This is a concept to make it easier for people in EA to find seed grants for new projects. The goal is to enable more new impactful organizations by helping startup organizations find their first substantial donors. It’ll be especially helpful for people that aren’t already well connected to medium-large donors. I’m making this post to find donors that would like to be listed on this website so that they can find potentially high-impact new projects and EA entrepreneurs to donate to, as well as to get community input on the concept.
And for donors, it's an easy way to get exposed to potentially high-impact funding opportunities, and to fund things that might've not been able to start otherwise, that end up being able to productively absorb large amounts of funds from larger EA-aligned donors.
This is about making it easier to get funding for new “start-up” organizations in EA.
It’s for non-established organizations: maybe they’re just getting started, maybe they’re not even started yet and it’s for example someone that wants to take 6 months off work to try and start a new project.
Partners at Y Combinator have talked about how part of their reason for success is that typical investors often require founders to get introductions before they’ll fund them, whereas YC lets anyone from anywhere in the world apply cold. In many ways, this project is applying that same concept to enable more EA non-profits to find their angel donors.
I’m not imaging this being a complex website, at least initially. I’m imaging it simply being a list of active and interested donors, some information about them so people can decide if it’s likely to be a mutual fit, and a way to contact them.
And if this doesn’t reach any donors yet, I still plan to launch it, just with a list of grant type programs, as a way to bootstrap the utility of the site.
This was particularly inspired by Nadia Eghbal’s post about seed philanthropy where she describes this exact concept: https://nadiaeghbal.com/seed-philanthropy and her Helium Grant program, as well as Tyler Cowen’s post about chef philanthropy: https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/11/philosophy-emergent-ventures.html and his Emergent Ventures program.
Since writing this I've learned that similar things have been proposed: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/G2Pfpkcwv3bJNF8o9/ea-is-vetting-constrained#4Xur2QtfKuyAEyq9T, though it doesn't seem like they're yet operational. Therefore I think the biggest contribution this concept can make is a) existing in a live form and b) doing it in a way that is "hard to abandon." I think the idea lends itself well to that - I plan to have a v1 (perhaps just an EA forum post listing some donors) live within 14 days of this first post, please feel free to comment and remind me if that has not happened! It'll be "hard to abandon" because it's designed to have minimal pieces that require active work, e.g. the people seeking funding don't go through me/some centralized thing, they simply reach out directly to the listed donors. So the only maintenance required will be to add/remove donors, which is far less overhead than being a central vetter of applicants, etc. That said - the more donors listed on the site, the more valuable it is, and there's probably some threshold above where this spreads via word of mouth because people actually get there projects funded thanks to donors they found on the list, and some threshold below which it never really takes off. So if anyone has input on how to get above that threshold as quickly as possible, please comment!
As an aside, it seems some EA projects could get value out of the concept of "bootstrapping utility" - e.g. for things that involve some kind of network, like an EA funder network, finding a way to make the product useful to the same group of users in a way that doesn't require a thriving network/marketplace. Because it can take a long time to create a thriving network/marketplace, so either the project team needs to be willing to slog for some time (a year? two?) to kickstart the flywheel, or there needs to be a way for it to provide enough utility that it gets usage, and from that usage, it gradually kickstarts the flywheel on its own. In the case of this product, there can be immediate utility by collecting information on sources of early stage grant programs in one place, and the additional value can grow from there, with the ability for donors to fill out a form to request to be listed alongside those other grant sources.
Rationale, in the words of others
- “It seems difficult to get relatively modest funding for a promising project if you are not well connected in the network / early stage projects in general (?).” https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/gXtM43zR2xa2DvCRG/how-to-improve-ea-funds#bupfoN9ch3wvsR6jE
- In philanthropy, “the high fixed costs of processing any request discriminate against very small proposals, which either are not worthwhile to approve or they are never submitted in the first place.” “The solo evaluator also has the power to make very small grants, simply by issuing a decision in their favor at very low fixed cost. Alchian and Allen theorem! That helps remedy the bias against small grants in the broader foundation world.” https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/11/philosophy-emergent-ventures.html
- “My concerns is that right now it is still pretty difficult to get funding if you are not an established player and I don't really see any path for new players to emerge other than by personal connections which is strongly dependent on serendipity or physical location.” https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/AGmCwE6GxYsFuSC6A/ea-meta-fund-ama-20th-dec-2018#Mo9x3qp4Ae84xg2mS
Benefits to the community
- Enable potentially impactful new projects
- Does a service to later stage donors, where in some cases donors are more constrained on suitable and good funding opportunities than they are on capital
- In particular for people without wealth networks, there seems to be a bottleneck on access to early stage startup capital for new EA organizations
Benefits to donors
- Make it easy to come across potentially high impact funding opportunities
- Fund projects that might not’ve otherwise been able to start, where others end up being really glad they exist
- More opportunities for interaction with motivated and talented EA organization founders
Are you a donor who would be likely to donate $5k+ to at least 2 individual projects in 2019, if the right opportunities presented themselves? If so, please fill out this form if you’re interested in being listed on the site: https://goo.gl/forms/BymVZ8H1pTqZY01j2.
- Do EA individual donors want this? Can I reach EA individual donors in order to get them to apply?
- Are there enough individuals in EA that want something like this?
- How will EA people who are raising funds find this? Will word of mouth work as the primary distribution channel? Are there good keywords that relevant people actually search, that this could rank for in Google?
- Will it work — will promising projects/people use it, will good donors list themselves, and will it lead to promising projects being funded?
Input welcomed on these challenges!
Other things this could enable
- If donors list things they’re especially excited about actively supporting, then this could lead to more funder-initiated startups from smaller non-institutional funders. This is nice because donors often bring a breadth of experience and data points. (https://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/funder-initiated-startups)
- If EA non-profit founders are all looking at this site to find funders, the site could also provide advice on non-profit fundraising. Because it would already be in front of the relevant audience at the right time, which is often a hard part about doing good with advice — getting it in front of the right people at the right time.
- It could have a “common app” (college admissions thing) element where there’s a template people fill out, and then individual donors list additional questions they’d like to hear, and then when people reach out for donations they can include the “common app” template as well as answers to any specific questions the person has. (Raemon has mentioned something similar.)
- Someone could raise a fund from someone like Open Phil, and then distribute it out in small grants similar to Y Combinator or Emergent Ventures, with an emphasis on “cold” (as opposed to in-network) applicants. More notes: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/AGmCwE6GxYsFuSC6A/ea-meta-fund-ama-20th-dec-2018#g5HnfmGq2d6yxTqp3
Requests for input
- People who’ve raised funds or who may raise funds in the future for a startup EA organization, what information would you like to see about potential donors that would save you both the most time possible in deciding whether it’s likely to be a good fit?
- If you’ve ever googled something *before seeing this post* in an attempt to find a list of people who donate to non-established EA organizations, can you please check your Google or browser history and report what phrase you searched?
- Donors: do you want this enough to fill out the form below? If you don't fill it out - could you please do some quick "focusing" and report back on what benefits you perceive and what aversions you perceive?
- Suggestions on ways to reach donors who'd want this?
- In an ideal case, this post would reach a few EA donors who are interested in “deal flow” of potentially impactful new projects - in particular, donors who are willing to make grant decisions independently and without waiting on the existence of additional funders, so that EA people can spend less time fundraising for new projects and more time building. Is this you or do you know someone like this? Please fill out this form: https://goo.gl/forms/BymVZ8H1pTqZY01j2.