Head of Tech at the Centre for Effective Altruism / Project Lead, EA Funds
Update – winners have been drawn!
Thanks everyone who participated this year. The lotteries have been drawn and both had a winner!
$100k – Echo Nolan
$500k – Elizabeth Barnes
Yeah, this is something that’s definitely been discussed, and I think this would be a logical first step between the current state of the world and hiring grantmakers to specific teams.
Yeah, the Fund balances are updated when the entries for the grants are entered into our accounting system (typically at the time that the grants are paid out). Because it can take a while to source all the relevant information from recipients (bank details etc), this doesn’t always happen immediately. Unfortunately this means that there’s always going to be some potential for drift here, though (absent accounting corrections like that applicable to the Global Development Fund) this should resolve itself within ~ a month. The November balances included ~ half of the payments made from the Animal Welfare and Meta Funds from their respective November grant rounds.
[meta: apologies for the belated response]
Thanks again for the thoughtful comments. I agree that the numbers should have been higher; that was an oversight (and perhaps speaks to the difficulty of keeping these numbers accurate longer term). I’m not sure how I missed the extra 80K and Founders Pledge grants (I think they came from an earlier payout report that I forgot to include in my calculations). I’m sorry that this wasn’t done correctly the first time around.
I’ve since removed the grant amounts (leaving just the grantees/grant categories), and I might re-title the field to just be called ‘Past Grantmaking’ or something similar. We’ve also created a public spreadsheet of all of the EA Funds grants, so they’re accessible in once place.
I added the ‘Grantmaking and Impact’ section to the Funds pages in response to feedback that it was hard to get a feel for what each Fund did in a tangible way, especially for newer donors who hadn’t been following the Funds over time and hadn’t yet dived into the payout reports. The idea here was to give a flavour of the kinds of things that each Fund had granted to, rather than to provide an exhaustive list (that’s what the payout reports are for). I still think that this is valuable, but I agree that keeping the numbers accurate has some problems, so for now we’ll remove them.
Most Fund balances are in general reasonably accurate (although the current balances don’t account from the latest round that were only paid out last month). The exception here is the Global Development Fund, which is still waiting on the accounting correction you mentioned to post, but I’ve just been informed that this has just been given over to the bookkeepers to action, so this should be resolved very soon.
1. I don’t have an exact figure, but a quick look at the data suggests we’ve moved close to $2m to US-based charities that don’t have a UK presence from donors in the UK (~$600k in 2019). My guess is that the amount going in the other direction (US → UK) is substantially smaller than that, if only because the majority of the orgs we support are US-based. (There’s also some slippage here, e.g. UK donors giving to GiveWell’s current recommendation could donate to AMF/Malaria ConsortiumSCI etc.)
2. Due to privacy regulations (most notably GDPR) we can’t, by default, hand over any personally identifying information to our partner charities. We ask donors for permission to pass their details onto the recipient charities, and in these cases stewardship is handled directly by the orgs themselves. CEA doesn’t do much in terms of stewardship specific to each partner org (e.g. we don’t send AMF donors an update on what AMF has been up to recently), but we do send out email newsletters with updates about how money from EA Funds has been spent.
Yeah, that’s interesting – I think this is an artefact of the way we calculate the numbers. The ‘total donations’ figure is calculated from donations registered through the platform, whereas the Fund balances are calculated from our accounting system. Sometimes donations (especially by larger donors) are arranged outside of the EA Funds platform. They count towards the Fund balance (and accordingly show up in the payouts), but they won’t show up in the total donations figure. We’d love to get to a point where these donations are recorded in EA Funds, but it’s a non-trivial task to synchronise accounting systems in two directions, and so this hasn’t been a top priority so far.
I agree that the YTD display isn’t the most useful for assessing total inflows because it cuts out the busiest period of December (which takes in 4-5 times more than other months, and is responsible for ~35% of annual donations). It was useful for us internally (to see how we were tracking year-on-year), and so ended up being one of the first things we put on the dashboard, but I think that a whole-of-year view will be more useful for the public stats page.
It’s hard to say exactly, but I’d be thinking this would be on the timescale of roughly a year (so, a spinout could happen in late 2020 or mid 2021). However, this will depend a lot on e.g. ensuring that we have the right people on the team, the difficulty of setting up new processes to handle grantmaking etc.
Re the size question – are you asking how large the EA Funds organisation itself should be, or how large the Fund management teams should be?
If the former, I’d guess that we’d probably start out with a team of two people, maybe eventually growing ~4 people as we started to rely less on CEA for operational support (roughly covering some combination of executive, tech, grantmaking support, general operations, and donor relations), and then growing further if/when demand for the product grew and more people working on the project made sense.
If the latter, my guess is that something like 3-6 people per team is a good size. More people means more viewpoint diversity, more eyes on each grant, and greater surface area for sourcing new grants, but larger groups become more difficult to manage, and obviously the time (and potentially monetary) costs increase.
I’d caveat strongly that these are guesses based on my intuitions about what a future version of EA Funds might look like rather than established strategy/policy, and we’re still very much in the process of figuring out exactly what things could look like.
I agree with you that on one framing, influencing the long-run future is risky, in the sense that we have no real idea of whether any actions taken now will have a long-run positive impact, and we’re just using our best judgement.
However, it also feels like there are also important distinctions in categories of risk between things like organisational maturity. For example, a grant to MIRI (an established organisation, with legible financial controls, and existing research outputs that are widely cited within the field) feels different to me when compared to, say, an early-career independent researcher working on an area of mathematics that’s plausibly but as-yet speculatively related to advancing the cause of AI safety, or funding someone to write fiction that draws attention to key problems in the field.
I basically tried to come up with an ontology that would make intuitive sense to the average donor, and then tried to address the shortcomings by using examples on our risk page. I agree with Oli that it doesn’t fully capture things, but I think it’s a reasonable attempt to capture an important sentiment (albeit in a very reductive way), especially for donors who are newer to the product and to EA. That said, everyone will have their own sense of what they consider too risky, which is why we encourage donors to read through past grant reports and see how comfortable they feel before donating.
The conversation with Oli above about ‘risk of abuse’ being an important dimension is interesting, and I’ll think about rewriting parts of the page to account for different framings of risk.
Good question. My very rough Fermi estimate puts this at around $750/grant (based on something like $90k worth of staff costs directly related to grantmaking and ~120 grants/year). It’s hard to say how this scales, but we’ve continued to improve our grant processing pipeline, and I’d expect that we can continue to accommodate a relatively high number of grants per year. This is also only the average cost – I’d expect the marginal cost for each grant to be lower than this.
I don’t have a great sense of grantmaker overhead per individual grant, but I’d estimate the time cost something in the range of $500-$1000 per grant recommendation per Fund team member, or $2000-$4000 for a typical ~4-person team (noting of course that Fund management team members donate their spare time to work on the project).
Yeah, I’d love to see this happen, both because I think that it’s good to pay people for their time, and also because of the incentives it creates. However, as Misha_Yagudin says, I don’t think financial constraints are the main bottleneck on getting good feedback or doing in-depth grant reviews, and time constraints are the bigger factor.
One thing I’ve been mulling over for some time is appointing full-time grantmakers to at least some of the Funds. This isn’t likely to be feasible in the near term (say, at least 6 months), and would depend a lot on how the product evolves, as well as funding constraints, but it’s definitely something we’ve considered.
Meta: Just wanted to say thanks to all for the excellent questions, and to apologise for the slow turnaround on responses – I got pretty sick just before Christmas and wasn’t in any state to respond coherently. Ideally I would have noted that at the time, mea culpa.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments here.
Late last year I was working on updating and formalising the scope of each of the EA Funds, and in discussions with Elie and others at GiveWell, we updated the wording of the scope to explicitly include projects that were more indirectly serving the mission of the Fund:
In addition, the Global Health and Development Fund has a broad remit, and may fund other activities whose ultimate purpose is to serve people living in the poorest regions of the world, for example by raising additional funds (e.g. One for the World), or exploring novel financing arrangements (e.g. Instiglio).
A previous version of the page had the following wording on it:
You might choose not to support the fund if you think donations to organizations working in effective altruism community building will produce more money for highly effective global health and development charities than the money they receive. Historically, this seems to have been true for Giving What We Can, Charity Science, and Raising For Effective Giving among others.
The previous text wasn’t intended to rule out donations to global-health focused metacharities, rather it was predicated on the assumption that Elie would be most likely to recommend charities doing direct work, and donors who were looking for a larger multiplier on their global health donations might want to consider other options. Because we previously didn’t have a formal policy ruling grants to meta/indirect projects in or out, our internal assessment was that such grants would be in scope (hence the approval of the grant).
However, I can see that this was pretty unclear, and that the text could easily be read as suggesting that the Fund would never make such grants, which could have set donor expectations that were different from our original intention. We should have noticed this discrepancy, and taken it into account by deferring approval of any ‘meta’ grants until after we’d published the more formalised Fund scope – we didn’t, and I want to apologise for that.
If you (or any other donors) would like a refund on donations made to the Fund because you feel you were misinformed about the Fund’s scope, please email funds[at]effectivealtruism[dot]org.
The money is kept aside as the first tranche of backstop for future donor lotteries – if someone wins, we’ll first draw from this pool of money to cover the pot, and then we’ll use the lottery guarantor’s money to cover any remainder.