Giving What We Can & EA Funds now operate independently of CEA

by MaxDalton, Jonas Vollmer, lukefreeman12 min read22nd Dec 20202 comments

96

Centre for Effective AltruismOrg updateEffective Altruism FundsGiving What We CanCommunity
Frontpage

In 2020, the Centre for Effective Altruism hired Luke Freeman to run Giving What We Can (GWWC), and Jonas Vollmer to lead EA Funds.

We think that they have both made strong progress in the past year. For instance, Luke revamped GWWC’s website and saw the number of new pledges triple compared to the same period in 2019. Meanwhile Jonas improved EA Funds’ capacity to make more effective grants and addressed some issues affecting donor satisfaction.[1] In addition to the above, we closed EA Grants, redirecting applicants to EA Funds.

As planned, both EA Funds and GWWC now operate independently of my supervision as Executive Director of CEA, while continuing to receive operational support from CEA and oversight from our board. This is similar to 80,000 Hours’ position relative to CEA: they make decisions independently and have their own leadership, but CEA provides operational support and they are legally part of the same entity.

We are delighted that these projects now have the freedom to grow independently, while CEA is able to focus on nurturing the community’s discussion spaces.

Our 2020 plans

As mentioned in our public plans for 2020:

In 2019, Giving What We Can members logged over $20m in donations to the charities that they believe to be most effective, and 528 people took a 10% lifetime pledge, bringing the year-end total to 4,454 members. EA Funds facilitated grantmaking of $8.5m through the four main funds, as well as $3.4m to other effective charities.

I think that both of these programs are important for EA because:

  • They direct a significant amount of money to effective charities.
  • They provide an opportunity for individuals to take important, concrete actions based on EA principles.

However, these projects have a fairly different focus from CEA’s other projects (which focus on community engagement rather than charitable donations), and we think that with more focus and staff time they could achieve more.

We'd like to move towards a state where these projects have the latitude and resources to accomplish more, and where CEA can focus on a narrower range of projects. Over the last few months, I’ve been working with trustees and staff to plan for the future of these projects, using surveys of users and members to inform our thinking.

We’ll initially search for someone who can lead an independent Giving What We Can [...] If we find a leader for Giving What We Can, we’ll help to onboard and advise them, and we will continue to provide operational support to both EA Funds and Giving What We Can for the foreseeable future. Once we’ve completed our hiring round for the Giving What We Can director, we will consider focusing more on plans for hiring an executive for and/or spinning out EA Funds.

Giving What We Can

Giving What We Can (GWWC) aims to create a culture where people are inspired to give more, and to give more effectively.

This year:

  • We hired Luke Freeman to run the program.
  • In Luke’s first three months, the rate of new pledges tripled compared with the same period last year; we also reached 5,000 members.
  • Website content is now more accurate, cause neutral, and compelling.

2020 Cost: $61,000

FTEs: 1.0 (from Q3 2020)

2021 Budget: $246,000[2]

Hiring Luke Freeman

We hired Luke Freeman in July 2020. We have been impressed with his results, as well as with the energy, nuance, and experience he brings to the role. In October, he passed probation and began to report to CEA’s board, thus spinning GWWC out of core CEA.

Growth

From January to October, we:

  • Reached over 5,000 total members
    • 623 new pledges (increased by 77% over the same period in the previous year) with an estimated value of $45.5M[3]
    • 400 additional Try Giving Pledges (increased by 86%)
  • Introduced a Company Pledge, with four debut companies
  • Increased website visitors
    • Over 260,000 unique website visitors, an increase of 34% over the same period in 2019.
    • We anticipate that this will lead to more pledges in the future.
  • Increased reported donations
    • Members reported $10.7M in donations, a 59% increase.
    • Over 1,300 members reported donations (an increase of 24%).
    • So far this year, more than 400 people who signed up to GWWC told the team that their decision of where to donate was influenced by GWWC, and more than 700 members reported donating more due to GWWC (before registering their pledges, the median member reported donating just 1% of their income; after registering, this grew to 10%).

Many of these numbers have increased more rapidly since Luke joined in June (e.g. in his first three months, the rate of new pledges tripled).

Retention

We are relatively confident that the member retention rate is somewhere between 10% and 86%, and we expect it is more than 50%.

  • 10% of members reported enough income and donation information in the last calendar year for us to be sure they’ve kept to their pledge.
  • 86% of respondents to our most recent member survey (176 total responses) reported that they were “on track to meet their pledge”.

We’re planning to get more data by sending reminders for people to update their donation dashboards, and by working with other donation platforms (e.g. EA Australia) to get a better sense of members’ giving.

Content

  • We made significant updates to our website and resources, bringing them up to date, and making them cause-neutral (see for instance the new donate, about, members, pledge, and get involved pages).
  • We wrote more regular newsletter and social media updates, and restarted our member stories series.
  • We saw some noticeable improvements in search engine rankings for key terms like “best charities to donate to”, “am I rich”, and “giving pledge”.

Other

  • Member satisfaction in August was 7.8/10
  • Members tend to want more activity (groups, events, personal contact with other members). Luke is working to address this.
  • Luke recruited a team of volunteers to help with various projects and develop sustainable activities (e.g. events, blog posts, member stories, outreach campaigns).
  • Luke had conversations with many local group leaders to better understand how GWWC could collaborate with them.

2021

GWWC aims to increase the number of pledged members who have reported giving 10% of their income to effective charities in the last year. Luke is currently focused on a pledge drive, and will be making more detailed plans for 2021 in the new year.

EA Funds

Effective Altruism Funds (EA Funds) aims to be an easy and effective way to donate.

This year, we hired Jonas Vollmer to lead the program, addressed key donor complaints, and saw strong growth across a number of metrics.

  • Addressed key donor complaints (grantmaking not matching expectations, poorly handled conflicts of interest, lack of communication)
  • Increased the number of quality applications and advised Fund teams. Made $6.9M worth of grants.
  • Increased donation value to the four EA Funds by 45% to $6.5m. Increased donation volume to other organizations (via regrants) by 64% to $1.9M.

2020 Cost: $190,000

FTEs: 2.0

2021 Budget: $229K baseline, $280K expansion

Hiring Jonas Vollmer

We hired Jonas Vollmer in July 2020. We have been impressed with Jonas’ grantmaking judgement, written communication, and ability to improve Funds’ processes. In December, he passed probation and began to report to CEA’s board, thus spinning EA Funds out of core CEA.

Donor satisfaction

The most recent survey results (N=504) suggest that people’s average rating (on a 1-10 scale) for the question “How likely are you to recommend EA Funds to a friend or colleague with interests similar to your own?” was 8.5, up from 7.1 (N=535) at the beginning of the year. However, last year’s question asked about a “friend or colleague”, while this year’s asked about “a friend or colleague with interests similar to your own”.

Donor satisfaction with the actual grantmaking (rather than the donation interface, etc.) is 8.2 for the Global Health and Development Fund and Animal Welfare Fund, 7.5 for the Long-Term Future Fund (LTFF), and 7.3 for the EA Infrastructure Fund.

Key criticisms in 2019 were that:

  • Grantmaking did not match donor expectations (especially for the LTFF)
    • For instance, grants that some donors found unintuitive
      • We still think that some of these grants were good (e.g. Rob Miles’ YouTube channel)
      • We improved the content on Fund pages to highlight type of grants that the funds makes (e.g. high-risk/high-return grants, or grants with benefits that are relatively difficult to communicate)
    • Some donors expected the LTFF to grant to climate change charities
      • We edited the page to make it clearer that this wouldn’t be a focus
      • We added the ability to donate to the Founders Pledge Climate Change fund
    • Additionally, we removed the default donation allocation on the website, so that donors must opt in to giving to any Fund/organization.
  • EA Funds should communicate more often about donation outcomes
    • We began sharing more frequent updates via email, including regular payout reports
  • Funds should handle conflicts of interest better
    • We clarified our policy around this, and improved our due diligence process
  • Grantmaking was out of scope or low-quality
    • We clarified the Funds’ scope
    • We drafted guidelines for avoiding harmful grants

The last three reports from the LTFF received less negative feedback than previous reports did.

Donations

Increased donation value to the four Funds by 45% to $6.5m. Increased donation volume to other organizations (via regrants) by 64% to $1.9m.

New donor signups, year on year

EA Funds growth

The number of new donors using the platform has grown markedly this year (as of June), likely driven by greater cross-promotion through other CEA websites (primarily Giving What We Can) and referral traffic from a number of EA-affiliated blogs.

We also:

  • Added several new regrant organizations, and developed a process for delisting organizations that don’t meet our bar for effectiveness, or that aren’t getting many donations through the platform
  • Began to encourage past donors to consider making additional donations (e.g. in payout emails)

Grantmaking

We are working to make more high-quality grants by generating more applications and improving the evaluation process.

We received a record number of LTFF and EA Infrastructure Fund applications. For example, the LTFF received 114 applications, versus a previous record of 91. However, the number of high-quality applications seems to be increasing more slowly, if at all. We contributed to this growth by adding more prominent calls to apply on our website and the EA Forum, and by reaching out to promising applicants even before they applied.

Jonas gave more hands-on advice to fund managers, which seems to have helped to improve grant outcomes in a few cases (it’s hard to share the details, which are personal).

We began to survey fund managers and grantees about their experience, and changed application forms and processes to better suit their needs. Overall satisfaction among grantseekers was 8.3/10 (N=26). Among accepted grantees (N=14), it was 9.4/10.

2021

Immediate plans:

  • In the short term, we plan to continue with the current model (fund management teams making small hits-based grants)
  • In consultation with trustees and fund managers, we have begun a process for hiring new fund managers and deciding whether to re-appoint existing fund managers.
  • Increase the number of grants we can evaluate and the depth of our evaluation
  • Improve methodology/guidance for grantmaking (e.g. by evaluating the impact of past grants and giving additional guidance to fund managers)
  • Further improve the website for donors, and carry out more user interviews

In the longer term, we will aim to decide between the following three models for EA Funds:

  • Small grants: Expand on our current strategy, likely with more active grantmaking
  • Innovative financial services such as low-cost DAFs with investment options
  • Spreading effective giving: Provide a smooth donation experience and engaging content that causes more people to try out effective giving.

If none of these projects seems particularly promising, it’s likely that we will maintain our current strategy without investing in growth.

EA Grants

This program was closed in early 2020. We now direct applicants to EA Funds. We are not budgeting for any further grants in 2021.

Grants in 2020 mostly honored commitments from prior years. We also made some small bridging grants to organizations waiting to receive funding from other donors.

2020 Cost: $76,000

2021 Budget: None

Reflections

We think that this constitutes significant progress towards addressing two of CEA’s main past mistakes: running too many (disparate) projects without a clear overall mission, and underinvesting in Giving What We Can. We plan to update our mistakes page accordingly.

More importantly, we are delighted to see the progress that these projects have made over the last year, and we think that they are now set up well to continue to grow their impact in the future. We think that this will lead many more people to commit to giving effectively, and give those people an opportunity to use those donations to fund high-impact grants.


  1. There also was a 45% increase in the amount of money donated via Funds. We think some of the growth at GWWC and EA Funds was due to other factors — such as background growth of the EA movement and Sam Harris discussing the GWWC pledge on his podcast — but we are also inclined to attribute a significant share to the efforts of the incoming executive directors. ↩︎

  2. Both EA Funds and GWWC currently have strong reserves, so they are not fundraising right now. Next year, they will begin to accept donations (via the CEA legal entity), and to fundraise independently of CEA (operational entity). ↩︎

  3. Based on an estimated counterfactual value of $73,000 for a pledge ↩︎

96

2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:59 AM
New Comment

This is really exciting. Especially the sucess of Giving What We Can over the last year - suggests there is a lot of scope for effective growth here.

On the EA funds, are things like the 'guidelines for avoiding harmful grants' going to be visible to the public? Can see pros and cons to transparency about working documents like, that but I lean in favour (and I am curious to see).

I personally am very much in favor of sharing internal documents, both to increase transparency and accountability to donors, and also to help others who are running similar projects and generally advance EA discourse. So my current plan is to publish these guidelines. That said, there's some chance I end up concluding that preventing misunderstandings and responding to questions/comments is too much work (e.g., with these guidelines, I worry that people may come away thinking we're more risk-averse than we actually are), so I'm not sure whether I'll actually publish them.