The Life You Can Save's 2017 Annual Report and 2018 Strategic Plan

  The Life You Can Save's Annual Report describes our work and impact in 2017 and our plans for the future. The full report is available here.   Highlights from the Executive Summary are below: We moved over $3.6 million to our Recommended Nonprofits (RNPs) in 2017, while spending less than... Read More
Comment author: Jon_Behar 26 January 2018 07:09:42PM 2 points [-]

I run The Life You Can Save’s “Giving Game” project- we give students (among others) real money to donate in structured decision making process (e.g. between pre-selected charities representing major EA causes). Let me know if you’d be interested in incorporating a GG into this class or future iterations. I’d be happy to discuss ways to tailor the model to your needs, explain what other teachers have done, etc. Background here: https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/giving-games

Comment author: Jon_Behar 28 October 2017 02:24:05PM 26 points [-]

Opinions mine, not my employer’s.

Very important article Kelly, thanks for writing! I don’t agree with 100% of your diagnoses or prescriptions (honestly I rolled my eyes at some of them), but absolutely share your concern that a lack of gender and racial diversity is hurting EA. I’d also add age diversity to the mix, and in my experience (which I doubt is unique) this issue interacts with the gender and racial issues in a problematic way.

Back in my 20s, I would have brushed off and rationalized away your diversity concerns. At that time, I was the type of person over-represented in EA: young, male, studied econ at an elite school, working as a hedge fund quant in an explicitly hyper-rational and confrontational work environment, maximum “thinker” assessment on the Myers-Briggs thinker vs. feeler spectrum, etc. Many (probably “most”, or even “almost all”) of my friends and co-workers fit the same description. And I placed a very high value on my opinion, and the opinions of people like me.

Now I’m pushing 40, and I’m still a quanty, thinker vs. feeler guy with a blunt communication style. But I’ve acquired a valuable perspective on just how stupid really smart 20 somethings can be. When you work at a place that hires lots of people that fit the same profile year after year, certain patterns become obvious. You see the first year analyst class making the same mistakes each year, and realize they’re the same mistakes you and your cohorts made when you were first year analysts. You see that some people, with impeccable backgrounds/resumes, simply aren’t very good at their jobs for a variety of reasons. It turns out that even really really smart people mess up in very systematic ways. For instance, the type of people overrepresented at EA (myself included) generally aren’t that great at being humble (probably because of all the good grades and accomplishments). They also undervalue people skills- until I was lucky enough to meet an enormously talented salesperson and watch him build and nurture relationships that were critical to landing many multibillion dollar accounts, I thought the marketers were just people who couldn’t hack the math to do real finance work. I’m sure I still carry this bias to some degree.

When I was younger, I would have fallen in the “sure EA is homogeneous, but can you prove that’s a problem?” camp. With another ~15 years of perspective, I think that gets the burden of proof backwards. We’ve already experienced some of the negatives- remember when an EA journalist went to EA Global and felt a big part of the story was EA naiveté? We know the EA community and its leadership disproportionately represent populations who systematically lack humility (the “best and brightest”), experience (the young), and access to alternative perspectives (the women, people of color, people who remember the 70s, etc. who are mission aligned but think EA is too much work to interact with). That’s a lot of red flags (and FWIW most of my background is in risk management).

So now I’ve come around to the view that the EA community should seek out low cost ways to improve diversity (e.g. limiting jargon), and at least weigh the costs of changes that could significantly improve diversity (e.g. a community diversity officer). And if people want to argue that the lack of diversity in EA isn’t a problem, I think the burden of proof is clearly on them.

I’m amazed and inspired by all the young EAs who want to make the world a better place- I spent my time in college getting drunk at my frat, not reading 80,000 hours. The last thing I want to is discourage any of them. And I’m still kind of young and plenty dumb. So please just consider this a perspective to consider, and an endorsement of the principle of considering different perspectives.

Comment author: Jon_Behar 06 October 2017 01:58:25PM 6 points [-]

Any thoughts on why the grants were so concentrated by cause area? EA Community and LT future got 65% and 33% respectively, while Global Health and Development and Animal Welfare each got just 1%. Was this a function of the applications (number or quality) or the evaluation process (values, metrics)? Would you have predicted this going in?

Comment author: Ben_Todd 26 May 2017 04:36:39AM 2 points [-]

Hi Jon,

I would have liked to have seen a discussion of sensitivity to assumptions.

I agree - I think, however, you can justify the cost-effectiveness of 80k in multiple, semi-independent ways, which help to make the argument more robust:


FWIW, I’m pretty dubious about the treatment of plan changes scored 10. The model implies each of those plan changes is worth >$500k...If a university student tells me they're going to "become a major advocate of effective causes" (sufficient for a score of 10), I wouldn't think that has the same expected value as a half million dollars given to AMF today.

Yes, we only weigh them at 10, rather than 40. However, here are some reasons the 500k figure might not be out of the question.

First, we care about the mean value, not the median or threshold. Although some of the 10s will probably have less impact than 500k to AMF now, some of them could have far more. For instance, there's reason to think GPP might have had impact equivalent to over $100m given to AMF. https://80000hours.org/2016/12/has-80000-hours-justified-its-costs/#global-priorities-project

You only need a small number of outliers to pull up the mean a great deal.

Less extremely, some of the 10s are likely to donate millions to charity within the next few years.

Second, most of the 10s are focused on xrisk and meta-charity. Personally, I think efforts in these causes are likely at least 5-fold more cost-effective than AMF, so they'd only need to donate a 100k to have as much impact as 500k to AMF.

Comment author: Jon_Behar 26 May 2017 08:58:13PM 0 points [-]

Fair point about outliers driving the mean. Does suggest that a cost-effectiveness estimate should just try to quantify those outliers directly instead of going through a translation.
E.g. if "some of the 10s are likely to donate millions to charity within the next few years", just estimate the value of that rather than assuming that giving will on average equal 10x GWWC's estimate for the value of a pledge.

Comment author: Jon_Behar 26 May 2017 12:07:32AM 2 points [-]

Thanks for sharing this analysis (and the broader project)!

Given the lengthy section on model limitations, I would have liked to have seen a discussion of sensitivity to assumptions. The one that stood out to me was the estimate for the value of a GWWC Pledge, which serves as a basis for all your calcs. While it certainly seems reasonable to use their estimate as a baseline, there’s inherently a lot of uncertainty in estimating a multi-decade donation stream and adjusting for counter-factuals, time discounting, and attrition.

FWIW, I’m pretty dubious about the treatment of plan changes scored 10. The model implies each of those plan changes is worth >$500k (again, adjusted for counterfactuals, time discounting, and attrition), which is an extremely high hurdle to meet. If a university student tells me they're going to "become a major advocate of effective causes" (sufficient for a score of 10), I wouldn't think that has the same expected value as a half million dollars given to AMF today.

Comment author: david_reinstein 24 May 2017 05:14:23PM 2 points [-]

Thank you. It sounds somewhat similar to some economics experiments involving charity that I have seen, but of course with a different goal in mind. I will look into this -- I am curious also about the evidence one might collect from such games, especially about which arguments people have found convincing, and which approaches have convinced people to choose the more effective charities.

Comment author: Jon_Behar 24 May 2017 09:22:27PM 1 point [-]

Yes, there’s definitely a quasi-experimental format, and we hope to use meta-analysis to draw lessons from all the different Giving Games we run in the field (which include a lot of natural variation). Separately, we’re also working with a number of academic researchers on experimental collaborations. Some of these involve studying the efficacy of the GG model, while others use the GG format as an experimental design to study other topics. You can find more about experimentation with GG here


The Giving Game Project's Vision and Strategic Plan

Cross-posted from The Life You Can Save's blog.   The Giving Game Project has an ambitious goal: we want to provide philanthropy education at a scale that will fundamentally shift the way people learn about, and practice, charitable giving.  Why do we think we can achieve this goal, and how... Read More
Comment author: david_reinstein 20 May 2017 05:55:43PM 1 point [-]

Briefly, how do you define/describe 'Giving Games'?

Comment author: Jon_Behar 22 May 2017 09:05:40PM 1 point [-]

Giving Games are workshops where participants hear a brief introduction to effective giving, learn about a few pre-selected charities, discuss their relative merits, and then make a real money donation (with money typically provided by an outside source) to their favorite. More details here.


Are Giving Games a better way to teach philanthropy?

Wouldn’t it be nice if our educational system taught students about good giving?  The good news is that over $8 million has been spent teaching university students about philanthropy.  The bad news is that the prevailing model of student philanthropy hasn’t grown for the better part of a decade and... Read More

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