CEA is launching a winter fundraising round

post by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2015-12-09T16:39:19.984Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · EA · GW · Legacy · 54 comments

Over the next few weeks, the Centre for Effective Altruism will be reaching out to the community to raise funds to support our next year of work.

So far, more than 300 effective altruists have contributed to CEA. If it were not for your help, we would not have been able to create a community of effective givers who have pledged more than half a billion dollars to charity, guide hundreds of graduates into careers that make a difference, advise policy-makers around the world on effective policy, or support the effective altruist movement through events like EA Global. Now we need your continued support to help us build on that work. You can find much more detail in the 2015 CEA Winter Prospectus.

As a whole, CEA is committed to making sure that effective altruist ideas reach their potential to shape the world's future for the better. Each of the parts of CEA addresses a different component of that challenge.

Supporting all of this is our operations team which delivers shared services that let each project focus on delivering their core objectives.

Each part of CEA will be raising more this winter to help us hire great people, cover our costs for the year ahead, and make our existing work better and bigger.

Each organisation will be communicating more about their plans and funding needs. You can find an overview of all of our work in the 2015 CEA Winter Prospectus.

I'm happy to answer any of your questions here. You can find details on how to donate here. You can also contact us to discuss donations. You can contact any of the project leaders directly using the details available in our prospectus.

 

54 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2015-12-10T10:33:55.978Z · score: 18 (20 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

People will want to ask this, but it will be awkward, so I'll take one for the team:

You are trying to raise a ridiculous amount of money. Your costs heavily increase from one year to the other, with three organizations attempting to at least double their costs, in one case much more than that.

Many hundreds of lives could be saved with this money if donated to AMF.

How confident are you that you are producing more value than AMF? How are you justifying the extreme increase in costs?

comment by Robert_Wiblin · 2015-12-11T14:09:05.477Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

"How confident are you that you are producing more value than AMF?"

If this amount going to CEA doesn't increase donations to AMF and equivalently effective charities by more than that amount, I'll eat my hat. :)

comment by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2015-12-10T16:15:15.083Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's a good question, and one that we ask ourselves a lot. If we thought we were worse than AMF and that wasn't likely to change, we would close up shop. I am fairly confident that we produce more value than AMF, partly because our activities raise more for AMF than they take away. However, I think it's right to be uncertain about this and Owen makes some good points.

In addition, I think most of the value of CEA's activities comes from long term potential of our projects and EA as a whole - as Ben discusses here.

Our positive effect on AMF is clearest at Giving What We Can which has a return of roughly 100:1 in high-value donations (counterfactually adjusted and time-discounted, but not all to AMF). Even if you assume that not a single member of GWWC gives another penny ever, the ratio is still 5:1. It is unclear if the marginal return on a donation to GWWC is higher or lower than the average return. It would be higher if we thought that GWWC could still realise increasing economies of scale. It would be lower if we thought most of the value comes from the idea itself and not execution on it. I tend to think marginal funds are more effective than average funds, but I'm very uncertain. A fuller discussion is here (http://effective-altruism.com/ea/ql/giving_what_we_can_needs_your_help_this_christmas/)

At 80k, the metrics are less directly comparable. At the last review we estimated it cost £1,670 to achieve a significant plan change (and these costs have been coming down every review cycle, indicating we are getting more cost-effective). It's unclear how much each plan change is worth - but it seems very likely that getting someone to earn-to-give or move to do valuable direct work will be worth far more than £1,670 to AMF even within one year.

GPP impact is extremely hard to estimate because idea change and policy-work are chaotic and complex. In order to get a lower bound, we can focus on just one policy that we advocated which was successfully implemented - increasing the research budget for treatment and vaccines for malaria, TB, and NTDs and pandemic prevention by £2.5bn over 5 years. If our calculations are correct this move was worth $1.5bn-$30bn in donations to AMF. Even if we are only responsible for a very small part of this, it isn't hard to imagine our 2015 budget outperformed a donation to AMF. (See discussion here http://globalprioritiesproject.org/2015/12/new-uk-aid-strategy-prioritising-research-and-crisis-response/)

EA Outreach is probably hardest to compare directly against AMF-type charities because much of our estimate of its value depends on the fact that we think effective altruism and its ideas have huge upside potential. Any attempt to calculate the direct impact within the first year of its running in terms of money to AMF would short-change the value of the work.

Because most of the money that goes to CEA has a huge counterfactual positive impact on funding for AMF, I'm quite confident in recommending giving to CEA.

With respect to your question about growth in costs - I think Owen has some good thoughts here. It seems, however, that the unit costs of CEA outputs are stable or decreasing so the growth in costs represents expanding outputs rather than decreasing marginal returns.

comment by impala · 2015-12-11T00:26:34.078Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Our positive effect on AMF is clearest at Giving What We Can which has a return of roughly 100:1 in high-value donations (counterfactually adjusted and time-discounted, but not all to AMF). Even if you assume that not a single member of GWWC gives another penny ever, the ratio is still 5:1.

That's precisely what's at issue. For one I don't find it all convincing, having talked with people who have been experienced with the organisation. And prima facie it's implausibly profitable. So it needs more justification than the prospectus gives.

comment by Owen_Cotton-Barratt · 2015-12-11T14:54:21.545Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

And prima facie it's implausibly profitable.

This statement is interesting, because it suggests at least some of the disagreement is about priors/reference classes. My prior for the ratio achievable was really quite broad. It sounds like you had a much tighter prior, which would decrease the extent to which you want to update on evidence.

I don't know whether that disagreement is resolvable, but here are some of the thoughts that inform my prior:

  • You talk about 'profitable', which suggests businesses as a reference class. I agree that that kind of ratio is implausible for businesses, but I think that's a function of competition -- if it were available, someone would have been doing it already and got rich as a result. Monopolists can get much more profitable than non-monopolists. I think there are quite a lot of analogies with a business, so it's not ridiculous to consider them as a reference class, but I also think we understand the basic mechanism which stops them getting too profitable and it doesn't apply here, so we should not weigh this that strongly.

  • A closer reference class seems to be fundraising for charities. The institute of fundraising estimates median returns for different kind of fundraising activity to vary between around 1.5:1 and around 30:1, depending on the activity (link). The ratio for campaigns to encourage committed giving to the charity running the campaign is around 6:1. Note that these numbers are sustained despite what is probably some competition between charities (I'm mildly surprised by this).

  • The activity that GWWC is engaging in is not fundraising for itself, but encouraging people to give (and give effectively). Compared to charities fundraising for themselves, there is less competition, and the approach is also more novel: both of these could support more of the low-hanging fruit still being available. Moreover it may be easier to persuade people to give when there is no obvious conflict-of-interest of the charity receiving funds being the same as the people trying to persuade you.

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2015-12-11T15:57:13.867Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for elaborating, I found that very helpful. I also felt like the ratio was implausibly high a priori.

comment by impala · 2015-12-11T22:42:35.157Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, this is helpful (though as you predict not by itself not enough to resolve the issue). Fundraising seems a good reference class - not too broad (like 'all businesses' would be) and not too narrow. One comment/question, at least for now:

The activity that GWWC is engaging in is not fundraising for itself, but encouraging people to give (and give effectively). Compared to charities fundraising for themselves, there is less competition, and the approach is also more novel: both of these could support more of the low-hanging fruit still being available. Moreover it may be easier to persuade people to give when there is no obvious conflict-of-interest of the charity receiving funds being the same as the people trying to persuade you.

This seems the main reason that could account for your fundraising being so much more profitable than normal. The lack of conflict of interest could help, and I've read Charity Science use the same argument somewhere. But it has very limited strength, there are many independent people who fundraise for charities they're passionate about, and it's hard to see why it'd drive up fundraising profitability that much. That would take a novel approach in an enviroment of low hanging fruit (because low competetition). What exactly is GWWC's approach of this sort? I'm still not clear what you will do with the staff time our money buys to churn out a hundred dollars per dollar.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2015-12-12T13:29:09.278Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's a couple of new bits.

First is the focus on effective giving. This makes the case for giving much stronger, to those who are convinced by the arguments. Your giving is really saving lives.

Related, the case is supported by analytical arguments, which really appeals to a certain type of person, who often isn't engaged by existing charity.

Second is the size of the ask. Most charity fundraising focuses on small donations. GWWC focuses on a 10% lifetime pledge. This is much harder to get, but results in much more money. It seems like the extra difficultly doesn't fully offset the extra money (at least when combined with the first point).

Now GWWC also has the advantages of a strong community, lots of experience, credibility, a large audience etc. which make it easier and easier to get more pledges on the margin.

comment by Robert_Wiblin · 2015-12-14T19:10:02.179Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Another way that Giving What We Can can beat normal fundraisers and faces little competition is this:

The vast majority of fundraising is done by organisations raising money for themselves. And it's very rare someone will be willing to make a lifetime commitment to a specific organisation, because they want to stay flexible in where they donate.

As a result, for most fundraising organisations there's no sense in them pushing for such a major long-term commitment. It won't work. They could in theory ask for a lifetime commitment to any organisation, not just themselves, but in addition to being very weird, that doesn't help them achieve their fundraising goals when people move on to other groups.

So one reason this approach is very neglected, is it's only sensible for those who are fundraising for other groups, or a very general cause like 'the common good'. And that's a very niche and little explored approach.

A possible exception is churches/temples/mosques which people expect to be involved with for their entire life, but then they did have tithing and collected enormous sums that way.

comment by Owen_Cotton-Barratt · 2015-12-12T12:50:50.584Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

One thing to bear in mind is that there will naturally be quite a bit of variance in fundraising ratios. There was a factor-of-20 difference between median returns from standard methods, and I'm sure quite a bit of variance for each method according to implementation. I think the GWWC team is quite talented and it would be hard for an arbitrary charity to duplicate it at the same salaries, which might make you think they'd be in the positive tail for the method chosen.

However, I think you're right that "no conflict-of-interest" probably doesn't carry you so far by itself.

I think the main new thing that GWWC has been doing is asking people to donate a large amount on an ongoing basis. Compared to normal ongoing giving which might be £5/month for five years, the GWWC pledge may be two or three orders of magnitude larger. The question is how much lower the rate of getting people is. My prior uncertainty on this would be extremely large -- it's obvious that it will be lower, but unclear whether just a bit or 6+ orders of magnitude.

I think the big ask means people thinking seriously about their lives, rather than making an in-the-moment decision (as I think most charitable donations are). I think it's also much less plausible for individual charities to get this commitment from people than a general encouragement to give more -- this is the proper force of my previous "no conflict-of-interest" point, but it's broader than that because the GWWC pledge also doesn't involve binding your future judgements about which charities actually are best.

Now, I'm not sure this is entirely new. People have tried to persuade others to be generous before. But it's plausible that such efforts have in fact always been very effective. Because of a lack of data, and because no individual charity could scale this up to get large income for themselves, it's not clear that the market would have been saturated even if it always were a great activity.

comment by Owen_Cotton-Barratt · 2015-12-12T14:11:29.184Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Note: Ben's answer is better (more comprehensive and more to the point) than mine.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2015-12-11T19:30:28.831Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

You say something like this every time Giving What We Can's multiple gets discussed, but never point out specific problems with the estimates, or provide alternative estimates.

comment by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2015-12-11T11:49:41.521Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

You can find the detailed calculations here.

I agree that if you'd asked me five years ago what one could expect in a fundraising ratio I would have been surprised by estimates like 100:1. Most charitable fundraising is in the ballpark of 10:1. Nevertheless, the folks at GWWC are very methodical about gathering huge amounts of data and processing it carefully and transparently. If you have any specific suggestions for the methodology I'd be very open to exploring them.

comment by impala · 2015-12-15T14:02:23.565Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you, my top two suggestions would be:

  • Break down which activities have led to which members in as much detail as possible.

  • Justify the "Counter-factual donation rate" more deeply. Use a graduate volunteer's time to dig into it and present multiple explorations of it, some of which don't rely on people's subjective estimates of it when asked by GWWC at the time they're pledging to it. Include some in-depth exploration of the counter-factual rate for a few members.

comment by Bernadette_Young · 2015-12-11T10:50:32.215Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The GWWC fundraising prospectus sets out in quite extensive detail the observations and assumptions that underlie the figures, as well as providing the spreadsheets to let you explore how your own probability estimates would change them.

What further information do you think should be included?

comment by impala · 2015-12-11T22:44:18.911Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'll give my own answer when I get time but the questions at http://effective-altruism.com/ea/ql/giving_what_we_can_needs_your_help_this_christmas/ look like a decent start.

comment by Bernadette_Young · 2015-12-11T22:50:30.518Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

There are indeed great questions there with extensive responses, many of which point to information that was already publicly available.

I think it's awesome for people to ask questions: in the GWWC fundraising post there's been a really productive discussion. But here, as on a previous occasion, you seem to be suggesting there is some deception going on. You've suggested in another post that you see these responses as 'punching up', but by keeping it vague it also looks a lot like mud-slinging (as opposed to an airing of your concerns, which I hope everybody would be keen to have happen).

Hopefully you'll have time to elaborate on your concerns soon.

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2015-12-11T13:57:05.859Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Impala, You can find our entire methodology for those on our impact page, and we’ve been answering detailed questions and providing additional requested data on this forum post. We didn’t put all of it in the prospectus this time partly because we didn’t want to swamp people and partly because we think that this is not that useful for evaluating whether to give to us, compared to looking at our overall plans and team (see this helpful post from Ben Todd). It is more like a check to make sure we are continuing to plenty of money to effective charities compared to the money we are spending than the precise value we expect our leverage ratio to stably be going into the future. On the other hand, having a high leverage ratio so far does seem to be a good sign overall of how things are going. Finding it prima facie implausible seems like a good reason to think that it may decrease quite substantially in the future, but not a good reason to avoid updating on it at all. Could you elaborate on what you think we might be doing wrong, or what you think we could improve on? That way I might be able to provide more insight how why we act as we do, or improve our workings.

comment by HaukeHillebrandt · 2015-12-10T19:16:27.812Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I wanted to add that Givewell, in their recent board meeting mentioned that they moved more than $20 Million to top charities excluding GoodVentures money in 2015. They said that Effective Altruism becoming more popular was the primary driver of increased web traffic this year based on analytics (note that this a non-verbatim summary). source: http://www.givewell.org/about/official-records/board-meeting-31

Thus, I think there's a very good case to be made for EA outreach being very valuable.

comment by joshjacobson · 2015-12-10T19:22:40.519Z · score: 9 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The concept of EA Outreach is surely valuable.

There should however be significant question, that the EA Outreach team should answer, as to counterfactual growth, as well as whether the growth activities are putting EA in a better or worse position reputationally (and thus adding to or detracting from long-term growth potential).

comment by Kerry_Vaughan · 2015-12-12T16:20:53.313Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

We should distinguish between EA Outreach the organization and EA outreach the activity. I agree that the activity of EA outreach is very likely to be valuable, but I agree with Josh that EA Outreach the organization may not be effective despite this.

Unfortunately we're not in a great position to know the counterfactuals on people added to the movement from our activity. Upper bound on new EAs added through EA Global is 110 people. I expect the actual number to be lower but I'm not sure by how much.

We also sold 17,000 books so far, but we don't know the conversion rate from books to becoming involved in the EA community and we don't know how many counterfactual sales we were responsible for.

In terms of the long-term potential of the movement, I feel quite confident defending that our 2016 plan will put the EA movement in a much better position in the future.

comment by Owen_Cotton-Barratt · 2015-12-10T12:27:30.670Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Denise,

Not why you got a downvote, seems like a very reasonable discussion (but I note your prefacing as "taking one for the team", so perhaps you were expecting the downvote more than I was!).

I'll give my thoughts on these questions. I'm employed by CEA, but not speaking for CEA here. I'm sure you'd get a mix of thoughts from people who work there, but I also guess that my views aren't too atypical.

1) It's unclear whether the amount of money being raised should be regarded as large or small, and seems to depend quite a lot on the reference frame. First, not-so-relevant classes: it's very large by the standards of an individual (relevant for the "many hundreds of lives" comment), and very small by the standards of society as a whole.

More relevantly, it's large by the standards of the budgets from last year, or the year before, as you point out. With expansion like that, we should at least be considering whether the value of marginal activities is changing significantly. However, also relevant is that it's reasonably small by the standards of the effective altruism community (and this is true if you draw the border not just at CEA but including all the EA meta-charities*). Our metrics are a bit crude, but to a first approximation I think CEA has been growing in proportion to the community as a whole.

This last reference class seems one of the most relevant to me. The value produced by the continued growth of the movement is large. It's fairly clear that the growth happens as a result of things that people do. This includes a lot of things that individuals do without working on it full-time or being part of any organisation. Nonetheless, the average value of these activities is very high (even compared to the very good opportunities given by AMF), and the total amount of them isn't so high that the marginal value is obviously much lower (though it could be lower, and there is a question mark here). This gives an argument for scaling up meta-charity quite quickly. There are then questions about how much of that ought to be professionalised, and how much of the professional meta-charity ought to be at CEA rather than elsewhere. I won't try to answer that (but I will note that I think all of your queries have already kicked in by the time we get to the conclusion that metacharity activities should be scaling up roughly in proportion with the community).

2) How confident am I that CEA produces more value than equivalent donations to AMF? This turns out to be a surprisingly tricky question to pin down, because there are a lot of subtly different versions to which I'd give different answers. I'll try to specify and answer a couple of these, but these probabilities are from the top of my head and might change if you asked me another day. In all cases I'll include a guess about the opportunity cost of staff time in "equivalent donations".

2.1) How likely do I think it is that CEA as a whole produces more value than equivalent AMF donations?

80%, but this is a bit misleading. I'm closer to 95% that the bundle of activities is more valuable, but if CEA weren't pursuing them I think it's quite likely other individuals or groups would pick up and do more, and that it's possible that they'd do a better job.

2.2) How likely do I think that marginal CEA activities produce more value than equivalent AMF donations?

Quite dependent on the marginal activity. Averaged over a large enough margin, perhaps 80% again (though the chance that the bundle of marginal activities beats AMF is lower now, maybe 90% -- I think the displacement effects are weaker). But I think that individual CEA activities are significantly higher variance than AMF, so many of them may have low chances (~5-50%?) of outdoing AMF, balanced by the possibility of doing a lot better.

--

*Of the CEA orgs, I think it's right to consider GWWC, 80k, and EAO as essentially meta-charities. GPP has had a mix of activities, some of which have meta-charity goals, and some of which are aiming at other indirect levers to creating value. Taken as a bundle, I'm reasonably confident that the non-meta-charity activities significantly exceed the bar of AMF, but it seems quite possible that some individual activities don't.

comment by AGB · 2015-12-10T19:33:35.161Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

"However, also relevant is that it's reasonably small by the standards of the effective altruism community (and this is true if you draw the border not just at CEA but including all the EA meta-charities*). Our metrics are a bit crude, but to a first approximation I think CEA has been growing in proportion to the community as a whole."

This does seem like the most relevant metric to me, and I'm not sure I agree with you about 'reasonably small' here. As Sebastian notes, the total CEA budget for 2016 is approx. $1.8m. That raises two questions for me:

  1. How much of this do we expect to raise from within the EA community, broadly defined? I would expect the answer to be 'a lot', maybe 85%, but interested if others have different impressions.
  2. How much money will the EA community, similarly broadly defined, donate this year?

That would get you towards '(financial) resources going to CEA as a fraction of total EA resources', which is a number I care on quite a lot actually.

comment by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2015-12-11T16:50:54.959Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The EA community, broadly defined, donates a huge amount of money. GiveWell moved more than $20m (excluding GoodVentures) in 2015, source and credits effective altruism as motivating a substantial part of this. Giving What We Can moved more than $3m. FLI committed grants worth about $7m. Leverhulme Foundation granted $15m for existential risk research. This is far from exhaustive, but we're looking at something on the order of magnitude of $50m fairly easily.

Relative to this, CEA's $1.8m does not seem nearly as large. I think one of the sources of intuitive surprise is just that the EA movement as a whole seems to be roughly doubling or a bit more in size every year which means that the heuristics we have for thinking about size become out of date very quickly. Relative to EA as a whole, CEA may be shrinking slightly since we have been growing a little slower than doubling.

Most of the projects have significant non-EA funding, but this is something we're trying to grow (for example by recruiting for a development manager who could expand our non-EA donor base). 80k got a lot of funding through YCombinator and associated leads. GWWC gets a substantial amount from people with a strong interest in development and giving but less in effective altruism itself. GPP gets significant funding from grant sources that wouldn't otherwise fund EA work. Even EAO got at least $50k from people who have not typically given to EA charities, which is surprising for an organisation focused so heavily on the EA community itself. I've gone over our numbers and think 80k may have gotten more than half its budget outside the EA community recently. GPP gets around 40%. This is pretty loose stuff though, because it's so hard to define what counts as EA money and we don't have good access to the counterfactuals. Ben also makes a really important point about the donors who move from giving to us to supporting other EA projects.

comment by Owen_Cotton-Barratt · 2015-12-12T12:13:32.488Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Although note that you've compared 2015 money moved with projected 2016 costs. I think it's probably more appropriate to compare them in the same year, which if the growth is indeed a doubling every year means the CEA budget is about half the size proportionally.

Overall it looks like meta-charity is in the vicinity of 5% of money moved. My personal (extremely uncertain) guess is that 5-10% would be about right for a movement in equilibrium, but that during rapid growth it's better to be higher.

comment by AGB · 2015-12-14T20:22:51.138Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I understand how you're both getting to these numbers and a ratio of around 5%. I'm trying to reconcile them with the fact that for example, Denise and I expect to give around 50% of our donations to meta-charities this year. For everyone like us, there need to be 9 comparably sized donors giving 0% to make the maths line up. But I don't actually offhand know of anyone planning to give less than 5% to meta except some small donors who don't want to split their donations. I understood EA donations to be relatively top-heavy, so those small donors shouldn't affect things that drastically. So that suggests my circles are skewed in some way, but I'm not sure how.

All I can think of is that the really big donors give less than 5% (though not 0) to meta-charities and they skew the entire pool. But that doesn't quite seem right either, e.g. Good Ventures donated $15m to Givewell charities in 2014 and Givewell operations were $3m total in that year. Annoyingly I can't seem to find how much GV donated to GW for their operations that year, but I assume it was not significant less, and probably more, than 5% * $15m = $0.75m.

In any case, if it is the case that the low overall percentage is entirely due to a few large donors contributing low percentages to meta-charity, that still seems worth bearing in mind when you are actually in the process of fund-raising from relatively smaller donors (who are presumably the targets of this post). AFAIK they are already committing way more than 5% to meta-charity.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2015-12-14T21:52:28.724Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's a big pool of silent donors who give to GiveWell recommended charities. They don't participate actively in the community so you never hear from them.

So I agree that if you care about "actively participating EAs" then the percentage who give to meta-charities is likely higher.

It's not clear which figure is most relevant. It makes sense that the people most involved in the community are in the best relative position to support the EA orgs because they know the most about them. It also makes sense that the more persuaded people will be more inclined to support meta-charities. Finally, large donors should give more to startups because they have more time to research (and can specialise in being meta-charity donors); small donors should stick to GiveWell recommended charities. Overall, the large active EA donors should give above the 5% baseline to pull the overall ratio up.

comment by AGB · 2015-12-14T22:51:27.645Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

My understanding was that the majority of Givewell donors have essentially nothing to do with EA whatsoever (though this seems to be changing by the sounds of the board meeting Sebastian mentioned linked to above). Is the claim that there's an intermediate group who, say, have heard of and would identify with EA and donated to GW-recommended charities but don't actively engage? That doesn't sound crazy.

I agree with all of the latter points, but again my impression was that donations are already very top heavy. Some estimates that might help pin this disagreement more precisely:

  1. What percentage of donations by dollars do you think come from people donating more than $30k annually?
  2. What percentage do you think those people give to meta-charity?

If your answers are, say, 30% and 20%, that already gets you above 5%, and of course that's a lower bound at this point.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2015-12-15T23:55:42.310Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

On the silent donors, I'm not sure. If you're giving a lot of money to a GiveWell recommended charity or you're a member of GWWC, then functionally you're an EA (in my definition). But I agree many of them might not explicitly identify as EAs. I do think there's a significant intermediate group, but I'm not sure how many.

Perhaps more relevant, even if they don't identify as EA, where the silent donors give is influenced by EA. So I think there's still a good case for including them in the money moved. If we can persuade a big group of people to give to AMF but not metacharities, then it makes sense to do that, and then for the people who are interested in giving to either give to meta charity.

comment by Ervin · 2015-12-17T17:26:33.086Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps more relevant, even if they don't identify as EA, where the silent donors give is influenced by EA. So I think there's still a good case for including them in the money moved.

Can you explain why you're thinking that they're influenced by EA? It seems at least equally plausible that they're influenced by GiveWell, which is distinct from most EA meta-orgs, and operates using a different model. Are you thinking that there's another influence on them, like 80k or GWWC?

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2015-12-18T01:32:09.732Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

They're influenced by GiveWell, and GiveWell is part of EA.

Or even if you don't think GiveWell is part of EA, they're very similar to EA in their approach, and many of the staff are explicitly EAs or supporters of EA. I think GiveWell has also been influenced by other groups in EA, though it's hard to tell.

comment by Ervin · 2015-12-22T21:06:16.493Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that GiveWell could be considered part of EA. Ultimately I see that as a merely semantic question. My and I think AGB's point is that the donors who follow GiveWell aren't self-identified members of the "EA movement", and aren't giving because of EA outreach specifically. It appears that organizations doing EA outreach specifically get much more than 5% of the money donated by members of the "EA movement" who were inspired to give by those organizations.

comment by Owen_Cotton-Barratt · 2015-12-15T08:12:39.544Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I was trying to look at the ratio of meta-charity work to money being moved at the same time. Since meta-charities fundraise often a year in advance, then as a flow of donations the proportion should be higher.

I do think that "You should measure and give to the most effective measured charities" is a much easier sell than "You should try to understand which of the things we can't measure well could be even better than the ones we can", so my prior is that these numbers aren't surprising. I don't feel I have a good understanding of the community breakdown; I expect I interact way disproportionately with people who are on board with the second statement. This means my error bars on the kind of estimate that you ask Ben for are large, and they don't have too much effect on my all-things-considered belief.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2015-12-11T15:22:35.726Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

From memory, 80k has raised about 40% of its total funding from outside the EA community. We've also brought more donors into the EA community, which I'm not including in this figure.

comment by Kerry_Vaughan · 2015-12-12T16:15:08.535Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

To add an additional clarification of the question:

2.3 How likely is it that marginal CEA activities produce more value than equivalent AMF donations in expectation?

Speaking only for EAO, it seems somewhat likely to me that EAO will ultimately not be able to produce as much value as AMF would have with marginal donations. However, I think we have a much larger potential upside than marginal donations to AMF so, I'm pretty confident donations to EAO are better in expectation.

I would be extremely surprised if donations to 80K and GWWC weren't better than AMF in expectation.

comment by Robert_Wiblin · 2015-12-14T17:09:55.357Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

A quick note that if you want to permanently grow your budget from £200k p.a. to £300k p.a. while maintaining 12 months reserves for your fundraising round at the start of the next year, you need to raise £200k rather than £100k.

12 months' reserves might be regarded as a bit generous (though it has a lot of advantages that aren't immediately obvious). But even if you went as low as 6 months reserves, which is cutting it fine, you'd still have to raise £150k. So absolute fundraising figures can be a misleading indicator of the associated spending growth.

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2015-12-17T09:22:05.720Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the long discussion everyone - I think I can cope with the single downvote. :-)

In case that wasn't clear, my phrasing was more for rhetorical reasons than it reflected personal beliefs. It seemed somewhat likely someone would use the same framing if noone else had done it so far, and then I'd rather have it written by someone where I'm not worried that it will put a strain on the relationship between CEA and them. But maybe I'm just rationalizing feeling like I wanted to be controversial that day. ;-)

As far as I'm personally concerned, I very much agree with Ben that you should view CEA as four different organisations. I'm completely fine with 80k's budget, very happy to see GPP expanding, have already talked about EAO with Kerry and haven't looked at GWWC's prospectus and the discussion yet.

I'm curious how long the fundraiser is supposed to last? I think it would also be helpful to have information handy on one webpage how much has been raised for each organisation so far.

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2015-12-17T09:55:28.181Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

That seems like good thinking Denise - as you say, comes across better from someone who knows CEA pretty well. The fundraisers last until the end of December, and this page on the CEA website I think has the information you're looking for.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2015-12-11T14:09:49.970Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I recommend thinking of CEA as 4 organisations rather than one. For instance, 80k is only increasing its budget from 2015 to 2016 by about 40%. That seems pretty reasonable to me given that we've been tripling our key metrics (annualised).

Edit: Also 2014-2015 we only grew the budget about 25%, and the year before that it shrank 5%, so our 3yr budget growth rate is well behind the growth in our metrics and the EA movement as a whole.

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2015-12-11T15:55:29.951Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

According to the winter prospectus, you're increasing your staff budget, but not your overall one. Your comment sounds like your increasing the overall budget by 40%. Was that misleading by accident or did I misunderstand something?

Edit: Your staff budget, not your stuff budget...

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2015-12-11T19:26:45.104Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Denise,

Our 2015 total spending (including central splits and everything) is going to be about 215k. Our 2016 budget, including hiring a coach, is about 250k.

The prospectus shows 174k for 2015, but this doesn't include our share of central services. Adding that gets you to about 215k. (I apologise for this confusing presentation).

The prospectus shows 192k for 2016. However that doesn't include a 10% contingency, which I always aim to fundraise (though we usually don't spend it). And it doesn't include hiring a coach, which is another 39k. Adding both of those gets you to about 250k.

So the increase is actually only 16%, not 40%.

I was wrong about the 40% increase because when I did the quick calculation there I hadn't included all of the costs of doing YC last summer (moving to the Bay Area, which were covered by the grant we got from YC). This drives down the 2016 growth rate, but drives up the 2015 growth rate.

Overall, here's 80k's total historical spending (including all costs and central splits assigned to 80k):

All figures are in pounds, to 3sf. Annual growth rates shown in brackets. 2015 and 2016 figures are estimates.

2012: 23100

2013: 124000 (436%)

2014: 119000 (-4%)

2015: 215000 (80%)

2016: 250000 (16%) (including hiring a coach)

Edit: Our most recent public figures are here: https://80000hours.org/2015/07/80000-hours-finance-report-april-2015-2/ But don't include the 2016 budget.

comment by impala · 2015-12-11T22:34:48.273Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Amid many critical comments I should give props for going above and beyond the original request by clearly presenting this historical data.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2015-12-09T21:11:35.258Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

You can find an overview of all of our work in the 2015 CEA Winter Prospectus.

Do you have a public copy of that?

comment by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2015-12-09T23:52:51.706Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, document is now linked to in post.

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2015-12-19T14:39:45.963Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What exactly does CEA shared services do? Why does it double? Was it previously included in the 80k, etc budgets?

Looking at the prospectus, I'm also confused why GPP's budget is roughly 95k but then you're trying to raise much more than that (more than 12 months reserves would imply?) But maybe that will be answered when their fundraiser is put up?

comment by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2015-12-30T07:40:54.211Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

GPP's total budget for 2016 will be roughly £220,000 which is roughly what our minimum target is. The reason there's a discrepancy between this figure and the £95k figure is that the £95k figure presented in the overall CEA budget includes only sums that flow through CEA and doesn't include any shared services. However, GPP is a joint project with FHI, so in 2016 a significant portion of the total costs will be funded via FHI rather than CEA. In addition, we are expecting to hire a seconded civil servant whose salary will be partly funded by the state. This is not counted as part of the CEA budget but is counted as part of the GPP budget.

You can find lots more detail on GPP here

comment by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2015-12-30T07:21:11.015Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

CEA shared services are the parts of CEA that are not linked to just one specific organisation. This includes parts that are funded straight from org contributions and parts that we are trying to fundraise for separately. Not quite exhaustively the part funded straight from org contributions includes office costs, legal, finance, HR, and my salary. The part funded from unrestricted donations will be more discretionary projects that we think are likely to benefit CEA as a whole in the longer term. This will include hiring a marketing expert, EA strategy researcher and potentially a fundraising expert (though we did not end up hiring for that position this winter).

The shared services budget is going up quite a lot partly because it has been held artificially low (we haven't had enough capacity and had large amounts of volunteer or intern work), partly because we're expanding to the US and partly because we'll offer the orgs new services like full-stack marketing help. It's staying roughly constant as a proportion of total expenditure. There are some downward pressures. For example, Tara has secured a pro bono deal where we can outsource our accounting for free once we upgrade to a more sophisticated platform.

I'm sorry, it was confusing to split out shared services here when we normally show all the costs distributed to the orgs. In the future, when not all of the shared services budget will come through the orgs, the new layout of the information is likely to make more sense.

comment by AGB · 2015-12-25T11:46:00.945Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ping. I also have ongoing confusion here because in some places this is referred to as 'shared services' and in some places as 'CEA unrestricted'. These sound like very different things! Is this something that existed in previous years (and wasn't fundraising for what reason exactly?), and if not what's changed?

comment by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2015-12-30T07:43:52.857Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

You're quite right, they are different. At the moment, we are planning to use marginal unrestricted funds to invest in shared services. Partly this aims to increase the autonomy of the shared services function and reduce the extent they feel they need to ask for permission to all the orgs to do useful things.

Past that level though, unrestricted funding would help us build a small reserve of unrestricted money that would provide us with financial stability. Right now, each organisation needs to keep a pretty significant independent runway because virtually all our reserves are restricted. If we had a bigger pool of funds that could go to any org, we could get the same level of financial security with smaller total reserves.

comment by AGB · 2015-12-31T09:03:00.194Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm not following the second paragraph. CEA has an overall budget and the general theme I've heard w.r.t. reserves has been 'we want to have about 12 months' reserves'. 12 months reserves is the same number whether the org budgets are consolidated or split out.

Is the thinking that with a large pool of unrestricted funding CEA as a whole would be comfortable running with significantly less, say 6 months reserves (which would still be more than 12 months for any individual org)?

comment by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2016-01-01T18:54:35.951Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

At the moment most of the orgs within CEA target 12 months reserves (though some have less and, in particular, they sometimes fall quite low at some point in the course of the year because we avoid on-going fundraising).

If we had something like 3 months of reserves for all costs unrestricted it would give us either greater financial security or the ability to cut the size of restricted overall reserves to, say, 7 months while keeping similar stability. This would free up EA capital for other projects.

It's a little unclear what the right level of reserves ought to be. In the US it's common for charities to have very large endowments (say 20 years). I think the 12 months at all times target we have right now is about appropriate, given the value of capital to EA projects, but would expect that number to drift upwards as the EA community matures.

comment by AGB · 2016-01-03T17:40:25.798Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

"If we had something like 3 months of reserves for all costs unrestricted it would give us either greater financial security or the ability to cut the size of restricted overall reserves to, say, 7 months while keeping similar stability."

This is super-useful to know and directly answers my question, thanks.

You mentioned above that the current plan is to use unrestricted funding on some discretionary shared services projects, rather than e.g. directly helping out the individual orgs Does this reflect a belief that this are the current highest-marginal-value activities are in shared services, or do you have some other reason for this allocation?

comment by number42 · 2015-12-09T23:02:03.331Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

To clarify, is your total 2016 budget £1.7 million (roughly $2.7 milllion), ie the total of the figures you gave?

comment by Sebastian_Farquhar · 2015-12-09T23:52:04.120Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Not quite, our total budget for 2016 is about £1.2m, about $1.8m (detailed breakdown on page 12 of the prospectus).

The sum of the funding targets is greater than our budget because at the moment many of our organisations have quite small reserves and need to raise more than they plan to spend this year in order to have healthy reserves at the end of the year. That would allow us to only fundraise once per year, which is a much more efficient use of staff time. General advice is for charities to have roughly 6-18 months of reserves at all times.