Project Idea:

While completing the EA intro course, I was thinking about how private foundations give $60b+ a year, largely to ineffective charities. I was wondering if that may present an opportunity for a small organization that works to redirect PF grants to effective charities.

I see two potential angles of attack:

  1. Lobby/consult with PF on making effective grants. Givewell does the hard job of evaluating charities, but a more boutique solution could be useful to private foundations.
    1. I have a large dataset of electronically filed 990-PFs, and I thought it may be useful to try to identify PF that are more likely to be persuaded by this sort of lobbying. For example, foundations that are younger, already give to international charities, and give to a large number of charities (there’s a lot of interesting criteria that could be used). A list could be generated for PF that are more likely to redirect funds which could be targeted.
  2. Target grantmakers by offering training, attending conferences, etc. on effective grantmaking. (maybe some other EA aligned org is doing this?)

Givewell says they have directed ~$1b in effective gifts since 2011. Even if only a small number of foundations could be persuaded, the total dollars driven could be pretty large. And for a pretty small investment I think.

Short introduction: My name is Kyle Smith, I am an assistant professor of accounting at Mississippi State University. My research is mostly on how donors use accounting reports in their giving decisions. I have done some archival research examining how private foundations use accounting information, and am starting up a qualitative study where we are going to interview grantmakers to understand how they use accounting information in their grantmaking process. 

Does anyone know of any orgs/people specifically working on this problem?  

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Charity entrepreneurship has led a pilot project somewhat related to your point (2). There's more info in their writeup

One thing to keep in mind with PF doing "ineffective"grants is that they're sometimes limited by their statutes, eg. the Hans-Wilsdorf foundation, despite moving multiple hundreds of millions of $, can only do so in the canton of Geneva because the founder decided so when creating the org.

I read that CE post, it does make sense as a way to reach the goal. But they are focused on creating new foundations.

Your point about statutes is well taken. For example, community foundations would be a poor target. I think the data approach could help deal with that.

Hi Kyle! You might be mixing this up with CE's Incubation Program, which does focus on creating new charities. The Foundation Program does not, as is explained in the write-up linked above.

CE is very prolific on the Forum lately so maybe you've seen of their other posts?

[Disclaimer: I've worked with CE before and am a current Incubatee, but have never done any work on the Foundations Program. Send me a DM if you want me to put you in touch with some of the people who have]

Oh I think I misread the post a bit - I thought all of the foundations were brand new but it seems there is a part that says that some had already existed before the program.

This program is pretty similar to what I had in mind. It seems though that this program will only reach a small number of foundations and likely those already semi-aligned with EA.

Longview Philanthropy advises large donors, though I don't know whether they've tried targeting private foundations in the broad, systematic way you suggest.

Effective Giving superficially appears to be doing a similar thing, though I know less about the specifics.

(I'm confused because there used to be two Effective Givings, until one of them renamed to Longview, but it sounds like they both do work like this.)

Hi Ben, thanks for the note. It does appear these two orgs are doing something fairly similar, primarily offering bespoke consulting for large donors. 

I'd agree these two aren't taking a systematic approach, which is really what I had in mind. I think I'll reach out to both to figure out their scope.

Have you done anything with the dataset of 990-PFs? I'd be interested in helping you with the data analysis if you want.

Posting some content from our email exchange, in case others benefit or want to weigh in. I think this idea is very promising. 

A relevant list/Airtable 

See THIS airtable view, sort or filter on the last tickbox ... 'foundation-relevant' ... for a start. 

Key potential partners/orgs

From that list, my memory, and conversations on relevant Slacks,  there are at least a few organizations that seem to be relevant here:

1. Charity Entrepreneurship: "are working with a small number of foundations"

2. Generation Pledge: Does interact with private foundations. Inside contact: But it's hard to 'break into this'/it's delicate and personal touch work

3. Effective Giving: I believe they have been in this business for a while


4. Open Philanthropy; they may help other foundations. 

5. The Total Portfolio Project; focuses on 'impact investing',  seems to have an EA/ITN framework

Lobby/consult with PF on making effective grants. Givewell does the hard job of evaluating charities, but a more boutique solution could be useful to private foundations.

This is how Open Philanthropy got started!

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