Let’s Fund: annual review / fundraising / hiring / AMA

by HaukeHillebrandt 6 min read31st Dec 201913 comments

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Executive Summary

Let’s Fund has crowdfunded over $300,000 in total for the high-risk, high-leverage projects of our grantees:

  • More than $225,000 was raised for ITIF, a D.C.-based think tank to support Professor David Hart’s work on climate policy
  • More than $75,000 was raised for Cardiff University to support Professor Chris Chambers’ work on meta-science.

We have also published several tens of thousands of words of high-quality research and analysis. For instance, our climate policy research coverage by Vox went viral, was retweeted by Bill Gates and many other policy wonks, and featured in the American Institute of Physics newsletter.

We have done this on a $40,000 budget, suggesting a net present value of roughly $238,000.

In 2020, we’re seeking $100,000 to cover the cost of our operations and grow this project. Our stretch / aggressive growth goal is $200,000.

If you want to support Let’s Fund’s operations and make a medium-sized donation, then the best thing for us would be to donate via our Stripe page—unfortunately these donations are not tax deductible. If you would like to make a slightly larger tax-deductible donation, please get in touch. If you want to donate less than $100, then the best thing would be to support our campaigns.

Ask us anything in the comments (but note that we’re on holiday from the 4th till the 9th of January and so there will be a delay in responding).

Edit 1/1/2020: We've updated some of the figures to include end-of-the-year donations and corrected a small error in the notes column of the spreadsheet (the total money raised did not come from just two donors).

What does Let’s Fund do?

Lets-Fund.org researches policy solutions to important problems and crowdfunds for the most effective ones.

We’re a “think-and-do tank”:

  1. We conduct in-depth research to make people engage (deeply) with important problems and the effectiveness of different solutions (e.g. replication crisis, climate change, impact investing, and global catastrophic risks).
  2. Then, we encourage people to actually do something, e.g. by donating or making a grant to rigorously vetted, high-risk, high-reward charitable projects via crowdfunding campaigns.

2019: Big picture activities and achievements

In early 2019, we first got funding for Let’s Fund and Hauke, the CEO and research lead, started full-time work on this project. In mid-2019, Sahil contracted for Let’s Fund part-time for a few months to work on business operations and has since volunteered. Henry volunteered part-time for the project. Overall, roughly one year of full-time equivalent (FTE) has been spent on the project, since our launch 14 months ago.[1] Our CVs are at Lets-Fund.org/About.

Note that some of the money has been firmly committed but has not moved to the charities yet (however, there are a few softer commitments that have not been included).

  1. Better Science campaign: For our first crowdfunding campaign, we’ve raised ~$77k for an academic to change how researchers across scientific disciplines do research. In our grant report (Lets-Fund.org/Better-Science), we also discussed differential technological development[2] and the Long-Term Future Fund endorsed this project with a grant. Our grantee has already hired assistants to push his advocacy forward and now implemented the Registered Reports format at +200 journals (including EA-relevant areas such as development economics[3] and Global Catastrophic Biological Risks[4]).
  2. Climate policy campaign: We’ve raised ~$225k for a think tank to work on climate policy. Our research (Lets-Fund.org/Clean-Energy) was covered on Vox,[5] which went viral with +10k positive engagements on social media from politicians, academics, policy wonks, and billionaires. For instance, Bill Gates tweeted “If you read one article this week about climate change, check out this one”[6] and it featured on the American Institute of Physics newsletter. The article also mentioned and positively reflected on EA (uncontroversial, high-quality analysis on a mainstream topic).
  3. Fundraising ratio: In total, we have raised around ~$300k. We’ve spent ~$40k ($10k from the EA Meta Fund grant and ~$30k from private EA donors). This suggests a fundraising ratio of ~8x and the net value is ~$265k (net present value @ 5%: ~$238k). (more below).
  4. Impact Investing: Our report on impact investing (Lets-Fund.org/Impact-Investing), was covered on Vox and was well received. For instance, a philanthropic advisor we know recently advised a client who wanted to impact invest $1.3m, but after introducing him to some conclusions of our report, he decided on the spot to put $650k into (classical) "investing to give" and $650k into immediate effective giving. We have heard that related work on the Mission Hedging investment strategy, which we popularized within the EA community, has been of interest to foundations in the EA space.
  5. Other research:
  6. Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions” (cited by 7 [Pingbacks on the EA forum]).
  7. “Global Catastrophic Risks from Corporations
  8. “Economic growth and the case against evidence-based development” with John Halstead (Forthcoming)

Mission: Short-term metrics

  1. Money raised. Ultimately, we want to optimize for and measure counterfactual, quality-adjusted money moved. In other words, how good are the projects we crowdfund for compared to OPP/EA funds grants (e.g. 75% as good)? Where would donations go counterfactually (i.e. are we reaching donors that would otherwise not give effectively)? Instead of merely being a think tank, crowdfunding keeps our work focused, applied, and grounded.
  2. Research quality. How good is our research and how much do people engage with it? Metrics: time spent on site, feedback from (EA) researchers. Also: though small donors might not donate much, their donations, a revealed preference, are a metric for “high-fidelity EA meme spreading” (“parting with hard-earned cash”, is a good proxy for deep engagement with our ideas).

Vision: Long-term goals

  1. We want to normalize donating to high-risk, high-leverage, long-termist EA science and policy over more traditional charity. We also want to increase diversity of thought, discussion, and more active engagement around which projects are most effective.
  2. We want to be a philanthropy and prioritization think tank that affects philanthropic funding and thinking about prioritization generally. Long-term, we want to work with HNWs to optimize their giving. We’ve recently started reaching out and pitching our grantees to HNWs and foundations.

2019 Budgets and fundraising

Google Spreadsheet from above can be found here.

The big picture is that we have raised more than $300k on a $40k budget.

This suggests a fundraising ratio (or benefit-cost ratio) of

8

And a net present value (discounted benefits minus costs) of:

~$238k

Simcikas lists ways in which cost-effectiveness estimates can be wrong, and the estimate here is wrong in several of those and other ways. We have not quantified and included: the value of our volunteers’ time, investing some of our own money into the project, counterfactual impact of altruistic employees, the high counterfactual value of money donated to our campaigns by EAs, and the costs of work of others (see acknowledgments below). Thus, this analysis should be taken with a grain of salt. Having said that, we believe this simplified cost-effectiveness analysis is roughly accurate and comparable to other cost-effectiveness analysis.

We extend this cost-effectiveness analysis to make it comparable to giving money to GiveDirectly.

To do so, we make the following assumptions:

  1. If the average effectiveness of Let’s Fund’s campaigns is equal to the Long-Term Future fund’s effectiveness, because one of our campaigns has received a grant from the Long-term future fund, and...
  2. If the Long-term future fund is ~33x more effective than giving to the global development fund, as suggested by a survey of “EA leaders", and...
  3. If the Global Development fund is ~10x more effective than GiveDirectly, because it mostly pays out to Givewell recommended charities, which are usually ~10x more effective than cash.

...then the quality-adjusted GiveDirectly-equivalent net present value might be as high as $60 million. In other words, the project is roughly as good as donating $60mn for GiveDirectly. This sounds grandiose and is likely wrong in many ways, but in general, we believe that the counterintuitive idea that raising a smaller amount for (riskier) very effective projects over a larger amount of money for less effective projects is not wrong. As such, we believe this result is not off by more than an order of magnitude and that the expected value Let’s Fund’s activities through its grantees are at least worth on the order of millions of dollars to GiveDirectly.

Of course, given the level of wealth inequality, big donors donate much more than small donors. However, we feel there is additional value in small donations through crowdfunding because it creates deep engagement with and discussion of prioritization.

Moreover, small donors collectively donating to policy research has more democratic legitimacy than donations by ultra high-net worth individuals (c.f. some politicians not accepting large donations[7] vs some billionaires funding think tanks[8]).

We see our fundraising an easily measurable and robust backbone of our activities, which keeps our research focused on concrete real-world impacts.

We believe there is perhaps even more value in our research itself, but it’s less quantifiable. For instance, the ideas in the long research report for the “Better Science” campaign might have had an influence on the Long-term Future fund, because one of the fund managers said our report “played a major role in my assessment of the grant”.[9] The ideas in the long research report for the “Clean Energy” campaign might have influenced climate policy, because the Vox summary of the research went viral and some people in policy told us that they read the whole research report and it has influenced their thinking.

Key focus for 2020

In Q1, we aim to do more research to start another crowdfunding campaign. The exact topic is TBD, but it might be in economic growth in low-income countries, reducing risks from war, AI governance, or other GCR reduction.

If fundraising is unsuccessful, we might discontinue actively growing Let’s Fund in April (but continue running it with a skeleton crew on a volunteer/part-time basis).

If fundraising is successful, then the broad plan is to find a full-time co-founder and rent office space to professionalize and grow the project.

  1. Do more and higher quality research with the aim of finding long-termist funding opportunities.
  2. Raise more money for current and future projects by…
  3. Setting up partnerships with foundations, HNWs, or other fundraising organizations that reuse our research (such as Effective Giving Germany).
  4. Experiment with scalable outreach to small donors through content marketing or Ads (e.g. offer carbon offsetting through our climate change campaign).
  5. Professionalize operations (e.g. improve UX of website, set up a non-profit (we’re currently running Let’s Fund as the Center for Applied Utilitarianism, a UK limited company).

Fundraising Target for 2020

Staff compensation: For 2020, we need $100,000 for two full-time annual salaries for Hauke and another full-time co-founder that we would try to hire.

Overhead cost: $20,000 (mostly office rent in central London)

In total, this adds up to $120,000. We have already raised $20,000 from the Survival and Flourishing fund. Thus, we are seeking and additional $100,000.

Stretch goal: We would take up to $200,000 to have more planning security and runway, pay efficiency wages, and grow more aggressively by hiring additional support staff and spending money on adwords.

How to donate: If you want to support Let’s Fund’s operations and make a medium-sized donation, then the best thing for us would be to donate via our Stripe page—unfortunately these donations are not tax deductible. If you would like to make a slightly larger tax-deductible donation, please get in touch. If you want to donate less than $100, then the best thing would be to support our campaigns.

Hiring

Interested in working for Let’s Fund? Please fill in this form.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the following for helping Let’s Fund in various ways:

  • Two anonymous EA donors
  • The Effective Altruism Meta-Fund & the Center for Effective Altruism
  • The Survival and Flourishing Fund
  • Jacob Hilton
  • Founders Pledge
  • People who have reviewed our research
  • Effektiv-Spenden.org
  • Rethink Charity: Forward
  • Effective Altruism Foundation
  • Slate Star Codex
  • Founders Pledge
  • EA Giving Tuesday
  • Vox
  • Everyone who has donated to our crowdfunding campaigns

[1] "Announcing: "Lets-Fund.org: High-Impact Crowdfunding campaigns ...." 25 Oct. 2018, https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/SPc9CXaLdEJGiDZy5/announcing-lets-fund-org-high-impact-crowdfunding-campaigns. Accessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[2] "Differential progress - Effective Altruism Concepts." https://concepts.effectivealtruism.org/concepts/differential-progress/. Accessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[3] "Registered Reports: Piloting a Pre-Results Review Process at ...." 9 Mar. 2018, https://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/registered-reports-piloting-pre-results-review-process-journal-development-economics. Accessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[4] "Opening Influenza Research - The Center for Open Science." https://cos.io/our-services/research/flulab/. Accessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[5] "The climate change policy with the most potential is the ... - Vox." 20 Sep. 2019, https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/7/11/20688611/climate-change-research-development-innovation. Accessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[6] "Bill Gates on Twitter: "If you read one article about climate ...." 26 Jul. 2019, https://twitter.com/billgates/status/1154787966256058368. Accessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/09/30/are-sanders-warren-grassroots-funded/. Accessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[8] "Billionaires Channel Millions to Think Tanks - Forbes." 4 Feb. 2012, https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauriebennett/2012/02/04/billionaires-channel-millions-to-think-tanks/. Accessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[9] "Payout Report: Long-Term Future Fund - Effective Altruism ...." 30 Aug. 2019, https://app.effectivealtruism.org/funds/far-future/payouts/4UBI3Q0TBGbWcIZWCh4EQV. Accessed 31 Dec. 2019.

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