Thanks for doing this, hadn't thought to use the Wayback machine. Really cool to see the quantitative perspective line up with our qualitative impressions!
I took a look at the Goodreads data. Unfortunately it’s pretty messy and I don’t think it’ll be much help in understanding the popularity of the new book. Goodreads does distinguish between the different editions, but it’s clear from reading the reviews that some people are reviewing the old book but talking about the new one. And the interface won’t let me see total reviews across all copies by year, so we can’t see if that number has spiked.
Looking past the Goodreads data, I think it’s safe to say that the launch of the new edition was a success. TLYCS i... (read more)
As it happens, I did a quick-and-dirty version of this analysis yesterday - see this spreadsheet. It looks to me like Goodreads is actually helpfully aggregating ratings/reviews across editions (if you click on any one of the editions here, it shows you the same figures), and the rate at which the aggregate numbers have been going up seems to have increased meaningfully since the relaunch, which does seem to provide additional (encouraging!) evidence regarding its impact.
Sorry about that, fixed now. Thanks for the heads up!
They want to stick with registered US charities for this initial round, to keep the grantmaking logistics simpler.
I believe down the road, when FF has built up some grantmaking experience, they'd like to widen things up.
TLYCS’s experience definitely suggests growth, not stagnation. Between 2014 and 2019, money moved increased at a compound annual growth rate of 75%. Web traffic did flatten out, but mostly after we started focusing more on offline fundraising.
I asked my contact at Fugue Foundation about this, and here's their response:
We list information about our corporate structure on our website at the link below. We are incorporated in Arizona and await word from the IRS regarding our 501c3 application. Indeed, as a private foundation, and one that specifically lists privacy protection as one of our core principles, we do try to maintain a certain distance with online identities. I will certainly speak with any of the organizations that are selected to receive the grant.https://fuguefoundation.org/docs/mission.html#incorporation
We list information about our corporate structure on our website at the link below. We are incorporated in Arizona and await word from the IRS regarding our 501c3 application. Indeed, as a private foundation, and one that specifically lists privacy protection as one of our core principles, we do try to maintain a certain distance with online identities. I will certainly speak with any of the organizations that are selected to receive the grant.
Thanks to everyone who voted and commented! It was helpful to learn more about how EAs think about multiplier orgs, and I hope it was helpful to hear my perspective from inside one of those orgs.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the discussion, apologies that it took me so long to post this:
There's also an EA classic available as an audiobook: The Live You Can Save (the fully updated 10th anniversary edition) is freely available (in audiobook or ebook format) making it a book to share with people you think might find it interesting.
Search engine optimization.
Based on my very limited understanding, links are critical for SEO (though not as important as a few years ago). So conventions like “EA blogs should generally have blogrolls (i.e. lists of links to related blogs)” or “references to organizations (e.g AMF) on the EA Forum should generally link to them” would probably help the entire community.
These sophisticated donors’ support of such a wide range of multiplier orgs supports the idea that there could be a lot of leverage out there to be had. If that’s true, it also has some interesting implications for the “it’s hard to get a job at an EA org” discussion that’s been going on for a while, most recently here.
Here's a simplified thought experiment. Let’s say you invested $1 million in the orgs listed above, allocated proportionally to their current size (not all that far off from what the infrastructure fund has actually done, but we’ll use styli... (read more)
Thanks for this data point Luke! It’s a good reminder that counterfactuals work both ways for multiplier orgs. Sometimes we count money that would have been donated counterfactually (overestimating our impact), but sometimes there are donations we don’t count that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t exist (underestimating our impact).
Also worth noting that sometimes the spillover effect is in an area that isn't the multiplier orgs main focus. For instance, I'd also expect the book relaunch to help 80K which gets a nice discussion, but that's not anything TLYCS will capture in its metrics.
Yeah, that makes sense.
My sense is that most individual donors aren't excited about multiplier orgs because they find them complicated, don't have time to dig into the leverage numbers to really understand them, and therefore don't trust those numbers. And I think that's a pretty reasonable strategy for most individuals. But it does seem telling that funders that have the resources to do more vetting have supported such a wide range of multiplier orgs.
Also, they [Open Phil] could fund TLYCS through their global health and poverty program instead. They've funded One for the World. The EA Infrastructure Fund has also funded TYLCS among many other multiplier orgs.
To get funded, One for the World had to change the recommendations to use only GiveWell's research. That was also a precondition of any discussion with GiveWell about funding for TLYCS, which was not a strategic compromise we were willing to make.
As you say, the EA Infrastructure Fund has funded a lot of multiplier orgs. But aside from... (read more)
I think this is a really important point.
To give you some updated numbers, in 2019 TLYCS raised over $6 for AMF for every dollar we spent on operations plus another $7 for other recommended charities. If you look only at GiveWell recommended charities, our multiplier was 10X.
As I mentioned to HStencil, if these multiplier numbers are remotely accurate, there’s a huge margin of safety. You could believe that donations to any charity other than AMF are totally worthless AND that TLYCS overestimated donations to AMF by 3x, and you still would have doubled you... (read more)
Really appreciate that you spelled out your thinking so clearly- thank you!
I think intermediaries make more sense for more casual donors, unlike people like yourself who are putting lots of thought into where to give.
Glad it helped! Thanks for the great questions, I'm sure you're not the only one who had them!
I think it’s preferable to have people give through intermediaries, so that the message is “give to organizations the experts think is best” vs. having every charity try to argue for its own impact and having donors try to make sense of it all.
That message gets undermined if the recommendations aren’t independent, which is a serious problem with having the recommended charities fund the multiplier org.
Interesting discussion! One of the things I find striking is how much stronger the case for multiplier organizations is now than it was a couple of years ago when that post was written. There are a now a bunch of organizations now have significantly higher multipliers than the ones discussed in the post, and also have an established track record of providing those multipliers.
Thanks for sharing your thinking on this! Hopefully this exercise will shed some light on whether that lack of excitement is warranted, or whether it could represent an untapped opportunity.
I don't think most people I know in the community (myself included) really understand what you do.
I agree there’s a lack of understanding of our work, and hope this discussion helps clarify some things. And we haven’t done a great job of reaching out to the community to explain our work. One difficulty in operating a multiplier charity is that it can be tough to promote your own organization since your whole purpose is to promote other charities.
I was even unaware of how high your estimated multiplier is (if you had asked me to gues
Interesting talk- thanks for sharing!
Stefan’s framework (which I largely agree with) would argue that the potential funding base for multiplier organizations is quite small due to their complexity, and is probably limited to the EA community (or a subset thereof). So I’m trying to do a little market research to learn more about what that audience thinks about multiplier organizations.
The talk also argues for focusing on the largest donors, which in EA usually means Open Phil. But that’s less of an option for multiplier organizations as Open Phil’s EA... (read more)
Thank you! This was exactly the sort of thoughtful explanation I was hoping for.
For what it’s worth, in my experience at TLYCS it takes a lot more than just a website to move money. When I look at the things that seem to have driven our growth over the years, a lot of it is simply having the capacity to do basic things like communicate more with donors. And the relative steadiness in TLYCS’s multiplier (between 9x and 13x from 2016-2019) as expenses more than tripled suggests that there’s not a huge difference between the marginal multiplier and the averag... (read more)
I’m generally skeptical of the multiplier model because it seems too good to be true
I think multiplier organizations have provided leverage in the past, but think that going forward the marginal multiplier will be lower than the average multiplier
I think multiplier organizations are significantly riskier than organizations doing direct work
There aren’t multiplier organizations available in the cause areas I care about
Multiplier organizations typically raise funds for a lot of different charities, and I only care about money that’s raised for the charity with the highest absolute impact
I feel an emotional “warm glow” when I give to charities that do direct work, but not when I give to multiplier organizations
I don’t believe the multipliers that fundraising organizations report (e.g. because they don’t appropriately adjust for money that would have been donated counterfactually, rely on aggressive assumptions, or ignore the opportunity cost of having people working at the multiplier organization)
This sounds like a great idea Marcus!
I’d love to put you in touch with Charlie Bresler, the Executive Director of The Life You Can Save. In addition to being an avid tennis fan, Charlie has been very interested in working with athletes to promote effective giving for a long time. TLYCS has worked with a bunch of celebrities before (though unfortunately no athletes yet), most recently as audiobook narrators for the 10th anniversary edition of the book the organization is named after. If you PM me your email address I’ll connect the two of you.
Presumably most of that is sunk cost and what the publisher ought to care about is discounted expected cashflows from the book.
I think that’s conceptually right. But it brings up another important point: negotiating to buy the rights was time-consuming and frustrating. And part of the annoyance was due to the publisher not acting as economically rational as you’d expect. We actually spent years saying things like “surely there’s a figure for which you’d be happy to sell the rights, could you just let us know what that nu... (read more)
The book rights cost $30,000 to acquire.
It’s important to note, however, that there would likely be a ton of variation for different books. This would likely depend on what the publisher paid the author in advance and how many books they've sold / how much money they've made back.
Good idea! Just set myself a reminder to look at this a year from now :)
Not sure, I'll check with the team and get back to you.
I don't think Singer has considered doing this for other books, but I'm not positive about that.
The EA Meta Fund gave $10,000 for this, which seems very worthwhile. Of course, this may not be the full cost, and this also covered some other things. I like that they included free audiobooks; we should probably do that too if we pursue this.
FYI, this $10,000 grant (while greatly appreciated) was a (small) fraction of the total cost of the new edition of TLYCS. However, that project was significantly more ambitious that simply buying the rights and publishing an ebook; it was closer to writing, editing, and publishing an entirely new book given the scope... (read more)
The key question here, is whether (and if so, to what degree) free download is a more effective means of distribution than regular book sales. So we should ask Peter Singer how the consumption of TLYCS changed with putting his book online.
Free distribution seems to have helped a lot. The original version sold ~45,000 copies in its first 10 years; in its first 6 months, we’ve distributed roughly the same number of copies of the 10th anniversary edition.
The original edition has presumably had more readers than the updated version so far: over 10 year... (read more)
Nice. We could check how many actually read the book by noting whether the book accumulated Goodreads ratings more quickly after the 10-year anniversary - especially once another 1-2 years have passed.
It's worth remembering though that when people who paid for the book are much more likely to have read it
Also, are you able to disclose the cost of buying those rights?
Terrific, thank you!
Thanks David, that all makes sense. For future iterations of this analysis, I’d be strongly in favor of adding a sentence about Peter like you had in last year’s summary.
Personal Contacts (14%), LessWrong (9.6%) and 80,000 Hours (9.6%) are still the main ways most people have heard of EA over time.
Shouldn’t Peter Singer be on this list? He showed up in 203 of the open ended responses (9.5% of 2137 total responses), and that doesn’t count any open ended comments that didn’t mention him by name or non-open ended responses that he’s associated with (e.g. the people who answered they heard about EA through TLYCS the organization, which I work for in the interest of disclosure).
Thank you for conducting and sharing this analysis!
I like the book distribution idea, but would suggest using the updated 10th Anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save. While its focus on global poverty makes it narrower than Doing Good Better, it has several advantages:
· The audiobook and ebook are available for free
· The celebrity narrators (e.g. Kristen Bell and Paul Simon) add credibility
· It’s more up to date
That said, I think it’d be really interesting to do an experiment comparing the efficacy of distributing each book.
Note: I work for TLYCS the organization
The “Worm Wars” could arguably be an example (though the contentious research was not just from the EA community)
Most of the people on The Life You Can Save’s team have significant experience in the for-profit sector, which I think is relatively rare in the EA community. Charlie Bresler, our Executive Director, used to be the President of the Men’s Wearhouse. And before I served as COO for an extended period, I spent ~10 years in the finance sector at Bridgewater Associates. So I think those experiences helped shape The Life You Can Save’s culture. For instance, I think due to the diversity of the backgrounds of our team members, we may engage wi... (read more)
Here’s how our Oxfam information page describes why we recommend them. (FYI, on each charity’s information page we have an FAQ explaining our recommendation).
We recommend Oxfam for donors who want to support a large, multinational organization working to fight global poverty in a wide variety of ways and in a wide variety of places. Because Oxfam is so large, including them as a recommended charity also significantly expands the tax-deductible giving options and program locations we can offer our global audience.
Due to the breadth and scope o
We’ve worked with HNW donors to determine which of our recommended organizations are the best match for the donors’ specific values and causes of interest. So far we haven’t done any bespoke research for donors, though this is definitely an area we expect to expand into in the future.
We’ll sometimes get inquiries about causes outside our scope. Where possible, we refer them to EA resources, such as ACE for animal welfare and Founders Pledge’s research on climate change. (We also have links to those two organizations at t... (read more)
We recommend a significantly broader set of charities than GiveWell, which is an intentional strategy to offer donors a wider range of options. That said, in the near-term any additions to our list are likely to come from GiveWell. We had been sourcing new recommendations from Impact Matters as well, but they’ve recently pivoted away from the in-depth “impact audits” we’d been relying on and toward much shallower reviews of many more charities. We’ve written up our selection process in more detail here.
Down the road, we... (read more)
This is something that’s definitely on our radar screen due to climate change’s outsized impact on people living in extreme poverty. We also think it’s a cause area that’s of interest to donors (both our existing donor base and others). However, it’s unlikely that we’ll move forward on this until we have the capacity to add dedicated staff for charity assessment.
These aren’t really surprises, but the experience reinforced a couple of things: celebrities are really busy, and they have a huge reach (e.g. 1 instagram post from Kristen Bell led to over 1000 people downloading the book and subscribing to our newsletter.)
At least a few of the celebrities seem interested beyond seeing us as a random good cause. As an example, Michael Schur really engaged with the intellectual substance of the book in the foreword he wrote for the new edition. And that probably shouldn’t be surprising, as his show The Good Place is essentially oriented around some similar themes.
1. Agree that equity valuations outside the US are much less extreme. But if you’re building a diversified portfolio, global fixed income and US equities are probably going to play a large part. So avoiding lower expected returns in those asset classes would require an element of active management, which I think raises the hurdle for this project significantly since active management is both expensive and hard to do well. Given the goals of this fund, I would think a passive Risk Parity strategy (which includes a lot of fixed income) would make a lo... (read more)