Planning my birthday fundraiser for October 2020

Last year, I ran a Face­book birth­day fundraiser for the Against Malaria Foun­da­tion. It was very suc­cess­ful and cost-effec­tive on my part—even though I only donated $20 my­self, I raised $240 in to­tal, effec­tively mul­ti­ply­ing my dona­tion by 12. (I wrote about my 2019 char­i­ta­ble giv­ing ac­tivity here.) This Oc­to­ber, I want to run an­other birth­day fundraiser, and I would pos­si­bly like to make it into an an­nual tra­di­tion.

This year, I’m go­ing to raise money for the Nu­clear Threat Ini­ti­a­tive (NTI) to sup­port their policy ad­vo­cacy on weapons of mass de­struc­tion, in­clud­ing biolog­i­cal and nu­clear weapons.

Why fundraise?

I’ve be­come more al­igned with pa­tient longter­mism and have a lot of un­cer­tainty about how best to im­prove the long-term fu­ture, so right now I’m in­clined to save most of my money to give later. How­ever, I think that fundrais­ing for a char­ity right now has sev­eral po­ten­tial benefits:

  • As my ex­pe­rience shows, fundrais­ing cam­paigns may be a cost-effec­tive way to raise money for high-im­pact char­i­ties. Last year, I was able to raise 12 times as much money in to­tal as I con­tributed my­self.

  • I an­ti­ci­pate that in the next 10 years, I will be able to ded­i­cate my ca­reer to press­ing causes such as AI safety. How­ever, I don’t have much ca­pac­ity to di­rect my la­bor in the most im­pact­ful ways right now. Donat­ing helps me feel like I’m cre­at­ing value while my im­pact through other means is limited.

  • By ex­ten­sion, try­ing to donate ev­ery year may help me build a habit of donat­ing, which in­creases the like­li­hood that I will donate ev­ery year in the fu­ture. I fret a lot about whether and how I’m go­ing to have an im­pact in the near term, so know­ing ahead of time that I will donate money may re­duce my anx­iety about this.

  • Run­ning a fundraiser seems like a good way to pro­mote high-im­pact causes to peo­ple un­fa­mil­iar with effec­tive al­tru­ism.

  • Since I’m young and rel­a­tively new to effec­tive al­tru­ism, I can benefit from tak­ing ac­tions now and learn­ing as I go.

Con­sid­er­a­tions for fundraising

Be­fore I start a fundraiser, how­ever, I need to think about three things: (1) which char­ity to pro­mote, and (2) how to pro­mote it. Since I am prone to over­think­ing and perfec­tion­ism, I also need to be cog­nizant of how much time I spend plan­ning and ex­e­cut­ing my fundraiser.

Choos­ing a charity

Effec­tive al­tru­ism em­pha­sizes that di­rect­ing re­sources to the right prob­lem heav­ily in­fluences how much im­pact you can have.[1] This im­plies that choos­ing the right char­ity to pro­mote is very im­por­tant; I want to take this se­ri­ously. Re­cently, I’ve be­come al­igned with longter­mism, the idea that be­cause fu­ture gen­er­a­tions mat­ter, en­sur­ing that hu­man­ity sur­vives and flour­ishes for eons is paramount.[2]

While I was writ­ing this post, I origi­nally thought of ways to im­prove the long-term fu­ture as fal­ling into two main cat­e­gories:

  • Re­duc­ing ex­is­ten­tial risks, thereby in­creas­ing the chance that sen­tient life (in­clud­ing hu­mans) will last longer.

  • Im­prov­ing well-be­ing for hu­man­ity and other sen­tient life over the long term, given that no ex­is­ten­tial catas­tro­phe severely and per­ma­nently cur­tails hu­man­ity’s po­ten­tial.

How­ever, while brows­ing 80,000 Hours’ list of prob­lem pro­files, I no­ticed that many of the prob­lems listed as promis­ing ways to im­prove the long-term fu­ture don’t fit cleanly into ei­ther cat­e­gory. For ex­am­ple, im­prov­ing global gov­er­nance can im­prove hu­man­ity’s abil­ity to con­front ex­is­ten­tial risks, but it can also speed up tech­nolog­i­cal, eco­nomic, and so­cial progress on a global scale. I also got the gen­eral sense that ex­is­ten­tial risk is the more im­por­tant of the two.[3] Even though I’m still un­cer­tain, I think it’s okay to have a ten­ta­tive hy­poth­e­sis now and re­vise it over my life­time as I learn more.

My choice: Nu­clear Threat Ini­ti­a­tive (NTI)

I’ve cho­sen to raise money for the Nu­clear Threat Ini­ti­a­tive (NTI) this year. I be­lieve that one of the best ways to im­prove the long-term fu­ture is through miti­gat­ing ex­is­ten­tial risks from emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies such as ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence, ge­netic en­g­ineer­ing, and atomic-scale man­u­fac­tur­ing. NTI does work to re­duce risks from weapons of mass de­struc­tion (WMD), in­clud­ing biolog­i­cal and nu­clear weapons, and Open Philan­thropy con­sid­ers it an es­pe­cially effec­tive ad­vo­cacy group in the WMD gov­er­nance space.

Although I’m fundrais­ing for NTI, I also want to sup­port other char­i­ties I be­lieve are high-im­pact from a longter­mist point of view, whether by donat­ing money my­self or recom­mend­ing that oth­ers donate. Here are a few of the other char­i­ties I’m con­sid­er­ing:

  • Hap­pier Lives In­sti­tute: HLI re­searches in­ter­ven­tions to im­prove global hap­piness, mea­sured by sub­jec­tive well-be­ing. Although HLI is fo­cused on near-term hu­man welfare max­i­miza­tion, they are also in­ter­ested in look­ing into how to im­prove welfare over the long term.[4] I think more re­search on im­prov­ing long-term hap­piness will be very valuable.

  • 80,000 Hours: Re­cently, Ben Todd has been re­search­ing var­i­ous forms of longter­mism and how to pri­ori­tize among them, and I’d like to sup­port that work.

Fundrais­ing strategy

COVID-19 is top of mind for a lot of peo­ple, so my strat­egy will be to con­nect NTI’s work to the pos­si­bil­ity of fu­ture pan­demics, es­pe­cially en­g­ineered ones. It also seems eas­ier to raise money for or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing on highly leg­ible prob­lems like nu­clear and biolog­i­cal risk than for more es­o­teric causes like global pri­ori­ties re­search.

I’ll pro­mote my fundraiser through Face­book and mailing lists that I’m part of. I know that some peo­ple are not com­fortable us­ing Face­book, so I want to provide an al­ter­na­tive chan­nel through which peo­ple can donate. I’m con­sid­er­ing us­ing a site like JustGiv­ing in ad­di­tion to Face­book.

See also


Thanks to Vaidehi Agar­walla for pro­vid­ing feed­back and send­ing me rele­vant re­sources.

  1. In­tro­duc­tion to Effec­tive Altru­ism: “The cause that you choose to work on is a big fac­tor in how much good you can do. If you choose a cause where it’s not pos­si­ble to help very many peo­ple (or an­i­mals), or where there just aren’t any good ways to solve the rele­vant prob­lems, you will sig­nifi­cantly limit the amount of im­pact you can have.” ↩︎

  2. The Long-Term Fu­ture: “The num­ber of peo­ple al­ive to­day pales in com­par­i­son to the num­ber who could ex­ist in the fu­ture. It may there­fore be ex­tremely im­por­tant to en­sure that hu­man civ­i­liza­tion flour­ishes far into the fu­ture, en­joy­ing fulfilling lives free of suffer­ing.” ↩︎

  3. I re­cently asked a ques­tion about which ap­proach is more press­ing for longter­mists. In gen­eral, I think re­duc­ing x-risks can some­times be more im­por­tant than im­prov­ing the range of non-bad fu­tures, and vice versa, but I’m un­sure of how to com­pare be­tween them. Also, I’ve in­cluded both hu­man­ity and sen­tient life in gen­eral be­cause I’m sym­pa­thetic to the view that longter­mists should give more weight to non-hu­man an­i­mals than they cur­rently do, but I haven’t re­ally con­sid­ered how it af­fects the longter­mist calcu­lus. I’d like to see more re­search into these ques­tions.

    My rough an­swer is that both can be im­por­tant. How­ever:

    1. Re­duc­ing ex­is­ten­tial risk is more ne­glected and po­ten­tially more poli­ti­cally tractable than the oth­ers. For ex­am­ple, take eco­nomic growth. One the one hand, ad­vo­cat­ing for faster eco­nomic growth may be more poli­ti­cally po­lariz­ing, es­pe­cially if it in­volves changes to the tax sys­tem, trade, and im­mi­gra­tion. On the other hand, who wants to go ex­tinct?

    2. Ac­tions that im­prove the value of the far fu­ture con­di­tioned on it ex­ist­ing can also in­crease x-risk. For ex­am­ple, al­though tech­nolog­i­cal progress is re­spon­si­ble for the high stan­dard of liv­ing pre­sent in to­day’s rich coun­tries, speed­ing up this progress with­out also de­vel­op­ing the wis­dom and so­cial norms to man­age new tech­nolo­gies re­spon­si­bly would likely in­crease x-risk.

  4. Com­ment on “Up­date from the Hap­pier Lives In­sti­tute” ↩︎