Public reports are now optional for EA Funds grantees

post by abergal, Jonas Vollmer · 2021-11-13T00:37:23.281Z · EA · GW · 15 comments

Public reports are now explicitly optional for applicants to EA Funds. We have updated our application form and other outwardly-facing materials to reflect this change.

Broadly, we think there are many valid reasons not to want a public report, and we don't want anyone to be discouraged from applying to us for funding. If you or someone you know could use funding productively but was previously discouraged by our payout reports, please apply or encourage them to apply.

Apply here.

15 comments

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comment by Devon Fritz (DevonFritz) · 2021-12-02T06:09:25.519Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I find the lack of transparency that comes along with this problematic. Is there a place where I can read about the reasons for the chance or can you elaborate here so that I can understand the trade-off?

Replies from: abergal, jtm
comment by abergal · 2021-12-02T23:26:34.569Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

We got feedback from several people that they weren't applying to the funds because they didn't want to have a public report.  There are lots of reasons that I sympathize with for not wanting a public report, especially as an individual (e.g. you're worried about it affecting future job prospects, you're asking for money for mental health support and don't want that to be widely known, etc.). My vision (at least for the Long-Term Future Fund) is to become a good default funding source for individuals and new organizations, and I think that vision is compromised if some people don't want to apply for publicity reasons.

Broadly, I think the benefits to funding more people outweigh the costs to transparency.

Replies from: DevonFritz
comment by Devon Fritz (DevonFritz) · 2021-12-03T10:27:46.332Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the response.

 

Is there a way to make things pseudo-anonymous, revealing the type of grants being made privately but preserving the anonymity of the grant recipient? It seems like that preserves a lot of the value of what you want to protect without much downside.

For example, I'd be personally very skeptical that giving grants for personal mental support would be the best way to improve the long-term future and would make me less likely to support the LTFF and if all such grants weren't public, I wouldn't know that. There might also be people for whom the opposite is true and they wouldn't donate to LTFF because they didn't know such grants were being made. If you said e.g. "$100K was given out last quarter to support the mental health of individuals" we'd get what we want, but we'd still have no idea who the recipients are.

Replies from: abergal
comment by abergal · 2021-12-07T07:01:41.768Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I like this idea; I'll think about it and discuss with others. I think I want grantees to be able to preserve as much privacy as they want (including not being listed in even really broad pseudo-anonymous classifications), but I'm guessing most would be happy to opt-in to something like this.

(We've done anonymous grant reports [EA · GW] before but I think they were still more detailed than people would like.)

Replies from: jayquigley
comment by jayquigley · 2022-04-02T03:18:45.137Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Any updates here? I share Devon's concern: this news also makes me less likely to want to donate via EA Funds.  At worst, the fear would be this: so much transparency is lost that donations go into mysterious black holes rather than funding effective organizations. What steps can be taken to convince donors that that's not what's happening?

Replies from: calebp
comment by calebp · 2022-04-04T20:14:57.497Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(I am the new interim project lead for EA funds and will be running EA funds going forward.)

I completely understand that you want to know that your donations are used in a way that you think is good for the world. We refer private grants to private funders so that you know that your money is not being used for projects that you get little or no visibility on.

I think that EA Funds is mostly for donors that are happy to lean on the judgment of our fund managers. Sometimes our fund managers may well fund things like mental health support if they think is one of the best ways to improve the world. LTFF and EAIF in particular, fund a variety of projects that are often unusual. If you don't trust the judgment of our fund managers or don't agree with the scope of our funds there are probably donation opportunities that might be a better fit for you than EA Funds. 

We try hard to optimise the service for the grantees and this means that we may fall short of building the best service for our donors. We are exploring more donor-focused products with GWWC, that we will hopefully be able to offer soon. 

Replies from: RobertJones
comment by RobertJones · 2022-08-18T10:32:41.061Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

GWWC's effective charity recommendations page states, "For most people, we recommend donating through a reputable fund that's focused on effectiveness."  There follows a list of 8 funds, of which the first 4 are EA funds.

If your view as EA funds lead is that EA funds are only suitable for donors who personally trust the judgment of your fund managers, then something seems to have gone wrong with the messaging, because "most people" won't be in a position to form a view on that.

I also note that none of the funds list under "Why you might choose not to donate to this Fund" that the fund may not account for its donations, which I suspect (as your comment implies) would be a highly material factor to at least some donors.  The EA Infrastructure Fund does indicate that a potential donor might not donate if they have concerns about grantmaker independence, but that's not quite the same point, and there's no similar warning for the other funds.

The difficulty here is that you understand EA Funds as existing for a narrow set of donors (those who are in a position to assess the trustworthiness of individual fund managers).  That may well be a sensible thing to exist, but the funds are being marketed as suitable for a much wider class of donors ("most people").

comment by jtm · 2021-12-02T07:25:03.688Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

+1. I always assumed that the 'Open' in 'Open Philanthropy' referred to an aspiration for a greater degree of transparency than is typically seen in philanthropy, and I generally support this aspiration being shared in the wider effective altruism philanthropic space. The EA Funds are an amazingly flexible way of funding extremely valuable work – but it seems to me that this flexibility would still benefit from the scrutiny and crowd-input that becomes possible through measures like public reports.

comment by some person · 2022-08-16T22:02:31.508Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is extremely troubling. Why in the world would I want to donate to some mystery fund? How can we ensure the money isn't going somewhere we find highly objectionable?

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2022-08-16T22:11:46.512Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

See earlier discussion here [EA(p) · GW(p)]. 

(My own takes, speaking only for myself)

Probably you shouldn't donate to us if you aren't comfortable with trusting our judgements (of which some of the reasoning won't necessarily be public)! 

Other options include a) donating to fund projects within your network that you think are unusually good, b) donating to established organizations that you trust, and c) the newly set-up Longtermism Fund [EA · GW].

Replies from: some person, RobertJones
comment by some person · 2022-08-17T14:41:34.020Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm fine with trusting your judgement if I can verify what you decided. This provides a mechanism for the donators to express displeasure with your financial decisions.

 

But this has turned this entire fund into a black box. For all we know you could be giving money to charities run by your friends. Throwing money into a mystery black box is so far from the values of effective altruism. 

How can you honestly tell people that the most effective way to donate their money is to give it to you and totally trust that you will do a good job with it.

Replies from: calebp
comment by calebp · 2022-08-17T14:49:57.812Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing your concern!

The vast majority of projects do not opt-out of public reporting and as a charity, our trustees do have oversight over large grants that we make.

As Linch said, I do think that this change to our requirements does require you to place some more trust in our grantmakers but I still think, due to the sensitive nature of some of our grants, this is the right call.

Replies from: some person
comment by some person · 2022-08-17T14:59:03.376Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Why don't you just add an option for people to donate funds to public reporting only projects? 

I apologize if I'm coming off rude, but I think the reason this has me particularly peeved is that this isn't just some normal charity, this is one of the major charities behind the movement.

If it turns out that you mismanaged this fund, you are going to tarnish the entire effective altruism movement. This is the type of thing that gets an episode on John Oliver if you mess up.

Replies from: calebp
comment by calebp · 2022-08-17T16:15:04.694Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that this would probably be fully funged by other donors as we have a very small number of grants that aren't publicly reported and a relatively small proportion of donors provide the majority of our funding.

That said GWWC now manages the donations [EA · GW] side of funds and I can request they add this feature if I see more demand for it (it will create some operational overhead on our side).

comment by RobertJones · 2022-08-18T08:55:49.825Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm afraid I find this approach troubling.  "Don't you trust me?" is the question of the conman.  It's not necessary, or desirable, to publish your full reasoning, but it is necessary to properly account for funds which you are ultimately holding on trust.  Apart from anything else, the reputational damage if someone were to misappropriate donors' money would be significant.