This post provides an overview of the Effective Altruism Foundation’s plans for the coming year. A version of this update was also published on our blog.
The Effective Altruism Foundation is a Berlin-based EA meta-charity that fundraises for EA charities, builds the German-speaking EA community, and does research on s-risks. We pursue the following vision:
EAF strives towards a world without extreme suffering—one that offers a fulfilling life for all sentient beings. We place special attention on steering the future away from dystopian outcomes (s-risks).
In order to achieve this long-term vision, the Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF) runs three projects, totalling 11-16 FTEs in 2018:
- A project for EA community building (“Community”) in the German-speaking world. This work is coordinated with other EA orgs. 3-4 FTE.
- A project for fundraising (“Philanthropy”). This is REG, plus all non-poker donation advice and tax-deductible donation regranting for EA charities in five countries. 3-4 FTE.
- A research and advocacy project (FRI) that aims to identify the best ways to reduce s-risks. 5-9 FTE.
In addition, we handle the finances and provide office space and operations assistance for
- A research project aiming to reduce animal suffering in nature (Wild-Animal Suffering Research). 2.5 FTE.
All these projects are run by EAF, and our employees work from our Berlin office or remotely. We have a shared operations team that provides support for all of these projects and processes tax-deductible donations to over thirty selected EA organizations for five countries.
This article discusses our plans for 2018. We also published a review of last year’s highlights, mistakes, and insights.
Table of contents
- Community (previously “Outreach”)
- Philanthropy and Raising for Effective Giving
- Foundational Research Institute
- Wild-Animal Suffering Research
- New project ideas
- Use of funds and fundraising objectives
Community (previously “Outreach”)
Project goal and strategy
In the past, one important focus of our outreach project has been to grow the EA movement. Thanks to the work of various EA organizations over the last few years, many good introductory resources to EA are now available, including material in German. Our focus for the next year will be to increase the depth of engagement of members of the community. In the process, we are also renaming the project to “Community” (previously “Outreach”).
In practice, we will increasingly seek personal contact with individuals who show high levels of interest and commitment, with the goals of building the EA community in general (by encouraging in-depth engagement with cause prioritization, career choice, and effective giving, using the material by 80,000 Hours, Open Phil, GiveWell, FHI, CEA, etc.) and also making more direct contributions towards reducing s-risks.
We plan to measure and assess the success of the project using two metrics:
- For activities aimed at supporting the EA movement (e. g. conferences or supporting local groups), we plan to use the number of career coaching sessions as the primary metric. These sessions are offered by 80,000 Hours and partly also by EAF (see below) to particularly interested community members, and therefore reflect the aforementioned project goal well. (The number of valuable career coaching sessions provided by EAF will be evaluated by external staff.)
- In addition, we have developed a metric for tracking work on s-risk reduction (used for instance for s-risk workshops co-hosted with FRI). It records plan changes in someone’s career trajectory (e.g. through earning to give with the intent of funding work on s-risks).
Further details on these metrics are expected to be published in the coming months.
- Support for local groups: In the coming year, we will continue to support local groups in the German-speaking world and, in a small number of cases, beyond this region. Based on our own experiences as well as best practices within the global EA movement, we have reworked our local group strategy so as to encourage the community to engage more deeply with issues in EA. We are in regular exchange with CEA’s local groups team as well as LEAN to discuss our work in this domain.
- Resources: We continue to support the 32 local groups in the German-speaking area with numerous resources (local group guides, brochures, presentation slides, etc.). We will continue to expand the existing guides and produce new resources, such as a detailed semester schedule.
- Local group meetings: In the coming year we will again organise two one- or two-day meetings for leaders of local groups. Experience and feedback indicates that these meetings contribute significantly to the further development of local group strategies and activities.
- Closer collaboration: We are also considering a close collaboration with a few local group leaders in cities with particularly active and engaged groups in order to test new, innovative activities and measure their success. To this end, we may award paid EA fellowships and organise workshops lasting several days before the start of the semester.
- Career counseling: In the past, we have occasionally carried out informal career counseling interviews for EAs with an interest in a suffering-focused perspective on their career choice, as an alternative or complementary to the services by 80,000 Hours. Going forward, we plan to communicate our offer more publicly and coordinate our activities more closely with 80,000 Hours. We will also provide resources on the most important considerations for EAs who are most interested in reducing s-risks.
- Workshops: We plan to hold one or two small-scale, multi-day workshops for particularly committed EAs. Compared to conferences, we believe that this format might provide more space for personal and in-depth discussions of advanced considerations.
- Seminars: We are also planning to present on key EA topics at weekend seminars of student scholarship foundations. Since these offer probably offer the best German equivalent to the talent pools at Ivy League / Oxbridge universities, and a large number of particularly interested and motivated people have discovered EA through these foundations, we think that these seminars are very valuable.
- EAGx Conference: We expect to organise another EAGx conference in Berlin or Zurich in the autumn of 2018. Based on our evaluation of EAGxBerlin 2016 and 2017 as well as other EAG conferences, we are considering to use an application process for attendees of future EAGx conferences to further improve the quality of the conference.
- We no longer count enabling tax deductibility for donations to EA organisations as part of the Community project, but rather as part of the Philanthropy project (see below).
- Media relations: As in 2017, we only want to participate in the very best media opportunities—especially formats that offer the opportunity to talk about EA in depth.
- Newsletters, social media, EA website, EAF website: We offer a wide range of channels to help interested people follow key events in the EA movement in German.
- Academic advisory board: EA is supported by numerous academics, but this is less visible in the German-speaking world than internationally, as the German EA community is not as closely linked to top universities. That is why we are planning to set up an academic advisory board for EAF in the first half of next year.
Global health and development
- 1% initiative: In 2018 or 2019, the vote on our 1% initiative—which we started in 2016—is expected to take place (the date of the vote depends on the municipality; it will likely take place in 2019). It is possible that parliament will draw up a counter-proposal to the initiative, which will also be put to the vote. We will accompany the vote with a campaign. In expectation, the initiative might achieve about as much as a donation of several million to GiveWell top recommendations. In addition, it puts effectiveness considerations on the agendas of government development agencies and private charities.
- Evidence-based development cooperation policy paper: Published in 2017, this paper received a very positive response and was read by executives at German and Swiss aid agencies and the biggest private charities. Due to this success, we are thinking of potentially setting up a network for effective development policy in German-speaking countries. In the short term, this network would implement further ideas for the systematic dissemination of the policy paper to key decision-makers; the longer-term vision consists in influencing German, Swiss, and Austrian development policy according to EA aspects.
- Since our work focuses on improving the EA community, we are currently uncertain how much we want to invest in this area in the future. If you are interested in supporting activities in the domain of development cooperation specifically with a larger donation (from 5,000 Euro), please send an e-mail to Jonas Vollmer (jonas.vollmer at ea-foundation.org). Additional donations increase the likelihood that we will continue to be active in this area.
Philanthropy and Raising for Effective Giving
The aim of our fundraising activities is to generate as much financial resources as possible for the most effective charities, particularly those working to reduce poverty, animal suffering, and risks of future technologies. Special priority is given to projects that, in line with our vision, have a positive impact on the quality of the long-term future.
We measure the success of the our philanthropic efforts by the total amount of donations to effective charities for which we are counterfactually responsible—that is, funds that would have been donated far less effectively or not at all if it were not for our work. In 2018, we aim to fundraise $2 million with our project Raising for Effective Giving (REG), plus potentially larger amounts with our other philanthropy activities.
With REG, we have collected around €3 million in donations from within the poker industry since 2014. The two largest online poker platforms now support REG's recommendations with regular donations, and since 2014, REG has been represented by at least one of the nine finalists of the annual World Championship each year. In the meantime, we have become so well established in the poker industry that significant further growth in that sector is intractable, as we have found that additional activities no longer increase the volume of donations by a significant degree.
For this reason, from now on we will limit our activities in the poker industry to the most important opportunities. After our efforts to expand REG’s fundraising model into other industries (daily fantasy sports, e-sports, corporate responsibility, consulting/finance) have failed to take off, we have come to the conclusion that it is not worth pursuing REG’s poker model in other industries. Instead, we now plan to invest more resources in philanthropic advice for major donors (HNW individuals and foundations in Germany and Switzerland).
Poker fundraising: Raising for Effective Giving
- Institutional partnerships: We established these partnerships as an important second pillar of REG. By working with the two largest online poker platforms (PokerStars and 888poker) we were able to fundraise over $300,000, a lot of which was donated in the area of AI safety (MIRI, FHI). We want to expand on this work next year. A live tournament at a PokerStars event in the Bahamas is planned for January.
- High-stakes contacts: Most of the donation volume is made up of a small number of large donations from “high rollers”. We will continue to rely on this model. To this end, we will seek personal contact and organize exclusive events.
- We will invest further resources in acquiring and advising major donors. To this end, we will make use of existing contacts in the poker world and EAF’s public relations work, and consider intensified cooperation with existing organisations such as Founders Pledge, effectivegiving.nl, and the Benckiser Stiftung Zukunft.
- Advice for major donors: Over the past year, we held numerous consultations that are expected to result in donations of around $10-20 million to effective charities in 2018. (We do not include these donations in our fundraising metrics, as we think there is a greater than 75% chance that the vast bulk of the donations would have happened without our contribution.) In order to ensure a successful outcome and hopefully win additional major donors for consultation, we will continue to invest resources in this area.
- Philanthropic community: We are currently considering building a philanthropic community for the German-speaking world. Group formats offer various advantages over one-on-one meetings and can complement these usefully. Whether we implement this idea depends heavily on the interest of our contacts.
Tax exemption for international EA charities
- Tax exemption for effective donations: EAF enables tax-exempt donations from five countries to over 30 EA organizations. Due to this, donors can save millions of euros in taxes, which often leads, in turn, to additional donations. Tax exemption is a relevant factor for many EA-interested parties when selecting which organisations to support, which is why we offer this service free of charge, despite the considerable administrative effort of about one full-time equivalent. We expect that the additional funds generated this way (i.e., money that would not be donated otherwise) will be in the mid-six-digit range in 2018.
Foundational Research Institute
The Foundational Research Institute (FRI) does advocacy and research on how to best reduce the suffering of sentient beings in the long-term future. The results are published on our website or research blogs as reports, blog posts, or academic papers. Our focus is on exploring effective, robust, and cooperative strategies to avoid risks of dystopian futures, especially in the context of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.
We are focusing on the two following paths to impact:
1) improving our understanding of cause prioritization from a suffering-focused perspective to improve the quality of donation and career recommendations throughout all of EAF’s projects, individual EAs in our network, as well as the EA movement in general;
2) raising awareness of s-risks (or promising interventions that reduce s-risks) to inspire, boost or improve research done in academia or by other EA(-affiliated) organizations.
This year’s notable contributions
Earlier this year, we succeeded in establishing s-risks as a possibly important focus area in the EA movement, we published a report on tranquilism as a main ingredient for a solution to population ethics, and we discovered and investigated multiverse-wide cooperation via coordinated decision-making as a crucial consideration for effective altruists. We also built up expertise in decision theory, published academic papers on AI scenarios and the likelihood of an intelligence explosion, and sharpened our thinking about aspects of AI alignment that are particularly important for the avoidance of worst-case outcomes.
For 2018 we plan to experiment with a metric that gives weight to both publication type (peer-reviewed articles weigh more than reports) as well as an impact rating by internal and external peers.
Over the next year, the FRI research team is expected to publish research papers, articles, and blog posts on the following topics:
- Normative ethics and population ethics: Under moral anti-realism, how do (descriptively) and should (normatively; stable under reflection) people reason about moral issues? What are the ways in which Tranquilism can be integrated into existing ways of thinking about population ethics? Does the fragility of value thesis also imply fragility of disvalue?
- Descriptive population ethics: What population-ethical values are common in the general population and within the EA movement? How do these views shift when people become more knowledgeable about the different arguments? Can we measure people’s inclinations and intuitions in a fair and reliable way, and to what extent do we expect more convergence in people’s views after prolonged reflection?
- S-risks and prioritization research: What is a good typology for s-risks and which ones score highly in terms of scope, tractability and neglectedness? What is the sign and expected impact of various interventions from a suffering-focused ethical perspective?
- Decision theory: Besides Newcomb-like problems, what other challenges arise from naturalization and how can they be solved, examples being the BPB problem, anthropics, or complications of logical uncertainty? How do these problems relate to each other? What decision theory ought an artificial intelligence’s decisions conform to? How can we implement decision theories in AI? Conversely, what decision theory, if any, do classic AI algorithms implement?
- Multiververse-wide cooperation: While we think we have exhausted most of the low-hanging fruit on this topic, we will continue to think about the implications of this consideration and might submit a summary paper for peer review based on previous research.
- Worst-case AI safety: Can we identify approaches, either novel or currently being worked on in the AI alignment community, that are particularly effective for reducing the likelihood of dystopian outcomes? How can we reduce the risk of superintelligent AIs causing suffering in conflict situations?
Research outside of FRI
In 2017, we have intensified our efforts to address the above topics outside of FRI too, especially in academic research. For this reason, some FRI researchers are expected to leave the organisation over the course of next year and continue their research academically, while new researchers might join. In the future, FRI hopes to act as a global research network, promoting the regular exchange and coordination between researchers focused on reducing s-risks. FRI itself will continue to carry out research for which there is currently no suitable industry or academic field.
Wild-Animal Suffering Research
- Background: The Wild-Animal Suffering Research (WASR) project was launched in June 2017 in connection with the spin-off of Sentience Politics. Until then, it was part of Sentience Politics. While EAF handles the finances for the project, only donations that are specifically earmarked will go towards it.
- Project objective: The WASR team conducts multidisciplinary research in the fields of ecology, biology and economics. The aim of this research is to identify policy proposals that will reduce suffering in wild animals.
- Plans for 2018: The WASR team has published their plans for 2018 on their website, along with a 2017 retrospective. The WASR project is also running its own fundraiser.
New project ideas
The planning process for the coming year has not yet been fully completed. We are currently discussing several ideas for new projects that we may undertake in the coming year. Resources for this process would most likely be redirected from funds otherwise used for our Community and Philanthropy activities (depending on whether the project mainly contributes to talent or funding for the EA community).
The following provisional budget is planned for next year:
|Project||Budget (CHF)||Budget percentage||Full-time equivalents||Reserves (CHF)||in months||Funding gap (CHF)|
|Philanthropy (incl. REG)||229,664||24%||3–4||210,590||11||130,000|
|Foundational Research Institute||318,188||33%||5–9||417,281||16||60,000|
|Wild-Animal Suffering Research||137,257||14%||2.5||15,000||1||160,000|
The definitive budget will be adopted in February 2018 and published on our transparency page.
Use of funds and fundraising objectives
We are currently trying to increase our financial reserves from 11 to 18 months in order to be able to continue our current activities until the next giving season (for comparison: many EA organizations use 24 months). We expect that existing donors will close the funding gap (room for more funding) in Philanthropy (including REG) with a probability of about 40 percent. With Community and FRI, our regular donors are unlikely to close the funding gap completely. Additional donations therefore go a long way in helping us invest less time in fundraising and financial planning, which in turn enables us to concentrate more on our projects and make better use of unexpected promising opportunities.
As always, it is possible to earmark donations for a specific project. Because of fungibility between projects (everyone working at the same office and EAF staff discussing overarching strategies), earmarking may not always make a counterfactual difference, but will frequently do so. It is particularly likely to make a difference in the cases of tax-exempt donation processing or work on development cooperation, which are amongst the first activities we would deprioritize in case of funding shortages or if other projects unexpectedly need additional funding. Please get in touch with us if you are considering making a large donation earmarked towards a specific activity. Non-earmarked donations will most likely be used for Community and FRI or new project ideas. If the funding gap in Philanthropy is greater than expected, we will also use non-earmarked donations for this purpose. Wild-Animal Suffering Research (WASR) has a separate budget funded solely by earmarked funds, and there is no fungibility of donations between WASR and other EAF projects.
Accordingly, we have set ourselves the following fundraising targets:
- Minimum target: For the fundraiser, we have set a target of €300,000, based on the above-mentioned funding gaps for all projects except WASR. This goal allows us to continue our ongoing activities at the current level until the next giving season (but with a cost saving compared to 2017 due to the decreased FTEs from the spin-offs).
- Growth target: We expect to identify new promising activities in 2018 as well. Scaling these and existing activities could potentially include hiring more people. In order to minimize the risk that funding constraints will render us unable to carry out our activities, we would need to fill an additional gap of approximately €800,000.
We thus depend on your financial contribution and hope that we can count on your support this year. As always, we look forward to your questions and critical feedback; in the comments, via email, or anonymously.