Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates

I’m Sam, the Pro­ject Lead at Effec­tive Altru­ism Funds. As the year closes, I wanted to write up a sum­mary of what EA Funds is, how it’s or­ga­nized, and what we’ve been up to lately. Hope­fully this will be a use­ful re­source for new donors de­cid­ing whether the Funds are right for them, give ex­ist­ing donors more in­for­ma­tion about how Funds is run, and provide an op­por­tu­nity to give feed­back that helps us make the product bet­ter.

If you’d like to donate with EA Funds, please click the link be­low.

Donate with EA Funds

Pro­ject Overview

What is EA Funds?

For any­one who hasn’t sub­stan­tially in­ter­acted with Funds, here’s a quick overview to get you up to speed.

From the EA Funds About page:

Effec­tive Altru­ism Funds is a plat­form where you can donate to ex­pert-led philan­thropic ‘funds’ with the aim of max­i­miz­ing the effec­tive­ness of your char­i­ta­ble dona­tions.

As an in­di­vi­d­ual donor, it’s of­ten very difficult to know if your char­i­ta­ble dona­tions will have an im­pact. It’s very hard to do thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tions of in­di­vi­d­ual char­i­ta­ble pro­jects. It’s also hard to know whether the char­i­ties you want to sup­port are able to use­fully de­ploy ex­tra fund­ing, or whether giv­ing them more money would be sub­ject to diminish­ing re­turns.

Effec­tive Altru­ism Funds (or EA Funds for short) aims to solve these prob­lems. We en­gage teams of sub­ject-mat­ter ex­perts, who look for the high­est-im­pact op­por­tu­ni­ties to do good.

EA Funds is com­prised of four Funds, each cov­er­ing a spe­cific cause area. The Funds are Global Health and Devel­op­ment, An­i­mal Welfare, Long-Term Fu­ture, and Effec­tive Altru­ism Meta (formerly the EA Com­mu­nity Fund).

In ad­di­tion to the Funds, the EA Funds plat­form also sup­ports dona­tions to a range of in­di­vi­d­ual char­i­ties, as well as host­ing the (cur­rently an­nual) EA Funds Donor Lot­tery. It’s also the home of the Giv­ing What We Can Pledge Dash­board, where Giv­ing What We Can mem­bers/​Try Givers can track/​re­port progress against their Pledge, and dona­tions made through the plat­form are re­ported au­to­mat­i­cally.

Who is EA Funds for?

EA Funds is prob­a­bly best suited to rel­a­tively ex­pe­rienced donors, who are com­fortable with del­e­gat­ing their dona­tion de­ci­sions to the re­spec­tive Fund man­age­ment teams. Our Fund man­age­ment teams are gen­er­ally look­ing for grants that are high-im­pact in ex­pec­ta­tion, which means that they may choose to recom­mend grants that are more spec­u­la­tive. This is likely to lead to a higher var­i­ance in out­comes – some grants may achieve a lot and some may achieve very lit­tle. Over­all, the hope is that the full port­fo­lio of grants will be higher-im­pact than sim­ply donat­ing to a spe­cific highly-recom­mended char­ity. This ap­proach is some­times referred to as hits-based giv­ing (I per­son­ally like to think of it as ‘chas­ing pos­i­tive black swans’).

If you’re think­ing of donat­ing to the Funds, you should read through the EA Funds web­site (in­clud­ing each Fund’s scope and past grant his­tory) to make sure you’re com­fortable with the level of risk offered by EA Funds.

My guess is that most in­di­vi­d­ual donors (who aren’t spend­ing sig­nifi­cant time in­ves­ti­gat­ing dona­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties) will prob­a­bly im­prove the ex­pected im­pact of their dona­tions by donat­ing to EA Funds (as com­pared to, say, donat­ing di­rectly to a char­ity in a cause area rep­re­sented by one of the Funds). How­ever, this is just a guess, and I am ob­vi­ously not an im­par­tial ob­server. As we build out bet­ter mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion in­fras­truc­ture, it’s pos­si­ble that in the fu­ture we’ll be able to make more defini­tive claims about the ex­pected im­pact of donat­ing to the Funds.

Struc­ture of Fund man­age­ment teams

EA Funds is a pro­ject of the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism (CEA), a reg­istered non­profit in the US and the UK. CEA pro­vides the le­gal and op­er­a­tional in­fras­truc­ture for EA Funds to op­er­ate within, and is ul­ti­mately legally re­spon­si­ble for all grant­mak­ing.

Each Fund is man­aged by a Fund man­age­ment team, who are re­spon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing grant recom­men­da­tions to CEA. Most Funds have a multi-mem­ber Fund man­age­ment team, with the ex­cep­tion of the Global Devel­op­ment Fund.

Each Fund man­age­ment team has a Fund Chair, who pro­vides over­all di­rec­tion for the Fund and co­or­di­nates with CEA to provide grant recom­men­da­tions. As it cur­rently stands, the Chair does not get any ad­di­tional vot­ing rights, and grant de­ci­sions are made with in­put from the whole team (though the spe­cific de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cess differs slightly be­tween Funds). The Chairs are also re­spon­si­ble for recom­mend­ing the ap­point­ment of other mem­bers (de­ci­sions to ap­point Fund man­age­ment team mem­bers are ul­ti­mately made by CEA). Some Funds (Long-Term Fu­ture, EA Meta) have ad­di­tional ad­vi­sors, who do not make (or vote on) grant recom­men­da­tions, but provide feed­back and ad­vice on grant­mak­ing.

CEA en­sures that grant recom­men­da­tions are within the scope of the recom­mend­ing Fund, screens grants for large po­ten­tial down­side risks, and con­ducts due dili­gence to en­sure that grants are legally com­pli­ant (e.g. are grants for proper char­i­ta­ble pur­poses etc). Grant recom­men­da­tions must be ap­proved by CEA’s Board of Trus­tees be­fore be­ing paid out.

Direct dona­tions to effec­tive charities

In ad­di­tion to the four Funds, the EA Funds plat­form al­lows donors to recom­mend di­rect dona­tions to a num­ber of in­di­vi­d­ual effec­tive char­i­ties. This is to in­crease the use­ful­ness of the product for both donors (who can choose to donate to any com­bi­na­tion of Funds and char­i­ties through the same plat­form, and Giv­ing What We Can mem­bers can have their dona­tions tracked au­to­mat­i­cally) as well as the char­i­ties them­selves (who can re­ceive tax-de­ductible dona­tions in ju­ris­dic­tions that they don’t cur­rently op­er­ate in).

At the mo­ment the pro­cess for adding char­i­ties to the plat­form has been fairly op­por­tunis­tic/​ad-hoc, and the in­clu­sion crite­ria have largely been based on judge­ment calls about com­mu­nity eval­u­a­tions of their rel­a­tive im­pact. At this stage we’re not plan­ning to ac­tively so­licit new ad­di­tions to the plat­form, how­ever we re­main open to sup­port­ing highly-effec­tive pro­jects that would find in­clu­sion on the plat­form ad­van­ta­geous for tax-effi­ciency rea­sons. If you run a pro­ject that you think has a defen­si­ble claim to be­ing highly effec­tive, and would benefit from be­ing on EA Funds, please get in touch (please note that the pro­ject will need to be a reg­istered char­ity or fis­cally spon­sored by one).

Pro­ject sta­tus and re­la­tion­ship to CEA

At the mo­ment, EA Funds has a staff of ≈1.3 FTEs:

  • I (Sam Deere) lead the pro­ject, han­dling strat­egy, tech­nol­ogy, donor re­la­tions etc.

  • Chloe Malone (from CEA’s Oper­a­tions team) han­dles grant­mak­ing lo­gis­tics and due diligence

Other staff in­volved in the pro­ject in­clude:

  • Ben West, who over­sees the pro­ject as my man­ager at CEA

  • JP Ad­di­son, the other mem­ber of tech­ni­cal staff at CEA, who re­views code and splits some of the tech­ni­cal work with me

Cur­rently EA Funds is a pro­ject wholly within the cen­tral part of the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism (as op­posed to a satel­lite pro­ject housed within the same le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion, like 80,000 Hours or the Forethought Foun­da­tion). How­ever, we’re cur­rently in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether this should change. This is largely driven by a di­ver­gence in or­ga­ni­za­tional pri­ori­ties – speci­fi­cally, that CEA is fo­cus­ing on build­ing com­mu­ni­ties and spaces for dis­cussing EA ideas (e.g. lo­cal groups, EA Global and re­lated events, and the EA Fo­rum), whereas EA Funds is pri­mar­ily fundrais­ing-ori­ented. As such, we think it’s likely that EA Funds would fare bet­ter if it were set up to run as its own or­ga­ni­za­tion, with its own di­rec­tor, and a team speci­fi­cally fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing the product, while CEA will benefit from hav­ing a nar­rower scope.

It’s still not clear what the best for­mat for this would be, but in the medium term this will prob­a­bly look like EA Funds ex­ist­ing as a sep­a­rately man­aged or­ga­ni­za­tion within the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism (à la 80,000 Hours or Forethought), re­port­ing di­rectly to CEA’s board. At first, CEA would still provide op­er­a­tional sup­port in the form of pay­roll and grant­mak­ing lo­gis­tics etc., but even­tu­ally we may want to build ca­pac­ity to do some or all of these things in-house.

Longer-term, it may be use­ful for EA Funds to in­cor­po­rate as a sep­a­rate le­gal en­tity, with a board speci­fi­cally set up to provide over­sight from a grant­mak­ing per­spec­tive. Ob­vi­ously this would rep­re­sent a large change to the sta­tus quo, and so isn’t likely to hap­pen any time soon.

(How­ever things shake out, I wouldn’t ex­pect any or­ga­ni­za­tional changes to ma­te­ri­ally change the Funds, their struc­ture, or their man­age­ment.)

Re­cent updates

Re­cent Grantmaking

  • The Global Devel­op­ment Fund recom­mended a grant of just over $1 mil­lion to For­tify Health

  • Novem­ber 2019 grant recom­men­da­tions have been made by the An­i­mal Welfare Fund ($415k) and the EA Meta Fund ($330k).

  • The Long-Term Fu­ture Fund has also sub­mit­ted Novem­ber grant recom­men­da­tions, which are cur­rently un­der­go­ing due dili­gence and will be pub­lished soon.

Pro­ject updates

  • Most of the con­tent on EA Funds (es­pe­cially that de­scribing in­di­vi­d­ual Funds) hadn’t been sub­stan­tially up­dated since its in­cep­tion in early 2017. The struc­ture was some­what difficult to fol­low, and wasn’t par­tic­u­larly friendly to donors who were sym­pa­thetic to the aims of EA Funds, but had less fa­mil­iar­ity with the effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity (and the as­sumed knowl­edge that en­tails). At the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber we con­ducted a ma­jor re­struc­ture/​rewrite of the Funds pages and added ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion to help donors de­cide whether EA Funds is right for them.

  • The Funds are again run­ning a donor lot­tery, with $100k and $500k blocks, giv­ing donors a chance to be able to make grant recom­men­da­tions over large pots of money (both lot­ter­ies close on 17 Jan­uary 2020).

  • We’re cur­rently mak­ing plans for 2020. Our main pri­ori­ties are likely to in­clude im­prove­ments to our grant­mak­ing pro­cess, with an em­pha­sis on mak­ing past grants eas­ier to mon­i­tor and eval­u­ate. (This is still un­der ac­tive dis­cus­sion, so our pri­ori­ties could change if we come to the con­clu­sion that other things are more im­por­tant.)

Public Data

We’ve re­cently launched a pub­li­cly-ac­cessible dash­board to show var­i­ous statis­tics about the Funds. It’s still fairly new, and cur­rently just shows YTD dona­tions, so if there’s a statis­tic you’d like in­cluded, leave a com­ment or email funds@effec­tivealtru­ism.org.

YTD Dona­tions, all EA Funds (in­ter­ac­tive ver­sion)