I wish to redistribute £100k I have inherited and have come up with the idea of recruiting a group of strangers in my city to decide which causes and charities the money should go towards. 

The plan is for 12-15 participants to be selected at random from the electoral roll. They will take part in roughly eight hours of facilitated discussion over a period of a few weeks, after which they will be asked to agree or vote on a number of one-off donations towards charitable causes. The scope of this will be unrestricted - the funds could go towards local, national or international projects - except that people will not be able to benefit from the money directly. The participants will be remunerated for their time.

I am working with experts on philanthropy and deliberative democracy to design the process. The participants will be introduced to EA concepts (such as cause prioritisation and GiveWell) as part of the deliberation, although it is not an explicitly EA-aligned initiative.

I think it will be an interesting exercise in democratic decision-making and reveal something about 'ordinary people's' attitudes to philanthropy. The participants will be asked whether they believe it to be a valuable and/or rewarding experience to take part in. We will ensure that the process is publicised and that learnings from it are recorded.

I'm interested to hear the community's reactions to this idea and to know whether anything similar has been tried. (I'm aware of Giving Circles and of the EA Equality and Justice Project which ran a few years ago in the UK.) It will cost around £5k to administer the project, including facilitation and room hire. If anyone would be interested in supporting this, please let me know.

UPDATE: this project is due to launch in the summer of 2023 and has a website here: wealthshared.co.uk.


Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:02 AM

Interesting stuff! Feel free to DM if you want to have a call about this. I lead the team at Giving What We Can and also oversee the Giving Games project as part of that and have run several Everyday Philanthropist events. My thesis also related to deliberative democracy too 😀

Welcome to the EA Forum :-)

It's admirable that you want to give away the money, good on you!

I also recognise the sense that there's an injustice that holders of wealth happen to have the decision-making power -- I don't know if that's what motivated you with your idea, but your idea resonates with me for that reason.

I'm wondering what goals you have with your approach? Is it about finding the best way to give the money away? Or is it about the impact it will have on those 12-15 people?

You may find it interesting to compare with other things like this which have been done:

  • A New York philanthropist decided to do something called flow-through funding -- she gave money to a bunch of people running social change organisations and told them that they could give away the money as they saw fit, as long as the money didn't go to their own org.
  • SBF did something similar (not that he's held in very high regard around these parts any more!)

However in these cases, the decision makers were chosen to be people who might be good decision makers. The same applies when people donate to EA Funds. This doesn't appear to be the case with what you're doing?

Further to this, if the primary goal is to learn about how the general public thinks about charitable giving, you could probably achieve the same result for far less than 100k. The remainder could be held in reserve and given to that cause if you really do think it's the best use of the money, or to your current best guess if you do not. It seems like there's an insight you wish to have and you've set a needlessly big pricetag on obtaining it. 

I think it's unlikely that people will choose to make donations that I regard as totally useless. If they do, then that'll be learning in itself. In general, I think rich people hoarding wealth is a bigger problem for society than people making slightly suboptimal decisions about their giving, so I'm comfortable with the idea of putting a big sum towards this project.

Thanks for your kind words and for the heads up about these other initiatives - I'll look into them. 

I'm interested in the idea of who makes a "good decision maker". I think the question of what causes are worth donating towards is in large part a value judgement which your average citizen is just as well-equipped to make as anyone else. Particularly if they're able to draw on outside expertise, which I intend on providing to them. 

It's possible that at the end of the process the participants will say that they don't really feel like they added much value and/or it was a burdensome responsibility, in which case that'll be an argument in favour of leaving philanthropic decision-making in the hands of experts. However, if they feel like it is an empowering experience and/or it reaches a good outcome, it may inspire other people in my position to go in a similar direction.

Very interesting. It seems we can split the giving decision into two components:

  • Empirical things about the world
  • Value judgements, which the average citizen is as well-equipped to make as anyone else

Are you aiming for the average citizens whom you engage with to only provide input on the second, but not on the first?

In case it's helpful, we at SoGive have been thinking about this quite a bit. 

I run SoGive which does research on charity impact and supports major donors. 

We ran a moral weights exercise 2 years ago which involved survey of 500 members of the public and number of qualitative surveys with donors. We're currently in the process of revisiting this work. If you would like to have a chat, feel free to ping me via the EA Forum or on sanjay@sogive.org

Fun! I'm glad that you're working with experts on administering this and applaud the intention to post lessons learned. If you haven't already come across them, you might find these resources on participatory grantmaking helpful.

Thanks very much! I've spoken to a couple of experts on PGM and have signed up to this mailing list: https://www.participatorygrantmaking.org/. I hadn't seen those resources though so I'll check them out. 

Hiii! Great work! The Life You Can Save has done a bunch of “giving games” where there is less of a focus on how to select the players but otherwise the idea is similar. They usually play them with smaller amounts of money. (I don’t know in what ways “giving circles” are different.)

Giving circles are a different thing.

Giving circles like the Mental Health donor circle or the Farmed Animal Funders are a group of donors who give their own money, and often a significant amount. These kind of giving circles are inaccessible to most people.

Giving circles also exist in the broader philanthropic sector (see wikipedia) and outside of Anglosaxon countries.

Thank youuu!

Cool initiative. Looking forward to hearing the outcome.

The participants will be introduced to EA concepts (such as cause prioritisation and GiveWell) as part of the deliberation

Why do you want to do this? I wonder if that nudges the participants already towards EA-like thinking, and has the risk to impose values on them. Maybe something more value neutral like the Clearer Thinking Intrinsic Value Test is relevant? There might also be value neutral giving oriented guides available on the internet.

That's a really cool tool, thanks! 

I'm thinking they'll be introduced to EA concepts among other approaches, which will hopefully reduce the risk of undue influence.

This is a very cool idea! However you end up running it, I hope you'll write another post to report your results.

Are you thinking of trying to get the recordings out to a big audience in YouTube or some such? That could generate a lot of awareness and value.

This comment might be relevant, by someone who donates based on collective decision making, I guess via voting.

Nice one, thanks!