Essay contest: general considerations for evaluating small-scale giving opportunities ($300 for winning submission)


Note: this con­test has ended. See § Re­sults be­low.


This is an an­nounce­ment that Vipul Naik, Peter Hur­ford, and I are hold­ing an es­say con­test to so­licit gen­eral con­sid­er­a­tions on how to eval­u­ate small-scale giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties (for ex­am­ple, giv­ing to an in­di­vi­d­ual or a small or­ga­ni­za­tion).

While we don’t want to force a struc­ture on the sub­mis­sions, here are some things that could be cov­ered:

  • The ex­tent to which eval­u­at­ing a small or­ga­ni­za­tion in­volves eval­u­at­ing the peo­ple run­ning it, and the role of per­sonal knowl­edge of the peo­ple involved

  • How to go about do­ing fund­ing gap calculations

  • How to go about think­ing about counterfactuals

  • How to as­sess trac­tion (what the in­di­vi­d­ual or or­ga­ni­za­tion has achieved so far) and dream-size (what the in­di­vi­d­ual or or­ga­ni­za­tion might be able to achieve given more re­sources)

  • How trans­parency and over­sight work

  • Pos­si­ble analo­gies with for-profits

  • Enu­mer­at­ing other sys­tem­atic ways in which eval­u­at­ing small-scale giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties differs from eval­u­at­ing larger giv­ing opportunities

You are free to pre­sent ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of giv­ing to in­di­vi­d­u­als and small or­ga­ni­za­tions, if you think that will help ex­plain the rele­vant con­sid­er­a­tions. How­ever, for the pur­poses of this con­test, we are in­ter­ested in the con­sid­er­a­tions for choos­ing among the pool of in­di­vi­d­u­als and small or­ga­ni­za­tions once one has de­cided to give to some­one or some or­ga­ni­za­tion in that pool.

We don’t have strict re­quire­ments on the for­mat. It can read like a tra­di­tional es­say, be some sort of tax­on­omy of con­sid­er­a­tions, be or­ga­nized in a tab­u­lar for­mat, be a blueprint of steps to go through to eval­u­ate the in­di­vi­d­ual or or­ga­ni­za­tion, etc.

Broadly, we be­lieve small-scale giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties can be at­trac­tive to effec­tive al­tru­ists and we are in­ter­ested in im­prov­ing com­mu­nity epistemics on the sub­ject. In­clud­ing a full dis­cus­sion of why small-scale giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties can be at­trac­tive is out­side the scope of this post, but we list some past and re­lated dis­cus­sions.

Sub­mis­sion process

To en­ter the con­test, post a com­ment re­ply to this post, post a link to a web­page that con­tains the sub­mis­sion, or email Vipul at vipul­ If you email Vipul with your sub­mis­sion, then by sub­mit­ting you agree to let us re­pro­duce the sub­mis­sion in a pub­lic venue (which we will do af­ter the dead­line).

Sub­mit­ting a piece writ­ten be­fore this con­test is fine, but only if you want your sub­mis­sion to be con­sid­ered as such.

The dead­line for sub­mis­sions is 12:00 PM (PST) on Fe­bru­ary 24, 2017. You may mod­ify your sub­mis­sions un­til the dead­line. In case of sub­stan­tive over­lap be­tween sub­mis­sions, the ear­liest one gets prefer­ence. The eval­u­a­tion com­mit­tee (see § Judg­ment be­low) will an­nounce the re­sults within 7 days af­ter the dead­line.

There is no up­per length limit on sub­mis­sions. For a lower limit, see the note about “se­ri­ous” sub­mis­sions in § Judg­ment.


The prize is $300 for the one win­ning sub­mis­sion. In ad­di­tion, there will be six $50 par­ti­ci­pa­tion prizes.

The fund­ing for the prize is split fifty-fifty be­tween Vipul Naik and Peter Hur­ford.

A sub­mis­sion must be con­sid­ered “se­ri­ous” by the eval­u­a­tion com­mit­tee (see § Judg­ment be­low) to be el­i­gible for the win­ning prize or par­ti­ci­pa­tion prizes.

If you be­lieve you will benefit from the es­says sub­mit­ted to the con­test and would like to cre­ate a big­ger in­cen­tive for higher-qual­ity sub­mis­sions, feel free to add to the prize; con­tact Vipul at vipul­ to do so.


The win­ner will be judged by an eval­u­a­tion com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of Vipul Naik, Peter Hur­ford, and my­self (Issa Rice).

The judg­ment pro­ce­dure is as fol­lows: we will in­ter­nally dis­cuss the sub­mis­sions to at­tempt to come to an agree­ment, and will ag­gre­gate votes us­ing in­stant-runoff vot­ing if an agree­ment can­not be made.

The judg­ment will hap­pen within 7 days af­ter the dead­line for sub­mis­sion.

Mem­bers of the eval­u­a­tion com­mit­tee will not be sub­mit­ting an es­say to the con­test.

If you use a tra­di­tional es­say for­mat, a “se­ri­ous” sub­mis­sion is likely to be at least 500 words long, though we don’t im­pose a strict word limit. For the other pos­si­ble for­mats, the num­ber of words could be less.

Public and pri­vate feed­back from oth­ers (up­votes, likes, com­ments, and so on) could help in­form the eval­u­a­tion pro­cess but the eval­u­a­tion com­mit­tee re­tains fi­nal dis­cre­tion.

Vet­ting the funders

Vipul Naik spends tens of thou­sands of dol­lars on con­tract work and fol­lows through on pay­ments. (Dis­clo­sure: I work with Vipul.)

Peter Hur­ford has a dona­tions log. He has also pre­vi­ously com­mis­sioned at least one pro­ject and has fol­lowed through on the pay­ment.


The idea of hold­ing an es­say con­test with a cash prize is not new. Even within the effec­tive al­tru­ist/​ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­ni­ties, we are aware of the fol­low­ing:

In ad­di­tion, we are aware of the fol­low­ing ex­am­ples of ex­plicit offers of cash prizes in ex­change for work in the same com­mu­ni­ties (our “par­ti­ci­pa­tion prizes” are similar):


We re­ceived no se­ri­ous sub­mis­sions be­fore the dead­line. As such, none of the prize money was given out.