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Last year, I ran a Facebook birthday fundraiser for the Against Malaria Foundation. It was very successful and cost-effective on my part - even though I only donated $20 myself, I raised $240 in total, effectively multiplying my donation by 12. (I wrote about my 2019 charitable giving activity here.) This October, I want to run another birthday fundraiser, and I would possibly like to make it into an annual tradition.

This year, I'm going to raise money for the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) to support their policy advocacy on weapons of mass destruction, including biological and nuclear weapons.

Why fundraise?

I've become more aligned with patient longtermism and have a lot of uncertainty about how best to improve the long-term future, so right now I'm inclined to save most of my money to give later. However, I think that fundraising for a charity right now has several potential benefits:

  • As my experience shows, fundraising campaigns may be a cost-effective way to raise money for high-impact charities. Last year, I was able to raise 12 times as much money in total as I contributed myself.
  • I anticipate that in the next 10 years, I will be able to dedicate my career to pressing causes such as AI safety. However, I don't have much capacity to direct my labor in the most impactful ways right now. Donating helps me feel like I'm creating value while my impact through other means is limited.
  • By extension, trying to donate every year may help me build a habit of donating, which increases the likelihood that I will donate every year in the future. I fret a lot about whether and how I'm going to have an impact in the near term, so knowing ahead of time that I will donate money may reduce my anxiety about this.
  • Running a fundraiser seems like a good way to promote high-impact causes to people unfamiliar with effective altruism.
  • Since I'm young and relatively new to effective altruism, I can benefit from taking actions now and learning as I go.

Considerations for fundraising

Before I start a fundraiser, however, I need to think about three things: (1) which charity to promote, and (2) how to promote it. Since I am prone to overthinking and perfectionism, I also need to be cognizant of how much time I spend planning and executing my fundraiser.

Choosing a charity

Effective altruism emphasizes that directing resources to the right problem heavily influences how much impact you can have.[1] This implies that choosing the right charity to promote is very important; I want to take this seriously. Recently, I've become aligned with longtermism, the idea that because future generations matter, ensuring that humanity survives and flourishes for eons is paramount.[2]

While I was writing this post, I originally thought of ways to improve the long-term future as falling into two main categories:

  • Reducing existential risks, thereby increasing the chance that sentient life (including humans) will last longer.
  • Improving well-being for humanity and other sentient life over the long term, given that no existential catastrophe severely and permanently curtails humanity's potential.

However, while browsing 80,000 Hours' list of problem profiles, I noticed that many of the problems listed as promising ways to improve the long-term future don't fit cleanly into either category. For example, improving global governance can improve humanity's ability to confront existential risks, but it can also speed up technological, economic, and social progress on a global scale. I also got the general sense that existential risk is the more important of the two.[3] Even though I'm still uncertain, I think it's okay to have a tentative hypothesis now and revise it over my lifetime as I learn more.

My choice: Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)

I've chosen to raise money for the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) this year. I believe that one of the best ways to improve the long-term future is through mitigating existential risks from emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and atomic-scale manufacturing. NTI does work to reduce risks from weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including biological and nuclear weapons, and Open Philanthropy considers it an especially effective advocacy group in the WMD governance space.

Although I'm fundraising for NTI, I also want to support other charities I believe are high-impact from a longtermist point of view, whether by donating money myself or recommending that others donate. Here are a few of the other charities I'm considering:

  • Happier Lives Institute: HLI researches interventions to improve global happiness, measured by subjective well-being. Although HLI is focused on near-term human welfare maximization, they are also interested in looking into how to improve welfare over the long term.[4] I think more research on improving long-term happiness will be very valuable.
  • 80,000 Hours: Recently, Ben Todd has been researching various forms of longtermism and how to prioritize among them, and I'd like to support that work.

Fundraising strategy

COVID-19 is top of mind for a lot of people, so my strategy will be to connect NTI's work to the possibility of future pandemics, especially engineered ones. It also seems easier to raise money for organizations working on highly legible problems like nuclear and biological risk than for more esoteric causes like global priorities research.

I'll promote my fundraiser through Facebook and mailing lists that I'm part of. I know that some people are not comfortable using Facebook, so I want to provide an alternative channel through which people can donate. I'm considering using a site like JustGiving in addition to Facebook.

See also


Thanks to Vaidehi Agarwalla for providing feedback and sending me relevant resources.

  1. Introduction to Effective Altruism: "The cause that you choose to work on is a big factor in how much good you can do. If you choose a cause where it’s not possible to help very many people (or animals), or where there just aren’t any good ways to solve the relevant problems, you will significantly limit the amount of impact you can have." ↩︎

  2. The Long-Term Future: "The number of people alive today pales in comparison to the number who could exist in the future. It may therefore be extremely important to ensure that human civilization flourishes far into the future, enjoying fulfilling lives free of suffering." ↩︎

  3. I recently asked a question about which approach is more pressing for longtermists. In general, I think reducing x-risks can sometimes be more important than improving the range of non-bad futures, and vice versa, but I'm unsure of how to compare between them. Also, I've included both humanity and sentient life in general because I'm sympathetic to the view that longtermists should give more weight to non-human animals than they currently do, but I haven't really considered how it affects the longtermist calculus. I'd like to see more research into these questions.

    My rough answer is that both can be important. However:

    1. Reducing existential risk is more neglected and potentially more politically tractable than the others. For example, take economic growth. One the one hand, advocating for faster economic growth may be more politically polarizing, especially if it involves changes to the tax system, trade, and immigration. On the other hand, who wants to go extinct?
    2. Actions that improve the value of the far future conditioned on it existing can also increase x-risk. For example, although technological progress is responsible for the high standard of living present in today's rich countries, speeding up this progress without also developing the wisdom and social norms to manage new technologies responsibly would likely increase x-risk.
  4. Comment on "Update from the Happier Lives Institute" ↩︎





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NTI is a great choice! I also ran a birthday fundraiser this year. I think there are positive benefits to running public donation campaigns. I'm also a fan of "normalizing" giving by running small fundraisers like this.

Can you share the text of your birthday fundraiser post here?

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