7801 karmaJoined Nov 2022Working (15+ years)


I am an attorney in a public-sector position not associated with EA, although I cannot provide legal advice to anyone. My involvement with EA so far has been mostly limited so far to writing checks to GiveWell and other effective charities in the Global Health space, as well as some independent reading. I have occasionally read the forum and was looking for ideas for year-end giving when the whole FTX business exploded . . . 

How I can help others

As someone who isn't deep in EA culture (at least at the time of writing), I may be able to offer a perspective on how the broader group of people with sympathies toward EA ideas might react to certain things. I'll probably make some errors that would be obvious to other people, but sometimes a fresh set of eyes can help bring a different perspective.


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Jason's Shortform
· 5mo ago · 1m read


Topic Contributions


There's also the fact that, as a society and subject to certain exceptions, we've decided that employers shouldn't be using an employee's religious beliefs or lack thereof as an assessment factor in hiring. I think that's a good rule from a rule-utilitarian framework. And we can't allow people to utilize their assumptions about theists, non-theists, or particular theists in hiring without the rule breaking down.

The exceptions generally revolve around personal/family autonomy or expressive association, which don't seem to be in play in the situation you describe.


A trial of #2 would have some information value -- you could discern how strong the correlation was between the rationale scores and final standings to decide if rationales were a good way to produce a same-week result.

Maybe you could also use idea #1 with only the top-scoring teams making it to the rationale round, to cut down on time spent scoring rationales?


I wonder how the magnitude of these various effects would scale between 1 additional percent of the population going vegan vs. 10 percent vs. 100 percent.

Specifically, at least in the medium run, it seems that many of the inputs of producing crops are sunk costs, and that a reduction in the demand for farmed animal feed would cause agricultural producers to keep growing many crops but try to sell them as biofuel material. At least here in the US, Big Corn is powerful and could probably get Congress to mandate / subsidize more biofuel use to a certain point. Or they could probably get some other method to maintain a crop market and keep the farmers / ag lobby content, again to a certain point.

So I am not confident a small-to-medium refuction in animal feed demand would ultimately impact crop acreage that much. I don't know about other markets though!


Good analogy. This arrangement has been implicitly consented to by the fund investors, so I think it is generally quite fine. I'm more willing to find an implied COI waiver in this context than in most charity contexts for two reasons:

  • First, private equity fund investors are generally quite sophisticated, and they both understand and desire that someone from the fund sit on the portfolio-company board. I assume that is also true in the Claire example, but there are many charity-related examples where that is not the case.
  • Second, the aims of the various entities tend to be more necessarily aligned in the for-profit example: everyone wants to make money. Although they might disagree on the best path to get there, money is universally quantifiable in a way that charitable impact is not.

The duties of a non-profit board member / trustee, including a duty of loyalty to the non-profit, are established by law. I'm not aware of any authority to create board seats whose occupants lack the most fundamental duty of a member / trustee. For example, the Charity Commission (UK) explains that a trustee must "do what you and your co-trustees (and no one else) decide will best enable the charity to carry out its purposes," and that this duty is not about serving "the personal interests of supporters, funders or donors."[1]

Thus, in their role as a trustee, the dual-hatted individual must act in the "charity’s best interests." But in their role as a grantmaker, they owe a duty to their donor(s) to provide the best possible advice. I'd characterize a grantmaker's job as neutrally evaluating all the grant proposals on their desk and recommending a funding allocation. This advice will not necessarily further the best interests of the charity on whose board the grantmaker sits. 

So you have one person performing two different roles (an advocacy-like role and a comparative-evaluation role) on the same grant, each involving a duty of loyalty to a different entity (the organization on whose board the person sits, the donor who the person is advising). That's a conflict to me, albeit often a waivable one by the donor.


  1. ^

    Even on a for-profit board, board members have a fiduciary duty to all shareholders as a whole. A board member who is also a major investor is not exempt from that duty.


One way in which the Claire example could differ from other examples is that she owes both a duty of loyalty to EVF and a duty of loyalty to the donors to whom she is making the grant recommendation. If the donor themself is on the board, there is only one duty of loyalty floating about (it doesn't make sense to say the donor-trustee has a duty of loyalty to themself as a donor).


While I voted weakly agree, I would add some caveats:

  • Anyone who is considering a dual-hatted situation like this needs to clearly understand that they are assuming two different roles and that their obligations in each role will differ. When acting as a nonprofit board member, for instance, the individual owes a duty of loyalty to the nonprofit. They need to be particularly alert to situations in which recusal or even resignation may be required.
  • In each case, the potential conflicts of interest need to be analyzed. If a conflict exists but is waivable, then it needs to first be waived by someone who can legitimately do so. For instance, in the Claire example, I think there is a conflict between Claire being involved in proposing a grant and in making a recommendation on whether to fund that grant. I also think that conflict is waivable by the ultimate donor. In contrast, if the funds were coming out of a publicly-supported charity, I would likely find the conflict non-waivable because there is no practical way to get ultimate-donor consent.
  • It's undesirable to have too large a proportion of funder-linked seats in a public charity. Many larger non-EA nonprofits have rather large boards, which allows them to absorb several seats for major donors (or big fundraisers) without creating too many downsides. For example, having one funder-linked seat out of five seats total would bring this closer to neutral for me. If the board were smaller than that, it would probably move me into negative territory.

I'm confused by some of the references to "organization," which could refer to the organization receiving a grant (e.g., EVF) or the grant-recommending organization (e.g., Open Phil). Could you clarify which you mean?


Question 5: Do you agree there should be a limit to how much funding should come from any one organisation or individual? Should organisations be able to contribute at all?

Question 6: Should the ombudsperson be their own charitable entity?

To put a little more context on the independence concern, some of the proposed ombudsperson tasks carry significant legal risk -- the most obvious example is "publish[ing] an independent view of the evidence" of potential criminal activity. It's not appropriate for an organization to put all of its assets on the line for an independent ombudsperson's actions or inactions. On the other hand, if the ombudsperson has to get approval from a major organization's risk management function (and potentially at the board level for major actions), they are pretty lacking in the independence category. That pushes me strongly into the "own charitable entity" category.

On question 5, I agree on capping donations and would add that ideally only the ombud organization's treasurer (or finance committee members) would even know who the donors are. [1] By analogy, most well-run religious congregations are set up in a way that the lead ministers are shielded off from knowing which parishoners give money and how much they give. The reason for that policy is to guard against the risk of partiality. Another possible funding mechanism would be a large one-time grant with a clear commitment for the donor never to give again (cf. generally how the "Facebook Supreme Court" was funded in a way that gives it significant independence from Facebook).

  1. ^

    Donations over $5,000 from other nonprofits would generally have to be disclosed on the donor org's Form 990, Schedule I, although everyone involved could promise not to read other orgs' Schedule I. 


This might lead to a view of global poverty issues that prioritize promoting the rule of law, efficient markets, and entrepreneurship in poor countries, rather than reallocation of existing resources (eg direct cash transfers).

And sometimes the re-branding could even be fairly thin. For instance, World Vision is a major NGO popular among American evangelical Christians; presumably their marketing pitches have been tested against their donor base which has significant conservative elements. IIRC, one of the classic pitches in their holiday gift catalog: your donation will purchase these chickens for a poor family, which will not only produce eggs for consumption but allow them to sell some of the eggs in the marketplace to generate income. In a certain light, that sounds like an indirect cash transfer program that is more legible to some conservatives because it partially bypasses their concern that one-time redistribution programs improve short-term welfare only. Receptiveness to this kind of value proposition might signal openness to indirect cash transfer programs with a better EV, like deworming.

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