Update on Effective Altruism Funds
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.
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:
Monthly recurring donations
Global Health and Development
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.
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.
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
AMF’s ability to sign additional agreements to distribute malaria nets is currently hampered by insufficient funding.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.