Aidan Alexander

Director of Programs @ Charity Entrepreneurship
290 karmaJoined Sep 2021


Thank you! I totally agree. There is something to be said for taking a weekend to step back and think about EA topics outside the specific things you think about day to day. I get the sense that some people feel pressured to book as many 1-1s as possible and many of these end up being low value.

You’re right, and so It is a top priority! Others can say more as to the current hypotheses on how to do so

I would use this! I go back and forth on whether I should give money to beggars. Whilst I think the answer to this question depends on the specific location and context, this app would make the “but I should rather give that discretionary money to an effective charity” option a lot more realistic.

The idea makes a lot of sense, but my guess is that the circumstance where the cost is driven by the intervention itself isn’t that common: In the context of charities, we’re thinking about applying RCTs to test whether an intervention works. Generally the intervention is happening anyway. The cost of RCTs then doesn’t come from applying the intervention to the treatment group - it comes from establishing the experimental conditions where you have a randomised group of participants and the ability to collect data on them.

I'm getting a 404 error at that link

Very pleased to see this! I'd love to see more focus from EA orgs (and others of course) on the fundamentals of being an effective nonprofit (e.g. having a strong, well-evidenced theory of change, and using M&E to test the weakest links in that theory of change and measure impact).

In particular, on theory of change, I'd like to add the following impassioned rant: 

A non-profit’s theory of change is analogous to a business model in the for-profit world. Just as you wouldn’t found a company without a clear business model (and nobody would fund you), one shouldn’t found or fund a charity without a strong theory of change. 

In fact, theory of change is more important for charities than business models are for businesses, because businesses have better feedback loops. If a for-profit is based on a bad idea, or has bad execution, it will see poor revenue and profits and it will soon go out of business. If a charity is ineffective on the other hand, it may limp along for years without having any impact, squandering limited funding and talent in the process.


I think OP’s idea is not to get longermists to switch back, but to insulate neartermists from the harms that one might argue come from sharing a broader movement name with the longtermist movement.

Thanks so much for this interesting post - this framing of wellbeing had never occurred to me before. On the first example you use to explain why you find the capabilities framing to be more intuitive than a preference framing: can't we square your intuition that the second child's wellbeing is better with preference satisfaction by noting that people often have a preference to have the option to do things they don't currently prefer? I think this preference comes from (a) the fact that preferences can change, so the option value is instrumentally useful, and (b) it feels better to do what you'd prefer freely than to do so with no other option. You can account for the second example the same way.

The example of women reporting to be happier in the 70s (which lets take to be true for the sake of argument) is interesting, but for me that's a point against hedonic accounts of wellbeing, not preference accounts of wellbeing: our happiness is just one (albeit very very important!) thing we care about. So whilst women might have been happier in the US in the 70s, they may well have had preferences thwarted by discrimination... and even if their preferences were satisfied as in your first two examples (e.g. suppose they preferred playing the economic role they were forced by discrimination to play) they presumably would have preferred to have more options, and to choose freely.

I don't purport to have shown why the capabilities account of wellbeing is wrong, but rather to show why I’m not convinced that the holes (in the preference account of wellbeing) it's supposed to fill, exist in the first place.

[Sorry for the scrappy writing - written on my phone whilst walking]

Thanks for the thoughtful question Joel! 

I'll take this question in three parts:

(1) Why not just give the money to strong existing foundations whose values match your own?

  • Greater funder diversity is a good thing. 
    It contributes to worldview diversification within EA, and reduces the chance that important cause areas go unfunded (more on this below).
  • Existing foundations don't have the capacity to do everything. 
    The world is big - there are a lot of problems to solve, a lot of potential solutions to consider funding, and a lot that needs to be learned to do this well. As a result,  most foundations make the wise decision of limiting their scope by some combination of cause area, geography and recipient organization size/maturity (e.g. GiveWell focuses on mature global health organizations that can absorb many millions in funding). In aggregate, the scopes of these foundations do not sufficiently cover all of the most important areas (see Joey's post on specific funding gaps for example). So we need more organizations and more grantmakers working on figuring out what to fund! 
    I'd love to see new foundations started that address some subject matter gaps, e.g. "GiveWell, but for policy interventions" or "GiveWell, but for family planning". I'd also love to see some foundations started that fill functional niches within the funding landscape, e.g. a foundation that specialises in regranting (i.e. where their comparative advantage is in vetting people, rather than projects).

(2) Shouldn't we be skeptical of smaller/newer grantmaking organizations because it's hard to compete with the likes of GiveWell on accuracy?

  • They don't have to compete: They can focus on the many cause areas and intervention types outside of the scope of organizations like GiveWell. 
  • Small funders play an important role that GiveWell can't: Yes, the level of rigor that GiveWell puts into vetting projects is hard to compete with! But because they invest so much resources into each grant decision, GiveWell is only able to consider mature organizations that can absorb tens of millions in additional funding. Meanwhile, assessing smaller, less mature organizations is very important, because (a) if no one supports them they will never become mature enough for the likes of GiveWell, (b) there are likely be extremely cost-effective opportunities that can't ever reach GiveWell's scale requirements. 
  • Being small comes with other comparative advantages: For example, moving more quickly to respond to time-sensitive opportunities. 

(3) Shouldn't people who have ended up in the position of disbursing funds by random chance (e.g. through inheritance) just defer to others to make the grantmaking decisions?

  • It's true that a person with a lot of funds does not by default have the skills, time or interest needed to do an excellent job at disbursing it. But:
    • In many cases they do have these qualities! 
    • This program isn't just for the owner of the funds - it is for key decision-makers within grantmaking organizations, like executive directors, senior grantmaking staff and program officers. 
    • If the owner of the funds decides to defer to somebody else, there's no getting around the need for them to make some key decisions themselves, for example who to hire to disburse the funds for them (i.e. who to defer to), or what they mean by 'impact' or 'doing good'. We hope that our program will better equip participants to make these decisions.

Got it. FTX wasn't Y-combinator incubated right? (A quick google doesn't seem to suggest it was). Not that that nullifies your point - I'm just clarifying

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