I Estimate Joining UK Charity Boards is worth £500/hour

post by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-09-16T14:40:14.359Z · score: 11 (9 votes) · EA · GW · 17 comments

Contents

    There have been a significant number of edits from this piece due to comments from @Sanjay. Thank you. 
  The model itself
None
17 comments

A friend recommended signing up to a website which finds trustees for charities. I've done a little research and estimate that it's worth about £500/hour. Please check and suggest corrections, especially if you know anything about how much improvement is possible in UK charities.

There are a number of resources

In 2016, the the estimated income of the UK voluntary sector was £73.1 billion with the top 1%, holding 72% of the income.

There is an organisation "Reach Volunteering" who supply trustees to charities. These groups of people are effectively in charge of the CEOs and can set the direction of the charities. With a focus on effectiveness, better technology and impact reports this could lead to better outcomes whilst still focusing on whatever cause area the charity already works on.

From talking to someone who works with them, they are deeply in need of trustees, particularly those who are technically literate.

I think it is better to build a model rather than just guess, so I have done so. It is almost certainly incorrect, please me tell ways it's flawed. Also if you think I'm wrong to have built a model, let me know.

This comes out at £500/hour.

Thanks for your time, please let me know if you think I could improve the model. I think this was a good use of my time, but feel free to comment there also.

If others choose to sign up to this, please let me know how it goes. Please let's create a group so we can share insights and useful technologies.

There have been a significant number of edits from this piece due to comments from @Sanjay. Thank you.

The model itself

Model is here and makes the following assumptions.


17 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Sanjay · 2019-09-16T21:31:35.475Z · score: 25 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for raising the profile of trusteeship as a volunteering opportunity. I agree that it's widely overlooked, and I think I have gained a lot from my past trusteeships.

Trustee boards are typically also short of resource, so increasing the pool of applicants is likely to be a good outcome. I'm glad you're doing this.

Other resources:

Some points on which skills people can use to add value:

  • I think the charity sector's perceived skills shortage is in finance, which is both essential and the people with the right skills are scarce. (Source: conversations with many people in the sector)
  • I'm not convinced that digital marketing is a top priority for the sector - for some charities their intervention may be about operating digitally, in which case this is more useful, although they are also likely to be the charities which already have this savvy. For fundraising, I'm doubtful that digital marketing is that useful in most contexts
  • As a trustee, it's unlikely that you can add much value with project management skills, unless it's a very small charity. For medium to larger charities, a trustee should keep their involvement more strategic, so they wouldn't actively manage projects. Knowledge of Prince2/lean/etc may have some marginal value

Finally, I would question the value of the £500 estimate:

  • The model does nothing to consider the variability in impactfulness of charities. Many people think that the majority of charitable interventions achieve nothing, and it seems odd to ascribe value to a charity whose work isn't achieving anything.
  • Not only is the impact of the charity variable, so is the impact of the trustee. It's entirely possible for a key trustee to double a charity's impact or have no impact at all. Given that this is so variable, modelling this as a flat percentage seems like the model is glossing over a key input.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-09-16T22:27:08.071Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

These are great points. I think I'll edit the piece later.

Many people think that the majority of charitable interventions achieve nothing, and it seems odd to ascribe value to a charity whose work isn't achieving anything.

Do you have any suggestions here? Perhaps people shouldn't be trustees of charities they don't think help? Or perhaps they could improve them?

Given that this is so variable, modelling this as a flat percentage seems like the model is glossing over a key input.

Could you give an estimate here? I really don't know enough.

Thank you for raising the profile of trusteeship as a volunteering opportunity. I agree that it's widely overlooked, and I think I have gained a lot from my past trusteeships.

Do you think you've gained things I haven't accounted for. Is it something you would recommend? If so, what gives you that confidence?

Thanks for your time and input.


comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-09-17T10:38:08.722Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW
The model does nothing to consider the variability in impactfulness of charities. Many people think that the majority of charitable interventions achieve nothing, and it seems odd to ascribe value to a charity whose work isn't achieving anything.

Thinking again, I'm not sure I agree. The model assumes a 5% increase in effect. For a charity doing no impactful work that might mean making it slightly impactful, which doesn't seem unreasonable - getting them to make impact assessments could do far more good than this. What do you think?

comment by Khorton · 2019-09-17T11:45:32.033Z · score: 9 (6 votes) · EA · GW

It probably depends on what you value. Based on your guess, for 42 hours of my time I could potentially cause:

-5% more cats adopted from a particular shelter

-5% increase in awareness of autism at partner workplaces

-5% more opera performances

-5% more women attending a particular 'women's empowerment' conference

-5% more religious conversions

-5% increase in citations from research commissioned by a particular charity

-5% increase in protest attendance

Most of these things I imagine moving from 'good but not cost effective' to 'good and still not all that cost effective' or 'basically useless' to 'still useless'. I don't really imagine many of these charities changing categories from 'useless' to 'good' because of a 5% increase in productivity.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-09-17T15:43:32.961Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I agree. If none of the charities represented are ones which do things you think are valuable or can conceive of becoming valuable I suggest people turn down the offer.

However, perhaps you could get some budget moved from dog and cat shelters into factory farming or change the types of protests that your members attend. Some types of change would be efficiency though others could be new avenues or publishing impact. I think you are right to say you could get some sense of likelyhood of positive impact on being offered the trusteeship.

Can you think of a way to include this kind of variability simply? Otherwise I guess there is no way to know whether this is a good idea or not and I'm not sure what to do with that.

comment by Khorton · 2019-09-18T09:19:35.553Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I think it would be easier to model the impact of being a trustee for a particular charity than a random charity - why don't you try to adapt your model to include your guess about how impactful the specific charity's aims are, along with the specific charity's annual budget, how many trustees are on the board, etc?

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-09-18T16:32:42.933Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I don't have enough money to do that kind of work for every charity and to do it for a specific one I'd have to know how representative it is.

comment by Khorton · 2019-09-19T00:44:09.010Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

You could just use it as a tool for your own decision making. Isn't the point of this to help you, and others, decide if you would become trustees? That will necessarily depend on the position.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-09-25T09:12:39.359Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Sure though effectively that reads to me as "you shouldn't have published this". Is that what you mean?

If you mean "you should use a much more fine grained model if you ever get near a trustee board to decide if you should take it"- yes, I agree"

comment by Khorton · 2019-09-25T19:34:49.247Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

What I meant was, it's good to tell people about the benefits of trusteeship. It's also good to think about how that compares to other work. I think the quick calculation you did at the beginning shows that really well.

But trying to quantify the hourly benefit of trusteeship in general is like trying to quantify the hourly benefit of having a job in general. Some jobs are worth £3 per hour and some are worth £300. Rather than trying to calculate the average value, it's better to find ways to pick the best jobs, or the best donation opportunities, or the best trusteeships.

So I really liked the idea of the article, and found a lot of it useful, but I would have suggested spending more time on figuring out which opportunities are the best rather than building a model estimating an average value.

comment by Khorton · 2019-09-25T19:38:43.926Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

You should definitely keep posting your thoughts! Take this not as 'advice on what to post', but rather as 'advice on what to spend time thinking about (if you want to help me understand the pros and cons of bring a trustee)'.

comment by ishaan · 2019-09-17T20:23:03.360Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I think the biggest improvement would be correcting the fact that this model (accidentally, I think) assumes that improving any arbitrary high budget charity by 5% is equally as impactful as improving a Givewell equivalent charity by 5%. Most charity's impact is an order of magnitude smaller.

You could solve this with a multiplier for the charity's impact at baseline.

If I understand correctly, you figure that if you become a trustee of a £419668/year budget charity, if only you can improve the cost effectiveness by 5%, then you can divide that by 42 hours a year, to get £419668*5%/42 hours=£500/hour in the value of your donated time. (A style tip - it would be helpful to put the key equation describing roughly what you've done in the description, to make it all legible without having to go into the spreadsheet.)

I think it is fair to say that, were you to successfully perform this feat, you have indeed done something roughly as impactful as providing a £500/hour value to the charity you are trustee-ing for. So, if you improved a Givewell-top-charity-equivalent's cost effectiveness by 5% for a year, then maybe you could fairly take 5% of that charity's yearly budget and divide it by your hours for that year, as you've done, to calculate your Givewell-top-charity-equivalent impact in terms of how it would compare to donated dollars.

But if you improve a £419668/yr budget charity which is only 1% as cost-effective as a Givewell-top-charity-equivalent by 5%, then that makes your hourly impact 1%*£419668*5%/42 hours = £5/hour of Givewell-top-charity-equivalent impact - you'd be better served working a bit extra and donating 5 dollars to Givewell.

I don't think this model has credence even after these adjustments as I'm skeptical of the structure, but you did make those assumptions explicitly which is good. If you think the effect takes ~42 hours/year then this hypothesis is potentially cheap to just test in practice, and then revise your model with more information. Have you joined any boards and tried this in practice, if yes how did it go?

edit - ah, you're using the term "5% increase" very differently.

Instead it assumes a 5% increase, perhaps from £0 of impact to 5% of the annual income or perhaps from 100% of annual income to 105%

So just to be clear, this implies that making 100% of your annual income in impact would mean that you are the most cost effective charity in the world (or whatever other benchmark you want to set at "100%"). Used in this sense, the word "5% increase" doesn't mean "the shelter saves 5% more kittens" but that charity as a whole has gone from being part of the long tail of negligible impact to being 1/20th as cost effective as the most cost effective charity in the world. This isn't the way percents are usually expressed / this seems like a confused way to express this concept since the 100% benchmark is arbitrary/unknown - it would be better in that case to express it on an absolute scale rather than a percentage.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-09-18T16:45:30.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for your time in writing this. You've clearly thought about it a lot. I'll have a look at your comments.

I guess we want to encourage people to do more pieces like this and I think that were I not quite robust I would find this response intimidating. Maybe you could have started with a hello or a thank you to lighten the tone?




comment by ishaan · 2019-09-18T17:32:43.036Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that more people trying to do cost effectiveness analyses is good! I regret that the tone seemed otherwise and will consider it more in the future. I engaged with it primarily because I too often wonder about how one might improve impact outside of impact-focused environments, and I generally find it an interesting direction to explore. I also applaud that you made the core claim clearly and boldly and I would like to see more of that as well - all models suffer these flaws to some degree and it's a great virtue to make clear claims that are designed such that any mistakes will be caught (as described here [LW · GW]). Thanks for doing the piece and I hope you can use these comments to continue to create models of this and other courses of action :)

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-09-18T23:40:05.940Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

It's tricky isn't it. It's a poor model :P but it's better than my poorly informed intuition. Not quite sure what to do about that. Have a good one :)

comment by elle · 2019-09-17T20:50:28.144Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I appreciate the other comments about how the model does not take into account the base impact of the charities. Also:

1) Do trustees take on some form of legal responsibility for charities? If so, it could be risky to get involved with a charity you know little about.

2) Do you know how many other trustees are typically already involved? If you are one of three, I could see you having an easier time influencing a charity than if you are, say, one of seven.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-09-18T16:34:21.033Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

1)I think you would get to research a charity before agreeing.

2)I don't know the answer.