I have heard some people report the impression that the Animal Welfare Fund lacks room for more funding. I don’t think that impression is true, and that addressing it could be a pretty important point for EAs looking to make donations within the animal sector.
Briefly, here’s why I think the Animal Welfare Fund has some pretty significant room for more funding at this point:
- Right now, there’s currently ~$600k in the Animal Welfare Fund (we just completed a round and are granting out another ~$1.1-$1.2M—note: still in the process of finalizing that total grant amount and the amount in fund metric doesn’t now include that total)
- Our typical grant volume this year was ~$1.5M per round (ranging from ~$1M-$2M across three rounds). In total, we will grant out ~$4.5M (having raised ~$5M) for grants this year.
- We have some plans for significant growth next year through some internal expansion plans in the works (e.g., possibly adding further fund managers and doing more active grantmaking).
- Also, a lot of our grantees have grown, so they’ll have more room for funding. As a lot of the groups we give to are relatively small, they can grow at such a rate that they’d often be looking to absorb twice as much funding in the next year. If we zoom in on just say Crustacean Compassion, last year we granted $35k to them, and this year $92k, which comfortably corresponds to a greater than 100% growth in grant amount. Generally, it seems that if we have more money in the fund, it encourages some good organizations to request more funding for some quality projects.
- Relatedly, some of the areas we grant in just tend to be pretty high growth and grow at comfortably >20% year on year. For instance, years ago there was basically very little that could be granted to Wild Animal Welfare, but this year we made several hundred thousand dollars in grants within that area. Similarly, previously there was not much that could be granted regarding invertebrates, but this year we granted several hundred thousand dollars in grants within that area.
- So next year, I think that we could fairly comfortably and productively absorb and grant out in the realm of $6M-$9M (that’s a ~33%-100% increase on this year) without any significant decreases to the quality of our grants.
- Note too, that in comparison to 2020 where we granted out $2.1M in total, this year we more than doubled that to $4.5M. I think we’re on track to handle that level of either absolute growth or percentage growth in grants for next year, which will put us in that $6M-$9M range.
- So one way to look at this is that we now have ~$600k in the fund but next year we could do something like at least ~$6M in grants. So in that sense, we have several million dollars in room for more funding.
- It could be worth thinking about how much we’ll likely raise for grants for next year too though. This year, we typically raised between $100k-$200k per month. Historically, we have seen about a ~4x-8x increase on that monthly total for the month of December and January (some end-of-year donations come in on the books in January).
- Another way then to look at this then, is based on the current trends and growth in them year to year, we would now be looking at raising something like ~$5M (~$190k per month + ~4x that total for Dec and ~8x for Jan) between now and the end of next year (presuming trends hold about the same as other years, and I don't see too much of a reason to think they won't at this point). Again, as we have ~$600k now in the fund, that brings the total to ~$5.6M. But I think we could productively absorb at least ~$400k on top of that to grant out $6M, and again as much as ~$4.5M on top relatively comfortably.
- Also in terms of how much we will raise, I will flag there’s some significant variance in that year to year. Because some notable supporters tend to give amounts that fluctuate quite a bit year to year, because their giving potential tends to be tied to some relatively volatile Cryptocurrencies. Correspondingly, we had something of an influx in $’s at the end of 2017 start of 2018, when the crypto market boomed, then somewhat of a quieter year on that front in 2019 and 2020, but then again some large donations in 2021. It’s pretty unclear to me what to expect from Crypto next year.
So putting those above bullets together, my sense is that the Animal Welfare Fund has significant room for more funding. At least a couple hundred thousand dollars in room for more funding, quite credibly a couple of million dollars in room for more funding, and potentially several million dollars in room for more funding for grants next year.
How do you think the expected marginal cost-effectiveness of the grantees compares to the large effective animal advocacy charities like The Humane League?
Also, how do you judge their expected marginal cost-effectiveness? Do you do back-of-the-envelope calculations? Compare to previous projects with estimates? Check the project team's own estimates (and make adjustments as necessary)? All of the above? Any others?
Good questions, and appreciate you raising them. I am going to split the responses because they’re somewhat long.
>How do you think the expected marginal cost-effectiveness of the grantees compares to the large effective animal advocacy charities like The Humane League?
Tl;dr: Main things I think about are i) the generally lacking evidence base leaves it unresolved, ii) risk and variance across the respective portfolios, iii) "big-picture" takes about the different portfolios, and iv) dynamics at the community level, as well as, what the community level portfolio should be. Spoiler: for those really interested in an explicit estimate, I don't give one but would be happy to connect if you would like to discuss it!
I would be pretty curious to hear your perspective on this (or that of others) :)
For those interested in delving deeper, it could be worth reaching out to a few sources regarding this. For instance, I think people from THL probably have some good thoughts, and I would be happy to introduce anyone who might be interested. Also, flagging that I really could be biased here, as I am chair of the EA AWF and so probably have some interest in claiming greater effectiveness of grantees! I think there could also be some variance in the opinions of different fund managers, and I am just reporting some of my thoughts here.
Part of how I think about it is, the relatively lacking evidence base we have definitely contributes to it being difficult and I think leaves it all fairly unresolved. To help put the evidence base size in perspective, the total size of our animal sectors (FAW and WAW) is well south of 10% of the annual public global health r & d. Perhaps 5-10% of our sector’s resources (c. ~$200M/yr) could be categorized as research and development right now. So each year, we are looking at an evidence base, that measured by $ size, seems to grow at < 1% of the evidence base for global health. Furthermore, global health has been around much longer, so plausibly the difference in sizes of the respective evidence bases could be on the order of a thousand times. (Sidenote: I am glad to see groups like RP working towards making the evidence base from which we operate better)
Another part of how I think about it is that right now at least, there seems to be clearly greater levels of risk and variance in the ROI associated with the AWF grantees compared to THL. In fact, I’d say perhaps the main distinguishing factor between the two options’ marginal cost-effectiveness is there appears to be much greater risk and variance in good/marginal $ associated with the AWF grantees. A big part of that is, relative to THL’s programmatic portfolio, the AWF grantees’ programmatic portfolio seems much riskier, and embraces some areas that are less proven, or have relatively long pathways to impact such as research, farmed fish, wild animals, invertebrates, or early-stage seed funding. The geographic portfolio of AWF grantees in sum also seems somewhat more risk-tolerant to me too (e.g., slightly more of a % focus on parts of the globe where there’s little or no organized animal advocacy).
I think then combining the above two points we all then quickly end up in this position where it is i) to an extent importantly unresolved due to lacking evidence, and ii) it seems like a main distinguishing factor in the marginal cost-effectiveness estimate could be the variance and risk in AWF grantees. I think probably given i) and ii), different reasonable people can have different reasonable-sounding takes here with regards to which is more effective on the margin. Probably a lot of it will come down to some “big-picture takes” on the promisingness of some quite different approaches. E.g., degree of sentience across different species, priors on different approaches, the weight to give different evidence, and the value/risk of early-stage funding for promising areas/groups/locations.
Without revealing too much, one thing I would say is that I have personally come to feel more risk-tolerant over the years. However, I am still pretty hesitant to give a direct estimate or strongly indicate my preferences because some interested parties might skip straight to that, regardless of how many caveats I put on it or nuance I add. Honestly, I also have some sense that doing so publicly may also result in losing credibility in the eyes of some important stakeholders too. That said, I would be more than happy to personally chat and connect with anyone who is thinking through this question!
Relatedly, another layer to it all is, as a community that is looking to most help animals, to what extent does it make sense for representatives to publicly weigh in on how promising "their" option is specifically relative to some other competitive option. Another part of that is, perhaps what is quite important is what is above the bar for funding from the community, what ought the community level portfolio look like, and how would additional donations to various options most bring us in line with the optimal portfolio. Within that community portfolio lens, I think that both options (EA AWF and THL) really firmly land above the bar for funding. Another thing I’d say is that I think there can be an underrated degree of fungibility within EA-aligned funding within the animal sector. That is, some EA-aligned donor/funder A deciding to give less or not giving at all to one promising option, often importantly resulting in some EA-aligned donor/funder B giving more to that option.
Hopefully, that's all helpful! :)
> Also, how do you judge their expected marginal cost-effectiveness? Do you do back-of-the-envelope calculations? Compare to previous projects with estimates? Check the project team's own estimates (and make adjustments as necessary)? All of the above? Any others?
It varies by project and depends on who the grant investigator is.
If a) the project is relatively well-suited to a back of the envelope and b) a back of the envelope seems decision-relevant, then we will engage in one. Right now, a) and b) seem true in a minority of cases, maybe ~10%-25% of applications depending on the round to give some rough sense. However, note that there tends to be some difference between projects in areas or by groups we have already evaluated vs projects/groups/areas that are newer to us. I’d say newer projects/groups areas are more likely to receive a back of the envelope style estimate. In cases where we do them, we generally look to compare to one’s we have previously done. If the project team submits an estimate (which tends to be relatively rare, again perhaps in that 10-25% range and they can be of varying quality), a fund manager will certainly review and note thoughts during the grant investigation.
More generally, here are some of the main general things that I’d say we like to look at to judge marginal cost-effectiveness (though note again the extent really depends on the fund manger and the specifics of the application):
The investigator produces a brief write-up summarizing their overall thinking, and assigns a vote to the application.
To what extent does the Animal Welfare Fund take into account ACE's recommendations?
I'm beginning to view ACE's evaluation process as somewhat suspect after they delisted GFI seemingly over minor complaints about management, and would want to be confident that the Animal Welfare Fund is sufficiently independent.
I am one of the other fund managers on the EA AWF.
>To what extent does the Animal Welfare Fund take into account ACE's recommendations?
One difference between the EA AWF and ACE’s recommendations is that the AWF tends to donate to more numerous, often earlier-stage projects that are higher-risk and, arguably, higher-reward. In contrast, ACE’s recommendations tend to highlight fewer, larger, more established charities with a demonstrated track record of success.
ACE usually recommends groups that are a) of a greater size, (b) with a promising performance over a certain period, and c) on aggregate perform quite well according to certain criteria.
On the other hand, I’d say the EA AWF generally grants to groups of a) a lesser size, b) that don’t necessarily have as strong of a track record, or only exhibit promising performance in certain areas (e.g., for certain programs but not others, so we may give a restricted grant whereas ACE’s recommendations are generally more so for the group as a whole), and c) though it's hard to articulate, my sense is that there probably is some difference in the weight we give various criteria.
Given those differences, as well as there being different sets of people responsible for the respective decisions, I’d say that the two are quite independent. Further, in any cases where there’s overlap, I imagine each still performs their own investigation, and try to reach their own view.
Do you have any thoughts on why these gaps haven't been / won't be filled by OpenPhil?