COO @ Rethink Priorities
3119 karmaJoined Dec 2018Working (6-15 years)


COO at Rethink Priorities.

I previously co-founded and served as Executive Director at Wild Animal Initiative.


Topic Contributions

Not Peter, but looking at the last ~20 roles I've hired for, I'd guess that during hiring, maybe 15 or so had an alternative candidate who seemed worth hiring (though perhaps did worse in some scoring system). These were all operations roles within an EA organization. For 2 more senior roles I hired for during that time, there appeared to be suitable alternatives. For other less senior roles there weren't (though I think the opposite generally tends to be more true).

I do thing one consideration here is we are talking about who looked best during hiring. That's different than who would be a better employee - we're assuming our hiring process does a good job of assessing people's fit / job performance, etc., and we know that the best predictors during hiring are only moderately correlated with later job performance, so it's plausible that often we think there is a big gap between two candidates, but they'd actually perform equally well (or that someone who seems like the best candidate isn't). Hiring is just a highly uncertain business, and predicting long-term job performance from like, 10 hours of sample work and interviews is pretty hard — I'm somewhat skeptical that looking at hiring data is even the right approach, because you'd also want to control for things like if those employees always meet performance expectations in the future, etc, and you never actually get counterfactual data on how good the person you didn't hire was. I'm certain that many EA organizations have hired someone who appeared to be better than the alternative by a wide margin, and easily cleared a hiring bar, but who later turned out to have major performance issues, even if the organization was doing a really good job evaluating people.

The main out of context bit is that Elizabeth's comment seemed to interpret Marcus as only referring to salary, when the full comment makes it very clear that it wasn't just about that, which seemed like a strong misreading to me, even if the 10x factor was incorrect.

I suspect the actual "theoretically maximally frugal core EA organization with the same number of staff" is something like 2x-3x cheaper than current costs, if salaries moved to the $50k-$70k range.

That doesn't seem quite right to me - Longview and EG don't strike me as being earning to give outreach, though they definitely bring funds into the community. And Founders Pledge is clearly only targeting very large donors. I guess maybe to be more specific, nothing like massive, multi-million dollar E2G outreach has been tried for mid-sized / every day earning to give, as you're definitely right that effort has gone into bringing in large donors.

I think that one thing I reflect on is how much money has been spent on EA community building over the last 5 years or so. I'm guessing it is several 10s of millions of dollars. My impression (which might not be totally right) is that little of that went to promoting earning to give. So it seems possible that in a different world, where a much larger fraction was used on E2G outreach, we could have seen a substantial increase. The GWWC numbers are hard to interpret, because I don't think anything like massive, multi-million dollar E2G outreach has been tried, at least as far as I know.

I think broadly, it would be healthy for any organization of RP's size to not have a single funder giving over 40% of their funding, and ideally less. I assume the realistic version of this that might be possible is something like an $10M org. having $4M from one funder, maybe a couple of $500k-$1M donors, a few more $20k-$500k donors, and a pretty wide base of <$20k donors. So in that world, I'm guessing an organization would want to be generating something like 15%-20% of it's revenue from these mid-size donors? So definitely still a huge lift.

But, I think one thing worth considering is that while ideally there might be tens of thousands of $20k donors in EA, doing the outreach to get tens of thousands of $20k donors, if successful, will probably also bring in hundreds of <$100k donors, and maybe some handful of <$1M donors. This might not meet the ideal situation I laid out above, but on the margin seems very good.

Yeah, I think there is an open question of whether or not this would cause a decline in the impact of what's funded, and this reason is one of the better cases why it would.

I think one potential middle-ground solution to this is having like, 5x as many EA Fund type vehicles, with more grant makers representing more perspectives / approaches, etc., and those funds funded by a more diverse donor base, so that you still have high quality vetting of opportunities, but also grantmaking bodies who are responsive to the community, and some level of donor diversity possible for organizations.

Minor downvoted because this comment seems to take Marcus's comment out of context / misread it:

Catered lunches, generous expense policies, large benefits packages and ample + flexible + paid time off become a pot luck once a week, basic healthcare coverage and 2 weeks of vacation. All of a sudden, running a 10 person organization takes $1M instead of $10M and it becomes much more feasible to get 30 x $10-30k with a couple of 50-100k donations to cover the cost of the organization.

I don't think the numbers are likely exactly right, but I think the broad point is correct. I think that likely an organization starting with say 70% market rate salaries in the longtermist space could, if it pursued fairly aggressive cost savings, reduce their budget by much more than 30%. 

As an example, I was once quoted on office space in the community that cost around $14k USD / month for a four person office, including lunch every day. For a 10 person organization, that is around $420k/year for office and food. Switching to a $300/person/mo office, and not offering the same perks, which is fairly easily findable, including in large cities (though it won't be Class A office space) would save $384k, which is like, 4 additional staff at $70k/year, if that's our benchmark.

FWIW, I feel uncertain about frugality of this sort being desirable — but I definitely believe there are major cost savings on the table.

FWIW, my experience (hiring mostly operations roles) is often the opposite - I find for non-senior roles that I usually reach the end of a hiring process, and am making a pretty arbitrary choice between multiple candidates who both seem quite good on the (relatively weak) evidence from the hiring round. But, I also think RP filters a lot less heavily on culture fit / value alignment for ops roles than CEA does, which might be the relevant factor making this difference.

Yeah definitely - that's a more elegant way.

FWIW, I mildly disagree with this, because a major part of the appeal of donation elections stuff (if done well) is that the results more closely model a community consensus than other giving mechanisms, and being able to donate votes would distort that in some sense. I think I don't see the appeal of being able to donate votes in this context over just telling Jenifer + Alan that they can control where one donates to some extent, or donating to a fund. Or, if not donating to the election fund, just asking Jenifer + Alan for their opinion and changing your own mind accordingly.

I think since there can be multiple winners, letting people vote on the ideal distribution then averaging those distributions would be better than direct voting, since it most directly represents "how voters think the funds should be split on average" or similar, which seems like what you want to capture? And also is still very understandable I hope.

E.g. if I think 75% of the pool should go to LTFF and 20% to GiveWell, and 5% to the EA AWF, 0% to all the rest, I vote 75%/20%/5%/0%/0%/0% etc. Then, you take the average of those distributions across all voters. I guess it gets tricky if you are only paying out to the top three, but maybe you can just scale their percentage splits? IDK.

If not that or if it is annoying to implement, IMO approval voting or quadratic are probably best, but am not really sure. Ranked choice feels like it is so explicitly designed for single winner elections that it is harder to apply here. 

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