Let's Fund Living review: 2020 update

post by HaukeHillebrandt · 2021-02-12T18:49:52.075Z · EA · GW · 12 comments

Contents

  Summary
    Crowdfunding Impact
    Research Impact
  Our strategy for 2021
  Update on our grantees
    David Hart’s Clean Energy Innovation Program at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)
    Chris Chambers’ Registered Reports advocacy at Cardiff University
  Cost-effectiveness analysis of Crowdfunding
  Acknowledgments
    founding team
  References
None
12 comments

Summary

Let’s Fund does research into pressing problems, like climate change, and then crowdfunds for particularly effective policy solutions. Here, we give an update on our impact. This “Living review” features also content from our 2019 annual review.

Our key achievements in 2020:

Our Crowdfunding Impact

In total, we have now crowdfunded ~$880k:

We did this on a ~$80k budget, suggesting a net value of $800k and a fundraising ratio of ~6x. In other words, for every dollar we spend on Let’s Fund, we’ve crowdfunded around 6 dollar. In 2019, we had raised only ~$300k. In 2020, we raised ~$580k. Note that of the total $880k moved, we have only tracked ~$660k, and the $220k was reported to us by ITIF, which has directly attributed these donations to the Let’s Fund campaign. We expand on the cost-effectiveness of our crowdfunding impact below.

Our Research Impact

Global priorities research: In 2020, Hauke (together with John Halstead) published “Growth and the case against randomista development [EA · GW]”.  This was well received on the Forum[4] and also featured on Tyler Cowen’s blog.[5] In the past, we’ve also published “Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions [EA · GW]”, which has recently inspired some follow up research[6] by a climate physicist at Imperial College London.[7]

Climate change: In the past, our research report on this topic (see Lets-Fund.org/Clean-Energy) was covered on Vox,[8] went viral with +10k positive engagements on social media from politicians, academics, policy wonks, and billionaires. For instance, Bill Gates tweeted “If you read one article this week about climate change, check out this one”[9] and it featured on the American Institute of Physics newsletter. Some influencers with 1 million followers are paid $100k per post, suggesting the value Gates’ tweet to his 50 million followers could be in the millions.[10] This might have influenced climate policy and policy-makers told us the report has influenced their thinking. In 2020, Let’s Fund climate policy research was also mentioned in the New York Times.[11]

Impact Investing: Our report on impact investing “Donating effectively is usually better than Impact Investing” (Lets-Fund.org/Impact-Investing), was covered on Vox and was well received. A philanthropic advisor we know advised a client who wanted to impact invest $1.3m, but after introducing him to some conclusions of our report, he decided on the spot to put $650k into (classical) "investing to give" and $650k into immediate effective giving.

This work was also cited by the Open Philanthropy Project.[12] Related work on the Mission Hedging investment strategy has been of interest to foundations and other grantees of EA funds.[13] In 2020, Hauke gave a TV interview on this work.[14]

Philanthropy: Our research might also influence philanthropic funding more widely; one of the Long-term Future fund managers wrote that our report “played a major role in [their] assessment of the grant” they made to our Better Science project.[15] Another example: the Boston Foundation Research Team has recommended a grant of $60,000 to our climate policy campaign (the foundation has made $130 million in grants last in 2018).

Our strategy for 2021

In 2021, we will continue crowdfunding, but focus more on research to move more into the direction of becoming a think tank. If you want to fund us or would like to work with us, please get in touch.

Update on our grantees

Professor David Hart’s Clean Energy Innovation Program at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)

Roughly $800,000 was raised for Professor David Hart’s Clean Energy Innovation program at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a D.C.-based think tank. The Global Go To Think Tank Index has ranked ITIF 1st in their “Science and Technology think tanks“ category in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The funds are supporting their climate policy program, in particular on coordinating increases in government spending on clean energy R&D.

Donations help the program to e.g. hire more staff and create more typical think tank outputs such as books, reports, policy briefs, blogs, conferences, workshops, commentaries, formal briefings and informal discussions with policy-makers, government officials, and key stakeholders. For instance, in part due to Let’s Fund donations, ITIF has also recently hired someone to work on EU climate policy in Brussels. We think the main mechanism of their impact will be high-quality, unbiased policy research on the effectiveness of higher and smarter spending on clean energy R&D.

One recent output is an index ranking countries by their energy R&D spending—which might create a race to the top.[16] Several of ITIF’s reports were cited by a US House Select Committee’s report,[17] which has influenced Biden’s “surprisingly ambitious” climate plan.[18] We estimate that this sort of policy research could result in millions more being spent on clean energy R&D. Hart, together with senior policy analyst Colin Cunliff, and senior fellow Varun Sivaram, in collaboration with researchers at Columbia University have recently published a book “Energizing America - A Roadmap to Launch a National Energy Innovation Mission” in 2020. Sivaram has recently joined the Biden administration as a senior adviser to Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry.

You can read our full report at Lets-Fund.org/Clean-Energy

Colin Cunliff and David Hart at the launch event of the Cunliff's report "An Innovation Agenda for a Low-Carbon Energy Future: Bridging Gaps in the Federal Energy RD&D Portfolio".

Professor Chris Chambers’ Registered Reports advocacy at Cardiff University

Roughly $80,000 was raised to support Professor Chris Chambers’ to advocate for “Registered Reports” which improves the way research is done across all hypothesis-driven science. More than 200 journals have now adapted this publication format including Nature Communications (e.g. for epidemiology papers) and PLoS ONE[19], the second largest scientific journal and by one measure the most important scientific journal.[20] Some of this was likely due to our grantees advocacy.[21] 

There are also signs of adoption of the Registered Reports format in high-impact areas such as development economics,[22] health economics,[23],[24] climate change,[25] and catastrophic biological risks[26]. Chambers has also started the “Rapid Registered Reports for Covid-19” initiative.[27] For instance, one Registered Report [28] looks at whether core warming can be good for COVID-19 patients undergoing mechanical ventilation.[29] (See here for a full list of Registered Reports published so far). In our extensive write-up at Lets-Fund.org/Better-Science we also evaluate this grant on differential technological development grounds. As a result, the Effective Altruism Long-term Future Fund endorsed this project with a grant.

Recently, Chambers said that “some of the most useful and flexible funding I've received has been donated by hundreds of generous members of public (& small orgs) via our Lets-Fund.Org supported [crowdfunding campaign]”.[30] 

Chris Chamber giving a talk “Registered Reports as a vaccine against research bias” at workshop for researchers in Germany.

Cost-effectiveness analysis of Crowdfunding

We have crowdfunded/raised about $880k for our grantees so far, and received roughly ~$150k in funding from the EA community (all grants are listed in this spreadsheet). This suggests a net value of ~$730k ($880k in funds raised minus $150k in funds received). If one discounts the net value by 5% for 1 year, we get the net present value, which is ~$650k. Our fundraising ratio is 6. In other words, for every dollar we spend on Let’s Fund, we’ve crowdfunded around 6 dollar.

We have done a cost-effectiveness analysis to compare how effective giving to GiveDirectly would be (the spreadsheet can be found here). With some highly uncertain assumptions, which might very well be off, Let’s Fund (via its grantees) is perhaps as effective as giving many millions to GiveDirectly[31] (a popular “philanthropic benchmark”).[32] 

However, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt: cost-effectiveness estimates such as these can sometimes be misleading.[33] For instance, our estimate here is simplified because we have not quantified and included:

Having said that, we believe this estimate could very well be roughly correct, especially when comparing it to other cost-effectiveness analyses. Though counterintuitive, raising a smaller amount for (riskier) very effective projects can be more effective than raising a larger amount of money for less effective projects.[34]

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the following organizations and people for helping Let’s Fund in various ways: Two anonymous EA donors, The Effective Altruism Infrastructure-Fund, the Center for Effective Altruism, The Survival and Flourishing Fund, Jacob Hilton, Founders Pledge, Effektiv-Spenden.org, Rethink Charity: Forward, the Effective Altruism Foundation, Slate Star Codex, EA Giving Tuesday, Vox.com, Legacies Now, and everyone who has reviewed our research and donated to our crowdfunding campaigns.

The founding team

References

[1] Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America

[2] How Joe Biden got greener

[3] Rapid Registered Reports initiative aims to stop coronavirus researchers following false leads

[4] The ten most-viewed posts of 2020 - EA Forum

[5] Marginal Revolution - Friday assorted links

[6] https://github.com/Rlamboll/cscc-paper-2018/tree/add_equality 

[7] Home - Dr Robin Lamboll

[8] The climate change policy with the most potential is the most neglected

[9] Bill Gates on Twitter

[10] Influencer engagement: how people can earn $100,000 per Instagram post.

[11] One Thing You Can Do: Make Smart Donations (Published 2020)

[12] Research Note: Impact Investing for Farm Animals 

[13] Michael Dickens Mission Hedging via Momentum Investing

[14] A new era of green investment | DW | 07.10.2020 

[15] Effective Altruism Funds Payout Report

[16] The Global Energy Innovation Index: National Contributions to the Global Clean Energy Innovation System.

[17] Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America

[18] How Joe Biden got greener

[19] Registered Reports are Coming to PLOS ONE.

[20] Eigenfactor.org

[21] Open Science Newsletter.

[22] Registered Reports: Piloting a Pre-Results Review Process at the Journal of Development Economics

[23] Registered Reports: Time to Radically Rethink Peer Review in Health Economics

[24] https://www.change.org/p/editors-of-health-economics-journals-health-economics-journals-should-allow-registered-reports-for-peer-review

[25] The wealth effects of the announcement of the Australian carbon pricing scheme

[26] Opening Influenza Research

[27] Rapid Registered Reports initiative aims to stop coronavirus researchers following false leads 

[28] Core warming of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients undergoing mechanical ventilation—A protocol for a randomized controlled pilot study

[29] Core warming of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients undergoing mechanical ventilation—A protocol for a randomized controlled pilot study

[30] https://mobile.twitter.com/chrisdc77/status/1305230530292649984 

[31] Let's Fund: annual review / fundraising / hiring / AMA.

[32] GiveWell's Top Charities Are (Increasingly) Hard to Beat.

[33] List of ways in which cost-effectiveness estimates can be misleading

[34] Considerations for Fundraising in Effective Altruism

12 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2021-02-12T20:30:32.369Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great to see an attempt to take a hits based approach to climate change and global health that's also open to small donors.

comment by HaukeHillebrandt · 2021-02-13T11:43:29.608Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the comment!

Quick clarification: we're not crowdfunding for global health. The best place to donate to hits-based global health initiatives is Givewell's maximum impact fund.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2021-02-13T20:13:22.300Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes - I was thinking of the writing on economic growth research - that's still helping to advance a hits based approach to helping the global poor.

comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2021-02-13T07:32:43.391Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for compiling the review, it's exciting to see that your work seems to be highly cost-effective! I have a couple of questions I'm curious about.

  1. The Case Against Randomista Development was exceptionally well received. Do you know of any direct impact it had? (say in terms of money moved or follow-up research done). Generally, how do you think about the impact it has?
  2. How much do you think crowdfunding can grow? Do you think that "donations available through crowdfunding" is a limiting factor for expanding your work?
comment by HaukeHillebrandt · 2021-02-13T12:45:51.872Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The Case Against Randomista Development was exceptionally well received. Do you know of any direct impact it had? (say in terms of money moved or follow-up research done). Generally, how do you think about the impact it has?

Inside EA: The post was the most commented on research post on the EA forum, and roughly 10k in views. It also had 26 "citations" (see'pingback' on the post [EA · GW]). 

I talked to an analyst at Charity Entrepreneurship last year who considered the growth arguments  charity incubation program. Founders pledge also did some research on it [EA · GW].

A few EA student groups discussed the piece.

Outside EA there was not much of a response on social media, perhaps because within economics the ideas are not that novel. Tyler Cowen linked to it, Pritchett discussed it on his blog, but not that much apart from that. Someone wrote he ran for New Hampshire state senate on a republican ticket partly because the post convinced him of the importance of policy, but lost by narrow margin. Republicans still flipped the state senate by four seats. Still, cluelessness is a bit scary [? · GW].

How much do you think crowdfunding can grow? Do you think that "donations available through crowdfunding" is a limiting factor for expanding your work?

I'm deprioritizing the crowdfunding to focus more on research, but the global crowdfunding market is ~$15bn and forecast to triple in the next 5 years.  

I have a few more thoughts on donations in EA, that I hope to write up at some point.

comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2021-02-13T13:39:25.851Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the response and for taking the time to add references! I'm glad to see two EA orgs have put substantial effort into this, and it's terrific that it had such a direct and potentially impactful impact on someone's career (and I'd bet that there are many others undocumented). 

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2021-02-14T16:52:40.191Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

 I have a few questions on how the fundraising worked:

  • How many total donors did you have for each grantee?
  • What marketing strategies did you engage in?
  • What were the top ways donors found out about the giving opportunities? I know you mentioned the Vox article & Bill Gates' tweet, but I'd be interested to know how much traffic was driven through there, vs other sources
  • Was there anything unintuitive or interesting that you learnt about the crowdfunding market ?
comment by HaukeHillebrandt · 2021-02-14T17:12:18.585Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
  • How many total donors did you have for each grantee?

 

For Lets-Fund.org/Better-Science we had about 50 donors with the majority of the funding being bigger donors and the Longterm future fund. Many of them were from the EA community.

For Lets-Fund.org/Clean-Energy we had about 1000 small donors, mostly from outside of the EA community, the biggest donations were $75k and $50k.

  • What marketing strategies did you engage in?
  • What were the top ways donors found out about the giving opportunities? I know you mentioned the Vox article & Bill Gates' tweet, but I'd be interested to know how much traffic was driven through there, vs other sources

I contacted journalists about my research and then also people to retweet the coverage of the research. I write a little bit more about the strategy in a comment on the old thread if you're interested [EA(p) · GW(p)]. Most donors found out about Let's Fund through Vox.com, New York Times and Slate Star Codex (when it still had ads).

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2021-02-14T23:38:30.331Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the reply and the link - I missed it when I was looking at the 2019 report. It was really interesting!

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2021-02-14T16:59:50.160Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I have another question, regarding Let's Fund's strategy: although you said you will still be doing fundraising in the near future, you mentioned wanting to move more towards a think tank. 

Does this mean you're considering fading out the fundraising aspect of your work? If so: why do you think this is a better trajectory for Let's Fund? Would the research still be funding-oriented, or more similar to the Randomista article?

If not, is it because of uncertainties around what the best giving opportunities may be? Or something completely different?

comment by HaukeHillebrandt · 2021-02-14T17:36:07.824Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That's a great question.

Does this mean you're considering fading out the fundraising aspect of your work?

I'm currently deprioritizing the fundraising, and eventually, it's very likely that it'll be faded out. And the research wouldn't be funding oriented anymore either and less applied - not unlike the piece on growth.

There are many reasons- I want to write more about the role of philanthropy in EA in the future. 

In brief, the crucial consideration is that multiobjective optimization is generally less effective than single objective optimization and the current model tries to optimize for both money moved and doing research. But if you want to optimize for money moved, then you need to focus on high networth philanthropy, which is way more effective, because of wealth inequality. That's why I think it's best to focus on research.

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2021-02-14T23:39:54.570Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That sounds really interesting - are there any topics on philanthropy and EA you are planning to write you could share at this stage?