Let’s Fund: annual review /​ fundraising /​ hiring /​ AMA

Ex­ec­u­tive Summary

Let’s Fund has crowd­funded over $300,000 in to­tal for the high-risk, high-lev­er­age pro­jects of our grantees:

  • More than $225,000 was raised for ITIF, a D.C.-based think tank to sup­port Pro­fes­sor David Hart’s work on cli­mate policy

  • More than $75,000 was raised for Cardiff Univer­sity to sup­port Pro­fes­sor Chris Cham­bers’ work on meta-sci­ence.

We have also pub­lished sev­eral tens of thou­sands of words of high-qual­ity re­search and anal­y­sis. For in­stance, our cli­mate policy re­search cov­er­age by Vox went viral, was retweeted by Bill Gates and many other policy wonks, and fea­tured in the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Physics newslet­ter.

We have done this on a $40,000 bud­get, sug­gest­ing a net pre­sent value of roughly $238,000.

In 2020, we’re seek­ing $100,000 to cover the cost of our op­er­a­tions and grow this pro­ject. Our stretch /​ ag­gres­sive growth goal is $200,000.

If you want to sup­port Let’s Fund’s op­er­a­tions and make a medium-sized dona­tion, then the best thing for us would be to donate via our Stripe page—un­for­tu­nately these dona­tions are not tax de­ductible. If you would like to make a slightly larger tax-de­ductible dona­tion, please get in touch. If you want to donate less than $100, then the best thing would be to sup­port our cam­paigns.

Ask us any­thing in the com­ments (but note that we’re on holi­day from the 4th till the 9th of Jan­uary and so there will be a de­lay in re­spond­ing).

Edit 1/​1/​2020: We’ve up­dated some of the figures to in­clude end-of-the-year dona­tions and cor­rected a small er­ror in the notes column of the spread­sheet (the to­tal money raised did not come from just two donors).

What does Let’s Fund do?

Lets-Fund.org re­searches policy solu­tions to im­por­tant prob­lems and crowd­funds for the most effec­tive ones.

We’re a “think-and-do tank”:

  1. We con­duct in-depth re­search to make peo­ple en­gage (deeply) with im­por­tant prob­lems and the effec­tive­ness of differ­ent solu­tions (e.g. repli­ca­tion crisis, cli­mate change, im­pact in­vest­ing, and global catas­trophic risks).

  2. Then, we en­courage peo­ple to ac­tu­ally do some­thing, e.g. by donat­ing or mak­ing a grant to rigor­ously vet­ted, high-risk, high-re­ward char­i­ta­ble pro­jects via crowd­fund­ing cam­paigns.

2019: Big pic­ture ac­tivi­ties and achievements

In early 2019, we first got fund­ing for Let’s Fund and Hauke, the CEO and re­search lead, started full-time work on this pro­ject. In mid-2019, Sahil con­tracted for Let’s Fund part-time for a few months to work on busi­ness op­er­a­tions and has since vol­un­teered. Henry vol­un­teered part-time for the pro­ject. Over­all, roughly one year of full-time equiv­a­lent (FTE) has been spent on the pro­ject, since our launch 14 months ago.[1] Our CVs are at Lets-Fund.org/​About.

Note that some of the money has been firmly com­mit­ted but has not moved to the char­i­ties yet (how­ever, there are a few softer com­mit­ments that have not been in­cluded).

  1. Bet­ter Science cam­paign: For our first crowd­fund­ing cam­paign, we’ve raised ~$77k for an aca­demic to change how re­searchers across sci­en­tific dis­ci­plines do re­search. In our grant re­port (Lets-Fund.org/​Bet­ter-Science), we also dis­cussed differ­en­tial tech­nolog­i­cal de­vel­op­ment[2] and the Long-Term Fu­ture Fund en­dorsed this pro­ject with a grant. Our grantee has already hired as­sis­tants to push his ad­vo­cacy for­ward and now im­ple­mented the Registered Re­ports for­mat at +200 jour­nals (in­clud­ing EA-rele­vant ar­eas such as de­vel­op­ment eco­nomics[3] and Global Catas­trophic Biolog­i­cal Risks[4]).

  2. Cli­mate policy cam­paign: We’ve raised ~$225k for a think tank to work on cli­mate policy. Our re­search (Lets-Fund.org/​Clean-En­ergy) was cov­ered on Vox,[5] which 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”[6] and it fea­tured on the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Physics newslet­ter. The ar­ti­cle also men­tioned and pos­i­tively re­flected on EA (un­con­tro­ver­sial, high-qual­ity anal­y­sis on a main­stream topic).

  3. Fundrais­ing ra­tio: In to­tal, we have raised around ~$300k. We’ve spent ~$40k ($10k from the EA Meta Fund grant and ~$30k from pri­vate EA donors). This sug­gests a fundrais­ing ra­tio of ~8x and the net value is ~$265k (net pre­sent value @ 5%: ~$238k). (more be­low).

  4. Im­pact In­vest­ing: Our re­port on im­pact in­vest­ing (Lets-Fund.org/​Im­pact-In­vest­ing), was cov­ered on Vox and was well re­ceived. For in­stance, a philan­thropic ad­vi­sor we know re­cently 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. We have heard that re­lated work on the Mis­sion Hedg­ing in­vest­ment strat­egy, which we pop­u­larized within the EA com­mu­nity, has been of in­ter­est to foun­da­tions in the EA space.

  5. Other re­search:

  6. Global de­vel­op­ment in­ter­ven­tions are gen­er­ally more effec­tive than Cli­mate change in­ter­ven­tions” (cited by 7 [Ping­backs on the EA fo­rum]).

  7. “Global Catas­trophic Risks from Cor­po­ra­tions

  8. “Eco­nomic growth and the case against ev­i­dence-based de­vel­op­ment” with John Halstead (Forth­com­ing)

Mis­sion: Short-term metrics

  1. Money raised. Ul­ti­mately, we want to op­ti­mize for and mea­sure coun­ter­fac­tual, qual­ity-ad­justed money moved. In other words, how good are the pro­jects we crowd­fund for com­pared to OPP/​EA funds grants (e.g. 75% as good)? Where would dona­tions go coun­ter­fac­tu­ally (i.e. are we reach­ing donors that would oth­er­wise not give effec­tively)? In­stead of merely be­ing a think tank, crowd­fund­ing keeps our work fo­cused, ap­plied, and grounded.

  2. Re­search qual­ity. How good is our re­search and how much do peo­ple en­gage with it? Met­rics: time spent on site, feed­back from (EA) re­searchers. Also: though small donors might not donate much, their dona­tions, a re­vealed prefer­ence, are a met­ric for “high-fidelity EA meme spread­ing” (“part­ing with hard-earned cash”, is a good proxy for deep en­gage­ment with our ideas).

Vi­sion: Long-term goals

  1. We want to nor­mal­ize donat­ing to high-risk, high-lev­er­age, long-ter­mist EA sci­ence and policy over more tra­di­tional char­ity. We also want to in­crease di­ver­sity of thought, dis­cus­sion, and more ac­tive en­gage­ment around which pro­jects are most effec­tive.

  2. We want to be a philan­thropy and pri­ori­ti­za­tion think tank that af­fects philan­thropic fund­ing and think­ing about pri­ori­ti­za­tion gen­er­ally. Long-term, we want to work with HNWs to op­ti­mize their giv­ing. We’ve re­cently started reach­ing out and pitch­ing our grantees to HNWs and foun­da­tions.

2019 Bud­gets and fundraising

Google Spread­sheet from above can be found here.

The big pic­ture is that we have raised more than $300k on a $40k bud­get.

This sug­gests a fundrais­ing ra­tio (or benefit-cost ra­tio) of

8

And a net pre­sent value (dis­counted benefits minus costs) of:

~$238k

Sim­cikas lists ways in which cost-effec­tive­ness es­ti­mates can be wrong, and the es­ti­mate here is wrong in sev­eral of those and other ways. We have not quan­tified and in­cluded: the value of our vol­un­teers’ time, in­vest­ing some of our own money into the pro­ject, coun­ter­fac­tual im­pact of al­tru­is­tic em­ploy­ees, the high coun­ter­fac­tual value of money donated to our cam­paigns by EAs, and the costs of work of oth­ers (see ac­knowl­edg­ments be­low). Thus, this anal­y­sis should be taken with a grain of salt. Hav­ing said that, we be­lieve this sim­plified cost-effec­tive­ness anal­y­sis is roughly ac­cu­rate and com­pa­rable to other cost-effec­tive­ness anal­y­sis.

We ex­tend this cost-effec­tive­ness anal­y­sis to make it com­pa­rable to giv­ing money to GiveDirectly.

To do so, we make the fol­low­ing as­sump­tions:

  1. If the av­er­age effec­tive­ness of Let’s Fund’s cam­paigns is equal to the Long-Term Fu­ture fund’s effec­tive­ness, be­cause one of our cam­paigns has re­ceived a grant from the Long-term fu­ture fund, and...

  2. If the Long-term fu­ture fund is ~33x more effec­tive than giv­ing to the global de­vel­op­ment fund, as sug­gested by a sur­vey of “EA lead­ers”, and...

  3. If the Global Devel­op­ment fund is ~10x more effec­tive than GiveDirectly, be­cause it mostly pays out to Givewell recom­mended char­i­ties, which are usu­ally ~10x more effec­tive than cash.

...then the qual­ity-ad­justed GiveDirectly-equiv­a­lent net pre­sent value might be as high as $60 mil­lion. In other words, the pro­ject is roughly as good as donat­ing $60mn for GiveDirectly. This sounds grandiose and is likely wrong in many ways, but in gen­eral, we be­lieve that the coun­ter­in­tu­itive idea that rais­ing a smaller amount for (riskier) very effec­tive pro­jects over a larger amount of money for less effec­tive pro­jects is not wrong. As such, we be­lieve this re­sult is not off by more than an or­der of mag­ni­tude and that the ex­pected value Let’s Fund’s ac­tivi­ties through its grantees are at least worth on the or­der of mil­lions of dol­lars to GiveDirectly.

Of course, given the level of wealth in­equal­ity, big donors donate much more than small donors. How­ever, we feel there is ad­di­tional value in small dona­tions through crowd­fund­ing be­cause it cre­ates deep en­gage­ment with and dis­cus­sion of pri­ori­ti­za­tion.

More­over, small donors col­lec­tively donat­ing to policy re­search has more demo­cratic le­gi­t­i­macy than dona­tions by ul­tra high-net worth in­di­vi­d­u­als (c.f. some poli­ti­ci­ans not ac­cept­ing large dona­tions[7] vs some billion­aires fund­ing think tanks[8]).

We see our fundrais­ing an eas­ily mea­surable and ro­bust back­bone of our ac­tivi­ties, which keeps our re­search fo­cused on con­crete real-world im­pacts.

We be­lieve there is per­haps even more value in our re­search it­self, but it’s less quan­tifi­able. For in­stance, the ideas in the long re­search re­port for the “Bet­ter Science” cam­paign might have had an in­fluence on the Long-term Fu­ture fund, be­cause one of the fund man­agers said our re­port “played a ma­jor role in my as­sess­ment of the grant”.[9] The ideas in the long re­search re­port for the “Clean En­ergy” cam­paign might have in­fluenced cli­mate policy, be­cause the Vox sum­mary of the re­search went viral and some peo­ple in policy told us that they read the whole re­search re­port and it has in­fluenced their think­ing.

Key fo­cus for 2020

In Q1, we aim to do more re­search to start an­other crowd­fund­ing cam­paign. The ex­act topic is TBD, but it might be in eco­nomic growth in low-in­come coun­tries, re­duc­ing risks from war, AI gov­er­nance, or other GCR re­duc­tion.

If fundrais­ing is un­suc­cess­ful, we might dis­con­tinue ac­tively grow­ing Let’s Fund in April (but con­tinue run­ning it with a skele­ton crew on a vol­un­teer/​part-time ba­sis).

If fundrais­ing is suc­cess­ful, then the broad plan is to find a full-time co-founder and rent office space to pro­fes­sion­al­ize and grow the pro­ject.

  1. Do more and higher qual­ity re­search with the aim of find­ing long-ter­mist fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

  2. Raise more money for cur­rent and fu­ture pro­jects by…

  3. Set­ting up part­ner­ships with foun­da­tions, HNWs, or other fundrais­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions that reuse our re­search (such as Effec­tive Giv­ing Ger­many).

  4. Ex­per­i­ment with scal­able out­reach to small donors through con­tent mar­ket­ing or Ads (e.g. offer car­bon offset­ting through our cli­mate change cam­paign).

  5. Pro­fes­sion­al­ize op­er­a­tions (e.g. im­prove UX of web­site, set up a non-profit (we’re cur­rently run­ning Let’s Fund as the Cen­ter for Ap­plied Utili­tar­i­anism, a UK limited com­pany).

Fundrais­ing Tar­get for 2020

Staff com­pen­sa­tion: For 2020, we need $100,000 for two full-time an­nual salaries for Hauke and an­other full-time co-founder that we would try to hire.

Over­head cost: $20,000 (mostly office rent in cen­tral Lon­don)

In to­tal, this adds up to $120,000. We have already raised $20,000 from the Sur­vival and Flour­ish­ing fund. Thus, we are seek­ing and ad­di­tional $100,000.

Stretch goal: We would take up to $200,000 to have more plan­ning se­cu­rity and run­way, pay effi­ciency wages, and grow more ag­gres­sively by hiring ad­di­tional sup­port staff and spend­ing money on ad­words.

How to donate: If you want to sup­port Let’s Fund’s op­er­a­tions and make a medium-sized dona­tion, then the best thing for us would be to donate via our Stripe page—un­for­tu­nately these dona­tions are not tax de­ductible. If you would like to make a slightly larger tax-de­ductible dona­tion, please get in touch. If you want to donate less than $100, then the best thing would be to sup­port our cam­paigns.

Hiring

In­ter­ested in work­ing for Let’s Fund? Please fill in this form.

Acknowledgments

Spe­cial thanks to the fol­low­ing for helping Let’s Fund in var­i­ous ways:

  • Two anony­mous EA donors

  • The Effec­tive Altru­ism Meta-Fund & the Cen­ter for Effec­tive Altruism

  • The Sur­vival and Flour­ish­ing Fund

  • Ja­cob Hilton

  • Founders Pledge

  • Peo­ple who have re­viewed our research

  • Effek­tiv-Spen­den.org

  • Re­think Char­ity: Forward

  • Effec­tive Altru­ism Foundation

  • Slate Star Codex

  • Founders Pledge

  • EA Giv­ing Tuesday

  • Vox

  • Every­one who has donated to our crowd­fund­ing campaigns

[1] “An­nounc­ing: “Lets-Fund.org: High-Im­pact Crowd­fund­ing cam­paigns ….” 25 Oct. 2018, https://​​fo­rum.effec­tivealtru­ism.org/​​posts/​​SPc9CXaLdEJGiDZy5/​​an­nounc­ing-lets-fund-org-high-im­pact-crowd­fund­ing-cam­paigns. Ac­cessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[2] “Differ­en­tial progress—Effec­tive Altru­ism Con­cepts.” https://​​con­cepts.effec­tivealtru­ism.org/​​con­cepts/​​differ­en­tial-progress/​​. Ac­cessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[3] “Registered Re­ports: Pilot­ing a Pre-Re­sults Re­view Pro­cess at ….” 9 Mar. 2018, https://​​blogs.wor­ld­bank.org/​​im­pacte­val­u­a­tions/​​reg­istered-re­ports-pi­lot­ing-pre-re­sults-re­view-pro­cess-jour­nal-de­vel­op­ment-eco­nomics. Ac­cessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[4] “Open­ing In­fluenza Re­search—The Cen­ter for Open Science.” https://​​cos.io/​​our-ser­vices/​​re­search/​​flu­lab/​​. Ac­cessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[5] “The cli­mate change policy with the most po­ten­tial is the … - Vox.” 20 Sep. 2019, https://​​www.vox.com/​​en­ergy-and-en­vi­ron­ment/​​2019/​​7/​​11/​​20688611/​​cli­mate-change-re­search-de­vel­op­ment-in­no­va­tion. Ac­cessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[6] “Bill Gates on Twit­ter: “If you read one ar­ti­cle about cli­mate ….” 26 Jul. 2019, https://​​twit­ter.com/​​bill­gates/​​sta­tus/​​1154787966256058368. Ac­cessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[7] https://​​www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/​​poli­tics/​​2019/​​09/​​30/​​are-sanders-war­ren-grass­roots-funded/​​. Ac­cessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[8] “Billion­aires Chan­nel Millions to Think Tanks—Forbes.” 4 Feb. 2012, https://​​www.forbes.com/​​sites/​​lau­rieben­nett/​​2012/​​02/​​04/​​billion­aires-chan­nel-mil­lions-to-think-tanks/​​. Ac­cessed 31 Dec. 2019.

[9] “Pay­out Re­port: Long-Term Fu­ture Fund—Effec­tive Altru­ism ….” 30 Aug. 2019, https://​​app.effec­tivealtru­ism.org/​​funds/​​far-fu­ture/​​pay­outs/​​4UBI3Q0TBGbWcIZWCh4EQV. Ac­cessed 31 Dec. 2019.