Posted on Tuesday, December 6th 2016
(last updated Thursday, January 14th 2021)
CEA aims to support the effective altruism community to find the best ways to make the world a better place. One of the ways we do this is by promoting the idea of effective giving — that is, giving more, and giving more effectively. Donating effectively is embodied in one of our most important projects, the Giving What We Can pledge, and is one of the most straightforward ways of using your resources to have a big impact.
As we get close to the December giving season we thought we’d borrow an idea from GiveWell, and ask the people of CEA where they’ll be giving this year. We’ve collected links to the donation platforms for these organisations at the end of this post.
(If you want another great prompt for working out how to think through the decision, Tara MacAulay — who heads up CEA’s Community and Outreach Team — has also created a flowchart that guides you through some of the questions you can ask yourself to figure out where to donate.)
Most of my donations this year are going to the Centre for Effective Altruism, which I believe to be the highest-impact giving opportunity available to me at this time.
It’s not a coincidence that I’m donating to the organisation I work for. (Though note that I’m not paid at all by CEA; my salary comes from Oxford University.) The reason I work for CEA is in part because of comparative advantage and in part because I believe it to be one of the highest-impact organisations in the world. I’ve also significantly helped to shape CEA’s activities, so it’s not a coincidence that the activities CEA does are those that I believe to be most cost-effective. And I want to follow a rule of primarily donating to whatever I genuinely think is the highest-impact opportunity.
I find the arguments for EA meta-charity convincing, so if I didn’t donate to CEA, I’d donate elsewhere in the meta space. I don’t believe GiveWell or Open Philanthropy Project to have a meaningful funding gap, because of Good Ventures, their incredible success at moving money, and the very small amount of time that Givewell employees spend fundraising (at about 10 hours / year from each of Holden, Elie and Natalie, in addition to some time from junior staff).
I think that 80,000 Hours’ metrics are very compelling and their team is very good, but as a judgment call I believe that ensuring the EA community is smoothly run and won’t falter or fragment is the most pressing need at the moment, so I mildly prefer to donate to CEA, though I'd recommend to larger donors to split their donation 2:1 between CEA and 80k. In the past I’ve donated, or advised large donors to donate, to startup EA organisations such as Future of Life Institute, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk and Founders Pledge, where I believed early donations to have an outsized impact. I don’t know of any similarly compelling opportunities this year.
I think it would be remiss for one of the public faces of EA to fund entirely meta charities, and I want to show support for charities that do outstanding work, so I continue to make some significant donations to first-order charities via the Giving What We Can Trust; in the last year I split my donation equally between AMF, GiveDirectly, SCI and Deworm the World.
Oxford Institute for Effective Altruism
I’m going to defer to Nick Beckstead (Open Philanthropy Project Program Officer and CEA Trustee) on the question where to give the money that counts towards my 10% pledge. He has the same values as me, is an extremely careful reasoner and spends a large amount of time thinking about the best donation targets. I emailed him for advice, and he plans to let me know when he comes across a suitable giving opportunity.
I’m also donating to the Against Malaria Foundation, a deworming charity and Animal Charity Evaluators, but because these decisions are more informed by personal reasons, these donations will come out of my non-pledge budget. I’m donating to AMF and deworming because the continued existence of extreme poverty and such easily treatable diseases feel viscerally abhorrent to me, and I want to be doing at least something to end them. I’m donating to ACE as a form of offsetting, because I’m not veg*n but do care about animal welfare.
Tara Mac Aulay
Operations / Community and Outreach
Last year, I split my donations equally between the Against Malaria Foundation, The Humane League, and the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. After some conversations with Owen Cotton-Barratt, I’ve decided to donate almost exclusively to MIRI this year. I fully buy the arguments for focusing on existential risk reduction, and while I have low confidence in the specific approach taken by MIRI, I think it is reasonable to have low confidence in any particular research agenda. MIRI have done some impressive early work in getting the field going, and given that they have a more urgent need for funding than other organisations in the field, I am happy to see their work continue.
I am also planning to forego some of my salary as a donation to CEA. I think that there’s a very compelling reason to donate there if you think that we need to bring a lot more talented people into the EA community to work on challenges like ensuring that artificial intelligence research is conducted safely. In particular, if you think that we need many times the number of talented people than are currently working on AI alignment research, CEA’s approach seems promising compared to more direct attempts to train people. I’m also excited about the EA community funding new initiatives like Charity Science: Health and New Incentives, as funding early-stage organizations to help them gather evidence could be particularly high-leverage. The Open Philanthropy Project has already provided exploratory grants to both organizations however, and we’ll know much more about their effectiveness compared to other top charities in six months or so.
I’m giving most of my donations to the Against Malaria Foundation and a smaller proportion to StrongMinds, which isn’t currently on the radar of most EAs.
I’m choosing AMF because they’re the most cost-effective charity I’m aware of working in global health. I’ve put my own assumptions into GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness model, and it comes out in front of other top charities.
StrongMinds is a young organization delivering therapy to depressed women in Uganda. I’ve spent some time getting to know them this year and am impressed by their leadership and transparency. Donating to StrongMinds gives them a good reason to keep engaging with my questions. I doubt StrongMinds is as effective as AMF in terms of narrow cost-effectiveness but there’s a lot of exploration value to be gained, and a high expected value if they scale up well.
I also considered giving to organisations working to prevent or mitigate global catastrophic risks, but I don’t currently have enough confidence in my understanding of the object-level concerns to move away from the charities in the global health space. I plan to get better acquainted with the issues over the course of the next year. I didn’t donate to CEA this year, but plan to forego a proportion of my salary in the future.
Community and Outreach
When I first began donating a couple of years ago I split my donations fairly evenly among Giving What We Can’s and GiveWell’s top charities, wanting to have some investment in each of the charities we recommended. However, I’ve become gradually more confident in the view that, if you’re a fairly small donor like myself, a better strategy is to donate most of your budget to the one place you expect it to have most value. In line with this I gave exclusively to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) in 2015, based on its consistent recommendation from GiveWell.
This year I’m planning to defer to a person or group of people who have given the problem more careful consideration than I have currently. I’m still deciding on exactly whose advice I should take but I expect to donate 80% - 90% of my budget to just one organisation which has high expected value.
Unlike last year, I’ll probably also split a smaller proportion of my donation between organisations working in causes other than the main one I end up donating to, so that I feel like I have a personal stake in their operations, which is useful given my role in building a diverse community of EAs.
Policy and Philanthropic Advising
I’ll be donating both to the Against Malaria Foundation and organisations working on existential risk reduction. I will probably give to FHI or CSER, depending on the evolution of funding bottlenecks. I’m currently working out if efforts to reduce nationalist tendencies that drive global tensions might be a plausible alternative, but have not found any organisations I feel moderately confident are competitively cost-effective. I think that existential risks are probably the biggest threat that we face, but there’s some chance that my actions on it won’t have any impact. In contrast, AMF is reacting to a very well-defined problem with clear impact metrics. I think the EA community may also be underestimating AMF’s room for funding by a significant amount partly because the LLIN commitments for the future may be less generous than in the past and partly because the marginal value of Global Fund work (which appears to be what AMF donations end up funging with) may well be as good or better than direct cash transfers.
When I was the Director of Research at Giving What We Can, I gave to the charities we recommended on a monthly basis, in order to motivate myself to always recommend the best evidence backed charities in the global poverty space. In the future, Giving What We Can will recommend GiveWell recommended charities and I think these charities are an excellent choice for anyone wanting to give to evidence backed charities in global poverty. I might give some money to the charities that GiveWell recommends, but am also thinking of giving to more speculative, “high risk, high reward” funding opportunities of the sort Open Philanthropy Project makes grants to. In my new position, I’m researching whether there are good speculative funding opportunities in meta-research and might give to those myself, if I find any, in order to have ‘skin in the game’.
I’m also looking for an opportunity to donate to projects that focus on improving the distribution of knowledge and increase altruism. In general I think that it’s sometimes hard to know what the long-run impact of most actions will be, but that it seems that some very basic things (like increasing altruism or access to information) will more likely lead to positive outcomes. I would probably donate to CEA if I wasn’t working at CEA (for some of the reasons outlined here), so maybe I’ll donate to EAS. If it wasn’t legal grey area, I’d be very interested in funding something like Sci-Hub, which makes paywalled academic papers accessible to anyone and will hopefully do for open access what Napster did for the music (there are some first signs of this).
I’m also worried about populism and believe that increasing democratic participation might be really important. Vote.org seems to be doing interesting work in this regard, claiming that they can register a new voter for just $8, and even though cost-effectiveness estimates should not be taken literally, all models are wrong, but some are useful. Vote.org seems very innovative and actually just announced a new service that makes it possible for absentee voters to fill out their ballot application entirely online - so their estimates might not be off by much and, given that a single vote is worth thousands of dollars, the social return on investment might very high.
I plan to split my donations between the Against Malaria Foundation and effective animal charities. I think a lot of the value of my current donations comes from the way they can affect my future research and donations. I will probably direct most of my donation to the Against Malaria Foundation because I have the strongest moral intuitions about their work and because it helps me provide a strong baseline for me to benchmark other donations against when I do research to find effective charities. I also decided to start donating to effective animal charities - I think it’d be a good way to motivate myself to start doing some research in this area, and maybe donate more or doing some more research on this in the future.
I make an effective donation to CEA by forgoing at least 10% of my salary. Donating to your employer is a bit of a weird dynamic, and my high confidence in CEA is very likely influenced by availability bias, but this notwithstanding, I feel like it’s the best use of my money. This is mostly because I think having a strong, dynamic, and diverse EA community is really important, but to the extent that CEA’s work moves significantly more money to effective charities than it costs to run (which I think it pretty clearly does — especially via Giving What We Can), the multiplier effect alone is pretty compelling.
I’m still unsure about exactly which object-level causes are going to be most important to give to right now. While I became interested in EA because I wanted to make a difference on global poverty, I think that the challenges posed by artificial intelligence are perhaps more pressing and are considerably more neglected.
Growing the EA community, spreading our ideas widely, and connecting talented people to effective organisations seems like it’s likely to be the most important thing to do in the short term. A stronger community brings more resources to bear on these problems, spreads important ideas organically, and makes it more likely that we’ll find new causes that need to be tackled.
I have additional reasons to give to CEA that might not apply to donors outside the organisation — never having the money makes it considerably easier for me to keep my pledge. It also provides more money to CEA than the nominal figure of the donation, because the reduction in salary saves money that would be forgone through various transactional costs.
I’ve previously donated to the Against Malaria Foundation, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and Project Healthy Children. In the wake of the controversy about the effectiveness of deworming, I’ve become much less convinced that it’s a particularly good intervention, even in expectation. I think AMF still seems like a very solid choice, I just now think that there’s a higher expected value in building the EA community.
I haven’t previously done a significant amount of research into where to donate, since this is my first year of non-trivial donations. I think that it is useful for me to be well versed on this question, so researching it is a good use of my time. Therefore I’ll incentivise myself to do this research by making my donation decision myself this year, rather than deferring to someone else (this might change next year).
There are good reasons to think that work towards improving the far future is highest value. For this reason, the majority of my donation will go to an organisation working on existential risk reduction and improving the far future, or to an organisation building the effective altruist movement (which I think is likely to drive more resources to far-future questions).
This year I will be giving almost exclusively to 80,000 Hours, since it seems that they are driving significantly more than $1 of money and talent to far-future organisations for each $1 of their budget (as well as driving resources to other areas). Careers advice seems particularly important given that certain types of far-future work seem talent constrained rather than funding constrained at the moment. Their focus on future risk seems greater than some other movement-building organisations, their multiplier seems higher, and their strategy and team seems excellent. Besides the issues of the multiplier, most organisations working directly on the far-future seem to be either well funded, or to have a less impressive strategy than 80,000 Hours.
If I didn’t work for CEA I would definitely consider them. However, I think there might be some tensions in motivation between being a donor and an employee, and that I might be unusually biased in my assessment of CEA.
I’ll probably also give a nominal amount to a range of different causes within EA (likely AMF, GFI and MIRI), in order to keep up to date with the research across the established cause areas, and signal that I think that other cause areas are worthwhile.
Marketing and Communications
In 2016, I’ve been splitting my donations between the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) (via the Giving What We Can Trust) and Animal Equality. I chose AMF and SCI because of the evidence behind the interventions. It is important to me to know that at least some of my donation is having a concrete impact.
I care a great deal about animal suffering, particularly given the vast numbers of sentient beings affected (and try to keep a vegan diet). I chose Animal Equality specifically based on a short review of the research by Animal Charity Evaluators because I probably don’t have the expertise for it to be worth spending a lot of my own time on this.
An additional consideration for all three charities was that I began working for Giving What We Can early this year and was doing a lot of outreach to new members. I feel it’s important to demonstrate that we believe strongly in our recommendations. This may continue to be a consideration in 2017.
Recently I have updated some of my thinking. It is likely that in 2017 I will no longer split my donation, at least within a cause area. I will likely keep some donations in global health because the evidence of impact is so strong, and because it is important to me to keep a link to direct impact as this is the ultimate end goal even of meta-donations.
I believe that growing and strengthening the EA community is high value (which is why I work in this area) and that CEA is very well placed to work on this. However, I have some concerns that a norm of donating to one’s employer could impart biases, as well as the risks to professionalism outlined in Owen’s post. I need to do more thinking on this towards the end of the year but based on the size of my donations and my (lack of) comparative advantage in this field I will likely defer to experts and trusted peers.
Special Projects Division
I’m not drawing a salary, so I’m not donating much this year. I’m generally focusing on small personal and informal grants within the EA community that remove the friction of seeking funding through more-formal channels. Previously, when I was earning to give, I simply gave money to Nick Beckstead and Matt Wage to regrant as they saw fit.
Since I think that EA movement building and prioritization research are highly valuable, I donate to CEA by forgoing part of my income.
About two thirds of my donations this year were made to a prominent EA who was going through financial hardship. The remaining third went to Paul Christiano's donor lottery. I've also made relatively minor donations to the Foundational Research Institute and various GiveWell-recommended charities.
So far this year I have given $2,700 to the Hillary Clinton campaign, $2,000 to MIRI, and I have taken a reduced salary at CEA. Outside of my Pledge, I also gave various smaller amounts to other charities and causes that are not typical donation targets, including $1,000 to the Alma College foreign service program. (I expect that this was not the highest impact use of the $1K donation and would not recommend it as a donation target for others. I donated there primarily for personal reasons.) Last year I gave to GiveWell and GiveWell recommended charities (with the majority of my budget going to AMF), and I expect to give to AMF again before the end of the year.
Organisations mentioned above
- Centre for Effective Altruism (including Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours)
- Against Malaria Foundation
- Schistosomiasis Control Initiative
- Animal Charity Evaluators
- Charity Science: Health
- New Incentives
- Project Healthy Children
- Deworm the World
- Stiftung für Effektiven Altruismus (Effective Altruism Foundation)
- Future of Humanity Institute
- Future of Life Institute
- Machine Intelligence Research Institute
- Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
- The Humane League
- Foundational Research Institute
If you’re a UK taxpayer, you can donate to many of these organisations through the Giving What We Can Trust, allowing you to claim Gift Aid even on organisations without a UK presence.