KS

Kyle Smith

Assistant Professor @ Mississippi State University

Bio

Participation
2

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!

Comments
25

I generally agree with this critique.

A while back I wrote about an idea for an org that focuses on redirecting US private foundation grants toward more effective causes. Got a lot of feedback, and the consensus was that existing private foundations just aren't tractable. And I tend to agree with that.

But I have been working on a research paper where we interview private foundation grantmakers to try to better understand how they operate and the information used in their decision making. One of the takeaways is that trust-based philanthropy has had HUGE influence on private foundation grantmaking, despite being very new (every participant we interviewed indicated their foundation had implemented at least some trust based philanthropy practices). 

This got me thinking - has EA had any influence? Not a single participant indicated that EA had influenced their grantmaking, and I would say that 75% were neutral and 25% were openly hostile to the idea of EA influencing their grantmaking. 

I think EA would benefit from conversations around how to sell EA ideas to these other groups. I think it would require what some would view as "watering down"[1] of EA principles, but could substantially increase the overall impact of EA. Definitely interesting to think about what aspects of EA could be compromised before it ceases to be EA at all.

  1. ^

    For example, most US private foundations are severely constrained by the original founder's intent, such as spending funds in X geographic area. Could these foundations be persuaded and made more effective through a version of EA that encourages effective giving, given existing foundation constraints?

I think this is a good question. To me, EA is pretty ruthless in how it assesses effectiveness, and that leads to many causes feeling left out (especially when those causes are close to you personally).

Taken to an extreme, if all charitable acts/giving was done through an EA lens, it would feel pretty brutalist to any cause not included in its scope. Though from an EA lens, this would be a *more effective* charitable sector and ultimately reduce suffering/increase overall wellbeing. 

But the simple reality is EA is small relative to the universe of charitable acts. And I think having a portion of charitable acts approached with an EA lens is a good thing. And I think the actual % is significantly lower than the optimal %.

I think yes. I agree with the overall assessment that if this is the organization you would choose to give to, it would be optimal to reduce your pay.

 

I have an early-stage research project where I have identified nonprofit CEOs who earn a very low wage relative to their expected earnings, which I am calling a labor donation. I am going to examine the determinants and consequences (how will donors think about this?) of these labor donations, which I hope will be interesting!

That's fair. I'll revise a bit - I think in the current EA landscape, boards should at least consider bringing on some board members that are more junior. Or we should find ways to allow junior professionals the chance to gain the experience necessary to be effective board members.

I think it depends a lot on the org and their needs. In an EA context, I think it makes sense for junior boards to possibly take on a larger share of the board work, while taking a smaller share of the decision making. Then eventually they can move into more senior board positions when they have more experience.

 

My experience is with university young alumni boards, which do a few things differently than the main board:

  1. The junior board is pretty large, and a big purpose is to bring in the successful early career alumni to cultivate them as future board members/donors.
  2. Junior boards do a lot of committee/active work with students/departments. In part this is good because they are more relatable than big time CEOs in their 50s, and in part it keeps them engaged for point 1 above.
  3. They have pretty much no decision making authority, other than their own internal board rules/membership. Though my experience is with college-level boards, where even the main board has no real power/authority. 

I appreciate this post and agree with your points. Especially that of having some outside-EA board members. I am an academic and my research is EA-adjacent, but I have no ties to any EA org/cause area, which would reduce perceived conflicts of interest (which I have seen discussed on the forum). I also believe there is a lot that an EA org could learn (especially related to governance/transparency best practices) from a board member that has a lot of experience in traditional nonprofit work (especially at a large organization).

 

I would add that it would be very desirable for prominent EA organizations to also create junior boards (or just have a few designated junior board members). Junior boards have a lot of benefits:

  1. Younger professionals may be able to invest more time than more senior/prominent professionals
  2. It creates a pipeline of board talent in the EA community
  3. There are a TON of early-career EAs who are passionate about advancing their career and a junior board is an excellent opportunity for them to do so

For me personally, I am a relatively-early career professional (not working at an EA org) who wants to give back to the community as a board member, but frankly I don't believe I quite have the experience to join a big-time board (for example, I applied for the EV open call, but really have 0 expectation that I qualify for a short list). The alternative is to find a smaller org to join, but that is also quite challenging.

I'm an early career academic (accounting) and this was a big discussion in my phd program.

As a phd student, we completed multiple replications as an exercise in learning the research process. It is exhausting work, in part because authors often don't explain their methodology in sufficient detail to complete an exact replication.  Best we could hope for was similar sample/descriptives/coefficients on main tests after following their process as best we could.

Another issue is that in many cases, the data used is proprietary and cannot be shared due to a data license agreement. 

As you allude to, the main problem is that there is no real incentive for active researchers to work on replications, because generally journals do not usually publish replications (and of course, publish or perish!). You do occasionally see papers that are published which point out a major flaw in a published article, but these are rare and controversial (why make an enemy?).

I know there have been some studies that basically show that a very large (50%?) percentage of papers (I think in econ/finance/accounting) cannot be replicated, which is obviously concerning, and points to the scope of the problem.

I think the most successful work that could be done in this area is lobbying journals to:

  1. Require authors to include both their data and code and open-source it.
  2. If that isn't possible, require authors to include data and code specifically to the anonymous reviewers + editor.
  3. If that isn't possible, journals should employ an expert on methods who's full time job is replicating new studies.
    1. I cannot stress enough how expensive this person would be and journals probably wouldn't be willing to pay.
    2. You would have to 3x my compensation AND you would have to guarantee me I would only replicate studies in my niche research area to do this job. And I still would probably decline an offer to do this work, it would suck that much.

I'm going to be annoying and not really answer your question.

  1. I think you should focus on yourself and your mental health. Go to therapy, build some skills, and ultimately help yourself before you try to help others.
  2. I firmly believe IQ really does not matter. In my view, different people simply have different strengths and weaknesses. There are aspects of me that made it possible for me to complete a PhD, but those same aspects (and others) made me a poor worker in a traditional work environment. It is critical that you identify the things you like and are good at. Every person has something to offer, you just have to figure out what that thing is. There is a career that makes sense for you.
    1. Below you say you are really useless, I can assure you that you are not.

I think an important aspect of the theory of change could be showing participants that their priors on the cost to save a life are very wrong especially with regard to domestic v. international charities. Ultimately, this could lead to donors giving more internationally.

My understanding is that most donors prefer to make an impact on their local community/country, but that preference may weaken if they learn that the impact of their dollars are an order of magnitude more impactful internationally.

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