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Choosing effective university for donations

by ea_worker 1 min read13th Nov 20194 comments


I frequently donate to GiveWell and agree with their philosophy on how to choose who to donate to. I am starting a job next month that will match my donation to U.S. universities 3:1 up to $7500 (I donate $7.5K, they donate $22.5K). I am quite skeptical of universities effectiveness in alleviating human suffering (in some cases, i think they can increase suffering).

Anyways, I am wondering given the 3:1 corporate matching, is it worthwhile to donate to a university (or specific program at a university) at all. If so, which university/program would be best (or how would I find the best programs)?

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Some EA-ish organisations are legally part of universities. For example, FHI is part of Oxford, and CHAI is part of UC Berkeley. In both cases when I donated to these organisations in the past it was legally a restricted donation to the university, to my recollection. I assume GPI is also part of Oxford.

(To be clear, I am not arguing that you should give to these two specific organisations).

The difference in effectiveness between even EA-aligned organizations may differ by a large factor, much larger than 3x. For instance:

  • This 80,000 Hours survey found that a sample of EA leaders believe that the cost-effectiveness of donating to different EA Funds (representing different cause areas) may differ by up to 33x.
  • GiveWell estimates that the cost effectiveness of their top charities may differ by up to 9x.

So I'd exercise caution before making donation decisions based on a 3x matching opportunity. You could end up donating to something that's much less than 1/3 effective.

J-PAL is based at MIT - maybe that would be eligible?

In general, I'd look for specific research programmes, charities or think tanks based at a university, rather than giving the university an unrestricted donation.