Mar 02, 2018
In this post I cover:
In the year 1170 in the town of Fustat in Egypt, the philosopher, astrologer, physician and all round bad-ass Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon began to pen his magnum opus, “Mishnah Torah”. In this he sets out a ladder with 8 rungs of effective charitable giving, working down from best (supporting self-sufficiency) to worst (giving unwillingly).
Fast forward. It is now the year 2018. There is a lot more funding for meta and community building and x-risk projects than there has been previously. But not all is right with the world. Donor coordination is still hard with funders waiting to be the last to fill a funding gap. Worse, many smaller projects that could have a huge impact are not getting funded! Over 300 EA Grants applicants passed the first round of scrutiny but did not get funding. EA Ventures and EA funds have not solved this (although I remain cautiously optimistic about EA Grants Mk2).
As a medium donor (£10-100k) with time to spend making a decision it is far from obvious what principles to apply to my decision making. But such donors can play an important role in funding smaller projects. So, harking back to my Jewish ancestors of old, here is a possible ladder of effective EA giving (beyond the basics):
So there we have it. Five thoughts on being the best donor I can be this year. Let me know what you think.
So before applying my principles of effective giving I decided to dabble in a spot of cause prioritisation.
This year my giving will focus on:
Meta organisations (EA movement building, cause prioritisation research, etc). Having seen the success of charities in this area to date, with producing useful research, growing the EA community and raising significantly more funds than they spend, I believe this is where I can leverage the most good for the world.
On top of that I want to focus on
Policy organisations. There is not lot of useful research in EA on policy. Improving policy could be considered a key cause area itself (see here) and presents opportunities for impact ranging from broad-brush x-risk reduction strategies (see here) to highly impactful international development anti-corruption systemic change interventions (see here). It is also an area where I have some relevant expertise to evaluate suggestion.
Now all that is needed is to find the places to give. So, I sat down, had a think and asked around. Where others giving? Do I know anyone entrepreneurial? Are there underfunded academics doing cause prioritisation? Does there a local group that needs funding? And so forth.
And, after a bit of consideration and a few conversations I came up with the following shortlist of meta EA organisations I think should be funded. In the order I intend to fund them. Et volia:
This APPG aiming to promote the idea that politics needs to think more about the long-term future and all the people who do not exist yet. Now APPGs do not tend to achieve a lot and are mostly talking shops for interesting ideas and ways for industry and pressure groups to get a foot in the door to having fancy events in Parliament. They are a cautious approach to lobbying. That said they can open doors and I think this is a sensible approach for people concerned with the far future to start influencing policy.
I am currently working with others on a project to support UK civil servants keen to lead socially impactful careers. Think like 80000 Hours but within government rather than within universities. It is not clear how we would use funding at this stage but I think some funding could help them it off.
A project to nudge donations towards more effective charities. There is some chance of failure (it is a start-up) but I my personal estimate of the expected value of this is that an additional £2+ will go to top EA charities for every £1 invested. Other EA fundraising projects have been relatively successful and the person running this seems to know what he is doing.
A project to start a new top recommended international development charity. Has a decent chance to be fully funded soon but this is not guaranteed.
EA movement building. Is collecting money to disburse to fund local groups. Has a decent chance to be fully funded soon but this is not guaranteed.
EA London has a strong team, an ambitious plan, and good evidence of impact to date. My main reason for hesitation is that I think I am bias towards thinking this is a good project as I set it up and have been running it to date and am currently a Trustee. EA London has funding for 2018, but might struggle for funding beyond that, and an early donation could help (also if the funds are not needed they could be easily regranted to Rethink Charity or ACE).
A good bet to have an expert fund manager decide where to give. However, I have not been super impressed by their work so far.
Amazing organisations doing amazing work. However, it looks like these organisations are not struggling for funds right now.
GEM Labs (still in consideration)
An EA project to do research into policy. I am still in discussion with them to figure out exactly what they are doing and why.
So that is the list. But how will I break down my funding between these fine specimens of moral worthiness?
This year I have earned about £55k and of that I want to give about £15k to charity before the end of March with the following plan:
So, there we have it. My 2016-17 donation plans. And it only took 2000 words. This approach of looking for small underfunded EA projects is somewhat a giving experiment but I hope to learn from it. Who knows, maybe next year I will revert back to making a last-minute decision and just donating to say AMF and 80K.
But of course: please give feedback. My hope of writing this us is that the magic of collective internet brain power will have sensible things to say and change my plans for the better.