In this post I cover:
- How to be the best donor I can be. Some high-level thinking on where to give to have the biggest impact as a medium size donor who is clued up on EA ideas and interested in meta charities.
- Where I am giving and why. Details of where I am giving, some underfunded opportunities I found and why I think they are impactful.
1. How to be the best donor I can be.
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 up from worst (giving unwillingly) to best (supporting self-sufficiency).
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):
- Fund something highly effective but already receiving significant funding (Eg. CEA or 80K or AMF or GiveDirectly). Alternatively outsource your giving to EA Funds or an EA lottery.
- Find a impactful project with a funding gap it may not meet. With Good Ventures doing it’s bit most larger EA related orgs have a reasonable funding stream. Yet smaller projects are slipping under the radar. Find them. Figure out their value. Fund them. Although don’t be that person who waits until 30 seconds before the funding deadline to poke your head above the parapet and say ‘happy to chip in if there is still a gap’.
- Find a small impactful project with a funding gap that you are uniquely qualified to evaluate. Let’s say, for example, you are an expert in synthetic biology – do you know anyone looking for funding for research on bio-engineering risks, that you might be uniquely able to assess the value of? I expect that even if EA Grants Mk 2 takes off, they will struggle with projects that require expertise to fully understand and in many such cases hold back funding (as happened with EA Grants previously.)
- Be the catalyst for something new. This is the gold star of philanthropic prowess. What is the most important project that needs to exist in the world right now and can you offer funding to make it happen? Can your generosity make a start-up EA pipe dream into a reality? Is there a world-changing project that would world-change even better if it suddenly had more money in its coffers? Admittedly funding people before they have asked for funding risks capturing less dedicated people, however I am reasonably confident that competent potential EA entrepreneurs are out there waiting for the right financial nudge.
- Keep on learning. Donating effectively is a skill, a difficult skill, but one I want to Master. The most important factor in my giving is that I continuously build my ability to do good. I give on an annual basis, reflect on the previous year’s giving and try to do better. With the limited time to decide I take a different focus each year. Sometimes trying to use my money in ways that encourages others to give, sometimes making quick decisions, sometimes slow decisions. My experiment this year is to focus on finding small underfunded opportunities.
So there we have it. Five thoughts on being the best donor I can be this year. Let me know what you think.
2 Where I am giving and why
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.
Identifying organisations that I think should be funded
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.
The final countdown ... (dum de dum dum ...)
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:
- Fill funding commitments already made. I owe £1000 to No Means No and £500 to AMF as a result of various Giving Games run this year. I will also offer small donations to SoGive and GEM Labs as a thank you for putting the time and effort into answering my questions.
- I am interested in any opportunities to fund the APPG for future Generations. Perhaps an offer of funding can help them be more ambitious. But otherwise:
- Put £5k aside for the work I am doing within the civil service. Unless anyone else funds this which might happen.
- Split my remaining donations between SoGive, Charity Science Health and Rethink Charity (and maybe GEM labs depending on how discussions pan out). I do not have strong views as to which of these are best or what the diminishing marginal returns are on these projects.
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.