EA Hotel Fundraiser 5: Out of runway!

by CEEALAR1 min read25th Oct 201990 comments

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UPDATE 5th Nov 2019: since this post went up, we have received ~£9,500 in donations and a further ~£4000 in backdated payments from residents. Following the latter, and adjusting costs for last 6 months downward to ~£5,100/month, our runway now extends ~3 months, to the beginning of Feb. Thanks for all the support, this is a great start to our latest fundraiser. We are working on more posts in the series listed below (will link to them in the list as they are completed).

This is a quick post to say that our financial situation is looking pretty dire right now. We were going to wait until “Giving Season” starts in December to start a fresh fundraiser, but now can’t afford to do that. We have several things in the pipeline to bolster our case (charity registration, compiling more outputs, more fundraising posts detailing the case for the hotel, hiring round for the Community & Projects Manager, refining internal systems), but they may not reach fruition in time unfortunately. If you are interested in donating, now is the perfect timing for you to have a large impact on the project! Happy to answer questions in the comments (have anticipated some below).

Relatively small amounts would allow us to keep things going long enough to gain the information needed to determine whether the experiment is/was worthwhile. As it is, if the project fails down to lack of funds now, we feel that we are leaving a lot of Value of Information on the table. Our costs are ~£5,700/month (based on the last 5 months’ spending). Even 1 month of funding will allow us some breathing space to get some of the work done.

To donate, and for more info (past posts making the case for the hotel), see: eahotel.org/fundraiser.

List of proposed posts for the continuation of this series (renewed runway permitting; provisional; linked when complete):

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I donated $1000 since it seems to me that something like the EA Hotel really ought to exist, and it would be really sad if it went under.

I'm posting this here so that, if you're debating donating, you have the additional data point of knowing that others are doing so.

Thank you both for donating. And I'll add another +1 to the number of people who have donated 1,000. I'm hoping that an update on the status of the hotel comes soon.

It's looking like we now have runway until the end of the year, thanks to you three and others who have donated in the last few days :) Will post a more detailed update (and update the fundraiser page) in the coming days.

3CEEALAR1yOP and fundraiser page [http://eahotel.org/fundraiser] now updated. tldr: runway now ~3 months :)

I also made a similarly sized donation.

Going to say that personally, I still very much think this is the best use of EA money on the margin, considering the low costs per person-year of work, hits-based giving, community building and network effects, and room for more funding (i.e. the current accute need of funding). Especially in the current situation, I think it's an outstanding opportunity for small/medium-sized donations to move the needle.

However, I'm at the stage where I'm having to consider losing my own financial independence / potential for investing in the future (including in EA things) if I want to give further financial support to the EA Hotel. And I'm not quite ready to do that.

-7Open_Thinker1y

We were going to wait until “Giving Season” starts in December to start a fresh fundraiser, but now can’t afford to do that. We have several things in the pipeline to bolster our case (charity registration, compiling more outputs, more fundraising posts detailing the case for the hotel, hiring round for the Community & Projects Manager, refining internal systems), but they may not reach fruition in time unfortunately.

I'd expect the EA hotel to have fairly constant operating costs (and thus reliable forecasts of runway remaining). So I'd be keen to know what happened to leave the EA hotel out of position where its planned fundraising efforts would occur after they had already run out of money.

More directly, I'm concerned that the already-linked fb group discussion suggests the EA hotel bought the derelict building next door. I hesitate to question generosity, and it is unclear when this happened - or how much it cost - but CapEx (especially in this case where the CapEx doesn't secure more capacity but an option on more capacity, as further investment is needed to bring it online) when one has scarce reserves and uncertain funding looks inopportune.

I bought the hotel next door with my own money, and I've not spent any of the EA Hotel's money on it. Given it's relatively low cost, I see it as a decent investment largely independent of the EA Hotel (i.e. even if the EA Hotel fails I think there's a reasonable chance property prices will go up in Blackpool in the next 5-10 years).

Perhaps in terms of maximising my positive impact it would've been best for me to donate the money to the EA Hotel. I think that remains to be seen though. Although I think I probably was a little over-optimistic about the funding prospects for the EA Hotel at the time, in hindsight.

(Note the timing of the purchase wasn't ideal. It came up for auction. Strategically, I didn't want to lose the opportunity to enable the EA Hotel to easily expand (i.e. through knocking through the wall and using all same resources in terms of kitchen, appliances, stock etc) in the event it is successful enough to warrant it.)

6KevinO1yFrom the body of the top post and this page: https://eahotel.org/fundraiser/ [https://eahotel.org/fundraiser/], it sounds like they had estimated they would spend £5000 per month but instead spent £5700 per month. That may have contributed to running out early.
2KevinO1yI guess the question could remain where the extra £700/month came from.

Is this really important? A discrepancy of £700 relative to the £5000 projection seems acceptable to me.

The £5000/month was an estimate based on earlier spending. Our costs are variable dependent on occupancy, hours worked by staff, random maintenance costs etc. It's unfortunate that I didn't adjust the totaliser earlier based on the actual spend, and I considered just paying out of my own pocket to hide the mistake, given that it's likely to be a black mark against me/the EA Hotel (and there seems to be very little tolerance for mistakes in EA these days). I hope at least some people appreciate the honesty.

I was just thinking that I didn't really answer Gregory_Lewis's question.

4Khorton1yThe Facebook link isn't working for me. Can someone from the EA Hotel confirm: did you buy the building next door?
9Greg_Colbourn1yI bought it, for £47k (see above [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/uyvc6p99vsWFMPZiz/ea-hotel-fundraiser-5-out-of-runway#7tkX6QxxiTh7HtmLN] ).

I'm planning to donate to the EA hotel. Given that it isn't a registered charity, I'm interested in doing donation swaps with EAs in countries where charitable donations aren't tax deductible (like Sweden) so that I can get tax deductions on my donations. Reach out or comment here if interested.

You could use the donation swap system at EAHub: https://donationswap.eahub.org

This is pretty sad to hear. I would already have used the EA Hotel at least once this year (when I moved back to the UK, before I found somewhere to rent) and more recently when looking for somewhere to rent in Blackpool (as it happens, I expect I may be renting in Blackpool in the near future, partly because the EA Hotel is there), were there any space in the EA Hotel. So I would like to see the EA Hotel expanding, rather than at risk of shutting down.

9Milan_Griffes1yYeah. It reminds me of the situation the Berkeley REACH was in last summer: 1 [http://benjaminrosshoffman.com/humans-need-places/], 2 [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/D3zK3anJcdW9RuZr8/last-chance-to-fund-the-berkeley-reach] (I don't know where the REACH receives funding from now. It was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Meta Fund [https://app.effectivealtruism.org/funds/ea-community/payouts/2dyBJqJBSIq6sAGU6gMYQW] in November 2018.)

Here's an idea: sponsorship of individual rooms: £500/month, minimum commitment of 12 months, voided if hotel ceases to exist in current form in the mean time. You'd get to name the room - e.g. “x suite” - and perhaps specify a cause area it's to be reserved for. If you're interested in this, let's talk.

Not sure Greg officially approves of this, but there's also an octagon-shaped common room which we typically call "The Octagon". If you want to help financially and also troll all of us to no end, you could stipulate that we rename it to some other shape, e.g. "The Triangle".

I approve. Anyone want to start the bidding?

6Khorton1yUpvoted because it makes me laugh
8willbradshaw1yJust wanted to note that the room is, in fact, ten-sided.
7Greg_Colbourn1yIt is, in fact, an irregular decagon (or 7 sides of an octagon with fitted seating, and a passage to the door :)

As things stand I’m likely to give people notice soon to start paying rent or leave from 1 Dec. I feel that this could then cause a death spiral from people leaving, cost/person increasing, further people leaving because of that etc :(

Another idea: we'd be happy to offer a value-aligned significant donor a seat on our Board of Trustees (kind of like Holden Karnofsky and OpenAI, but on a smaller scale). Let us know if you'd like to discuss this with us.

"What about EA Grants / EA Funds?" We are still talking to EA Grants and the EA Long Term Future Fund. They have one or two sticking points that we're hoping to resolve with their input. We need funds to bridge the gap in the mean time.

Hey all,

I'm the EA Grants evaluator. We don't usually comment publicly on reasons for not granting to something, but Greg gave us permission and encouragement in this case given the community interest. At this point I'm not excited to fund the EA Hotel's general costs. My concerns are:


- Hotel management generally (including selection of guests/projects)
- Potential for community health issues, and concern about handling of a staffing issue
- Some concern about the handling of past PR situations; I think these were very difficult situations, but I think an excellent version of the hotel would have handled these better


I'm still happy to help with finding an excellent Project and Community Manager, and to consider topping up/extending funding for the right candidate, should the EA Hotel find general operating funding elsewhere.

Some concern about the handling of past PR situations; I think these were very difficult situations, but I think an excellent version of the hotel would have handled these better

I think this is a little unfair. It would be good to know exactly what we (or an excellent version of the hotel) could've (would've) done better regarding the PR situations (I assume this is referring to the Economist and Times articles). Oliver Habryka says here "I still think something in this space went wrong", but doesn't say what (see my reply to Habryka for detail on what happened with the media). Jonas Vollmer says in reply to Habryka's comment:

... "better than many did in the early stages (including myself in the early stages of EAF) but (due to lack of experience or training) considerably worse than most EA orgs would do these days." There are many counterintuitive lessons to be learnt, many of which I still don't fully understand, either.

but doesn't elaborate. I have also talked to someone at CEA at length about media, including what happened with the hotel, and they didn't suggest anything that we could've done better given the situatio... (read more)

Hi Greg - from my perspective, CEA did discuss all of these points with you. For example, last week when you emailed and asked what the Hotel could have done better on media, I replied about something I saw as a mistake and what I thought should have been done differently. We’ve also discussed the staffing issue. I'm happy to discuss more by email or call if you'd like.

I understand we may view these situations differently and that you may disagree with CEA's recommendations for improvements. We might also have different views about how much explicit direction (versus just advice) it’s appropriate for us to give an external org. I don't think it's accurate, though, to indicate that we haven't provided feedback or suggestions.

Hi Julia, ok but to me the point you raised about media was tangential, i.e. it was not directly related to the PR situations themselves. For those curious - I missed a meeting with a professional communications advisor at EAG London last year, on account of missing an email (in which the meeting was arranged for me) sent the day before whilst I was driving to London. I was overwhelmed at the time with interest in the hotel, and that wasn't the only email (or meeting) I missed.

The point I raised was not about the round of media stories from Sept 2018, but was about preparing for future media inquiries. So you're right that it's not about past media situations, but about how further situations might be handled.

Fair point, but Nicole refers to:

Some concern about the handling of past PR situations

Also it's worth mentioning our actual subsequent track record over the past year (i.e. 0 further PR situations).

3Greg_Colbourn1yRegarding explicit direction vs advice - for me it was the fact that something I thought had been dealt with acceptably seems to have - unbeknownst to me - remained a live issue in terms of it effecting funding decisions. More explicit direction at the time in terms of "if you want to get funding from CEA you need to do this" seems like it would've been better in hindsight.

From my perspective, I repeatedly gave you information about a situation that I saw as a problem. How you decided to handle the problem as the manager of the project was up to you. We don't see it as a good idea for funders to make ultimatums about the staffing decisions of potential grantees. But as Nicole said, this was one of the things among many she considered when looking back at the history of the project.

After talking more with Greg, I realized I should clarify that I don't mean I think something went badly wrong at the Hotel.

As Nicole said above, CEA would be happy to help the Hotel with finding an excellent Project and Community Manager, and to consider helping to fund these roles if there's another source of general funding.

I have no objections to other donors supporting the Hotel. The default is that projects don't get EA Grants, and this situation should be seen as "the default happened" rather than "the Hotel did something unusually bad to disqualify itself from funding it would otherwise have gotten."

7Milan_Griffes1yIs CEA helping out with this?
9Greg_Colbourn5moWe now have general funding for the next few months and are hiring [https://ceealar.org/were-hiring/] for both a Community & Projects Manager [https://ceealar.org/opportunity-community-projects-manager/] and an Operations Manager [https://ceealar.org/opportunity-operations-manager/], with input from Nicole and others at CEA. Unfortunately with the winding down of EA Grants [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/SX6vKhRQsFj8AjYrM/brief-update-on-ea-grants] the possibility of funding for the Community & Projects Manager salary has gone. If anyone would like to top up the salaries for either the Community & Projects Manager or Operations Manager (currently ~£21.5k/yr pro rata including free accommodation and food), please get in touch [https://ceealar.org/contact/]!
7Nicole_Ross1yWe are still happy to help with hiring and to consider helping to fund the role if there's enough general funding. We haven't received new info from Greg about whether there is enough general funding that it's worth moving forward hiring, so we're currently on standby.
Potential for community health issues, and concern about handling of a staffing issue

It's true that there is potential for community health issues whenever you have a group of people living together. I think we have generally faired well in this regard so far though. It has been suggested that there is a significant reputational risk involved with funding a project such as the EA Hotel given the interpersonal dynamics of a large group of people living together, and therefore it might be better for it to be funded by individuals instead of grant-making organisations. However, as a counter-point: most universities provide massively-communal student accommodation.

Regarding the staffing issue, I'm afraid there's not much I can say publicly. Although it was my understanding at the time that we dealt with it appropriately, after taking advice from prominent community members.

I'm not convinced community health issues are uniquely problematic when you have people living together. I feel like one could argue just as easily that conferences are risky for community health. If something awkward happens at EA Global, you'll have an entire year to chew on that before running into the person next year. (Pretty sure that past EA Global conferences have arranged shared housing in e.g. dormitories for participants, by the way.) And there is less shared context at a conference because it happens over a brief period of time. One could also argue that having the community be mostly online runs risks for community health (for obvious reasons), and it's critical for us to spend lots of time in person to build stronger bonds. And one could argue that not having much community at all, neither online nor in person, runs risks for community health due to value drift. Seems like there are risks everywhere.

If people really think there are significant community health risks with EA roommates, then they could start a charity which pays EAs who currently live with EA roommates to live alone. To my knowledge, no one has proposed a charity like that. It doesn't seem like a very promising charity to me. If you agree, then by the reversal test, it follows that as a community we should want to move a bit further in the direction of EAs saving money by living together.

The reversal test doesn't mean 'if you don't think a charity for X is promising, you should be in favour of more ¬X'. I may not find homeless shelters, education, or climate change charities promising, yet not want to move in the direction of greater homelessness, illiteracy, or pollution.

If (like me) you'd prefer EA to move in the direction of 'professional association' rather than 'social movement', this attitude's general recommendation to move away from communal living (generally not a feature of the former, given the emphasis on distinguishing between personal and professional lives) does pass the reversal test, as I'd forecast having the same view even if the status quo was everyone already living in group house (or vice versa).

The reversal test doesn't mean 'if you don't think a charity for X is promising, you should be in favour of more ¬X'. I may not find homeless shelters, education, or climate change charities promising, yet not want to move in the direction of greater homelessness, illiteracy, or pollution.

Suppose you're the newly appointed director of a large charitable foundation which has allocated its charitable giving in a somewhat random way. If you're able to resist status quo bias, then usually, you will not find yourself keeping the amount allocated for a particular cause at exactly the level it was at originally. For example, if the foundation is currently giving to education charities, and you don't think those charities are very effective, then you'll reduce their funding. If you think those charities are very effective, then you'll increase their funding.

Now consider "having EAs live alone in apartments in expensive cities" as a cause area. Currently, the amount we're spending on this area has been set in a somewhat random way. Therefore, if we're able to resist status quo bias, we should probably either be moving it up or moving it down. We could move it up by creating a chari

... (read more)

I find this thought experiment really weird because I don't think EAs living together should be centrally managed. It seems really obvious to me that EA as a movement faces less risks when a few friends who met through EA decide to move in together, rather than when people apply to an 'EA house' with social programmes where they don't know anyone.

Like, if a couple living in the EA Hotel break up, there's a good chance they'll both continue to living there and it'll be very awkward. If you're in a flatshare, I'd expect one of them to move out ASAP. The social norms are just so different.

I agree it would surprise if EA happened upon the optimal cohabitation level (although perhaps not that surprising, given individuals can act by the lights of their best interest which may reasonably approximate the global optimum), yet I maintain the charitable intervention hypothetical is a poor intuition pump as most people would be dissuaded from 'intervening' to push towards the 'optimal cohabitation level' for 'in practice' reasons - e.g. much larger potential side-effects of trying to twiddle this dial, preserving the norm of leaving people to manage their personal lives as they see best, etc.

I'd probably want to suggest the optimal cohabitation level is below what we currently observe (e.g. besides the issue Khorton mentions, cohabitation with your employees/bosses/colleagues or funder/fundee seems to run predictable risks), yet be reluctant to 'intervene' any further up the coercion hierarchy than expressing my reasons for caution.

5Greg_Colbourn1yThanks for commenting Nicole. To address your points (will post a separate comment for each): In terms of general management, I agree that there is always room for improvement, but I don't think things have been too bad so far. Regarding the selection of guests/projects, I have a lot to say about this, which I hope to cover in EA Hotel Fundraiser 10: Estimating the relative Expected Value of the EA Hotel (Part 2), and possibly also a separate post focusing more on my personal opinions. For now I will say that I think there might be some philosophical disagreement between us, although I can't be certain as I don't know the specifics of which guests/projects you are referring to in particular.
3CEEALAR1yThe Project and Community Manager (or Community & Projects Manager) is a role that largely involves overseeing the EA-focused work being done at the Hotel, facilitating productivity and offering practical and strategic advice to guests, in order to help maximise the value of their work to the world. Other tasks for this role include: answering email enquiries; video calls with applicants; coordinating with Trustees and Advisors to vet applicants; helping maintain community morale at a high level, and resolving conflict if it arises, in coordination with the Operations Manager; developing overall strategy for the EA Hotel, in coordination with Trustees. We hope to do a hiring round for the role as and when we get back to 6 months runway of general operating costs, and appreciate Nicole's interest in potentially funding the role. Denisa Pop is currently in the role [https://eahotel.org/people/#staff] in the interim.

Can you say what those sticking points are? I guess that could be relevant to know for other potential donors.

Not sure how much we're allowed to say. Will ask the grantmakers.

9Greg_Colbourn1ySee Nicole's comment [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/uyvc6p99vsWFMPZiz/ea-hotel-fundraiser-5-out-of-runway#csfqhi5ZsMS5RzpMg] in the parent thread.

One of the fund managers published some thoughts here six months ago.

Yes, where I say above that I "probably was a little over-optimistic about the funding prospects for the EA Hotel at the time [when buying the hotel next door]", it was largely based on this exchange.

"How might you get on a sustainable footing in terms of funding?" We're hopeful that within 2-5 years we could be sustained by alumni donating back amounts higher than their stay cost.

"Tax deductibility?" We're still in the process of trying to get a charity registered. This has ended up being a lot more complex and time-consuming than initially expected down to the uniqueness of our project. We do have some potential donors waiting on it, but again, we need funds to bridge the gap to getting charitable status (best case scenario: this could happen by the end of 2019).

Could you get a fiscal sponsor? I guess at this point it makes sense to just wait until the end of the year...

1CEEALAR1yWe have talked to people about this but it often comes down to the fact that even if they could hold the money for us, they'd only be able to give it to us if we get non-profit status (and this isn't a certainty).

Huh, maybe it's a UK thing? In my US / CA experience, you can get money (and offer tax deductions) from a fiscal sponsor even if you are not a non-profit.

Would CEA be willing to accept donations and route them to EA hotel so the donors in the US or UK can get the tax advantage?

“Why not just charge people?" I think that would end up missing most of the counterfactual value. We are providing grants in the form of free accommodation and board for those working full time on EA related endeavors (at a very low cost per person year of work - ~£6k). Having a default of charging would curtail the interest of the people and projects most likely to benefit (and the value produced by them). It kind of goes against most of the point of the project (like trying to save a scholarship by asking the recipients to pay).” See thread here for further discussion: https://www.facebook.com/groups/EAHotel/permalink/2617815558273857/?comment_id=2618854804836599 [Note: Closed group, welcome for people to join]

What if rooms at the EA Hotel were cost-price by default, and you allocated "scholarships" based on a combination of need and merit, as many US universities do? This might avoid a negative feedback cycle (because you can retain the most exceptional people) while reducing costs and making the EA Hotel a less attractive target for unaligned people to take resources from.

With the charity structure we're setting up, charging cost price will also amount to a grant in the form of a partial subsidy. Charging anyone less than market rate (~double cost price) means they are a beneficiary of the charity. So in practice everyone will have to apply for a grant of free accommodation, board and stipend, and the amount given (total or partial subsidy) will depend on their need and merit.

I think that would end up missing most of the counterfactual value... It kind of goes against most of the point of the project (like trying to save a scholarship by asking the recipients to pay).

There could be of significant value to some people to have subsidised much cheaper than usual rent (in a hotel with a ready-made dedicated EA community), even if it's not free. Of course, it's a further question whether there are enough such people to sustain the hotel in the short term, if the hotel transitions away from fully covering expenses.

I think it would be interesting to see how many current/potential guests could/would pay some small sum. Going forward, one could also have some kinds of honour-based system, where people indicate whether they would be able to pay some rent while staying at the hotel or whether they would require full coverage plus a stipend.

We already have an honour-based system where people with an income or >24 months runway in savings are asked to pay cost price. We could perhaps tighten this up, but don't really want to end up with a system where people with very limited resources would feel obliged to pay and thus don't apply.

7Milan_Griffes1yPeople tend to value things more if they pay for them than if they're free. [Citation needed]
6Liam_Donovan1yWhat does this mean in the context of the EA Hotel? In particular, would your point apply to university scholarships as well, and if not, what breaks the analogy between scholarships and the Hotel?