Joey Savoie: Charity Entrepreneurship

Want to start a high-im­pact char­ity? It’s not an easy job, but it can be an in­cred­ible way to have an im­pact. In this talk from EA Global 2018: Lon­don, Joey Savoie dis­cusses the pros and cons of found­ing a char­ity. He also de­scribes what his or­ga­ni­za­tion, Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship, can do to help would-be founders get started.

This tran­script of an EA Global talk, which CEA has lightly ed­ited for clar­ity, is cross­posted from effec­tivealtru­ You can also watch the talk on YouTube here.

The Talk

So, we are go­ing to talk about char­ity en­trepreneur­ship. But first, I’m go­ing to take you to a slum of Luc­know.

1700 Joey Savoie

Luc­know is a city in In­dia, and this pic­ture is fairly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the state of af­fairs. You can tell from the pic­ture that there are gi­ant health and poverty con­cerns. It re­ally is a place where char­i­ta­ble in­ter­ven­tion can make a huge differ­ence. One thing you can’t tell from this pic­ture, though, is the sheer size of this slum. A team of SMS Vac­cine re­mind­ing staff went from build­ing to build­ing try­ing to find preg­nant moth­ers, and it took hours to cover even a small sec­tion of this slum.

1700 Joey Savoie (1)

But of course that is just one slum in a much larger city. Luc­know city has sev­eral hun­dred slums, 200 to 300 slums by the record right now. Each of them has a unique set of prob­lems, al­though there are some com­mon­al­ities in terms of global health and eco­nomic difficul­ties. There’s a huge vol­ume of good that can be done in a city like Luc­know.

1700 Joey Savoie (2)

But of course we can zoom out fur­ther, and look at Ut­tar Pradesh. This is a state in In­dia, but it is such a big state that if it were a coun­try it’d be the sixth largest coun­try in the world. It truly is mas­sive. You could have a gi­ant or­ga­ni­za­tion spend their en­tire bud­get and all their staff time all work­ing in Ut­tar Pradesh, and not even make a dent in the mas­sive scale prob­lems that they have, both from poverty and other sorts of is­sues.

1700 Joey Savoie (3)

But of course, we can zoom out even fur­ther and look at In­dia. A coun­try with over a billion peo­ple, and prob­lems to match. Although there are in­cred­ible char­i­ties work­ing there, there’s still a huge need for more or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing in­tel­li­gently, sys­tem­at­i­cally, and with ev­i­dence.

1700 Joey Savoie (4)

Of course, In­dia is not the only coun­try with prob­lems, and of course, global poverty isn’t the only prob­lem. There’s tons of differ­ent is­sues that one can work on, like an­i­mal welfare, men­tal health challenges, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, or mi­gra­tion. There are a lot of gaps in the world where new and effec­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions could be founded.

Why I’m talk­ing about these gaps is be­cause I think that a lot of peo­ple are un­der the im­pres­sion that there’s already a ton of char­i­ties out there. Maybe all the best op­por­tu­ni­ties have been filled by or­ga­ni­za­tions, and that’s re­ally not the case. There re­ally is room for fan­tas­tic new char­i­ties to be founded and be fan­tas­ti­cally high im­pact.

1700 Joey Savoie (5)

I’m go­ing to talk about why char­ity en­trepreneur­ship is im­por­tant. I’ll talk about its im­por­tance to the world, and to the EA move­ment speci­fi­cally. I’ll also talk about who char­ity en­trepreneur­ship might be a good fit for; it re­ally is not a good fit for ev­ery­body. Some peo­ple are fan­tas­ti­cally well al­igned and do a re­ally good job, while other peo­ple aren’t a good ca­reer fit and shouldn’t en­ter the space. Fi­nally, I’ll ad­dress how Char­ity Science is aiming to help new char­i­ties get founded and started off on the right foot.

1700 Joey Savoie (6)

I’m go­ing to make this ar­gu­ment from more of a cluster think­ing per­spec­tive than a se­quence think­ing per­spec­tive, which means com­ing at it from a bunch of differ­ent an­gles and show­ing that char­ity en­trepreneur­ship looks very good and very high im­pact from sev­eral differ­ent per­spec­tives.

The first thing that comes to al­most ev­ery­one’s mind when they think about the po­ten­tial im­pact of char­ity en­trepreneur­ship, is the sheer size of good that you can do when you found a suc­cess­ful char­ity.

1700 Joey Savoie (7)

Here’s some of the money moved from some top GiveWell recom­mended char­i­ties. You can see it’s of­ten in the 10s of mil­lions of dol­lars. And these are just the num­bers from GiveWell it­self, as op­posed to the to­tal money that’s go­ing to­wards each char­ity.

Suffice to say that start­ing a high-im­pact char­ity can redi­rect mil­lions of dol­lars in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion. So, even if your char­ity is only 1% more effec­tive than the char­ity that a donor would have given to oth­er­wise, it can have a re­ally mas­sive im­pact just be­cause of the sheer vol­ume of money.

There’s also a force mul­ti­pli­ca­tion ar­gu­ment about this. You’re not just di­rect­ing money, when you’re found­ing a new char­ity. You’re di­rect­ing tal­ent, you’re di­rect­ing in­ter­est, you’re di­rect­ing pas­sion to­wards your cho­sen is­sue. There are a lot of peo­ple who will work for a high-im­pact char­ity, but wouldn’t ever found one them­selves. By cre­at­ing a new high-im­pact char­ity, you’re cre­at­ing an op­por­tu­nity for tal­ented in­di­vi­d­u­als to get in­vested in the field and to make a differ­ence.

Fi­nally, there are hits. So, ev­ery­one wants their char­ity to be suc­cess­ful, and char­ity en­trepreneur­ship is in­her­ently, like nor­mal en­trepreneur­ship, a risky busi­ness. A lot of char­i­ties will be started and the im­pact anal­y­sis will come back bad, or the char­ity won’t have a valid way of scal­ing. There’s a lot of ways to fail, but there’s also a lot of ways to have mas­sive suc­cess. Suc­cess that is in­com­pa­rable to many other jobs. For ex­am­ple, a minor hit, al­though it feels funny to call it a minor hit, would be be­com­ing a GiveWell recom­mended char­ity. Just a small per­centage differ­ence be­tween you and the other GiveWell recom­mended char­i­ties in terms of be­ing bet­ter, or even sim­ply giv­ing more op­tions that GiveWell can recom­mend to at­tract donors from differ­ent spaces and differ­ent in­ter­ests. So a minor hit can make a huge differ­ence.

But that’s not even tak­ing into ac­count the ma­jor hits. Most gi­ant char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions that are around to­day started off as a small group. The benefits of an EA group be­ing the group to start the next Ox­fam, and shap­ing an en­tire cause area, is truly mas­sive.

1700 Joey Savoie (8)

The next thing I want to talk about is ne­glect­ed­ness. Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship isn’t a salient ca­reer path for a lot of peo­ple. Many peo­ple will have con­sid­ered en­trepreneur­ship as a ca­reer path, and many, many peo­ple will con­sider work­ing for a char­ity. But found­ing a char­ity is off the radar, even in EA. So, this chart shows is the per­cent of peo­ple work­ing in differ­ent jobs from the EA sur­vey that was most re­cently con­ducted. Sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple re­sponded, and an in­cred­ibly small num­ber of them have se­ri­ously con­sid­ered found­ing high im­pact char­i­ties. Of those who have, al­most all of them have been in global poverty. For ex­am­ple, or­ga­ni­za­tions like New In­cen­tives, Char­ity Science Health, or For­tify Health. So there’s a truly large op­por­tu­nity for more peo­ple to get in­volved in the space, more peo­ple to work in the space, and even­tu­ally for peo­ple to start high im­pact or­ga­ni­za­tions.

1700 Joey Savoie (9)

The next thing we’ll talk about is tractabil­ity and track record. Found­ing a char­ity is a difficult job, es­pe­cially one good enough to be a GiveWell or An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors recom­mended char­ity, but it’s not im­pos­si­ble. Some of our col­lec­tive track record shows this. A lot of the char­i­ties we view as strongest and most im­pact­ful in the EA move­ment, weren’t started by some­one with 55 years of ex­pe­rience in the rele­vant area. They were in­stead started by some­one who came into it with more of an an­a­lyt­i­cal mind­set, more of an EA mind­set, some­one look­ing for cost effec­tive­ness or ev­i­dence base.

A lot of the re­cent char­i­ties that have been started and that have be­come GiveWell in­cu­bated, were com­ing with the same mind­set. That’s a huge com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage over other char­i­ties that hap­pened to be cost-effec­tive by luck, as op­posed to ex­plic­itly seek­ing cost-effec­tive­ness out or try­ing to max­i­mize it.

1700 Joey Savoie (10)

No good EA pre­sen­ta­tion would be com­plete with­out an ex­pected value calcu­la­tion. So what’s the nu­mer­i­cal worth of Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship? Well, there are a cou­ple differ­ent calcu­la­tions. Peter Hur­ford’s calcu­la­tion as­sumes an 85% chance that the char­ity has zero im­pact, so fails com­pletely, and as­sumes a 15% chance of be­com­ing GiveWell recom­mended. Th­ese num­bers were based off Char­ity Science Health, the char­ity that we founded, af­ter do­ing a similar round of an­a­lyt­i­cal re­search to the ones that we now do for all sorts of char­i­ties.

His model de­ter­mined that the av­er­age staff mem­ber would be worth $400,000 of equiv­a­lent dona­tions to high im­pact char­ity. That’s just the av­er­age staff mem­ber, that wasn’t for co-founders or the found­ing team in par­tic­u­lar. This is an in­cred­ibly high im­pact thing. This is $400,000 donated. So, even if you earned $400,000 you’d have to donate 100% of it to match this level of im­pact. We did an in­ter­nal model that was a bit more pes­simistic, as­sum­ing that there’s only a cer­tain chance that some­one would get to the point where Char­ity Science Health has got, and get GiveWell in­cu­bated, and ended up at a similar figure of $200,000 of ex­pected value of dona­tions.

This sort of im­pact is re­ally, re­ally high, and these calcu­la­tions are quite con­ser­va­tive rel­a­tive to a lot of the other im­pact es­ti­mates go­ing around the EA move­ment.

There’s a whole bunch of other benefits that I’d love to spend more time on. But I’m go­ing to go through re­ally quickly be­cause we only have so much time. The first one is skill build­ing. So, en­trepreneur­ship gives you an op­por­tu­nity to try on a lot of differ­ent hats. That’s part of why it’s hard and in­timi­dat­ing, but it also gives you a chance to build a lot of differ­ent skills. If you try to found a char­ity, even if you fail, go­ing into the next job hav­ing ba­sic bud­get­ing skills, fundrais­ing skills, man­age­ment skills, hiring skills, it gives you a huge ad­van­tage and will stick with you for a long time.

Similarly, ca­reer cap­i­tal. If some­one sees that you took a good at­tempt at a pro­ject, even if it’s a failed pro­ject, but es­pe­cially if it’s suc­cess­ful pro­ject, that does won­ders for your CV and ca­reer cap­i­tal in gen­eral. You can use a suc­cess­ful char­ity as a step­ping stone to­wards get­ting into a high im­pact po­si­tion with the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, or any sort of other or­ga­ni­za­tion that would look at that sort of thing.

The next thing is at­tributable im­pact. So, calcu­lat­ing the im­pact that you’re go­ing to have is re­ally, re­ally difficult, and there’s one less step you have to calcu­late with char­ity en­trepreneur­ship. If you do, in fact, start a char­ity that no one else would have founded, that wouldn’t have got­ten started with­out your time and en­ergy put into it, what you’re most look­ing at is that char­ity’s im­pact as a whole. In­stead of hav­ing to calcu­late both the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s im­pact, and then your spe­cific im­pact within the or­ga­ni­za­tion. When calcu­lat­ing your im­pact in othre cases, maybe the or­ga­ni­za­tion is great, but your per­sonal role is very minor. Or maybe your staff im­pact is big, but the or­ga­ni­za­tion sucks. With char­ity en­trepreneur­ship, you only have to calcu­late the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s im­pact.

Job satis­fac­tion is the next one. As I said, it’s re­ally not the perfect fit for ev­ery­body, and we’ll go a lit­tle bit more into that soon. But for the right per­son­al­ity type, it’s in­cred­ibly en­joy­able. Be­ing able to look at your char­ity and know that you built it from scratch, be­ing able to work with flex­ible hours, with a bunch of differ­ent staff. There are a lot of benefits to it. There’s an un­par­alleled amount of job di­ver­sity. But there are also cons. Am­bi­guity is tough, which is a thing you’re go­ing to have to deal with as a char­ity en­trepreneur.

Not only are there per­sonal benefits for founders, there are also benefits to the EA move­ment in gen­eral. Char­ity en­trepreneur­ship en­hances move­ment growth, by ex­pand­ing the EA move­ment out­side of its tra­di­tional sphere. By get­ting in­volved at the char­ity level and hiring peo­ple in that field, work­ing with peo­ple who, say, work in vac­ci­na­tions, you ex­pand EA in a very con­crete way to a sym­pa­thetic au­di­ence.

There’s also a much clearer case for im­pact for some of these char­i­ties. It’s fine to go and tell some­one that you’re do­ing a philos­o­phy think tank that will even­tu­ally save hu­man­ity, but it sure is nice to also be able to say we started a vac­cine char­ity that peo­ple think is highly cost effec­tive. That sort of con­crete case for im­pact can benefit the whole EA move­ment, in terms of show­ing that we are in fact do­ing what we say we’re do­ing and hav­ing suc­cess do­ing that.

The next thing is sta­bil­ity. Or­ga­ni­za­tions tend to out­live move­ments. The EA move­ment is so­cial move­ment, and it is frag­ile in many ways. It gets stronger the more or­ga­ni­za­tions there are to an­chor it, and tie it to re­al­ity in a long last­ing way.

Fi­nally, op­por­tu­ni­ties. Lots of EAs want to work for EA or­ga­ni­za­tions. Lots of EAs wants to work for high im­pact jobs. As I men­tioned with the force mul­ti­plier be­fore, by cre­at­ing an op­por­tu­nity, you cre­ate space for peo­ple to grow, de­velop their ca­pac­i­ties, and ex­pand the EA move­ment. It gives a space for peo­ple to go once they get in­volved.

Next up, com­mu­nity learn­ing value. Even a failed pro­ject can be mas­sively im­pact­ful if you get a lot of learn­ing value from it. One of our early pro­jects didn’t work at all, but we were able to pub­lish a gi­ant re­port ex­plain­ing why it didn’t work and tens of other or­ga­ni­za­tions in the EA move­ment were able to learn from that mis­take and not re­peat the same thing. If your char­ity does fail, and you are able to be trans­par­ent about why it failed, and you learn from it, you can benefit not only the char­ity en­trepreneur­ship com­mu­nity within EA, but the broader EA move­ment as a whole, be­cause a lot of these les­sons are gen­er­al­iz­able.

Fi­nally, there’s in­spira­tion. If you can in­spire some­one else to found a char­ity through your ex­am­ple, that can be mas­sively high im­pact. If peo­ple can see other peo­ple do­ing suc­cess­ful, am­bi­tious pro­jects, then it can lead to prece­dence. So for in­stance, we saw New In­cen­tives do a re­ally great job found­ing their char­ity, and that gave us con­fi­dence to start Char­ity Science Health. Char­ity Science Health gave For­tify Health con­fi­dence to do that, and now For­tify Health, New In­cen­tives and Char­ity Science Health can give other EAs a chance to look at char­i­ties that have been suc­cess­ful and it gives them a chance to feel in­spired by the pos­si­bil­ity.

The next thing is pas­sive im­pact. So, for peo­ple who have heard of pas­sive in­come, pas­sive im­pact is a very similar con­cept. Ba­si­cally, if you set up a char­ity to run in­de­pen­dently with­out you, and it con­tinues to do good in the world, you con­tinue to hold some sort of coun­ter­fac­tual re­spon­si­bil­ity for that im­pact.

The last thing that I’ll talk about briefly is just the room for more fund­ing. Room for more fund­ing isn’t a huge im­pact if it’s filled by some­one who’s oth­er­wise go­ing to donate to a fan­tas­tic char­ity, but by cre­at­ing a new char­ity, you can leave a lot of room for new donors to get in­volved, and donate to maybe some­thing par­tic­u­lar to their in­ter­est, while still mak­ing a re­ally high im­pact.

1700 Joey Savoie (11)

So why now? There’s a lot of rea­sons why found­ing a char­ity now in par­tic­u­lar is maybe a lot bet­ter than his­tor­i­cally. Hope­fully, it will con­tinue to be this good in the fu­ture. There’s a lot of fun­der sup­port and fun­der in­ter­est in this sort of thing. The GiveWell in­cu­ba­tion pro­gram has been try­ing to fund pro­grams that might even­tu­ally be­come GiveWell top char­i­ties. An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors has money for this, Open Philan­thropy is very in­ter­ested in new char­i­ties and of course, Char­ity Science, my or­ga­ni­za­tion, pro­vides seed fund­ing to new pro­jects start­ing up. Just an un­par­alleled time where fund­ing prob­a­bly won’t be the ma­jor bot­tle­neck for a lot of char­i­ties be­ing founded, if they are founded in an ev­i­dence-based way in an ev­i­dence-based cause.

There’s also men­tor­ship sup­port. You’re not the first char­ity work­ing on this any­more. So you are able to kind of con­nect with an alumni com­mu­nity. Char­i­ties that we’ve talked to have shared hiring pools and strate­gies for man­age­ment and all sorts of differ­ent things. The EA com­mu­nity re­ally is start­ing to build up a net­work of peo­ple you could talk to about is­sues, whether it’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions or re­search, and re­ally get an in­formed per­spec­tive of some­one who’s done some­thing quite similar, quite re­cently.

Fi­nally, there’s still gaps. That’s why I talked about one spe­cific case at the be­gin­ning. It’s re­ally, re­ally easy to for­get just how big the world is, and just how large-scale our prob­lems are. There’s a ton of malaria char­i­ties, and yet, there’s still malaria, kil­ling hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple ev­ery year. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and the EA move­ment can con­tribute a lot more to that. Speci­fi­cally, there are even lists of ideas that peo­ple would like to see more of. GiveWell has a list of pri­or­ity pro­grams that has 25 ideas. ACE has a list of char­i­ties that it would like to see, with 17 ideas. Char­ity Science En­trepreneur­ship, we want to do a re­search pro­gram that recom­mends two to five ideas ev­ery sin­gle year, that’ll be par­tic­u­larly promis­ing to found, in the GiveWell pri­or­ity pro­gram bal­l­park, or even more high im­pact, like some­thing that could com­pete with AMF.

1700 Joey Savoie (12)

So I want to talk a lit­tle bit about who Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship is a good fit for. As I men­tioned, it re­ally is not a great fit for ev­ery­body, but peo­ple are of­ten sur­prised at what they need go­ing in, what would make them a good fit or would not. So I’ll talk about per­son­al­ity, what it helps to have, what you don’t re­ally need or what peo­ple tend to over­value, and how you might fur­ther test this (in case a 30-minute pre­sen­ta­tion can’t con­vince you one way or the other to rad­i­cally change your ca­reer).

1700 Joey Savoie (13)

Okay, so first up, per­son­al­ity. This is an ex­am­ple of a fan­tas­tic char­ity en­trepreneur. I’m not talk­ing about Prince William; I don’t re­ally have an opinion on whether he can make a good char­ity en­trepreneur or not. I haven’t spo­ken to him per­son­ally. But I have spo­ken to Rob Mather. He re­ally em­bod­ies what a fan­tas­tic char­ity en­trepreneur might look like. One of the things I want to high­light about him is his per­son­al­ity. Per­son­al­ity is so key, when it comes to char­ity en­trepreneur­ship. It’s one of the first things we look for in our vet­ting pro­cess, and one of the things that I think de­ter­mines even­tu­ally whether your char­ity ends up be­ing mas­sively high im­pact or not.

You need a lot of differ­ent things. You need to be re­silient. There are go­ing to be bad days, bad weeks, and po­ten­tially even bad months where you think your char­ity is low im­pact, that it wasn’t worth found­ing, and that it’s too hard to get your­self mo­ti­vated. And as the founder, you have to mo­ti­vate not only your­self, but also your co-founder and your em­ploy­ees. You have to be ready to take those shocks and keep mov­ing on, keep mov­ing through them even when it’s tough.

The next thing is be­ing am­bi­tiously al­tru­is­tic. So a lot of en­trepreneurs love am­bi­tion. It’s a very com­mon thing, but it’s re­ally easy to be am­bi­tious about the wrong thing. If you’re am­bi­tious about how big your char­ity is, your char­ity might get re­ally big, but it won’t nec­es­sar­ily do any good. What you need to be am­bi­tious about is how many lives you save, or what­ever your end line met­ric is for do­ing good. That’s the thing you have to be laser fo­cused and truly am­bi­tious about.

The next thing is re­sults ori­ented. Quan­tified mea­sure­ment is one of the things that makes EA differ­ent from many other move­ments. We re­ally want to see con­crete, spe­cific re­sults, and have data to back it up. Stay­ing fo­cused on this will stop your char­ity from di­verg­ing into 100 other pro­jects that might not be as high im­pact, and it re­ally can make a differ­ence in the long term.

The next thing is be­ing open-minded. You won’t have all the skills you need. No­body does, when they first found a char­ity. You have to be able to up­date based on the world chang­ing, based on test­ing out one thing and it not work­ing, based on ad­vice from peo­ple in the field, peo­ple who have worked in spe­cific ar­eas that you don’t have knowl­edge in. You have to be ready to amalga­mate all these differ­ent views, and come up with a co­her­ent an­swer, and up­date as new data comes in.

Similarly, it’s im­por­tant not to be afraid to make mis­takes. You will make mis­takes. Every char­ity en­trepreneur does, and will. Be­ing able to ad­mit these mis­takes trans­par­ently, learn from these mis­takes, and up­date them can be the differ­ence be­tween your char­ity even­tu­ally suc­ceed­ing, and you con­tin­u­ing to make the same mis­takes again and again.

Next, self-mo­ti­vated. This might be the most im­por­tant crite­rion. You re­ally have no boss, no per­son whip­ping you at the end of the day to get the work done. You have to re­ally care about your char­ity and be able to put in the hours, to be able to work your­self through the pro­ject. One of the eas­iest kind of lit­mus tests I have for char­ity en­trepreneur­ship fit is, can you get your­self through a self-di­rected pro­ject? Can you com­plete an on­line course with­out any­one need­ing you to? Can you start some­thing where only you’re re­spon­si­ble if it suc­ceeds or fails? That sort of thing is re­ally challeng­ing for a lot of peo­ple, and it’s re­ally, re­ally challeng­ing to do a char­ity like this. You will have your co-founder, you will have your men­tors, you will even have fun­ders you have to re­port to, but not at the same level of reg­u­lar­ity that any other job will make you. You have to be self-mo­ti­vated.

Creativity also helps. There will be a blank slate. You won’t nec­es­sar­ily know what the next steps are, and you have to come up with ideas. How to test one thing, how to test an­other thing. If you come up with five ideas, five ways to test a given con­cept, that’s the limit of how good you can get: the best of five. If you come up with 30 ideas, you can test them all, you can eval­u­ate them all, and come to the best of 30. That makes a huge differ­ence for your char­ity’s im­pact.

Next, do­ing it for the right rea­sons. This is a bit differ­ent than be­ing am­bi­tiously al­tru­is­tic. You re­ally, re­ally have to be fo­cused on do­ing good for the world. If your goals are differ­ent, if your goals are di­ver­gent and you want to cre­ate a char­ity to look good, or to im­press a part­ner, or some­thing like that, your char­ity won’t end up be­ing high im­pact. You re­ally have to be laser fo­cused on that, do­ing it for the right rea­sons, with an al­tru­is­tic men­tal­ity.

1700 Joey Savoie (14)

There are some other things it helps to have. It’s nice to be highly com­pe­tent, what­ever that means. Kind of gen­eral abil­ity, con­scien­tious­ness, IQ, that sort of thing. The EA com­mu­nity is a huge as­set, a bunch of skil­lsets that you can tap to, a bunch of peo­ple who re­ally want to help you start a char­ity. So­cial skills or re­search skills, it’s re­ally great to have one of those. Your co-founder can bal­ance you out and have the other one. And ex­pe­rience work­ing in a small or­ga­ni­za­tion char­ity can give you a sense of what it looks like from the in­side. You tend to think that ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion is perfect, and when you get on the in­side, you tend to see how held to­gether with glue and tape it re­ally is.

What’s less im­por­tant than peo­ple gen­er­ally think? Well, one is a de­gree. A lot of peo­ple think that if they want to start a global health char­ity that’s fan­tas­tic, they need to get a global health PhD. Un­for­tu­nately, those pro­grams end up be­ing too un­spe­cific a lot of the time. For my char­ity, SMS Vac­cine Re­minders, you might have only read a page or para­graph in a global health pro­gram about this sort of in­ter­ven­tion. It’s just very, very spe­cific, not to men­tion the coun­try con­text. What you need to be able to do is be­come an ex­pert, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily through a de­gree; it’s through read­ing the stud­ies, read­ing the re­search, get­ting very, very ex­per­tised in the very nar­row do­main that you want to start a char­ity in. You want to be able to talk to ex­perts and en­gage with them at the high­est pos­si­ble level, but you won’t get there from do­ing a PhD pro­gram. You’ll have to do the in­de­pen­dent learn­ing on top of that, in ei­ther case.

Also, tar­geted ex­pe­rience. At a health non­profit, you might be able to pick up some good habits, but of­ten your role will be very spe­cific. If you’re work­ing for a large, even a well run health or­ga­ni­za­tion, of­ten you’ll be run­ning one very small com­po­nent of it, whether that’s a comms job or a re­search role. That will give you some skills in that area, but as a char­ity en­trepreneur, you re­ally will need to learn a lit­tle bit of how to do ev­ery­thing. Some peo­ple might come into char­ity en­trepreneur­ship with five out of 100 skills that they need, and other peo­ple might come in with nine out of 100 skills that they need. Either way, you still need to be able to de­velop 91 skills. A lot of it comes down to be­ing able to learn things on the fly, try things out, pivot and up­date based off ev­i­dence, talk to men­tors and uti­lize their skills. That sort of thing is go­ing to be far more im­por­tant than com­ing in with a few ex­tra skills.

1700 Joey Savoie (15)

Next thing is, con­nec­tions in the field. Con­nec­tions in the field are su­per im­por­tant, and you do need them to have a suc­cess­ful char­ity. But you’d be amazed how will­ing these peo­ple are to talk to you. If you come in in­formed and keen, and with some ex­per­tise or some fund­ing, a lot of these or­ga­ni­za­tions are ex­tremely ex­cited to talk to a young or ex­pe­rienced per­son who’s get­ting in­volved. They want to see other char­i­ties. They care about this stuff a lot. And they’re not get­ting a thou­sand emails a day, if they’re run­ning some small pro­gram out of In­dia.

In gen­eral, it’s a very, very easy to build the net­work, and that is how you build the net­work, by work­ing in the field. It’s helpful to reach out these peo­ple and have a quick Skype with them, tell them what you’re do­ing, tell them what you’re con­sid­er­ing, ask them for ad­vice. Every­one’s been very happy to help when we’ve done this on mul­ti­ple differ­ent pro­jects, across mul­ti­ple differ­ent cause ar­eas. The one ex­cep­tion to this is gov­ern­ment con­nec­tions. It’s hard to build gov­ern­ment con­nec­tions; they’re not will­ing to talk to you. If you’re do­ing a job where you need gov­ern­ment con­nec­tions, hire some­one who has the gov­ern­ment con­nec­tions. That’s the ad­vice there.

1700 Joey Savoie (16)

So, a lit­tle bit about fur­ther test­ing. The best way to test if you’re a great fit for char­ity en­trepreneur­ship in the way I’m talk­ing about it, might be ap­ply­ing for our in­cu­ba­tion pro­gram. I’ll talk a lit­tle bit more about what that offers and why you might con­sider it, but we do have a pro­cess that we’ve used be­fore, on en­trepreneurs, that has been fairly suc­cess­ful at se­lect­ing the kind of peo­ple who might start a GiveWell in­cu­bated char­ity.

We have a quiz on our web­site. It’s a lot less in­ten­sive than do­ing the full in­cu­ba­tion pro­gram pro­cess. It’s pretty quick, about three min­utes, and it will give you a sense from a per­sonal per­spec­tive if you might be a de­cent fit or not for char­ity en­trepreneur­ship.

Fi­nally, gen­er­ally on our web­site we’re try­ing to put out as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble. So peo­ple can self-se­lect, peo­ple can con­sider whether they’re go­ing to be a good fit for char­ity en­trepreneur­ship or not. Our mail list, we send out of all of our rele­vant re­search as well as like, helpful things like Face­book group links, to ways that you can ask peo­ple ques­tions, and all that sort of thing. So that also can help to give you a sense slowly of whether this might be a good fit as a ca­reer path or a bad fit.

In gen­eral, though, don’t be too dis­cour­aged. A lot of the strongest char­ity en­trepreneurs I’ve talked to are scared, they’re ner­vous, they’re not the archetype of a gung ho, con­fi­dent en­trepreneur. Some of them are cau­tious. Some of them are de­tail-ori­ented, some of them are not gre­gar­i­ous. Don’t let su­perfi­cial en­trepreneur­ship as­so­ci­ated traits fool you. In­stead, try to get as good as sense as you can from ex­ter­nal peo­ple who have looked at it be­fore, or by talk­ing about it, or by read­ing the con­tent from peo­ple who have started suc­cess­ful char­i­ties.

1700 Joey Savoie (17)

I want to talk a lit­tle bit about how Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship as an or­ga­ni­za­tion is aiming to help char­ity founders. The first thing is, com­ing up with a re­ally fan­tas­tic idea to run a char­ity on is hard, es­pe­cially if you’re try­ing to be­come a top GiveWell char­ity or top An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors char­ity. That’s not an easy bar to beat. Thank­fully, we’ve been able to do a lot of re­search to nar­row down the space a lit­tle bit into some ideas that are ex­tremely promis­ing. This is a spread­sheet we did on differ­ent global health ideas, nar­row­ing down to what ideas might fea­si­bly be com­pet­i­tive with the top GiveWell char­i­ties. They might be ev­i­dence based, and they might be cost effec­tive enough to do a re­ally good thing.

1700 Joey Savoie (18)

Here are a few of them in par­tic­u­lar. Tobacco tax­a­tion looks fan­tas­ti­cally cost effec­tive if you can get the right coun­try. Con­di­tional cash trans­fers have a case for very strong im­pact, and are be­ing done al­most nowhere by NGOs. This year, we’re go­ing to be fo­cus­ing on an­i­mal in­ter­ven­tions, and re­search­ing that, and look­ing for the high­est pos­si­ble im­pact in­ter­ven­tions that one could start in the field. We’re do­ing re­search a bit differ­ent than say, GiveWell, or An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors. We’re look­ing for gaps, ar­eas that could be re­ally promis­ing, could be re­ally effec­tive, but don’t have any­one work­ing in them nec­es­sar­ily.

Malaria is a fan­tas­tic place to work, but AMF is do­ing a re­ally good job, I wouldn’t want some­one to start an­other bed net char­ity. But there are ar­eas that are both fan­tas­ti­cally high im­pact and ne­glected, as in no one’s work­ing in the kind of way that we as effec­tive al­tru­ists, or we as peo­ple who want help the world, would like to see it done.

1700 Joey Savoie (19)

So the in­cu­ba­tion pro­gram that we’re run­ning is tak­ing place from June 15th to Au­gust 15th, and we’ll be hop­ing to run it ev­ery year. We re­ally want to make the pro­cess of found­ing a char­ity as easy as pos­si­ble. So we’re giv­ing struc­tured sup­port that slowly with­draws, un­til peo­ple are fully in­de­pen­dent and stand­ing on their own two feet. The first month will be some­thing akin to a uni­ver­sity class. There’ll be ac­tivi­ties, there’ll be pairing with differ­ent co-founders to test out your abil­ities in differ­ent ways, there’ll be ex­plicit teach­ing about cost effec­tive­ness, or fundrais­ing plans, all the hard skills that you might need to run a re­ally good char­ity.

The sec­ond month, you’ll be paired with co-founders on an idea and start work­ing on a pro­ject, but with a lot of sup­port from teams of peo­ple who have already suc­cess­fully founded char­i­ties. Fi­nally, over the next six months, you’ll be given a seed grant, to fi­nan­cially sup­port your­self so that you can re­ally be­come a true do­main ex­pert be­fore seek­ing ex­ter­nal fund­ing. Seed grants are about $50,000, de­pend­ing on how many char­i­ties ap­ply.

This struc­ture al­lows some­one who maybe doesn’t have a ton of ex­pe­rience in work­ing for NGOs, or non­prof­its, but is able to build the ex­pe­rience as they go and get re­ally com­pe­tent and ca­pa­ble, to start a high im­pact char­ity.

We re­ally don’t want it to just end af­ter the seed grant ends, we want to con­tinue to sup­port char­i­ties as long as they need it. We’re try­ing to build a com­mu­nity such that peo­ple can con­tinue to stay con­nected, whether that’s over Skype or Face­book, or a co-work­ing office that we’re go­ing to have. We want to have joint office space so that peo­ple can feel like they’re work­ing with a team in­stead of work­ing alone or with their co-founder. The seed grants I already men­tioned. We’ll also con­nect peo­ple with long-term fun­ders. We don’t want to see these char­i­ties just run for six months, and then flounder. Most of the con­nec­tions will be peo­ple who are very keen on found­ing new char­i­ties, and on­go­ing men­tor­ship.

So I still con­tinue to Skype with the pro­jects that we’ve helped, and help them with the most difficult is­sues, so they can have an ex­ter­nal set of eyes for as long as they need it.

1700 Joey Savoie (20)

This is a quote from For­tify Health, and I think it’s a re­ally im­por­tant one, be­cause it shows that not ev­ery­one knows that they’re go­ing to be a perfect fit for this. Some peo­ple think it might be too hard or im­pos­si­ble, but a lot of peo­ple can do it. You can rely on the pro­cess to figure out if you’re a fan­tas­tic fit.

1700 Joey Savoie (21)

Just to re­it­er­ate on the goal, there are fan­tas­tic char­i­ties in the world, but there aren’t not enough of them. We need more re­ally, re­ally good char­i­ties, more Hu­mane Leagues, more Against Malaria Foun­da­tions. Char­i­ties that make a mas­sive differ­ence at cost effec­tive­ness far greater than a stan­dard char­ity. There’s still gaps, and room to do it. The main thing miss­ing is en­trepreneurs, peo­ple who will be able to step for­ward and take on this risk, and po­ten­tially start in­cred­ibly suc­cess­ful char­i­ties.


Ques­tion: Ear­lier, one of our speak­ers, Dr. Glen­ner­ster, said that she re­ally ad­vises young peo­ple to make sure that they spend some time in an effec­tive or­ga­ni­za­tion so they know what an effec­tive or­ga­ni­za­tion looks like. What do you think about that?

Joey: Yeah, it helps a lot. When peo­ple ask me what they should do if they’re still work­ing on their de­gree or are look­ing for in­tern­ships, I always say, pri­ori­tize how good the or­ga­ni­za­tion is. It doesn’t have to nec­es­sar­ily be in a tightly re­lated area, but if you work for a char­ity like AMF, or pick up some of their man­age­ment prac­tices, that’s go­ing to be one of the best things you can do to set your­self up to run a char­ity re­ally well.

Ques­tion: It seems like the char­ity space has a pro­lifer­a­tion prob­lem, where there are lots of small char­i­ties, of­ten nip­ping at differ­ent cor­ners of the same big­ger prob­lems. What’s your take on that, and how do you think about peo­ple join­ing ver­sus start­ing char­i­ties given that re­al­ity?

Joey: So, we’re pretty pro start­ing ver­sus join­ing. Join­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, whether they’re small or big, it’s in­cred­ibly hard to change them in an effec­tive di­rec­tion. You can ask a lot of peo­ple who have worked with these or­ga­ni­za­tions to get a sense of that. There are lots of char­i­ties, but most of them are in­cred­ibly small. You’ll see a statis­tic like there’s a mil­lion char­i­ties, but al­most all of them have an op­er­at­ing bud­get of un­der $50,000 or some­thing like that. So it’s not like they’re tak­ing out huge chunks of global prob­lems. What you re­ally have to look at is the scale of the re­main­ing prob­lem, and whether you can start a char­ity that starts to cover some of that prob­lem.

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