EA Funds organisational update: Open Philanthropy matching and distancing

We want to communicate some changes that are happening at EA Funds, particularly on the EA Infrastructure Fund and the Long-Term Future Fund.

In summary:

  • EA Funds (particularly the EAIF and LTFF) and Open Philanthropy have historically had overlapping staff, and Open Phil has supported EA Funds, but we (staff at EA Funds and Open Philanthropy) are now trying to increase the separation between EA Funds and Open Philanthropy. In particular:

    • The current chairs of the LTFF and the EAIF, who have also joined as staff members at Open Philanthropy, are planning to step down from their respective chair positions over the next several months. Max Daniel is going to step down as the EAIF’s chair on August 2nd, and Asya Bergal is planning to step down as the LTFF’s chair in October.

    • To help transition EA Funds away from reliance on Open Philanthropy’s financial support, Open Philanthropy is planning to match donations to the EA Infrastructure and Long-Term Future Fund at 2:1 rates, up to $3.5M each, over the next six months.

  • The EAIF and LTFF have substantial funding gaps—we are looking to raise an additional $3.84M for the LTFF and $3.6M for the EAIF. over the next six months. By default, I expect, the LTFF to have ~$720k, and the EAIF to have ~$400k by default.

Our relationship with Open Philanthropy

EA Funds started in 2017 and was largely developed during CEA’s time at Y Combinator. It spun out of CEA in 2020, though both CEA and EA Funds are part of the Effective Ventures Foundation. Last year, EA Funds moved over $35M towards high-impact projects through the Animal Welfare Fund (AWF), EA Infrastructure Fund (EAIF), Global Health and Development Fund (GHDF), and Long-Term Future Fund (LTFF).

Over the last two years, the EAIF and LTFF used some overlapping resources with Open Philanthropy in the following ways:

  • Over the last year, Open Philanthropy has contributed a substantial proportion of EAIF and LTFF budgets and has covered our entire operations budget.[1] They also made a sizable grant in February 2022. (You can see more detail on Open Philanthropy’s website.)

  • The chairs of the EAIF and LTFF both joined the Longtermist EA Community Growth team at Open Philanthropy and have worked in positions at EA Funds and Open Philanthropy simultaneously. (Asya Bergal joined the LTFF in June 2020, has been chair since February 2021, and joined Open Philanthropy in April 2021; Max Daniel joined the EAIF in March 2021, has been chair since mid-2021, and joined Open Philanthropy in November 2022.)

  • As a board member of the Effective Ventures Foundation (UK), Claire Zabel, who is also the Senior Program Officer for EA Community Growth (Longtermism) at Open Philanthropy and supervises both Asya and Max, has regularly met with me throughout my tenure at EA Funds to hear updates on EA Funds and offer advice on various topics related to EA Funds (both day-to-day issues and higher-level organisation strategy).

That said, I think it is worth noting that:

  • The majority of funding for the LTFF has come from non-Open Philanthropy sources.

  • Open Philanthropy as an organisation has limited visibility into our activities, though certain Open Philanthropy employees, particularly Max Daniel and Asya Bergal, have a lot of visibility into certain parts of EA Funds.

  • Our grants supporting our operations and LTFF/​EAIF grantmaking funds have had minimal restrictions.

Since the shutdown of the FTX Future Fund, Open Phil and I have both felt more excited about building a grantmaking organisation that is legibly independent from Open Phil. Earlier this year, Open Phil staff reached out to me proposing some steps to make this happen, and have worked with me closely on the changes listed below.

We think this could help to:

  • Increase the diversity of perspectives in the funding ecosystem.

  • Decrease the reliance of small to medium-sized projects on a single funder.

  • Increase people’s willingness to disagree with Open Philanthropy.[2]

  • Make EA Funds internally feel less beholden to Open Phil.

    • I have had several conversations with fund managers who believed that we should be weighing Open Phil’s views more heavily in funding decisions than I or the Open Philanthropy grantmaker evaluating EA Funds believed was necessary.

  • Allow EA Funds to pursue activities that Open Philanthropy thinks are less promising than our current work, but we believe to be highly promising.

  • Decrease the risk of EA Funds’ actions negatively affecting Open Philanthropy or vice-versa.

Over the next few months, we and Open Philanthropy are making the following changes to make EA Funds a more legibly independent funder.

  • The LTFF and EAIF chairs will step down from their current roles, and we are unlikely to allow people to simultaneously chair a fund at EA Funds and work at Open Philanthropy.[3]

  • Instead of giving us a fixed grant, Open Philanthropy has decided to match donations at a 2:1 rate ($2 from Open Philanthropy for every $1 donated to the EAIF and LTFF) for the next six months, for up to $3.5M in Open Phil support per fund. You can find more information on the donation match in the appendix “Open Philanthropy donation matching”.

  • Instead of meeting with Claire Zabel, I will meet with another member of the Effective Ventures Board who doesn’t work at Open Philanthropy.

Overall, I believe the upcoming changes will be beneficial, but there are some drawbacks. In particular:

  • EA Funds will need to spend a much larger proportion of its time fundraising.[4]

  • I think it’s likely that the EAIF and LTFF will have substantial funding gaps, meaning we’ll need to reject a number of applications that we think are promising and are above the bars of others in the space(though we may try to refer those applications to other funders).

  • I have found hiring fund managers challenging in the past, and I expect replacing the current LTFF and EAIF chairs to be challenging.[5]

Comments from Open Philanthropy on the planned changes

This section was written by Claire Zabel

Our goal is to help the EAIF and LTFF become less dependent on Open Phil’s perspective on them or evaluation of them, while also giving them time to seek out and build relationships with other supporters while continuing to fund strong applicants.

That means the purpose of these matching funds is to amplify the impact of non-Open Phil people who evaluate the LTFF and/​or EAIF and believe them to be good donation opportunities. The matching funds, thus, should not necessarily be interpreted as a strong endorsement of the Funds, especially going forwards, though they are premised on our past experience with the Funds suggesting that they have reasonable processes and historically supported projects we often thought seemed valuable but didn’t encounter ourselves.

We are trying to strike the right balance between encouraging different grantmaking projects in the spaces we work in to guard against our own potential blindspots, and conserving our support for the projects that seem best to us.

Counterfactually, the funding supporting this match would likely be used for other grantmaking projects at Open Phil in our longtermism grantmaking portfolio.

Current Funding Gaps

The EAIF and LTFF have received generous donations from many individuals in the EA community. However, donations to the EAIF and LTFF have been in decline over the last year. We think that some of this is due to crypto and tech stocks doing less well than the previous year (though we hope that recent market trends will bring back some donors).[6]

LTFF funding gap

  • The LTFF has a funding gap of $1M/​month.[7]

  • Based on donations over the past few months, I estimate that each fund will receive (by default) roughly $120k per month (720K over the next six months), which will be matched at a 2:1 rate, by Open Philanthropy to give us a total of $360k/​month.

  • This means we expect to be unable to fund around $640k/​month of projects we believe should be funded.

  • This could be filled by an additional $213k in public donations each month (or $1.27M over the next six months).

EAIF funding gap

  • The EAIF has a funding gap of $800k/​month.[8]

  • Based on donations over the past few months, I estimate that each fund will receive (by default) roughly $67k per month ($402k over six months), which will be matched at a 2:1 rate, by Open Philanthropy to give us a total of $200k/​month.

  • This means we expect to be unable to fund around $600k/​month of projects we believe should be funded

  • This could be filled by an additional $200k in public donations each month (or $1.2M over the next six months).

Fund Expected shortfall (6mo) Additional donations (6mo)
LTFF $3.84M $1.27M
EAIF $3.6M $1.2M

Appendix: Open Philanthropy donation matching

Open Philanthropy is planning to match public donations at a 2:1 rate, meaning that they will give $2 for every $1 fundraised for the EAIF and LTFF (contributing up to $3.5M per fund) for six months, starting from the publication of this post. This is subject to several conditions being met, indicating that the relevant funds are operating broadly similarly to how they have been doing in the past; we expect these to be met and will flag if things change such that additional funding might no longer be matched

Open Phil won’t match funds from other funders who contribute >$5M in aggregate to the two funds per year, or seem to contribute >$20M/​yr to the greater EA/​LT/​x-risk reduction space.[9] The LTFF and EAIF can do things that don’t meet the conditions above, they just will not be subject to the default 2:1 match.

Open Philanthropy is not committing to matching funds on longer timescales at this time, though it may do so, plausibly at a lower match rate, given that in the future, we will have had more time to build relationships with other funders.

  1. ↩︎

    Note that EA Funds staff who were also Open Phil employees did their Funds work on a volunteer basis.

  2. ↩︎

    Which I believe will be beneficial for both Open Philanthropy and the epistemics of EA and Longtermist communities.

  3. ↩︎

    Though this should not be taken as a strong commitment at this time.

  4. ↩︎

    Which is also the case for many other projects after the FTX Future Fund shut down.

  5. ↩︎

    My understanding is that Open Philanthropy and other grantmakers have also had difficulties hiring excellent fund managers. Some of the reasons that we (EA Funds) have found this hard include:

    • Limited opportunities for hands-on experience: EA cause areas provide limited opportunities for individuals to gain experience in grantmaking.

    • Insufficient management capacity: EA Funds lacks sufficient management capacity from experienced grantmakers, leading to potential operational inefficiencies.

    • High opportunity cost for potential grantmakers: Many prospective grantmakers have many alternative options for their time and could contribute to other valuable projects instead.

    • Perceived career limitation due to EA affiliation: The strong association with EA might discourage some potential candidates, as they worry it could limit their future career opportunities.

  6. ↩︎

    I have also invested relatively little time in stewarding donors—instead, prioritising increasing the number of promising applications and improving our grantmaking.

  7. ↩︎

    In the sense that we are confident we can distribute this amount of funding to projects we deem to be above the current funding bar.

  8. ↩︎

    In the sense that we are confident we can distribute this amount of funding to projects we deem to be above the current funding bar.

  9. ↩︎

    From Claire Zabel—“We think this would run the risk of making Funds more dependent on current major donors, which goes against our intent.”.