Kyle Smith

Assistant Professor @ Mississippi State University



Nonprofit accounting researcher. I mostly study private foundations and how donors use accounting information in their giving decision-making. My agenda aligns strongly with the effective giving topic.

Trustee at CEEALAR

How others can help me

Any research ideas/collaborations are welcome! 

How I can help others

As someone who studies private foundations, if there are ways I can be of help to any private foundation, I would be interested in getting involved.

If there is anyway my expertise could be of use to your organization, please reach out!


The grantmaker training program I think may be the best intervention in this space. Training grantmakers and getting them hired at major US private foundations, where they will ultimately have great influence on where funds are directed, has massive potential.

That's fair. Though I would counter that GiveWell says that they have directed $2 billion over 10+ years to effective charities. Private Foundations in the US give collectively around $100 billion a year. So there is a lot of money out there with potential to be influenced.

There certainly was a perception among who we spoke with that EA was very "white/tech bro/elitist", so I think you are correct in that assessment.

Your point about PF accountability is well-taken as well. There is functionally 0 accountability in regards to effectiveness.

It's pretty clear to me that these constraints are bad (and to me core EA is partially about breaking the self-imposed constraints of giving) but the simple reality is that private foundations are legally required to follow their charter. If the board wanted to radically change their charter, in most instances they could (my understanding), but boards tend to be extremely deferential to the founder's original intent. They begin with a fundamental assumption: "We will focus our giving on X cause area or Y geographic area" and then they have the power to make decisions beyond that.

The concern I have is that EA has basically written off all private foundations that are not already EA-aligned as a lost cause.

Yes I think this is an area of misconception that could be explored more and ultimately addressed.

Yeah I am really only referring to a perception of all-or-nothing. And like you say, I think it is a product of a maximizing philosophy. 

At the end of the day, it really just seems to be an EA marketing/outreach problem, and I think it is entirely addressable by the community. I think the paper idea I mention (discussing the perceived incompatibility of TBP and EA) could be a step in the right direction.

I think this is key. I get the impression (and others do as well) that EA is all-or-nothing. Either you give 100% to AMF or you are not EA. 

A private foundation that is focused on the state of New York can use EA principles in trying to identify the biggest impact they can have, within their constraints, and that is still EA. I think even the cause area constraints that are the least EA (say, the arts), can still find ways to improve their impact using EA principles. Though of course that would be more difficult.

As someone who has been a huge believer in CE and the theory of change, I'm honestly just not really seeing it for this.

A few thoughts:

  1. I am a buyer that a group (CE) can identify numerous very high value and high-impact nonprofit organization ideas (because there is not really a robust "market" for doing so), and I think that this is the major innovation of CE. But I am very skeptical that the same can be said of for-profit ideas. If you are expecting participants to bring their own ideas, I'm not sure the value proposition is really there for the program.
  2. I'm skeptical that investing resources into trying to create successful entrepreneurs that are EA-aligned is more effective than just trying to convince existing successful entrepreneurs to become EAs.
  3. Your assumption that the "average chance of a graduate of the Founding to Give program getting into YC of 40%" feels WILDLY optimistic to me. YC and this program may bring in very strong applicants along many dimensions, but I actually think the overlap between those interested in EA and founding unicorns is weak. In addition, the "not funding a company that will make the world worse" constraint on this program likely makes unicorn status substantially less likely, and YC doesn't really have that constraint. I think it would be helpful to re-estimate the model with a much lower % on this (5%,10%?). 

All that said, I am rooting for you!

I've been thinking very similarly for a while. Would love to read it.

I study US private foundations, and I've observed two things: EA has made virtually no progress in influencing grantmaking, while trust based philanthropy (TBP) has had massive adoption. I think that many believe that EA and TBP are in conflict with one another, but I don't think that is necessarily the case. I am thinking about writing a post/research paper that makes the case these two movements are compatible with one another.

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