Comment author: Richard_Batty 19 March 2017 11:52:19AM 7 points [-]

I was just looking at the EA funds dashboard. To what extent do you think the money coming into EA funds is EA money that was already going to be allocated to similarly effective charities?

I saw the EA funds post on hacker news, are you planning to continue promoting EA funds outside the existing EA community?

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 19 March 2017 05:19:52PM 9 points [-]

To what extent do you think the money coming into EA funds is EA money that was already going to be allocated to similarly effective charities?

We expect that most of the money donated so far is not counterfactual. We'll have impact to the degree that the fund managers make better donation decisions than individuals would have made otherwise.

I saw the EA funds post on hacker news, are you planning to continue promoting EA funds outside the existing EA community?

Yes. We've been quite happy with the reception to EA Funds from the EA community. Over the next few months we plan to run some experiments to see if EA Funds is purely a niche EA product or whether we can get some traction with people new to EA.

Comment author: RobBensinger 11 February 2017 02:50:57AM *  7 points [-]

A lot of people have been asking for a way to donate to (/ be funged by) OPP, so if this only enables people to do that, I'd still expect it to be quite popular. Some relevant reasons OPP staff gave in their donor suggestions for wanting more money to go to charities than OPP was willing and able to provide:

  • [re Cosecha and ASJ] "Given the amount we’re aiming to allocate to criminal justice reform as a whole, my portfolio has too many competing demands for us to offer more." [I don't know how much this is a factor for the four areas above.]

  • "I see value to ACE having a broad support base to (a) signal to groups that donors care about its recommendations, (b) raise its profile, and attract more donors, and (c) allow it to invest in longer-term development, e.g. higher salaries (i.e. without fear of expanding with a fragile support base)".

  • [re CIWF] "we’re limited in our ability to provide all of them by the public support test and a desire to avoid being the overwhelming funder of any group".

  • [re MIRI] "the ultimate size of our grant was fairly arbitrary and put high weight on accurate signaling about our views". [Note I work at MIRI, though I'm just citing them as an example here.]

  • "we would not want to be more than 50% of 80,000 Hours’ funding in any case (for coordination/dependence reasons)."

  • [re 80K] "my enthusiasm for supporting specific grants to support the effective altruism community has been higher than other decision-makers’ at Open Phil, and we’ve given less than I’ve been inclined to recommend in some other cases."

  • [in general] "There’s an internal debate about how conservative vs. aggressive to be on grants supporting organizations like these with, I think, legitimate arguments on both sides. I tend to favor larger grants to organizations in these categories than other decision-makers at Open Phil."

The slowness of OPP's grant process might also be an advantage for non-OPP funders. (E.g., ACE, FHI, CEA, 80K, and the Ploughshares Fund were informally promoted by OPP staff to third parties before OPP had reached the end of its own organizational decision process.)

The EA Funds strike me as unlikely to capture all the advantages of donor diversification, but they capture some of them.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 11 February 2017 07:50:04PM 1 point [-]

Agree with all of this (including the argument that we're not yet capturing full diversification value.

Comment author: Sanjay 11 February 2017 10:06:15AM 1 point [-]

I think this will probably be useful to many EAs.

That said, I'm aware something like this has been tried elsewhere and considered unsuccessful (sorry for not mentioning where, I'm not sure whether I was told this in confidence or not, but if you message me privately I can tell you more - it was not an EA context)

The reason appears to be that donors want to have a sense of ownership of the success that they have made happen, whereas putting money into a fund makes the donor's impact even more indirect.

(This is also the reason why I personally would be unlikely to use this facility, despite the fact that I also find it hard, difficult work to find optimal giving opportunities)

This may work if EAs are less glory-seeking donors than non-EAs (and me, for that matter!) I suspect that this is probably the case.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 11 February 2017 07:48:11PM 3 points [-]

It is true that many in the traditional charity market have tried ideas similar to this without much success. I think the EA community is very different from traditional charity and I think the idea might make sense for the EA community. That said, I retain some probability that the idea will fail for the same reasons that it has failed outside of EA.

Comment author: tomstocker 11 February 2017 01:56:01AM 0 points [-]

What will it cost?

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 11 February 2017 06:31:32PM 2 points [-]

No cost. In fact, we think we can get lower donation processing fees than might be available to people elsewhere. However, CEA is a plausible recipient for the movement building fund.

Comment author: RyanCarey 10 February 2017 08:11:49PM 12 points [-]

Seems like a great idea!

Re Nick, I trust his analysis of charities, including meta-charities a lot. But the conflict does seem worth thinking a bit about. He is responsible for all 2-3 of the top EA-org grant-makers. From a point of view of redundancy, diverse criticism and incentives, this is not so good.

If I was CEA, I'm not sure I have very much incentive to identify new good strategies, since a lot of my expected funding in the next decade comes from Nick, and most of the other funders are less thoughtful, he is really the one that I need to work to convince. And then If I am Nick, I'm only one person, so there are limits to how much strategic thinking I can transmit, and to the degree to which I will force it to engage with other strategic thinkers. It's also hard to see how, if some of its projects failed, I would allow CEA to go unfunded?

How can we build these incentives and selection pressures, as well as on the object level, getting better ideas into EA orgs? Dviersifying funding would help, but mostly it seems like it would require CEA to care about this problem a lot and take a lot of effort.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 10 February 2017 11:55:25PM 5 points [-]

My guess is that the optimal solution has people like Nick controlling quite a bit of money since he has a strong track record and strong connections in the space. Yet, the optimal solution probably has an upper limit on how much money he controls for purposes of viewpoint diversification and to prevent power from consolidating in too few hands. I'm not sure whether we've reached the upper limit yet, but I think we will if EA Funds moves a substantial amount of money.

How can we build these incentives and selection pressures, as well as on the object level, getting better ideas into EA orgs? Dviersifying funding would help, but mostly it seems like it would require CEA to care about this problem a lot and take a lot of effort.

I agree that this is worth being concerned about and I would also be interested in ways to avert this problem.

My hope is that as we diversify the selection of fund managers, EA Funds creates an intellectual marketplace of fund managers writing about why their funding strategies are best and convincing people to donate to them. Then our defense against entrenching the power of established groups (e.g. CEA) is that people can vote with their wallets if they think established groups are getting more money than makes sense.

Comment author: Giles 10 February 2017 06:48:50AM 6 points [-]

This is great!! Pretty sure I'd be giving more if it felt more like a coordinated effort and less like I have to guess who needs the money this time.

I guess my only concern is: how to keep donors engaged with what's going on? It's not that I wouldn't trust the fund managers, it's more that I wouldn't trust myself to bother researching and contributing to discussions if donating became as convenient as choosing one box out of 4.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 10 February 2017 11:38:47PM 1 point [-]

We plan to have some reporting requirements from fund managers although we don't yet know how much. What would you be interesting in seeing?

Comment author: Jess_Riedel 09 February 2017 10:43:33PM 13 points [-]

I am on the whole positive about this idea. Obviously, specialization is good, and creating dedicated fund managers to make donation decisions can be very beneficial. And it makes sense that the boundaries between these funds arise from normative differences between donors, while putting fund managers in charge of sorting out empirical questions about efficiency. This is just the natural extension, of the original GiveWell concept, to account for normative differences, and also to utilize some of the extra trust that some EAs will have for other people in the community that isn't shared by a lot of GiveWell's audience.

That said, I'm worried about principle-agent problems and transparency, and about CEA becoming an organization receiving monthly direct debits from the bank accounts of ten thousand people. Even if we assume that current CEA employees are incorruptible superhuman angels, giving CEA direct control of a firehose of cash makes it an attractive target for usurpers (in a way that it is not when it's merely making recommendations and doing outreach). These sorts of worries apply much less to GiveWell when it's donating to developing-world health charities than to CEA when it's donating to EA start-ups who are good friends with the staff.

Will EA Fund managers be committed to producing the sorts of detailed explanations and justifications we see from GiveWell and Open Phil, at least after adjusting for donation size? How will the conflicts of interest be managed and documented with such a tightly interlinked community?

What sorts of additional precautions will be taken to manage these risks, especially for the long term?

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 10 February 2017 11:38:02PM 3 points [-]

These sorts of worries apply much less to GiveWell when it's donating to developing-world health charities than to CEA when it's donating to EA start-ups who are good friends with the staff.

Part of the reason that CEA staff themselves are not fund managers is to help with this kind of conflict. I think that regardless of who we choose as fund managers, there is potential for recipients to develop personal connects with the fund managers and use that to their advantage. This seems true in almost any funding scheme were evaluating the people in charge is part of the selection process. Do you think EA Funds will make this worse somehow?

Will EA Fund managers be committed to producing the sorts of detailed explanations and justifications we see from GiveWell and Open Phil, at least after adjusting for donation size?

We will definitely require some level of reporting from fund managers although we haven't yet determined how much and in what level of detail. As I mentioned in a different comment, I'd be interested in learning more about what people would like to see.

How will the conflicts of interest be managed and documented with such a tightly interlinked community?

Having Nick as a fund manager is a good test case since there's a conflict given that he's a CEA trustee. Our plan so far has been to make sure that we make the presence of this conflict well known. Do you think this is a good long term plan or would you prefer something else?

Comment author: RobBensinger 10 February 2017 07:30:36PM 2 points [-]

The Funds do have some donor diversifying effect, if only because donors can change whether they give to the Fund based on whether they like its recent beneficiaries; though it doesn't capture all the benefits of diversification.

I could imagine this being more useful if the EA Funds are administered by OPP staff in their non-official capacity, and they have more leeway to run risky experiments or fund things that are hard to publicly explain/justify or might not reflect well on OPP. (This would work best if small EA Funds donors were less concerned about 'wasting' their donation than Good Ventures, though, which is maybe unrealistic.)

I haven't thought much about the tradeoffs, but it does seem to me like you could costlessly get more of those advantages if the four funds were each co-run by a pair of people (one from OPP, one from elsewhere) so it's less likely that any one individual or organization will suffer the fallout for controversial choices.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 10 February 2017 11:28:32PM 3 points [-]

I could imagine this being more useful if the EA Funds are administered by OPP staff in their non-official capacity

I think Nick's administration of the EA Giving DAF is done in his non-official capacity. However, this can only go so far. If one of the fund managers donates to something very controversial that probably still harms OpenPhil even if they were funding the thing as private individuals.

We'll need to have non-OpenPhil staff manage funds in the future to get the full benefits of diversification.

it does seem to me like you could costlessly get more of those advantages if the four funds were each co-run by a pair of people (one from OPP, one from elsewhere) so it's less likely that any one individual or organization will suffer the fallout for controversial choices.

I like this idea. The only potential problem is that the more people you add to the fund, the more they need to reach consensus on where to donate. The need to reach consensus often results in safe options instead of interesting ones.

I'd be very interested in other ideas for how we can make it easier to donate to unusual or controversial options via the fund. Diversification is really critical to the long-term impact of this project.

Comment author: jimrandomh 10 February 2017 06:32:02PM 4 points [-]

My concern is that the marginal effect of donating to one of these funds on the amount of money actually reaching charities might be zero. Given that OpenPhil spent below its budget, and these funds are managed by OpenPhil staff, it appears as though these funds put money on the wrong side of a bottleneck. One of the major constraints on OpenPhil's giving has been wanting charities to have diverse sources of funding; this appears to reduce funding diversity, by converting donations from individual small donors into donations from OpenPhil. What reason do donors have to think they aren't just crowding out donations from OpenPhil's main fund?

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 10 February 2017 11:24:00PM 1 point [-]

What reason do donors have to think they aren't just crowding out donations from OpenPhil's main fund?

The idea is that crowding out OpenPhil is likely better than the alternative for a lot of individual EAs. For example, if you were going to donate to AMF, crowding out OpenPhil is better if you buy OpenPhil's belief that their grantmaking is better in expectation than AMF. If you think 1) that your donations are better than crowding out OpenPhi in expectation and 2) that OpenPhil staff serving as fund managers will use the money to crowd out OpenPhil, then it makes sense to not donate via the fund in its MVP configuration.

In the future, we plan to use the funds as a platform that will let a wider variety of people do in-depth charity research and have money to support the charities they find. In the future, I think EA Funds will contribute to a much wider variety of ideas.

Comment author: William_MacAskill 10 February 2017 07:43:48AM 4 points [-]

"On EA Ventures, points 1 and 2 seem particularly surprising when put together. You found too few exciting projects but even they had trouble generating funder interest?"

This isn't surprising if the model is just that new projects were uniformly less exciting than one might have expected: there were few projects above the bar for 'really cool project', and even they were only just above the bar, hence hard to get funding for.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 10 February 2017 11:16:55PM 4 points [-]

This is my read on what happened.

Part of the problem is that the best projects are often able to raise money on their own without an intermediary to help them. So, even if there are exciting projects in EA, they might not need our help.

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