All of Ervin's Comments + Replies

How to improve EA Funds

Looking at the EA Community Fund as an especially tractable example (due to the limited field of charities it could fund):

... (read more)
Just noticed this, so sorry for the late reply! I (through EA Sweden) was the recipients of an EA Community Fund grant a few months back. I'll just say a few things about the grant, some general thoughts about the EA Community Fund and am happy to answer any questions you might have! I'd say that there was a bit more information to go on than simply Will having seen me do EA group organizing over the past 5 or so years: I also provided a project proposal. However, I'd agree with the impression that the main factor in making the grant was about trust and first-hand knowledge of my work in the past. If you wanna know more about what we've been up to, you can read our plans for the year (as of February) here: [] Abstracting from my particular situation, there currently seem to be growing pains in the EA community building-space. My impression is that the bottleneck is not good projects to fund, but rather ability to consider proposals and allocate funds. I think making funding decisions in the community building-space based largely on trust and proven track record is a good heuristic. However, it won't be particularly scalable and so needs to be supplemented by more time-intensive methods. Given the small size of the EA Community Fund, it seems unreasonable for Nick Beckstead to be managing it. Once CEA is able to allocate their EA Community Building Grants effectively, I'd recommend the EA Community Fund being allocated by CEA rather than Nick Beckstead.
For information. EA London has neither been funded by the EA Community Fund nor diligently considered for funding by the EA Community Fund. In December EA London was told that the EA Community Fund was not directly funding local groups as CEA would be doing that. (This seem to be happening, see: [] )
5Ben Pace4y
Note: EA is totally a trust network - I don't think the funds are trying to be anything like GiveWell, who you're supposed to trust based on the publicly-verifiable rigour of their research. EA funds is much more toward the side of the spectrum of "have you personally seen CEA make good decisions in this area" or "do you specifically trust one of the re-granters". Which is fine, trust is how tightly-knit teams and communities often get made. But if you gave to it thinking "this will look like if I give to Oxfam, and will have the same accountability structure" then you'll correctly be surprised to find out it works significantly via personal connections. The same way you'd only fund a startup if you knew them and how they worked, you should probably only fund EA funds for similar reasons - and if the startup tried to make its business plan such that anyone would have reason to fund it, the business plan probably wouldn't be very good. I think that EA should continue to be a trust-based network, and so on the margin I guess people should give less to EA funds rather than EA funds make grants that are more defensible.
Cognitive and emotional barriers to EA's growth

Seconded, this is worth sharing more broadly via the facebook groups!

Announcing Rethink Priorities

Huh, given the odd funding splurges (things like a $60k EA Grant for developing a new version of Less Wrong for people to have fun intellectual discussions on, and I believe a similarly luxuriant amount to EA Geneva) I'm surprised an organization which does as much as Rethink Charity isn't already fully funded by the movement building fund. Does anyone know how much money got donated to that and where it's gone?

Just to clarify: EA Geneva has not received any funding from CEA to date - we are waiting on the decision from the recent community grants round.
Ben West asked this question in the EA Facebook group late last year, and I believe EA Funds has updated since then: [] It's not clear what the optimal amount of funding for resurrecting LW should be, but according to the EA survey (run by Rethink), LW had been a top source for introducing people to EA until recently: [] Qualifying this by clarifying that I'm the ED of Development for Rethink Charity – I would say the lineup of projects offered by Rethink (SHIC, LEAN, RC Forward and Rethink Priorities, EA Survey) should be among the most competitive funding options for community building, especially considering our reach and impact on a comparatively low budget: []
Announcing Rethink Priorities

Do you/Rethink Charity need funding? I presume the EA Community fund is throwing a healthy amount of money your work?

Thanks for asking Ervin. Were we to scale this project according to our estimates, we would need additional funding. There are also some small gaps in Rethink Charity operations that we'd like to fill. Talks are ongoing with CEA about additional funding either through their Grants or Funds programs
2017 LEAN Impact Assessment: Qualitative Findings

Lastly, it seems like it would be nice if you could get notifications when a new person is found near you and if people to opt-in to receive messages from other EAs.

This would be a handy feature.

Why You Should Be Public About Your Good Deeds

I'm not a huge fan of cross-posting things here that have appeared on organisational blogs before. Amongst several other problems it makes the EA Forum feel deader, like those subreddits filled only with link promotion. On the other hand I know you're one "little guy" (or perhaps "little outfit") without your own major blog, so need to post somewhere, so this is hardly the worst offence.

Ervin, thanks for your understanding. Indeed, we're one little outfit without a major and popular blog. However, just to be clear, I don't post all things on the EA Forum that appear on organizational blogs. I only post things here that I think the EA community would be interested in discussing. The issue of being public about our good deeds is one that I think deserves quite a bit of discussion.
CEA is launching a winter fundraising round

I agree that GiveWell could be considered part of EA. Ultimately I see that as a merely semantic question. My and I think AGB's point is that the donors who follow GiveWell aren't self-identified members of the "EA movement", and aren't giving because of EA outreach specifically. It appears that organizations doing EA outreach specifically get much more than 5% of the money donated by members of the "EA movement" who were inspired to give by those organizations.

Impossible EA emotions

Sadly, I don't think there's a way to make it a good 'front facing' pick, because it would seem too 'hardcore' to newcomers.

CEA is launching a winter fundraising round

Perhaps more relevant, even if they don't identify as EA, where the silent donors give is influenced by EA. So I think there's still a good case for including them in the money moved.

Can you explain why you're thinking that they're influenced by EA? It seems at least equally plausible that they're influenced by GiveWell, which is distinct from most EA meta-orgs, and operates using a different model. Are you thinking that there's another influence on them, like 80k or GWWC?

They're influenced by GiveWell, and GiveWell is part of EA. Or even if you don't think GiveWell is part of EA, they're very similar to EA in their approach, and many of the staff are explicitly EAs or supporters of EA. I think GiveWell has also been influenced by other groups in EA, though it's hard to tell.
Final Round of the Impact Purchase

It's excellent to see you complete this! Good luck. Do you plan to write-up an evaluation of the project, and your thoughts on the best ways to ensure good EA work gets funded?

The Effective Altruism Newsletter & Open Thread - 15 December 2015

GiveWell staff members published where they plan to make their personal donations in 2015.

Many put their money where GW's mouth is and give to AMF, notably.

The Effective Altruism Newsletter & Open Thread - 15 December 2015

What general EA meta activities do you all think do most good, and how do they compare to each other? Which ones should we as a movement be encouraging and if appropriate funding people to undertake?

I would agree with Stens1991 about mass media articles and generally broad outreach. I think we should be looking more into innovative ways to support doing good, for example like this []. I think we should be rewarding more charity entrepreneurship and experimentation of all sorts.
Mass media articles about effective charity and the availability of GiveWell recommendations. Seeding and supporting local groups, like GWWC has been focusing on. Niche fundraising, like REG did for poker players.
Is legacy fundraising actually higher leverage?

By 'they' do you mean Charity Science? Is that who Ben Todd's talking about?

0Owen Cotton-Barratt7y
I meant whoever produced figures for the ratios. I guess I was envisioning the Institute of Fundraising, but only because I recently saw some figures from them. Edit: It seems Charity Science have an overview of this linked in another comment. They have a summary of other studies, but I don't know the methodology for these other studies. They have a Fermi estimate themselves (and they don't discount), but the error bars are large and I think this is more of a sanity check on the other figures -- it's not clear discounting should change the overall conclusion too much, except perhaps pushing against a focus on young people.
More on REG's Room for More Funding

This looks promising potentially. Does REG have an itemised expansion budget it can share, either with potential donors or publicly? Is it possible to see accounts detailing expenditure over the last year or two?

The Effective Altruism Newsletter & Open Thread - 26 October 2015 Edition

Has their been an evaluation of the impact of EA Global yet? Do we have any indication of any wins it yielded?

As far as I know, there haven't. I think within the community it likely bolstered people's connection to it. Many of my friends work at Charity Science. Attending EA Global yielded at least one new hire for Charity Science, and probably securing additional funding for expanded operations, due to how they've two other permanent staff since EA Global. I'm guessing this is the same for other organizations which attended EA Global. Additionally, EA Global likely exposed some effective altruists to new causes or projects they hadn't considered before, chaging their minds about cause selection, or presenting them with new opportunities. This seemed to be the outcome of the 2014 EA Summit, which I attended. I think effective altruism conferences tend to improve the value of existing ties, but maybe in subtle ways which don't show their first-order effects for maybe several months. So, it's difficult to quantify the impact EA Global. There was some negative coverage of EA Global, such as the Vox article which made A.I. risk seem weird. This doesn't seem to have left a lasting negative impression of A.I. risk reduction, or its proponents, based on my observations in the news it's not perceived as any less seriously than before EA Global. I know there were some gaffes in planning EA Global which offended some animal advocates, such as the event being promised to be vegan up until the day before the conference, but with people showing up to EA Global with there being some meat offered. Additionally, there is an annual animal rights conference planned in the U.S., which EA Global was scheduled on the same weekend as. I'm not sure which date was set first. Anyway, I'm aware some animal advocates felt snubbed, or that effective altruism only pays lip service to the cause. So, a lot of animal advocates in effective altruism felt EA Global was problematic, and I've heard rumors a few newer effective animal altruists left the community. I don't know how many folks that numbers as.
Why we need more meta

I was also hesitant about CFAR ... Good point regarding GPP .... Not sure about 80K

Its meta in Hurford's sense, which is different from Todd's - it's indirect, and has a chain of causality to impact that has extra points of failure. That's what many of Hurford's arguments spoke to. GPP and 80K also count as meta by this definition.

Anyway, taking all this into consideration I get $3.2m meta, $62m non-meta for a ratio of 5%. (Plus $2.1 million in "grey area")

Are you counting donations from people who aren't EAs, or are only relatively loosel... (read more)

Yes. Looking at the survey data was an attempt to deal with this.
0Peter Wildeford7y
I don't have any concrete detail because no one has had time to really think it through. Basically it seems like atheists might be a receptive niche market for fundraising / marketing EA ideas. But someone would need to come up with the details themselves. Charity Science used to do this by going to local atheist meetups and talking to people there and by going to atheist conferences.
Looking for EA work for your spare time? Look at (and add to) this list!

That queue looks like it has some nice features, and I look forwards to seeing them all, but it also looks like you (and the rest of the tech team) are a good way through sorting through them. That's the only reason I didn't upvote this - it doesn't seem like there's much more we'd want for the forum besides what you guys can already cover, but it's been a great community asset!

July Open Thread

Could the tech team (tag Peter Hurford and Tog Ash) add some allowed HTML tags maybe?

Effective Altruism Policy Analytics, cooperative documents and feedback

I've been looking for EA projects to fund - what's your budget for this year, and is it funded?

Giving What We Can needs your support — only 5 days left to close our funding gap

Thanks for the response. You're right, the relevant question isn't keeping GWWC going but is if there are promising new growth opportunities that the extra funding will pay for, which you say there are this year. There's also some neatness to GWWC being able to support/grow its staff with 10% of the total yearly donations of the people who pledge 10% via it. I haven't thought whether that's the appropriate model, but it provides a way to pace growth rather than keeping going until you've matched their total donations.

Giving What We Can needs your support — only 5 days left to close our funding gap

It's worth reassuring people that even if the full goal isn't met it isn't a disaster - there isn't a funding gap for keeping GWWC itself going, which could presumably be done quite cheaply. I know there's a perception that this fundraising round has been a struggle, and there's been a lot of scepticism about it (e.g. (here)[]). But that isn't that damning: it was bound to happen at some point at which GWWC asked for more money to fund more paid employees, rather than keeping going until GWWC got as much money as the people who've signed it's pledge are giving.

0Owen Cotton-Barratt7y
I agree that it's important to understand that not reaching the goal doesn't mean collapse. I do think opportunity cost on growth opportunities could be quite high, though -- it's not clear that there will be any marginal opportunities for movement growth this effective in a few years' time (my thinking on this is here on general timing of giving [] and here on how to think about the value of marginal movement growth [] ). Interestingly it sounds like you're thinking of GWWC expanding in terms of the slice of pledged donations it's consuming. It could be nice to work out the numbers on this, but using remembered figures I think it's approximately constant (i.e. GWWC operations are expanding proportionally with members), and order of 10% of current donation flows / <1% of (flow of increase of pledges).
I am Nate Soares, AMA!

It could be useful to mention that sort of thing on future AMAs

I am Nate Soares, AMA!

Ah, I meant would he still be answering questions that got asked later.

Ah, there's no plans, though I imagine Rob Bensinger wouldn't mind me saying that if you have any useful follow-on questions, you can find his contact details on the MIRI website [].
2015 Summer Welcome Thread

Nick Cooney's book is fantastic, even better than Singer's. (Far from being animal focused, it doesn't mention animal rights much at all.)

I am Nate Soares, AMA!

Now that MIRI is focused on math research (a good move) and not on outreach

Any links on this?

2RyanCarey7y []
I am Nate Soares, AMA!

What path did MIRI's staff take there? How many came from other charities?

I am Nate Soares, AMA!

Will you still be answering questions now, or in future?

Nate will answer questions in an hour and a half:
Suggestions thread for planning and executing the 2015 EA Survey

I got into a conversation with 'Telofy' about his post about dissociation being a necessary or helpful approach for some Effective Altruists, and he suggested that it might be useful to use the survey find out how many people have the problem he described there or find his solution useful.

Dissociation for Altruists

It may be useful to find out how many people have this problem or find this solution useful. Does anyone share or not share it?

3Dawn Drescher7y
Maybe something for the EA survey.
I don't. There are people out there who do feel cripplingly emotionally burdened by the problems in the world, but they seem far outnumbered by those who don't.
I don't.
Should you give your best now or later?

Is this post missing part of it?

Thanks for noticing, fixed!
I now think this was a huge underestimate.
Peter's 2015 Q1 Personal Review

Seems like another uncharitable implicit argument against the EAs known for favouring robustness (GiveWell, the Vancouverites, people skeptical about leafleting and metacharities and xrisk on those grounds). I've heard experts say the most important parts of asteroid detection are fully funded. If they weren't people would generally accept funding them as a priority.

I'm not trying to say folks who espouse robustness are fools - Until I encountered it, I had not thought of this line of reasoning myself. As I understand it, the point is that sometimes the connotations of such words lead in different directions from if we thought more carefully. Yes, >1km asteroid detection is well-covered now. So is next thing to move onto is asteroid deflection? You can see how an argument would run, that since physical annihilation is so final and well-understood, it wins on robustness grounds...
January Open Thread

Tagging is a killer feature of Facebook.

January Open Thread

Also, it would be worth trying to work out what about a career in the arts they think is required for their happiness and seeing whether you could find higher impact alternatives that provided this.

January Open Thread

Depending on what you mean by the arts I suspect that would be very likely to be low impact. That would suggest trying to convince them to change course though I think that's not likely to be successful, meaning it would be best to focus on other people.

Donate to keep Charity Science running

Have you considered doing something that could go viral like the Ice Bucket Challenge? The potential upside from that would make it worth a shot for the effective altruist community.

We tried this - a selfie on facebook with malaria nets on our heads. We asked for £3 to cover a net (a bit of a lie as nets cost less I think). We got 6 other people to do it then it fizzled out. This was something tried in the context of the ALS challenge as a counter-cultural thing. What I think would help if this was going to be attempted again (but I think people are over it now to some extent, unless a new social norm is being seen as being challenged / it feels qualitatively different): -A much easier way of paying -A more dramatic request -People with more friends on facebook -People with friends that are more likely to do it starting it
Thanks for the suggestion, Ervin. We have thought about this idea before. It is worth noting that The Life You Can Save tried this [] and vegans also tried it via [] I think that after a very successful fundraiser happens, it's tempting to try out the same thing for your cause/charity. But it's really important to consider how many viral challenges were attempted before (and since) one worked effectively. There were a lot of charities who worked on viral videos after Kony 2012 but none got even close to as big. I would expect the same to be true of the ice bucket challenge. All that being said, if it's easy to add a viral element that does not take away from the fundraiser in other ways we would definitely integrate it.
Not yet, but we are currently considering that for the local groups fundraiser specifically, because some of them are quite keen on it. The viral potential is another argument for running this fundraiser, though in fairness I should say that I'm considerably more sceptical about whether this is worth pursuing than those groups. However I generally find myself assigning lower chances to these large upside possibilities than most EAs, so I suspect this may be a mistake on my part. I'd actually find others' takes on all this valuable - does anyone have any?
Donate to keep Charity Science running

Could you say more about particular plans, like the "large sponsored fundraiser which will be run simultaneously by local EA groups around the world"?

Sure, I'll start with that one. I think it will in expectation raise quite a lot of money, significantly increasing our money moved this year. I base this on: 1) The fact that specific types of fundraiser run by similar local groups have raised tens of thousands in the past, and that we're considering following their proven model as closely as possible as the plan to beat - we'll do so unless we can work out one with better prospects. 2) The fact that we have a large number of local EA groups signed up already and several interested without having approached most of them. 3) The fact that we'll likely be applying the 'raise money by emailing your friends and family' approach which worked in all three types of peer-to-peer fundraiser we ran. In these, people who followed our full package of suggestions including emailing large numbers raised thousands, though I don't expect most people to do that. Additional evidence for the prospects of this peer-to-peer approach come from the fact that it is widely used in the charity world, and charities who apply it find it raises significant amounts. A large number of groups running this simultaneously should make a bigger splash and potentially get attention in local/student media, which we'd work towards. Besides money moved, an additional benefit of this fundraiser will be to spread the word about evidence-based charity. Naturally this would result if we succeeding in getting media coverage. It also happens each time someone emails a friend or family member about the fundraiser - people often don't talk about evidence-based charity with people they know, and a peer-to-peer fundraiser like this provides an excuse for doing so.
Donate to keep Charity Science running

I've been following the reports you and Xio and Joey have been writing on all the different fundraising methods you've explored, and will consider a substantial donation (since I'd want to keep you running and pay for a sizeable chunk of time experimenting). It would be a shame for effective altruism if you guys had to shut down abruptly given your demonstrated commitment to measure results and shut projects down if they don't raise money. I assume it would be a waste of knowledge and expertise and contacts you've built up too. It'd be helpful if you could... (read more)

Thanks Ervin for the kind words. You're right that if we shut down there would be a loss of contacts / knowledge. We have gotten a lot better at fundraising overall and expect if other people were to do other fundraising projects there would be a similar learning curve. We have also built up some contacts through networking that would be useful for later projects (e.g. legacy fundraising).
Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

I could see situations where it's not best for me to donate >=10% (like this year since I'm a student)

If you're a student you're not counted as having an income, and I believe you only have to give 1% of living costs (someone from GWWC can correct me if I'm wrong!). Besides that, having a pledge you have to fulfil every year seems like a valuable thing - it's good to be a stickler for honesty. If you're planning to donate or already donating but can't commit to 10% every year yet, you could always declare that rather than taking the pledge yet, and then decide whether to take it later.

Thanks Ervin, that's correct. Another option is to do 'Try Giving', which allows you to commit yourself to an amount you choose, and then work up to 10%.
Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

I'm not sure these people are much more easily excluded by the current pledge. You could still get people who have very bizarre beliefs about the best way to help people in poverty.

Technically that's possible but in practice GWWC members don't currently tend to have those beliefs - the pledging community has a clear feel of being focused on evidence-based poverty charities. The new pledge that's being consulted about would certainly include more people, and AlasdairGives is right that there's nothing in it that'd exclude the large numbers of people who ... (read more)

Yeah, I don't mean that it's unheard of - but I do think this is a pretty rare view within the EA community.
Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

I think that cause agnosticism is probably the most important novel ingredient of effective altruism, so seeing this kind of sentiment is disheartening. (I don't have strong views on the pledge itself.)

As I said to Jess Whittlestone, it's worth being clear that the attitude that AlasdairGives expresses isn't a narrow-minded rejection of people who favour other causes and more general EA types. If you read him charitably, he's saying that he joined because he sincerely thought that GWWC-recommended charities were the ones which he should support, and tha... (read more)

Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

Saying you wouldn't want to take the pledge for this reason seems a bit like saying you don't want to be part of the EA community because it contains those people.

I see why you might say that, and understand your position, but I hope you can see how it could be a little uncharitable to those of us who feel crowded out of what was originally an organisation that made a compelling case about our obligation to help people in the developing world (with things like the calculator showing that many potential GWWC members were in the richest 1-5% of the world)... (read more)

There is a not insignificant portion of rationalists who at least don't believe existing existential risk reduction research organizations are the best charities to donate to. I'm sure there are some who believe donating money to anti-poverty charities are the best option, but for all I know they could be rare among rationalists. I believe lots of rationalists aren't confident about which cause area is most worthy, but I don't know what portion of them donate anyway. I believe some people in this latter group split their donations, so I'd be interested to know if in their case they've taken the Giving What We Can pledge, and then donate additional money beyond that 10% to reducing global poverty to other types of charities.
The Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism

I'm unsure, as I don't know how many people see late additions to the open threads. It's the sort of thing which'd go in LessWrong Discussion versus. LessWrong main so maybe its a data point for creating a discussion section.

Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

To answer this question:

if you aren’t yet a member of Giving What We Can, would you join if this change was made?

I'm not a member, but I've been seriously considering joining for a while, and probably wouldn't join if this change was made, as a large part of the appeal of publicly joining GWWC is being part of a community focused on global poverty, rather than of singularitarians, rationalists and the like (who have their own communities).

I don't think it's accurate to say that if the pledge were changed, GWWC would become a community of "singularitarians, rationalists and the like." It would be a community of people who want to donate 10% of their income to most effectively improve the lives of others, which could include singularitarians and rationalists, but certainly wouldn't be defined by it. Saying you wouldn't want to take the pledge for this reason seems a bit like saying you don't want to be part of the EA community because it contains those people. Also, note that the current pledge doesn't actually exclude singularitarians, rationalists etc.: "The change is not likely to make a difference to people who think that the best way to help others is to ensure that the future will go well, since the pledge already explicitly includes people who will live in the future, as well as those alive now." So it's unlikely that changing the pledge would result in the community changing in the way you're concerned about.
Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

I find myself really quite strongly against this. I'll try to find the time to compose a comment explaining why, but for now I'll simply state this as a data point.

To answer this question: I'm not a member, but I've been seriously considering joining for a while, and probably wouldn't join if this change was made, as a large part of the appeal of publicly joining GWWC is being part of a community focused on global poverty, rather than of singularitarians, rationalists and the like (who have their own communities).