Posts

What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? 2020-12-08T14:10:04.926Z
The Life You Can Save's 2019 Annual Report 2020-06-18T19:22:57.870Z
Peter Singer on the 80K podcast 2019-12-18T17:17:42.194Z
A Framework for Thinking about the EA Labor Market 2019-05-08T19:33:06.076Z
The Life You Can Save's 2018 Annual Report 2019-04-24T20:47:08.714Z
A new, lower risk way to teach effective giving 2018-12-20T00:47:29.047Z
Narrative but Not Philosophical Argument Motivates Giving to Charity 2018-11-26T18:18:38.587Z
A Research Framework to Improve Real-World Giving Behavior 2018-10-04T18:25:56.012Z
The Giving Game Project's 2017 Annual Report 2018-06-05T20:58:50.122Z
The Life You Can Save's 2017 Annual Report and 2018 Strategic Plan 2018-05-03T19:53:48.663Z
The Giving Game Project's Vision and Strategic Plan 2017-05-23T23:21:42.879Z
Are Giving Games a better way to teach philanthropy? 2017-05-13T00:36:41.371Z
The Life You Can Save's 2016 Annual Report 2017-04-26T22:46:55.707Z
A Request for Funding from The Giving Game Project 2016-08-01T18:17:05.548Z
The Giving Game Project's Annual Report 2016-07-20T18:07:47.070Z
Wish Peter Singer a happy 70th birthday! 2016-06-20T21:03:15.599Z
The Life You Can Save's 2015 Year in Review 2016-02-12T23:22:45.302Z

Comments

Comment by Jon_Behar on Opportunity for EA orgs: $5k/year in ETH (tech setup required) · 2021-03-18T15:49:40.217Z · EA · GW

They want to stick with registered US charities for this initial round, to keep the grantmaking logistics simpler. 

I believe down the road, when FF has built up some grantmaking experience, they'd like to widen things up. 

Comment by Jon_Behar on Responses and Testimonies on EA Growth · 2021-03-16T02:38:43.750Z · EA · GW

TLYCS’s experience definitely suggests growth, not stagnation. Between 2014 and 2019, money moved increased at a compound annual growth rate of 75%. Web traffic did flatten out, but mostly after we started focusing more on offline fundraising.

Comment by Jon_Behar on Opportunity for EA orgs: $5k/year in ETH (tech setup required) · 2021-03-16T02:12:24.313Z · EA · GW

I asked my contact at Fugue Foundation about this, and here's their response: 

We list information about our corporate structure on our website at the link below. We are incorporated in Arizona and await word from the IRS regarding our 501c3 application. Indeed, as a private foundation, and one that specifically lists privacy protection as one of our core principles, we do try to maintain a certain distance with online identities. I will certainly speak with any of the organizations that are selected to receive the grant.

https://fuguefoundation.org/docs/mission.html#incorporation

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2021-03-09T19:23:15.564Z · EA · GW

Thanks to everyone who voted and commented! It was helpful to learn more about how EAs think about multiplier orgs, and I hope it was helpful to hear my perspective from inside one of those orgs. 

Here are my biggest takeaways from the discussion, apologies that it took me so long to post this:

  • Somebody is likely wrong: either multiplier orgs are pursuing strategies that don’t work, or those strategies do work and donors are missing out on leverage. If EAs can learn more about which statement is true, there’s a real opportunity for improvement. In theory there could be a middle ground where multiplier orgs are pursuing strategies that work at their current scale and marginal multiples are close to one, but it seems unlikely that all/most multiplier orgs fall into that category.
  • If you look at the history of multiplier orgs in EA, I think it’s clear that at least for some of them the model has worked. REG seems like a pretty clearcut case study of an organization that has spent very little money to move a lot of money to highly effective charities from donors who almost certainly never would have heard of those charities without REG.
  • By a large margin, people’s biggest objection to multiplier orgs is that they don’t trust the multipliers those organizations are reporting. People mentioned a variety of concerns about the reported numbers, including that they aren’t counterfactually adjusted and that they think the marginal return on new donations is likely to be lower than the historical average return. And this may create a reinforcing dynamic, where EAs aren’t excited about multiplier orgs because they get the sense that other EAs aren’t excited about them.
  • There are very high barriers to entry to getting a better understanding of the multiplier space (In other words, I think this area is quite vetting constrained.) There are a lot of different organizations, lots of different methodological considerations, and inconsistent reporting across multiplier orgs (e.g. money moved numbers may or may not be counterfactually adjusted). It would be hard enough for one person learn enough to make an informed decision; it’s completely unreasonable to expect everyone to learn this much on their own. (Note: it's not clear to me that comparing multiplier orgs is harder than, say, comparing movement building orgs; my sense is that both areas are vetting constrained.)
  • The most sophisticated potential funders for meta orgs (Open Phil and the EA Infrastructure Fund) have actually supported about a dozen different multiplier organizations. However, it’s unlikely that these two funders alone can support a thriving ecosystem of multiplier orgs, given that Open Phil only considers a narrow subset of multiplier orgs and that the Infrastructure Fund’s funding capacity is quite low relative to the what a thriving ecosystem would need. 
  • The multiplier ecosystem is diverse enough such that there may well be an organization out there that addresses your biggest concerns about the space. For example, if you’re worried that people might not keep the GWWC pledge, Founders Pledge’s legally binding pledge could be interesting. Conversely, if you’re worried that FP’s founders will give to ineffective charities, GWWC could be a good option. REG is extremely efficient but is relatively hard to scale, while TLYCS has a more scalable model but is willing to sacrifice efficiency in pursuit of that scale (i.e. TLYCS is more likely to pursue a strategy we think will cost $10 million and move $100 million [10x leverage] than we would be to pursue a strategy that would cost $1k and move $100k [100x leverage].) I’m not trying to argue here that one model is superior to the other, my point is that the universe of multiplier orgs is broad enough to appeal to a lot of different types of donors. 
  • I get the sense many EAs don’t realize just how terrible a “minimum viable product” is, and how significantly an MVP can be improved with dedicated work. In the context of multiplier organizations, I think there’s a misperception that a basic website with limited maintenance is good enough, and that this misperception drives the concerns people have about marginal impact being lower than average impact. The empirical evidence is at odds with the preference for MVP models, based on the experiences of orgs like RC Fwd, GWWC, and TLYCS. TLYCS is a pretty clear example because we essentially used the website + volunteer model from ~2009 through mid-2013, before switching to paid full time staff. When we made the switch, web traffic (which had been flat for 4 years) started increasing and continued to do so, and money moved has steadily grown ever since (and is probably >25x higher than it was in the MVP years). 

 

Outcomes I’d like to see going forward:

I’d love to see someone write up an overview of the multiplier space, similar to Larks’ annual AI Alignment Literature Review and Charity Comparison. Consolidating information would make it much easier for donors to engage with the space. Something as simple as a list of organizations with a few sentences about their work, their multiplier data, and links to more info would go a long way. (Ideally this would be done by someone who doesn’t work at a multiplier org; I’ll post this as a volunteer project on EA Work Club.)

I’d hope that overview would encourage more EAs dip their toes in the water by making a small donation to one or more multiplier orgs and/or subscribing to their mailing lists (I just did this to put some skin in the game). This is less about the actual money, and more about making it more likely you’ll stay informed about their work going forward. The more you do that, the more you’ll be able to make your own informed decision about whether their model is working.

A final note… While I’d love to see more people donating to multiplier orgs, I’d hate to see donors naively donating to the organization with the highest multiplier or otherwise incentivizing multiplier orgs to prioritize maximizing their short term multiplier. Ideally, both donors and organizations will prioritize strategies that maximize long run impact, and prioritize the magnitude of that long run impact (money moved – expenses) rather than the efficiency of that impact (money moved / expenses). For donors, I’d recommend asking 1) “do I believe in the strategy?” and 2) “do I believe the team can execute the strategy?”

Comment by Jon_Behar on A ranked list of all EA-relevant (audio)books I've read · 2021-02-17T16:49:27.540Z · EA · GW

There's also an EA classic available as an audiobook: The Live You Can Save (the fully updated 10th anniversary edition) is  freely available (in audiobook or ebook format) making it a book to share with people you think might find it interesting.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are some potential coordination failures in our community? · 2020-12-16T21:57:16.553Z · EA · GW

Search engine optimization.

Based on my very limited understanding, links are critical for SEO (though not as important as a few years ago). So conventions like “EA blogs should generally have blogrolls (i.e. lists of links to related blogs)” or “references to organizations (e.g AMF) on the EA Forum should generally link to them” would probably help the entire community.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-14T17:51:59.100Z · EA · GW

These sophisticated donors’ support of such a wide range of multiplier orgs supports the idea that there could be a lot of leverage out there to be had. If that’s true, it also has some interesting implications for the “it’s hard to get a job at an EA org” discussion that’s been going on for a while, most recently here.

Here's a simplified thought experiment. Let’s say you invested $1 million in the orgs listed above, allocated proportionally to their current size (not all that far off from what the infrastructure fund has actually done, but we’ll use stylized numbers to keep the math simple). Salaries are typically the biggest expense for multiplier orgs, so let’s say $800k flows through to hiring new people. Assume $100k/year per new person and that’s 8 new hires. If 75% of those jobs go to people in the EA community, that’s 6 EA’s getting the sorts of jobs that are immensely desireable and immensely scarce.

If the multiplier model really works, $1 million will be a small fraction of what’s needed to build a flourishing system multiplier orgs with models spanning research (e.g. GiveWell, ACE), fundraising for targeted causes (e.g. TLYCS, OFTW), fundraising for targeted donors (e.g. Founders Pledge and REG), and country-level organizations that provide tax deductible giving (e.g. RC Forward, EA Netherlands). If you built that ecosystem, you’d quickly create dozens of new roles. So if the multiplier model works at scale, you’ll move a ton of incremental money while also making real headway on the issue of EA jobs being scarce. (To be clear, I don’t think we should fund multiplier orgs so EAs will be able to get the jobs they want, I’m just saying that would be a nice added benefit if the multiplier model works and another reason to investigate whether it does work.)

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-10T16:43:10.735Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this data point Luke! It’s a good reminder that counterfactuals work both ways for multiplier orgs. Sometimes we count money that would have been donated counterfactually (overestimating our impact), but sometimes there are donations we don’t count that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t exist (underestimating our impact).

Also worth noting that sometimes the spillover effect is in an area that isn't the multiplier orgs main focus. For instance, I'd also expect the book relaunch to help 80K which gets a nice discussion, but that's not anything TLYCS will capture in its metrics.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T22:44:24.609Z · EA · GW

Yeah, that makes sense.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T22:43:51.198Z · EA · GW

My sense is that most individual donors aren't excited about multiplier orgs because they find them complicated, don't have time to dig into the leverage numbers to really understand them, and therefore don't trust those numbers. And I think that's a pretty reasonable strategy for most individuals. But it does seem telling that funders that have the resources to do more vetting have supported such a wide range of multiplier orgs.  

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T22:36:15.505Z · EA · GW

Also, they [Open Phil] could fund TLYCS through their global health and poverty program instead. They've funded One for  the World. The EA Infrastructure Fund has also funded TYLCS among many other multiplier orgs.

To get funded, One for the World had to change the recommendations to use only GiveWell's research. That was also a precondition of any discussion with GiveWell about funding for TLYCS, which was not a strategic compromise we were willing to make. 

As you say, the EA Infrastructure Fund has funded a lot of multiplier orgs. But aside from Founders Pledge, the grants have been pretty small- at the organizational level, I think they're all under $30k in almost 4 years the fund has been operating. That's definitely helpful, but not really a sustainable funding source for an organization. 

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T21:44:45.698Z · EA · GW

I think this is a really important point.

To give you some updated numbers, in 2019 TLYCS raised over $6 for AMF for every dollar we spent on operations plus another $7 for other recommended charities. If you look only at GiveWell recommended charities, our multiplier was 10X.

As I mentioned to HStencil, if these multiplier numbers are remotely accurate, there’s a huge margin of safety. You could believe that donations to any charity other than AMF are totally worthless AND that TLYCS overestimated donations to AMF by 3x, and you still would have doubled your impact by giving to TLYCS. And our multiplier is going to be even higher this year. (I’m talking about TLYCS because that’s what I’m familiar with, but I also recall seeing strong multipliers from e.g. RC Forward and REG.)

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T21:12:45.522Z · EA · GW

Really appreciate that you spelled out your thinking so clearly- thank you! 

I think intermediaries make more sense for more casual donors, unlike people like yourself who are putting lots of thought into where to give.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T20:07:33.060Z · EA · GW

Glad it helped! Thanks for the great questions, I'm sure you're not the only one who had them!

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T18:23:34.370Z · EA · GW

I think it’s preferable to have people give through intermediaries, so that the message is “give to organizations the experts think is best” vs. having every charity try to argue for its own impact and having donors try to make sense of it all.

That message gets undermined if the recommendations aren’t independent, which is a serious problem with having the recommended charities fund the multiplier org.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T15:48:35.421Z · EA · GW

Interesting discussion! One of the things I find striking is how much stronger the case for multiplier organizations is now than it was a couple of years ago when that post was written. There are a now a bunch of organizations now have significantly higher multipliers than the ones discussed in the post, and also have an established track record of providing those multipliers.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T15:46:02.426Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing your thinking on this! Hopefully this exercise will shed some light on whether that lack of excitement is warranted, or whether it could represent an untapped opportunity.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T15:45:08.975Z · EA · GW

I don't think most people I know in the community (myself included) really understand what you do. 

 

I agree there’s a lack of understanding of our work, and hope this discussion helps clarify some things. And we haven’t done a great job of reaching out to the community to explain our work.  One difficulty in operating a multiplier charity is that it can be tough to promote your own organization since your whole purpose is to promote other charities. 

I was even unaware of how high your estimated multiplier is (if you had asked me to guess prior to your comment, there's no way I would've gone higher than 4x).

FWIW, I think most (maybe all) multiplier organizations report multipliers well above 4x.


1. Why have TLYCS's expenses tripled since 2016? Other than the website overhaul and the book launch, what have you been spending on? Are you aiming to engage in similar (financial) growth again in the near term? If not, would you be if you had more support from small donors?
 

Most of the increase was due to the book: expenses were around 300k in 2016 and 2017, ~450k in 2018, and a bit under $1m in 2019 as we ramped up for the book project. The increase in 2018 was due to adding a bit of headcount (by far our largest expense) and rationalizing some very low salaries that had been in place at the outset.

Going forward, we’d very much like to be able to grow our operational budget and would do so if we had more confidence in our ability to raise the necessary funds. Off the top of my head (definitely not an official organizational response) I’d say something like 30% annual growth would be manageable.  


2. What do you mean by "communicate with more donors?" What does that involve? How costly is it on a per-donor basis? How scalable is it?

 

I meant this very broadly- it covers a lot of things, and the cost of those activities likely varies a lot. Over the past few years we’ve done things like: building out a CRM system to manage our donors and leads, personally emailing and/or calling more donors to thank them and build a relationship, have more one on one conversations with large donors/prospects, hold more donor/fundraising events, and add customization to our newsletter/email communications  (so that, for example, donors and non-donors receive different newsletters.) The common thread is that this all involves work, and you need to pay someone to do that work.

I think there is enormous room to scale this stuff. 


3. When you spend more money (beyond your basic operating expenses: salaries, office space if you have it, etc.), and that spending seems to be associated with an increase in donor interest in your recommended charities, what do you think generally explains that relationship, and how do you determine that such an increase in donor interest was counterfactually caused by the increase in spending?
 

Salaries account for the vast majority of our budget (meaning increased spending typically means increased headcount). We try to assess if our strategy and execution are working, and the details depend on the project. Sometimes we add expenses that don’t immediately impact donations, like hiring an accountant. We didn’t try to model out that ROI, we just knew we had grown beyond the point where it was feasible to operate with a volunteer accountant. When we overhauled the website, we were able to look at a lot of quantitative metrics (conversion rates, engagement rates, etc) and see that they improved a lot right after the change. When we launched TLYCS Australia, we didn’t have to watch the donations that came in for very long to know it was going to be a big success.

FYI our 2018 annual report has a good discussion of how we pivoted our strategy then assessed that change.


4. More generally, and this may be an extremely dumb question/something you have explained at length elsewhere, how do you arrive at your "money moved" estimates, and how do you ensure that they are counterfactually valid?
 

Thanks for asking- this is something most people probably don't know.

It’s pretty simple: we count money that’s been donated to TLYCS to be regranted to our recommended charities + money donated to those charities (and reported back to us) where the donor indicates that we influenced the gift.

We’ve discussed counterfactuals in detail in the appendix to our 2017 annual report. There are definitely a lot of considerations, but I generally think counterfactual concerns are becoming less of an issue over time (TLYCS’s role in producing the new book really mitigates concerns that we’re measuring Peter Singer’s impact rather than the organization’s.) 

One place we have made a counterfactual adjustment (which I think speaks to our attempts to be reasonable in our metrics) is with a specific family that has donated several million dollars over the past 5 years. We think it’s very likely those gifts would have been made without our involvement, so we’ve only counted 5% of their value in our numbers. FWIW, the charities involved told us they thought we should take full credit.

I don’t really know what TLYCS’s exact multiplier would be if you had perfect information and could account for all the counterfactuals. But I’m highly confident it’s well above the threshold of providing significant leverage. In 2020, even if our true impact is only 10% of our reported money moved figure (which I believe is conservative), we’d still provide >50% leverage. There’s a very large margin of safety (which you wouldn't really have if you had a mental model that our multiplier was 4x or less per your comment above).   


5. Do you personally believe that TLYCS will hit diminishing marginal returns on investments in growing its base of donors to its recommended charities sometime in the near or intermediate term?

Personally, I think TLYCS is just getting started. The new book is a powerful asset, and by getting free copies (and excerpts, video summaries, etc) in many people’s hands, I’m confident that our money moved will grow significantly over the long run.  We know the first book influenced a ton of people (including Cari Tuna), now we have a book that will have a much wider reach and has an organization behind it.

I know our multiplier will go up in 2020, but after that I’m not really sure. We focus more on “Net Impact”, which is our Money Moved minus our expenses, rather than our multiplier which takes the ratio of those numbers. 

I think Peter Hurford originally suggested the Net Impact metric back in the day, and it makes a lot of sense to us. We’d much rather spend $1 billion to move $5 billion than spend $1,000 to move $10,000. So potentially there could be diminishing marginal returns (i.e. a falling multiplier), but I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem if you’re trying to build an organization that does as much good as possible instead of one that’s as efficient as possible.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-08T21:49:00.246Z · EA · GW

Interesting talk- thanks for sharing!

Stefan’s framework (which I largely agree with) would argue that the potential funding base for multiplier organizations is quite small due to their complexity, and is probably limited to the EA community (or a subset thereof). So I’m trying to do a little market research to learn more about what that audience thinks about multiplier organizations. 

The talk also argues for focusing on the largest donors, which in EA usually means Open Phil. But that’s less of an option for multiplier organizations as Open Phil’s EA “program does not fund organizations focused primarily on raising money for effective charities or organizations primarily focused on animal welfare or global poverty (though organizations in these categories might qualify for support under another focus area, e.g. farm animal welfare).”

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-08T21:13:27.674Z · EA · GW

Thank you! This was exactly the sort of thoughtful explanation I was hoping for.

For what it’s worth, in my experience at TLYCS it takes a lot more than just a website to move money. When I look at the things that seem to have driven our growth over the years, a lot of it is simply having the capacity to do basic things like communicate more with donors. And the relative steadiness in TLYCS’s multiplier (between 9x and 13x from 2016-2019) as expenses more than tripled suggests that there’s not a huge difference between the marginal multiplier and the average multiplier (and that if anything, the marginal multiplier might be higher). 

I do think your “step function” argument is getting at something interesting (though I’d say you’re overestimating the availability and willingness of large donors to fund these transformative initiatives). There have definitely been discrete steps up in TLYCS’s history, most recently last year when we had a major launch of the updated book, overhauled our website, and more than doubled both money moved and expenses. The investments paid off: this year expenses will be down slightly and money moved will be up a lot, so the multiplier will break out of its recent range. 

As you note, multiplier charities don’t get much scrutiny. Part of the motivation for this post is trying to figure out whether adding more scrutiny could be a good investment. After all, if additional vetting could make donors feel confident that multiplier organizations were offering legitimate 2x multiplier (let alone 10X or more), that would be a huge source of leverage for the EA community.

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-08T14:12:26.656Z · EA · GW

I’m generally skeptical of the multiplier model because it seems too good to be true

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-08T14:12:08.932Z · EA · GW

I think multiplier organizations have provided leverage in the past, but think that going forward the marginal multiplier will be lower than the average multiplier

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-08T14:11:49.967Z · EA · GW

I think multiplier organizations are significantly riskier than organizations doing direct work

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-08T14:11:29.401Z · EA · GW

There aren’t multiplier organizations available in the cause areas I care about

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-08T14:11:09.780Z · EA · GW

Multiplier organizations typically raise funds for a lot of different charities, and I only care about money that’s raised for the charity with the highest absolute impact

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-08T14:10:47.480Z · EA · GW

I feel an emotional “warm glow” when I give to charities that do direct work, but not when I give to multiplier organizations

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-08T14:10:31.142Z · EA · GW

I don’t believe the multipliers that fundraising organizations report (e.g. because they don’t appropriately adjust for money that would have been donated counterfactually, rely on aggressive assumptions, or ignore the opportunity cost of having people working at the multiplier organization)

Comment by Jon_Behar on Are there any other pro athlete aspiring EAs? · 2020-09-10T19:36:56.000Z · EA · GW

This sounds like a great idea Marcus!

I’d love to put you in touch with Charlie Bresler, the Executive Director of The Life You Can Save. In addition to being an avid tennis fan, Charlie has been very interested in working with athletes to promote effective giving for a long time. TLYCS has worked with a bunch of celebrities before (though unfortunately no athletes yet), most recently as audiobook narrators for the 10th anniversary edition of the book the organization is named after. If you PM me your email address I’ll connect the two of you.

Comment by Jon_Behar on Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books? · 2020-06-18T19:40:25.256Z · EA · GW
Presumably most of that is sunk cost and what the publisher ought to care about is discounted expected cashflows from the book.

I think that’s conceptually right. But it brings up another important point: negotiating to buy the rights was time-consuming and frustrating. And part of the annoyance was due to the publisher not acting as economically rational as you’d expect. We actually spent years saying things like “surely there’s a figure for which you’d be happy to sell the rights, could you just let us know what that number is?” There really wasn’t any progress until we got a (pro bono) lawyer involved who has a lot of experience in IP negotiations. Once she took over working with the publisher, things started moving along (though still at a relatively slow pace).

Comment by Jon_Behar on Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books? · 2020-06-18T15:33:19.458Z · EA · GW

The book rights cost $30,000 to acquire.

It’s important to note, however, that there would likely be a ton of variation for different books. This would likely depend on what the publisher paid the author in advance and how many books they've sold / how much money they've made back.

Comment by Jon_Behar on Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books? · 2020-06-18T15:32:36.709Z · EA · GW

Good idea! Just set myself a reminder to look at this a year from now :)

Comment by Jon_Behar on Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books? · 2020-06-17T19:08:11.867Z · EA · GW

Not sure, I'll check with the team and get back to you.

Comment by Jon_Behar on Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books? · 2020-06-17T19:07:43.165Z · EA · GW

I don't think Singer has considered doing this for other books, but I'm not positive about that.

Comment by Jon_Behar on Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books? · 2020-06-17T19:03:32.365Z · EA · GW
The EA Meta Fund gave $10,000 for this, which seems very worthwhile. Of course, this may not be the full cost, and this also covered some other things. I like that they included free audiobooks; we should probably do that too if we pursue this.

FYI, this $10,000 grant (while greatly appreciated) was a (small) fraction of the total cost of the new edition of TLYCS. However, that project was significantly more ambitious that simply buying the rights and publishing an ebook; it was closer to writing, editing, and publishing an entirely new book given the scope of the updates. The project also included a complete overhaul of TLYCS website, which was largely outsourced. Finding and working with the celebrity narrators for the audiobook was also labor (and therefore cost) intensive, though this wouldn't be relevant for most books.

Re: a retrospective, there’ll likely be a more detailed one down the road, but TLYCS’s 2019 annual report includes a good deal of discussion about the early experience around the book project.

Comment by Jon_Behar on Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books? · 2020-06-17T18:58:17.667Z · EA · GW
The key question here, is whether (and if so, to what degree) free download is a more effective means of distribution than regular book sales. So we should ask Peter Singer how the consumption of TLYCS changed with putting his book online.

Free distribution seems to have helped a lot. The original version sold ~45,000 copies in its first 10 years; in its first 6 months, we’ve distributed roughly the same number of copies of the 10th anniversary edition.

The original edition has presumably had more readers than the updated version so far: over 10 years you can rack up a lot of library checkouts and used book readings that aren’t captured in the sales numbers, and people are more likely to consume a book if they’ve paid for it than if they got it for free. But based on the first 6 months, I’d expect the new edition to be read many more times over the long term, and for that to be driven by it being freely available. (I'd also expect factors like promotion by the celebrity narrators of the audiobook to increase distribution.)

Comment by Jon_Behar on EA Survey 2019 Series: How EAs Get Involved in EA · 2020-05-28T20:22:30.646Z · EA · GW

Terrific, thank you!

Comment by Jon_Behar on EA Survey 2019 Series: How EAs Get Involved in EA · 2020-05-28T17:42:10.278Z · EA · GW

Thanks David, that all makes sense. For future iterations of this analysis, I’d be strongly in favor of adding a sentence about Peter like you had in last year’s summary.

Comment by Jon_Behar on EA Survey 2019 Series: How EAs Get Involved in EA · 2020-05-27T00:04:50.771Z · EA · GW
Personal Contacts (14%), LessWrong (9.6%) and 80,000 Hours (9.6%) are still the main ways most people have heard of EA over time.

Shouldn’t Peter Singer be on this list? He showed up in 203 of the open ended responses (9.5% of 2137 total responses), and that doesn’t count any open ended comments that didn’t mention him by name or non-open ended responses that he’s associated with (e.g. the people who answered they heard about EA through TLYCS the organization, which I work for in the interest of disclosure).

Thank you for conducting and sharing this analysis!

Comment by Jon_Behar on How to share the basic concept of EA on social media? (Facebook in my case) · 2020-04-24T14:37:24.242Z · EA · GW

I like the book distribution idea, but would suggest using the updated 10th Anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save. While its focus on global poverty makes it narrower than Doing Good Better, it has several advantages:

· The audiobook and ebook are available for free

· The celebrity narrators (e.g. Kristen Bell and Paul Simon) add credibility

· It’s more up to date

That said, I think it’d be really interesting to do an experiment comparing the efficacy of distributing each book.

Note: I work for TLYCS the organization

Comment by Jon_Behar on What are examples of EA work being reviewed by non-EA researchers? · 2020-03-30T17:08:27.515Z · EA · GW

The “Worm Wars” could arguably be an example (though the contentious research was not just from the EA community)

Comment by Jon_Behar on AMA: We are Jon and Kathryn. We work with The Life You Can Save. Ask us anything! · 2020-01-23T20:02:09.501Z · EA · GW

Most of the people on The Life You Can Save’s team have significant experience in the for-profit sector, which I think is relatively rare in the EA community. Charlie Bresler, our Executive Director, used to be the President of the Men’s Wearhouse. And before I served as COO for an extended period, I spent ~10 years in the finance sector at Bridgewater Associates. So I think those experiences helped shape The Life You Can Save’s culture. For instance, I think due to the diversity of the backgrounds of our team members, we may engage with a significantly more diverse range of stakeholders on a day-to-day basis than many “typical” organizations in this field. The advantage of this is that it provides us with a variation and depth of expertise to draw upon when we are making strategic decisions about our organization’s mission and approach.

Additionally, our team is also, generally speaking, older than most of the EA community. I’m not sure I can point to specific things that causes us to know about, unless I go with a tongue-in-cheek answer like “what the 1980s were like”.

Comment by Jon_Behar on AMA: We are Jon and Kathryn. We work with The Life You Can Save. Ask us anything! · 2020-01-23T20:00:17.231Z · EA · GW

Here’s how our Oxfam information page describes why we recommend them. (FYI, on each charity’s information page we have an FAQ explaining our recommendation).

We recommend Oxfam for donors who want to support a large, multinational organization working to fight global poverty in a wide variety of ways and in a wide variety of places. Because Oxfam is so large, including them as a recommended charity also significantly expands the tax-deductible giving options and program locations we can offer our global audience.
Due to the breadth and scope of its work, Oxfam’s impact is inherently difficult to measure and attribute, but we believe that some hard-to-measure work, like advocacy, can be a powerful way to help people in extreme poverty. Full disclosure: Peter Singer is a member of Oxfam America’s Leadership Council, an unpaid advisory body of significant Oxfam donors. Peter’s wife, Renata Singer, was employed by Oxfam Australia in the 1990s as their publications officer.

The fact that we don’t recommend The End Fund definitely shouldn’t be interpreted as a negative assessment of their work. Rather, it relates to your other question about the “paradox of choice.” We recommend SCI and Evidence Action (which runs Deworm the World), and generally don’t want to recommend many charities performing similar interventions without a compelling reason, as we think this will be confusing to donors.

In some cases, we do think there’s a good reason to have multiple charities performing similar interventions. For instance, we added Malaria Consortium to our list (which already included AMF) when GiveWell rated the former’s marginal cost-effectiveness as higher than the latter’s. We also have multiple food fortification recommendations which were added at the same time, and which we didn’t feel like we had good reason to distinguish between, but once those were already on our list we declined to add the Food Fortification Initiative when GiveWell later added it as a standout charity.

As the previous examples show, there’s some path dependency to our list (i.e. the order in which we add charities matters). This reflects our belief that 1) all else equal, we want our list to be simple for donors with minimal overlap and 2) we think removing a charity from our list because we added a similar one that might be slightly better would send an inappropriately negative signal about the charity we removed.

Comment by Jon_Behar on AMA: We are Jon and Kathryn. We work with The Life You Can Save. Ask us anything! · 2020-01-23T19:59:05.129Z · EA · GW

We’ve worked with HNW donors to determine which of our recommended organizations are the best match for the donors’ specific values and causes of interest. So far we haven’t done any bespoke research for donors, though this is definitely an area we expect to expand into in the future.

We’ll sometimes get inquiries about causes outside our scope. Where possible, we refer them to EA resources, such as ACE for animal welfare and Founders Pledge’s research on climate change. (We also have links to those two organizations at the bottom of our charity selection methodology writeup in a “beyond global poverty” section).

Comment by Jon_Behar on AMA: We are Jon and Kathryn. We work with The Life You Can Save. Ask us anything! · 2020-01-23T19:58:25.576Z · EA · GW

We recommend a significantly broader set of charities than GiveWell, which is an intentional strategy to offer donors a wider range of options. That said, in the near-term any additions to our list are likely to come from GiveWell. We had been sourcing new recommendations from Impact Matters as well, but they’ve recently pivoted away from the in-depth “impact audits” we’d been relying on and toward much shallower reviews of many more charities. We’ve written up our selection process in more detail here.

Down the road, we’d like to add dedicated staff to work on charity assessment. The primary obstacle to this is lack of funding. We expect this staff would curate research from GiveWell and other sources more than doing primary research. We think dedicated staff would be helpful in expanding our list into cause areas where there’s donor demand (e.g. education and climate change), developing an overall fund and funds for specific cause areas, and offering more concierge services to high net worth donors.

Comment by Jon_Behar on AMA: We are Jon and Kathryn. We work with The Life You Can Save. Ask us anything! · 2020-01-23T19:58:01.777Z · EA · GW

This is something that’s definitely on our radar screen due to climate change’s outsized impact on people living in extreme poverty. We also think it’s a cause area that’s of interest to donors (both our existing donor base and others). However, it’s unlikely that we’ll move forward on this until we have the capacity to add dedicated staff for charity assessment.

Comment by Jon_Behar on AMA: We are Jon and Kathryn. We work with The Life You Can Save. Ask us anything! · 2020-01-23T19:57:29.261Z · EA · GW

These aren’t really surprises, but the experience reinforced a couple of things: celebrities are really busy, and they have a huge reach (e.g. 1 instagram post from Kristen Bell led to over 1000 people downloading the book and subscribing to our newsletter.)

At least a few of the celebrities seem interested beyond seeing us as a random good cause. As an example, Michael Schur really engaged with the intellectual substance of the book in the foreword he wrote for the new edition. And that probably shouldn’t be surprising, as his show The Good Place is essentially oriented around some similar themes.

Comment by Jon_Behar on Long-term investment fund at Founders Pledge · 2020-01-13T17:23:24.032Z · EA · GW

1. Agree that equity valuations outside the US are much less extreme. But if you’re building a diversified portfolio, global fixed income and US equities are probably going to play a large part. So avoiding lower expected returns in those asset classes would require an element of active management, which I think raises the hurdle for this project significantly since active management is both expensive and hard to do well. Given the goals of this fund, I would think a passive Risk Parity strategy (which includes a lot of fixed income) would make a lot of sense.

2. Good point. I would still argue that if there’s an intention to deploy money when “market changes make investing much less attractive”, it makes sense to try and define those types of conditions ahead of time. And if you were going through that exercise a couple of hundred years ago, I’m pretty sure “widespread negative real yields” would have made the list.

Comment by Jon_Behar on Long-term investment fund at Founders Pledge · 2020-01-11T00:26:24.716Z · EA · GW
Money would only be deployed when there is a strong case that allocating to a funding opportunity is higher-impact from a longtermist perspective than keeping the money invested. This could happen, for instance, if our estimate of the expropriation rate rises greatly, legal and/or market changes make investing much less attractive, or we identify a truly extraordinary funding opportunity that we don’t expect to be filled by others.

I think this fund is an intriguing idea. But I think there’s an argument that current market conditions would suggest deploying funds now rather than investing them. Interest rates are at extraordinarily low levels, which suggest lower than normal expected future returns not only for fixed income instruments but also other asset classes that compete for capital with fixed income. To put into context how low current rates are, a 2015 analysis found that “rates remain at the lowest levels in the last 5,000 years of civilization.” Since then, rates have gone even lower. As of August 2019, “About $15 trillion of government bonds worldwide, or 25% of the market, now trade at negative yields, according to Deutsche Bank.”

To be clear, I think this argument applies to the general class of “donate now vs. invest and donate later decisions” EAs make, not just the proposed longtermist fund (where it might apply less due to the especially long time horizons). But my impression is that EAs are often too quick to assume they can always achieve investment returns in line with historical long-term averages, when they should only expect to do so over very long time horizons or when starting valuations are also in line with historical long-term averages.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that the “valuations are currently high so on the margin EAs should give more now” argument could have been made several years ago, and those years have generally been good ones for asset prices…

Comment by Jon_Behar on The tenth-anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save is here for free! Please share (and enjoy)! · 2019-12-06T19:32:30.456Z · EA · GW

Thanks to everyone who’s helped share and promote the book launch! It’s very early, but so far the numbers are looking good. Here’s an excerpt of an email I sent to my colleagues at TLYCS looking at metrics for the book launch on Giving Tuesday:

Here are the highlights:
Money Moved up 100%: We moved $16,477 through Network for Good (online donations through our site, excluding Australia) on Giving Tuesday (GT), up almost exactly 2x vs. $8244 from GT last year. The real picture is even better than the headline numbers, as we’ve seen a substantial improvement in recurring giving, which the new site really emphasizes. On GT18, we had only $340 in recurring gifts. This year, we had $1332 up almost 4x. (In both years, recurring gifts were almost entirely monthly).
Very strong subscription growth: We’ve gotten ~1500 subscriptions through the new site, almost all of which have come via the book download. We now have ~16,500 total subscribers, so this is a big bump for us: so far this week, we’ve increased our newsletter audience by 10%!
~2000 Book Downloads: We’re still nailing down some aspects of our download tracking, so please take these numbers with a grain of salt. Downloads are also our hardest metric to contextualize; we don’t have a great benchmark for our performance. That said, we’ve seen about ~2000 book downloads, split roughly evenly between the e-book and audio-book. Those downloads come from roughly ~2600 people who submit the download form (people can complete the form multiple times), so we may see more downloads as more people follow the instructions in the emails they’ve received (though we should also expect some attrition). Audiobook downloads are split roughly in half between people who download the full book or just a chapter, meaning roughly ¼ of downloads are partial downloads of one or more chapters. (Important but not urgent: we should consider ways to nudge people more toward the full book, and ways to get people who download 1 chapter to download more in the future.)
Web Traffic: We had over 6000 visitors on GT, up ~2x vs. 2600 on GT 2018, 3600 on 12/3/18, and an average of ~2800/day throughout November 2019. Traffic looks good across all our channels. The one exception is Referral Traffic which looks quite low, meaning we haven’t been getting a lot of traffic from links on other peoples sites so far. But we’ve had large increases in visitors from social media, our email campaigns, and direct traffic (people typing the URL directly) the latter of which could be related to a lot of things including some podcast ads that started yesterday. We should expect to see more referral traffic as we get deeper into giving season.
Comment by Jon_Behar on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-18T20:58:35.660Z · EA · GW

I like this additional categorization, the "community infrastructure" distinction seems valuable. Thanks for sharing!