How important is marginal earning to give?

Some ob­ser­va­tions:

  • Most of GiveWell’s se­nior staff are mov­ing over to the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject.

  • This year, GiveWell had to set ex­plicit fund­ing tar­gets for all of their char­i­ties and up­date their recom­men­da­tions in April to make sure no­body ran out of room for more fund­ing.

  • My un­der­stand­ing is that Good Ven­tures (a) prob­a­bly has more money than the cur­rent dis­counted cash flows from the rest of the EA move­ment com­bined and (b) still isn’t de­ploy­ing nearly as much money as they even­tu­ally will be able to.

  • Open Phil has re­cently posted about an org they wish ex­isted but doesn’t and fun­der-ini­ti­ated star­tups.

  • I can’t re­mem­ber any EA orgs failing to reach a fundrais­ing tar­get.

  • Effec­tive al­tru­ism is grow­ing quickly; many EAers plan to earn to give but are cur­rently stu­dents and will in­crease their giv­ing sub­stan­tially in the next few years.

Th­ese ob­ser­va­tions make me feel gen­er­ally weird about earn­ing to give: Good Ven­tures and other large foun­da­tions can fund a ton of stuff, and there are many in­di­vi­d­ual EA donors who can fund the good ideas that aren’t worth large fun­ders en­gag­ing with for what­ever rea­son (at least, many rel­a­tive to the available op­por­tu­ni­ties). So it might be im­por­tant to have more peo­ple try­ing to spot op­por­tu­ni­ties and start effec­tive char­i­ties with sup­port from large fun­ders or cur­rent EtGers. For in­stance, the Gates Foun­da­tion has 1200 em­ploy­ees try­ing to help them de­ploy their money (and that’s pre­sum­ably not count­ing the peo­ple who help them start new or­ga­ni­za­tions); ap­ply­ing a similar ra­tio to Good Ven­tures would sug­gest they should have on the or­der of 100 peo­ple helping them, whereas to­day they have ~10.

Given that do­ing a nor­mal job and mak­ing large dona­tions is psy­cholog­i­cally more at­trac­tive than try­ing to start non­prof­its for a lot of peo­ple (in­clud­ing my­self), this sug­gests that marginal EtGers (also po­ten­tially in­clud­ing my­self?) might want to give more weight to try­ing to find op­por­tu­ni­ties to start new effec­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions, and leave the fund­ing to peo­ple like Dustin Moskovitz.

One coun­ter­point might be that “large fun­ders” are not ac­tu­ally that large; for in­stance, 72% of to­tal giv­ing is from in­di­vi­d­u­als, but I don’t know if that ra­tio holds for global poverty or other causes EAs are in­ter­ested in. And even if it does, it seems like you have to be a cer­tain size of or­ga­ni­za­tion to raise grass­roots funds effec­tively, and right now we don’t have enough orgs of that size.

I’d love to get other peo­ple’s thoughts on this.