Where I am donating this year and meta projects that need funding

In this post I cover:

  • How to be the best donor I can be. Some high-level think­ing on where to give to have the biggest im­pact as a medium size donor who is clued up on EA ideas and in­ter­ested in meta char­i­ties.

  • Where I am giv­ing and why. De­tails of where I am giv­ing, some un­der­funded op­por­tu­ni­ties I found and why I think they are im­pact­ful.

1. How to be the best donor I can be.

In the year 1170 in the town of Fu­s­tat in Egypt, the philoso­pher, as­trologer, physi­cian and all round bad-ass Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon be­gan to pen his mag­num opus, “Mish­nah To­rah”. In this he sets out a lad­der with 8 rungs of effec­tive char­i­ta­ble giv­ing, work­ing down from best (sup­port­ing self-suffi­ciency) to worst (giv­ing un­will­ingly).

Fast for­ward. It is now the year 2018. There is a lot more fund­ing for meta and com­mu­nity build­ing and x-risk pro­jects than there has been pre­vi­ously. But not all is right with the world. Donor co­or­di­na­tion is still hard with fun­ders wait­ing to be the last to fill a fund­ing gap. Worse, many smaller pro­jects that could have a huge im­pact are not get­ting funded! Over 300 EA Grants ap­pli­cants passed the first round of scrutiny but did not get fund­ing. EA Ven­tures and EA funds have not solved this (al­though I re­main cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about EA Grants Mk2).

As a medium donor (£10-100k) with time to spend mak­ing a de­ci­sion it is far from ob­vi­ous what prin­ci­ples to ap­ply to my de­ci­sion mak­ing. But such donors can play an im­por­tant role in fund­ing smaller pro­jects. So, hark­ing back to my Jewish an­ces­tors of old, here is a pos­si­ble lad­der of effec­tive EA giv­ing (be­yond the ba­sics):

  1. Keep on learn­ing. Donat­ing effec­tively is a skill, a difficult skill, but one I want to Master. The most im­por­tant fac­tor in my giv­ing is that I con­tin­u­ously build my abil­ity to do good. I give on an an­nual ba­sis, re­flect on the pre­vi­ous year’s giv­ing and try to do bet­ter. With the limited time to de­cide I take a differ­ent fo­cus each year. Some­times try­ing to use my money in ways that en­courages oth­ers to give, some­times mak­ing quick de­ci­sions, some­times slow de­ci­sions. My ex­per­i­ment this year is to fo­cus on find­ing small un­der­funded op­por­tu­ni­ties.

  2. Be the cat­a­lyst for some­thing new. This is the gold star of philan­thropic prowess. What is the most im­por­tant pro­ject that needs to ex­ist in the world right now and can you offer fund­ing to make it hap­pen? Can your gen­eros­ity make a start-up EA pipe dream into a re­al­ity? Is there a world-chang­ing pro­ject that would world-change even bet­ter if it sud­denly had more money in its coffers? Ad­mit­tedly fund­ing peo­ple be­fore they have asked for fund­ing risks cap­tur­ing less ded­i­cated peo­ple, how­ever I am rea­son­ably con­fi­dent that com­pe­tent po­ten­tial EA en­trepreneurs are out there wait­ing for the right fi­nan­cial nudge.

  3. Find a small im­pact­ful pro­ject with a fund­ing gap that you are uniquely qual­ified to eval­u­ate. Let’s say, for ex­am­ple, you are an ex­pert in syn­thetic biol­ogy – do you know any­one look­ing for fund­ing for re­search on bio-en­g­ineer­ing risks, that you might be uniquely able to as­sess the value of? I ex­pect that even if EA Grants Mk 2 takes off, they will strug­gle with pro­jects that re­quire ex­per­tise to fully un­der­stand and in many such cases hold back fund­ing (as hap­pened with EA Grants pre­vi­ously.)

  4. Find a im­pact­ful pro­ject with a fund­ing gap it may not meet. With Good Ven­tures do­ing it’s bit most larger EA re­lated orgs have a rea­son­able fund­ing stream. Yet smaller pro­jects are slip­ping un­der the radar. Find them. Figure out their value. Fund them. Although don’t be that per­son who waits un­til 30 sec­onds be­fore the fund­ing dead­line to poke your head above the para­pet and say ‘happy to chip in if there is still a gap’.

  5. Fund some­thing highly effec­tive but already re­ceiv­ing sig­nifi­cant fund­ing (Eg. CEA or 80K or AMF or GiveDirectly). Alter­na­tively out­source your giv­ing to EA Funds or an EA lot­tery.

So there we have it. Five thoughts on be­ing the best donor I can be this year. Let me know what you think.

2 Where I am giv­ing and why

Cause prioritisation

So be­fore ap­ply­ing my prin­ci­ples of effec­tive giv­ing I de­cided to dab­ble in a spot of cause pri­ori­ti­sa­tion.

This year my giv­ing will fo­cus on:

Meta or­gani­sa­tions (EA move­ment build­ing, cause pri­ori­ti­sa­tion re­search, etc). Hav­ing seen the suc­cess of char­i­ties in this area to date, with pro­duc­ing use­ful re­search, grow­ing the EA com­mu­nity and rais­ing sig­nifi­cantly more funds than they spend, I be­lieve this is where I can lev­er­age the most good for the world.

On top of that I want to fo­cus on

Policy or­gani­sa­tions. There is not lot of use­ful re­search in EA on policy. Im­prov­ing policy could be con­sid­ered a key cause area it­self (see here) and pre­sents op­por­tu­ni­ties for im­pact rang­ing from broad-brush x-risk re­duc­tion strate­gies (see here) to highly im­pact­ful in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment anti-cor­rup­tion sys­temic change in­ter­ven­tions (see here). It is also an area where I have some rele­vant ex­per­tise to eval­u­ate sug­ges­tion.

Iden­ti­fy­ing or­gani­sa­tions that I think should be funded

Now all that is needed is to find the places to give. So, I sat down, had a think and asked around. Where oth­ers giv­ing? Do I know any­one en­trepreneurial? Are there un­der­funded aca­demics do­ing cause pri­ori­ti­sa­tion? Does there a lo­cal group that needs fund­ing? And so forth.

And, af­ter a bit of con­sid­er­a­tion and a few con­ver­sa­tions I came up with the fol­low­ing short­list of meta EA or­gani­sa­tions I think should be funded. In the or­der I in­tend to fund them. Et vo­lia:

The APPG for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions

This APPG aiming to pro­mote the idea that poli­tics needs to think more about the long-term fu­ture and all the peo­ple who do not ex­ist yet. Now APPGs do not tend to achieve a lot and are mostly talk­ing shops for in­ter­est­ing ideas and ways for in­dus­try and pres­sure groups to get a foot in the door to hav­ing fancy events in Par­li­a­ment. They are a cau­tious ap­proach to lob­by­ing. That said they can open doors and I think this is a sen­si­ble ap­proach for peo­ple con­cerned with the far fu­ture to start in­fluenc­ing policy.

My cur­rent civil ser­vice project

I am cur­rently work­ing with oth­ers on a pro­ject to sup­port UK civil ser­vants keen to lead so­cially im­pact­ful ca­reers. Think like 80000 Hours but within gov­ern­ment rather than within uni­ver­si­ties. It is not clear how we would use fund­ing at this stage but I think some fund­ing could help them it off.

SoGive

A pro­ject to nudge dona­tions to­wards more effec­tive char­i­ties. There is some chance of failure (it is a start-up) but I my per­sonal es­ti­mate of the ex­pected value of this is that an ad­di­tional £2+ will go to top EA char­i­ties for ev­ery £1 in­vested. Other EA fundrais­ing pro­jects have been rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful and the per­son run­ning this seems to know what he is do­ing.

Char­ity Science Health

A pro­ject to start a new top recom­mended in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment char­ity. Has a de­cent chance to be fully funded soon but this is not guaran­teed.

Re­think Charity

EA move­ment build­ing. Is col­lect­ing money to dis­burse to fund lo­cal groups. Has a de­cent chance to be fully funded soon but this is not guaran­teed.

My lo­cal EA group (EA Lon­don)

EA Lon­don has a strong team, an am­bi­tious plan, and good ev­i­dence of im­pact to date. My main rea­son for hes­i­ta­tion is that I think I am bias to­wards think­ing this is a good pro­ject as I set it up and have been run­ning it to date and am cur­rently a Trus­tee. EA Lon­don has fund­ing for 2018, but might strug­gle for fund­ing be­yond that, and an early dona­tion could help (also if the funds are not needed they could be eas­ily re­granted to Re­think Char­ity or ACE).

Effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity fund (or other EA fund)

A good bet to have an ex­pert fund man­ager de­cide where to give. How­ever, I have not been su­per im­pressed by their work so far.

CEA /​ 80K

Amaz­ing or­gani­sa­tions do­ing amaz­ing work. How­ever, it looks like these or­gani­sa­tions are not strug­gling for funds right now.

GEM Labs (still in con­sid­er­a­tion)

An EA pro­ject to do re­search into policy. I am still in dis­cus­sion with them to figure out ex­actly what they are do­ing and why.

The fi­nal count­down … (dum de dum dum …)

So that is the list. But how will I break down my fund­ing be­tween these fine spec­i­mens of moral wor­thi­ness?

This year I have earned about £55k and of that I want to give about £15k to char­ity be­fore the end of March with the fol­low­ing plan:

  1. Fill fund­ing com­mit­ments already made. I owe £1000 to No Means No and £500 to AMF as a re­sult of var­i­ous Giv­ing Games run this year. I will also offer small dona­tions to SoGive and GEM Labs as a thank you for putting the time and effort into an­swer­ing my ques­tions.

  2. I am in­ter­ested in any op­por­tu­ni­ties to fund the APPG for fu­ture Gen­er­a­tions. Per­haps an offer of fund­ing can help them be more am­bi­tious. But oth­er­wise:

  3. Put £5k aside for the work I am do­ing within the civil ser­vice. Un­less any­one else funds this which might hap­pen.

  4. Split my re­main­ing dona­tions be­tween SoGive, Char­ity Science Health and Re­think Char­ity (and maybe GEM labs de­pend­ing on how dis­cus­sions pan out). I do not have strong views as to which of these are best or what the diminish­ing marginal re­turns are on these pro­jects.

So, there we have it. My 2016-17 dona­tion plans. And it only took 2000 words. This ap­proach of look­ing for small un­der­funded EA pro­jects is some­what a giv­ing ex­per­i­ment but I hope to learn from it. Who knows, maybe next year I will re­vert back to mak­ing a last-minute de­ci­sion and just donat­ing to say AMF and 80K.

But of course: please give feed­back. My hope of writ­ing this us is that the magic of col­lec­tive in­ter­net brain power will have sen­si­ble things to say and change my plans for the bet­ter.