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Context

On request of the Meta Coordination Forum 2023 organisers, I had written a memo on the effective giving (EG) landscape, my views on EG’s (ideal) relationship to EA, and ways in which other attendees to the MCF could help. I’m sharing the memo here (unedited) in the hope it will be useful for others as well.

Please note that, to share the info I thought worth sharing and make the points I thought worth making in the limited time I had to write this memo, and for the sake of brevity, I was at times sloppy or incomplete in providing definitions (e.g. of “the EG ecosystem” or “money moved”). Please leave a comment if you’d like me to clarify anything further.

TL;DR

  • The EG ecosystem has been growing fast recently and has a lot of room for further growth
    • It’s expanding both in terms of existing organisations growing (e.g. in terms of money moved) and in terms of new organisations broadening the field (e.g. in terms of new target groups and causes/worldviews covered)
    • There’s still a lot of gaps to fill (e.g. an AI or x-risk charity evaluator) and opportunities to scale successful models (e.g. national fundraising orgs)
  • I think a healthy EG ecosystem can be highly valuable to broader EA efforts, in particular by
    • Providing a robust (and larger!) funding source, both for EA meta and cause-specific work
    • Serving as an “anchor” for principles-based EA, e.g. by promoting moral seriousness and cross-cause engagement
    • Helping the EA community grow and reach the (types of) people it needs
  • Some ways others can help with this
    • Do the basics / Pick the low-hanging fruit in your own work and network
      • Mention EG as a course of action where relevant
      • Talk about your own giving choices
      • Refer people with large audiences to EG and EG organisations
    • Help to (carefully) revive earning-to-give
    • Give input on how the EG community can best contribute to AI issues

The landscape of EG

Below, I’m sharing a few resources that may be helpful in giving you an overview. I’ll add some extra context and highlight a few things I think we can take away from them.

Organisations and projects

  • Database of organisations (evaluators and fundraisers)
    • >50 effective giving orgs/projects, many of which were launched in the past few years
    • Most organisations and projects are small (<5 FTE); the largest ones are Open Philanthropy, GiveWell and Founders Pledge (all >50 FTE); and there are early-stage projects that aren’t in this database yet (e.g. Artists of ImpactTyve)
    • Some models are being replicated successfully and can be scaled, e.g. Effektiv Spenden (German national fundraising org) is raising ~€‎20M per year and growing after 4 years of existence, and Doneer Effectief raised €‎1M in within 8 months of launching on a similar model in the Netherlands.
    • There is also a trend of fundraisers broadening their cause area/worldview scope, e.g. Effektiv Spenden launched a longtermist fund in November 2022 which has so far collected >€300k.
  • Database of publicly accessible evaluators
    • The public EA charity evaluation and grantmaking field is still (very) small: only 3 organisations with >5 FTE full-time staff dedicated to evaluation/grantmaking (again OP, GW, FP)
    • There is no AI, longtermist, x-risk or meta charity evaluator apart from FP currently; there are a few grantmakers in those spaces though (OP, LV, EG, etc.)

How much money is moved

  • GWWC growth dashboard
    • GWWC processes ~$30M per year via our platform and our pledgers report giving another ~$20M in donations outside of the platform. 
    • We are close to hitting the 10k GWWC pledgers and have another ~10k non-pledge donors who use our donation platform (previously the EA Funds platform) on a yearly basis
    • 2022 was a bit worse for us than 2021 (the crypto and stock boom year), and 2023 seems so far to be pretty closely tracking 2022, apart from a reduction in pledges which we expect/hope to start reversing soon with some renewed pledge emphasis and communication efforts.
  • There is no overview of EG community growth yet (we are working on this)
    • Most organisations/projects currently still move a lot less money than GWWC but some are in the same order of magnitude (e.g. Effektiv Spenden, Founders Pledge, The Life You Can Save, Animal Charity Evaluators)
    • The big exception is GiveWell, which moves one order of magnitude more (hundreds of millions) yearly.
    • The landscape may shift quite a bit over the coming years as some organisations seem to be on a steep growth trajectory (particularly the national fundraising orgs).

Where money goes

  • Where GWWC pledge and non-pledge donors give (causes + charities)
    • Overall, ~60% goes to global health and wellbeing, ~10% to longtermist/x-risk causes, ~10% to animal welfare (the rest is a bit harder to categorise).
    • Perhaps noteworthy that EA meta accounts for at least a couple of percentage points (the EAIF alone raises >$1M per year from small-to-medium donors), even though meta funding hasn’t been promoted very much by GWWC or others in the past.
  • There is no overview for the EG ecosystem yet (we are working on this)
    • These posts (1,2) may give some perspective though
    • Note that historically Open Phil and GiveWell have dominated the EA funding space, and their cause area distribution may not reflect the (future) distribution of donors in the broad EG community as it grows
    • I’d guess the GWWC figures are more representative of what to expect on that front, though I think it’s possible there will be a bit of a balancing towards non-GHW areas if those are promoted more/equally (as is now happening at some organisations) and if their charity evaluation fields mature

Other notable developments

  • On the funding side, James’s new program at Open Phil has started providing reliable/longer-term support to growing organisations (e.g. Ayuda EfectivaEffektiv SpendenGWWC), and CE recently launched the Meta Charity Funders funding circle
  • The first EG Summit - funded by James’s program and organised by the same events team that is behind the MCF - happened in May, bringing together ~30 people from ~20 EG fundraising organisations in a way similar to the MCF for EA meta. Initial signs are this was a successful event. From the post-event report: “[Attendees] were very likely to recommend the event to similar people (LTR = 9.3/10). On average, attendees reported that the summit was 5.42x more valuable than how they would typically spend their time. [...] Overall, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.” The Summit seems likely to be organised again next year (pending funding decision).
  • GWWC hired for an EG global incubator and coordinator role (Luke Moore) in May and have started putting more resources into supporting and helping organise coordination and collaboration in the global EG ecosystem (in addition to serving our own donor target groups).

The (ideal) role of EG in EA

Luke Freeman and I recently wrote two EA forum pieces on this for the EA strategy fortnight (12), which I’d recommend giving a quick read + skimming the comments if you’re interested in this topic. I’ll highlight / elaborate on a few key points below.

EG as a funding source

  • As noted above, the overall EA funding space is still dominated by Open Phil and GiveWell, but the (rest of the) broader “public” EG space is already plausibly >$100M per year and seems to be growing and to have a lot more room for growth. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it were to increase 10x in the coming ~5 years or so, as there seem to be no fundamental barriers and there are still a lot of untapped “markets”/target groups + room to scale within current ones (e.g. Effektiv Spenden in the aim to reach $100M per year in the coming few years - which seems realistic given their growth trajectory and as they’ve only tapped into a small part of the German philanthropic market so far - and this can probably be replicated in other geographies and target groups).
  • One big (maybe the biggest) way in which the EG ecosystem could contribute to EA funding is by recruiting new very large donors like Good Ventures. I think at least Founders Pledge, Generation Pledge, Effective Giving (the org) and Longview are working with some donors who could develop into this or to ~within an order of magnitude (i.e. giving more than $10M per year).
    • For this, it’s useful to distinguish between specialised (U)HNW advisory orgs like EG and LV and broad EG fundraising organisations like GWWC and Effektiv Spenden, but we should not exaggerate this distinction: many of the broader fundraising orgs have recently indicated interest in developing their (U)HNW fundraising capacity and several have already done some of this work or are currently making initial efforts. Efforts are also underway for better collaboration between broad and specialised orgs, e.g. forwarding (U)HNW donors to where they can best be advised - as some of these come in via broad fundraising organisations - and sharing best practices and providing training. 
  • An obvious advantage of having a broader donor base is that this allows for a more reliable/robust funding source (cf. FTX), while the benefits of centralisation can be retained e.g. through pooled grantmaking funds. From GWWC’s impact evaluation (more data here), it seems that our money moved is currently to a large extent driven by a few UHNWs and a few dozen HNW donors (rather than from only a handful of UHNW or a large group of small-to-medium donors). I’m not sure whether this is the same for other organisations and whether this will be the best way for us to scale, but it is at least suggestive of that some amount of scale (~$50M per year) can be reached largely via donors giving <$1M per year and at relatively low cost (though lots of caveats here on how much of this can be attributed to GWWC as an organisation and how much of this is replicable; see also our impact evaluation).
  • From GWWC funding data, it also seems plausible that many donors are quite flexible/open in the types of programs they’d support, incl. EA meta (e.g. we have hundreds of small-to-medium donors already giving >$1M per year to EAIF) so in addition to being reliable this could be a funding source to tap into both for EA meta and cause-specific work (we’ll know more if/when we ramp up fundraising efforts for EA meta work, which is likely to be happening to at least some extent in the coming months).

EG as an anchor for principles-based EA

  • I think EG has a few features that make it particularly well suited to help spread, set and protect a good culture for a broader principles-/values-/virtues-based EA community.
    • The opportunity to keep engaging with and learning about multiple causes throughout one's life rather than (at some point) being incentivised to choose one to specialise in (and perhaps identify with). Similarly, the opportunity to have fruitful two-way discussions with anyone else in the community about where one can best give (as money = money, even though values/ethics can differ).
    • The skin in the game / moral seriousness / costly signal / “practice what you preach” aspect of EG. In particular, there is always some personal cost to effective giving, whereas with careers there’ll often be convergence with personal interest, e.g. doing things one would have liked to do anyway and making quite a bit of money for oneself. Note I’m not necessarily advocating for a highly frugal or sacrificial EA, but I do think some seriousness and sacrifice are healthy cultural markers and will draw in the types of people a principles-based (core) EA community needs.
  • This becomes all the more important if there is a move towards cause-specific movement building and/or if certain causes (in particular AI) become a very large part of overall EA resource allocation. This may be the right choice for the community to make, but EG can help protect EA against a drift away from the principles that brought us to that choice in the first place, which (to me) seems highly valuable in the longer term.
  • I think Luke’s post provides a particularly good personal example/story to illustrate some of the considerations here.

EG as a growth tool

  • My best guess (and frankly, hope!) is that EA is in many ways still in its infancy; that many (types of) people who would be interested in these principles and able to act on them have not yet been reached; and that many of these people could make contributions that far outstrip the contributions the current community has made to a better world so far.
  • I think effective giving can serve as one important tool/gateway to reach these people, e.g. given its
    • Accessibility / Low barrier-to-entry: most people in the world (!) could at least part with some money, and EG is a relatively easy way for them to start doing something with EA principles.
    • Educational value: as above, I think messaging around EG can (initially) probably do a better job at educating people new to EA about cause prio and other EA principles than high-impact careers can, in part because it isn’t constrained by people’s personal situation, skills, and identity as much.
    • Peer advocacy potential: building on the two aspects above, EA principles can be spread through EG messaging at relatively low cost, as we don’t need tailored advice for each individual and people can largely take a direct example from their peers/friends/family (i.e. anyone who is engaging in EG) rather than needing to be persuaded by specialised career advisors or community builders. 
      • Note that this doesn’t just mean we can reach a lot more people more easily, but also that we may be able to reach more types of people more easily, as I’d expect EG outreach is much less constrained by the types of people, career paths and skill sets currently already well-represented in the EA community than direct high-impact careers outreach is. For example, I think it would be easier to introduce my (fictional) aunt working at the highest levels of the European Commission to EA principles via EG than via a “high-impact careers” or abstract/non-practical “we should work on the world’s most pressing problems” narrative.

Ways you can help

I made some suggestions in my recent post, and Luke made some more personal ones in his recent post as well. Three things I’d like to highlight:

Doing the basics

  • I think that for most attendees, both the lowest-cost and most valuable way to help would be to pick any low-hanging fruit in promoting effective giving opportunities in your day-to-day work and network.
    • When discussing a problem area in a presentation, interview, or a podcast, default to mentioning EG as an accessible course of action (which doesn’t have to trade off much with others!) and refer the audience to a relevant place to learn more/donate.
    • Talk about your own giving choices to people in your workplace and in your broader network. 
      • Many people look up to you as examples; I think the value of doing this is easily underestimated, and it’s super easy (and often fun!) to do.
    • Refer people with large audiences to EG and EG organisations to help create new high-profile advocates
      • As a data point here, one of GWWC’s largest wins in the past few years has been Sam Harris promoting the Pledge on his podcast: he has been mentioned as a referral by >800 GWWC Pledgers (i.e. 10% of our current membership!)
  • There are some further relatively low-cost opportunities for CEA in particular, e.g.
    • Referring to EG in introductory courses and fellowships
    • Promoting EG in an EA groups setting (see also this post)
    • Making sure people who give a meaningful amount feel more welcome at events where this makes sense, e.g. one idea could be making giving 10% effectively a sufficient (but not necessary!) condition for entrance to EAGX conferences
    • Including at least some EG-relevant content at EAG(X)s (which has been happening recently!)

Reviving EtG

  • Given current funding constraints in EA and in particular EA meta, I think it would be worth putting some more effort into promoting earning to give as a career path, e.g. setting up communities or organisations around this.
  • Given past mistakes we should obviously tread carefully here: I’m not suggesting it should be pushed hard, but my impression is that earning to give is currently more underrated than overrated by most (in part due to overcompensation for past mistakes, and FTX probably hasn’t helped).

Input on the role of EG in AI

  • Last but not least, I’d love your input about ways in which EG could support work on AI issues.
  • I/GWWC have only very limited concrete ideas on this so far. 
    • One idea is that it would be valuable to have a public AI/x-risk charity evaluator, both for funding and educational/movement building reasons.
    • Another (more speculative and personal) take is that it would be helpful to promote EG within AI circles as a way of spreading EA principles and virtues.
  • I look forward to discussing this with you at the Forum! Please do reach out (e.g. schedule a 1-1) if you have any thoughts.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the GWWC team, James Snowden, Anne Schulze and Max Dalton for commenting on a draft of this memo (all views and mistakes are my own). 

Preview image by micheile henderson on Unsplash.

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:06 AM

If I'm not mistaken and in case anyone was unsure what GHW meant (me), it likely stands for Global Health and Wellbeing. 

Yes that's right, thanks Arvin!