In the past I have written on the EA Forum about where I am donating (2019, 2021). This year I have a dilemma. I have too many places I am excited to investigate and potentially donate too.
I have a document where I have been listing opportunities I am excited by and thought why not share my list with others in the run up to the giving season. In my opinion there are a lot of EA projects lacking funding. I believe donors (especially medium-size non-US donors) who could evaluate and fund some of these would have an outsized impact, more impact than just giving to various EA Funds (in fact this post is a follow up of a red team post on the LTFF). Also I am also interested in feedback and criticism of my donation list as I plan to donate to at least some of the places listed below (to be decided).
The primary focus is on longtermist/ EA policy work. By policy work I am considering organisations that directly influence current policy so it is better for the long run future (not just indirectly doing policy-adjacent academic research or supporting individuals policy careers, etc). I list a few ideas on other cause areas at the end. Note that not every org/person listed considers themselves to be EA affiliated.
This list has about 25-30 funding ideas, ranging $15,000 to $4m, of which I estimate perhaps 66% are worth funding if investigated.
I want to caveat this with some warnings:
- Expect inaccuracies: Not every org has had a chance to input. Also some details might be out of date – this list has been growing for a while now and some orgs may now have funding (or have run out of funding).
- Expect conflicts of interest: I have worked with and/or helped and/or am friends with the staff at and/or am an adviser/affiliate at a lot of the organisations I list. The only organisations listed that have paid me for work are the APPG for Future Generations and Charity Entrepreneurship. As a rule of thumb, assume I have some bias towards funding this kind of work.
Background reasoning – why policy?
Why fund policy work?
Influencing policy is an effective way to drive change in the world. It is the key focus of advocacy groups and campaigns around the globe and seen as one of the most high impact ways to affect society for the better.
This applies to existential risks. 80000 Hours research suggests there are two ways to protect the future from anthropogenic risks: technical work and governance/policy work (e.g. see here on AI). There are many things to advocate for that would protect the future. See here for a list of 250 longtermist policy ideas and see (mostly UK focused) collections of policy ideas on long-term institutions and biosecurity and ensuring AI regulation goes well and malevolent actors.
Furthermore EA policy change work which is targeted and impact focused and carefully measured can be extremely effective. Analysis of 100s of historical policy change campaigns (look across various reports here) suggests a new EA charity spending around $1-1.5m, has a 10-50% chance driving a major policy change. And existing EA charities seem even more effective than that. The APPG for Future Generations seemed to consistently drive a policy change for every ~$50k. LEEP seems to have driven their first policy change for under ~$50k and seems on track to keep driving changes at that level.
Why might policy work be underfunded?
In short there is a lack of funders with the motivation and capability to fund this work.
- Some funders are avoiding funding policy work. The Long Term Future Fund (LTFF) does not fund any new policy work and is sceptical of policy work (see here). As far as I can tell OpenPhil’s longtermist teams appear to have never funded non-US policy work (based on payout reports here) and may be sceptical of such work (see here).
- Other funders are hard to access. FTX Future Fund, Effective Giving and Longview philanthropy do not currently accept funding requests. It is also very unclear their focus on funding policy work (e.g. there are some signs FTX are being cautious preferring regranters with relevant expertise to look into it). Also some policy projects might not want to be mostly funded by crypto money which makes up a significant chunk of some of these funds.
- The Survival and Flourishing Fund (see SFF and SFP) do accept applications and fund policy work. They might fund most of these things eventually but that is a single funding source and can be fairly slow to access. There are risks of opportunities being missed.
- I think very few of groups are actively looking to fund existing think tanks (or projects) outside of the US.
My best guess is that the reasons for this lack of funding are related to the challenges with vetting policy projects, especially the risk of such projects, especially for new projects, especially for non-US projects and US based funders that lack in-house policy expertise. (See some of my public conversations between me and funders to understand their cruxes here, including in the comments).
Currently I do see projects that look impactful (not evaluated in detail) closing down or failing to get started due to lack of funding.
I think this is part of a wider challenge that the longtermist community has about learning how to fund and support more direct type work by EA actors (as opposed to meta and research type work). See: Longtermist EA needs more Phase 2 work.
So I believe there is an opportunity for small-medium sized funders to fund these projects.
Donation opportunities 4 U
Policy organisations seeking funding:
These are groups already working on (or trying to get set up to work on) topics that would be of interest to the EA community. Not every org/person listed considers themselves to be EA affiliated:
- APPG for Future Generations and related projects (Caroline Baylon) (UK). Could scale up work on the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), get similar groups started around the world, do policy research, work with the UN, mentoring (with SERI), etc. Could use: $130,000 per year. Website.
- CSER (Centre for the Study of Existential Risk). UK based academic institute that has a policy staff member and does a fair amount of UK and international policy work. Runs a Science-Policy interface group of 30 members from the academic and policy world. Website. Policy lead: Clarissa.
- Instituut voor Publieke Economie (Netherlands). Institute for Public Economics. A think tank in the Hague focused on macroeconomic policy. Website.
- Norwegian policy think tank (Norway). There is interest in setting up a general EA / longtermist think tank. Could use $800k per year.
- Pandemic Prevention Network (UK). Engaging with UK MPs on stopping the next pandemic. Could use: $125k for next year increasing thereafter. Website.
- Simon institute for Longterm Governance (Switzerland). Future Generations and risk focused policy work in Geneva. Sam has independently evaluated the Simon Institute for a private donor, see here. I think they still have a bit more room for more funding. Website.
- School of International Futures – Future Check project (UK). Plan is to vet all UK legislation before it goes through Parliament on the effect it will have on the future. Maybe other funding opportunities too. Website.
- Social Change Lab. A research project looking at how social movements can be used to tackle the world's most pressing problems, why some movements succeed in achieving their aims and why some fail. Website.
- Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty. Do useful and relevant work to promote a focus on how to decide under uncertainty in academics and a bit in policy spaces. Could benefit from $50k. Website.
- The Future Society (EU-US). Think tank that works on AI policy. Website. Contact point: Nicolas.
Policy organisations I would consider funding, that are not currently seeking funding:
I think active grantmaking can be powerful. These projects that could be in the list above but are not currently looking for funding. Yet they are perhaps small enough they could maybe benefit from a proactive funder saying “this is exciting if you wanted funding we could provide $X to support or grow this.”
- Spanish speaking world longtermist think tank. See EA Forum posts here. Contact point: Juan
- Sweden Parliamentary group for Future Generations
I would also consider:
- Funding people who have applied to the LTFF. Could reach out and see what policy projects they have rejected.
Policy projects within larger organisations I would consider funding.
For the case for such work see this post on funding well-known think tanks to do EA policy research. These are larger more established organisations that could be funded to work on topics that the EA community is interested in. I am not sure that funding think tanks drive lots of impact, but I do think there is a case for trying more of it outside the US (currently EA funders have funded many US based think tanks but very few non-US based think tanks, see comments here). I think these each of these organisations could absorb $50-$500k and I could connect anyone keen to fund them:
- Center for Global Development (UK-US). Global development focused think tank. They have been funded by EA funders before.
- Chatham House (UK). Very well respected top think tank working on International Affairs. Could be funded to work on global risks, international security, biosecurity, climate change, AI, etc. Contact point: David Lawrence
- Emerging Markets Investors Alliance (Global / emerging markets). Lobbies for change among governments and corporates; leverages the influence of investors. .
- Fabian Society (UK). Left wing think tank.
- Institute for Government (UK). Very well respected think tank. Could be well-placed to do work on government processes relating to future generations.
- New Diplomacy Project (UK). Progressive foreign policy think tank. Website.
- RAND (US). Think tank soon being led by Jason Matheny, has done some work for Open Phil in the past.
- Social market Foundation (UK). Centrist think tank that could be funded to work on various EA-adjacent UK-domestic policy topics such as: biosecurity, institutional decision making, macroeconomics, growth, housing, subjective wellbeing, pronatalism, etc. Contact point: Aveek.
Other projects on my list of things to fund (all cause areas)
- Charity Entrepreneurship charities. (Mixed). Charity Entrepreneurship starts a host of new charities every year. Next bacth soon to be announced, keep your eyes on https://www.charityentrepreneurship.com/our-charities
- Vida Plena and Kaya Guides. (Mental health). Two newly incubated mental health charities I am excited about.
- Food Fortification Initiative. (Global health). I think this project is doing really impactful policy work to encourage adoption of mandatory food fortification. Should be more well known, although maybe it is sufficiently funded. See GiveWell analysis and website.
- Good growth. (Animal welfare). Animal work in China. Seems super important and neglected. Could maybe benefit from $100k. Website
- Independent evaluation of EA meta orgs. I would be interested in funding EA meta charities to have an independent evaluation. I think I know some folk who could do this decently. Estimate £5k-£10k per evaluated charity. Now just need a target organisation...
- Other work in China. I would be interested to hear from donors in China with regards to funding projects in China, please get in touch.
- Professor Chris Chambers. Working on registered reports. Maybe still seeking $420,000. See: Lets Fund Review.
- Scandinavian X-risk institute in Stockholm. (Longtermist). I have minimal details on this. Maybe it is like an FHI outside the UK.
- Training for good, (EA meta). Impact-focused training organisation, focused on journalism and policy careers. Was looking for $500k. See proposal and website.
If you're interested in learning more about or getting in touch with any of these, please ask me and I can connect you.
Thoughts on giving to these projects
How much to give?
I think medium sized funders (giving $25k+) could have a transformative impact on some of these projects and have a positive effect on the direction these projects go in (or even if they keep running at all). Smaller donors could give too but might alternatively consider entering a donor lottery to have a chance at larger donation.
I think some of the amounts being asked for are at the top end of what is needed and may be inflated for pitching to large funders. Additionally for some of the newer projects encouraging slow and steady growth would be sensible to minimise the chance of growing in the wrong direction. Maybe offering 50-80% of a requested budget would be ideal for a funding constrained donor.
On the other hand small projects not currently looking for funding could still maybe benefit from a proactive funder offering support.
How to evaluate?
I have not evaluated these projects and do not give a blanket endorsement.
Some things to think through before evaluating these projects are:
- Local context. Talk to people you know who work in policy in that country. I think the main opportunity here comes from non-US funders who understand their local regions, collaborating with policy folk they know locally, and working out if projects in their region should be funded.
- The risks. Policy has some reputation risks that funders should think through. The biggest risk will be from big public facing campaigns (like this one). That said, identifying risks does not mean refusing all funding (see here) and funders should consider using donations to help mitigate risks (e.g. encouraging hiring of a comms staff or policy design staff, etc). See some general thoughts on policy and risks here.
- Evidence of impact. I think in most cases a well run policy project should be able to demonstrate actually having changed government policy within its first 3 years of running, or less. Not just evidence of interest, but actual government commitments or funding or appointments. We should hold policy work to high standards.
As mentioned one donor asked me to do an independent evaluation of the Simon Institute (SI). I did this in two rounds (read SI's stuff, wrote up a view, got comments from SI, reconsidered view). If this is a useful example for people to see it can be seen here. If you want me help with evaluating policy projects please do get in touch.
Good luck giving!!
Best of luck maximising the impact of your donations this year!!
Amazing resource, thanks so much! I'll add that the Effective Institutions Project is in the process of setting up an innovation fund to support initiatives like these, and we are planning to make our first recommendations and disbursements later this year. So if anyone's interested in supporting this work generally but doesn't have the time/interest to do their own vetting, let us know and we can get you set up as a participant in our pooled fund (you can reach me via PM on the Forum or write firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is really helpful. Do you / anyone reading have any expertise on when policy work like this can be done tax efficiently (e.g. Gift Aid in the UK)?