Why your EA group should promote effective giving (and how)post by Jack Lewars (jlewars) · 2022-02-17T16:02:06.606Z · EA · GW · 25 comments
TL;DR this form See the bottom of this post for more detail on taking action. Why has giving become less prominent in EA? Tactical reasons to make giving an integral part of every EA group Giving is great scaffolding to bring people further into EA Giving both increases and sustains engagement with EA Giving does not mean you cannot pursue the full range of EA activities Philosophical reasons to promote effective giving Giving can still make a massive difference We should only expect opportunities for impactful donating to grow in the future Waiting often means giving less EA thought leaders give, a lot So what can we do to make giving an integral part of our EA group? None 25 comments
This is the first in a series of posts about effective giving in 2022, from One for the World and Giving What We Can. You can read part 2 on longtermist donation opportunities here [EA · GW].
Many thanks to Luke Freeman, Pablo Melchor, Chloë Cudaback, Adam Binks, Devon Fritz, Michael Townsend, Julia Wise and Ella Matza for their feedback on the draft.
We believe that giving is an important aspect of effective altruism. However, we feel that giving is becoming less prominent in the community and, in particular, that it has been de-prioritised by a lot of EA groups. We believe that it’s a tremendous lost opportunity, if groups are not leveraging giving or pledging to increase recruitment and engagement; and we think it’s tactically and philosophically wise to promote effective giving in every EA group.
This post argues that we should revitalise our commitment to giving as a movement. If you want help with this, there are several organisations perfectly placed to support you, including Giving What We Can, One for the World, national regranting organisations and High Impact Professionals.
CTA: Fill out this form if you’d like support in promoting effective giving at your group! This can include:
- Requesting an expert speaker
- Getting trained to deliver effective giving talks yourself
- Getting ready-made materials such as presentations, graphics and advertising copy
- Building a session about giving into your EA fellowship
- Getting a checkout page set up for your group (for immediate or for future donations)
See the bottom of this post for more detail on taking action.
Why has giving become less prominent in EA?
Giving has become a less prominent part of EA culture for a variety of reasons:
- There is now more money available to effective altruism projects than ever before [EA · GW], which can make donors feel that their contributions may not make a difference.
- The importance attached by EAs to the risk of artificial intelligence and other existential risks has grown [EA · GW]. These cause areas do not have the same number of clearly effective giving opportunities as, for example, global health; and they often prioritise other types of action such as career choice over giving, because longtermism is relatively well-funded (although arguably far from overfunded - see below) and is instead considered talent-constrained.
- The community has in general become more focussed on career advice and career choice than in previous years. More people [EA · GW] now hear about EA for the first time via 80,000 Hours than any other organisation, and half [EA · GW] of all EA survey respondents said 80,000 Hours was the most important factor that led them to getting involved in EA. By comparison, only 5.5% of respondents first heard about EA via a giving organisation, so giving is drawing fewer new people to the community. It can therefore be seen as less important for community building and may have fewer advocates within the EA community in comparison to other types of action.
- The community has deprioritised the notion of “Earning to Give”, partly in reaction to negative outside perceptions of this approach to impact and partly because money now seems less important than talent on the margin, and this has affected how giving is perceived in general (even though Earning to Give and giving in general are vastly different things).
- Thought leaders such as Toby Ord and Will MacAskill, who used to promote giving heavily, have also started to talk about other types of impact, such as working to reduce existential risk, and so people have become less influenced towards giving (although Toby and Will personally remain extremely committed to effective giving - see below).
Tactical reasons to make giving an integral part of every EA group
We believe that giving and pledging should be integral parts of all EA groups, alongside our other efforts. This includes workplace, professional, local, faith and student groups!
Giving is great scaffolding to bring people further into EA
Promoting effective giving is extremely tactically wise. Indeed, we think this point is possibly the best argument for integrating giving and pledging into your group:
Giving both increases and sustains engagement with EA
Giving is an important factor in deepening people’s connection to EA. When asked which factors were important for EA survey respondents getting [more] involved [EA · GW], 35% cited GiveWell, 21% cited Giving What We Can, 12% cited The Life You Can Save and 6% cited ACE, all organisations that are primarily concerned with giving.
It also makes sense that giving is a great way of recruiting new people to the movement; and leading them deeper into the EA community:
- Giving is a concrete action you can take easily and early in your journey. It’s accessible and meets the expectations of people new to EA, because donating is part of mainstream culture, so there is no ‘comprehension barrier’.
- It encourages you to engage with key EA concepts, like cause prioritisation and cost effectiveness.
- It improves people’s first impressions of EA, by showing that the community is committed to helping others and making a difference in a concrete way, even at some personal expense.
- It (mostly) has short feedback loops, where you can see the results of your actions much more quickly than in, for example, choosing a new career, and so it can refresh and maintain your commitment to longer term projects. It can also have an anchoring effect, preventing 'value drift' over time.
- It is a concrete commitment that involves self-sacrifice, which can in turn make you more committed to the community and its ideas. This aligns with the theory that ‘costly signals’ increase your commitment to a group or cause.
- It is an excellent signal of your commitment to the project of EA, if you want to take a further step such as attending a conference, volunteering or getting a job working in the field.
For all these reasons, encouraging giving should be a core part of pretty much any strategy for EA movement building. If you're trying to build your group, giving will help you recruit more people and get them to engage with our ideas. It will also help existing members, by deepening their connection to the community, improving their understanding, helping them achieve their goals within it, and sustaining their commitment as they are in the community over time.
Giving does not mean you cannot pursue the full range of EA activities
Clearly there are times when we need to choose between different types of outreach, programming, or content. We shouldn’t offer “a little bit of everything, all of the time”. However, it’s easy (and surprisingly common) to fall into a false choice when it comes to encouraging giving versus other types of EA activity.
It is great to concentrate your group on a particular type of activity - like career advice, fellowships or reading groups. Indeed, on the margin, you might well think these are more impactful than encouraging giving from small dollar donors. The key phrase, though, is on the margin - because very few of us actually face zero sum choices between promoting giving or doing something else. You can 100% do other types of programming while also talking about giving at the same time. And, given the substantial tactical benefits to promoting effective giving laid out above, there are strong arguments for making room for giving in your group strategy.
Let’s consider some concrete examples.
You're doing the second module of your EA fellowship, which focuses on maximising impact and effectiveness. At the end, instead of thanking everyone and going your separate ways. you give energised attendees an immediate way to take action, either by making an immediate token donation or by taking a pledge for a modest percentage of their future income. This brings to life the ideas of cause prioritisation and personal fit/resonance that you've just discussed - and gives people thinking about their career an immediate first step in their change of values.
The following month, you’re giving a talk on a cause area, like AI safety. Everyone seems convinced that this is important work - but only one or two people are seriously considering changing their careers to work within it. Ending this talk with a variety of concrete ways for people to get involved, which include using your career, donating and advocacy within your peer group improves the presentation and gives a clear call to action, even for people who don’t think they have a strong personal or academic fit with AI safety careers.
In each case, talking about effective giving actively helps other aspects of EA - and definitely doesn’t undermine them or force you to neglect them.
Beyond this dovetailing, you don’t need to distract your members from other types of action by talking about giving. There is no reason why many people cannot commit to donating a modest percentage of their future income, at the same time as deepening their understanding of EA or engaging with new cause areas.
We want to say clearly that we support people being financially responsible and pursuing high impact careers. You should think really carefully about whether a pledge is right for you. This is especially true with young people committing future income at an idealistic stage of life, and with more significant pledgers such as 10% of your income. Some people have negative experiences from pledging [EA(p) · GW(p)].
However, in the overwhelming majority of cases, members of the EA community can be giving something at the same time that they are studying, community building, doing direct work or debating EA ideas. Critically, giving and pledging do not mean “Earning to Give”, which is the most radical commitment to donating and which can legitimately be considered through a zero sum lense. Effective giving pledges start at just 1% of spending money, an affordable action for anyone in a high income country with at least some disposable income. Nothing about this precludes other types of impactful EA action.
Philosophical reasons to promote effective giving
If you've read this far and you're convinced - good stuff! You can go straight to our support form and get help getting started. However, we know that the community has philosophical reasons for reprioritising giving and so we wanted to lay out our thinking here as well.
Giving can still make a massive difference
While EA does now have a lot more money committed to it than ever before, there are still a lot of excellent giving opportunities to be funded right now. The money that is available is unevenly distributed between a small number of decision-makers and is unevenly available to different cause areas in a way that looks suboptimal, leaving plenty of underfunded routes to having a high impact.
Indeed, a common misconception is that saying ‘EA has a funding overhang’ is the same as saying ‘EA does not need more funding’. While longtermism has a formidable war chest, and actually faces more of a challenge in distribution than fundraising, this is not true of other cause areas (a forthcoming GWWC post will also argue that longtermists can expect to find very impactful donations right now). Many meta organisations report having significant funding insecurity; animal welfare is still significantly neglected given the scale of the problem; promising cause areas like mental health are operating on a shoestring; and there is a scattered and uneven pipeline [EA · GW] of funding available to new ideas and organisations. For evidence of this, we can look to well-reasoned arguments that resources are misallocated [EA · GW]; the small budgets of Charity Entrepreneurship start ups (typically <$200k); and the views of EA entrepreneurs. [Edit: Joey from Charity Entrepreneurship just laid this out brilliantly in another post here [EA · GW].]
Alongside this, there is strength in a diversity of funders. At present, a very small number of gatekeepers control practically all available funding. Using Ben Todd’s rough calculations [EA · GW], Open Philanthropy and Sam Bankman-Fried account for over two thirds of the money available to EA. This is bad for two reasons.
First, concentrating so much funding in just two sources is a significant financial risk to EA (one that is hugely underestimated, in our opinion). It should be noted that Dustin Moskovitz’s net worth has declined by around $10bn since last July (albeit it that FTX’s valuation has substantially increased, probably leaving us in much the same position overall).
Put simply, EA is currently seriously overexposed to a few volatile assets.
This also has serious implications for the distribution of funding in EA. At the most basic level, the changing valuation of two companies just reduced funding for neartermism by around $5bn and increased funding for longtermism by around $9bn, for reasons completely disconnected from EA.
Second, while we don’t doubt the good faith or expertise of these funders, they each have their own priorities, preferences and criteria, which can end up excluding certain organisations or approaches [EA · GW]. This provides donors who have differing worldviews from these large funders with an amazing opportunity to find impactful opportunities on their own. (Ben Todd lays out various ways to get great value as an individual donor here [EA · GW], alongside other arguments in favour of giving.)
There is strength for EA in having a large number of small dollar donors, which allows organisations to avoid over-reliance on a single funder; protects the money available to EA and its distribution between cause areas; and gives innovative approaches the chance to grow. Neither Open Philanthropy nor FTX would ever claim that they are trying to fund every good idea out there at every stage of its life cycle - so we need a diversity of funders to keep discovering and inventing more and more effective ways to do good, now and in the future.
We should only expect opportunities for impactful donating to grow in the future
In addition to existing opportunities, the most expert charity evaluators expect to find more exceptional giving opportunities in the very near future. GiveWell aims to find $1.5bn/year in excellent giving opportunities by 2025 and Open Philanthropy is also confident of finding new opportunities that are highly cost effective - so we should confidently expect the range of giving opportunities to broaden in the near future. This means that we need giving to remain a central theme of EA, so that we can fill these amazing funding opportunities as we discover them.
If we zoom out a little, we need also to remember that EA is about tackling the most important, neglected and tractable problems in the world. $46bn [EA · GW] in expected donations, and $500m in current annual donations, might sound like a lot - but not if you consider [EA(p) · GW(p)] that this community aims to end extreme poverty, end animal suffering, and safeguard the future of humanity. Seen through this lense, we do not have nearly enough currently or in expectation to achieve our goals. (Also, if you care about the outside perception of EA, there is a big reputational risk to the community here because it's so easy to misunderstand the idea that 'there is not a funding gap'. Usually, what EAs mean by this is that further funding is not the primary bottleneck to the most effective ways of improving the world. But it can easily sound horrendously callous if we seem to be saying that there isn't a funding gap when millions of people and billions of animals are suffering and dying unnecessarily each year.)
Waiting often means giving less
Of course, you might say that you will reconsider giving when these opportunities emerge - but this could be a mistake. Giving, like almost everything else, is habitual. In addition, the sooner you start giving habitually, the more giving you will do.
The evidence suggests that donors who give regularly and by percentages of their income give more on average (that is, excluding Ultra High Net Worth donors, who tend to give extremely large amounts irregularly). For example, donors who have taken a giving pledge give 2-5x more than donors who have not done so via Giving What We Can and EA Funds. Likewise, the median monthly donor via One for the World gives 25x more per year than the median annual donor, and 6x more than the median one-time donor.
Conversely, it follows that people who give irregularly give less - and, on average, this likely applies even if they hold back with the intention of giving in the future. Often someone aiming to ‘wait for a better opportunity’ is actually, intentionally or otherwise, just giving less over time. This is not to say that there are not people, especially thoughtful philanthropists like EAs, who are sincerely intending to give more later and who will follow through - but this is not true for your average donor.
Even if you’re conscious that EA has an overall funding overhang right now, you still have several high impact options that are immediately available to you. You can funge Open Philanthropy dollars [EA · GW], so that they can give more to new or different opportunities; add to the funds GiveWell has at its disposal for future opportunities; support funds that are in some way time-sensitive, as GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund aims to be; fund high potential projects [EA · GW] early in their life cycle; or even take a deliberate patient philanthropy approach, which would at least reduce your chances of never giving the amount away (especially if you use an irreversible mechanism like a Donor Advised Fund, where amounts you pay in can only be used philanthropically). This is leaving aside some of the funkier options like donor lotteries.
Finally, as Ben Todd points out, even giving opportunities that may not be absolutely the most effective ways to improve the world right now can still be incredibly impactful:
In a worst case scenario, billions could be spent on cash transfers at a level of cost-effectiveness similar to or only a little below GiveDirectly. This would most likely still produce 100 times more wellbeing for the world than spending the money on your own consumption.
EA thought leaders give, a lot
Some people wield significant influence in EA, and some of these people promoted effective giving often in the past, but now focus mainly on other cause areas or types of effective activity. However, we should emphasise that these people all still give as well.
Toby Ord is one the foremost existential risk philosophers and is the trustee at CEA responsible for the giving pledge Giving What We Can, which he co-founded. He has donated 26% of his lifetime earnings and all of the proceeds from The Precipice. Julia Wise, one of the longest serving EAs in the community and currently Community Liaison at CEA, donates 30-50% of her income, along with her partner. Will MacAskill, another Giving What We Can co-founder, gives everything he earns above a modest threshold. Peter Singer just donated his entire $1m Berggruen Prize and has given 30-50% of his income away for decades. As far as we can tell, pretty much everyone on the team at CEA, 80,000 Hours, GiveWell, Open Philanthropy and Longview Philanthropy is giving regularly.
So while EA is clearly about more than just giving, it is a core action taken by the foremost thinkers and influencers in the community. This should be a positive signal to all of us to keep giving as part of our altruism.
So what can we do to make giving an integral part of our EA group?
If you would like to introduce more discussion of giving into your EA student, workplace, professional, faith-based, or local group, the good news is that there is abundant support available. So fill out this form and take one or more of the following actions today!
- Request an expert speaker from a pledging or giving organisation - many places have speakers experienced in promoting effectively and sensitively, even in potentially delicate settings like corporate workplaces or faith communities.
- Get trained to deliver a great presentation yourself.
- Get ready-made materials such as presentations, graphics and advertising copy.
- Build a session about giving into your EA Fellowship.
- Get a checkout page set up for your group. One for the World can offer you pages on Donational to collect donations and record pledges to global health and poverty charities. For students, these let you set up a future-dated donation, which only begins your donation deduction after you graduate. This is often critical for signing up student givers in a meaningful way and you can track your progress live. It even lets you set up a small donation as a student which will automatically upgrade to your chosen amount once you graduate, if you have taken Giving What We Can’s Try Giving Pledge and want to actualise it. These pages are currently tax deductible in USD, CAD, GBP and AUD.
Comments sorted by top scores.
comment by Mauricio · 2022-02-18T03:53:12.910Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for writing this! I definitely agree on not wanting the community to make big tactics shifts without carefully thinking things through. In that spirit, I want to gently push back on some points, focusing on the claim that "Giving is great scaffolding to bring people further into EA" (since this claim is emphasized as "possibly the best argument for integrating giving and pledging into your group"). My current sense is that this claim is true to some extent, but significantly overstated:
First, much of the post's argument for the tactical upsides of promoting giving seems shaky.
The post argues:
Giving is an important factor in deepening people’s connection to EA. When asked which factors were important for EA survey respondents getting [more] involved, 35% cited GiveWell, 21% cited Giving What We Can, 12% cited The Life You Can Save and 6% cited ACE, all organisations that are primarily concerned with giving.
It's not clear to me from the survey that giving is actually an important factor in deepening people’s connection to the community. As far as I can tell, the survey didn't ask people what was important for them "getting [more] involved"; it just asked them what was important for "getting involved." So another hypothesis that seems compatible with the survey evidence would be: giving-focused orgs often make people initially aware of the community, and then other factors deepen their involvement.
(We might think that benefit is a good enough alternative reason to emphasize giving, but for now let's keep looking at the originally claimed benefit.)
It is a concrete commitment that involves self-sacrifice, which can in turn make you more committed to the community and its ideas. This aligns with the theory that ‘costly signals’ increase your commitment to a group or cause.
Does this theory have strong support? The opposite seems at least as plausible to me: maybe costly signals are annoying to give and therefore decrease commitment to a group or cause.
[Giving] (mostly) has short feedback loops, where you can see the results of your actions much more quickly than in, for example, choosing a new career
Is this true? I've yet to see the results of any of my donations.
The remaining reasons given in support of this claim don't apply uniquely to giving, as far as I can tell.
(This comment was getting painfully long, so I'll continue in a sub-comment.)Replies from: Mauricio, jlewars
↑ comment by Mauricio · 2022-02-18T03:56:31.959Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
[Part 2 of my original comment]
Second, tactical downsides of promoting giving seem to be overlooked.
I was a little surprised to see no acknowledgement of downsides, although maybe I missed it. I think there are several likely and significant downsides:
- Opportunity costs:
- Time and attention (of potential group members, active group members, and organizers) are scarce.
- Running or attending a giving game often replaces running or attending a career planning workshop.
- Many people lack the time or attention to develop a nuanced understanding of what groups do, and there's anecdotally already a meme of "EA is all about effective giving." So a group that tries to emphasize both effective giving and effective careers will often be rounded off as just being about the former.
- Social capital (of group organizers) is scarce.
- Many people's altruism is probably scarce? (Maybe it can grow, but if that takes time, it suggests not emphasizing many asks from the beginning.)
- Time and attention (of potential group members, active group members, and organizers) are scarce.
- Giving-focused groups have lower appeal than careers-focused groups, in a university context:
- (University groups are a very significant special case of these groups, since they're a large fraction of EA groups and are arguably [EA · GW] unusually high-leveraged.)
- Anecdotally, students seem much more excited about careers-focused pitches than about other kinds of pitches. (Presumably this is because many of them are very confused about what to do with their careers and are desperate for high-quality support.)
- Many students have low, zero, or negative incomes, so they often don't see giving as all that accessible.
- In many universities, students' political or political-adjacent views (e.g., about billionaires having too much influence, or about the importance of systemic change, or about white saviors, etc.) make some students highly skeptical of charity. So a group that very strongly emphasizes giving will be less appealing to these people (and, by social influence, to their friends) than a group with a different emphasis.
- In the survey mentioned earlier, 80,000 Hours came out as the top listed contributor to people getting involved.
- Group norms costs: given that career choice is (arguably) typically much more consequential than donations choices, very strongly emphasizing the latter may undermine the group norm of prioritizing what matters most.
↑ comment by Bridges · 2022-02-18T13:11:42.807Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I was just about to make a list of downsides but you did it for me! I agree it's not a false choice, and at the city level can be incorporated well into programming. But my main beef with heavy programming and norms is that giving is actually what made me disengage with the community many years ago and I only re-engaged because of its renewed focus on careers/more of a feeling of movement. A bunch of people randomly coming together and donating their money isn't as compelling when they lack coordination about who's giving what and where. I don't see a bunch of giving folks networking with other giving folks about where they're donating or coordinated efforts on this. But I DO see career folks trying to actively figure out where the career bottlenecks are and funnel people into those positions. I suppose career building feels much more like a team sport and giving feels more like getting a bunch of people together who enjoy solitaire. Which is fine and which has a place!
But I think giving programming is fact dependent and makes more sense for different demographics and at different times than others. A city like New York or London probably has a lot of people who have careers they like and don't want to switch but are interested in EA. The number of such people (along with how old most people in the city are) should drive giving programming. I agree that giving at unis is much trickier.
I also highly value EA becoming accessible to low-income folks, and as someone who was low-income, the giving programming at my uni group is what emphatically made me disengage with the community for a few years. I felt like the people were naive and insensitive to low-income realities or it just wasn't a space meant for low-income people. I only came back because of longtermism. I don't think this is something a training can solve. So main point: incorporation of giving is good but highly fact-dependent and downsides should be considered.Replies from: jlewars
↑ comment by Jack Lewars (jlewars) · 2022-02-18T14:05:23.524Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for this Bridges, and I'm sorry you had a negative experience with giving. It's definitely a positive that EA has broader programming now and I agree that there is a real danger of alienating people who come from less affluent backgrounds. I'm really delighted that you've found a way back to EA now :-)
A couple of points: I'm not sure I agree that giving isn't a team sport - Giving What We Can and One for the World both see a lot of engagement in our communities, from meet ups to webinars to socials.
I think our point is that it's a shame to neglect giving entirely. As you say, it can often be part of the menu of EA without significant costs to other aspects; and while you were really inspired by longtermism and careers advice, thousands of people have presumably been inspired by Giving What We Can and One for the World when they've taken our pledges.
There seems to be good counter-evidence that talking to students about giving isn't a good idea at all - it's been done successfully in so many places for so long within EA and in so many other social movements. Tactics like future-dated donations, pledges that don't start immediately or focussing on trivial amounts while you're still studying can all help. But doing this sensitively is really important and that's part of why we're trying to offer training and resources!
Anyway, in summary, I'm really pleased you're back in EA; and I hope we can mitigate these risks well going forward.
↑ comment by Jack Lewars (jlewars) · 2022-02-18T13:50:00.122Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for this Mauricio. It's good to have an alternative perspective added to this, which was written by quite convinced advocates for one way of thinking!
I think you make a good point that this is a theory that seems to align very closely with the reality of EA, rather than an absolutely established phenomenon. So, for example, we don't have data in the EA survey that says 'people say they would likely drop out if they weren't donating' or 'we see higher rates of drop out amongst people who don't donate versus those who do'. That's not to say those statements aren't plausibly true - it's just the survey isn't set up to capture them.
It seems unlikely, though, that it's coincidental that the foremost and most longstanding members of EA have given throughout their engagement and often seem to increase their giving over time (cf. Julia, Will, Toby, everyone at Longview, ~everyone at GiveWell). This also aligns with our experience of talking to the EA community. Obviously anecdotal evidence is weaker than some sort of systematic evidence but if you have a theory that is plausibly true, aligns with common sense and then is supported by a lot individual cases, that seems enough to think this is 'signal' rather than coincidence.
To address some specific points:
-Careers advice may be more popular than programming about giving - it makes sense, as both parties want the thing on offer. It's the opposite of asking for some sacrifice - you can receive careers advice purely out of self-interest. Equally, though, lots of students are passionate about social justice, making a difference etc. and can be attracted to EA precisely by talking about giving. Career change isn't for everyone, especially when EA careers advice can focus on careers that need significant technical expertise, like biorisk or AI safety. Careers advice also has some hazier routes to impact in its theory of change than a lot of effective giving.
- I'd challenge the idea that the majority of students are charity sceptics. A quick Google suggests exactly the opposite Gen Z gives more and more widely than older generations. Gen Z and Millennials are seen as activist generations, so I'd be really surprised if the median Gen Z-er is a donation sceptic, and the data seems to undermine this idea reasonably firmly.
- I'm surprised a) that you haven't seen the result of any donations and b) that you're sceptical that is has shorted feedback loops than a career change. If you're at university and alter your career plans, I'd guess you'd have to wait at least 2-3 years to see any impact from that? And plausibly way, way longer? If you donate $10 to AMF today, you'll be able to see the bednet distribution you funded in a much shorter timescale. I can see a donation I made in November '21 has already funded nets that are ready in the factory for distribution in the Congo. Maybe this changes depending on what you donate to?
- costly signalling is a widely-referenced theory (the Wikipedia pages on it are instructive), although in fairness it's more broadly cited in relation to signalling to others rather than necessarily deepening your personal commitment (a costly signal is seen as more honest and therefore more powerful)
- Candidly, I think opportunity costs are frequently overstated. We do acknowledge this above and give examples of how giving can be incorporated into existing programming. However, we also think there's a frequent fallacy in EA, where we make all decisions as if they are zero sum (e.g., to pick a particularly odd example, 'we shouldn't give blood because we could spend that time earning $x and giving it to an effective charity', when of course almost everyone in EA can do both simultaneously). Often this choice isn't real. Of course EA groups need to make some decisions about prioritisation; but are most EA groups genuinely so maxed out that they couldn't weave giving into their existing programming or even run an extra session?
Overall, I think you do a good job of laying out possible drawbacks of this approach. I'm not convinced they add up to a really robust argument to neglect effective giving entirely, though. And I'd challenge you in return that maybe you're understating the opportunity costs of only focussing on careers advice, while overstating some of these drawbacks.
↑ comment by Mauricio · 2022-02-18T16:47:45.667Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for this!
Equally, though, lots of students are passionate about social justice, making a difference etc. and can be attracted to EA precisely by talking about giving.
Yup, agree that giving can be attracting. I'm not sure it's equally attracting at universities though, based on what I mentioned earlier.
Obviously anecdotal evidence is weaker than some sort of systematic evidence but if you have a theory that is plausibly true, aligns with common sense and then is supported by a lot individual cases, that seems enough to think this is 'signal' rather than coincidence.
I agree it's totally plausible that giving deepens involvement! Where I might be more hesitant is in whether this plausibility should make us confident. I don't know if I can point to a single source on where my intuition here is coming from, but my impression is there's many cases across social sciences (including RCTs on effective giving) where using plausibility, common sense, and anecdotes to make causal inferences will lead us to mistaken conclusions.
Maybe we can agree that groups should test multiple kinds of programming and then choose how much of various kinds of programming to have based on the results?
I'd challenge the idea that the majority of students are charity sceptics.
Agreed--I'm not sure I made claims about the majority of students. [Edit: looking back at my earlier comment, I see how that could have been inferred--I should have been clearer.] I also agree that this significantly limits the extent of the downside.
I'm surprised a) that you haven't seen the result of any donations and b) that you're sceptical that is has shorted feedback loops than a career change. [...] If you donate $10 to AMF today, you'll be able to see the bednet distribution you funded in a much shorter timescale. [...] Maybe this changes depending on what you donate to?
I think that's it--the charities I donated to didn't have that nice feature. Good to learn that some do!
Candidly, I think opportunity costs are frequently overstated.
I'm sympathetic to this--I suspect it's often overstated but still significant. (I think the attentional costs are especially significant: taking your example about a presentation on AI safety, if the call to action switches from just careers to careers and donations, that's a ~50% dilution of how much attention is being directed to careers.)
are most EA groups genuinely so maxed out that they couldn't weave giving into their existing programming or even run an extra session?
Maybe just the especially intense ones :)
I'm not convinced they add up to a really robust argument to neglect effective giving entirely, though.
Also agree here--my sense is they add up to an argument that should make us hesitate about giving being "a core part of pretty much any strategy for EA movement building."Replies from: jlewars
↑ comment by Jack Lewars (jlewars) · 2022-02-21T09:34:30.256Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks Mauricio - I think we are in roughly the same place here :-)
I especially like the idea of groups testing outreach and rebalancing on the results.
To be clear, I would expect most student groups to continue to prioritise non-giving outreach and I think that's great - it's likely impactful and it offers variety, and an entry point for low income students, which is super important.
Our concern is the number of groups doing no giving outreach at all. If every group did their existing programming, but added a giving session each semester (or a pledge drive), we'd be delighted!
comment by Peter Wildeford (Peter_Hurford) · 2022-02-20T04:05:50.885Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Many meta organisations report having significant funding insecurity; animal welfare is still significantly neglected given the scale of the problem; promising cause areas like mental health are operating on a shoestring; and there is a scattered and uneven pipeline of funding available to new ideas and organisations. For evidence of this, we can look to well-reasoned arguments that resources are misallocated; the small budgets of Charity Entrepreneurship start ups (typically <$200k); and the views of EA entrepreneurs.
If anyone is running an organization with significant funding insecurity, running on a shoestring, or suffering from a small budget I'd like to know and see what I can do to help. I'm on the EA Infrastructure Fund and helping fund more neartermist ideas get funded is one of my biggest projects for the fund. You can contact me at email@example.com to discuss further (though note that my grantmaking on the EAIF is not a part of my work at Rethink Priorities).
(Though even if I can help using the resources of the EA Funds or other funders, I do agree that the lack of diversity of funders, the small number of gatekeepers, and the exposure of EA to a small number of volatile assets are all important issues worth addressing.)Replies from: jlewars
↑ comment by Jack Lewars (jlewars) · 2022-02-21T09:37:55.111Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Hi Peter - thanks for this. To your/their credit, I think EAIF is doing a really good job of filling some of these gaps. As you say, though, the gatekeepers and funder diversity issues do remain.
I'm also conscious that the current EAIF committee has made some really positive changes - but also that I guess the next committee could plausibly feel differently!
comment by Luke Freeman (lukefreeman) · 2022-02-17T21:16:34.718Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks Jack! Great post!
We also have some resources for Promoting Effective Giving within EA Groups [EA · GW] and I'm also very happy to work closely with any group leaders on their efforts to promote effective giving (feel free to email me).Replies from: jlewars
↑ comment by Jack Lewars (jlewars) · 2022-02-17T21:33:04.524Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thank Luke. You guys are also an option in the contact form, so I'll forward anything relevant
comment by Henry Howard · 2022-02-17T21:19:13.341Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I agree and I love to see this being said.
Giving to charity does good twice: once through the charity then again when it inspires others to be more giving.
A movement of people who are doing effective giving and therefore normalising selflessness and kindness is potentially very powerful and the pivot away from effective giving and towards careers-based EA risks giving up a lot of this positive influence.
comment by Marcus Daniell · 2022-02-17T19:58:47.782Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2022-02-17T19:14:51.496Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Any thoughts on reasons not to promote effective giving, namely "not to become a group that pressures its members to give away their money"?
This can also happen by accident unless one is really careful, I thinkReplies from: jlewars, david_reinstein, hibukki
↑ comment by Jack Lewars (jlewars) · 2022-02-17T20:05:52.579Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I think there are lots of ways to advocate for the opportunity of effective giving without pressuring people.
Any group worried about this should reach out - we have a lot of training and resources on how to talk about giving without unduly or insensitively pressuring people.Replies from: hibukki
↑ comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2022-02-17T20:31:40.689Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Would you elaborate on how you'd do this? Seems not trivial to me, but it would probably change my mindReplies from: jlewars
↑ comment by Jack Lewars (jlewars) · 2022-02-18T13:04:39.656Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
A full answer to this would be very detailed, so do fill out our form if you'd like us share resources and tactics in more detail.
In brief, I think the main thing is to frame giving as an opportunity, rather than an obligation. There are some pretty robust arguments that it actually is an obligation, if we have disposable income in high income countries - but this tends to be less effective as a persuasion strategy and has more risks around people feeling unduly pressured.
If we talk about the incredible opportunity we have to save a life, or improve animal welfare, without really making any noticeable sacrifice in our own lives, we can inspire people to give. I don't think we need to pressure people (e.g. by saying 'you're a bad person' or 'if you don't do this you're not an effective altruist'). But we can absolutely raise awareness and persuade people.
Many people, especially at universities, already have some sense that they are in a position of privilege and would like to 'make a difference', and for these people it's just a case of raising their awareness - you're actually solving a problem for them. Others can be persuaded if we highlight, for example, where the median graduating salary from a university places them in the income distribution of their home country, or indeed globally.
And I think it's worth emphasising that we're not saying that everyone should take a pledge that will meaningfully reduce their income - if you're earning substantially above the median wage, it's likely that you can give something like 1% with literally no effect at all on your material quality of life. So, again, I don't think that explaining this framing to people is pressuring them.
Ultimately, of course, any movement seeks to persuade people - we persuade people to change career plans, or majors, or eat less meat - and persuading them to give falls within this spectrum.
↑ comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2022-02-18T18:19:47.325Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
This seems healthy to me
(as far as my opinion matters)
Thank you for elaborating
↑ comment by david_reinstein · 2022-02-18T00:25:32.846Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Maybe I'm missing something here.
Can you make the case clearer why "a group that pressures its members to give away their money" is in itself a bad thing? (Presuming we are talking about a small share of their money, let's say 1-10%, to effective charities)Replies from: hibukki
↑ comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2022-02-18T10:55:47.143Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
This will be hard for me to explain, but I'll try. Please try to see what I'm pointing at even though my explanation won't be perfect:
The way you see this sentence is "a group that pressures its members to give away [a small piece of their] money to [a good cause]"
The way a less informed person might see it is "a group that pressures its members to give away [a large amount even if a small fraction of] money to [a cause that the group claims is good]"
As a more extreme (unfair) example to emphasise what I'm talking about:
Imagine a sales person trying to convince you to buy something, and they're telling you "it's just a small fraction of your money!" and "this really is a really good product, check out all these reasons!"
Many people won't even be able to sort through your arguments, the things that you understand on a gears level to be true.
What do you think?Replies from: david_reinstein
↑ comment by david_reinstein · 2022-02-19T13:40:34.421Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I guess the share of income was a bit of a red herring. I’m more questioning “what is ‘pressures’ and what makes it bad?” The word pressures has a bad connotation but what are you actually concerned with in this context?Replies from: hibukki
↑ comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2022-02-20T16:52:59.151Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
[As before, good question, and also I am not sure I have enough introspection ability to answer it, but I'll try. I have a feeling Duncan Sabien would be really good at this]
- Social pressure: Telling people that if they won't do something, they'll be rejected/outcast in a way that "hurts" in some primal way. I am not saying "never do this". I am saying "this is a powerful weapon, use it with caution"
- Getting someone to make a decision "in the heat of the moment" that the person might regret otherwise, or might not make this decision they thought about it for longer, or that some parts of the person are very much against this decision but don't get to voice their opinion.
↑ comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2022-02-17T19:16:51.699Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I apologize for using a loaded word here and hope this could become a useful comment and not something that will ruin the conversation.. but:
you give energised attendees an immediate way to take action, either by making an immediate token donation or by taking a pledge for a modest percentage of their future income
This reminds me of a specific (non EA) group I was part of, a group that many would call a cult.
Sorry again for using this word. I am trying to say something concrete+productive and it seems like dancing around it wouldn't be useful.
Edit: I'd like to add that I think EA is currently avoiding this kind of failure mode very well
↑ comment by Jack Lewars (jlewars) · 2022-02-17T19:48:13.798Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for this Yonatan and for emphasising that this is a point made in good faith.
I don't know a lot about cults but I think those that ask people for money usually ask for it to use themselves, rather than to e.g. alleviate the suffering of farmed animals or people in extreme poverty.
There could definitely be a danger of EA becoming quite incestuous as quite a few of the recommendations above are to donate to EA orgs and so it could get to the point where we ask members of the community to fund the community.
However, there are a lot of orgs that are really very independent of EA that are heavily promoted in effective giving. 'Meta' giving (giving to charities that work within/on EA) is a very small slice of the pie, at least at the moment.
Finally, I would emphasise that almost all the places effective giving recommends are public charities of some sort and so open to a lot of scrutiny and transparency requirements. Again, I don't think that's very characteristic of cults.Replies from: hibukki
↑ comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2022-02-17T20:32:56.975Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I agree this strongly distinguishes EA , I like how you formalized it