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Cross posted from The Life You Can Save blog.


Executive Summary

You can multiply the impact of your giving by supporting the Giving Game Fund. By sponsoring Giving Games, you can help participants learn by giving. You’ll still be able to help great charities, but you’ll get added leverage by influencing participants to give better and supporting the outreach efforts of effective giving advocates worldwide. Any gift you can make will help toward our target of raising $100,000, which would allow us to continue promoting better giving through the end of 2017.  

All money raised by the Giving Game Fund will be re-granted by Game participants, predominantly to highly effective charities: last year, ~90% of donations went to one of The Life You Can Save's recommended organizations.  Donations are tax-deductible for US donors to the extent allowed by law.    


I've personally invested a lot of time and resources in this project over the last several years, as has The Life You Can Save.  One thing I learned in ten years working at one of the world's largest hedge funds is that no investment is a sure thing.  But if I'm going to bet big on something, the way I've bet big on Giving Games, I want to make sure it meets the right criteria.  If you were to survey my former colleagues about the characteristics they'd want to see in an investment, you'd hear the same answers over and over: high reward, low risk, and the potential for a windfall profit.  As you'll learn below, Giving Games check all those boxes.

Your support for the Giving Game fund allows people to learn about good giving by practicing it themselves.  Without money for participants to give, we’ll have to turn down sponsorship requests from Effective Altruists eager to conduct outreach, and miss the opportunity to spread the effective giving message with their networks.  But with your support for the Giving Game Fund, together we can meet the worldwide wave of demand for Giving Games.  

Our baseline goal for this campaign is to raise $100,000 by the end of the year.  This will fund the Giving Game Project through the end of 2017, maintaining our steep growth trajectory while continuing to make progress in measuring and improving our impact through experimentation.  The implications for our work if we hit, exceed, or fall short of our baseline target are discussed in more detail below.

Any money you give through this campaign will be re-granted to charity by Giving Game participants – none will go for staff salary or other costs.  Your support for the Giving Game Fund lets you  directly support highly effective charities while exponentially increasing your impact through philanthropy education.

Below, you’ll find a detailed description of how the Giving Game Fund can leverage your gift through teaching better giving and supporting EA groups.  You’ll also learn about the story and team behind this project, and where it go can from here with your help.

If you have any questions or would like to set up a call to discuss supporting Giving Games, please email givinggames[at]thelifeyoucansave[dot]org.

How the Giving Game Fund provides leverage

When you donate to the Giving Game Fund, we'll get your gift into the hands of current and future givers, who in turn will donate it themselves.

You could always just support great charities directly.  But the Giving Game Fund can multiply the impact of your gift through the following leverage channels:

  • Influencing participants to give better
  • Supporting EA groups and individuals
  • Catalyzing a potentially transformative startup

Each of these channels offers opportunities for significant leverage.  If you find the case for one or more leverage mechanisms compelling, you should strongly consider donating to the Giving Game Fund.


Influencing Participants to Give Better

As detailed in our Annual Report, there’s a large body of qualitative, quantitative, anecdotal, and experimental evidence that makes a compelling case that Giving Games influence people to give better.  

This influence is highly leveraged because the amount of money we provide people to give pales in comparison to the amount they're likely to give in the future.  To quantify the disparity, we give the average participant ~$15 to donate, while the average household donation in the US is ~$3,000 a year.  So for a small investment, you have the opportunity to influence tens of thousands of dollars or more in future giving.

It can be helpful to separate the improvements we cause into two categories - modest improvements and significant improvements.  Most of the people we influence will fall into the former category, and will never fully embrace the Effective Altruism message.  Instead, they’ll adopt aspects of it that they find compelling.  Participant surveys (confirmed by facilitator feedback) reflect a greater appreciation for the need to conduct research and consider cost-effectiveness when giving.  These lessons can be valuable for donors who are trying to improve their impact, even if they aren’t trying to maximize their impact.


Results from a randomized laboratory experiment also strongly suggest that the Giving Game model can change how people give.  The only difference between the control group and the Giving Game participants was that the latter were given $10 to donate to one of two charities.  Our study found that Giving Game participants donated 300% more of their own money and were twice as likely to sign up for a charity’s mailing list relative to the control group!  

However, one could make the argument that while significant giving improvements are much less common, they may actually be a bigger source of leverage for the supporters who power the Giving Game Fund.  This argument centers around the idea that the very best charities are orders of magnitude more impactful than most charities, so getting a few people to donate to these elite organizations accomplishes more than modestly improving the giving of many more donors.

A simple example helps illustrate the degree of leverage significant giving improvements offer.  Last academic year, the Giving Game Fund spent only ~$35,000 in sponsorship.   GWWC estimates a new person taking their 10% lifetime giving pledge is worth ~$60,000 in donations to effective charities (accounting for counterfactual and time-discounting effects).  So if all our Giving Games last year produced just a single incremental pledge-taker, our sponsorship money would have still been leveraged meaningfully.  But we’re having more impact than that:  Berkeley EA alone reported using speed Giving Games to recruit three new pledge-takers in just a few months.

It’s difficult to estimate how many participants overall  are influenced to the level of taking a meaningful giving pledge.  But to give you a sense of perspective, if participants pledge at a 1% rate (and only .25% of speed and online participants pledge), the Giving Games Fund’s sponsorship would have been produced ~26 pledges, worth 44 times the sponsorship money invested.  For impact minded donors, that’s an amazing opportunity.

Supporting Effective Altruist Groups and Individuals  

The Giving Game Project offers support to the broader Effective Altruism ecosystem.  Our sponsorship engages the membership and supports the outreach efforts of EA groups all over the world, who have embraced the Giving Game model as a way of promoting effective giving.    

EAs often find it difficult to conduct outreach, as it’s awkward to start a conversation about giving and people are concerned about appearing  as nosey or judgmental.  A survey of GWWC members shows this clearly.  But the Giving Game model mitigates these issues significantly.  Conversations are easier to start because people are offered something valuable: the opportunity to give for free in a novel and engaging environment.  Giving Game facilitators needn’t feel judgmental because they are asking participants what they think, not telling them what to think.


Many of the EA groups that run Giving Games are relatively new and relatively small.  These groups could fade away, persist at their current sizes, or thrive.  When they run a Giving Game it engages the membership, making it less likely the group will fade away.  And it provides a chance to recruit participants to join the group, making it more likely the group will thrive.  

You can see how this has played out in practice.  Rossa O'Keeffe O'Donovan has blogged about being one of only two active members starting an EA group at Penn, and trying to get it off the ground by inviting an established student group to play a Giving Game.  As Rossa describes the results: "The Giving Game was highly successful for us, and the results far exceeded our expectations. We had 63 people participate in the game, with $580 going to charity: $370 to SCI and $210 to GiveDirectly. Thirty-four people checked the box indicating their interest in getting involved with the new group - we followed up on these by email, had coffee with a few and ultimately four of them joined our committee! This was an excellent outcome for us, and I think the enthusiasm came from us hosting an energetic, interactive, interesting Giving Game.”

EAs at Penn continued to use Giving Games to reach new people, finding the practice valuable enough that they began sponsored the games themselves.  Now, less than two and a half years after their initial Giving Game, Penn has a vibrant EA community.  Of course the members of this community deserve the credit for growing it, but it’s fair to say that Giving Games helped.  

Besides using Giving Games to grow their ranks, EA groups also use the model to spread the effective giving message to new groups.  As Johnstuart Winchell describes the experience of EA McGill:  “Giving Games were a crucial part of setting up and running the EA student chapter at McGill this past year. In addition to increasing meeting attendance and membership, [they] were a favorite tool for convincing fundraising groups on campus to give to effective causes. Our experience was that if we could get an organization to participate in a Giving Game, we could convince that organization to give effectively.”

With your help, we can continue to replicate the success we’ve seen at Penn, McGill, and other locations all over the world.  Last year alone, The Giving Game Fund provided sponsorship that allowed over 30 EA groups to run Giving Games.  Our sponsorship has also facilitated the work of EA organizations we’ve collaborated with, including Students for High Impact Charity (which uses Giving Games as a major part of their curriculum), Intentional Insights, the Local EA Network, and Giving What We Can.   And we’re also helping these groups reach new audiences currently outside the EA community through the Giving Game partnerships we’ve established with umbrella humanist organizations such as the Secular Students Alliance and United Coalition of Reason.  If you want to help support people and groups looking to spread the effective giving message,sponsoring Giving Games is a great way to do so.


UPDATE: A few hours after this post was originally published, the results of the first EA Group Organizers Survey were released.  The survey's findings clearly illustrate how important Giving Games are to EA groups.  Giving Games represent a significant portion of these groups' activities, as shown in the table below (note that almost all of The Life You Can Save's interactions with EA Groups have come through Giving Games).

Screen shot 2016-08-01 at 3.47.50 PM.png


Increased Giving Game funding is an easy way to encourage EA groups to conduct outreach.  In response to the question "How likely is it that your group would use any of the following outreach resources?", more groups (42) said they were "very likely" to use "funding for Giving Games" than any of the other nine options.  EA groups have spoken- you can give them what they want by making a gift to the Giving Game fund.





Catalyzing a Potentially Transformative Startup

An investment in The Giving Game Fund directly allows us to provide sponsorship for Giving Games.  But it also helps promote our broader mission, to create a scalable and sustainable system of philanthropy education that produces skilled and effective donors.

In this sense, supporting the Giving Game Fund has a component of funding a startup with the potential to hit it big (though importantly without the risk typically associated with such startups).

What would hitting it big look like?  Our vision is a world where philanthropy education is built into the institutions that shape people’s lives, raising the societal level of “philanthropic literacy.”  We picture schools routinely embedding philanthropy education in programs like orientation and residential life, creating a sustainable model of reaching new people.  Similarly, we see philanthropy education infiltrating faith and values-based organizations, businesses, and live and online communities. And we believe the Giving Game model is sufficiently cheap, easy, and flexible to make philanthropy education at this scale possible.

If this ambitious goal could be accomplished, the benefits would be immense. By teaching better giving at scale, we can reshape the beliefs and attitudes that shape our giving culture.  Instead of adages like “charity starts at home” or “I just don’t want my gift to be wasted” driving the way people give, heuristics like “your dollar goes further overseas” and “the best giving combines both the head and the heart” could reframe the charitable giving landscape.  If we can change these attitudes on a cultural level, we’ll eventually reach a tipping point where charities become incentivized to produce and accurately report meaningful impact rather than heartwarming anecdotes.

As a young startup with staffed by a single half-time employee, we’re a long way away from these goals.  We’re engaging thousands of people a year when ultimately we want to reach millions.  But we need to start somewhere, and since the first Giving Game in 2012, this project has grown immensely.  

This strong track record of growth is an exception in the field of philanthropy education, where our “competitors” (with whom we generally have a friendly and/or collaborative relationship) have struggled to grow despite investing significant resources.  For instance, the Learning by Giving Foundation (headed by Doris Buffett, Warren’s older sister) has provided almost $1 million in funds for experiential philanthropy courses at US colleges over the last three academic years.  Yet their growth over this period has been slightly negative, as the 31 courses they funded last year was down from 33 in each of the previous two years.   

Giving Games don’t just have a history of growth – the forward looking pipeline is also extremely positive.  We have significant demand for Giving Game sponsorship, driven primarily by word of mouth. Our obstacle to growing our programs is a lack of money, not a lack of interest.

Funding Gaps

This section will outline what different funding levels would mean for our operations.  The figures reflect the incremental money we need to raise for the Giving Game Fund, and already include an assumption that facilitators and participants will continue to provide about half of all necessary funding as they have the last two years.

We also need to raise money to cover the cost of our operations (predominantly staff salary).  However, we’re seeking to raise this money through personal appeals, so these needs are not included in the goals we’ve set for this campaign.

Baseline goal: $100,000

Hitting our baseline target would fill our anticipated demand for Giving Game sponsorship through the end of 2017.  If we reach this target quickly, we’ll be able to reallocate staff time from fundraising to operations until it is time to raise money for 2018.  

Reaching our baseline would allow us to approximately double our size over the next year.  This would be roughly in line with our growth rate last year (when participants increased 66% and the number of games increased 115%), which we think is viable given the recent proliferation of interest we’ve gotten from humanist and religious organizations.  We’d also be able to conduct our planned experiment that will study how Giving Games impact giving behavior over time (see ourAnnual Report for more details).  We’ll continue to fund sponsorship requests that come in while restricting our proactive outreach to high leverage opportunities so that staff time can be devoted to identifying and disseminating best practices to drive improvements in our impact.

Urgent goal: $50,000

Failure to reach this level would have a devastating impact on our work.  We'd need to start turning down many of those looking for Giving Game funding, and fundraising would eat up an unsustainable portion of our limited staff time.  Our other efforts would largely be tilted toward supporting facilitators who could sponsor their own games.

We would also need to cancel our planned experiment, as this will be relatively costly to run.  This would be a significant setback to our efforts to build an evidence base around Giving Games and gain insight into how to improve our programs.   

Even if we reach our urgent target, falling well short of the baseline would cause a significant slowdown relative to our current trajectory.  Growth would slow to negligible rates from our current steep trajectory and the grassroots momentum we’ve built from scratch could come to a near halt.

Reach goal: $150,000

Achieving our reach goal would allow us to expand our activities, pursue larger partnerships, and start actively seeking out growth opportunities rather than simply responding to the inquiries we get from word of mouth.  We’d be particularly proactive in expanding our relationships with humanist communities, which have been highly receptive.

Exceeding our baseline would also allow us to increase our rate of experimentation with different models, and ultimately improve the efficacy of our work.  With funding in place, we’d plan to work with our network of giving researchers to design a suite of cheap online experiments.

One of the biggest benefits of hitting our reach goal is that it would provide a relief from fundraising.  With just one half-time employee, we want to devote as much of our limited staff time as possible toward operating and improving our programs rather than funding them.

If there’s enough donor demand for Giving Games to exceed our reach goal, we’d like to channel excess funds toward expanding our one staff-member from half-time to full-time.

About the Team and Organization

I run the Giving Game Project using half my time at The Life You Can Save.  Other team members contribute in particular areas, such as our webmaster implementing changes to Giving Game web content.  But for the most part, I’m running the whole operation, and will be responsible for guiding its path forward.  As such, I want to provide prospective donors with a little background on myself and the project.

After graduating Bowdoin College with a double major in Economics and Government, I began work at a prominent hedge fund in 2001.  That’s where I first learned about effective giving, through conversations with co-workers who went on to found GiveWell.  I was an early GiveWell supporter, and later served on their board.

I worked at that hedge fund for nearly 10 years, with responsibilities including portfolio optimization and analysis, risk management, and algorithm development.  Toward the end of my tenure, I realized I was burned out and no longer passionate about the work.  So I quit and moved across the country to San Francisco to take time off and try to figure out the next stage in my life.

One night, the idea for Giving Games popped into my head.  The more I thought about it, the more I became excited about its potential.  I provided funds for GWWC: Princeton to run a successful pilot in April 2012.  Based on that success, I continued to incubate the project personally, working without pay on developing content and finding facilitators while funding the donations out of my personal giving.  

As that model was not sustainable, I brought Giving Games to The Life You Can Save in September 2013.  Our partnership not only provided crucial funding that has allowed Giving Games to flourish, but it put Peter Singer’s name  behind the project adding significant credibility.  Since then, I’ve worked half-time on Giving Games in my role as Director of Philanthropy Education, and half-time helping to run TLYCS as COO.

The Giving Game Project has come a long way since Giving Games were just an unrefined idea.  We have a large and growing network of facilitators spread all over the world.  They are now equipped with thorough training materials and forums to share their ideas, allowing them to leverage their outreach activities.  

Now, you can help us reach the next level.  Your investment in the Giving Game Fund gives you the opportunity for high reward, low risk, and the chance for a game-changing payoff.  There’s high reward from influencing participants to give better and supporting EA groups.  There’s low risk because your money ultimately ends up in the hands of effective charities.  And catalyzing a startup with the transformative opportunity to conduct philanthropy education at scale provides the chance for a windfall return.  That’s why I’m excited to continue investing in Giving Games, and why I hope you’ll lend your support by donating to the Giving Game Fund.





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I will be happy to fund the campaign (just donated) and spread the word. Both in my experience, and based on the evidence provided above, Giving Games are a wonderful means of moving people who never heard about effective giving before into the direction of more effective giving.

Thanks for your gift Gleb- and for sharing it! Your and Intentional Insights' partnership has been a big boost to the Giving Game Project and one of the main reasons why I'm so excited about our opportunity for growth and impact!

I'll be allotting a portion of my giving to funding GGs because, in my experience, the negative impact of some money going to ineffective charities is far outweighed by the positive impact of people noticeably changing their minds on the importance of effectiveness in giving.

Thanks JS! Really appreciate your support!!! You and McGill EA have done a great job utilizing Giving Games in creative and high leverage ways. Your help will let us scale that success to new locations!

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