Greg_Colbourn comments on January Open Thread - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 20 January 2015 07:18:31PM *  3 points [-]

"What Role Do Small-to-Medium Donors Play In the Future of Effective Altruism"

I've been wondering the same. But I've got a feeling that top tier philanthropists deliberately restrict their giving to ~50% at max. of the room for more funding, both to encourage smaller donors, and also because they only want to support things in proportion to their popular appeal. The latter also explains the motivation for genuinely restricted donation matching.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 24 January 2015 03:49:58PM 0 points [-]

These are all good points about normal philanthropy. However, I'm still concerned because effective altruism doesn't involve normal philanthropy, or charitable giving. Thanks for responding, as this spurs me to state my case for why effective altruism is a unique movement for which we might need to take special considerations. I count explaining my rationale here in dialogue as drafting my essay on the topic.

For its classic charity recommendations, Givewell is rigorous, and evaluates its top charities of having hit a point of room for more funding issues at the point of a one of those charities receiving, e.g., >= $10 million USD in a single year. The demotion of the AMF from the most recommended charity in 2013 is an example of this. A foundation like Good Ventures could fund these top charities to the point at which each and all of them are not the best marginal donation target. From there, Givewell may be at a present loss for finding the next best set of charities to recommend. With it, effective altruism at large might be at a loss. Lots of people like myself and others I've observed are uncertain enough about what is the best donation target that we're too reluctant to make 3- or 4-figure sum donations to any other charities.

Additionally, the Open Philanthropy Project seeks to release in the next year recommendations to Good Ventures to support efforts to reform criminal justice or immigration policy in the United States, or fund large-scale research efforts. From the perspective of a foundation like Good Ventures, such efforts could do good on a massive scale, and are worth funding even if it requires one million dollars or more to discover if any good can be achieved. From the perspective of the average supporter of effective altruism, such an opportunity is backed by less evidence as robust as Givewell's classic recommendations, and entails much more risk. A multi-million dollar foundation can afford the much higher risks to reap much higher rewards than individuals.

In conjunction, I worry these two issues may squish us smaller donors. If donation is the most obvious effective way of doing good, but it becomes redundant for small-to-medium donors to donate in the name of the best altruistic opportunities, we're at a loss. Effective altruism is dedicated to seeking the best ways of doing good. If lots of us build our careers on donating to the best causes, but our financial contributions become negligible, what next?

We may reach the point that earning to give isn't the best common recommendation for doing good, at which point 80,000 Hours and effective altruism at large may be giving expired advice to several hundred individuals. At this point, informing individuals to seek careers which will allow them to donate more may no longer be the best recommendation. Additionally, I feel it would be irresponsible of effective altruism to recommend those aspiring to do the most good they can to pursue a career of earning to give, when the complete picture begins informing us that isn't their best option.

At this point, my point is bleeding into my idea of "Reevaluating Earning to Give", which is a related but separate topic.