This is the November 2020 payout report for the Effective Altruism Meta Fund, one of the Effective Altruism Funds.

Fund: Effective Altruism Meta Fund

Payout date: November 30, 2020

Payout amount: $433,500.00

Fund managers: Luke Ding, Alex Foster, Denise Melchin, Matt Wage, Peter McIntyre. 

In addition, Harri Besceli, Megan Brown, and Jonas Vollmer assisted the fund managers with some grant investigations and the preparation of this report. There will be changes to the committee in 2021, with some fund managers leaving and new ones joining, and some being re-appointed.

Highlights 

The EA Infrastructure Fund (formerly the EA Meta Fund) made seven grants to help increase the impact of organizations using principles of effective altruism in their work, including:

  • A $62,500 grant to Theron Pummer. Theron is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews. This is a follow-on grant from a grant we made earlier this year. This grant will buy out Theron's teaching and administration time for one year, allowing him to spend the majority of his time on research for two academic books focused on philosophical issues relevant to effective altruism. We think that developing and promoting the ideas of effective altruism within academia could be very valuable. In particular, we think that academia is an excellent means to refine the key EA ideas and get talented students and researchers interested in them for decades to come.
  • A $300,000 grant to Charity Entrepreneurship (CE). CE is a research and training program that aims to create more high-impact charities. They research ideas for effective charities and recruit talented individuals to implement them. They provide training, mentoring, and seed funding through an incubation program, removing some of the major barriers to founding and successfully running an effective charity. Their work is showing some early successes: Fortify Health, an incubated charity, has been supported by GiveWell’s highly competitive incubation grants program, and GiveWell estimates a 25% probability that Fortify Health will become a GiveWell top charity. We have previously made three grants to CE; this grant will provide funding to support their third formal cohort of incubated charities.

Grant recipients

  1. Charity Entrepreneurship – $300,000
  2. Theron Pummer – £47,250 ($62,500)
  3. Happier Lives Institute – $35,000
  4. One for the World – $20,000
  5. EA Giving Tuesday – $13,000 (funded by a private donor, not EA Funds)
  6. Hear This Idea – £6,000 ($8,000)
  7. Effektiv Spenden – €5,000 ($6,000)
  8. Academic research into applying self-affirmation theory to promote effective giving – $2,000

In this grant round, we focused on funding early-stage projects and organizations. While there is higher uncertainty in funding early-stage projects, we think there is also significant value. Much of this value comes from new information on what works and what doesn’t, which can be used to inform future efforts to maximize impact. 

Below are some of the key considerations behind our grant decisions. As with the previous rounds, these summaries are by no means meant to be read as complete or exhaustive cases for each grant. They are based on internal conversations between the fund managers, as well as with the grantees, incorporating our past experience, knowledge, and judgment. While risks and reservations for these organizations have been taken into account, we do not discuss them below in most cases. 

Applications: if there is an infrastructure initiative that you would like us to consider for a future grant, please complete this form

Questions: Please send any questions about the fund to jonas.vollmer at centreforeffectivealtruism.org.

Charity Entrepreneurship – $300,000

Charity Entrepreneurship is a research and training program that aims to create more high-impact charities. They research ideas for effective charities and recruit talented individuals to implement them. They provide training, mentoring, and seed funding through an incubation program, removing some of the major barriers to founding and successfully running an effective charity. Charity Entrepreneurship is a project of the Charity Science Foundation.

  1. To our knowledge, Charity Entrepreneurship (CE) is one of the only organizations directly focused on creating more high-impact charities. We have granted to CE in three previous grant rounds, most recently in March 2020. The payout reports from those grant rounds can be found here, here, and here.
  2. CE has incubated a number of new charities backed by extensive research, including Animal Advocacy Careers, the Fish Welfare Initiative, and Fortify Health, which received a two-year incubation grant from GiveWell in 2019. At the time of the incubation grant, GiveWell forecast a 25% probability of Fortify Health becoming one of their top recommended charities. We think this alone could make grants to CE highly valuable in expectation. This achievement also increases our confidence that the CE team will be able to incubate more promising projects in the future.
  3. CE’s incubated charities (and CE itself) are all very young, with relatively limited track records. However, we think the incubated charities are working on promising ideas, and they seem to have made strong initial progress, with significant potential to progress further. We think this warrants funding CE as they continue to grow, refine their theory of change, and gather more information on the progress of the incubated charities.
  4. When evaluating this grant opportunity, we spent time with CE discussing their internal policies and governance. Our confidence in their organizational health was strengthened through these discussions with CE staff and board members. CE seems to have good governance structures in place, and we have a very positive impression of the leadership team.
  5. In 2021, CE is planning to put extra focus on building the EA ecosystem (e.g. the number of engaged donors and job-seekers) to increase the sustainability of their charities. They  will be researching EA infrastructure organizations as one of their cause areas. We think investing more resources into both of these areas could be valuable.
  6. We decided to make a larger grant to CE during this round relative to previous rounds in order to provide funding throughout 2021. In general, we prefer to give an organization one large grant rather than several small grants across a year. This gives the grantee organizations more stability, and we think it is unlikely our view on a grantee will change significantly over a 6-month period.

Theron Pummer teaching buyout – $62,000

Theron Pummer is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews and Director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs. This grant will buy out Theron's teaching and administration time for one year, allowing him to continue to spend the majority of his time on research for two books focused on philosophical issues relevant to effective altruism.

  1. This is an extension of an off-cycle grant we made earlier this year (see payout report). As the earlier grant was made quite recently, our core reasoning behind that grant still applies:
    1. Theron has two books under contract with Oxford University Press. The first (titled The Rules of Rescue: Cost, Distance, and Effective Altruism) is concerned with developing a plausible non-consequentialist account of the ethics of helping those in need and that account’s implications for effective altruism.
    2. The second (titled Hypersensitive Ethics: Much Ado About Nearly Nothing) is concerned with “the structure of value, in particular with the scope and status of evaluative vagueness and with the question of whether slight descriptive differences can on their own make arbitrarily large evaluative differences.” The resolution of this book's core questions could potentially have implications for priority-setting in resource allocation and the role of AI in navigating ethical trade-offs.
    3. This grant will allow Theron to maintain the portion of his working time spent on research for these books at ~90%, by buying out his teaching and administration time (with the remaining ~10% spent on PhD student supervision). Before receiving a teaching buyout, Theron spent ~30% of his time on this research. Theron previously received teaching buy-outs from EA Grants, which is no longer in operation, and expects that these grants allowed him to significantly increase his research output. Between 2013 and 2018, Theron published seven papers. After receiving funding from EA Grants, and subsequently funding from the EA Infrastructure Fund earlier this year, Theron has published eleven papers in 2019 and 2020 to date alone, with one more under review. Some of these recent publications have been in top-rated journals in philosophy, such as The Journal of Philosophy, Ethics, and Analysis.
    4. We think that developing and promoting the ideas of effective altruism within academia has the potential to be very valuable. We discuss this reasoning in our grant reports for the Global Priorities Institute (see payout report) and the Forethought Foundation (see payout report). In particular, we think that academia can be an excellent means of sharing important and impactful reasoning from very far upstream.
    5. We spoke to a number of advisors with experience in academia and philosophy about this grant, all of whom had a positive view of both Theron's work and his area of research more broadly.
  2. In addition to the above, since our last grant, Theron has made some additional academic publications (listed here), which strengthens our confidence in the quality of his research.

Happier Lives Institute – $35,000

The Happier Lives Institute searches for the most effective methods to measure and increase global wellbeing. In particular, it focuses on prioritizing among the world's problems by using measures of subjective wellbeing: self-reports of happiness and life satisfaction. Subjective wellbeing scores are used across the social sciences, mostly in economics and psychology, and there is a growing interest in using them as an indicator of social progress that can complement GDP.

  1. This is an early-stage grant to a project that has achieved promising initial results. As with all early-stage grants, we expect there to be high value of information in testing this opportunity and potentially high upside if this project works out. In general, we expect the experimental value of the early-stage grants we make to be greater than the direct impact of these grants.
  2. We previously made a grant to the Happier Lives Institute (HLI) in November 2019 (see payout report). HLI performs research into the nature, measurement, and maximisation of wellbeing. They aim to answer the question: how can we most effectively use our resources to help people become happier? Their current research focuses on two main topics: (1) studying the nature and measurement of well-being, and (2) searching for the most effective ways to increase global well-being. At the time of our last grant to HLI, we noted that existing research into these areas from an effectiveness point of view appears to be limited, and we think that conducting this research could be valuable.
  3. Further research into properly measuring subjective wellbeing has the potential to provide a new way to assess the cost-effectiveness of hard-to-compare interventions, such as alleviating poverty, averting deaths, and treating mental health. This alternative perspective could help HLI and others to identify additional high-impact opportunities.
  4. HLI has made some promising progress since our grant this time last year, including publishing three working papers (here, here and here), one detailed post on the EA Forum, and one problem area report. The team – consisting of three staff members and supported by research volunteers – is currently on track to publish three further reports before the end of 2020, and there are other projects underway. Based on this progress, we would like to see HLI continue its research in 2021, so that we can gather more information about the value of its work..

One for the World – $20,000

One for the World encourages students and young professionals to pledge at least 1% of their future income to cost-effective charities working to reduce and eliminate global poverty. They support the creation and growth of chapters at undergraduate, MBA, and law schools. Chapter leaders and student ambassadors encourage their classmates to commit to donating a percentage of their income upon graduation.

  1. We previously made a grant to One for the World (OFTW) in early 2019 (see payout report). OFTW seems to have made strong progress since then, despite the setback of COVID-19. After being entirely volunteer-led since it was founded in 2014, OFTW began to grow faster when they made their first full-time hire in 2018. Between 2014 and 2018, OFTW recruited 885 pledgers in total; in 2019 alone, they recruited close to 1,500 pledgers. While growth has slowed during 2020 as many university campuses have been closed, OFTW has so far recruited ~700 pledgers this year. OFTW now has 75 chapters at top universities, up from ~30 when we made our last grant. In total, their pledgers have donated over $1m to date.
  2. We are excited about OFTW’s potential not only to increase donations to high-impact charities, but also to promote key EA ideas to a wider audience who may not have come across them otherwise.
  3. This grant will be used to build a new feature into OFTW’s donation platform, Donational. They want pledgers to be able to start donating at a certain level immediately and simultaneously pledge an automatic increase to that donation at a future date. For example, a student could start giving $10/month to effective charities now and simultaneously set up a $100/month donation upon graduation. This increase would then be opt-out, rather than opt-in.
  4. This feature could be helpful in increasing OFTW’s collaboration with Giving What We Can (GWWC), another community of pledgers giving to EA-aligned charities. We think this collaboration is very promising. OFTW plans to continue to focus on student outreach, encouraging students to take the 1% pledge (which is in line with GWWC’s student pledge) and recommending an upgrade to the full GWWC pledge of 10% after graduation. We think collaboration between these two pledge groups could be highly beneficial.

EA Giving Tuesday – $13,000 (funded by a private donor, not EA Funds)

Starting in 2016, donations made through Facebook to US-registered nonprofit organizations on Giving Tuesday have been matched dollar-to-dollar, up to a limit, by Facebook. Between 2017 and 2019, the EA Giving Tuesday project has helped direct over $1m in matching funds to EA-aligned nonprofits (i.e. $2.2m was given by EA donors, which is excluded counterfactually, and this project raised an additional $1m of Facebook matched funding that would have otherwise gone elsewhere). This grant will fund the EA Giving Tuesday project to run in 2020.

Note: As EA Funds can receive donations on Giving Tuesday that will be eligible for matched funding from Facebook, we decided to refer this project to a private donor in order to avoid any potential conflict of interest. We are including the reasoning behind our decision for interested readers, and because we are supportive of this project receiving funding. 

  1. This grant will provide funding for a project that has been successfully run by volunteers for the past three years. Each year, the EA Giving Tuesday team has worked to coordinate EA donors, especially those in the US, to direct Facebook matching funds to EA-aligned organizations. The team promotes the opportunity of receiving matched funding from Facebook and encourages donors to donate quickly on Giving Tuesday, as the matching funds run out within seconds. In 2017, EA Giving Tuesday helped direct ~$50k in matching funds to EA charities. In 2018 and 2019, the project yielded ~$500k in matching funds each year.
  2. Previously, the EA Giving Tuesday initiative has required paid staff hours from Rethink Charity and significant time investment from unpaid volunteers, including several months of full-time equivalent uncompensated work by the two leaders of the project. For 2020, in order to increase the sustainability and professionalism of the project, the EA Giving Tuesday team will provide compensation to at least two team members who they expect to contribute a significant number of hours to the project. Compensation for this project could help to alleviate succession issues, since it has historically been difficult to find volunteer leads for this project.
  3. We see this as a time-limited, high-upside grant to support a project that has demonstrated successful impact over the past three years, while being led by volunteers.
  4. Another key consideration in making this grant was that the project team seems to take a sensible and professional approach to possible PR risks that could arise from this project. For example, they are careful to make sure that the instructions they provide to donors are consistent with the rules outlined by Facebook.

Hear This Idea – £6,000 ($8,000)

Hear This Idea is a podcast run by two recent Cambridge graduates, Fin Moorhouse and Luca Righetti, which discusses topics within the social sciences and philosophy, with an emphasis on topics relevant to effective altruism. Each episode lasts around 90 minutes and is accompanied by an in-depth article, with the overall aim of rapidly introducing a new research field or topic. 

  1. In general, we think it is likely to be valuable to have a greater number of high-quality podcasts on EA-aligned topics. We think the value could come both from introducing EA ideas to a new audience and from guests presenting novel ideas to experienced listeners.
  2. The project leads have been running the podcast for over a year in their spare time and have an impressive catalog of podcasts recorded, with over 6,000 total listens so far. This grant will allow the team to increase the production quality of the podcast.
  3. Hear This Idea is currently working on a mini-series of four episodes relating to animal welfare, including interviews with Peter Singer, Leah Edgerton, and Bruce Friedrich. After this, they plan to produce a five-episode series on longtermism.

Effektiv Spenden – €5,000 ($6,000)

Effektiv Spenden is a donation regranting site that promotes the idea of giving effectively. They translate key ideas from effective altruism into German and encourage donations to high-impact charities, such as those recommended by GiveWell and Animal Charity Evaluators

  1. This is an early-stage grant to a project that has achieved promising initial results. As with all early-stage grants, we expect there to be high value of information in testing this opportunity and potentially high upside if the project works out. In general, we expect the experimental value of the early-stage grants we make to be greater than the direct impact of those grants.
  2. In many cases, we expect it to be beneficial to translate and publicize core EA concepts into languages besides English, as long as this translation is done well. Two considerations we think groups in this space need to be mindful of are: (1) ensuring that the nuance of the ideas translated is not lost and (2) mitigating any potential PR risks that could arise from different cultural understandings.
  3. Effektiv Spenden has made strong progress in raising funds for high-impact charities to date. They raised over €350,000 in 2019, and they have raised close to €540,000 in 2020 so far. An increasing share of the total now comes through regular donations, potentially indicating that this growth is sustainable rather than due to one-off donations. Effektiv Spenden raised just over €11,000 in monthly recurring donations in December 2019, and this number increased to over €35,000 in September 2020. Effektiv Spenden will also be taking over the regranting activities of the Effective Altruism Foundation in Germany and Switzerland, and we think it is important for this work to continue.
  4. This grant will contribute towards Effektiv Spenden’s 2021 budget of €140,000. Their costs for 2020 were at a similar level, and they expect they can process a higher donation volume (at least 2.5x) next year without increasing their costs.

Academic research into applying self-affirmation theory to promote effective giving – $2,000

This grant will fund an academic research study conducted by Akash Wasil, Lucius Caviola, Anna Glickman, and Geoffrey Goodwin. The research aims to apply psychological theories to develop interventions that promote effective giving. The researchers plan to publish their findings in an academic journal. 

  1. In this project, the researchers will conduct a series of online experiments testing strategies to promote effective giving. Study participants will be given a small sum that they must donate to a set of charities. This grant will fund the money to be given to participants; the full amount will be donated to charity or used to compensate participants.
  2. Participants (Ivy League students and online workers) will be randomized to one of three groups: (1) information-only, (2) value affirmation + information, and (3) control. Those in the information-only group will receive information about effective altruism (based on posts from CEA and 80,000 Hours) and effective charities. Those in the value affirmation + information condition will receive this information, along with exercises grounded in self-affirmation theory, the concept that people are motivated to maintain an image of self-integrity and moral adequacy (further reading here). Participants will be instructed to complete a survey about their values, select a value from a list of EA-aligned values, and describe why it is important to them. Then, participants will receive a small sum of money that they must donate to a set of charities. The set will include some GiveWell-recommended charities and some well-known charities that are not GiveWell-recommended. The dependent variable will be the proportion of money that participants donate to effective charities.
  3. This research could provide insights into methods to increase effective giving, and it will also have the added benefit of disseminating ideas about EA and effective giving to the participants. The researchers aim to publish their findings in an academic journal, with the goal of establishing this topic in academia and motivating follow-up research.
  4. We think this research is interesting and novel, and we see the value of publishing the findings and growing this area as a research field as particularly valuable.

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