EA Community Building Grants - Recent Grants Made and Changes to the Application Process

post by Harri Besceli (harri.besceli@centreforeffectivealtruism.org) · 2019-10-07T11:28:45.617Z · score: 60 (33 votes) · EA · GW · 3 comments

Contents

  Recent Grants 
  Changes to the application process
  Bar for Successful Applications
None
3 comments

Effective Altruism Community Building Grants is a project run by the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) which made its first round of grants in 2018. It provides grants to individuals and groups doing local effective altruism community building, which typically range from $5,000 to $100,000. The programme has a particular emphasis on funding groups that aim to transition from being run by volunteers to being run by full-time, paid organisers.

Many of the initial grants we made in 2018 ended recently and we've just finished assessing applications for renewed funding for these grants. Overall we've been very pleased by the progress our grant recipients have made.

This post lists of the most recent grants we’ve made and covers updates on the application process and the bar we expect for successful applications. The Community Building Grants programme is still young, and we’re still figuring out how best to run it; because of this, we expect both our views and our approach to change significantly over time.

Recent Grants

Many of the first one-year grants made in 2018 have just ended, and we’ve been assessing applications from these groups for renewed funding. The following groups have received and accepted offers for renewed funding, though the grants are dependent on the successful completion of due diligence:

EA Geneva and EA Sweden also received renewed grant funding earlier in 2019: 2 FTE for 12 months and 1 FTE for 12 months, respectively. The Student Career Planning Project is a project that has spun out of the EA Oxford group, and hasn’t previously received community grant funding, unlike the other groups listed.

Changes to the application process

Based on what we’ve learned so far, we are making a few updates to the application process for EA Community Building Grants. This applies only to new applications for funding, and not applications for renewed funding from groups with existing grants.

Rolling Applications: We’ll be evaluating applications on an ongoing basis, rather than having discrete application rounds with an application deadline.

Expression of Interest Form: We now have an ‘expression of interest’ form for prospective applicants to complete. This means we can start communicating as soon as you begin thinking about applying for a grant, and allows us to give early-stage input on your plans. You don’t need to be confident that you will end up applying for a grant in order to fill out the form. After receiving this form, we’ll work with you to figure out whether applying makes sense, then organise your application process and timeline on a case-by-case basis. We expect the full application process to take 8-12 weeks, though this may take longer depending on the application.

More Tailored Process: We’ll be tailoring our evaluation process more to the specific applications we receive. In the past, the process has been fairly standardised, with applicants completing a standard application form and participating in an interview. We expect the process to be fairly similar going forward, but we also want to leave more scope for adapting our process to unique aspects of different applications. For example, different evaluation approaches might be suitable for groups which focus on a particular kind of project or groups in countries where effective altruism is newer.

These changes mean that we are not planning to hold a formal application round this year. (In a previous EA Forum update [EA · GW], we stated that we would be hosting an application round in the Summer of 2019, but we think this new process will work out better for applicants and for CEA.)

We want to try this approach because we think increasing the amount that we communicate with applicants, especially in the early stages, will give them a better understanding of what we’re looking for and help them improve their plans. We also think that a more flexible process will improve the quality of our assessment of applications.

We see these updates as somewhat experimental. If the approach works well, we’ll continue to use it going forward, but if not, we may go back to holding application rounds or try some other approach.

Bar for Successful Applications

The bar for successful applications to EA Community Building Grants has risen since our first round of grants in 2018. This means that we expect to be making a smaller number of new grants and providing less total funding for new grants than previously. Our current best guess is that we’ll offer between $50,000 and $100,000 in new grants between now and the end of 2019, though these aren’t strict upper and lower bounds and it’s plausible that the amount we end up granting lies outside of this range. ‘New grants’ here does not include renewed funding for grants made during previous rounds.

There are a number of reasons that we’ve decided on a higher threshold for new grants:

Increasing the focus on the best grantmaking opportunities: We think that there is a large amount of variance in the impact of individual grants that we’ve made. After evaluating the grants made over the course of 2018 we also think that we now have a better understanding of which kinds of grantmaking opportunities will be most impactful. We want to focus on those opportunities, rather than funding a wider set of grants, because we want to be confident that our grants are better uses of money than alternative options for donors interested in community building.

Leaving room for future changes to the programme: CEA is currently in the process of hiring a new CEO. Because of this, and the newness of this programme, we want to ensure that the programme has the flexibility to make changes going forward, and we don’t want to allocate a lot of resources in advance.

Limited available funding: In our last fundraising round for Community Building Grants, we received slightly less total funding than we expected, reducing the amount available for granting.

Prioritising other aspects of the programme: We want to be able to spend more time on developing appropriate policies (eg. conflict of interest policy, salary policy) and providing support for existing grantees, as well as having more flexibility to determine which projects to focus on in the future. Currently, evaluating new applications and applications for renewed funding takes a significant amount of time. We expect that reducing the number of grants we make will free up capacity for these projects.

Increasing financial reserves We want to ensure that the programme has more financial reserves. We believe that higher reserves will allow us to provide more stability to current grantees by ensuring that we always have the option to fund renewals for existing grants. Additionally, this will mean that we have the ability to fund particularly promising opportunities not previously accounted for. Though the majority of the funding for the programme previously came from CEA, we are now moving towards having the programme raise most of its funds from external donors. Because of this, while we haven’t previously focused on ensuring that the project has significant financial reserves, we now think that this is appropriate going forward.

Increased quality of granting opportunities: The quality of grant applications has risen over time, and the quality of recent applications to the programme exceeded our original expectations. We expect to have a similarly high calibre of applications going forwards and as a result we expect that we’ll have a higher bar to fund future applications. (One could argue that high-quality applications justify keeping the same bar and putting more funding into the program, but we think increasing the bar for successful applications is more appropriate given the other considerations for allocating less funding than previously.)



If you’re interested in applying for a grant, please complete this expression of interest form.

If you have any questions regarding Effective Altruism Community Building Grants, please contact harri.besceli@centreforeffectivealtruism.org

You can see previous updates about the programme here https://www.effectivealtruism.org/community-building-grants/ [? · GW]

3 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by SiebeRozendal · 2019-11-14T16:02:26.564Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Harri, I have two questions for you.

We think that there is a large amount of variance in the impact of individual grants that we’ve made.

What makes you believe this? What kind of criteria are used to evaluate and compare the impact of individual grants?

After evaluating the grants made over the course of 2018 we also think that we now have a better understanding of which kinds of grantmaking opportunities will be most impactful.

Could you elaborate on this? Which kinds of opportunities do you think will be most impactful? This seems highly valuable information for aspiring community builders.

Furthermore, community-building seems like a long-term project, so I am quite surprised about the decision to focus so much on just a few opportunities and the confidence in which type of projects are valuable. I would think that exploration is enormously valuable in such an early stage of our international community. Is this because you believe there are large potential downsides?

comment by Harri Besceli (harri.besceli@centreforeffectivealtruism.org) · 2019-11-18T18:01:55.682Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Siebe,

Thanks for the questions - I’ve given some quick thoughts, though for some of the questions I would need more time to give a detailed answer than I think I can provide at the moment.

We think that there is a large amount of variance in the impact of individual grants that we’ve made. What makes you believe this? What kind of criteria are used to evaluate and compare the impact of individual grants?

In evaluating the impact of a grant, one of the main things that determine our assessment is cases of group members where a) we expect them to have large opportunities for positive impact, and b) the group has had a large influence on their opportunities for doing good.

Examples of reasons for us expecting someone to have large opportunities for positive impact include:

  • They have received a job, internship or study program offer from an organization or institution that we think is impactful (80,000 Hours Jobs board includes many such opportunities)
  • They have indicated career plans which we think are impactful and well thought through
  • We've interacted with them in person and think that they have a lot to contribute

Examples of reasons for us thinking that a group had a large influence on their opportunities to do good include:

  • They report the group having a large positive influence on them
  • They report having been introduced to effective altruism through the group

Additional things that contribute to our assessment include projects that the group has conducted, the group's health and welcomingness, and the scale of the group's activities.

So far, we’ve evaluated the first cohort of grants individually. This means that in order to make a decision about providing further funding for a specific group, we compare the group’s reported outcomes against our criteria, rather than against other groups. The judgement about there being a large amount of variance in the impact of grants is based on their individual performance against those criteria. We haven’t yet explicitly compared the impact of different groups against each other; so it’s difficult to give more detail on the reasons for thinking this at the moment.

In evaluating whether to fund a group, we'll consider evidence of impact (as above) as well as the fit of the applicants and the location that the group is in.

After evaluating the grants made over the course of 2018 we also think that we now have a better understanding of which kinds of grantmaking opportunities will be most impactful. Could you elaborate on this? Which kinds of opportunities do you think will be the most impactful? This seems highly valuable information for aspiring community builders.

Thanks for mentioning this - I agree that it would be useful to share the learnings that we have had so far. This is something I’d like to do at some point in the future, though I can’t commit to a timeline for this at the moment.

Furthermore, community-building seems like a long-term project, so I am quite surprised about the decision to focus so much on just a few opportunities and the confidence in which type of projects are valuable. I would think that exploration is enormously valuable in such an early stage of our international community. Is this because you believe there are large potential downsides?

I agree that exploration is important and that we can learn a lot from trying different things in this space, though I don’t think that making more grants on the margin is the best way to do this. I expect that making relatively fewer grants will leave more capacity for trying things such as exploring different mechanisms of supporting community builders and different types of projects to fund. I expect this to increase the community’s collective understanding of how to do community building more than increasing the number of grants.

You’re correct that I think there are large potential downsides. However, I also think that a more narrow approach would be appropriate even if this weren't the case.

comment by SiebeRozendal · 2019-11-19T14:13:01.813Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the elaborate response! Allow me to ask some follow-up questions, the topic is close to my heart :)

I expect that making relatively fewer grants will leave more capacity for trying things such as exploring different mechanisms of supporting community builders and different types of projects to fund. I expect this to increase the community’s collective understanding of how to do community building more than increasing the number of grants.

Am I right to take away from this that the EA CB Grants Programme is capacity-constrained? Because I believe this would be important for other funders. I'm afraid there is a dynamic where CB-efforts have trouble finding non-CEA funding because alternative funders believe CEA has got all the good opportunities covered. I believe we should in general be skeptical that a small set of funders leads to the efficient allocation of resources. The grants programme being capacity-constrained would be evidence towards there being impactful opportunities for other funders. How does the programme approach this coordination with other funders?

Relatedly, does CEA prefer to be a large part (>50%) or a smaller part of a community's funding? Say a community-building effort raises ~1 FTE for 1 year among their own community, would this affect the likelihood of being funded by CEA?