at the level of the charities (EVF UK and EVF US), not at the project level, because the projects are not separate legal entities. Because of this, we’ve chosen to coordinate the legal, financial, and communications strategies of the projects under EVF much more than before.

In response to the new challenges from FTX, the boards became much more involved in the day-to-day operations of the charities.[1] But it’s not ideal to have boards playing the role of executives, so the boards have now also appointed Interim CEOs to each charity. 

The Interim CEO roles are about handling crises and helping the entities transition to an improved long-term structure. They are naturally time-limited roles; we aren’t sure how they might change, or when it will make sense for Howie and/or Zach to hand the reins off. The announcement of these Interim CEOs doesn’t constitute any change of project leadership; for example, Max Dalton will continue as leader of CEA, the community-building project which is part of EVF.

Meta remarks

  • This post is written on behalf of the boards of EVF. It’s difficult to write or act as a group without either doing things that not everyone is totally behind, or constraining ourselves to the bland. In the case of this post, it is largely the work of the primary authors; other board members might not agree with the more subjective judgements.
  • The impetus for getting this post out now was a desire to empower the CEOs to speak on behalf of the entities; there are some time-sensitive updates they expect to share soon.
  • There’s a lot to say about what FTX’s collapse means for EA and EVF; in many ways we’re still in the early days of wrestling with what this means for us and our communities. This post isn’t about that. However, we know that this is the first major public communication from the EVF boards, and we don’t want the implicature to be that we don’t think this is important or worth discussing.
    • We’re hoping to write more soon about why we haven’t said more, how we’re seeing the situation, and how EVF’s choices may have impacted EA discourse about FTX.

About Howie and Zach

Howie Lempel has been Interim CEO of EVF UK since mid-November. To take this on, Howie took leave from his role as CEO of 80k, one of the largest EVF projects. In light of Howie’s move, Brenton Mayer was appointed as Interim CEO of 80k in December. Brenton was previously Director of Internal Systems at 80k.

Before he worked at 80k, Howie went to Yale Law for two years. He left Yale to join Open Philanthropy while it was still being incubated at GiveWell, working as their first Program Officer for Global Catastrophic Risks. Howie has also worked on white collar crime at the Manhattan DA’s office and on U.S. economic policy as a research assistant at the Brookings Institution. In addition to his role as CEO of 80k, he’s also known in the EA community for his personal podcast episode on mental health. 

Zachary Robinson starts full time as Interim CEO of EVF US today. Zach comes to EVF US from his most recent position as Chief of Staff at Open Philanthropy. There, he managed comms teams, helped set org-wide policies, and worked to identify new Global Health and Wellbeing cause areas for Open Philanthropy, among other things. Prior to his work at Open Philanthropy, he was the director of product and strategy for startup Ivy Research Council and worked as a consultant at Bain and Company. 

We’re delighted to have both of them joining in these roles. There’s a lot of uncertainty facing EVF, and the Interim CEOs are stepping into an unorthodox situation with challenges on multiple fronts, but both Howie and Zach have impressed us. Howie has been doing this work far more than full-time since the second week of November and has shown a dedication, tenaciousness, wisdom, and patience that we find inspiring. We are lucky to have him in this role. Although Zach has only started in his role today, we're excited to work with him going forward and expect his involvement to be a major help. 

What is Effective Ventures? 

Current Structure

Effective Ventures Foundations (“EVF”) is the name we use to describe two separate legal entities, each with their own CEO and boards:

  • Effective Ventures Foundation (“EVF UK”) in the UK
  • Effective Ventures Foundation USA (“EVF US”) in the US

EVF UK and EVF US together act as hosts and fiscal sponsors of many of the key projects in effective altruism. EVF currently operates the following discrete “projects (colloquially known as orgs): 

Since the brands and activities of the projects are so distinct, many members of the EA community think of these as distinct nonprofits; however legally they are actually “projects” jointly housed within the two charities of EVF US and EVF UK.

Terminology: this post distinguishes between “projects” like CEA, 80k, and Longview, run by project leads (with varied titles, e.g. “Max Dalton, Executive Director of CEA”; “Natalie Cargill, Co-CEO of Longview”), and the two “charities” or “legal entities,” EVF UK and EVF US, run by Interim CEOs (Howie, Zach). Here’s a diagram:

EVF US and EVF UK coordinate closely to support the projects while allowing for a good deal of operational autonomy by the project leads. Specifically:

  • The “EV Ops” team provides coordinated operational support to the projects.
  • The project leads have been reporting directly to the boards, which provide charity-level oversight. 
  • Over the last few months, we’ve added an executive team on both the US and UK side, led by the Interim CEOs, to facilitate coordinated operations and oversight. 
  • In other respects, the projects operate independently from each other (within the scope of their budgets and delegated authorities; and subject to appropriate oversight by EVF US and/or EVF UK).

Why have two charities?

Charity law works differently in different countries. Typically, charities need to fulfil specific legal requirements in order to get official status as a charity in a given jurisdiction. Also, generally speaking, charity tax reliefs are granted only to charities that are established in the relevant jurisdiction. In the US, charities recognized by the IRS are also not subject to income tax on donations they receive and are entitled to a variety of other tax and regulatory benefits. Likewise, a UK taxpayer needs to donate to a charity established in the UK if they want gift aid relief on their donations.

Having two separate charities enables them to work together collaboratively, and tax effectively, to support the projects that they fiscally sponsor.

Name change

Until recently, “the Centre for Effective Altruism” referred to two different things:

  1. The EA community-building project run by Max Dalton, which runs EA Global, the EA Forum, etc. (This is the main thing most people think of “CEA” as referring to.)
  2. Either or both of the two separate charities (which were previously called CEA International and CEA USA and are now called EVF UK and EVF US). 

To do away with this ambiguity, the two charities (now called EVF UK and EVF US) recently changed their names.[2] (Think “Google” → “Alphabet” or “Facebook” → “Meta”). The community-building project run by Max Dalton is still called CEA, and remains a project of EVF. 

A note on EVF communication re. structural changes

To date, we haven’t been very communicative about what’s going on inside EVF. We think we’ve been making a mistake by not investing more in transparency.[3] We previously announced EVF’s renaming, but in retrospect our announcement was unclear both about the nomenclature and about the ways the legal structure had evolved. We also think it was a mistake not to make the time to announce Howie’s role much closer to when he was appointed. We’re sorry about this, and we’re optimistic that the appointment of Interim CEOs will help us to do better in the future. We’re working on another post about why we haven’t said much over the past few months, so we’ll save further discussion for that post. 

The boards

The EVF UK board consists of Will MacAskill, Tasha McCauley, Claire Zabel, Owen Cotton-Barratt, and Nick Beckstead. The EVF US board consists of Nick Beckstead, Rebecca Kagan, and Nicole Ross. Given their ties to the FTX Foundation and Future Fund, Will MacAskill and Nick Beckstead are recused from discussions and decision-making that relate to FTX,[4] as they have been since early November. 

Final notes

We hope that this post helps to clarify EVF’s structure and leadership. We’d love for you to ask further questions you have (communicating is sometimes a bit difficult, so we can’t guarantee to answer them, but we’ll try). 

Meanwhile, we’re grateful to have Zach and Howie lead EVF through this challenging time, and look forward to supporting their work in the coming months.

A huge thank you is owed to the dozens of people who reviewed drafts of this post and subsequent posts we hope to release soon. Your comments made this post significantly better; we are grateful for the time that you spent editing. All opinions and mistakes are our own.

  1. ^

    Coordinated management work has included:
    * Developing and deploying processes and systems for crisis response
    * Responding to PR inquiries and handling the competing needs of external comms
    * Hiring Interim CEOs of EVF UK and EVF US, and other members of the executive offices (e.g. in house counsel)
    * Helping projects to assess their financial situation and how the FTX collapse might affect them
    * Preparing for regulatory and legal attention
    * Looking at governance systems and increasing board capacity

  2. ^

    Complicating matters, the US renaming hadn’t been finalised at that point, it was still called CEA USA. The EVF US name change has since been filed and is now awaiting approval with the state regulators.

  3. ^

    Opinions differ as to how much more we should have invested.

  4. ^

    This means for example that posts such as this are not written on their behalf, since we’re making judgement calls about how to discuss FTX.

Comments37
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:43 AM

Thanks for writing this up. It'd be nice to have a paragraph of bio for each of the board members on ev's website. Google search didn't give me much for some of the board members.

Hi Matt - thanks for the suggestion. I agree that we should have a page like this. I’ve asked someone to take this on but we’ve got a lot of things to update at the moment so it won’t go up immediately. In the meantime, CEA’s team page has links to bios for most of the trustees here.

Hey Howie, over ten months later I still don't see anything on the website. (Unless I am just unusually bad at reading websites). Was this followed up on?

Hey Larks,

[For transparency - I no longer work at EV.]

Yep - this was followed up on. Here are links to the pages for EV UK and EV US.

Thanks! I guess I was just bad at navigating the website.

No worries! It takes a couple clicks to get there.

Hi Howie, I'm getting back to this 3 months later. I don't think this feature has been added and I'd like to raise again that it would be good for transparency. The link to the CEA team page doesn't have bios for Tasha McCauley and Becca Kagan (who has since resigned from EVF, I guess it could be worth listing former board members). 

After a quick skim, I couldn't really figure out 

  • "where the buck stops" in terms of responsibility. E.g., if there is a really big fuckup, is the CEO of CEA or the individual projects ultimately responsible? The new CEOs of EVF? Ultimately the board?
    • I'm thinking that it's still ultimately the board, but not sure.
  • whether the CEOs of EVF had responsibilities pertaining to common challenges that the projects have (e.g., figuring out liabilities and common actions around FTX), or whether they will have oversight over the parts of each project that are located in each jurisdiction, or some other option
    • I'm getting the impression that it's more the first, but not sure.

Who’s responsible if there’s a really big error? Good question -- it depends in part on the type of issue. 

  • Project Leads: The project leads (e.g. Luke Freeman) continue to be responsible for running their projects (Giving What We Can). If there’s a programmatic, strategic, or tactical error within a specific project, that reflects on the project lead. They’re still the ones in charge of their projects; the Interim CEO appointments don’t change that. 
  • Interim CEOs: The Interim CEOs are responsible for a different set of issues than project leads. They’re primarily responsible for charity-wide issues, including legal response, coordination, and org structures, etc (that is, things that span multiple projects: 80k, CEA, GWWC, etc). Some of their errors will be less visible to e.g. the average EA Forum user, but we expect to hold them responsible for things related to the smooth operations of the charities as a whole. 
  • Boards: In addition, the respective board is also responsible if there’s a problem anywhere within EVF US or EVF UK. At the end of the day, they’re the bodies that are responsible for those charities. This is a less direct responsibility; as is typical for boards we delegate most of that responsibility to executives (both project leads and CEOs). So if there’s a project-level error, this could both be a project lead error and also a board one. (For example, boards could have put the wrong person in charge of the project, done inadequate oversight, etc.). The same goes for Interim CEO error.

Relatedly, the project leads still report directly to the boards for most aspects of their roles. There are some exceptions, though, as Interim CEOs set charity-wide policies and systems that may affect project leads.

That’s how it’s working today. The roles are new, so we’re still in the process of fleshing out all of the details, and things may also change over time. Ultimately, though, this additional interim CEO role doesn’t significantly change the project leads’ authority.

Minor clarification: On a first read, I wasn’t clear if you were asking whether the CEO of CEA is responsible for all of EVF. I don’t think that’s what you’re saying, but just in case there’s any ambiguity here, that’s definitely not the case (and technically there is no CEO of CEA). Max Dalton is the ED of project CEA. He has control over that project but not the rest of EVF (just as e.g. Luke Freeman is ED over GWWC, and has control over that project but not the rest of EVF).

Also, I am curious whether this setup leads to more risk-aversion.

Some amount of increased risk-aversion is probably unavoidable here. One of the downsides of being an EVF project, vs. an independent organization, is that any Bad Stuff spills over into the rest of EVF and affects other projects. It's easier to justify gambling, and allow project leads to gamble with less oversight, when only the gambling project is exposed to the risk.

I suspect that one of the things the Charity Commission may be concerned about is the difficulty of the Board maintaining effective oversight of a corporation with what sounds close to having a dozen direct-to-board reports prior to this change. The level of oversight over project leads was probably seen as insufficient in light of each lead's ability to do things that significantly affected EVF UK as a whole.

 

Edit: increased risk-aversion

I suspect that one of the things the Charity Commission may be concerned about is the difficulty of the Board maintaining effective oversight of a corporation with what sounds close to having a dozen direct-to-board reports prior to this change. The level of oversight over project leads was probably seen as insufficient in light of each lead's ability to do things that significantly affected EVF UK as a whole.

This was also my guess, but it sounds so much more polite when worded as a hypothesis that the Charity Commission had rather than as a direct question.

(My personal take based on general theory; not representing any kind of official position or based on specifics of EVF:)

Yeah, combining lots of projects in a small number of legal entities probably increases risk aversion some, relative to them each having their own legal entities. There are various reasons for this, and it’s not clear whether it’s net good.

On the hard analysis (i.e. just looking at ~economic incentives): first order is that it decreases inappropriate risk tolerance since projects that might be judgement proof by themselves are no longer so as part of a larger entity. OTOH it might be that the ecosystem systematically underincentivizes taking upside risks. If large upside risks were correlated with large downside risks (e.g. some activities are just high-variance), which is plausible, it could be bad to asymmetrically make projects internalize downside risk, even though internalizing externalities is usually good. (Impact markets might help here, but have issues of their own …)

On the soft analysis: people may be inclined towards ambiguity aversion, and really not wanting any project to have serious downsides for other projects. This would suggest you might get more risk aversion than is appropriate. OTOH the whole setup could lead to more systematic analysis of risks, in a way that helps to avoid unknowingly taking risks, which is probably an improvement.

Or if you’re asking about the introduction of the Interim CEOs: you might have a concern that they’d be overly risk-averse, if they get the blame for big problems, but don’t get credit for big successes by the projects. I agree that this is a worry in theory; pragmatically, the respective boards will be holding Howie and Zach accountable for “is this a structure which encourages project leads to make appropriately ambitious plans?”, which should help to mitigate it some (probably not all the way because it’s a harder thing to hold them accountable for than whether there were big problems).

Overall my guess is that “effect on risk aversion” is not one of the most important factors for whether this is a good setup.

Thanks for the update! A minor question on naming: when should we say "EV" and when should we say "EVF"? This post consistently uses "EVF", but in the comments on CEA Disambiguation Shakeel said you generally prefer "EV" and the ev.org Structure page is titled "EV’s Structure and Charitable Status" -- are you now using "EVF" for everything except "EV Ops"?

Thanks for publishing this. I don't really understand why it took so long - public companies typically report a new CEO immediately - but appreciate that it's been done now, and that you've clarified the EV structure. I guess you are operating under constraints we are not aware of.

Good luck to the new CEOs, it seems like a tough job!

(disclosure: I reviewed a draft of this post)

Seems like an explanation is coming?

We’re working on another post about why we haven’t said much over the past few months, so we’ll save further discussion for that post.

"The project leads have been reporting directly to the boards, which provide charity-level oversight. "

Do I understand correctly that this means "have been until now" and are now reporting to the CEOs?

Hey Chana — good question! Answered above.

Could you say more about why you decided to have separate CEOs for EVF UK and EVF US, instead of one CEO handling both? You gave the examples of Alphabet and Meta, but they don't have country-specific CEOs.

Hi Jeff —

Side point: The Alphabet and Meta analogies work better for the relationship between EVF (either / both of US and UK) and the projects hosted within it rather than the relationship between EVF UK and EVF US. That is to say, Google rebranded to Alphabet to avoid confusion between the parent company (Alphabet) and the well-known subsidiary company (Google). Similarly, CEA rebranded to EVF to avoid confusion between the legal entities (EVF) and the well-known subsidiary project (CEA).

Why two CEOs? While the projects are hosted within the broader EVF legal entities, neither EVF UK nor EVF US subsumes the other entity. As distinct nonprofits operating in distinct countries, they need distinct leadership; consequently the boards appointed separate Interim CEOs. Similarly, as is typical for nonprofits, each charity has its own board, which is responsible for providing governance oversight (EVF UK used to be a member of EVF US but isn’t any more). There’s a lot in flux, the interim CEO appointments are new, and various things may change over time. We’re still exploring how this best works, and what the right long-term structure will be.

No inside knowledge, but I can think of some solid legal reasons you might want some separation here. They are legally separate organizations that may have different and/or inconsistent legal and other interests. For instance, one of the two may have much greater clawback exposure than the other. Or, the US org might not want the UK charity regulator in its business, and that's a really hard boundary to police with a dual-hatted CEO.

Sure, though all of those factors also apply to multinational corporations, which generally have one CEO.

Right, but they may be more pronounced in the current situation than in your average abstract multinational corporation situation. I didn't read anything that necessarily committed to the CEOs being different people in the long run, although I could have missed it.

In the classic multinational corporation, all of the corporate entities are under common ownership -- often the non-main corporations are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the main corporation. So having a dual-hatted for-profit CEO doesn't raise as many concerns about conflicting roles because everything is ultimately owned by / for the benefit of the same group of shareholders. Both CEOs have a duty toward that same group.

Here, you have something  I think is a bit more akin to two separate corporations with different (albeit somewhat overlapping) stockholders. I know EVF UK is a member of EVF USA, but as a non-profit 501(c)(3), EVF USA's board has legal duties to the public interest that are wholly independent of EVF UK. Those duties are absent in your classic multinational corporation, where the main corporation owns the subsidiaries. Moreover, in order to keep its 501(c)(3) status, EVF USA has to maintain discretion and contol over its own funds, so giving the impression that the two EVFs are basically the same organization might backfire.

I'm sure this response is simplified/imprecise, and I'm not suggesting it would be impossible for the two organizations to hire the same individual as CEO.  But I think complications of nonprofit corporate structure -- at least where the nonprofits are not in the same country -- likely make it less likely to be the correct answer for a non-profit than for a for-profit.

It seems unlikely the particular legal issues you mentioned are a great reason to have 2 CEOs?

I would find a functional/structural reason more convincing—e.g. if there were separate orgs under EVF with ops/admin/funding needs that have require distinct attention. But this seems unlikely?

My guess is that the choice behind the duo CEO involves bandwidth and resilience if things go poorly. Other factors might be really mundane, such as idiosyncratic personal considerations that are benign and normal (e.g. Howie has duties at 80,000 hours still).

"Multinational" corporations are usually not actually multinational in the sense of having independent entities in different countries, they generally have one main entity (with one CEO) based  in one country that owns various subentities in other countries (the details of this are often of course quite complicated). This is different for EVF which has two independent entities. 

My understand is this mainly has to do with charity law in the US and UK forbidding foreign entities from fully controlling organizations with tax exempt status.

I still see the EVF structure page as listing no CEOs and calling the US charity "CEA USA", and Howie listed as CEO on the 80k team page -- is this just it being hard to update multiple places simultaneously?

EDIT 2023-01-30: the 80k page has been updated, though "Howie Lempel - Seconded to Interim CEO of Effective Ventures Foundation (previously, CEO)" is not phrasing I've seen before.

> "Howie Lempel - Seconded to Interim CEO of Effective Ventures Foundation (previously, CEO)" is not phrasing I've seen before

Yet more perils of a US / UK combined entity...

I'm guessing a secondment is not a common term in the US?  

Thanks Niel, jokes are always funnier when thoroughly explained.

I've now updated the 80k page to be more consistent with the announcement here: On leave to serve as Interim CEO at Effective Ventures Foundation UK.

Thanks! The update is a lot clearer!

The page still doesn't list the CEOs; as far as I can tell this isn't anywhere on ev.org either?

The impetus for getting this post out now was a desire to empower the CEOs to speak on behalf of the entities; there are some time-sensitive updates they expect to share soon.

...

We’re working on another post about why we haven’t said much over the past few months, so we’ll save further discussion for that post.

Over a month later, and around four since FTX, should we expect to see this soon?

Zach (Interim CEO of EV US) here. We’d still like to get out more information on EV’s communications and policies. There have been a number of personnel changes and other updates that have made this take longer than intended when the original post was written, but it’s on our to do list.