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Why did MyGiving need to be replaced? And why is the EffectiveAltruism.org replacement so bad?

by Holly_Elmore 1 min read4th Oct 201925 comments


I don't understand what the rationale was for leaving MyGiving and moving things over to EffectiveAltruism.org. Almost all of the function has been lost if you have to just keep track of the donations on your own throughout the year. I didn't expect that the transition would be completed all at once, but it's been quite a while now. Why was this transition even undertaken if there wasn't the capacity to rebuild the functionality of MyGiving on EffectiveAltruism.org? I'm embarrassed on behalf of EA that this is so bad. It makes us look like we're not that serious about donations and our tech skills are lacking, both of which are nearly hypocritical for EA.

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Hi Holly,

(posted as me but written as a collaboration between me, Michelle Hutchinson, and CEA's tech team)

I talked to Michelle (who ran Giving What We Can at the time the old system was put together) and she writes: “The old one was built linking to a CRM [i.e. a database of users] which was pretty difficult to use and which we chose at the time for being free and on a platform well-known to our then tech-lead, who long since moved on. It was built by a volunteer, who continued to help maintain it. He did a stellar job, but that’s not sustainable long-term: particularly because it contains such sensitive financial information and so keeping its various pieces up to date in order to prevent security breaches is incredibly important. It also didn't link in to any of the other systems - the main Giving What We Can website, the new CRM or EA Funds.”

In 2017 the old My Giving platform needed to be replaced because the old system was at the end of its life, and we didn’t have the in-house technical expertise to maintain it safely (e.g apply security patches) or extend its functionality (e.g. automate donation reporting through the Giving What We Can Trust, or its successor, EA Funds). As we were actively working on the EA Funds platform (for which we had in-house expertise, and runs on a significantly more up-to-date and maintainable tech stack), and because both EA Funds and Giving What We Can are about donating effectively, it made sense to roll them into the same system. The aim was to overcome some of the limitations of the old system, while striving for feature parity with it. Unfortunately, we didn’t allocate enough time to the project, and competing priorities meant that the final parts of the migration (along with more extensive user testing) didn’t happen when they should have.

Some functionality is decreased compared to the old version.

  • In order to add or edit recurring donations, you currently need to email us and we can make any changes you request to your recurring donations. In the old system, users were able to do this themselves. This is something we’re currently working towards fixing.
  • Only people who have made a Giving What We Can pledge (either the full Pledge or Try Giving) can use the system, while the old system could be used by anyone.
  • There are no longer graphs breaking down giving into categories, or estimating the real-world impact of donations (e.g. number of bednets distributed from donations to AMF). This is largely because members give to a much wider range of organizations than they previously did, and we’re not able to keep up-to-date with estimates of the impact of each organization (especially now that Giving What We Can doesn’t have an in-house research team).

Some functionality is added in the new version.

  • Donations from EA Funds automatically port in instead of needing to be recorded manually.
  • You can now view your pledge progress both by “overall pledge progress” (your lifetime pledge) and by income period (typically the financial year for which you reported income). This means you can see the total amount you’ve given, and also see that amount broken down over time.
  • You can set income periods to be anything you want (i.e. you don’t just have to report for calendar years).
    • For example, imagine you were a student from January to May, and then employed from June to December. You could enter those as separate income periods, making it easier to see what your pledge would be for each different income situation. The platform will even make sure that you’re only pledging 1% during times that you’re a student or unemployed.
  • You can record donations made in different currencies, and we’ll convert them to the currency your income was reported in. You can also now choose to show your overall pledge progress in any currency you’ve used to report income.

As to why improvements haven’t happened faster, our (usually) two-person tech team has been balancing a number of projects over the last few years:

  • Rebuilding and improving the Giving What We Can donation dashboard
  • Developing and maintaining the EA Funds
  • Developing and maintaining the new EA Forum
  • Developing and maintaining the donation lottery
  • Technical side of EA Global applications
  • Adding ability to donate cryptocurrency
  • Maintenance of givingwhatwecan.org, centreforeffectivealtruism.org, eaglobal.org, and effectivealtruism.org

I think it’s likely that CEA as an org has underinvested in tech capacity for various reasons, and I apologize for the slowness of improvements to the donation platform.

There are two long term goals being pursued here by CEA, visible in the design of the site:

1. To increase donations to the EA funds from GWWC members by making the funds the "default" option" and thus increase the importance/power of CEA to guide donations through the funds. (The whole new site is setup to make the funds the default way to give, and to give prominence to the funds, other donation options or recording external donations are much less visible and hidden away in a way that seems deliberate)

2. To set defaults for donations through the site that nudge people towards the cause areas that CEA leadership largely favors and away from cause areas that GWWC was historically focused on. (By default - sliders on the new site allocate the majority of donations made from the pledge page to causes other than global poverty. And this resets as the default every time, with no option to change this or set persistent cause area preferences).

The site is designed with the interests of CEA and what it thinks is best in mind. The functionality for GWWC members is not the priority.

Naïve homo economicus answer is that the people who designed & carried out the change weren't incentivized to make it good.