EA Meta Fund Grants Report: Nov 18

by agdfoster3rd Dec 2018No comments

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Personal Blog

The EA Meta Fund published its latest grant decisions a few days ago, and following the Long Term Future Fund, cross posting it here seemed like a good idea. Happy to answer any questions you have.

November 2018 - EA Meta Fund Grants

Fund: Effective Altruism Meta Fund

Payout date: November 30, 2018

Payout amount: $129,000.00

Grant author(s): Luke Ding, Alex Foster, Denise Melchin, Matt Wage, Tara Mac Aulay

Grant recipients:

Grant rationale:

The EA Meta Fund will make the following grants in the November 2018 round:

  • 80,000 Hours - $45,000
  • Founders Pledge - $16,000
  • Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) - $15,000
  • Global Priorities Institute (GPI) - $14,000
  • Charity Entrepreneurship - $14,000
  • Raising for Effective Giving (REG) - $10,000
  • Let’s Fund - $10,000
  • Berkeley Rationality and Effective Altruism Community Hub (REACH) - $5,000

Total distributed: $129,000

For the first round of grants chosen by the new fund management team, we decided to write a mixture of larger grants to more established meta groups and smaller grants to younger organisations. For the more established groups, we believe there is strong evidence of their past impact and cost-effectiveness, room for more funding, and high probability that they will have an even greater positive impact in the future. For the more emerging groups, we are less certain that they will be have a sustained high impact in the future, but we expect there is significant value in backing potentially promising early-stage projects that would be highly impactful if they were to be successful.

We see this as our pilot round and hope this set of grants will signal the type of organisations to which the EA Meta Fund plans to donate. The next round of grants will be made in February 2019.  We encourage people to talk to us about grant opportunities - if there is a meta initiative that you would like us to consider for a future grant, please complete this form.

Below are some of the key reasons why we chose to make each of these grants. These summaries have been written to explain some of our primary considerations and are not exhaustive. They are based on a series of conversations between the fund managers, incorporating our past experience, knowledge and judgement. While risks and reservations for these organisations have been taken into account, we do not discuss these below. If you would like to discuss our decision-making process with us further, please complete this form and we will put you in touch with the appropriate fund manager.

(1) 80,000 Hours - $45,000

80,000 Hours aims to solve the world’s most pressing problems by getting more talented people working on them. To do this, they carry out research into how talented individuals can maximise the impact of their career, produce online advice, identify readers who might be able to enter priority areas, and provide these readers with free in-person advice and connections to mentors, job openings and funding.

Note: this is a preliminary review before 80,000 Hours releases their full annual review in December.

  1. One of the groups we have been consistently impressed by over the years is 80,000 Hours.
  2. They have grown rapidly, about 10-fold since 2014 depending on the metric. This growth has been achieved without any major increases to their (quite incredibly small) team over the past 2 years. In combination with funding from the Open Philanthropy Project, this has meant they have not had much room for additional funding in previous years.
  3. For their 2019 budget, 80,000 Hours will be raising twice as much as their largest historical fundraising round. They plan to raise $4.2 million, which will cover 3 years of funding at their current baseline, plus enough to hire 3 people in 2019 and 5 people in 2020. We think it’s likely that the Open Philanthropy Project will renew their funding of 80,000 Hours this year (although this isn’t confirmed), but their grant will be capped at 50-66% of the total amount raised. Because of this, there is a gap for other donors to fill, who will effectively receive 1:1 or 1:2 matching funding.
  4. We believe it is very valuable for skilled people to pursue high-impact careers, and that 80,000 Hours has a strong track record of supporting them to do so.
  5. They have developed their own carefully measured KPI to track their impact, with which we agree. They have recorded over 5,500 ‘impact-adjusted significant plan changes’ caused by their work since 2013. To get a sense of what this number means, a plan change rated 1 is roughly equivalent to an additional Giving What We Can member due to 80,000 Hours. A plan change rated 100 (counting for 100 points on the scale) would be one where 80,000 Hours’ content or coaching causes someone to switch into a good role in their priority career paths. For instance, they might join the policy team at OpenAI; start a PhD at CHAI in UC Berkeley working on AI safety; take a management position at a leading effective altruist organisation; or be on track to earn $1 million per year and donate a large fraction to top charities.
  6. In our opinion, 80,000 Hours’ increased focus on helping skilled individuals interested in their highest priority career paths is particularly valuable. They are now focused on encouraging more very high-impact plan changes, such as those rated 100, rather than simply more plan changes overall.
  7. Their regular supporter updates (12 so far in 2018) are excellent. They are highly transparent, analytical and thorough. These can be found here.
  8. Although not their primary KPI, the explanatory and advisory content on the 80,000 Hours website is some of the most compelling and high-quality content on EA we have seen. Results from a recently updated survey suggest they represent the fastest growing portion of ‘how people first heard of EA’, rising from 9% in 2016 to 25% in 2018. See graphic here and article here.
  9. Having made several key hires and built a management team during 2018, we believe they are in a strong position to scale up their operations.
  10. At the margin, this grant is expected to contribute towards the budget for their expanded team. A typical marginal hire could give one-on-one advice to around 300 additional people per year, which 80,000 Hours estimates will produce around 400 impact-adjusted plan changes over the following two years. This seems like a highly effective use of funding.

(2) Founders Pledge - $16,000

Founders Pledge encourages founders and investors to sign a legally binding pledge to donate a percentage of their personal exit proceeds to charity. Once the pledge is realised, Founders Pledge supports pledgers to decide where to give in order to have the most positive impact.

  1. Founders Pledge has successfully raised over $630 million in pledges since 2013. This is  based on venture capitalists’ valuations of their pledgers’ businesses (% pledged * % equity held * $ post-money valuation at last investment round).
  2. They have moved $1.7 million to EA priority cause areas over the past 3 years. This represents nearly one third of their fulfilled and deployed pledges.
  3. Taking numerous factors into account such as discount rates, counterfactuals and effectiveness of donations, we find that their multipliers remain highly attractive.
  4. In addition to raising pledges, Founders Pledge engages with pledgers on how best to do good and connects them with one another through multiple events each year. We expect their community-building work creates significant additional value that goes unmeasured.
  5. They have been growing quickly and consistently. The value of new pledges raised in 2017 was more than double the value of those raised in 2015.
  6. Considering that we wish to value absolute returns over relative returns, Founders Pledge has something quite rare: their operations appear to be highly scalable. We believe they could efficiently absorb significant capital over the next several years.
  7. Founders Pledge has significant room for funding due to their international expansion plans for 2019. In the US, they are planning to grow their New York team, appoint a US board and build a new team in San Francisco. Around 30% of their total pledge value to date has been a result of their recent growth in the US.
  8. We believe there is additional value in Founders Pledge expediting their international expansion given potential competitive pressures and network effects.
  9. This grant will support their 2019 plans to expand their US operations and further develop their methodology to evaluate and support high-impact interventions.

(3) Centre for Effective Altruism - $15,000

The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) supports and coordinates the effective altruism community by sharing important ideas, connecting people, and funding promising projects. Their mission is to create a global community of people who make helping others a core part of their lives, and who use evidence and scientific reasoning to figure out how to do so as effectively as possible.

Note: this is a preliminary review, CEA will release their full annual review on their blog in the coming months.

Disclaimer: CEA manages the EA Funds product, website and financial infrastructure, including this fund. CEA is not involved in the grant-making decisions of the fund managers.

  1. We believe CEA has a strong track record of helping the EA community to grow in all three of our key meta focus areas: talent, capital and information.
  2. Functions we find particularly valuable are CEA’s work building infrastructure and tools that result in new connections, collaboration and knowledge sharing across the EA landscape.
  3. CEA is responsible for many projects and events that we believe play a critical role in growing and maintaining Effective Altruism. In particular, they run EA Global and other targeted outreach events, support the running of EAGx conferences, manage EA Grants and EA Funds, and support local and student EA groups.
  4. In our opinion, CEA has introduced EA concepts to numerous people who have become valuable members of the community, and has helped to deepen the community's understanding of many concepts further.
  5. We have not attempted to quantitatively estimate CEA’s impact relative to their costs. We see community building as challenging and invaluable, and we currently use best practice and benchmarking (and trust) to review CEA’s impacts and costs. Ideally, this will become more quantifiable in the future, but we are unsure how tractable this ambition is.
  6. CEA is aiming to raise $3 million for their 2019 budget, and currently has significant room for more funding due to expansion efforts.
  7. At the margin, this grant is expected to contribute towards CEA’s expansion of their events, technology and community health teams.

(4) Global Priorities Institute - $14,000

The Global Priorities Institute (GPI) is an interdisciplinary research centre at the University of Oxford. They conduct foundational research in philosophy and economics on how to do the most good, with the aim of enabling individuals and institutions to make decisions based on what will improve the world most.

  1. We believe academia plays a crucial role in developing and communicating ideas that improve the world. We believe GPI enables EA to engage more closely with academia, which could contribute towards EA being more widely understood, taken seriously by policy-makers and used in institutional decision-making. GPI targets our meta focus area of improving the information available to solve high-priority problems.
  2. GPI has shown impressive progress in its first year of operation. In a short space of time, it has formally become part of the University of Oxford, recruited highly promising talent, compiled an initial research agenda and begun work on a number of publications.
  3. This grant is expected to contribute to GPI’s plans to grow its research team, particularly in economics, in order to publish a strong initial body of papers that defines their research focus. GPI also plans to sponsor DPhil students engaging in global priorities research at the University of Oxford through scholarships and prizes, and to give close support to early career academics with its summer visiting program.

(5) Charity Entrepreneurship - $14,000

Charity Entrepreneurship is a research and training program that aims to create multiple high-impact charities with a different cause area focus every year. Their goal is to connect talented individuals with high-impact charity opportunities and remove the major barriers to found and successfully run an effective charity, by providing training, knowledge and expert support. Charity Entrepreneurship is one of three projects within the Charity Science Foundation.

  1. We believe that founding new charities that aim to be highly cost-effective from the start is an intuitively valuable activity. From experience, we also believe that it is very challenging and complex. Charity Entrepreneurship have had some success with informally incubating their first 2 projects, Charity Science Health and Fortify Health, both of which have now received GiveWell incubation grants.
  2. Through their training program, we believe Charity Entrepreneurship has the potential to play a highly valuable role in incubating new effective charities.
  3. Marginal donations will allow Charity Entrepreneurship to expand the number of applicants they can accept to the program and give larger seed grants. The latter is likely to increase both the number of people applying and the level of stability at which the new charities start off, allowing them to focus more on long-term impact rather than short-term fundraising.

(6) Raising for Effective Giving - $10,000

Raising for Effective Giving (REG) runs fundraising campaigns and advises high net worth (HNW) clients on where to donate to maximise their impact. Initially focusing on professional poker players, REG has since expanded to wider HNW advisory. REG is a project of the Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF).

  1. REG has raised $6.5 million since the project was launched in 2014. To date, their fundraising multiplier has been over 15 times their costs.
  2. They have grown quickly year-on-year: they raised $4.3 million during 2017, over 65% of their lifetime fundraising.
  3. 99% of their funds raised to date have gone to very high-impact charities (GiveWell and Animal Charity Evaluators recommended charities and Open Philanthropy Project grantees). They are also exceptional among fundraising charities in that they have directed significant funds (over $1 million) to organisations focused on the long-term future.
  4. We were particularly impressed by the quality and rigour of the internal quantitative tracking that they shared with us. As part of their day-to-day KPI tracking, their metrics include thoughtful estimates of most of the evaluation adjustment factors we apply.
  5. They will use this grant to expand their HNW advisory work in 2019. At the margin, this funding will likely enable them to build their research capacity and provide more effective advice to their HNW audience. This will allow them to better target their fundraising for effective organisations.

(7) Let’s Fund - $10,000

Let’s Fund is a pre-seed stage project that helps people to discover and crowdfund breakthrough research, policy and advocacy projects. They perform in-depth research into fledgling projects, which is made public, with the aim of helping people to fund projects that aren’t a sure bet, but will be enormously impactful if they succeed.

  1. We think that the idea and team behind Let’s Fund are potentially promising.
  2. Let’s Fund is a very early-stage group currently fundraising for their first project: advocacy for a new way of doing and publishing research where scientific papers are peer-reviewed before the results are known. They have undertaken extensive research into the expected value of this advocacy work, which could fundamentally improve the field of scientific research if it were to be successful.
  3. The decision to give this smaller grant was made to ‘test the water’ of a potentially valuable initiative. We hope to investigate the project in greater depth before the next round of grants, once it has been in operation for a longer period.
  4. Let’s Fund will use additional capital to increase their fundraising ratio through careful outreach and marketing. In the future, they aim to undertake more and better research, especially into global catastrophic risk reduction, and have it evaluated and peer-reviewed by other researchers.

(8) Berkeley Rationality and Effective Altruism Community Hub - $5,000

The Berkeley Rationality and Effective Altruism Community Hub (REACH) is a physical community space that facilitates cooperation between individuals and groups who are trying to improve the world.

  1. One of the hub’s key resources is the REACH Panel, a body from which smaller committees will be formed to listen to and investigate complaints from EA community members and mediate disputes.
  2. We believe this panel serves a valuable purpose and has an immediate, very small and one-off funding requirement that could have outsized returns.
  3. The panel is run by volunteers who are tasked with addressing a wide range of issues in a sensitive, confidential and professional manner. This is extremely difficult to do well.
  4. We would like the panel to succeed in becoming a trusted resource for the local community, and want to ensure they have the capacity to engage in training or seek professional advice where this could be useful.
  5. This grant will provide the panel with readily available funding in the event that they wish to seek legal counsel, the services of an independent investigator, or other professional support, particularly if they are faced with a time-sensitive matter.