Introduction

Between May and August 2021, the EA Infrastructure Fund has recommended the following grants. These include both grants from our Q2 grant cycle and from the rolling applications process we’ve adopted since. (Earlier grants are covered in the report on our Q1 grant cycle.) This post covers grant applications received before August 3rd (with the exception of one such grant that was decided later and will be included in the next report), and in three cases follow-up grants for grants that were awarded before the end of August.

  • Total grants: $1,700,346
  • Number of grants: 42
  • Acceptance rate (excluding desk rejections and withdrawn applications): 71%
    • (We think this acceptance rate seems high at first glance, but after a quick review we tentatively think our decisions were broadly correct. We also asked EA Funds ED Jonas Vollmer for a quick spot check, and he agreed that there were only very few grants that seemed perhaps below the bar to him. That being said, we might increase our funding threshold if we learn that few grants have been large successes, or if more funders are entering the space.)
  • Decision period: May–August 2021
  • Report authors: Max Daniel (chair), Buck Shlegeris, Michelle Hutchinson, Chi Nguyen (guest manager), Michael Aird (guest manager)
     

Note that we’re providing less detailed payout reports than last round. This is because we’re constrained by fund manager time, and so more detailed payout reports trade off directly with our grantmaking ability. We feel that it is valuable for donors and applicants to understand the fund managers’ thinking, but that after the detailed payout reports from last round and our AMA earlier this year, there are diminishing returns from continuing to publish in-depth payout reports.

(Note that us being constrained by fund manager time does not mean that ‘EA is primarily vetting constrained.’ We think that receiving a larger number of applications proposing highly valuable projects could increase the overall impact of the EAIF’s grants much more than fund managers spending more time on evaluating current applications. In fact, we suspect marginal fund manager time would be best spend on active grantmaking, i.e., soliciting more such applications. In this sense, the bigger constraint seems to be the supply of high-impact project ideas, project founders, and/or matching projects to founders.)

Strategic updates include:

  • Since May, the EAIF has taken on evaluating grants to local, national, and university groups outside of the select locations covered by CEA’s Community Building Grants program. Buck Shlegeris led the assessment of such applications covered in this report. Since September, assistant fund manager Emma Williamson usually has taken the lead on evaluating such applications, with supervision from Buck and using a process that Buck and Emma developed.
    • This refers to funding for group organizers. All groups remain eligible to apply to CEA’s Groups Support Funding for operating costs such as room booking, advertising costs, and food at events, and to allow EA groups to run specific projects (such as retreats or fellowships).
  • After having consulted with the other EA Funds, we are planning for the EAIF to evaluate all grants for local groups going forward, no matter the group’s scope. For instance, the EAIF is going to evaluate applications for animal-focused groups, rationality groups, and groups focused on existential risk. We think that this is how we can best leverage the EAIF’s experience in evaluating community building activities, since much of what we’ve learned will be useful irrespective of a group’s focus. We will consult with managers of the other funds and cause area experts as appropriate (just as we do for any application).
  • As mentioned above, we have created a new role of assistant fund manager. Assistant fund managers help with evaluating applications, which may include interviewing applicants and recommending funding decisions. Final decisions continue to be made by the permanent and guest fund managers.
  • The growth of the EAIF’s grantmaking volume has accelerated significantly. It is likely to exceed $5 million in 2021, more than 2.7x of the total awarded in 2020, and 1.3x of what the EAIF has awarded in all previous years (2018–2020) combined. The previous two year-on-year grantmaking growth rates were 1.8 (2019 to 2018) and 1.4 (2020 to 2019).
    • Of the >$5 million, $1.2M were reported in our first payout report, $1.7M are reported in this payout report, and not yet reported are grants totaling $2M we’ve made since September (a figure I expect to grow to $2.2–3M before the end of the year).
  • By contrast, donations to the EAIF have been lower compared to last year: $1.4M over Jan–Nov 2021 versus $1.7M Jan–Nov 2020.
  • If these trends continue, the EAIF has a large funding gap of $3M+ per year that currently looks like it may only be possible to fill by grants from large donors such as Open Philanthropy. You can help to close this funding gap by donating to the EAIF, though our current guess is that we will be able to meet our funding needs through support from large funders.
  • For this reason, we have started to apply for grants from large funders, with the following outcomes so far:
    • The EAIF has been awarded a $500,000 grant by Open Philanthropy, and we will soon announce the outcome of a funding application for a larger grant.
      • Due to an increase in the number of high-quality applications, we believe that grants from Open Philanthropy will be crucial for making sure that all sufficiently impactful projects in the EA infrastructure space can be funded. However, if grantseekers received funding from both Open Philanthropy and the EAIF, this could result in a total grant larger than deliberately chosen by Open Philanthropy. It could also duplicate effort between the funders, and grants to larger organizations tend to be outside our wheelhouse.
        • On the other hand, grantees with large budgets would ideally be supported by multiple funders, each contributing roughly ‘their fair share’.
      • Our tentative policy for responding to this challenge is to adopt a heuristic: by default, the EAIF will not fund organizations that are Open Philanthropy grantees and that plan to apply for renewed funding from Open Philanthropy in the future.
        • However, we will consider exceptions: if your organization is an Open Philanthropy grantee, please explain in your EAIF application why your funding request can’t be covered by past or future Open Philanthropy grants. Valid reasons can include unanticipated and time-sensitive opportunities that require a small-to-medium grant with a fast turnaround, or funding requests restricted to a different purpose than the activities supported by Open Philanthropy.
      • For individuals supported by Open Philanthropy, e.g. through their Technology Policy Fellowship, AI Fellowship, or Early-Career Funding, there is no change. They continue to remain eligible for EAIF funding as before.
    • The EAIF has also been awarded a $699,000 grant from Jaan Tallinn via Survival and Flourishing.
       

The EAIF has functionally spent down its funds that is, the total grant funding we’d like to award for existing applications exceeds our available funds. You can help to close this funding gap by donating to the EAIF. However, donors who care about whether or not their donations would funge with Open Philanthropy grants to the EAIF may want to wait until we announce the outcome of the EAIF's full funding application with Open Philanthropy.

Despite the funding gap, applications to the EAIF remain open. We are confident that we can acquire additional funding, and in the meantime can refer time-sensitive grants to private funders.

Highlights

  • Two grants totaling $79,057 to Alex Holness-Tofts to educate high school students about EA-related ideas, including an in-person course in October. Alex has significant EA community building experience, including as one of the coauthors of the successful EA Intro Fellowship curriculum. We continue to be excited about careful experiments with EA outreach to younger audiences, and think that Alex is an excellent fit for this area.
  • Two grants totaling $308,043 to Metaculus for 6 staff members (3.15 full-time equivalents). These funds will enable a series of EA-relevant forecasting tournaments, an annual impact survey, the hiring of a full-time author for EA-relevant forecasting questions, and a prize pool to incentivize forecasts and ‘fortified essays’. The grant will help Metaculus to continue and improve on projects like the Forecasting AI Progress tournament, the Animal Welfare Series (both with Open Phil), the Alt-Protein Tournament (with the Good Food Institute), and the Nuclear Risk Forecasting Tournament (with Rethink Priorities).
  • $50,450 to EA Cambridge to pay ten fellows to participate in their Cambridge Existential Risk Initiative Summer Research Fellowship. Based on our impressions of similar programs run by CEA and FHI in previous years, we think that such summer fellowship programs can be a great way for people to get more up-to-speed with EA thinking and test their fit for research.
     

Grant Recipients

Grants evaluated by Michael Aird

(For most of these grants, I (Michael) also made multiple forecasts that informed the grant decisions. I plan to look back on these forecasts later to help myself reflect on and improve my intuitions and reasoning. But I won’t report these forecasts below because many would be hard to interpret without much more context on the grant, some are sensitive, and we’re generally opting for fairly brief payout reports this round.)

  • Metaculus ($234,543): Salaries for Metaculus staff to support EA-related forecasting, assessing the impact of their work, and other activities and Metaculus ($73,500): 1-year salary for an EA Question Author + prize pools for EA-related competitions
    • These are two related grants, made roughly two months apart.
    • The first grant will support various efforts by Metaculus to improve and assess their impact. These will likely include, among other things:
    • Running ~10 forecasting tournaments on EA-relevant topics in partnership with relevant stakeholders, as part of their Forecasting Causes program.
      • Examples of the topics these tournaments may focus on include biosecurity, animal welfare, artificial intelligence, climate change, and global poverty.
    • Improving Metaculus’s processes so that these tournaments get better results and require less work from the organizations with whom they partner.
    • Building features and tools to help forecasters make forecasts, and to help decision-makers interpret those forecasts.
    • Conducting and publishing an annual impact survey.
    • The second grant covers the costs for Metaculus to hire an EA Question Author for a year, as well as providing the organization with $20,000 to go towards prize pools for EA-related forecasting tournaments and “fortified essay” competitions.
      • This person’s tasks will likely include:
        • Helping to determine which cause areas and topics to run tournaments on.
        • Developing EA-relevant forecasting questions.
        • Writing summaries and reports on EA-relevant forecasting questions developed by others.
        • Liaising with EA organizations and local groups.
    • The Long-Term Future Fund previously made two smaller grants to Metaculus, described here and here.
    • Separately from my EAIF role, I happen to be collaborating with Metaculus on a forecasting tournament myself. I therefore recused myself from actually voting on this application, instead merely gathering information and providing other fund managers with my thoughts.
  • Effective Thesis ($239,200): Covering the organization’s costs and scale-up for 1 year
    • This grant is intended to cover 3 FTE of salaries for Effective Thesis employees (focused on management, content, and coaching), split among >3 people, as well as some other costs (like contractors).
    • Effective Thesis focuses on helping undergraduate, masters, and PhD students have more successful and impactful research careers, especially in academia but also elsewhere. It aims to do this by helping those students choose thesis topics with high impact potential, find good supervisors, connect with other relevant people, access useful resources, and find sources of funding, among other things.
    • Effective Thesis has been running for several years, though with fairly little funding. I consider its work and impact to date decent but not amazing. But I think that the need Effective Thesis aims to address is worth addressing, that their track record is reasonable given their low budget to date, and that their plans seem pretty good. Whether I’d recommend funding them further, and at what level, will depend on their progress following this funding injection.
    • The EAIF previously made two smaller grants to Effective Thesis, described here and here.
  • Ewelina Tur ($40,365): Supporting free and discounted therapy sessions for members of the EA community
    • For the past couple years, Ewelina has been providing psychotherapy for EA community members to improve their mental health and productivity. She offers discounts of various sizes for clients who would benefit from that.
    • Many of her clients seem to be doing very impactful work. Survey evidence and reference checks suggest that her clients tend to feel very positive about the therapy they’ve received and to feel that it has increased how impactful they can be.
    • More generally, multiple EA community members have told me they’ve found it especially useful to see a therapist who understands EA (e.g., for help with feeling guilty about not doing as much good as others).
    • This grant reimburses Ewelina for discounts provided over the past year, covers discounts for the coming year, and allows her to pay for other things that should improve her productivity or help her become a better therapist (e.g., psychotherapy training workshops).
  • Australian Catholic University with READI Research ($29,226): Meta-review of what works in institutional decision-making
    • This grant allows READI to conduct a systematic review of other systematic reviews on interventions relevant to improving institutional decision-making. The project would be led by Michael Noetel, though most of the work would be conducted by a research assistant.
    • Possible impacts of this project include:
      • Improving our understanding of the (cost-)effectiveness of various institutional decision-making interventions.
      • Inspiring and guiding further research on this topic.
      • Helping the research assistant build their skills and improve their career trajectory.
    • Additionally, this project should provide evidence about whether it’s worth funding READI for other research projects, perhaps in a consultancy model or in some other way focusing on questions already scoped-out and identified as important by other researchers or decision-makers within EA.
  • Rachel Shu ($5,000): Short documentary on the microCOVID Project's work to reduce COVID risk & Rachel Shu and Larissa Schiavo ($25,000): Initial work toward producing ~6 videos on EA-aligned individuals’ actions during the COVID-19 response and their impacts
    • These are two related grants, separated by about a month.
    • The first funded salary and other costs for the production of a 10-15 minute documentary about microCOVID.com, how and why it was set up, etc.
      • We thought this might be impactful via:
        • Providing a positive case study to promote better decision-making, focus on social impact, and proactiveness (e.g., building tools when there’s a need for them).
        • Bringing more people into the EA community via calls to action or links to resources.
        • Giving Rachel a low-cost chance to test, demonstrate, and improve her fit for this sort of work.
      • One consideration was that the EA community seems to have somewhat neglected videos as a medium for EA outreach. As such, it seems valuable to further explore this area and to build up and vet EA-aligned people who are skilled at producing such videos.
    • Later, Rachel and Larissa Schiavo developed a more ambitious plan for an $80,000 project to produce ~six 10-15 minute documentaries on the actions taken by various EA-aligned individuals to improve responses to COVID-19 or to prevent other pandemics.
      • This would fold in material from the original microCOVID video project.
      • For various reasons, I saw the proposed project as having high potential upside, high potential downside, and a substantial chance of not much impact at all.
      • So we decided to provide $25,000 for initial work on the series, in hopes that that would allow Rachel and Larissa to make enough progress to give us a better sense of what impacts the full project would have, helping us to thereby decide whether the remainder of the work should be funded.
  • Cecilia Tilli ($20,000): 10 months’ part-time salary to explore career and project opportunities to improve the scientific research systems
    • Cecilia (and contributors) recently wrote Why scientific research is less effective in producing value than it could be: a mapping. This grant will allow her to continue investigating challenges within the scientific research systems, their consequences, existing initiatives to improve these systems, what new initiatives or organizations could be useful, what promising career paths there might be in this area, and how much to prioritize this area relative to other cause areas. Media she may use for disseminating her findings include the EA Forum, a personal blog, talks given at EA conferences, and conversations with relevant stakeholders.
    • Motivations for this grant included:
      • the potential impact of better answers to the questions she’ll investigate
      • the potential impact of the EA community having an (additional) “in-house” expert on those questions
      • Cecilia’s track record and seemingly strong interest in this area
      • the fact that Cecilia already has plans for getting feedback and advice along the way (which seems generally quite useful for independent research projects)
  • Sebastian Schmidt ($5,400): 12 weeks of part-time work coaching altruistic people, improving coaching skills, and exploring more scalable interventions
    • This funding will allow Sebastian to offer free or discounted coaching to “promising individuals who are driven by EA principles”, to work on improving his coaching skills, and to think about potential ways to scale up similar services/interventions (e.g., by delivering workshops or building an organisation).
    • I see the case for this grant as similar to the case for the grant to Ewelina Tur: both grants are intended to improve the grantees’ ability to help promising, EA-aligned people to have more impact over their careers. That said, the benefits of coaching seem somewhat less clear than the benefits of therapy, and Sebastian has a relatively short (though positive) track record in coaching. But this is a small grant, there’s a decent chance Sebastian could go on to provide high-quality coaching to EA-aligned people for a long time, there’s some chance he could go on to provide/facilitate useful larger-scale services, and these 12 weeks of work should provide more evidence regarding his aptitude for such work.
  • Beyond Aging ($5,000): Identifying what the relevant social science questions are for evaluating the longtermist impact of “longevity science”
    • This is funding for Chris Painter to conduct disentanglement research on whether and to what extent accelerating or steering longevity science should be prioritised by effective altruists (and especially longtermists). Chris hopes to identify social science questions relevant to that matter and to clearly explain their relevance, such that the questions can then be tackled by other researchers.
    • Disentanglement research seems hard to do well. Despite that, this grant seems worthwhile in expectation, primarily due to the low cost, how valuable accelerating or steering longevity science might be, how uncertain I think we currently are about that, Chris’s knowledge of both longevity science and EA cause prioritization research, and Chris’s sensible plans for conducting this project and getting feedback.
       

Grants evaluated by Max Daniel

  • Effective Altruism and Consulting Network (EACN) – 12-month salary for first paid staff ($120,000):
    • The EACN is a networking organization for management consultants interested in effective altruism. Its goals include helping EA-inspired consultants to transition into more impactful work; helping EA community members decide whether consulting is an impactful career path for them, and providing support for entering if so; promoting effective giving among consultants; and helping the consulting and effective altruism communities exchange knowledge.
    • The network has so far been run by volunteers; some of its past outputs are described in a series of EA Forum posts.
  • Effective Institutions Project – 5 months of funding to complete a list of ‘key institutions’ ($25,000):
    • With a previous grant, Ian David Moss completed a framework for prioritizing interventions in improving institutional decision-making (with help and input from a number of other contributors).
    • With this grant, Ian and a team of volunteers will use this framework to analyze which of the world's institutions seem most impactful to improve from an effective altruism perspective, using both neartermist and longtermist frames. Additionally, this funding provides partial support for EIP's collaboration with READI Research to produce a synthesis of the empirical literature on improving institutional decision-making interventions, and its work to maintain and host discussion spaces for members of the EA community interested in improving institutional decision-making.
    • For context, we view the area of ‘improving institutions’ as requiring stronger strategic foundations before it can productively absorb significant amounts of resources; our thinking here is similar to what Luke Muehlhauser recently said about longtermist AI governance specifically. We described in our previous payout report why we think that we need to have a high bar for the foundational work that would be required to make progress on this, and our views on this have not changed.
  • Anonymous – preparatory work for setting up a potential new organization ($10,000):
    • This is in the context of a larger (>$100,000) grant application aimed at setting up a new organization to remove specific operational bottlenecks for some effective charities.
    • This smaller grant funds work that will help the applicant and us to decide whether to go ahead with the plan proposed in the larger application. It consists of about $500 for work by the applicant, $5,000 for legal fees, and a $4,500 buffer for unanticipated expenses.
    • As previously described, EA Funds is able to make anonymized grants. In this case, we felt the applicant had a strong case for why their identity and plans are sensitive information. If we went ahead with the full grant, we’d work with the applicant to identify which details about the new organization can be shared.
  • David Manheim – setting up a new longtermist organization in Israel ($5,000): This grant only pays for costs required to set up the organization, such as legal fees and accounting services. David is seeking funding from other funders for the organization’s operating budget. 
     

Grants evaluated by Michelle Hutchinson

  • Theron Pummer (University of St Andrews) ($81,269): 12-month teaching buyout to fund EA book-writing projects
    • A 12-month buyout to complete two books: “The Rules of Rescue”, which presents a case for non-consequentialists to pursue effective altruism, and “Hypersensitive Ethics”. The grant also includes funding for The Rules of Rescue to be made open access.
    • Theron has an impressive record of publishing in philosophy, and The Rules of Rescue may end up on many university ethics reading lists (such as Oxford’s Applied Ethics reading list). In addition to careful argumentation, the book includes clear calls to action for readers who want to put the ideas into practice.
  • The Jewish Effective Giving Initiative – one year of funding covering one person’s salary, travel expenses, and operational costs ($40,000): This recently launched initiative aims to inspire rabbis and Jewish leaders to save lives by introducing their communities to effective giving. It is mostly focused on GiveWell-recommended charities.
  • Rethink Priorities ($14,228): Additional funding to cover costs of hiring research interns and visiting fellows.
  • Assoc Prof Ryan Briggs (University of Guelph) ($13,250): Funding to survey professors in the field of international development  about their views on effective altruism.
    • The money buys Ryan out of some teaching and allows him to hire assistants to help with this project. The motivation is his perception that a surprisingly large number of international development academics essentially agree with all the precepts of effective altruism yet aren’t putting it into practice. He aims to gauge awareness of the movement and increase the number of professors teaching or researching effective altruist topics.
  • Philipp Schoenegger ($8,379): Tutorial/Teaching buy-out for the 2021/2022 academic year
    • Philipp plans to use the time freed up by this teaching buyout to do further experimental and behavioural economics research into charitable giving. Specifically, he aims to understand the circumstances under which donors give to the charities that will do the most good in expectation, and those under which they give to charities with lower but more predictable expected impact. 
       

Grants evaluated by Buck Shlegeris

  • Student Career Team ($105,318): This money funds some expansion for SCT’s general plans (see previous report here) and a ~$10k cost overrun for the summer program that the SCT ran (see previous payout report here). I’m really excited for SCT, and I think there’s solid evidence that the summer program produced a lot of value, and so I’m glad to fund them to do more things.
  • Czech Association for Effective Altruism (CZEA) ($53,000): This money funds Kristýna Šťastná (0.4 FTE), Terezie Kosíková (0.4 FTE), and Naďa Bednárová (0.2 FTE) to develop a mindfulness-based 8-week programme to support the mental health, motivation, and productivity of EA community members.
  • EA Cambridge ($50,450): This supported the Cambridge Existential Risk Initiative’s Summer Research Fellowship program, which was an 8-week program where the ten fellows did research on existential risks. I think the program went well, based on survey data and my rough sense of the fellows.
  • Shauna Kravec & Nova DasSarma ($50,000): This pays for Shauna and Nova to build compute infrastructure and dedicated support to run technical AI experiments for safety researchers. They have set up a GPU cluster, and they help people run experiments on their cluster. They also offer advice on running ML experiments. Their users seem to think that they provide a valuable service, and I’ve been impressed by Shauna’s machine learning skills when working with her in the past.
  • Local organizing grants. As described here, the EAIF reviews grant applications from individuals who want to do local EA organizing (and organizing for non-EA branded groups). We evaluate these grants by talking to the applicants and reviewing their plans.
    • Kaleem Ahmid ($46,800): 12-month full-time salary to work on virtual and Boston-based community-building activities, and early-career biosecurity research.
    • Laura Gonzalez Salmerón, Sandra Malagón ($43,308): 12-month salary to coordinate and grow the EA Spanish speakers community and its projects (Laura and Sandra will both work part-time, totaling 1.125 FTE).
    • Koki Ajiri ($20,322): Increasing EA presence in the UAE through expansion of fellowships, cause prioritization research, and university outreach.
    • Effective Altruism Denmark ($18,368): 12-month salary for Elliot Davies as full-time community builder to work on a career planning course, expand the group’s fellowship, conduct university outreach, and promote EA on Danish podcasts.
    • Positive Impact Society Erasmus (PISE) ($16,628): Funding to support PISE in consolidating its growth and establishing a long-term plan for engaging students for EA.
    • Yi-Yang Chua ($11,837): 6-month salary and operational funding to conduct EA community building in Malaysia.
    • Cecil Abungu ($5,000): Personal compensation and funding for final meeting for EA course designed for privileged African university students.
  • Alex Holness-Tofts ($37,800): 6 months’ salary to work on high-fidelity EA outreach to talented 16-18 year olds in the UK. I’m generally excited about high school outreach, and I think Alex seems like a particularly good candidate for working on it.
  • Alex Holness-Tofts ($41,257): Extra funding to increase the size and quality of October course on longtermism for 16-18 year olds. Awarded 2 months after the initial grant.
  • Jake McKinnon ($25,000): The EAIF funded a program organized by James Aung and Emma Abele where leaders of various student groups lived in Oxford together over the summer. This grant paid for Jake to go to Oxford and live with the student group organizers, which seemed valuable because Jake has a strong track record of helping student group organizers get a deeper understanding of EA ideas.
  • Alex Barry ($11,849): 2 months’ salary to work on some small EA meta projects (including Oxford grad outreach) and thinking of new populations to target with EA outreach.
  • Anonymous ($3,900): This person works half-time on EA community building and their laptop broke; this funding allowed them to buy a new laptop and an external monitor. Due to the urgency in this case, a fund manager talked with the grantee and ascertained their productivity needs, and then we made an ad hoc decision. If we receive a larger volume of similar applications in the future, we will put together a more systematic policy for when we fund productivity-increasing equipment and for how to determine the size of such grants.
     

Grants evaluated by Chi Nguyen

  • Hear This Idea ($38,200): Ongoing support for Hear This Idea, a podcast showcasing new thinking in effective altruism (hearthisidea.com).
    • Hear This Idea is a podcast by Finlay Moorhouse and Luca Righetti. It shares ideas related to effective altruism. Past podcast guests and topics include Bryan Caplan on poverty and open borders, Ben Todd on career choice and longtermism, and Armond Cohen on climate change and the Clean Air Task Force. This grant pays the two podcast hosts to run the podcast for a year (on a part-time basis), and covers other expenses, most notably hiring an editor and experimenting with different forms of advertising.
  • EA Oxford ($31,000): Funds for a 7-week series of EA-related social events in a centrally located venue.
    • This grant pays the rent for a venue for EA Oxford to run their community building activities during the next university term. EA Oxford will use this venue to experiment with running all their events during the same time slots and in the same building. The aim is to foster a greater sense of community and to encourage more informal conversations between EA community members in Oxford. The results of this experiment could inform whether other student EA groups choose to rent venues.
  • Sarah Emminghaus ($18,180): Salary and equipment for the first six episodes of a German interview podcast focused on effective altruism.
    • This grant pays for the first six months of operation for a new German podcast that will discuss ideas related to effective altruism. The podcast will put some focus on topics that are particularly relevant for German-speaking listeners. The grant mostly pays for the podcast host’s salary, but could also cover payment for collaborators and research assistants.
  • TEAMWORK (Effektives Spenden) ($16,769): Buy sound-insulated telephone booths to improve the productivity and capacity of an EA coworking space.
    • This grant buys four sound-insulated booths for the coworking space “TEAMWORK” in Berlin. The coworking space is used by people who work at various EA-aligned organisations such as the Centre for Effective Altruism, Animal Charity Evaluators, and Founders Pledge. The coworking space is organised by Effektiv Spenden.
  • Brian Tan, Shen Javier, and AJ Sunglao ($11,000): 1.20 FTE salary for 8 months split across Brian, Shen, AJ, and 2 part-time research analysts to research on the top mental health charity ideas in Southeast Asia
    • This grant pays for EA Philippines’s project, led by Brian Tan, Shen Javier, and AJ Sunglao, to research on what are the top mental health charity ideas that could be highly effective in Southeast Asia. They will focus on ideas that would work well if started first in the Philippines, where they are from, since they expect there to be some highly cost-effective mental health charity ideas there. Their goals are to find mental health charity ideas that Charity Entrepreneurship would be willing to incubate in 2022 or 2023, to improve the research skills of everyone involved, and to do research that will help others cost-effectively improve mental health in the Philippines and/or Southeast Asia. This project is the product of Brian and Shen’s participation in Charity Entrepreneurship’s 2021 Incubation Program, specifically their region-specific research track.
    • Brian will work at 0.18 FTE and Shen at 0.25 FTE for 8 months, while AJ and 2 other research analysts (Mae Muñoz and Zam Superable) will each work at 0.38 FTE for 6 months. They will receive mentorship and feedback from Charity Entrepreneurship for this project
  • Effective Giving Quest ($40,000): Creation of a new organization that increases the philanthropic impact of the gaming space via promotion of EA and EAA charities.
    • Effective Giving Quest is a new fundraising organization started by Jon Bockman and Eric Herboso. They plan to reach out to video game developers, publishers, and streamers to promote effective giving. (They’ve already chosen their first streaming partner — Aaron Gertler.) While the organization focuses on fundraising, it will also promote effective altruism more generally in the gaming space. This grant pays for half of the cost of starting and running Effective Giving Quest for six months. The remaining half is funded by the Animal Welfare Fund.
  • Effective Altruism for Christians ($10,000): Writing a book introducing and promoting effective altruism to a Christian audience
    • Dominic Roser and David Lawrence from Effective Altruism for Christians are writing a book to introduce a Christian audience to the core ideas of effective altruism. This grant pays for several writing retreats and a potential research assistant for the book. The remaining cost is covered by Effective Altruism for Christians.

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19 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:26 AM
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Really happy to see this! 

I wanted to leave my very-quick takes, in case they might be useful.
(Do flag if they're more annoying than beneficial, and feel free to ignore)

Overall:

  • I'm impressed by the number of grants and the writeup.
  • It seems like EA community building is growing a lot and that's exciting.
  • I wonder if some of these grants/writeups were worth the time. The managers are pretty senior, and some of these grants are tiny (<$4k). At very least, some of the writing seems a bit excessive. (It's valuable, for sure, but the opportunity cost is also good. This is clearly a nitpick.) 
  • Related to the above, I'm a bit curious if some people might be undervaluing their work or undervaluing the benefits for more funding. Some of these numbers seem like they are pretty low. That said, the fund would need more money to raise payments across the board. (I'd like to see this, but it's interesting that other funders aren't quickly coming in with that money)
  • I think it would have been a bit neater, from a funder perspective, if the longtermist/animals/welfare-specific parts would have been funded instead by those respective funds. I feel pretty mixed about having them here, because I'd expect it to make donations less promising for donors of any of the three preferences/beliefs.
  • The fact that it took 4 months from the end of the decision period (August) to now (December 25) is of course a natural thing to work to improve upon. I imagine it would have been fine if this would have been released in parts, so that more could have been released sooner. Also, I would have probably traded off less detail for having it sooner. 


On some specific grants:

Metaculus
Seems pretty safe and I look forward to the results. One small point is that I think Metaculus might be a c-corp startup; if this is the case, it could be neat if future donations come with equity. (Mainly a concern if donations increase, and the investment is general-purpose)

Effective Thesis
This surprised me. I like the idea of effective thesis, and haven't been keeping track of it closely. I'm curious how 3 FTE will be spent here. Mainly, I'm curious about just how effective this sort of intervention is, particularly at a larger scale.

Ewelina Tur
Therapy sessions seem like a really safe bet. There are lots of mental health issues in our community (and in all the other communities I know of). I feel a bit weird about subsidizing services, as opposed to just giving more money to the people who might need the services, but subsidization does have some advantages, especially early on.

Rachel Shu

So we decided to provide $25,000 for initial work on the series, in hopes that that would allow Rachel and Larissa to make enough progress to give us a better sense of what impacts the full project would have, helping us to thereby decide whether the remainder of the work should be funded.

I like seeing negotiation via the grantmaking process like this, as opposed to just saying yes/no. Trying to push for more small-scale projects at first seems pretty good.

Effective Institutions Project

we view the area of ‘improving institutions’ as requiring stronger strategic foundations before it can productively absorb significant amounts of resources

I think this is broadly reasonable, but I am curious on what work would really move the needle here. If it's the case that such work would reveal that this area is underfunded, then it would be very high-priority for someone to do this work, if it were obvious what exactly to do. (I'm biased, as I work in the area and would also like for this work to exist)

 

I agree with the comment on small grants. I'd be happy to see policies to save grantmakers time, such as:

(a) the EA funds doesn't make grants of less than $5k, or

(b) Grants of less than $5k are only approved for specific categories and it's a yes/no thing where the write-up just lists "grants in category X"

I worry about the opportunity costs of grantmakers spending time evaluating very small grants. I'd like to encourage people who are thinking of applying for e.g. just web hosting to think through the next few steps they'll need for their charitable initiative (maybe they'll need web hosting, then a lawyer, then an accountant) and apply for a few next steps at once!

It's much better in my view if we can convince people to apply for a few steps on their charitable project rather than reapplying to the fund, with extra work for themselves and the grantmaker and significant time lost, every few months.

Here are some excerpts from the EAIF application page which might be of interest in this context:

Grant sizes are typically between $5,000 and $200,000, but can be as low as $1,000 and higher than $500,000. EA Funds can make grants to individuals, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and other entities. You do not need to be based in the US or the UK to apply for a grant. If you are unsure whether you are eligible for a grant, please simply apply.

[...]

Please aim to submit as few applications as possible. E.g., new projects should apply every 2–6 months, established organizations once a year, unless there is a significant reason for submitting multiple applications. Please think ahead about possible further expenses and consider including contingency in your budget.

I think the second of those paragraphs is in line with you suggesting that people should apply for funding for a few steps at once, rather than just for the first step. And I think that's indeed often the best move.

That said, I'd personally prefer that people still feel that it's fine to apply for grants of just $1k-5k, if they think that's the best move if their case. This is because:

  • That can be the appropriate amount for some projects
    • Sometimes that just really is all someone needs for something. 
    • Or sometimes they really should start a project with a pilot / initial steps that will only cost roughly 1k-5k, and should only get funding for further work after that pilot / those initial steps are completed or partially completed. 
  • Small projects are still often fairly impactful
    • I think that, for approved grants, net positive impact will be positively correlated with grant size, but I'd guess the correlation is moderate rather than strong. Some small projects 
  • It seems important that there's some mechanism for funding small things, and EA Funds seems like currently one of the best mechanisms for that
    • There's also mechanisms like being friends with pretty well off EAs who know your skills and plans well and are willing to donate to your work, but that will miss many people & projects that should get funded
    • Part of why this seems important is as a stepping stone towards more ambitious work; often a lot of the value of the small projects is giving someone a chance to test & build fit for some kind of work that they could then do more of later. If the initial steps weren't funded, the whole journey might not happen (so to speak). 
  • Small projects are often not very time-consuming to evaluate
    • There's a (I'd say) moderate correlation between grant size applied for and time spent on evaluating the grant. I'd guess we generally move fewer dollars per hour when looking at small grants than at big grants, so small grants are in some sense less efficient as a use of fund managers time, but only moderately so. 

(These are just my personal quickly written views, and I acknowledge that many of those statements are quasi-quantitative yet vague and not based on systematically looking at data - hopefully it's useful anyway.)

Good points. I think I agree that being able to offer grants in between $1k-$5k seems pretty useful. If they get to be a pain, I imagine there will be ways to lessen the marginal costs. 

I think I'd like to see more "quick takes" by more people on things like this. It's fine if they're rough, but it helps provide both a sanity check and a survey of what community members think.

I think it would have been a bit neater, from a funder perspective, if the longtermist/animals/welfare-specific parts would have been funded instead by those respective funds. I feel pretty mixed about having them here, because I'd expect it to make donations less promising for donors of any of the three preferences/beliefs.

 

+1, although I can see some as pretty borderline, e.g. a seminar or course on longtermism or another cause is definitely still community building, and can bring in more community builders who might do broader EA community building. Brian Tan, Shen Javier, and AJ Sunglao ($11,000) is cause-specific (mental health), but doesn't really fit in the other funds (not that you've suggested they don't fit here). Funding work that supports multiple groups or unaffiliated individuals within an area that falls entirely under the scope of a single fund seems borderline, too.

Anonymous ($3,900): This person works half-time on EA community building and their laptop broke; this funding allowed them to buy a new laptop and an external monitor. Due to the urgency in this case, a fund manager talked with the grantee and ascertained their productivity needs, and then we made an ad hoc decision. If we receive a larger volume of similar applications in the future, we will put together a more systematic policy for when we fund productivity-increasing equipment and for how to determine the size of such grants.

I trust that this grant was worthwhile, but from this description, it's not clear to me why buying a new laptop and external monitor requires $3,900 (e.g., maybe it was for a gaming laptop to run machine learning experiments). For future grant descriptions, it might be worthwhile to explain the cost when it seems surprisingly high.

Huh, I am surprised about this. My current guess is that anyone in a job that makes more than $80k a year (or produces >$80k of value) should spend at least $1-2k on their laptop (my general recommendation is to just get the maxxed out latest Macbook, maybe skipping the graphics card if they aren't planning to do anything graphics related). And then with two external monitors it seems very reasonable to go up to ~$4k. 

People use their laptop for 8+ hours a day. It seems very likely that it's worth spending a lot of money making that be better. 

I agree about the laptop price, but I think external monitors should only cost about $200 each, from a quick Google search. Seems like it should have been <$3K total.

This is an incredibly minor point, but I normally recommend  monitors in the $300 to $500 range. And for some cases $1k to $2k is fine. (For bright displays, extra high resolution, any sort of media work, or widescreen.) I find the $200 ones to be pretty low-brightness / low-resolution / small.
 

(I'm one of the guest fund managers for this round, but this is my personal opinion only)

For future grant descriptions, it might be worthwhile to explain the cost when it seems surprisingly high.

I think this is a reasonable idea to float, but I'd disagree that it should be encouraged more than it is at the moment, especially for very small grants like that $3.9k one. Reasons include:

  • Fund managers' time has a quite high opportunity cost, so our default should be to not add more detail to these reports unless that seems very useful
  • If a given small grant turned out to cost 2 times as much as it should've, that'd hardly at all affect the cost-effectiveness of the relevant EA Fund. So it doesn't seem like very useful info for donors deciding whether to donate to the fund, nor a very useful thing to hold fund managers accountable on in hopes that that leads to them making better decisions.
    • One might think "Yes, this one grant was small, but if there were many such grants then it could be useful to check the value-for-money of all of them or just a random subsample of them." But even if there'd been 10 grants like this one, that'd still just be 39k out of the 1.7m paid out in this round, i.e. ~2%. So knowing whether those grants could've been smaller without reducing impact would still hardly affect estimates of the overall cost-effectiveness of EAIF in this round. 
    • Meanwhile, readers should probably be very uncertain about how much positive or negative impact came from lots of the grants, and I'd say there's "where most of the action is" in evaluating how good EAIF is as a donation opportunity.
  • I think readers should be far more uncertain about the impact of the purchase of the laptop & monitors than about whether that level of spending was necessary for achieving that impact. So if more detail was worth providing, I'd probably suggest starting with more detail on the former. (Like what will this person be doing, why does Buck thing it'd be useful, and why does Buck in general think better equipment is valuable for increasing impact.)
  • I think one of the main sources of value for these payout reports is insights into what fund managers (and the people they consult with) see as valuable projects, why they think those projects are valuable, what their models of various cause areas and projects and such are, and how they think. I think cost breakdowns wouldn't help much with that.
    • Here are some things I'd be more excited about from this perspective (though they're probably still not worth the time):
      • Payout reports more clearly signalling how our (i.e., fund managers) excitement levels about different grants varied
      • Making clear our biggest reservation(s) about each grant
      • Giving Fermi estimates or forecasts of the impacts (positive or negative) of the grant
      • Spending longer writing out background thinking on a topic that a given grant connected to
        • E.g., me writing in more detail about my views of the paths to impact for Metaculus and for forecasting
  • Fund managers often don't know exactly what the cost breakdown will be, and I'm confident that that's a good thing.
    • (To be fair, if we switched to showing cost breakdowns in payout reports, we could just leave things as approximations.)
    • Reasons why this situation is good:
      • It's good if grantees have flexibility to make adjustments to precisely how they use the money
      • It's good if fund managers make decisions relatively quickly (in terms of calendar time and in terms of hours spent), and things like checking what specific models of laptop and external monitor would be chosen and how much they'd cost seems like it won't improve decisions enough to be worth the time
      • It's bad if grantees apply for precisely what their best guess of the required amount is, such that there's a (say) 25% chance they later realise that it would've been better to apply for more and the fund manager would've approved that, but now they have to either just use some of their personal savings, apply again, or spend less than would be ideal
        • So it's often best for people to apply for a bit more than their best guess of what they need
        • Applying again is less good than just having a larger original grant because it takes up some additional time from the grantee, the fund manager(s), and the ops people who process the grant, and because it creates another delay before the grantee gets the decision & money
  • I think many people who are in the EA community and are doing or are on track to do high value "direct work" are being too frugal with their money and insufficiently conscious of the value of their time. In other words, many people should be spending more to allow themselves to be more productive during their productive hours (e.g., by having a better computer or paying for books/software that would be useful) or to allow themselves to have more productive hours (e.g., spending less time searching for deals or free options, perhaps having a cleaner). I'd worry that encouraging cost breakdowns for small grants like this $3.9k one is the kind of thing that could exacerbate these problems.

This seems like a really exciting set of grants! It's great to see EAIF scaling up so rapidly.

Agreed. Chiming in that the microCOVID Project's calculator and work has been invaluable to our family since 2020. I don't know Rachel, Larissa, or others involved in the project - but they're in our personal pantheon of pandemic heroes. We lost one family member in NY to COVID. It's easy to imagine we and others would have experienced more loss, absent their work.

Could not pass up this opportunity to thank them publicly, and note how excited we are to watch any videos they produce as a result of this funding.

Some feeedback: This is a fun and interesting way to learn about things going on in the EA community so I appreciate you posting it to the forum.

To me the description lengths work well for this kind of post, as I trust I can find more information about most of the projects if/when I go look for it, and about specific decisions if you keep doing AMAs.

That being said, we might increase our funding threshold if we learn that few grants have been large successes, or if more funders are entering the space.

My intuition is that more funders entering the space should lower your bar for funding, as it'd imply there's generally more money in this space going after the same set of opportunities. I'm curious what the reasoning behind this is, e.g. unilateralist curse considerations?

My guess is that it's mostly that more funders being in the space increases the chance that good things get funded even if EAIF doesn't fund them, thus reducing the cost of false negatives (i.e., EAIF rejecting things that in reality should've been funded), thus reducing the cost of raising the bar. (But that's just a guess.)

  • Due to an increase in the number of high-quality applications, we believe that grants from Open Philanthropy will be crucial for making sure that all sufficiently impactful projects in the EA infrastructure space can be funded. However, if grantseekers received funding from both Open Philanthropy and the EAIF, this could result in a total grant larger than deliberately chosen by Open Philanthropy. It could also duplicate effort between the funders, and grants to larger organizations tend to be outside our wheelhouse.
    • On the other hand, grantees with large budgets would ideally be supported by multiple funders, each contributing roughly ‘their fair share’.
  • Our tentative policy for responding to this challenge is to adopt a heuristic: by default, the EAIF will not fund organizations that are Open Philanthropy grantees and that plan to apply for renewed funding from Open Philanthropy in the future.
    • However, we will consider exceptions: if your organization is an Open Philanthropy grantee, please explain in your EAIF application why your funding request can’t be covered by past or future Open Philanthropy grants. Valid reasons can include unanticipated and time-sensitive opportunities that require a small-to-medium grant with a fast turnaround, or funding requests restricted to a different purpose than the activities supported by Open Philanthropy.

It seems like it would be better to decide this more on an individual basis (beyond the exceptions), depending on the exact reasons why Open Phil didn't fund them further, which you could ask them for (assuming this doesn't take too much of everyone's time). Besides only wanting to contribute 'their fair share' (donor coordination), they may also want to reduce (direct) dependence on Open Phil and have others vet these opportunities semi-independently. The organizations for which those were the only reasons Open Phil didn't fund them more are plausibly the best ones to donate marginal funds to even after Open Phil grants, and ruling them out could mean individual donors can do better by donating to them than to the EAIF. Of course, Open Phil also might not be aware of many of EAIF's grantees at all (or able to donate to them for various reasons), or Open Phil could make wrong decisions to not fund EAIF grantees it was aware of, so EAIF could therefore beat Open Phil by funding them.

 

For individuals supported by Open Philanthropy, e.g. through their Technology Policy Fellowship, AI Fellowship, or Early-Career Funding, there is no change. They continue to remain eligible for EAIF funding as before.

Is the different treatment here primarily because "grants to larger organizations tend to be outside our wheelhouse"? It seems like Open Phil should be less hesitant to fully fund these, because

  1. small EA donors are less likely to notice these opportunities,
  2. there's no public support test to maintain charitable status (it's not a charity at all), and
  3. leaving room for more funding here so that others have to re-vet many small opportunities is less efficient than having others re-vet fewer large opportunities.

I think that coordination costs are high, and this is a reasonable way to shortcut the problem by publicly telling Open Phil not to rely on EAIF to top up grants. If that should be changed for some reason, Open Phil can tell EAIF directly.

I'd guess that individual donors planning to support the EAIF should top up Open Phil grantees, either with or instead of donating to the EAIF.

Based on the argument here by Ben Todd, I think individual donors who donate to Open Phil grantees do at least as good as both Open Phil and the EAIF, if all of the following assumptions hold:

  1. Open Phil's judgement is sufficiently good,
  2. The reason Open Phil doesn't fund EAIF grantees directly is because Open Phil believes them to be less cost-effective on the margin than its own direct grantees, so, at least,
    1. not just due to legal reasons,
    2. not just due to falling outside the scope of all of their grantmaking areas,
    3. not just because Open Phil tends to avoid small grants of the size the EAIF makes, and
    4. not just because Open Phil was unaware of them, and
    5. not due to any combination of the above.
  3. Open Phil's grant sizes are sufficiently sensitive in the right way to how much funding its grantees get.

Basically, under these assumptions, Open Phil grantees are either most cost-effective on the margin and in expectation, or Open Phil responds by granting less to those grantees and spending that funding on the next best marginal opportunities, which may include the EAIF itself. If Open Phil thought another dollar to EAIF would have been better than the last dollar to one of its other grantees, it would have granted that dollar to the EAIF instead, and vice versa. The "vice versa", that EAIF is at least as good on the margin as Open Phil's last dollar to its other grantees, seems to contradict the conjunction of 1 (Open Phil's judgement) and 2 (Open Phil believes EAIF grantees are less cost-effective than Open Phil grantees).

So, under these same assumptions, individual donors who donate to the EAIF risk doing worse than Open Phil, since the EAIF has ruled out contributing to opportunities that are better in expectation than their actual EAIF grantees.

 

All of the above assumptions seem plausibly wrong. That being said, Open Phil could in principle avoid subpoints 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 by just deferring more of its grantmaking to the EAIF.

Note that this doesn't require the EAIF managers to have worse judgement than Open Phil. The point is that Open Phil starts with the most promising opportunities it can, and the EAIF does not. You could think of Open Phil and the EAIF as one organization, and you can do better by topping up the best opportunities for which they left room for other donors than by adding to the marginal opportunities.