In this post, we share what the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) worked on over the course of 2019.
CEA supports the effective altruism community. (See more about what we mean by effective altruism.) We nurture spaces where people can explore how to apply the ideas of effective altruism to their future careers, research, or donations. We want these to be welcoming spaces where people can figure things out together and help each other find their best options for doing more good.
We currently work in four main areas:
Groups: We support local and student effective altruism groups around the world with advice, resources, and funding.
EA Forum: We run an online forum featuring discussion of the latest research and thinking in EA, questions and advice, and "Ask Me Anything" sessions with leaders in the field.
Community health: We support community members via two contact people who can help work through community or interpersonal problems. We work to support a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive culture in the EA community.
We also maintain some other online infrastructure for the community:
We run a website aimed at introducing people to effective altruism and collating some of the best resources.
Additionally, we run the following projects, which are focused on effective giving — encouraging and facilitating people to give more to high-impact causes:
We support the community of 4000+ people who have taken the Giving What We Can pledge to donate 10% of their income to the most effective organizations they can find.
We run Effective Altruism Funds, philanthropic funds in specific cause areas managed by experts.
After several years of change and an expanding number of projects, our goal in 2019 was to begin narrowing our focus in order to carry out excellent work on our existing projects. As we look back at the year, we're proud of the progress we've made.
The main steps we took to improve our execution on our programs:
Consulting the community more about what they want to see from our work (more specifics in this post)
Logging our commitments to stakeholders (community members, donors, grantees, etc.)
Promoting more experienced managers
Restructuring our performance review process to give staff more actionable feedback
We believe that we have made significant progress on implementing our programs at a high level of quality (although we haven't yet fixed all issues that we are aware of, and there may be issues that we are unaware of). For a more detailed discussion, please see our recently updated mistakes page.
Transition was a major theme of the year. Our previous CEO, Larissa Hesketh-Rowe, left CEA in January 2019, and Max Dalton, our Head of Content, was appointed Interim Executive Director. Following an extensive search process, Max was appointed Executive Director in October 2019. Joan Gass, a non-profit co-founder and graduate of Stanford Business School, joined as Managing Director shortly afterwards.
This year we added Hilary Greaves to our US board and Claire Zabel to our UK board. Our board members/trustees are currently:
At the end of 2019, we had 18 full-time staff and 2 full-time contractors.
We aim for the Forum to be the default location for online EA-related discussion. 2019 was the first full year of CEA running the EA Forum. On the content side, Aaron Gertler focused on moderating the Forum, running the EA Forum Prize (which highlights outstanding posts and comments), and supporting users by providing editing and review to people who want feedback before they publish a post. On the tech side, JP Addison worked on improving content discovery, such as a yearly sort on the All Posts page, and a Community Favorites section.
CEA produces the EA Newsletter and transcripts for most EA Global talks. We also maintain effectivealtruism.org, an introductory EA website. During 2019, ~12,000 people read the EA Newsletter each month, of whom ~2500 followed at least one link to further content. The Newsletter drives substantial traffic to EA job listings (and has caused some seemingly-counterfactual career changes). Tens of thousands of people read or watch our other content each month.
The Groups team supports local and student effective altruism groups around the world with advice, resources, and funding. In 2019 we ran a January retreat for US group organizers and an October retreat for full-time group organizers.
We provide advice and financial support to EA groups around the world. In 2019, we had calls with more than 50 group organizers, responded to hundreds of requests for help and advice, and funded 80 projects run by local groups (such as group retreats, travel expenses for students to attend conferences, and food at events).
Our Community Building Grants program provides grants to individuals and groups doing local effective altruism community building. In 2019, we made 30 grants totaling $874,962.
EA Global is a conference series for the effective altruism community. The main objectives are to:
Encourage connections, goodwill, and coordination among EAs
Support positive EA community culture
Attract resources, including money, talent, and influence, to the EA movement
In 2019, we ran two conferences:
EA Global San Francisco (around 500 attendees)
EA Global London (around 560 attendees)
EAGx events are community-organized conferences featuring more introductory EA content than EA Global. In 2019, we funded and advised 3 EAGx events in Boston, Stockholm, and Sydney, which had a total of around 670 participants.
We ran a retreat for around 40 key people in the EA community aimed at improving coordination by building relationships, discussing strategy, and collaborating on projects.
Our Community Health team aims to support the EA community and mitigate risks to the community. Key activities during 2019 were community support (e.g. support to people in mental health crisis, mediating conflicts in the community), moderating online groups, monitoring and responding to media inquiries, and supporting diversity and inclusion in EA.
EA Funds aims to improve the effectiveness of donations and improve donor coordination by enabling donors to donate to funds managed by subject-matter experts. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for smaller donors to easily donate across different cause areas. The four available funds are:
The Global Health and Development Fund
The Animal Welfare Fund
The Long-Term Future Fund
The EA Meta Fund
We granted $9.8m via the four main funds in 2019. We also made $3.8M in pass-through grants to individual charities on the Funds platform and facilitated the EA donor lottery.
Giving What We Can is a community of people committed to giving more, and more effectively, by pledging 10% of their income to effective charities. During 2019, we continued to see linear growth in pledges, averaging about 9.5 new pledges each week. Giving What We Can members reported making $24M in donations in the year from Nov 2018-Nov 2019. In that time, 495 individuals signed up for the pledge and 322 signed up for our temporary "Try Giving" option.
During 2019, we worked on plans to hire someone to run Giving What We Can with more capacity than it has had for the past several years. This will likely involve converting Giving What We Can into a separate organization, although this is not yet finalized.
Much of our work on EA Grants in 2019 was focused on getting our systems in better shape. We reduced the number of grants we made in order to focus on improving operations, developing strategy, and evaluating whether it made sense to keep EA Grants in-house. As of early 2020, EA Grants is not considering new grantmaking. We will evaluate whether to incorporate the program into EA Funds. During 2019 and early 2020 we made 11 grants totaling $199,862.
More information: Update on CEA's EA Grants Program
The operations team provides support for CEA, 80,000 Hours, the Forethought Foundation, and (to a lesser extent) the Future of Humanity Institute and Global Priorities Institute. This includes financial accounting and planning, processing grants, legal and immigration compliance, and leading CEA's move to a new office in Oxford. Additionally, our people operations staff member (Caitlin Elizondo) supports CEA by running team retreats and handling CEA's human resources work.
The executive office's most important role in 2019 was guiding CEA's staff through the year's leadership transition (departure of previous CEO, interim period and trial process for candidates, transition to Max as executive director and Joan as managing director).
During the final few months of 2019, a major focus was developing a strategic plan in consultation with staff and trustees. This plan is still in development, and we plan to share more details later in 2020.
Our spending for 2019 was around $6.24m, below our budget of $6.95m. This is due to a variety of factors, including decreased grantmaking through the EA Grants program. This value also includes adjustments to move advance payments related to the 2020 EA Global San Francisco conference into the following financial year.
With the generous support of several major donors, we managed to hit our 2020 fundraising target by early January. This gave us around 18 months of runway, which we expect to last until the end of May 2021 based on current projections.
Our funding varies year-on-year, but approximately two-thirds of our funding comes from the Open Philanthropy Project. The rest comes mostly from a small number of major donors, though we also receive funding from other individuals and through initiatives such as EA Giving Tuesday. EA Global ticket revenues made up around 5% of our income.
- This does not include ticket revenues, which are approximately $120,000 for each event, bringing the net cost to CEA of running EA Global to approximately $650,000.
For more details, please see the appendix on our website for an in-depth but less polished look at our work during 2019.