As a small donor, should I donate with an ecosystem approach or focus on one organization?

post by warrenjordan · 2020-06-10T01:13:12.349Z · EA · GW · No comments

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Crossposted in r/EffectiveAltruism if anyone wants to look at more responses.

I've entirely donated to GiveWell's discretionary fund thus far, but now I'm looking to broaden my donation portfolio with criminal justice reform and x-risk.

Looking at Open Philanthrophy's process of grantmaking, it looks like they fund an ecosystem of organizations working on a cause and their capital enables them to accomplish that.

Are small donors able to take the same approach? Or is it better for us to donate to one organization indefinitely, given the small magnitude of our donations (e.g. $200 per month)?

I like the idea of an ecosystem approach since you're donating to where the ecosystem of a cause has the most need. Thus, your dollars will do the most good within that cause.

For example:

Whether a small donor takes an ecosystem or a single org approach, how do they determine which org to donate to? I know that 80k recommends people to 'top up' the funding that Open Phil grants. To highlight an example they give:

If you’re interested in giving to support pandemic preparedness, you can get a list of all their grants in that area, read through some recent ones, and donate to an organisation you find attractive and which still has room to absorb some more funding.

This is my interpretation of Open Phil's ecosystem approach and I only heard about them last week, so please correct me if this isn't correct.

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answer by kbog · 2020-06-11T07:16:03.560Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's pretty straightforward: donate to wherever your money can do the most good at the moment. If this month it's Org A then you donate to Org A, and if next month it's Org B then you should switch. Cost-effectiveness rankings can change. This is not about ecosystems in particular. Sometimes we gain new information about charity effectiveness, sometimes a charity fills its funding needs and no longer needs more money.

Glancing at that Open Phil page, it looks like they are saying that they don't only look at how much good an organization is directly doing, but they also look at how effective they are when considering the more general needs of their sector of the nonprofit industry.

I don't know if it's common that Open Phil or anyone correctly identifies an ecosystem consideration that substantially changes the cost-effectiveness of a particular charity, but if you have identified such a consideration, of course you shouldn't simply ignore it from your analysis. If it means the charity does more or less good, of course you should pay attention to it.

comment by warrenjordan · 2020-06-11T07:36:08.242Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
It's pretty straightforward: donate to wherever your money can do the most good at the moment. If this month it's Org A then you donate to Org A, and if next month it's Org B then you should switch

The problem for me is how do I know which organization is doing the most good in a cause area? And how do I keep tabs on that?

For global health, GiveWell provides all of that, so I defer to them by donating to their discretionary fund every month.

With criminal justice reform and x-risk, the seemingly best deferral option is Open Phil - which is why I mentioned them. They have a grant database for each cause, but I don't know how to decide which of the orgs they funded would do the most good based off of my small, marginal donation each month.

For example, let's say I want to donate $100 this month to bio-risk. I look at their grant database (as of this writing) and see 1DaySooner as their most recent grant in 5/2020 for $500k. Does this mean that my $100 would do the most good there, if I were to donate right now? If I look at their largest grant, which is John Hopkins Center for Health Security for $19.5M in 9/2019, would my dollar do the most good there instead vs. 1DaySooner?

Open Phil suggests organizations for individual donors, but they only do that once a year. I'd expect the top organization that is doing the most good in a cause area would change pretty often within a year, but I could be wrong about that.

comment by kbog · 2020-06-11T08:00:42.715Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hmm, I don't think you can read into the tea leaves of Open Phil's donations like that. They will donate to fill funding gaps, a large donation doesn't mean that ADDITIONAL money will be more or less valuable to that organization. And how recently they donated might be due to how recently they were discovered, or some other unimportant consideration. (But if an org hasn't received Open Phil money in many years, perhaps they are not effective or funding-constrained anymore.)

Out of all the Open Phil grantees, just try to pick the recent one that seems most important or most neglected.

For criminal justice, I think this is straightforward. These causes are getting a lot of attention from liberals and Black Lives Matter, especially given the current surge in interest. So a charity which is a little less appealing to these people will probably be more neglected these days. Looking at a glance, the American Conservative Union's Center for Criminal Justice Reform seems like one that will be more neglected - liberals and BLM won't want to donate to a conservative foundation. I'm not saying this is necessarily the right choice, but it's an example of how I would think about the matter. Yes it is very hard to fully estimate the cost-effectiveness of an organization, but if you have a good suspicion that other donors are biased in a certain way, you can go in the opposite direction to find the more neglected charities.

If you have no idea which charities might be best, you can always just pick at random, or split your donation, or donate to whichever one you like best for small reasons (e.g. you personally appreciate their research or something like that).

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