28 karmaJoined Mar 2015


I think it's wise to separate the FTX and due diligence issue from the broader thesis. Here I'm just commenting on due diligence with donors.

Who was/is responsible for checking the probity or criminality of ...

 (a) FTX and Almeda?

 (b) donors to a given charity like CEA? (I put some links on this below)

(a) First it's their own board/customers/investors, but presumably supervisory responsibility is or should also be with central bank regulators, FBI, etc. If the CEO of a company is a member of Rotary, donates to Oxfam, invests in a football team, it doesn't suddenly become the primary responsibility of all of those entities (ahead of board, FBI etc) to check out his business and ethics and views, unless (and this is important) he's going to donate big and then have influence on programmes, membership etc. 

(See the links below on how both due diligence and reputational considerations* can matter a lot to the recipient charity. If there is some room for doubt about the donor, but it doesn't reach a threshold, it may be possible to create a layer of distance or supervision e.g. create a trust with it's own board, which does the donating.)

(b) Plenty of charities accepted donations from Enron, Bernie Madoff and others. 

Traditionally, their job is to do their job, not evaluate the probity of all their donors. However, there has been a change of mood since oil industry disinvestment campaigns and the opioid crisis (with the donations from the Sackler family, here in the UK at least**). Political parties are required to do checks on donors. 

Marshall Rosenberg turned down lots of people who wanted to fund NVC and the cNVC nonprofit, because he felt that taking money put him into relationship with them, and some companies he just didn't want to be in relationship with. This worked well for him, and made sure there was no pressure to shift focus, but it did frustrate his staff team quite often.

It might be possible as a matter of routine policy to ask large donors if they are happy to have their main income checked, especially if they want to be publicly associated with a particular project, or to go more discreetly to ratings agencies and so on. A central repository of donor checks could be maintained, to minimise costs. This wouldn't be perfect, but a due diligence process, ideally open and transparent, would sometimes be a good defence if problems arise later? 

These are the (more minimal) UK Charity Commission guidelines on checking out your donors, and even this might have helped if it had been done rigorously:


Here's a plain English version where the overall advice is "be reasonable":


**This is for bigger donations:

*This is about how things went wrong for Prince Charles's charities:

> healthy for people to separate giving to their community from altruism.

Is this realistically achievable, with the community we have now? How?

(I imagine it would take a comms team with a social psychology genius and a huge budget, and still would only work partially, and would require very strong buy in from current power players, and a revision of how EA is presented and introduced? but perhaps you think another, leaner and more viable approach is possible?)

>The simpler your path to impact is, the fewer failure points exist

That's not always true. 

Some extreme counter-examples:

a. Programmes on infant stunting keep failing, partly because an overly simple approach has been adopted (intensive infant feeding, Plumpy Nuts etc, with insufficient attention to maternal nutrition, aflatoxin removal, treating parasites in pregnancy, adolescent nutrition, conditional cash transfers etc)

b. A critical path plan was used for Apollo, and worked much better than the simpler Soviet approach, despite being much more complicated. 

c. The Brexit Leave campaign SEEMED simple but was actually formed through practice on previous campaigns, and was very sophisticated "under the hood", which made it hard to oppose.

It's also hard to call people out when a lot of you are applying to him/them for funding, and are mostly focused on trying to explain how great and deserving your project is.

One good principle here is "be picky about your funders". Smaller amounts from steady, responsible, principled and competent funders, who both do and submit to due diligence, are better than large amounts from others. 

This doesn't mean you HAVE to agree with their politics or everything they say in public - it's more about having proper governance in place, and funders being separate from boards and boards being separate from executive, so that undue influence and conflicts of interest don't arise, and decisions are made objectively, for the good of the project and the stated goals, not to please an individual funder or get kudos from EAs.

I've written more about donor due diligence in the main thread, with links.

Both of you now seem to be focusing specifically on funding for community building, whereas the original post was much broader:

... maybe if those broader issues were addressed, the question of which community-building to fund would then be easier to work out?

Hi David, I think I follow your thinking, but I'm not hopeful that there is a viable route to "ending the community" or "ending community-building" or ending people "identifying as EAs", even if a slight majority agreed it was desirable, which seems unlikely.

On the other hand, I vary much agree that a single Oxford or US-based organisation can't "own" and control the whole of effective altruism, and aiming not for a "perfect supertanker" but a varied "fleet" or "regatta" of EA entities would be preferable, and much more viable. Then supervision and gatekeeping and checks could be done in a single timezone, and the size of EA entities and groups could be kept at 150 or less. Also different EA regions or countries or groups could develop different strengths. 

We'd end up with a confederation, rather like Oxfam, the Red Cross, Save the Children etc. (It's not an accident that the federated movements often have a head office in the Netherlands or Switzerland, where the laws on what NGOs/charities can and can't do are more flexible than in the UK or USA, which is kinda helpful for an 'unusual' movement like EA.)

Oxfam themselves also formed INTRAC as a training entity, and one could imagine CEA doing something similar, offering training in (for example)
- lessons learned
- bringing in MEv  trainers for evaluation training
- PLA trainers for participatory budgeting etc.

Did something come of this in Dortmund or Koeln?

On diversity, the biggest deficit is language and all continents diversity, and with that come both conscious and unconscious limitations. This could be addressed, through:

(a) existing and future granting programmes
(b) real commitment to acceleration in Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America etc 
... maybe micro-offices in those continents?
(c) job ad placements "always in UN languages and Global South before english" to give non-native English speakers a fair chance / time to translate etc
(d) translation of headlines of important news / tweets into UN security council languages
(e) I have more but it's late, call me?

1. Overall thoughtful and helpful, but one major error which I hope you will be relieved to know about, and I'm sure others will:

>Assuming I’m right that, currently, perception doesn’t match reality, it means the core projects and people in EA should communicate more about what they are and are not taking responsibility for. 

I think this is very unlikely to be successful, and places a huge unwelcome "should" on a bunch of busy EAs, some of who won't be good at doing PR/comms/promo work on their own role.

It would be much better, easier and quicker to have a comms team or podcast or youtube channel with the specific responsibility to build an accurate perception, namely that EA is a fleet or regatta, and not a supertanker.

I would love to hear interviews in a podcast of senior EAs focused on their role and responsibilities and differences between perception and reality, what gaps they see that do-ers could fill.

2. In separate comment


Maybe there isn't a point-in-time sweet spot, as your point about "adapting as you go along" makes clear?

In other words, maybe you need to develop resilience, preparedness, regulatory and response capacities at the same speed as the tech development (and maybe even slightly faster, if there is also AGI risk?)

I am very confident that regulation alone, and idealistic global agreements, will not be sufficient to remove most real world risks. A more comprehensive approach is needed. 

I'm happy to discuss privately about risk and response frameworks IRL with anyone who is serious about IRL implementation.

Isn't that "sunk cost fallacy" ?

If it's the right decision to sell and use the money a better way, that still applies, whether or not there is a small loss. To have a loss might be somewhat embarrassing, but truth is truth.

Anyway, in the UK you can put a property up for sale at an ideal price,  and see what offers come in. It's hard to know for sure what price you will get without doing that.

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