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Today the Open Philanthropy Project (Open Philanthropy) announced a grant of $2.5 million to the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA). The aim of this post is to share information about the grant, what we plan to do with the additional funds and how we’re addressing the reservations Open Phil had before making the grant.

We’d like to thank Open Philanthropy both for the funding which will allow us to do more to support effective altruism and for their review of our work. Please note that the grant investigator, Nick Beckstead, is also a Trustee of CEA.

Projects we are funding with the grant

We expect that the $2.5 million grant will result in fewer donations from some of our larger individual donors leaving us with an additional $1.5 million this year as a result. We expect some of our biggest donors will be less inclined to donate to us now that we have less of a funding gap. At the same, because of the grant, we can spend less time on fundraising. This money will be split between projects with some flexibility to scale projects up or down as we learn more, or as promising new opportunities arise. Approximately half of the money we’re receiving from Open Philanthropy, we expect to regrant to promising work in the community, either directly through EA Grants or via separate grants to local groups.

We will divide the money across the areas outlined below. We plan to publish our full budget in August.

New staff and increased salaries

CEA has recently been recruiting for positions such as a Full Stack Developer and Assistant Producer for our Events Team. We will be able to provide more information on this and present the new team members CEA when we’ve finished recruitment (hopefully in August).

We intend to use some of the funds to increase salaries. We hope this will attract more experienced and skilled employees, and also give our staff more flexibility to use money to save time where appropriate. Experienced staff, particularly in positions such as web development, tend to have a high market value. Thus using some of the grant funding to raise salaries should hopefully help us recruit the top talent we need to improve our products and support to the effective altruism community.

Events

CEA manages a variety of events. Historically we have supported smaller volunteer run events aimed at introducing new people to effective altruism, as well as the Effective Altruism Global conference series.

Our current priority is to take people who are already interested in the ideas in effective altruism and help them become more engaged. By bringing the community together, we hope to connect talented candidates to promising organizations, encourage those with the right skills to pursue risky but high expected value paths and facilitate new research ideas and partnerships.

This year we are subsidizing a portion of the ticket price for our EA Global conferences to help ensure that price poses as low a barrier to entry as possible. The Open Phil funding helps make that more manageable.

Open Philanthropy’s reservations about our events

Open Philanthropy mentioned that the execution of our larger conferences could be improved and that we have sometimes seemed to focus more on the prestige of events than intellectual content. We will be hiring another full-time member of staff to work on events. Currently, we have one person managing our three conferences with ad hoc support from the rest of the team.

We’re pleased to hear that Open Phil’s initial impression that EA Global Boston was an improvement (relative to past events) in terms of organization, execution, and focus on intellectual content relative to prestige. We have begun to shift the focus of our events to make them more focused on helping attendees engage with the core concepts and research in effective altruism.

Local Groups

We expect to increase our spending on local groups, particularly regarding the grants we give to groups up front for particularly promising projects. We would be particularly excited to see local groups trying out new activities and then writing up an assessment of how it went and — where the project was successful — how to roll this out to other groups. We’re happy to give funding to facilitate valuable projects and even in some cases to have group leaders intern or work in close collaboration with us to get more one on one support in trialing new ideas.

An example of a new project that we’ve funded in the past and are considering whether or not to roll out to more groups is the Oxford Prioritisation Project.

If you run a local effective altruism group and would like to apply for funding for activities over the summer, please refer to this document. We plan to release an updated procedure for applying for money for the next academic year in August 2017.

EA Grants

You may have seen that we recently announced our EA Grants project. Effective Altruism Grants aims to provide grants of up to £100,000 (~$130,000) to help individuals work on promising projects.

There are many talented and motivated people in our community. At CEA, we can’t do everything in-house, so we’re hoping to spur the creation of new and exciting projects in the EA space. We believe that many people in the community would take up direct work, if only they had secure funding.

This project is a successor to our previous project EA Ventures, with the difference that EA Grants already has funding (whereas EA Ventures sought to match projects with donors) and is more focused on individuals than start-up projects. You can read more about this project on our website. Will MacAskill has also written up a list of projects he would like to see.

If you have any questions about any of these projects, please comment on this post at the Effective Altruism Forum or email Larissa Hesketh-Rowe at larissa[at]centreforeffectivealtruism[dot]org.

Open Philanthropy’s reservations

Open Philanthropy mentioned reservations about some of our marketing and research. Below is more information on these areas.

Marketing

We have received feedback from Open Philanthropy and members of the community on where our marketing and communication has seemed overly pushy.

One of the primary reasons for this is our promotion of EA Global San Francisco 2016 which was discussed at the time here. We scaled back our marketing heavily this year as a result of this feedback. However, we currently believe we over-corrected, as this led to many fewer applications to EA Global Boston and San Francisco. We think that attending the conferences is valuable and so on reflection believe promoting them is important. Moving forward, we will publicize our conferences much more than we did for the Boston event while trying to avoid being pushy.

On other campaigns, such as promoting the Giving What We Can pledge during giving season, it can be hard to get the right balance. 44 people took the Pledge directly from our emails (some of whom may have taken the Pledge at a later date anyway), but the emails may also have been unwelcome to others or may have encouraged people to pledge too hastily. As a team, we have been thinking hard about how to balance these sorts of trade-offs.

We are currently putting less weight on growth in terms of numbers, and we are trying to build a metric that captures the different way the EA community generates value both now and in the future.

Feedback from the community on our EA Funds website, saying that it did not include enough detailed arguments, led to us providing more information about the reasoning behind the Funds, which increased users’ engagement with the site. We hope that the community will continue to provide this kind of constructive feedback.

Research

When assessing our research, Open Philanthropy will be looking particularly at whether our research is “useful to link to in order to explain core EA concepts to our readers or [Open Phil] learn important things from reading it.” Open Phil have felt our research has not always provided that sort of value in the past.

The research part of the Centre for Effective Altruism has undergone significant change over the last year. We have closed several projects, including Giving What We Can’s charity research, research into donation opportunities for high net worth donors, and policy research. Earlier this year, we had a Fundamentals research team operating somewhat independently from the rest of the Centre of Effective Altruism. The Fundamentals team’s research focused on prioritization and crucial considerations for effective altruism.

Our current plan is for the staff from the Fundamentals team to integrate much more with the rest of the Centre for Effective Altruism. Our researchers will explore two main projects:

  • Analysis of strategic issues around the development of the EA community, with the aim of advising CEA's management in order to keep the research decision-relevant. We are unsure how much our researchers will write up these ideas for broader dissemination.
  • An online guide which will aim to give an explanation of effective altruism that is more advanced and comprehensive than Doing Good Better. Our hope is that it can help facilitate a better understanding of what effective altruism is, and prevent our message from being garbled.

Separate from CEA, there is a new academic institute, the Global Priorities Institute, being established at Oxford to investigate philosophical and economic matters relating to effective altruism (led by Hilary Greaves). Our researchers have supported their early explorations of research directions and will continue to work closely with this institute. We think that researchers at a high-prestige academic institution are better placed to pursue foundational work and build a field around these important questions.

We are excited about the projects that this additional funding will help us support. We hope that in sharing our spending plans and with Open Phil sharing some of their review criteria the community gains some insight into our priorities and will continue to provide feedback to us to help us improve. In many cases, you will experience our work first-hand through things like our events or reading and sharing our content, and so we value your comments.