From an internal perspective I'd view the fund as being fairly close to risk-neutral. We hear around twice as many complaints that we're too risk-tolerant than too risk-averse, although of course the people who reach out to us may not be representative of our donors as a whole.
We do explicitly try to be conservative around things with a chance of significant negative impact to avoid the unilateralist's curse. I'd estimate this affects less than 10% of our grant decisions, although the proportion is higher in some areas, such as community building, biosecurity and policy.
It's worth noting that, unless I see a clear case for a grant, I tend to predict a low expected value -- not just a high-risk opportunity. This is because I think most projects aren't going to positively influence the long-term future -- otherwise the biggest risks to our civilization would already be taken care of. Based on that prior, it takes significant evidence to update me in favour of a grant having substantial positive expected value. This produces similar decisions to risk-aversion with a more optimistic prior.
Unfortunately, it's hard to test this prior: we'd need to see how good the grants we didn't make would have been. I'm not aware of any grants we passed on that turned out to be really good. But I haven't evaluated this systematically, and we'd only know about those which someone else chose to fund.
An important case where donors may be better off making donations themselves rather than donating via us is when they have more information than we do about some promising donation opportunities. In particular, you likely hear disproportionately about grants we rejected from people already in your network. You may be in a much better position to evaluate these than we are, especially if the impact of the grant hinges on the individual's abilities, or requires a lot of context to understand.
It's unfortunate that individual donors can't directly make grants to individuals in a tax efficient manner. You could consider donating to a donor lottery -- these will allow you to donate the same amount of money (in expectation) in a tax efficient manner. While grants can only be made within CEA's charitable objects, this should cover the majority of things donors would want to support, and in any case the LTFF also faces this restriction. (Jonas also mentioned to me that EA Funds is considering offering Donor-Advised Funds that could grant to individuals as long as there’s a clear charitable benefit. If implemented, this would also allow donors to provide tax-deductible support to individuals.)adamgleave on Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!
The LTFF chooses grants to make from our open application rounds. Because of this, our grant composition depends a lot on the composition of applications we receive. Although we may of course apply a different bar to applications in different areas, the proportion of grants we make certainly doesn't represent what we think is the ideal split of total EA funding between cause-areas.
In particular, I tend to see more variance in our scores between applications in the same cause-area than I do between cause-areas. This is likely because most of our applications are for speculative or early-stage projects. Given this, if you're reading this and are interested in applying to the LTFF but haven't seen us fund projects in your area before -- don't let that put you off. We're open to funding things in a very broad range of areas provided there's a compelling long-termist case.
Because cause prioritization isn't actually that decision relevant for most of our applications, I haven't thought especially deeply about it. In general, I'd say the fund is comparably excited about marginal work in reducing long-term risks from AI, biosafety, and general longtermist macrostrategy and capacity building. I don't currently see promising interventions in climate change, which already attracts significant funding from other sources, although we'd be open to funding something that seemed neglected, especially if it focused on mitigating or predicting extreme risks.
One area where there's active debate is the degree to which we should support general governance improvements. For example, we made a $50,000 grant to the Center for Election Science (CES) in our September 2020 round. CES has significantly more room for funding, so the main thing holding us back was uncertainty regarding the long-termist case for impact compared to more targeted interventions.adamgleave on Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!
I agree with @Habryka that our current process is relatively lightweight which is good for small grants but doesn't provide adequate accountability for large grants. I think I'm more optimistic about the LTFF being able to grow into this role. There's a reasonable number of people who we might be excited about working as fund managers -- the main thing that's held us back from growing the team is the cost of coordination overhead as you add more individuals. But we could potentially split the fund into two sub-teams that specialize in smaller and larger grants (with different evaluation process), or even create a separate fund in EA Funds that focuses on more established organisations. Nothing certain yet, but it's a problem we're interested in addressing.adamgleave on Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!
The LTFF is happy to renew grants so long as the applicant has been making strong progress and we believe working independently continues to be the best option for them. Examples of renewals in this round include Robert Miles, who we first funded in April 2019, and Joe Collman, who we funded in November 2019. In particular, we'd be happy to be the #1 funding source of a new EA org for several years (subject to the budget constraints Oliver mentions in his reply).
Many of the grants we make to individuals are for career transitions, such as someone retraining from one research field to another, or for one-off projects. So I would expect most grants to not be renewals. That said, the bar for renewals does tend to be higher. This is because we pursue a hits-based giving approach, so are willing to fund projects that are likely not to work out -- but of course will not want to renew the grant if it is clearly not working.
I think being a risk-tolerant funder is particularly valuable since most employers are, quite rightly, risk-averse. Firing people tends to be harmful to morale; internships or probation periods can help, but take a lot of supervisory time. This means people who might be a great hire but are high-variance often don't get hired. Funding them for a period of time to do independent work can derisk the grantee, since they'll have a more substantial portfolio to show.
The level of excitement about long-term independent work varies between fund managers. I tend to think it's hard for people to do great work independently. I'm still open to funding it, but I want to see a compelling case that there's not an organisation that would be a good home for the applicant. Some other fund managers are more concerned by perverse incentives in established organisations (especially academia), so are more willing to fund independent research.
I'd be interested to hear thoughts on how we could better support our grantees here. We do sometimes forward applications on to other funders (with the applicants permission), but don't have any systematic program to secure further funding (beyond applying for renewals). We could try something like "demo days" popular in the VC world, but I'm not sure there's a large enough ecosystem of potential funders for this to be worth it.jackmalde on Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!
Thanks for this detailed answer. I think that all makes a lot of sense.adamgleave on Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!
As part of CEA's due diligence process, all grantees must submit progress reports documenting how they've spent their money. If a grantee applies for renewal, we'll perform a detailed evaluation of their past work. Additionally, we informally look back at past grants, focusing on grants that were controversial at the time, or seem to have been particularly good or bad.
I’d like us to be more systematic in our grant evaluation, and this is something we're discussing. One problem is that many of the grants we make are quite small: so it just isn't cost-effective for us to evaluate all our grants in detail. Because of this, any more detailed evaluation we perform would have to be on a subset of grants.
I view there being two main benefits of evaluation: 1) improving future grant decisions; 2) holding the fund accountable. Point 1) would suggest choosing grants we expect to be particularly informative: for example, those where fund managers disagreed internally, or those which we were particularly excited about and would like to replicate. Point 2) would suggest focusing on grants that were controversial amongst donors, or where there were potential conflicts of interest.
It's important to note that other things help with these points, too. For 1) improving our grant making process, we are working on sharing best-practices between the different EA Funds. For 2) we are seeking to increase transparency about our internal processes, such as in this doc (which we will soon add as an FAQ entry). Since evaluation is time consuming in the short-term we are likely to only evaluate a small percentage of our grants, though we may scale this up as fund capacity grows.habryka on Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!
Speaking just for myself on why I tend to prefer the smaller individual grants:
Currently when I look at the funding landscape, it seems that without the LTFF there would be a pretty big hole in available funding for projects to get off the ground and for individuals to explore interesting new projects or enter new domains. Open Phil very rarely makes grants smaller than ~$300k, and even many donors don't really like giving to individuals and early-stage organizations because they often lack established charity status, which makes their donations non-tax-deductable.
CEA has set up infrastructure to allow tax-deductible grants to individuals and organizations without charity status, and the fund itself seems well-suited to evaluate organizations by individuals, since we all have pretty wide networks and can pretty quickly gather good references on individuals that are working on projects that don't yet have an established track record.
I think in a world without Open Phil or the Survival and Flourishing Fund, much more of our funding would go to established organizations.
Separately, I also think that I personally view a lot of the intellectual work to be done on the Long Term Future to be quite compatible with independent researchers asking for grants for just them, or maybe small teams around them. This feels kind of similar to how academic funding is often distributed, and I think makes sense for domains where a lot of people should explore a lot of different directions and we have set up infrastructure so that researchers and distillers can make contributions without necessarily needing a whole organization around them (which I think the EA Forum enables pretty well).
In addition to both of those points, I also think evaluating organizations requires a somewhat different skillset than evaluating individuals and small team projects, and we are currently better at the second than the first (though I think we would reskill if we thought it was more likely that more organizational grants would become more important again).sindirella on Can we drive development at scale? An interim update on economic growth work
I see. Let me know if I'm understanding this correctly: Founders Pledge aims to have cost-effectiveness estimate numbers, which involves a lot of work especially for topics like growth and climate change, whereas Open Phil takes a more qualitative approach for such topics with higher uncertainty. (If so, I am also curious about the philosophy behind your approach -- I'm really uncertain which one works better, and that's a bigger conversation.)
Re topics to look into, I second Michael's suggestions: labor markets, firms, and monetary policy in developing countries. There's also: trade, infrastructure, industrial policy, legal system, institutions etc. (Nick Bloom whom I mentioned earlier had the hypothesis that improving management practice in LMICs could be pretty impactful, and that requires a type of education/training not commonly discussed in LMICs.)
One thing tangentially related is Emergent Ventures India. (They don't have a formal website -- all updates seem to be posted on the Marginal Revolution blog.) It's not growth-specific but rather just for innovative ideas that improve welfare. They don't have any rigorous analysis (so I'm not sure whether it will fly with EAs) but the projects look cool and it could be a high-potential model (if expanded to Africa etc.).
Happy to keep in touch -- will shoot you a DM!williamkiely on Charles_Dillon 's Shortform
I absolutely agree. 20 minutes ago Ray Dalio just Tweeted:
As many of you may have seen, yesterday I offered 10,000 @TisBest Charity Gift Cards to you to donate to your favorite charities. I was so happy that so many people signed up, but felt terrible that others were closed out. (1/2)
With the help of friends I’m working to make more Charity Gift Cards available, and I’m thrilled that @reedhastings has signed on with a donation to spread this charitable way of gifting. Stay tuned for updates on additional donors and when we'll be releasing this next phase. 2/2
Naively I'd estimate a ~30% chance that people who sign up within the next 24 hours receive a $100 gift card to donate.