Rethink Priorities needs your support. Here’s what we’d do with it.
In honor of “Marginal Funding Week” for 2023 Giving Season on the EA Forum, I’d like to tell you what Rethink Priorities (RP) would do with funding beyond what we currently expect to raise from our major funders, and to emphasize that RP currently has a significant funding gap even after taking these major funders into account.
A personal appeal
Hi. I know it’s traditional in EA to stick to the facts and avoid emotional content, but I can’t help but interject and say that this fundraising appeal is a bit different. It is personal to me. It’s not just a list of things that we could take or leave, it’s a fight for RP to survive the way I want it to as an organization that is intellectually independent and serves the EA community.
To be blunt, our funding situation is not where we want it to be. 2023 has been a hard year for fundraising. A lot of what we’ve been building over the past few years is at risk right now. If you like RP, my sense is donating now is an unusually good time.
We are at the point where receiving $1,000 - $10,000 each from a handful of individual donors would genuinely make an important difference to the future trajectory of RP and decide what we can and cannot do next year.
We are currently seeking to raise at least $110K total from donors donating under $100K each. We are already ~$25K towards that goal, so there’s $85K remaining towards our goal. We also hope to receive more support from larger givers as well.
To be clear, this isn’t just about funding growth. An RP that does not receive additional funding right now will be worse in several concrete ways. Funding gaps may force us to:
Focus more on non-published, client-driven work that will never be released to the community (because we cannot afford to do so)
Stop running the EA Survey, survey updates about FTX, and other community survey projects
Be unable to run several of our most promising research projects (see below)
Reduce things we think are important—like opportunities for research teams to meet in person and opportunities for staff to do further professional development.
Spend significant amounts of time fundraising next year, distracting from our core work
For unfamiliar readers, some of our track and impact to date includes:
Contributing significantly to burgeoning fields, such as invertebrate welfare.
Completing the Moral Weight Project to try to help funders decide how to best allocate resources across species.
Producing >40 reports commissioned by Open Philanthropy and GiveWell answering their questions to inform their global health and development portfolios.
Conducting over 200 tailored surveys and data analysis projects to help many organizations working on global priorities.
Setting up an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Governance and Strategy team and evolving it into a think tank that has already published multiple influential reports .
Why does RP need money from individuals when there are large donors supporting you?
It’s commonly assumed that RP must get all the money it needs from large institutions. But this is not the case – we’ve historically relied on individual donors too, and this year some important changes in the landscape have made it more difficult to fundraise what we need. Thus we still have a gap.
But we get asked if you need money, why don’t those large institutional funders just fund you more? And if they aren’t funding you more, why should I, in particular, fund you more?
…It’s a difficult question but the answer is some combination of:
Sometimes we disagree with our funders about which things have the greatest value and we think it’s plausible that we’re right.
What we think of as our most innovative work (e.g., invertebrate sentience, moral weights and welfare ranges, the cross-cause model, the CURVE sequence) or some of our most important work (e.g., 50% of the EA Survey , our EA FTX surveys and Public/Elite FTX surveys, and each of our three AI surveys) have historically not had institutional support and relied on individual donors to make happen.
Our largest funders are often interested in only funding our work when it reaches a certain maturity level, so we rely a lot on unrestricted funding from smaller donors to try out new ideas, experiment, fail, and get ideas to a “proof of concept” stage.
Additionally some of our work isn’t within the evaluation scope of any particular grant evaluator enough that they have capacity to evaluate it, even if it might be good.
Our work can be thought of as some public good that goes undersupplied—some of our work benefits multiple different groups/individuals/the community in a diffuse way without being enough of a core focus of any particular group, which makes it hard to get any single actor to cover it all or sometimes even large parts of it
Some of our clients have funding gaps of their own (or are organizations with small budgets) and do value our work highly but cannot afford to commission us
Given our size, we and our institutional funders often expect us to raise a decent portion of our money from individual donors
Thus I appeal to you and the broader community to help solve an important collective action problem – A lot of our work is done in a consultancy arrangement, where we are tasked with producing value for a particular client. But our work produces surplus value to the wider community that isn’t valued by any one particular client enough for them to want to pay for it. So this value goes undersupplied.
For example, many of those who commissioned our work allow us to share our research publicly if we like but provide no money for us to do so, and converting the work to a public version takes a significant amount of additional effort. Thus investing in this is a surprisingly neglected and highly leveraged investment.
If you value the work we’ve been doing, I hope you’ll consider donating here. Any amount would help.
I also hope we can count on your vote for RP in the EA Forum Donation election. To put some skin in the game, I’ve personally donated $1000 to the EA Forum Donation election and I’m looking forward to doing everything I can to win as much of it back to RP as possible.
In the remainder of this post I will outline a number of ways in which RP could use additional funding.
$1K - $10K per research work to allow us to publish our backlog of research
To get concrete, we think that raising $1K - $10K per research work would be enough to allow us to publish our backlog of research that could be made public but currently isn’t due to constraints on our end. Time spent writing up these publications draws on unrestricted funding and is time not spent doing paid commissions to raise more money, so we cannot afford to allocate the amount of time it takes to publish this work. However, putting more of our work on the EA Forum allows for others to build on it in ways we don’t anticipate, has influence in ways that are hard to expect, provides positive examples of research for others to learn from, and helps make EA more of an open and equal ecosystem.
Some pieces of research we’d produce public versions of if we had money to do so:
Survey and data analysis work
The two reports mentioned by CEA here about attitudes towards EA post-FTX among the general public, elites, and students on elite university campuses.
Followup posts about the survey reported here about how many people have heard of EA, to further discuss people’s attitudes towards EA, and where members of the general public hear about EA (this differs systematically)
Updated numbers on the growth of the EA community (2020-2022) extending this method and also looking at numbers of highly engaged longtermists specifically
Several studies we ran to develop reliable measure of how positively inclined towards longtermism people are, looking at different predictors of support for longtermism and how these vary in the population
Reports on differences between non-longtermists and longtermists within the EA community and on how non-longtermist / longtermist efforts influence each other (e.g. to what extent does non-longtermist outreach, like GiveWell, Peter Singer articles about poverty, lead to increased numbers of longtermists)
Whether the age at which one first engaged with EA predicts lower / higher future engagement with EA
Global Health and Development
Importance, tractability, and neglectedness of drowning in low- and middle-income countries. We investigated the global burden of drowning and attempted to determine its geographical distribution. We examined specific interventions to tackle the global burden, with a particular focus on crèches and swimming lessons for children and compiled information about organizations trying to address this issue and attempted to estimate the amount of funds devoted to drowning prevention.
A report on fungal diseases that estimated total fungal disease deaths, the degree to which fungal diseases are neglected relative to Malaria, and major barriers to their treatment. Interviews with experts highlighted potential promising interventions that included funding R&D efforts to develop antifungal vaccines, supporting diagnostic efforts, and antifungal advocacy (e.g., banning some antifungals from use in agriculture).
Impact, distribution, effectiveness, and potential improvements of priority review vouchers for tropical diseases. We cataloged information about the 13 issuances of Priority Review Vouchers (PRV) under the United States’ Tropical Disease PRV Program, included a BOTEC of one case study and several possible improvements to the program emerged from literature and expert conversations.
Our Global Health and Development team has a further ~20 unpublished reports that we would like to publish.
A new investigation into different possible pathways to help the animals most commonly used and killed for food production–shrimp. This work could significantly accelerate and strengthen the efforts of animal advocates and other players in helping billions of animals.
Strategy diversification for wild animals: We’ve been studying the theories of change and some strategic gaps for helping wild animals. Additional funding could help us further communicate possible new avenues for diversifying the impact portfolio of wild animal welfare research and advocacy.
Exploring Innovative ways to improve conditions for farmed fish. This work aims to serve a dual purpose: firstly, to highlight promising new recommendations for improving the welfare of farmed and hatchery-reared fish that currently lack widespread implementation, and secondly, to identify critical gaps in knowledge that should direct impact-orientated research. We could then also further communicate about tractability and cost-effectiveness of these ideas.
$200K to do cause prioritization research and build on the cross-cause model
In just a few months, we have produced as much practical work on cause prioritization and valuing the long-term future as any public actor has done in the last few years. We think the cross-cause model we created is something that should’ve existed in EA long ago, but took many years of our research to create.
People may think this work was primarily institutionally funded. It wasn’t. It was our own idea and executed with our own unrestricted funding and the help of individual donors. We need more of this support to continue going. Frankly, a lot of this work may just not happen without more support.
We think the value of this work is high but diffuse and indirect. We think our work on invertebrate sentience and moral weight contributed to many EA actors taking invertebrates seriously, creating and funding charities to address them, whereas this likely wouldn’t be as much the case without our work. But it took years to get to this point. We need to keep up this investment.
We think our current work will do the same (helping actors consider the implications of taking risk aversion seriously, assess the value of the future more rigorously, and create more rationally defensible philanthropic portfolio allocations).
We have exciting plans for where to take this next, we don’t have clear funding sources lined up, and more money from individual donors could make a difference.
With more support, we’d:
Add diverse growth future value trajectories we outlined here
Add more interventions, including the (estimated high or low) value of movement building, plant-based and cultivated meat interventions, and fleshing out the global health portion of the model
We’d also like to create philanthropic portfolio analysis allowing everyone from $1B+ to <$20K donors figure out how to allocate a philanthropic portfolio according to their beliefs:
Create cost-curves for interventions across areas so that we can capture the marginal cost-effectiveness as spending rises and falls
Implement a parliamentary approach that allow users to assign credences to different decision theoretic views and see the resulting outputs for how they should give
We also think this could be an important leveraged investment as with more support we’d do user interviews for the cross-cause model and get it to a point where we can achieve product-market fit for impactful use cases, which we expect could then be used to make a case to institutional funders that want to see more of a clear track record.
We expect the portfolio analysis and CCM extension projects to take ~6 months at 2-4 FTE.
To be clear, any amount of money would be helpful towards making this goal or other goals listed in this post happen, even if you can’t donate the full amount.
$500K to do more worldview cause exploration
We aren’t only interested in these immediate extensions of the CCM. We think there’s still considerable value in cause exploration, reconsidering our fundamental assumptions, and tackling large difficult problems in a public manner. We would also like to publicly write-up whatever decision making process we ultimately go with to act despite our normative and decision theory uncertainty.
Further information on a few possible projects we are considering can be seen here.
Surveys and Data Analysis
$60K to run the next EA Survey
Additionally, raising $60K would give us confidence to run the next EA Survey. Despite a lot of people citing the EA Survey and finding it valuable, there is actually little institutional support for the EA Survey. We do get some institutional support for this, but not enough to cover our costs. Since it is a diffuse community public good, there is no particular funder interested in supporting it, and the many EA groups that value this work don’t have enough money to actually support it. Given that funding has been harder in 2023 than in previous years, it’s possible that we would not be able to run the EA Survey without dedicated funding.
We also provide a lot of private analyses pro bono to community members who request them, such as EA group organizers that don’t have the budget to commission these requests but nevertheless value our insights. We’d appreciate having more monetary support to be able to support these groups.
$40K-100K to more rigorously understand branding for EA and existential risk
There has been much debate about whether people engaged in EA and longtermism should frame their efforts and outreach in terms of ‘effective altruism’, ‘longtermism’, ‘existential risk’, ‘existential security’, ‘global priorities research’, or by only mentioning specific risks, such as AI Safety and pandemic prevention. For examples, see: (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7).
However, these debates have largely been based on a priori speculation about which of these approaches would be most persuasive.
We propose to run experiments directly testing public responses to these different framings. This will allow us to assess how responses to these different approaches differ in different dimensions (e.g. popularity, persuasiveness, interest, dislike).
Our survey and data analysis team has a good track record of running rigorous survey experiments to get to the bottom of complex low salience issues (for one example, see “Are 1-in-5 Americans familiar with EA?”).
We’d do message/framing/branding testing of “effective altruism”, “global priorities”, “effective giving”, “longtermism, “existential risk”, “existential security”, and concrete causes (e.g., AI risk). We’d build on our research mentioned by Will Macaskill in this comment.
This research could be divided up in various ways e.g.
Assess how people respond to the brand “effective altruism” and see what they associate with it, what they understand or expect it to mean, what if anything they dislike about it
Test whether people respond better to “principles-based EA” messaging vs specific causes
Test whether people respond better to broader “effective altruism” or narrower longtermism/x-risk
Test whether people respond better to “longtermism” or “existential risk” or “existential security” or concrete causes
$25K-$100K to more rigorously understand EA’s growth trajectory
As stated in one recent post:
It seems obvious to me that numerous stakeholders—including organization leaders, donors of all sizes, group leaders, and entrepreneurs—would all benefit from having an accurate understanding of EA’s growth trajectory. And it seems just as obvious that it would be tremendously inefficient for each of those parties to conduct their own analysis. It would be in everyone’s interest to receive a regular (every 3-6 months?) update from a reliable analyst. This wouldn’t be expensive (it wouldn’t require anything close to a full-time job initially, though the frequency and/or depth of the analyses could be scaled up if people saw value in doing so). As public goods go, this should be an easy one to provide.
We’d be happy to provide this service with sufficient funding.
$40K to more rigorously understand branding for AI risk outreach
We’d like to do some of the following to better understand AI risk outreach:
Run messaging experiments to conduct fundamental research into what factors make AI risk cases more persuasive to different audiences (e.g. do people respond better or worse to strong ‘Yudkowsky-style’ messages which emphasize risk of extinction, or high urgency, or high probability of doom).
Testing whether providing certain information relevant to AI risk (e.g. X experts say Y; in the year before flight was developed, many experts said that it would be years off) changes people’s views
Understand how the public thinks about risk from open source AI models
$50K to more rigorously understand why people drop out of EA
The EA Survey only captures those who currently are close enough to EA to see and want to fill out the survey. So far, no one has done much analysis of those who join the community and then leave. Using referrals and snowball sampling, we would recruit a small number of people who dropped out of or bounced off EA to assess what the main factors are leading people to not join to leave EA.
We believe that animal welfare is an important global problem that has been greatly neglected by charitable organizations and, to a lesser extent, by the effective altruist community. Nevertheless, we think that there are promising avenues for improving the lives of nonhuman animals and that further research can significantly contribute to optimizing current efforts and uncovering new impactful solutions to help these individuals.
Given their importance, relative neglectedness and tractability, and the strength of our research team, we believe we have a great opportunity to help animals by addressing some critical questions that affect farmed and wild animals, and other needs of the movement defending non-humans.
However, we don’t have much widespread support for this work and we are preparing for the possibility of getting less money in the future from Open Phil due to shifts in their priorities. Historically we have spent a large amount of unrestricted funding on our animal welfare work and we are looking for new individual donors to help.
Without your support, we suspect a lot of additional work here won’t happen, and much of what will happen will be private, and designed for specific donors.
We list below some potential directions we’d like to take our work.
$250K to create a review of interventions to reduce the consumption of animal products
Over the last five years, the volume of research on interventions to reduce edible animal product consumption has grown significantly. However, this research is difficult to access and disperse. This project would provide the evidential basis for identifying classes of effective (or ineffective) interventions to reduce the consumption of animal-based products, from classroom education to plant-based analogues to changes in menu design. We’ll review the literature for each, address some foundational uncertainties, and assess the cost-effectiveness of various approaches. We expect to produce intervention briefs, summarizing critical evidence, a live and user-friendly database of evidence for various interventions, and reports with applied recommendations for advocates and other interested players.
$38K to create a Farmed Animals Impact Tracker
Farmed Animals Impact Tracker: establish a comprehensive database for reliably assessing the cost-effectiveness of interventions, starting with cage-free corporate pledges, and the Better Chicken Commitment. We expect this would produce a reliable source to assess some of the most popular interventions addressed to help hens and chickens. This work could later be expanded to include other interventions targeting other animals (see below).
$75K to understand interventions that would address fish welfare
Our work on promising new recommendations for improving the welfare of farmed and hatchery-reared fish has identified some improvements that currently lack widespread implementation. This project will further investigate such ideas, focusing on their potential tractability and cost-effectiveness so as to conclude whether they merit further promotion by advocacy groups, certifiers and others interested in improving fish welfare.
$60K to understand interventions that would address crustacean welfare
Based on the major welfare challenges faced by shrimp, this report will make recommendations for positively altering farming conditions and practices, and, whenever possible, point out already-available interventions and other strategies that might slow down the growth ot this sector. It will also suggest critical future research directions to better understand shrimp welfare and uncover new and likely more impactful interventions in the future.
$50K for development and implementation of an insect farming welfare ask
In 20 years, if we look back to study missed opportunities to help animals, failing to help insects industrially farmed for food and feed production could very well be the largest mistake the effective animal advocacy community has made. This is a pivotal decade for the industry: regulations are being considered and written for the first time, and new factories are being designed and built. This welfare ask could greatly shape the industry’s practices.
It will require producers to commit to standards for breeding, hygiene, slaughter, and reporting standards. While the first draft and strategic approach are still being developed, it may include other requirements as well. RP research will support incremental improvements to this ask, especially with regard to rearing standards and slaughter methods.
$100K to develop a database of possible near-term interventions for wild animals
Recent techonological progress suggest that there might be currently feasible methods to help wildlife populations at some scale. This project aims to identify and describe already available technologies and interventions to help wild animals, collect some initial evidence for each of them, and a shallow assessment of the potential impact of such interventions along with possible challenges. This information will be presented in a user-friendly database that might serve the wild animal welfare community in identifying the most promising interventions, current knowledge gaps, and other drawbacks, and guide further assessment or intervention implementation efforts.
$75K to do a theory of change status report for the animal advocacy movement
Various theories of change prevail in the farmed animal movement. It need not be the case that most organizations agree on one. Still, it is certainly possible to take stock of the evidence for and against each of them and, thus, discourage further resources into ones where the evidence suggests the theory fails to produce the expected results or look into potential alternative drivers, if any. By breaking theories of change down into testable hypotheses and specific KPIs, and mapping interventions onto those hypotheses, evidence on the hypotheses’ indicators would generate an overall health status of each theory. This work could inform strategic resource allocation and generate motivation to run interventions and research to fill critical gaps in the grid. Additionally, this project might identify potential failure modes in theories of change and then pointing to ways to mitigate against those.
$300K to develop a better system similar to QALYs/DALYs but for animals
If we want to impartially do the most good for animals, we need to be able to translate benefits to them into units of measures that allow comparisons with other global priorities. In this regard, DALYs-averted is the common currency used by many to assess how much good they can do by helping humans. We can use the DALYs framework and treat it as a proxy for some amount of welfare for non-humans. With this project, we will attempt to translate species-specific animal welfare assessments into welfare estimates relative to each species under different conditions. Then, such calculations can be translated into a standard unit–DALYs. The estimates produced could be especially useful in guiding the allocation of resources as they provide a common numerator, allowing for the expression of utility in terms of dollar/DALY. Moreover, this would give a valuable summary that might be used to engage other stakeholders–like economists and policymakers–to visualize the impact of various farming systems on animals.
Global Health and Development
$405K to pilot our Value of Research model
Our Global Health and Development team is currently funded by both Open Philanthropy and GiveWell to do research for them. However, we have a new value of research model that we’d like to try out that suggests we can be more cost-effective than most GHD interventions within the GHD-prioritizing worldview, but unfortunately this seems to be outside the scope of our current funders’ priorities.
This model suggests that we actually could have more impact with GHD research from taking a non-EA organization from a low to medium cost-effectiveness as opposed to working with OpenPhil and GiveWell to find slightly more cost-effective interventions than what they are currently supporting. This seems to be true even if the likelihood of securing work with those organizations and updating their conclusions is lower, and the ultimate target intervention(s) we might get them to update to is not as cost-effective as GiveWell’s top charities.
We’d seek $405K for a pilot for six months – this would be a highly leveraged investment to buy us enough time to attract new clients and find new streams of funding from them. The wider global health and development community is large and we think there are many potential clients we could be working with. The more general support we have to attempt this, the lower hourly rate we can charge to our clients, which means we’ll have a greater chance of attracting potential clients.
RP’s GHD team is well-positioned to execute a plan to do this but without further funding we think there’s an uncomfortably high chance that we’ll fail before we get a chance to actually test this model. Our current major funders aren’t backing this as much as is needed in part because of differing mandates (i.e., making grants that are achieving impact via grantmaking directly on interventions or research rather than this more indirect route), and in part because our funders have been shifting away from the GHD space more generally. But without this funding, the team as it currently exists is unlikely to persist even though they are well set up to do very cost-effective work.
$15K to write up learnings from spending a year attempting longtermist incubation
Our Existential Security team worked in 2023 towards researching projects and finding external founders to run them. We’re now pivoting to running those projects in-house instead.
However, we’d like to write an evaluation of our longtermist incubation efforts in 2023 and provide high-level lessons. We’d also like to assemble key info we gathered on a lot of our project ideas and explain why we ended up not pursuing them. We think this would be useful for people who might do or fund similar work in the future. We’d explain what happened to our 20 concrete project ideas.
$114K to train an additional AI policy researcher
We’ve been able to take skilled generalist researchers with not much experience in AI policy and skill them up to the point where they can do AI policy research that is high enough quality to be engaged with from labs, regulators, and other policymakers. Getting additional funding would also be valuable for maintaining intellectual independence, which is crucial for a think tank.
We estimate that we could train a marginal additional person for $69K in salary, $9K in tax and HR fees, $8K in benefits, $7K in travel and professional development support, and $21K in marginal spending on operations.
We also have more speculative plans that may be of interest to longtermist donors and we can take longtermist restricted support with minimal to no fungibility issues. Please inquire to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to explore this.
Included with your donation: talent pipelines and field building
Another important benefit to funding the work above that goes under-discussed is the effect of our work on talent pipelines and field building. We can hire in most countries and are pretty agnostic about location, so this allows us to engage a much wider international community and find hidden talent.
For example, Rethink Priorities is an important institution for supporting the reduction of existential risk for AI. Between RP and other organizations we support (IAPS, Apollo, and Epoch), I estimate we employ directly or indirectly (via fiscal sponsorship) 40 people working to reduce existential risk from AI, which I take to be somewhere between 3% to 10% of the entire global workforce aimed at this. That’s a significant contribution to AI x-risk reduction capacity. We likewise employ and support a similarly significant fraction of the number of researchers oriented towards effective animal advocacy.
Many of our staff also had not engaged much, or not at all, with effective altruism prior to joining RP, but then engaged with the movement and its ideas heavily during and after their RP career. This makes RP a great way to expose talented professionals to EA and give them a lot of experience and orientation to working on it, launching their EA career.
While we don’t view our impact as solely coming from talent pipelines, many people get training at RP and then go on to do other impactful things. Staff that we’ve hired have gone on to have impactful jobs at Open Philanthropy, the Long-Term Future Fund, AI Safety Communications Centre, the EA Forum, major US think tanks, and US state-level government. We’ve also supported secondments into the UK government and are interested in exploring other ways to help our staff get involved in government work more directly.
It seems like management roles at many orgs largely get picked from people who have done management before. By building a strong and fairly large organization and by doing formal and informal management training, we’ve given a lot of people the opportunity to become experienced managers. Several of our staff have been trained up by us to take important management roles at Rethink Priorities or other organizations, including at Open Philanthropy.
Lastly, our staff support the wider EA community by attending EA Globals and other conferences and mentoring others in the field. Our staff have created many coordination vehicles, such as conferences, paper archives, and Slack channels.
All of this talent pipelines, field building, and coordination comes merely from supporting RP in our object-level work. We hope you will keep these benefits in mind.
RP needs your support – and we need it to keep doing the work we have been doing, not just do more projects. This is not a proposal for growth – this is a proposal to keep RP to be what we want it to be. We want RP to be a project that helps the EA community as a whole, in addition to our individual clients and stakeholders.
At its core, RP wants to implement a principles-first EA: principled selections of areas to work in, principle-derived attempts to do good at scale, and principle-based updates about how to do the most good. The uncertainties involved in doing good can be daunting and changemaking is difficult. We need to rigorously quantify the value of different courses of action, we need to grapple with multiple decision theories or worldviews, and in order to create change, deeply engage with key stakeholders within priority areas to affect beliefs, actions, and outcomes.
We hope that this list shows you that RP is up to a wide variety of vibrant work and that we really need your support to keep this going. We’d be interested in you donating here or reaching out to us with offers to fund specific projects on this list. We can honor donor restrictions and preferences with minimal to no fungibility issues, simply reach out to us at email@example.com.
We’d be especially keen to receive more unrestricted support from people who trust us most to allow us to innovate more with our own ideas and prototype ideas to attract the attention of larger funders. This donor diversity gives us a lot more flexibility, lets us solve collective action problems, gives us valuable intellectual independence, and just gives us peace of mind.
We tend to choose projects as and when we’re wrapping up other projects, rather than further in advance, due to rapid shifts in the field and our understanding. But this is very hard to do if we specify everything on a project-by-project basis and wait 6+ months between coming up with an idea and receiving funding. RP staff value and work best with a sense of security and planning for the long-term is more cost-effective than more shortsighted behavior. So trust is really helpful in allowing us to do our best work.
We are generally happy to try and expand further upon request. Prospective funders may be welcome to have a call with team members or leadership in order to further discuss any of the above.
Interested readers are encouraged to refer to “Rethink Priorities’ 2023 Summary, 2024 Strategy, and Funding Gaps” for further details.
This was written by Peter Wildeford, with contributions from Kieran Greig, Marcus A. Davis, and David Moss. Thanks to Henri Thunberg, Janique Behman, Melanie Basnak, Abraham Rowe, and Daniela Waldhorn for their helpful feedback. It is a project of Rethink Priorities, a research and implementation group that identifies pressing opportunities to make the world better. We act upon these opportunities by developing and implementing strategies, projects and solutions to key issues. We do this work in close partnership with foundations and impact-focused non-profits. If you’re interested in Rethink Priorities’ work, please consider subscribing to our newsletter. You can explore our completed public work here.
The gap between our current funding and the funding we would need to achieve our 2024 plans is several hundred thousand dollars. To further quantify the size of our funding gaps, our recent report estimated that within each area we are active our non-Open Phil funding goals respectively ranged from $300k to $700k. Note that we refer to those as goals rather than gaps at this point because there are multiple areas that we are currently undergoing renewal negotiations with Open Phil or have other large outstanding grant applications that affect our fundraising, though we expect to have a gap regardless.
This new think tank has published multiple reports, including a report on AI chip smuggling into China: Potential paths, quantities, and countermeasures, which examines the prospect of large-scale smuggling of AI chips into China and proposes six interventions for mitigating that problem. The report was prominently mentioned in The Times online newspaper. Onni Aarne also co-authored a forthcoming paper with Tim Fist and Caleb Withers of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Their report focuses on using on-chip governance mechanisms to manage national security risks from AI and advanced computing. Both of these above-mentioned reports have received positive feedback and interest from researchers and senior US policymakers. The authors have been asked to deliver briefings on their findings to audiences, including through roundtable discussions co-hosted by CNAS and in the Foundation for American Innovation’s podcast.
Referring to the situation with FTX which we noted last year “does impact our long-term financial outlook” and that we “need to address the funding gap left by these changed conditions for the coming years.” We underestimated the degree to which this would also correlate with other declines in fundraising from other funders. Additionally, Open Philanthropy has announced a “lower GHW funding trajectory than [...] internally anticipated over the last couple of years [and] now expect [...] GHW spending over the next couple of years to be at roughly 2021 levels” and this also affects fundraising for our work.
Note that this includes a series of posts associated with the 2022 EA Survey:
This is also important for the IRS—see public support test.
Due to the need to spend time checking for and removing any non-public information, getting approval from cited experts to be quoted publicly, etc.
For example, I think the time needed to share some of our GHD work publicly is only 10-20% of the time to produce the piece in the first place, so we are producing a marginal publicly shared research piece with 10x less cost than producing it from nothing. Some of our survey work could be shared with just a few weeks of work per post. My guess is that there are many diffuse benefits to sharing work on the EA Forum, by changing the minds of organizations and people other than our clients, introducing new methods and ideas to build off of, as well as signaling that the effective altruism movement does vibrant work.
Some people complain that the EA Forum doesn’t have enough interesting and in-depth research… funding RP is a great way to address that.
E.g., Amanda Hungerford, Farm Animal Program Officer at Open Philanthropy, spoke on the How I Learned to Love Shrimp podcast about how our work led her to change her personal opinions on insects:
I think the big animal related view I’ve changed my mind on fairly recently is insects. I very much used to view them as these kind of unfeeling automatons, did not give them a second thought, was very happy to not worry about their wellbeing. But after seeing some of the Moral Weight Work that Rethink Priorities has put out, I now feel worried about the insects.
On the 80,000 Hours podcast, co-founder Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla stated how Rethink Priorities’s work had helped persuade him to start the Shrimp Welfare Project:
Rob Wiblin: One of the things you read early on that helped persuade you was an article written by Rethink Priorities, where they were basically just evaluating what we know about this topic, the basic facts. We’ll stick up a link to that article, if it’s online. Is that right?
Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s correct. All this work Rethink Priorities has done around sentience with many different species was very useful for my cofounder and I to decide whether the evidence pointed towards strong probability that these animals are sentient. Also, Rethink Priorities are some of the people who have done the best estimates of the number of individual animals that are involved in the shrimp business. So their work, in general, was very, very useful. FishEthoBase was also very good. I think some of this work might not be published though.
Given Open Phil’s shift towards more global catastrophic risks, and Open Phil basing their funding of us in part on the belief we get others to fund us in the future, we need non-OP funders.
In addition to consulting with further clients, we are interested in exploring potential routes to impact through policy research, advocacy and technical assistance efforts to increase political support for cost-effective global health, development, and climate change programs. This might include, for example, advocating for new cost-effective programs, technical assistance to multilateral organizations, research to improve the cost-effectiveness of existing programs or on how to evaluate the effect of policy from a grantmaking perspective. However, unfortunately, us doing further work of this nature is also very constrained by funding at this point. We’d need funds to identify the best topics and avenues to get involved with this, identify and engage with the correct policy intermediaries, and curate our materials to suit that audience.