Evaluating Life Extension Advocacy Foundation
In this post, I try to evaluate Life Extension Advocacy Foundation, and I flesh out interview questions to ask them. LEAF has many foci, including crowdfunding, conference organizing, investor advisement, social media advocacy, news, YouTube shows and a podcast, partnering with YouTubers and content creators such as Kurzgesagt and Life Noggin, creating useful resources on aging research, and advocating for policy change, including communication with international organizations, such as the World Health Organization.
I think that LEAF’s ratio of donations to money-brought-to-the-field is high. This organization’s most easily measurable impact comes from its crowdfunding campaigns, which have brought $384k to other organizations (with LEAF’s fee accounted for). I estimated its collaboration with Kurzgesagt to have brought to LEAF at least $3k per month for a couple of years from donors who were previously oblivious to the aging-research cause.
Other important sources of impact are LEAF’s investor network, which has a great potential influence on their ratio, the capital and human resources that it brings to the field in ways that are difficult to quantify, their role in public education on the topic, and its influence on policy and international organizations such as WHO, which may drive faster adoption of new biotechnologies, increased funding, and better international decision-making.
I invite the reader to come up with questions or criticize the questions that I have proposed. Please use the comment section in the forum or private messages.
Introduction and Focuses
Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) is an advocacy and crowdfunding organization founded in 2014. It is now the leading advocacy organization in the space of aging research. Its foci include:
Crowdfunding basic research projects.
Advising investors and attracting capital.
News and blogging about aging research.
YouTube channel with news about aging research.
YouTube channel about the positive impact of scientific research and how to support it.
Partnering with YouTubers and content creators in order to bring more donors and talent to the field and drive public awareness. The major milestones that they reached in this area are their collaborations with Kurzgesagt (link 1, link 2) and Life Noggin, obtaining, in total, more than 11 million views.
Advocating for policy change and defending the interests of the elderly by interacting with international organizations such as the World Health Organization. For example, in 2018, it had a part in influencing WHO’s policy. How crucial this role was will be explored in the interview.
Considerations on cost-effectiveness
One effect of advocacy is to multiply the value of donations by attracting more donations to the cause area of interest. It’s not easy, given the evidence I have, to ascertain the full extent of this effect for LEAF. The money we would want to see multiplied are the monthly donations of lifespan.io’s recurring campaign, the share it takes from crowdfunding campaigns (5% from successful campaigns for non-profits, 10% from successful campaigns for for-profits) and volunteer time converted into salary.
I’ve followed the growth of LEAF’s recurring Lifespan Heroes campaign since it was started, and I’ve seen it spike after LEAF’s collaboration with Kurzgesagt. If I remember correctly, the campaign was at around $3k per month, and in a period of a few weeks, it gained at least other $3k that probably wouldn’t have been made otherwise, since the new donations were very probably coming from people completely unaware of LEAF’s cause before watching Kurzgesagt’s videos. Since then, the recurring campaign grew more, reaching around $8k. It would be useful to ask LEAF about its retention of donors and other ways in which the organization brings in donations (to itself or other organizations). If the $3k figure is correct, it should have brought in more than $72k from new sources (if the donor retention has been high, as I suspect). If I am correct, this would have allowed LEAF to grow, other than having had an impact through the videos. I will ask for more details about this in the interview.
The crowdfunding campaigns, all together, have brought more or less $384k (with fee accounted for) to nine organizations, seven of which are non-profits. I expect the total figure brought to the field to be significantly larger due to LEAF’s other activities. For example, its investor network may be having a large non-visible impact and could easily repay its recurring campaign multiple times.
Other unknowns are: In total, how much has been donated to LEAF through the recurring campaign so far? How much money donated to the crowdfunding campaigns would have been donated anyway to other organizations?
Less quantifiable sources of impact deriving from advocacy are:
The money it brings to the field that gets donated to other organizations, and for which it’s impossible to establish that the cause has been LEAF’s advocacy.
The attraction of human resources to aging research.
A more positive attitude towards biotechnology, which may drive policy and faster adoption of biotechnologies.
Influencing the decision making of organizations such as WHO, which may drive faster adoption of new biotechnologies, increased funds to aging research, and better international decision-making.
Impact of crowdfunding:
Each crowdfunding project should be evaluated on its own merits, although we can gauge if LEAF’s decision making on what to crowdfund is good. So far, I can comment on the SENS projects that it financed, which I think were among the most effective pursued at SENS, and in the cause area in general (see my evaluation of SENS and my interview with Aubrey de Grey.)
Questions on decision making
How do you choose what projects to crowdfund? Is your decision-making process stable or potentially subject to change in the future? What kind of changes?
How do you choose what advocacy projects to undertake? Examples: YouTube videos, investor network, lobbying, etc.
Questions on LEAF’s advocacy in general
What knowledge and behavior changes do you try to promote?
What evidence is available (especially academic evidence) regarding the likely impact of such changes in knowledge and behavior?
Have you tracked changes over time in knowledge and behavior? Have you tried to see whether these patterns point to your impact (i.e. if improvements are stronger in areas where your presence has been stronger)? Can you share this information?
Questions to gauge the ratio of donations to money brought to the field
How much money donated to crowdfunding campaigns do you think would have been donated anyway to other organizations?
How much has the recurring Lifespan Heroes campaign yielded in total?
How is your donor retention for the recurring Lifespan Heroes campaign?
How much of the recurring campaign earnings do you estimate to have come from people new to the field who have been recruited through advocacy (Example: after they watched Kurzgesagt videos).
From the Kurzgesagt videos alone, I estimate that you gained at least $3k per month, a figure that I suspect has been mostly retained for the last two years. In total, this should amount to more than $72k. This probably means you gained much more than what you spent for making the videos (which adds to the impact you had besides your gains). Am I correct? Can you share more precise data on how much you are in the black as a result of the Kurzgesagt collaborations and how they have contributed to your growth? How much of the money that you gained is due to relatively large contributions as opposed to small?
How many volunteer-hours do you use?
Are there other ways in which LEAF acquires donations, besides the recurring campaign and the share from the crowdfunding campaigns?
In what ways do you bring money in the space of aging research other than with the crowdfunding campaigns? And how much? What project has been the most effective so far at bringing money to the field?
How many new investors and how much new capital have you brought to the field through your investor network?
Many effects of advocacy might be large but not easily quantifiable. I expect you to have brought more talent and money to the field, contributed towards improving the attitude of the general public towards rejuvenation biotechnology (maybe even speeding up the future adoption of these technologies) and potentially influenced international decision making. How large do you think these less quantifiable effects are compared to the more quantifiable ones? Of all the effects that you have had that are not easily quantifiable, which do you think is the largest?
What policy changes do you claim partial (or full) credit for in the past? What was your role in advocating for these changes?
How much more money could you use? What would you do with that amount?
Have you ever had to shut down projects due to a lack of funding? What projects?
How things would look if you had all the funding you needed from the start?
General questions regarding the landscape of aging research
What do you think are the most impactful, tractable, and neglected areas in aging research?
Suggest or criticize questions
I invite the reader to come up with questions or criticize the questions I have proposed. Please use the comment section in the forum or private messages.
Crossposted to LessWrong