Donations List Website: tutorial and request for feedback

Contents

Introduction

Dona­tions List Web­site (DLW) is a web­site that tracks the pub­lic or ex­plic­itly shared dona­tions of in­di­vi­d­u­als (mostly in the effec­tive al­tru­ism and ra­tio­nal­ity com­mu­ni­ties), pri­vate foun­da­tions, and other en­tities. The web­site was cre­ated and is main­tained by Vipul Naik, with con­tri­bu­tions from me (Issa Rice).

The aim of this post is to in­tro­duce DLW to the world and gather some feed­back. DLW has been in ac­tive de­vel­op­ment since Jan­uary 2017, and is planned for launch by the end of De­cem­ber 2019. At the mo­ment DLW is in a pre-re­lease state, where Vipul and I are adding both data and fea­tures to the site.

The first half of this post gives a tu­to­rial of DLW, fo­cus­ing es­pe­cially on the fea­tures of the site that are not ob­vi­ous to ca­sual in­spec­tion. The sec­ond half of this post is a re­quest for feed­back; Vipul and I are in­ter­ested in us­ing the feed­back to help us de­cide where to fo­cus our efforts for fu­ture de­vel­op­ment.

Tutorial

This sec­tion is a tu­to­rial of the main fea­tures of Dona­tions List Web­site (DLW), with a fo­cus on the parts that are prob­a­bly non-ob­vi­ous to ca­sual users.

Main page

The main page of DLW shows in­for­ma­tion ag­gre­gated from all dona­tions tracked by the site. The main page has the path start­ing with /​ or /​in­dex.php.

The main page of DLW has an op­tional pa­ram­e­ter called dis­play that changes the kind and num­ber of dona­tions listed. Cur­rently, the pos­si­ble val­ues are:

  • in­di­vi­d­ual-scale, which dis­plays dona­tions made by in­di­vi­d­u­als (in other words, ex­clud­ing dona­tions made by pri­vate foun­da­tions and other group en­tities)

  • full, which dis­plays all dona­tions tracked by DLW

  • empty value (the de­fault), which re­stricts dona­tions to the top 30 donors, donees, and cause areas

Donor page

Each donor tracked by DLW has a donor page. Donor pages have a path start­ing with /​donor.php. An ex­am­ple is the donor page for the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject.

For the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject in par­tic­u­lar, there is a table of dis­clo­sures (from be­fore it stopped an­nounc­ing dis­clo­sures). Cur­rently no other donor has dis­clo­sures data.

Donee page

Each donee tracked by DLW has a donee page. Donee pages have a path start­ing with /​donee.php. An ex­am­ple is the donee page for LessWrong 2.0.

Some en­tities are both a donor and a donee, in which case there will be sep­a­rate pages for each role. An ex­am­ple is the Berkeley Ex­is­ten­tial Risk Ini­ti­a­tive (BERI):

Donor–donee page

It is some­times in­ter­est­ing to look at a spe­cific donor–donee pair and see all the dona­tions made by the donor to the donee, their re­la­tion­ship, a list of doc­u­ments that men­tion both of them, and so on. For this, DLW has a donor–donee page for each such pair. Donor–donee pages have a path start­ing with /​donorDonee.php. An ex­am­ple of this is the page for Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject dona­tions made to the Ma­chine In­tel­li­gence Re­search In­sti­tute.

In­fluencer page

The in­fluencer page looks at the amount of money in­fluenced (a.k.a. the “money moved”) by an en­tity. This is tracked sep­a­rately from dona­tions, so it is pos­si­ble to com­pare the amount of money moved that is claimed (gath­ered from the en­tity claiming money moved, e.g. GiveWell) with the amount of money moved that is ac­tu­ally ac­counted for (gath­ered from the en­tities mak­ing or re­ceiv­ing the dona­tions, e.g. Against Malaria Foun­da­tion or in­di­vi­d­ual donors). In­fluencer pages have a path start­ing with /​in­fluencer.php.

The only en­tity for which we cur­rently track money moved in­for­ma­tion is GiveWell. You can see the amount of in­fluence claimed vs amount of money ac­counted for in the money moved table.

Even for non-GiveWell en­tities, in­fluencer pages ex­ist. An ex­am­ple is Chloe Cock­burn. In these cases, there is no com­par­i­son be­tween the “money moved claimed” and “money moved ac­counted for”, be­cause we have not en­tered any data for the “money moved claimed”. How­ever, it is still pos­si­ble to see a list of all dona­tions that were in­fluenced.

Cause area filter

Most pages on DLW ac­cept an op­tional cause area pa­ram­e­ter called cause_area_filter. Us­ing this pa­ram­e­ter filters the dona­tions to show only those with a match­ing cause area.

To give some ex­am­ples:

Donee pages don’t have this op­tion, be­cause most donees only work within a sin­gle cause area.

About page

The about page dis­cusses how DLW is built and re­li­a­bil­ity con­cerns for the data.

Re­quest for feedback

This sec­tion is an offi­cial re­quest for feed­back from read­ers of this fo­rum. Vipul and I want to make Dona­tions List Web­site (DLW) as use­ful as pos­si­ble to peo­ple who think about effec­tive giv­ing, flow of money in the non-profit world, real-world de­ci­sion mak­ing, and similar top­ics. To help us de­cide what im­prove­ments to pri­ori­tize, we would like to hear from you what ex­cites you most about DLW, what you could see your­self us­ing it for, what im­prove­ments would make you use it more, and so on.

Below, we provide some struc­ture for feed­back. We would ap­pre­ci­ate feed­back as (1) com­ments on this post, or (2) sub­mis­sions to this Google Form. The differ­ences be­tween the two are that the Google Form has fields for each ques­tion (more struc­ture), can be sub­mit­ted anony­mously, and in­di­vi­d­ual re­sponses will not be shared pub­li­cly.

Did you already know about DLW? Do you use it for any­thing?

To start off, we are cu­ri­ous to get a feel for whether peo­ple have already dis­cov­ered DLW on their own and whether they use it for any­thing.

As an ex­am­ple re­sponse, I will talk a lit­tle about my own ex­pe­rience us­ing DLW. I’ve found it use­ful for the fol­low­ing:

  • Since Oc­to­ber 2017, I have been work­ing on a web­site called AI Watch that tracks ac­tivity in the world of AI safety. More re­cently, I’ve ex­panded the scope of AI Watch to cause ar­eas out­side AI safety, re­sult­ing in Org Watch. Hav­ing ac­cess to data from DLW has helped me find names of peo­ple in­volved in var­i­ous cause ar­eas, which has made data col­lec­tion faster for my work on these other web­sites.

  • I had been cu­ri­ous about the dona­tions of cer­tain in­di­vi­d­u­als (ex­am­ples: Vi­talik Bu­terin and gw­ern) but as far as I could tell, there was no canon­i­cal lo­ca­tion list­ing dona­tions made by them. DLW has solved this prob­lem for me for these in­di­vi­d­u­als.

  • One day, I sud­denly be­came cu­ri­ous about the in­di­rect flow of money from the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject (Open Phil) to the Ma­chine In­tel­li­gence Re­search In­sti­tute (MIRI). By “in­di­rect flow of money” I mean not grants that Open Phil has made to MIRI, but where Open Phil grants money to some in­ter­me­di­ate en­tity, who then donates to MIRI. Hav­ing ac­cess to both the DLW and Org Watch datasets meant I could do some ex­plo­ra­tion by look­ing at (1) or­ga­ni­za­tions that had re­ceived money from Open Phil, that had also donated to MIRI, and (2) in­di­vi­d­u­als who worked for or­ga­ni­za­tions that re­ceived fund­ing from Open Phil, who were also in­di­vi­d­ual MIRI donors.

Po­ten­tial im­prove­ments – what are your thoughts?

This sub­sec­tion lists some po­ten­tial im­prove­ments we’ve thought of.

Add more foun­da­tion giv­ing data

Cur­rently, DLW tracks the giv­ing data of foun­da­tions in­clud­ing the Gates Foun­da­tion, Arnold Foun­da­tion, Hewlett Foun­da­tion, Good Ven­tures/​Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject, and Ford Foun­da­tion. How­ever, there are many more foun­da­tions whose dona­tions we could track.

Add more in­di­vi­d­ual giv­ing data

Similar to the above, there are many in­di­vi­d­u­als whose dona­tions we could track.

Add more data about things re­lated to the effec­tive al­tru­ism or ra­tio­nal­ity communities

DLW already has an em­pha­sis on these com­mu­ni­ties, but there’s still more that can be added.

Add more money moved data

Cur­rently we have only en­tered claimed money moved data for GiveWell. How­ever there are some other en­tities that pub­lish money moved data, like An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors.

Sys­tem­at­i­cally track con­sid­er­a­tions that donors make

Donors con­cerned with effec­tive giv­ing have many con­sid­er­a­tions as they think through their de­ci­sion. Th­ese in­clude:

  • Giv­ing now vs later

  • Donor co­or­di­na­tion and giver’s dilemma

  • Donat­ing to a sin­gle char­ity vs mul­ti­ple charities

  • How to weigh lo­cal knowl­edge vs analy­ses pub­lished by others

  • How much weight to place on cost-effec­tive­ness calcu­la­tions vs less quan­ti­ta­tive forms of mod­el­ing and reasoning

  • Whether to use a donor-ad­vised fund

  • Size of av­er­age dona­tion (rel­a­tive to to­tal wealth)

  • Which pop­u­la­tion ethics to use

  • Which wor­ld­views to use, and what en­tities to see as “equal” (all an­i­mals? all hu­mans? all peo­ple with a cer­tain IQ or abil­ity?)

Cur­rently, the rea­son­ing above is scat­tered across many differ­ent blog posts, com­ments, ar­ti­cles, and so forth. It is difficult to an­swer ques­tions like “Where and how do peo­ple who give con­sid­er­a­tion to the giver’s dilemma donate?” and “Where do peo­ple who share my pop­u­la­tion ethics and wor­ld­view donate?”

It seems plau­si­ble that DLW could make progress on ag­gre­gat­ing some of this dis­cus­sion and link­ing it with the ex­ist­ing dona­tions data.

Clas­sify cause ar­eas better

Although dona­tions on DLW are usu­ally tagged with a cause area, so far this has been done in a some­what ad hoc man­ner, so there are some prob­lems like the same cause area be­ing phrased in differ­ent ways and the cause area hi­er­ar­chy be­ing a mess.

I did some work on this pre­vi­ously in a cause pri­ori­ti­za­tion con­text (see en­tries for cause area clas­sifi­ca­tion and list of clas­sifi­ca­tions of philan­thropy on the Cause Pri­ori­ti­za­tion Wiki), but this sort of work is also valuable for bet­ter clas­sify­ing dona­tions.

In­clude giv­ing data (of ex­ist­ing donors/​donees) in a more timely manner

Even af­ter we add dona­tions data for a donor or donee, new dona­tions are made over time, so there is a ques­tion of how of­ten DLW should up­date the data for ex­ist­ing donors and donees. Cur­rently the up­dat­ing sched­ule is some­what ar­bi­trary.

We have writ­ten up a se­ries of steps for up­dat­ing ex­ist­ing data for donors and donees, so up­dat­ing dona­tions data for most en­tities is pretty straight­for­ward.

In­clude giv­ing data (of ex­ist­ing donors/​donees) more completely

Oc­ca­sion­ally a sub­set of dona­tions made by an en­tity is easy to ac­cess and pro­cess by a ma­chine, while the rest are not. An ex­am­ple of this is the Gates Foun­da­tion, where dona­tions tracked through the In­ter­na­tional Aid Trans­parency Ini­ti­a­tive are easy to pro­cess, but where the rest of the dona­tions are difficult to pro­cess at the grant level.

Add more documents

There has been a lot of dis­cus­sion over the years about effec­tive giv­ing, per­sonal dona­tions, or­ga­ni­za­tion up­dates, and other doc­u­ments that would be­long on DLW. We have added only a frac­tion of the pos­si­ble doc­u­ments, so adding more is an­other op­tion.

Add more graphs

Gen­er­ally we try to add graphs for each table dis­played, but there are some ex­cep­tions like the donee page.

Sum­ma­rize ex­ist­ing data more

It might be the case that the data of in­ter­est is already part of DLW, but isn’t pre­sented in the most use­ful way. Ex­am­ples of this are donor in­ter­sec­tion pages and donee in­ter­sec­tion pages, where one wants to com­pare two spe­cific donors or two spe­cific donees.

Other fea­tures?

We are in­ter­ested in hear­ing ideas other than the ones we listed.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Vipul Naik for feed­back on this post and for fund­ing my work on it.