Short: I am an academic economist at the University of Exeter; my research focuses on determinants and motivators of charitable giving (propensity, amounts, and 'to which cause?'). I'm working to impact EA fundraising and marketing; see innovationsinfundraising.org and giveifyouwin.org. Twitter: @givingtools


EA Survey 2019 Series: Donation Data

I'm involved with doing this analysis this year, andI hope we can go in this direction. Perhaps not in the first iteration, but as we refine it.

Are there EA-aligned organizations working on improving the effectiveness of corporate social responsibility/corporate giving strategies?

Would love to touch base on this, let's chat.

I had a project doing some scoping related to this called innovationsinfundraising.org -- see especially the links HERE

The case of the missing cause prioritisation research

Great post! I laid down a variety of comments and suggestions within your post using hypothes.is. If you want to check it out (you need to install the browser ad-in and get a free account to see these.

I prefer to comment within the text rather than here at the bottom, cutting and pasting quotes. Anyone else here tried hypothes.is?

(By the way, I'm an academic economist. I don't have any stake in hypothes.is. I just like it.)

Growth and the case against randomista development

I am an academic economist. I agree that economic development is important and is likely responsible for the majority of welfare gains in poor countries (although the spread of medical treatments, eliminating polio etc., are also huge). Yes, we have some good evidence that certain policies substantially inhibit development. And we should advocate against these policies.

However, some parts of the argument seem a bit overstated or unfair to me. Some points

  1. "Randomista": that is not the term the advocates would prefer, is it?

  2. Even if the best policies are pursued, the benefits will be slow and uneven. In the meanwhile, donations to prevent malaria, fund micronutrients, and even provide fistula and eye surgery can have a huge impact/$.

    • I don't think many donors will decide between giving $ to bednets and giving it to fund advocacy for pro-trade policies. However, presenting the benefits of the former as 'a drop in a vast ocean' will discourage giving overall
  3. The benefits of these health interventions are not primarily their impact on boosting economic growth/income. They yield direct welfare benefits. The comparisons you highlight above make it seem as if the main intention of these is to boost growth/income.

  4. The main issue: You state

friendly economic policies can often be orders of magnitude more cost-effective than direct funding of evidence-based interventions.

Perhaps, but that is not the issue from a donor point of view. The issue is the cost-effectiveness of money donated to support these policies. I see very little reason to believe that "funding a bunch more economists" (again, I say this as an economist myself) would have a substantial beneficial impact, much less on a per-dollar basis.

Maybe it would, but I think there are orders of magnitude of uncertainty over this impact. The assumptions for this in the spreadsheet seem simply like guesses to me.

My reason to be a bit skeptical... we have many many economists out there. I don't see how more economists–or even more think tanks–will do much to clearly advance the argument against the known-to-be-bad growth policies.

Growth and the case against randomista development

Agreed. Also you should call people by what they refer to themselves as. I think 'Randomista' comes across of a pejorative.

Important EA-related questions EA would like to know from general public

I may be too late to the game (been away and @DavidJanku only recently alerted me to this ) but some quick thoughts:

The current version seems to have many questions that will tell you about how people either 'consciously answer this question to themselves' or how they want to present themselves. It may not reveal their true motivations. There's a lot of work point in this direction.

I would try to focus more on very specific questions that permit less constructed justification and 'lying to oneself.'

It may be very helpful to present simple and yet that ask for a hypothetical response such as "which of the following charities would you be more likely to donate to?" and "how does the following information make you feel?" (although the latter may also offering for motivated reasoning). My recent paper with Robin Bergh some of this but with real donation choices; it still would be interesting to consider hypothetical choices and responses.

I have a wiki/hub that attempts to summarize much of the evidence on Charitable giving, with a particular focus on the consideration of effectiveness.

See INNOVATIONSINFUNDRAISING.ORG. There is also an underlying database I can share (with more detail and recent updates) if you message me at daaronr AT gmail.com

I have also done a lot of work recently summarizing the evidence on "How do people respond to effectiveness information".

E.g., pasting some text from a recent grant application:

So far, we have limited evidence on these questions, and the existing evidence is far from systematic or consistent Mixed results, e.g.,- Small et al vs Karlan, Parsons, and Reinstein et al work with Donor Voice; a Previous studies have largely relied on hypothetical and small-scale lab-based experiments(Metzger & Günther, 2015, Berman et al., 2018, Verkaik, 2016). Only a few large scale natural field experiments have been run. Karlan and Wood (2017) simultaneously varied emotional and cost-effectiveness information, with the latter presented largely qualitatively and in a particular ‘scientific’ credentials frame. Parson (2007) presented accounting information (uninformative about per-dollar effectiveness). In contrast, our field experiment project aims at large sample sizes in real donation environment, testing a set of particularly relevant and practical framings of real per-dollar impact information in the presence/absence of an emotional appeal (further measuring interaction effects, as in Bergh and Reinstein, 2019).

Please message me for more detail.

A Framework for Thinking about the EA Labor Market

Well written. I agree with most of the points. A minor quibble: I'm not sure I'd consider the wages in the nonprofit sector/EA to be 'structurally suppressed'. There are other considerations (both good and bad) limiting wages, particularly:

  1. Donors may be repelled by high salaries (but this is less likely to be true in EA imho)

  2. There is a case (and several good academic papers arguing this, e.g., Steinberg, 2008; Delfgauw and Dur, 2002 ) that a lower salary can screen for more cause-motivated employees; where performance and outcomes can not be as easily monitored and incentivized, intrinsic motivation is important. This is not to say that I think a higher salary will attract less-motivated employees, but these can be hard to distinguish from others. In net the gain from higher salary may not be as strong in the nonprofit/EA sector.

You note:

The Centre for Effective Altruism is hiring a new CEO. Should it restrict its search to candidates willing to show their commitment by pledging everything they earn above a modest amount to effective charities? (Purely hypothetical question, I have no reason to think CEA is doing this).

As we discussed in the doc, I suggest there is a middle ground: Give preference to hiring people who have committed to donate at least a certain share of their income (and have demonstrably fulfilled this pledge).

Salary Negotiation for Earning to Give
How would you ensure people stick to their promise to donate and don't just use the advice/time for non-earning-to-give causes.

1. We could offer this only to those who already have a public verified record of substantial EA giving.

This would seem to be a reasonable filter/screen on honesty. It is possible that such people would take advantage and not keep the promise to donate the additional amount, but it seems unlikely. Perhaps there are people with a consequentialist ethic who want to help effectively and donate a lot, but are nonetheless willing to be dishonest and swindle fellow-EA-ers, but it doesn't seem terribly possible.

Note that even if people did not consistently donate the additional negotiated salary, this would still serve as a 'reward' for public EA donors, perhaps encouraging others to follow suit.

2. I would suggest that the negotiator/EA sponsor ask them to state their expected salary and salary range and then afterwards to state the amount they were able to negotiate and the amount they had donated. People will probably be less willing to default on their promise if doing so requires explicitly stating this or lying about it.

Salary Negotiation for Earning to Give

Trigger warning: contains some academic economics palaver and self-promotion.

Classical economics arguments

The case (as in 'no Lean Season') seems to depend on inefficient behavior/job applicants leaving money on the table. If there were such great gains to negotiating why wouldn't the applicants always hire a negotiator? This lends some credence to those saying that there is a cost in terms of rescinded offers. In some sense, this would mean that if the EA community offered free negotiating services in exchange for such a pledge, they would be gambling with the applicant's funds.

*So what might be the case to still justify this?*

Behavioral and modern economics/psychology

1. Psychology/biases in giving

This is not necessarily a bad thing. If the applicant is willing to take such a risk, this might be a good way to indirectly elicit donations. It also relates to the give if you win mode I have been researching.

2. Biases in negotiating

This also might be a 'nudge towards negotiating'; perhaps people are reluctant to stick their neck out and negotiate for themselves because of some intrinsic psychological bias, but they might be willing to do so with the support of the EA community, and knowing that it would lead to helping effective causes, well bringing them some positive reputation in the process.

3. Psychology and 'biases' in volunteering

This may unlock the volunteer services of expert negotiators in a particularly effective way. Because of the signaling benefits (it's more public!), corporate rewards, and internalised feeling of impact people may be more willing to volunteer than to donate the equivalent amount in terms of the value of the time. This relates to my proposal for the Corporate bake sale.

4. Synergies enabled by cooperation between altruists

In Principal-Agent problems there is a well-known inefficiency that results from the combination of hidden information and either limited-liability or asymmetric risk-preferences. This is essentially why economists believe (and have some evidence) that real estate agents usually get a lower price when they sell a house for someone else vs. their own house.

However, if the negotiator here is EA-aligned, their interests will better converge, and there is an efficiency gain to be had here. (A bunch of papers make this case ... about the efficiency gains resulting from altruism on one side or the other, including my own paper on the theoretical argument for 'fair trade'.

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