My 2018 donations

post by vipulnaik · 2018-12-23T20:38:16.877Z · EA · GW · 1 comments


  My reason for donating now rather than earlier or later
  My reason for choosing this amount to donate
  The selection of recipients
    GiveWell top charities
    Effective Altruism Funds
    Interesting "rising stars"
1 comment

At the end of 2018 (specifically, on December 22, 2018), I donated $3,000 USD with the following allocation:

This is my first set of normal charity donations since 2012, when I donated $500 to GiveDirectly. In this post, I describe:

I conclude with a summary.

General background:

My reason for donating now rather than earlier or later

After my last donation of $500 to GiveDirectly on December 24, 2012, my personal focus shifted toward building a good saving buffer and acquiring personal financial stability. For these reasons, I deferred donating, with the expectation that I might potentially donate larger amounts later, as I had done prior to 2012. You can see some related thoughts from me in a post to the Effective Altruists Facebook group in March 2014.

By 2015, I had a decent saving rate and I was quite interested in exploring philanthropic opportunities, but felt that, rather than directly allocate money to charity, I should invest more in getting a deeper understanding of various domains that might be relevant. This was part of the motivation for me spending a fair amount of money financing contract work, mostly by Issa Rice and Sebastian Sanchez, which picked up in 2016 and has been proceeding at a fairly steady pace since then. The total money I've paid for contract work since I started on it has been around $115,000. This is a significant amount of money that has taken precedence over donating money to charity.

A few weeks ago, while taking stock of my finances, I realized a few things:

Together, these factors mean that I have a little more money available to donate to charity now than I did till recently.

My reason for choosing this amount to donate

My current financial situation is such that I could donate a reasonably large amount if I felt there was a compelling opportunity that I was uniquely suited to fund. Indeed, some of the contract work I've funded has fit that bill. Outside of the contract work I've directly funded, however, I have not yet found such opportunities. I have found a fair number of opportunities that meet some of the attributes, but most of them tend to get funded through other means, which is good for them and for me.

In the absence of compelling opportunities to fund, my default is to donate some minimum amount. Some reasons to keep my current donation to a minimum amount:

To figure out the amount to donate, I used a few heuristics:

The selection of recipients

For each of the years 2017 and 2018, I had given Issa the option of assigning $500 of my money to charitable causes of his choosing (with no strict requirement that these be recognized as charities). In 2017, Issa deferred the use of the money, so he had $1,000 to allocate.

Issa ultimately decided to allocate 50% of the $1,000 (i.e., $500) to the $500,000 EA Donor Lottery, and another 50% to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI). For the donor lottery, the understanding was that although the entry was under my name, Issa would make the decision as to how to allocate the winnings in the (0.1% probability) event that I win the lottery.

More of Issa's reasoning can be found in the 2018 section of Issa's donation history page.

Since my overall giving budget was $3,000, and $1,000 was to be determined by Issa, that left $2,000 to allocate. When thinking about this allocation, I considered a few different options.

GiveWell top charities

I've been observing GiveWell for quite some time. For a while, I've found their research quite good, but until a few years ago, I still had significant uncertainty around how well their top charities and their vetting process would stand up to the test of time. In the last few years, I've seen that the top charities seem to stand up quite well, the research process has continued to improve, and the funding cycle has a clear rhythm I can understand. I believe the problems that are being addressed by GiveWell top charities are large enough that there are few risks of room for more funding disappearing. I also think GiveWell's approach to discretionary regranting is a good one.

Donating money to GiveWell for reallocation to top charities seems like a reasonable baseline choice. The question for me was whether there are better choices out there.

Effective Altruism Funds

I've been following the Effective Altruism Funds for a while, and in particular I've been keeping track of the grants they've been making. I am impressed with what I've seen so far, particularly from the Animal Welfare Fund, and I think the Meta Fund and the Long-Term Future Fund have also made some interesting grants.

However, I have a lot of uncertainty around how these funds will continue to operate over the years, and what sort of funding landscape they will be operating in. It could be the case that the money pouring into the funds significantly exceeds the amount of good places they can donate to. It could also be the case that we discover over the next year that the grants that seem good now turn out to be not so good, or even actively bad. Another source of uncertainty to me is how EA Funds will play with other financing initiatives like EA Grants: it could be the case that as EA Grants scales up, there are fewer of these interesting projects for EA Funds to fund.

I ultimately decided to watch the EA Funds (as well as the general landscape in which they operate) for a little longer before making a decision to donate to them.

Interesting "rising stars"

Some organizations start becoming donation targets in the effective altruism community after word of mouth from a few people. These could be:

As you can see from the numerous links I've included above, I have (with help from Issa Rice) been collating a lot of donation information and discussion documents on the donations list website, and this has helped me get a sense of the landscape. I hope to continue to learn more and might find good opportunities.


The upshot is that GiveWell top charities "won" as the default baseline, and that's where I ended up donating. But I also ended up making this donation smaller, opening the possibility for larger donations later.

I hope to continue working on projects like the Donations list website on my personal time and through contract work. I also hope to get a clearer picture of a number of things that might lead to more interesting donation decisions in the future.

Despite not finding anything immediately worthwhile or exciting to donate to, I did see a lot of potential opportunities. And in many cases, the limiting factor was that there were already many other donors who had snapped up the best opportunities. To me, this is a good problem to have :).

PS: This post is cross-posted to my personal blog and is also available in my GitHub working drafts. The versions may differ slightly due to formatting adjustments and limitations.


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comment by juliemack169 · 2019-01-04T10:00:28.177Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Lovely post.