Update on Effective Altruism Funds

This post is an up­date on the progress of Effec­tive Altru­ism Funds. If you’re not fa­mil­iar with EA Funds please check out our launch post and our origi­nal con­cept post. The EA Funds web­site is here.

EA Funds launched on Fe­bru­ary 28, 2017. In our launch post we said:

We only want to fo­cus on the Effec­tive Altru­ism Funds if the com­mu­nity be­lieves it will im­prove the effec­tive­ness of their dona­tions and that it will provide sub­stan­tial value to the EA com­mu­nity. Ac­cord­ingly, we plan to run the pro­ject for the next 3 months and then re­assess whether the pro­ject should con­tinue and if so, in what form.

Our re­view of the ev­i­dence so far has caused us to con­clude that EA Funds will con­tinue past the three-month ex­per­i­ment in some form. How­ever, de­tails such as which funds we offer, who man­ages them, and the con­tent and de­sign of the web­site may change as a re­sult of what we learn dur­ing the three month trial pe­riod to the end of May.

Below we re­view how EA Funds has performed since launch, we un­veil our first round of grant recom­men­da­tions by the fund man­agers, high­light some of the mis­takes we’ve made so far, and out­line some of our short-term pri­ori­ties.

Trac­tion of EA Funds so far

In our launch post we said:

The main way we will as­sess if the funds provide value to our com­mu­nity is to­tal re­cur­ring dona­tions to the EA Funds and com­mu­nity feed­back.

We out­line our trac­tion on each of these di­men­sions be­low.

Donations

At the time of writ­ing $672,925 has been donated to EA Funds with an ad­di­tional $26,861 in monthly re­cur­ring dona­tions. Of the to­tal amount donated, $250,000 came from a sin­gle new donor that Will met, al­though EA Funds has re­ceived dona­tions from 403 unique donors as well.

Stats on in­di­vi­d­ual funds are pro­vided be­low:

Fund Name

Amount Donated

Monthly re­cur­ring donations

Global Health and Development

$311,562

$10,529

An­i­mal Welfare

$161,824

$4,756

Long-Term Future

$118,342

$8,151

EA Community

$74,704

$3,156

The dona­tion amounts we’ve re­ceived so far are greater than we ex­pected, es­pe­cially given that dona­tions typ­i­cally de­crease early in the year af­ter ramp­ing up to­wards the end of the year.

We’ve also been im­pressed with the rel­a­tive lack of slow­down in new dona­tions over time. New pro­jects typ­i­cally ex­pe­rience a surge in us­age and then a sig­nifi­cant slow­down (some­times called the Trough of Sor­row). While we’ve ex­pe­rienced slow­down since launch, we’ve also seen a steady stream of around 5-10 new dona­tions per day to EA Funds.

Com­mu­nity feedback

We’ve mostly gauged com­mu­nity feed­back through a com­bi­na­tion of read­ing com­ments on our launch post, read­ing feed­back on EA Funds on Face­book, and talk­ing to peo­ple out­side of CEA whose opinions we trust. While this way of gaug­ing feed­back is far from perfect, our im­pres­sion is that com­mu­nity feed­back has been pos­i­tive over­all. (Note: the claim that the com­mu­nity feed­back has been pos­i­tive over­all has been dis­puted in the com­ments be­low.)

In ad­di­tion, we’ve re­quested feed­back from donors to EA Funds and from the com­mu­nity more gen­er­ally through a Type­form sur­vey. We ask the Net Pro­moter Score (NPS) ques­tion in both sur­veys and re­ceived an NPS of +56 (which is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered ex­cel­lent ac­cord­ing to the NPS Wikipe­dia page). While we don’t take NPS (or our sam­pling method) too se­ri­ously, it pro­vides some quan­ti­ta­tive data to cor­rob­o­rate our sub­jec­tive im­pres­sion.

Some of the ar­eas of con­cern we’ve re­ceived so far in­clude:

One ad­di­tional area of con­cern is in donor’s re­sponse to the fol­low­ing ques­tion:

How likely is it that your dona­tion to EA Funds will do more good in ex­pec­ta­tion than where you would have donated oth­er­wise?

Re­sponses were on a scale from 0 (not at all likely) to 10 (ex­tremely likely). We only col­lected 23 re­sponses to this ques­tion, but the av­er­age score was 7.6 (com­pared to an av­er­age of 8.7 on the NPS above ques­tion). Us­ing the NPS scor­ing sys­tem we would get a 0 on this ques­tion (same num­ber of pro­mot­ers as de­trac­tors). This could merely rep­re­sent healthy skep­ti­cism of a new pro­ject or it could in­di­cate that donors are en­thu­si­as­tic about fea­tures other than the im­pact of dona­tions to EA Funds.

Our prefer­ence is that donors give wher­ever they have rea­son to be­lieve their dona­tion will do the most good. If EA Funds suc­ceeds in get­ting dona­tions but fails to first con­vince donors that it is the high­est-im­pact dona­tion op­tion available, we would sub­stan­tially reeval­u­ate the pro­ject and how we com­mu­ni­cate about it. We will con­tinue to eval­u­ate this as the pro­ject con­tinues and as we gain more data.

Conclusion

The ev­i­dence so far has led us to con­clude that EA Funds should con­tinue af­ter the three month trial pe­riod. We’ve been im­pressed with the com­mu­nity re­sponse both in terms of feed­back and dona­tions and are en­thu­si­as­tic about the po­ten­tial to fur­ther im­prove the dona­tion op­tions available over time.

Allo­ca­tions from Fund Managers

We’re also ex­cited to an­nounce the first round of grant al­lo­ca­tions from the fund man­agers. De­tails are pro­vided be­low.

Global Health and Devel­op­ment Fund

By Elie Hassenfeld

I’m plan­ning to al­lo­cate all of the funds in the Global Health and Devel­op­ment fund to the Against Malaria Foun­da­tion, con­sis­tent with GiveWell’s cur­rent recom­men­da­tion to donors.

AMF’s abil­ity to sign ad­di­tional agree­ments to dis­tribute malaria nets is cur­rently ham­pered by in­suffi­cient fund­ing.

In ad­di­tion:

  • GiveWell’s In­cu­ba­tion Grants pro­gram has eval­u­ated and recom­mended a hand­ful of grants in the last few months. In each case, Good Ven­tures fol­lowed GiveWell’s recom­men­da­tion, so I con­tinue to be­lieve that GiveWell’s In­cu­ba­tion Grants pro­gram is not ham­pered by in­suffi­cient fund­ing.

  • I don’t cur­rently know of any other global health and de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties that I be­lieve are higher im­pact, in ex­pec­ta­tion, than AMF.

I don’t an­ti­ci­pate ei­ther of the above facts chang­ing in the next 6 months, so I’m choos­ing to al­lo­cate all of the funds im­me­di­ately.

An­i­mal Welfare Fund

By Lewis Bollard

I’ve recom­mended dis­burse­ments for the first $180K donated to the fund. I’ll likely recom­mend fund­ing fewer groups in fu­ture, but have recom­mended ini­tial grants to nine groups for a few rea­sons:

  1. I want to sig­nal to donors the sort of things I’m likely to recom­mend via this fund, and sig­nal groups that I think have (a) ad­di­tional room for more fund­ing by in­di­vi­d­ual donors and (b) Open Phil can’t fully fund be­cause we already ac­count for much of their bud­gets, e.g. The Hu­mane League and Com­pas­sion in World Farm­ing USA.

  2. I’m recom­mend­ing a few new ap­proaches that I’m not sure have sig­nifi­cantly more room for fund­ing than I’m propos­ing, e.g. the Effec­tive Altru­ism Foun­da­tion and The Fórum Na­cional.

  3. I’m recom­mend­ing some groups that I an­ti­ci­pate Open Phil may fill the fund­ing of in fu­ture, so only want to fund the groups enough to ex­pand in the mean­time.

  4. I want to main­tain some di­ver­sity within this fund so that donors can sup­port a di­ver­sity of ap­proaches.

The Hu­mane League ($30K)

Ad­vo­cacy group. THL is one of two key cam­paign­ing groups re­spon­si­ble for the ma­jor re­cent US cor­po­rate wins for layer hens and broiler chick­ens. (The other is Mercy for An­i­mals, which I’m not sup­port­ing via this Fund be­cause I’m con­fi­dent that ma­jor donors, in­clud­ing Open Phil, will fill its fund­ing needs for now.) THL has also played a crit­i­cal role in the global cor­po­rate cam­paign wins for layer hens, via the Open Wing Alli­ance, a group­ing of 33 cam­paign groups that it or­ga­nized. I’ve been con­sis­tently im­pressed by THL’s man­age­ment, fo­cus on staff and ac­tivist de­vel­op­ment, and wise use of funds across pro­gram ar­eas. Open Phil already ac­counts for roughly half of THL’s bud­get, so de­pen­dence con­cerns may con­strain our abil­ity to fill its fund­ing needs in fu­ture.

An­i­mal Equal­ity ($30K)

Ad­vo­cacy group. An­i­mal Equal­ity does grass­roots ac­tivism, cor­po­rate cam­paign­ing, and un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tions across Europe, the Amer­i­cas, and In­dia. I’ve been im­pressed by its con­stant up­dat­ing based on ev­i­dence: first mov­ing to­ward only farm an­i­mal welfare work, and later to­ward a fo­cus on cor­po­rate cam­paign­ing. I also think that its co-founders Sharon Nunez and Jose Valle have a strong vi­sion for build­ing a grass­roots move­ment globally. I think it has fund­ing needs now that aren’t likely to be im­me­di­ately met.

New Har­vest ($30K)

Clean meat re­search group. I’m not sure what the odds are that we’ll ever de­velop price-com­pet­i­tive clean or cul­tured meat. The ev­i­dence I’ve seen has con­vinced me that we won’t have it in the next five years, as some boost­ers claim. But I think it’s plau­si­ble that we will in the next 20-50 years, and I think the odds of it ever be­ing de­vel­oped will de­pend on the funds in­vested in it now. I’m also ex­cited about the Good Food In­sti­tute’s work in this space, but I think that big fun­ders (in­clud­ing Open Phil) will fill GFI’s fund­ing needs in the medium term. I think New Har­vest fulfills an im­por­tant and com­ple­men­tary role, and has more room for more fund­ing.

The Effec­tive Altru­ism Foun­da­tion ($30K)

Re­search on the welfare of an­i­mals in nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments. This grant will fund the re­search on the welfare of wild an­i­mals done by re­searchers Ozy Bren­nan and Per­sis Eskan­der, which in­ter­nal changes at EAF have re­sulted in a loss of fund­ing for. I’ve been im­pressed with their re­cent re­search, which fo­cuses on foun­da­tional ques­tions like the best sci­en­tific meth­ods for mea­sur­ing the wellbe­ing of wild an­i­mals, and rel­a­tively non-con­tro­ver­sial po­ten­tial in­ter­ven­tions, like more hu­mane meth­ods of pest con­trol. I view this as an im­por­tant and highly ne­glected cause, though I’m un­sure how tractable it will be and think more re­search is needed.

The Fórum Na­cional de Proteção e Defesa An­i­mal in Brazil ($20K)

Ad­vo­cacy group. The Fórum Na­cional is Brazil’s largest an­i­mal pro­tec­tion net­work with 120+ af­fili­ated NGOs (mainly com­pan­ion an­i­mal groups). Ad­vo­cates I trust credit the group with a key role in se­cur­ing crate-free pledges from Brazil’s three largest pork pro­duc­ers, and more re­cently cage-free pledges from Brazil’s three largest mayo pro­duc­ers, amongst oth­ers. Open Phil already ac­counts for roughly half of the Fórum Na­cional’s bud­get, so de­pen­dence con­cerns may con­strain our abil­ity to fill its fund­ing needs in fu­ture, and I’m less op­ti­mistic that other donors will step in than I am for THL or CIWF USA given Brazil’s challeng­ing fundrais­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Com­pas­sion in World Farm­ing USA ($10K)

Ad­vo­cacy group. CIWF USA is one of two cor­po­rate ad­vo­cacy groups re­spon­si­ble for the ma­jor re­cent US cor­po­rate wins for layer hens and broiler chick­ens. (The other is the Hu­mane So­ciety of the US Farm An­i­mal Pro­tec­tion cam­paign, which is harder to sup­port via this fund be­cause of fun­gi­bil­ity con­cerns.) It’s now fo­cused al­most ex­clu­sively on win­ning fur­ther cor­po­rate welfare re­forms for broiler chick­ens. Open Phil already ac­counts for roughly half of CIWF USA’s bud­get, so de­pen­dence con­cerns may con­strain our abil­ity to fill its fund­ing needs in fu­ture.

The Albert Sch­weitzer Foun­da­tion in Ger­many ($10K)

Ad­vo­cacy group. This group ap­pears to have been in­stru­men­tal in se­cur­ing cage-free and other cor­po­rate pledges in Ger­many, as well as in ad­vanc­ing some policy re­forms and in­sti­tu­tional meat re­duc­tion efforts. It cur­rently has fund­ing needs which may be filled in the medium term.

An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors ($10K)

Char­ity eval­u­a­tor. I like the work that ACE does to build a more effec­tive farm an­i­mal move­ment through re­search, char­ity recom­men­da­tions, and out­reach to donors, re­searchers, and ad­vo­cates. When I recom­mended this ini­tial grant, ACE had sig­nifi­cant room for more fund­ing. I’m now more con­fi­dent that fund­ing gap will be filled by large fun­ders, so it’s un­likely that I’ll di­rect more funds to ACE this year.

Ot­warte Klatki in Poland ($10K)

Ad­vo­cacy group. This young grass­roots group ap­pears to have helped achieve sig­nifi­cant cor­po­rate re­forms in Poland with a small bud­get and in a tough poli­ti­cal en­vi­ron­ment. It cur­rently has fund­ing needs, though they may be filled in the medium term.

Long-Term Fu­ture Fund

By Nick Beckstead

The Long-Term Fu­ture Fund made one grant of $14,838.02 to the Berkeley Ex­is­ten­tial Risk Ini­ti­a­tive (BERI).

  • How I got the idea: An­drew Critch, who cre­ated BERI, re­quested $50,000.

  • What it is: It is a new ini­ti­a­tive pro­vid­ing var­i­ous forms of sup­port to re­searchers work­ing on ex­is­ten­tial risk is­sues (ad­minis­tra­tive, ex­pert con­sul­ta­tions, tech­ni­cal sup­port). It works as a non-profit en­tity, in­de­pen­dent of any uni­ver­sity, so that it can help mul­ti­ple or­ga­ni­za­tions and to op­er­ate more swiftly than would be pos­si­ble within a uni­ver­sity con­text. For more in­for­ma­tion, see their web­site.

  • Why I pro­vided the funds: Key in­puts to my de­ci­sion in­clude:

    • The ba­sic idea makes sense to me. I be­lieve that this ve­hi­cle could provide swifter, more ag­ile sup­port to re­searchers in this space and I think that could be helpful.

    • I know Critch and be­lieve he can make this hap­pen.

    • I be­lieve I can check in on this a year or two from now and get a sense of how helpful it was. Sup­port­ing peo­ple to try out rea­son­able ideas when that seems true is ap­peal­ing to me.

    • I see my­self as a nat­u­ral first fun­der to ask for new en­deav­ors like this, and be­lieve oth­ers who would sup­port this would make rel­a­tively wise choices with their dona­tions. I there­fore did not check much whether some­one else could have or would have funded it.

    • This seemed com­pet­i­tive with available al­ter­na­tives.

  • I did not provide the full $50,000 from the Long-Term Fu­ture Fund be­cause I didn’t have enough fund­ing yet. I pro­vided all the fund­ing I had at the time. The re­main­der of the fund­ing was pro­vided by the EA Giv­ing Group and some funds held in a per­sonal DAF. (This illus­trates com­plex is­sues of fun­gi­bil­ity that I plan to dis­cuss at a later date.)

Effec­tive Altru­ism Com­mu­nity Fund

(At the time of writ­ing the EA com­mu­nity fund had not made any grants)

Mis­takes and Updates

Since the launch of EA Funds, we’ve made sev­eral mis­takes which have led to sev­eral use­ful up­dates. We out­line these be­low.

Un­der­state­ment of EA Funds Risks

How we fell short: In our launch post (available here and here) we ar­gue that dona­tions to EA Funds are likely to be at least as good as Open Phil’s last dol­lar and that Open Phil’s last dol­lar may be higher value than the low­est-cost al­ter­na­tively, namely, donat­ing to GiveWell-recom­mended char­i­ties.

How­ever, this ar­gu­ment did not suffi­ciently com­mu­ni­cate that Open Phil is likely to donate its last dol­lar many decades in the fu­ture which adds a good deal of ex­tra risk that does not ex­ist for an op­tion like donat­ing to GiveWell-recom­mended char­i­ties.

How we’re im­prov­ing: We’ve added some ad­di­tional para­graphs about this is­sue to the “Why donate to Effec­tive Altru­ism Funds” page. We also added an ad­di­tional para­graph to the “Why might you choose not to donate to this fund?” page for the An­i­mal Welfare, Long-Term Fu­ture, and EA Com­mu­nity funds which ad­dress the need to trust Open Phil in mak­ing dona­tions to EA Funds. We added a similar, but much shorter para­graph ad­dress­ing the need to trust GiveWell to the Global Health and Devel­op­ment fund page.

Poor con­tent about EA Funds on the Giv­ing What We Can website

How we fell short: Around a month af­ter launch we added some in­for­ma­tion and recom­men­da­tions for EA Funds to the Giv­ing What We Can web­site (here, here, and here). This in­for­ma­tion en­dorsed EA Funds with­out link­ing to the ar­gu­ments in fa­vor of it and did not suffi­ciently high­light our be­lief that not all donors should give to EA Funds.

In ad­di­tion, this recom­men­da­tion was at odds with our pub­lic state­ment in our launch post that EA Funds was in a three-month test pe­riod. Some users were con­fused as to why we would recom­mend a pro­ject which we were still test­ing.

How we’re im­prov­ing: We added a link to the “Why donate to EA Funds” page (or re­pro­duced that con­tent) on all three GWWC pages. We also added a sen­tence ex­plain­ing that we do not think EA Funds is likely to be the high­est im­pact for op­tion all donors.

We’re also re­leas­ing this up­date post to ex­plain how we’ve up­dated and why we feel com­fortable recom­mend­ing EA Funds to a wider pool of donors.

Po­ten­tial is­sues and ar­eas of uncertainty

  • We fol­lowed the YC mantra of “launch when you’re still slightly em­bar­rassed” in de­cid­ing how quickly to launch EA Funds. This al­lowed us to move quickly and take EA Funds from con­cept to launch in less than a month, but also led us to launch a product with some soft­ware and con­tent bugs. Since CEA has a more es­tab­lished brand than most star­tups and since we’re deal­ing with large amounts of money, it might have been ap­pro­pri­ate to spend more time re­fin­ing the product be­fore launch.

  • We have strug­gled to find a bal­ance be­tween the de­sire to be care­ful and thor­ough in de­scribing the rea­sons in fa­vor of donat­ing to EA Funds on the one hand and the de­sire to be user-friendly and ap­peal­ing to newer donors on the other hand. Our cur­rent home­page likely leans too far in fa­vor of be­ing user-friendly and sparse on ar­gu­men­ta­tion, but our launch post likely leaned too far in the di­rec­tion of re­quiring lots of back­ground con­text to un­der­stand. We’ll con­tinue to work on strik­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ance as EA Funds evolves in­clud­ing A/​B test­ing some differ­ent op­tions to get more in­for­ma­tion on what’s ap­pro­pri­ate and use­ful.

  • The EA Funds user in­ter­face un­in­ten­tion­ally nudges users in fa­vor of split­ting their dona­tion be­tween the available causes be­cause it shows you all the op­tions si­mul­ta­neously and asks you to choose your al­lo­ca­tion be­tween then. It is an open ques­tion if donors should split be­tween plau­si­ble op­tions or donate en­tirely to the op­tion they think is best in ex­pec­ta­tion. We’re cur­rently eval­u­at­ing op­tions for how to ei­ther help donors think through the split ver­sus no-split de­ci­sion or to make the user in­ter­face less bi­ased in fa­vor of dona­tion split­ting.

Fu­ture plans

Below we high­light some of the near-term pri­ori­ties for EA Funds.

Is the growth of EA Funds de­pen­dent on the growth of EA?

The suc­cess of EA Funds so far is pri­mar­ily at­tributable to the size of the ex­ist­ing EA com­mu­nity. One im­por­tant ques­tion is whether the growth of EA Funds will be de­pen­dent on the growth of the EA com­mu­nity or whether EA Funds can grow in­de­pen­dently, and per­haps faster than the growth of EA.

If EA Funds can grow in­de­pen­dent of EA, then it likely makes sense to spend a good deal of staff time and money work­ing di­rectly on im­prov­ing the pro­ject and get­ting more money mov­ing through the plat­form. If EA Funds pri­mar­ily grows as EA grows, then it makes sense to spend staff time and money work­ing on grow­ing EA while mak­ing sure that the EA com­mu­nity knows about EA Funds.

We’re look­ing at three gen­eral op­tions for grow­ing EA Funds in­de­pen­dently of grow­ing the EA com­mu­nity: on­line mar­ket­ing, en­gag­ing with high net worth donors and part­ner­ship de­vel­op­ment. We’ll be look­ing for low-cost ways to test tac­tics in each of these do­mains over the com­ing months while the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s main fo­cus will be the EA Com­mu­nity. If none of these op­tions look promis­ing, then we’ll likely fo­cus on grow­ing the EA com­mu­nity while main­tain­ing EA Funds as a dona­tion op­tion for EAs.

Ad­ding new funds and new fund managers

In our launch post we said:

If we de­cide to pro­ceed with the EA Funds pro­ject af­ter the three month trial, our aim would be to have 50% or less of the Fund Man­agers be Open Phil Pro­gram Officers (al­though they may man­age more than 50% of the money donated).

This con­tinues to be an im­por­tant goal for us. In­ter­nally we’ve dis­cussed some ideas for what funds or fund man­agers we might add to ac­com­plish this goal, but we haven’t set­tled on any firm plans. We plan to al­lo­cate more time to ac­com­plish­ing this goal over the sum­mer.

If you have ideas for funds or fund man­agers we might add, please fill out this form and/​or email me at kerry@effec­tivealtru­ism.org.

The EA Funds in­fras­truc­ture as a platform

Be­hind the scenes, dona­tions to EA Funds go to CEA un­til the fund man­ager makes a grant recom­men­da­tion at which point CEA donates the money to the re­cip­i­ent or­ga­ni­za­tion.

We choose this sys­tem over other op­tions like us­ing a sep­a­rate or­ga­ni­za­tion to re­ceive the money, us­ing char­ity plat­forms like CauseVox, or set­ting up an in­de­pen­dent donor-ad­vised fund for sev­eral rea­sons. Th­ese in­clude less ad­minis­tra­tive costs for us, more con­trol over the user ex­pe­rience, lower fees with the pos­si­bil­ity of ne­go­ti­at­ing even lower fees in the fu­ture, and tax de­ductibil­ity in the US and UK through the same web­site and plat­form.

This sys­tem is de­signed such that it can scale be­yond just col­lect­ing dona­tions to EA Funds. For ex­am­ple, we could pro­cess dona­tions to in­di­vi­d­ual char­i­ties, we could help co­or­di­nate donor lot­ter­ies, we could pro­cess be­quests, we could pro­cess birth­day and holi­day fundraisers, and more. In the short-term, we are re­plac­ing the Giv­ing What We Can trust with EA Funds be­cause CEA can make the same grants with fewer re­stric­tions (more on this in our March up­date) and use EA Funds to pro­cess dona­tions to in­di­vi­d­ual char­i­ties for mem­bers. We’ll be look­ing for other ways to use this in­fras­truc­ture to benefit the EA com­mu­nity.