lukefreeman

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EA movement building: Should you run an experiment?

Thanks Jamie! This is a really great and helpful post!

(Quick note that the link in "Googleable, like this one, as well as"  is broken).

What should "counterfactual donation" mean?

I really like how you've laid this out πŸ˜€ 

Personally, I think that there's a spectrum with many more points between #8 and #9. Even many employer matching programs aren't entirely counterfactual, they likely have a budget of how much they're willing to spend on charity matching which would be adjusted down on a per employee basis if they all used it, and the counterfactual portion is the difference in impact between different charities it might be donated to.

Per my comment I think there are different uses of counterfactual that are getting tied up, particularly when it comes to donor matching: impact and actions:

  • Counterfactual impact: Is the total impact triggered by donor A whose donation is being matched by donor B counterfactual once you take into account what donor B would have done otherwise?
  • Counterfactual action: Were the actions of donor B counterfactually impacted by donor A (i.e. they would have given somewhere else but that might have been similarly impactful, or less impactful)?

In the case of #2 it is not misleading to donor A to say that their donation was matched IMHO. But it isn't the full story for impact, that is only as counterfactual as the difference between the impact of the actions that are taken or not.

GiveWell Donation Matching

Ah, yes. In the case of something like "should I be earning to give" that is a very different situation. 

There's two uses of counterfactual here:

  1. Is the total impact triggered by donor A whose donation is being matched by donor B counterfactual once you take into account what donor B would have done otherwise?
  2. Were the actions of donor B counterfactually impacted by donor A (i.e. they would have given somewhere else but that might have been similarly impactful, or less impactful).

In the case of #2 it is not misleading to donor A to say that their donation was matched IMHO. But it isn't the full story for impact.

GiveWell Donation Matching

Yeah, very good point!

My reading is that they are seeing the marketing value in matching but philosophically want to have a true match because of the reasons outlined in earlier posts (they don't consider those campaigns even as "matches"). The 'true match' attempt however might seem to be the worst of both worlds...

That being said, I imagine that the average donor towards their "true match" matching funds is actually quite like me: a donor that is seeking to spend specifically on outreach donations. In this case the decision might be between donating to the GiveWell matching pool or something else such as sponsoring a Giving Game, or covering credit card fees, or paying for pizza at an introduction event for students, or an advertising experiment, or a study on psychology of effective giving. In this case it's definitely counterfactual (it wouldn't have gone to a GiveWell charity) but it's not "worse" than they would have otherwise given (they could believe for good reason that incentivising the first donation is sufficiently leveraged that it is better than another outreach focused donation). I can actually understand the psychology of the "true match" donor quite well: I would actually prefer that my donation be held for matching, used for marketing, or returned for me to use in a similar fashion than just go to one of their top charities. This isn't a typical donor, but it is one that I understand (intimately).

GiveWell Donation Matching

Thanks for your thoughts Jeff!

I am of two minds about this:

  • I think that donation matching in general is an illusion (just like 0% overheads is an illusion) – illusions are sometimes bad (especially if they are perceived as dishonest or to be in bad faith)
  • I think that donation matching (and 0% overheads) is often effective at increasing donations – increased donations are often good

I think that on balance we are trading off against acting to change the world with humans as they are vs acting to try and change humans to change the world.

Changing humans and working against our biases is really difficult so I think that we need to pick our battles.

There are also other "illusions" that we are okay with. For example, we are at a point in the community where there is a lot of crowding out so that someone donating to AMF, is in a sense, increasing how much another donor (like Open Philanthropy) is donating to an entirely different cause area such as animal welfare.

Another example of an illusion that we generally accept: most EA regranting organisations get separate operational funding so that they can say that they pass on 100% of the donation to the partner charity, this comes at the cost of another donor who may have given to one of the other charities they regrant to. We're in a position where true counterfactuals are really hard to determine.

In my opinion a "true match" is more intellectually honest (though still not perfect) but probably a worse outcome (for the reasons you laid out).

But I think that GiveWell might be choosing this "true match" because they know matching works for fundraising (and attribution), but they are trying to pre-emptively deal with criticism from people who are aware of the illusion.

Personally, I have spent most of my donations on operational costs (to allow the low overheads) and donor matching (and other undirected donations such as sponsoring giving games). I do this because I think that getting someone to make their first donation to an effective charity is particularly high leverage – more leveraged than the difference between me deciding between two effective charities.

I lean towards accepting that matches are to varying extents an illusion (like 100% goes to the charity) but that the benefits of using them might often outweigh the costs, and attempts to make them more counterfactual might on net be worse (like you laid out here).

What’s the low resolution version of effective altruism?

My favourite version is that it is a question in which we ask ourselves how we can use our resources to do more good (than we otherwise would if we didn't ask the question). Or as Helen Toner put it: 

β€œHow can I do the most good, with the resources available to me?”


 

Gifted $1 million. What to do? (Not hypothetical)

Hi Ben, great to hear you want to make such an impact and are taking it so seriously!

There are some really fantastic answers here already! Once you've read through them I'm also happy to chat with you about this over a call if that'd help. GWWC also regularly hosts Open Forum events for people who want to discuss their giving decisions, the next one is in mid-September.

Also, if you are so inclined, it can help others if you write up what you end up deciding and why πŸ˜€ 

To make Effective Giving memorable, celebrate Pledging!

This was great work by the PISE team! We are hoping to help groups to organise lots of pledge parties this coming January to welcome in new members from 2021 (and January 1 is our most popular pledge date). Please get in touch with me if you'd like to organise one for your group and want some help!

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