Let’s Fund Living review: 2020 update
Let’s Fund does research into pressing problems, like climate change, and then crowdfunds for particularly effective policy solutions. Here, we give an update on our impact. This “Living review” features also content from our 2019 annual review.
Our key achievements in 2020:
We crowdfunded ~$580k for climate policy.
We published some research on growth which was well received.
We also started research for a think tank project, which we will focus on going forward.
Our Crowdfunding Impact
In total, we have now crowdfunded ~$880k:
~$800k was raised for Professor David Hart’s Clean Energy Innovation program at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a D.C.-based think tank. This was to support work on climate policy, in particular on coordinating increases in government spending on clean energy R&D. Several of ITIF’s reports were cited by a US House Select Committee’s report, which has influenced Biden’s “surprisingly ambitious” climate plan. ITIF has also recently hired someone to work on EU climate policy in Brussels and is currently hiring for a senior policy analyst (more below).
~$80k was raised to support Professor Chris Chambers to advocate for “Registered Reports” which would change the way research is done across scientific disciplines. More journals have adapted the format recently including Nature Communications . Chambers has also started the “Rapid Registered Reports for Covid-19” initiative (more below).
We did this on a ~$80k budget, suggesting a net value of $800k and a fundraising ratio of ~6x. In other words, for every dollar we spend on Let’s Fund, we’ve crowdfunded around 6 dollar. In 2019, we had raised only ~$300k. In 2020, we raised ~$580k. Note that of the total $880k moved, we have only tracked ~$660k, and the $220k was reported to us by ITIF, which has directly attributed these donations to the Let’s Fund campaign. We expand on the cost-effectiveness of our crowdfunding impact below.
Our Research Impact
Global priorities research: In 2020, Hauke (together with John Halstead) published “Growth and the case against randomista development”. This was well received on the Forum and also featured on Tyler Cowen’s blog. In the past, we’ve also published “Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions”, which has recently inspired some follow up research by a climate physicist at Imperial College London.
Climate change: In the past, our research report on this topic (see Lets-Fund.org/Clean-Energy) was covered on Vox, went viral with +10k positive engagements on social media from politicians, academics, policy wonks, and billionaires. For instance, Bill Gates tweeted “If you read one article this week about climate change, check out this one” and it featured on the American Institute of Physics newsletter. Some influencers with 1 million followers are paid $100k per post, suggesting the value Gates’ tweet to his 50 million followers could be in the millions. This might have influenced climate policy and policy-makers told us the report has influenced their thinking. In 2020, Let’s Fund climate policy research was also mentioned in the New York Times.
Impact Investing: Our report on impact investing “Donating effectively is usually better than Impact Investing” (Lets-Fund.org/Impact-Investing), was covered on Vox and was well received. A philanthropic advisor we know advised a client who wanted to impact invest $1.3m, but after introducing him to some conclusions of our report, he decided on the spot to put $650k into (classical) “investing to give” and $650k into immediate effective giving.
This work was also cited by the Open Philanthropy Project. Related work on the Mission Hedging investment strategy has been of interest to foundations and other grantees of EA funds. In 2020, Hauke gave a TV interview on this work.
Philanthropy: Our research might also influence philanthropic funding more widely; one of the Long-term Future fund managers wrote that our report “played a major role in [their] assessment of the grant” they made to our Better Science project. Another example: the Boston Foundation Research Team has recommended a grant of $60,000 to our climate policy campaign (the foundation has made $130 million in grants last in 2018).
Our strategy for 2021
In 2021, we will continue crowdfunding, but focus more on research to move more into the direction of becoming a think tank. If you want to fund us or would like to work with us, please get in touch.
Update on our grantees
Professor David Hart’s Clean Energy Innovation Program at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)
Roughly $800,000 was raised for Professor David Hart’s Clean Energy Innovation program at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a D.C.-based think tank. The Global Go To Think Tank Index has ranked ITIF 1st in their “Science and Technology think tanks“ category in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The funds are supporting their climate policy program, in particular on coordinating increases in government spending on clean energy R&D.
Donations help the program to e.g. hire more staff and create more typical think tank outputs such as books, reports, policy briefs, blogs, conferences, workshops, commentaries, formal briefings and informal discussions with policy-makers, government officials, and key stakeholders. For instance, in part due to Let’s Fund donations, ITIF has also recently hired someone to work on EU climate policy in Brussels. We think the main mechanism of their impact will be high-quality, unbiased policy research on the effectiveness of higher and smarter spending on clean energy R&D.
One recent output is an index ranking countries by their energy R&D spending—which might create a race to the top. Several of ITIF’s reports were cited by a US House Select Committee’s report, which has influenced Biden’s “surprisingly ambitious” climate plan. We estimate that this sort of policy research could result in millions more being spent on clean energy R&D. Hart, together with senior policy analyst Colin Cunliff, and senior fellow Varun Sivaram, in collaboration with researchers at Columbia University have recently published a book “Energizing America—A Roadmap to Launch a National Energy Innovation Mission” in 2020. Sivaram has recently joined the Biden administration as a senior adviser to Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry.
You can read our full report at Lets-Fund.org/Clean-Energy
Professor Chris Chambers’ Registered Reports advocacy at Cardiff University
Roughly $80,000 was raised to support Professor Chris Chambers’ to advocate for “Registered Reports” which improves the way research is done across all hypothesis-driven science. More than 200 journals have now adapted this publication format including Nature Communications (e.g. for epidemiology papers) and PLoS ONE, the second largest scientific journal and by one measure the most important scientific journal. Some of this was likely due to our grantees advocacy.
There are also signs of adoption of the Registered Reports format in high-impact areas such as development economics, health economics,, climate change, and catastrophic biological risks. Chambers has also started the “Rapid Registered Reports for Covid-19” initiative. For instance, one Registered Report  looks at whether core warming can be good for COVID-19 patients undergoing mechanical ventilation. (See here for a full list of Registered Reports published so far). In our extensive write-up at Lets-Fund.org/Better-Science we also evaluate this grant on differential technological development grounds. As a result, the Effective Altruism Long-term Future Fund endorsed this project with a grant.
Recently, Chambers said that “some of the most useful and flexible funding I’ve received has been donated by hundreds of generous members of public (& small orgs) via our Lets-Fund.Org supported [crowdfunding campaign]”.
Cost-effectiveness analysis of Crowdfunding
We have crowdfunded/raised about $880k for our grantees so far, and received roughly ~$150k in funding from the EA community (all grants are listed in this spreadsheet). This suggests a net value of ~$730k ($880k in funds raised minus $150k in funds received). If one discounts the net value by 5% for 1 year, we get the net present value, which is ~$650k. Our fundraising ratio is 6. In other words, for every dollar we spend on Let’s Fund, we’ve crowdfunded around 6 dollar.
We have done a cost-effectiveness analysis to compare how effective giving to GiveDirectly would be (the spreadsheet can be found here). With some highly uncertain assumptions, which might very well be off, Let’s Fund (via its grantees) is perhaps as effective as giving many millions to GiveDirectly (a popular “philanthropic benchmark”).
However, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt: cost-effectiveness estimates such as these can sometimes be misleading. For instance, our estimate here is simplified because we have not quantified and included:
the value of our volunteers’ time and the money we ourselves invested into the project
the counterfactual impact of altruistic employees
the counterfactual value of money donated to our campaigns by people in the effective altruism community who would have donated very effectively anyway
the costs of pro bono work of others (see acknowledgments above).
Having said that, we believe this estimate could very well be roughly correct, especially when comparing it to other cost-effectiveness analyses. Though counterintuitive, raising a smaller amount for (riskier) very effective projects can be more effective than raising a larger amount of money for less effective projects.
We would like to thank the following organizations and people for helping Let’s Fund in various ways: Two anonymous EA donors, The Effective Altruism Infrastructure-Fund, the Center for Effective Altruism, The Survival and Flourishing Fund, Jacob Hilton, Founders Pledge, Effektiv-Spenden.org, Rethink Charity: Forward, the Effective Altruism Foundation, Slate Star Codex, EA Giving Tuesday, Vox.com, Legacies Now, and everyone who has reviewed our research and donated to our crowdfunding campaigns.