Concept: EA Donor List. To enable EAs that are starting new projects to find seed donors, especially for people that aren’t well connected

Summary

This is a con­cept to make it eas­ier for peo­ple in EA to find seed grants for new pro­jects. The goal is to en­able more new im­pact­ful or­ga­ni­za­tions by helping startup or­ga­ni­za­tions find their first sub­stan­tial donors. It’ll be es­pe­cially helpful for peo­ple that aren’t already well con­nected to medium-large donors. I’m mak­ing this post to find donors that would like to be listed on this web­site so that they can find po­ten­tially high-im­pact new pro­jects and EA en­trepreneurs to donate to, as well as to get com­mu­nity in­put on the con­cept.

And for donors, it’s an easy way to get ex­posed to po­ten­tially high-im­pact fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, and to fund things that might’ve not been able to start oth­er­wise, that end up be­ing able to pro­duc­tively ab­sorb large amounts of funds from larger EA-al­igned donors.

Details

This is about mak­ing it eas­ier to get fund­ing for new “start-up” or­ga­ni­za­tions in EA.

It’s for non-es­tab­lished or­ga­ni­za­tions: maybe they’re just get­ting started, maybe they’re not even started yet and it’s for ex­am­ple some­one that wants to take 6 months off work to try and start a new pro­ject.

Part­ners at Y Com­bi­na­tor have talked about how part of their rea­son for suc­cess is that typ­i­cal in­vestors of­ten re­quire founders to get in­tro­duc­tions be­fore they’ll fund them, whereas YC lets any­one from any­where in the world ap­ply cold. In many ways, this pro­ject is ap­ply­ing that same con­cept to en­able more EA non-prof­its to find their an­gel donors.

I’m not imag­ing this be­ing a com­plex web­site, at least ini­tially. I’m imag­ing it sim­ply be­ing a list of ac­tive and in­ter­ested donors, some in­for­ma­tion about them so peo­ple can de­cide if it’s likely to be a mu­tual fit, and a way to con­tact them.

And if this doesn’t reach any donors yet, I still plan to launch it, just with a list of grant type pro­grams, as a way to boot­strap the util­ity of the site.

This was par­tic­u­larly in­spired by Na­dia Egh­bal’s post about seed philan­thropy where she de­scribes this ex­act con­cept: https://​​na­di­aegh­bal.com/​​seed-philan­thropy and her Helium Grant pro­gram, as well as Tyler Cowen’s post about chef philan­thropy: https://​​marginalrev­olu­tion.com/​​marginalrev­olu­tion/​​2018/​​11/​​philos­o­phy-emer­gent-ven­tures.html and his Emer­gent Ven­tures pro­gram.

Since writ­ing this I’ve learned that similar things have been pro­posed: https://​​fo­rum.effec­tivealtru­ism.org/​​posts/​​G2Pfp­kcwv3bJNF8o9/​​ea-is-vet­ting-con­strained#4Xur2Qt­fKuyAEyq9T, though it doesn’t seem like they’re yet op­er­a­tional. There­fore I think the biggest con­tri­bu­tion this con­cept can make is a) ex­ist­ing in a live form and b) do­ing it in a way that is “hard to aban­don.” I think the idea lends it­self well to that—I plan to have a v1 (per­haps just an EA fo­rum post list­ing some donors) live within 14 days of this first post, please feel free to com­ment and re­mind me if that has not hap­pened! It’ll be “hard to aban­don” be­cause it’s de­signed to have min­i­mal pieces that re­quire ac­tive work, e.g. the peo­ple seek­ing fund­ing don’t go through me/​​some cen­tral­ized thing, they sim­ply reach out di­rectly to the listed donors. So the only main­te­nance re­quired will be to add/​​re­move donors, which is far less over­head than be­ing a cen­tral vet­ter of ap­pli­cants, etc. That said—the more donors listed on the site, the more valuable it is, and there’s prob­a­bly some thresh­old above where this spreads via word of mouth be­cause peo­ple ac­tu­ally get there pro­jects funded thanks to donors they found on the list, and some thresh­old be­low which it never re­ally takes off. So if any­one has in­put on how to get above that thresh­old as quickly as pos­si­ble, please com­ment!

As an aside, it seems some EA pro­jects could get value out of the con­cept of “boot­strap­ping util­ity”—e.g. for things that in­volve some kind of net­work, like an EA fun­der net­work, find­ing a way to make the product use­ful to the same group of users in a way that doesn’t re­quire a thriv­ing net­work/​mar­ket­place. Be­cause it can take a long time to cre­ate a thriv­ing net­work/​mar­ket­place, so ei­ther the pro­ject team needs to be will­ing to slog for some time (a year? two?) to kick­start the fly­wheel, or there needs to be a way for it to provide enough util­ity that it gets us­age, and from that us­age, it grad­u­ally kick­starts the fly­wheel on its own. In the case of this product, there can be im­me­di­ate util­ity by col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion on sources of early stage grant pro­grams in one place, and the ad­di­tional value can grow from there, with the abil­ity for donors to fill out a form to re­quest to be listed alongside those other grant sources.

Ra­tionale, in the words of others

Benefits to the community

  • En­able po­ten­tially im­pact­ful new projects

  • Does a ser­vice to later stage donors, where in some cases donors are more con­strained on suit­able and good fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties than they are on capital

  • In par­tic­u­lar for peo­ple with­out wealth net­works, there seems to be a bot­tle­neck on ac­cess to early stage startup cap­i­tal for new EA organizations

Benefits to donors

  • Make it easy to come across po­ten­tially high im­pact fund­ing opportunities

  • Fund pro­jects that might not’ve oth­er­wise been able to start, where oth­ers end up be­ing re­ally glad they exist

  • More op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­ter­ac­tion with mo­ti­vated and tal­ented EA or­ga­ni­za­tion founders

Are you a donor who would be likely to donate $5k+ to at least 2 in­di­vi­d­ual pro­jects in 2019, if the right op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented them­selves? If so, please fill out this form if you’re in­ter­ested in be­ing listed on the site: https://​​goo.gl/​​forms/​​BymVZ8H1pTqZY01j2.

Challenges

  • Do EA in­di­vi­d­ual donors want this? Can I reach EA in­di­vi­d­ual donors in or­der to get them to ap­ply?

  • Are there enough in­di­vi­d­u­als in EA that want some­thing like this?

  • How will EA peo­ple who are rais­ing funds find this? Will word of mouth work as the pri­mary dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nel? Are there good key­words that rele­vant peo­ple ac­tu­ally search, that this could rank for in Google?

  • Will it work — will promis­ing pro­jects/​peo­ple use it, will good donors list them­selves, and will it lead to promis­ing pro­jects be­ing funded?

In­put wel­comed on these challenges!

Other things this could enable

  • If donors list things they’re es­pe­cially ex­cited about ac­tively sup­port­ing, then this could lead to more fun­der-ini­ti­ated star­tups from smaller non-in­sti­tu­tional fun­ders. This is nice be­cause donors of­ten bring a breadth of ex­pe­rience and data points. (https://​​www.open­philan­thropy.org/​​blog/​​fun­der-ini­ti­ated-star­tups)

  • If EA non-profit founders are all look­ing at this site to find fun­ders, the site could also provide ad­vice on non-profit fundrais­ing. Be­cause it would already be in front of the rele­vant au­di­ence at the right time, which is of­ten a hard part about do­ing good with ad­vice — get­ting it in front of the right peo­ple at the right time.

  • It could have a “com­mon app” (col­lege ad­mis­sions thing) el­e­ment where there’s a tem­plate peo­ple fill out, and then in­di­vi­d­ual donors list ad­di­tional ques­tions they’d like to hear, and then when peo­ple reach out for dona­tions they can in­clude the “com­mon app” tem­plate as well as an­swers to any spe­cific ques­tions the per­son has. (Rae­mon has men­tioned some­thing similar.)

Alter­na­tive approaches

Re­quests for input

  • Peo­ple who’ve raised funds or who may raise funds in the fu­ture for a startup EA or­ga­ni­za­tion, what in­for­ma­tion would you like to see about po­ten­tial donors that would save you both the most time pos­si­ble in de­cid­ing whether it’s likely to be a good fit?

  • If you’ve ever googled some­thing *be­fore see­ing this post* in an at­tempt to find a list of peo­ple who donate to non-es­tab­lished EA or­ga­ni­za­tions, can you please check your Google or browser his­tory and re­port what phrase you searched?

  • Donors: do you want this enough to fill out the form be­low? If you don’t fill it out—could you please do some quick “fo­cus­ing” and re­port back on what benefits you per­ceive and what aver­sions you per­ceive?

  • Sugges­tions on ways to reach donors who’d want this?

  • In an ideal case, this post would reach a few EA donors who are in­ter­ested in “deal flow” of po­ten­tially im­pact­ful new pro­jects—in par­tic­u­lar, donors who are will­ing to make grant de­ci­sions in­de­pen­dently and with­out wait­ing on the ex­is­tence of ad­di­tional fun­ders, so that EA peo­ple can spend less time fundrais­ing for new pro­jects and more time build­ing. Is this you or do you know some­one like this? Please fill out this form: https://​​goo.gl/​​forms/​​BymVZ8H1pTqZY01j2.