Fundraiser: Political initiative raising an expected USD 30 million for effective charities


The Ger­many-based Stiftung für Effek­tiven Altru­is­mus has just launched a pop­u­lar ini­ti­a­tive in the city of Zurich, Switzer­land, ask­ing for 1% of the city’s bud­get to be donated to highly effec­tive global health char­i­ties. The city’s bud­get amounts to about USD 9 billion, which means the city would po­ten­tially donate USD 90 mil­lion per year to highly effec­tive char­i­ties. On col­lect­ing 3000 sig­na­tures, a legally bind­ing vote on our pro­posal will take place, which has a de­cent chance of pass­ing. We are cur­rently try­ing to raise €90,000 for the ini­ti­a­tive.

We be­lieve the ini­ti­a­tive pre­sents an ex­traor­di­nary fund­ing op­por­tu­nity for donors in­ter­ested in meta-char­i­ties: Ac­cord­ing to our anal­y­sis (see also monte carlo es­ti­mate), we think the ini­ti­a­tive’s ex­pected im­pact will be equal to fundrais­ing USD 30 mil­lion for GiveWell-recom­mended char­i­ties. This im­plies a mul­ti­plier (or “fun­dra­tio”) of ap­prox­i­mately 300:1, i.e. for ev­ery euro in­vested in the ini­ti­a­tive, about 300 eu­ros will be moved to highly effec­tive char­i­ties. In ad­di­tion, the ini­ti­a­tive will in­spire pub­lic de­bate about im­pact mea­sure­ment and char­ity effec­tive­ness, and sig­nifi­cantly ac­cel­er­ate the growth of the EA move­ment.

This post con­tains a de­tailed pro­ject plan which is also available in PDF for­mat.

To make a dona­tion, please visit our fundraiser page.

Pro­ject description

Fundrais­ing benefits

The base rate for pop­u­lar ini­ti­a­tives pass­ing is about 11%. We think our ini­ti­a­tive has a similar chance of suc­cess. On the one hand, the mon­e­tary amount we ask for is quite sig­nifi­cant and would likely cause a tax in­crease. On the other hand, the city of Geneva already has a very similar law with 0.7% of its bud­get be­ing al­lo­cated to­wards global de­vel­op­ment char­i­ties, and the city of Zurich’s par­li­a­ment has a strong leftist ma­jor­ity and vot­ing be­hav­ior is usu­ally very pro­gres­sive. After tak­ing into ac­count a va­ri­ety of fac­tors, we think the suc­cess prob­a­bil­ity of the ini­ti­a­tive is about 9%. Ac­cord­ing to our anal­y­sis, the city’s po­ten­tial fu­ture fund­ing for global poverty char­i­ties is equal in value to a USD 350 mil­lion dona­tion to GiveWell char­i­ties in 2016 (dis­counted and ad­justed for sub­op­ti­mal im­ple­men­ta­tion). There­fore, the ini­ti­a­tive’s ex­pected im­pact will be equal to fundrais­ing USD 30 mil­lion for GiveWell-recom­mended char­i­ties. Even if the ini­ti­a­tive is re­jected, some of the ideas may still be im­ple­mented by the gov­ern­ment, as is of­ten the case with similar ini­ti­a­tives.

Move­ment build­ing benefits

The ini­ti­a­tive will cause ex­ten­sive me­dia cov­er­age and spark a pub­lic de­bate about effec­tive al­tru­ism and ev­i­dence-based for­eign aid, as is usual for novel ideas pre­sented in pop­u­lar ini­ti­a­tives. More­over, in­for­ma­tion on the refer­en­dum – in­clud­ing ar­gu­ments for effec­tive al­tru­ism it­self – will be mailed to all 400,000 cit­i­zens of the city of Zurich. Many vot­ers read the in­for­ma­tion care­fully be­fore cast­ing their vote.

The pub­lic dis­cus­sion sparked by the ini­ti­a­tive will be valuable in and of it­self in two ways: First, it will in­crease aware­ness of effec­tive al­tru­ism, caus­ing new peo­ple to join the move­ment. Se­cond, it will in­crease pub­lic aware­ness of cost-effec­tive­ness anal­y­sis and ev­i­dence-based policy mak­ing, lead­ing to bet­ter prac­tices at pri­vate and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, both in aid and el­se­where.

Th­ese benefits do not de­pend heav­ily on the ac­tual out­come of the refer­en­dum; rather, they are mostly guaran­teed to oc­cur as a by-product of the ini­ti­a­tive it­self. We be­lieve that the move­ment-build­ing benefits alone would make the ini­ti­a­tive a worth­while pro­ject.

Bud­get and room for more funding

The cost for launch­ing the ini­ti­a­tive will be com­par­a­tively low. Even though the city of Zurich ac­counts for 5% of Swiss pop­u­la­tion and 10% of Swiss GDP, just 3,000 sig­na­tures are needed to launch the ini­ti­a­tive. This puts the ex­pected cost for launch­ing the ini­ti­a­tive and cam­paign­ing at roughly USD 100,000, most of which will be pay­roll ex­penses. As of late Au­gust 2016, we’re still look­ing to raise the en­tire amount from dona­tions.

Cost-benefit analysis

In terms of al­tru­is­tic im­pact, how does the ini­ti­a­tive com­pare to mak­ing a dona­tion to GiveWell-recom­mended char­i­ties? As­sum­ing there are no move­ment-build­ing benefits, our best es­ti­mate is a mul­ti­plier (or ‘fund ra­tio’) of 300. A pes­simistic es­ti­mate would put it at 2, while an op­ti­mistic es­ti­mate would put it at 4,000.

We can thus re­al­is­ti­cally ex­pect donors to be able to lev­er­age their dona­tion 300-fold by mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion to­wards the ini­ti­a­tive. This es­ti­mate ex­cludes all benefits from move­ment build­ing, how­ever, and the true mul­ti­plier will likely be even higher.

Sup­port us now

To sup­port the ini­ti­a­tive now, please visit our fundraiser page. Thank you for your dona­tion!

Fur­ther information

  • Web­site (Ger­man)

  • Cost-benefit anal­y­sis (there’s also a less de­tailed monte carlo es­ti­mate)

  • Pro­posed leg­is­la­tion (trans­lated):
    Mu­ni­ci­pal Code of the city of Zurich, ar­ti­cle 2 sep­ties
    1 The city will use one per­cent of its bud­get to sup­port highly effec­tive in­ter­ven­tions in the field of in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion.
    2 Th­ese funds are to be dis­bursed cost-effec­tively so as to help as many in­di­vi­d­u­als as pos­si­ble, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on global poverty and health care. The choice of in­ter­ven­tion will be guided by in­de­pen­dent sci­en­tific re­search, in par­tic­u­lar ran­dom­ized con­trol­led tri­als con­ducted by de­vel­op­ment economists.
    3 The City of Zurich shall com­mit the Can­ton of Zurich and the Fed­eral Govern­ment to in­crease its Offi­cial Devel­op­ment As­sis­tance (ODA) bud­get to one per cent of gross na­tional in­come.