EA Community Building Grants: recent grants and changes to the application process

Posted on Monday, October 7th 2019
(last updated Thursday, January 14th 2021)

This post originally appeared on the EA Forum.

Effective Altruism Community Building Grants, a project run by the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA), made its first round of grants in 2018. It provides grants to individuals and groups doing local effective altruism community building, which typically range from $5,000 to $100,000. The programme has a particular emphasis on funding groups that aim to transition from being run by volunteers to being run by full-time, paid organisers.

Many of the initial grants we made in 2018 ended recently and we've just finished assessing applications for renewed funding for these grants. Overall, we've been very pleased by the progress our grant recipients have made.

This post lists the most recent grants we’ve made and covers updates on the application process and the bar we expect for successful applications. The Community Building Grants programme is still young, and we’re still figuring out how best to run it; because of this, we expect both our views and our approach to change significantly over time.

Recent Grants

Many of the first one-year grants made in 2018 have just ended, and we’ve been assessing applications from these groups for renewed funding. The following groups have received and accepted offers for renewed funding, though the grants are dependent on the successful completion of due diligence:

EA Cambridge: 1.5 FTE for 1 year EA Czechia: 1.9 FTE for 12 months and funding for a community space EA Sweden: 0.6 FTE for 3 months EA Geneva: 1 FTE for 6 months EA Oxford: 1.6 FTE for 1 year Student Career Planning Project: 1 FTE for 1 year EA Geneva and EA Sweden also received renewed grant funding earlier in 2019: 2 FTE for 12 months and 1 FTE for 12 months, respectively. The Student Career Planning Project is a project that has spun out of the EA Oxford group. Unlike the other groups listed, it hasn’t previously received community grant funding.

Changes to the application process

Based on what we’ve learned so far, we are making a few updates to the application process for EA Community Building Grants. This applies only to new applications for funding, and not applications for renewed funding from groups with existing grants.

Rolling Applications: We’ll be evaluating applications on an ongoing basis, rather than having discrete application rounds with an application deadline.

Expression of Interest Form: We now have an ‘expression of interest’ form for prospective applicants to complete. This means we can start communicating as soon as you begin thinking about applying for a grant, and allows us to give early-stage input on your plans. You don’t need to be confident that you will end up applying for a grant in order to fill out the form. After receiving this form, we’ll work with you to figure out whether applying makes sense, then organise your application process and timeline on a case-by-case basis. We expect the full application process to take 8-12 weeks, though this may take longer depending on the application.

More Tailored Process: We’ll be tailoring our evaluation process more to the specific applications we receive. In the past, the process has been fairly standardised, with applicants completing a standard application form and participating in an interview. We expect the process to be fairly similar going forward, but we also want to leave more scope for adapting our process to unique aspects of different applications. For example, different evaluation approaches might be suitable for groups which focus on a particular kind of project or groups in countries where effective altruism is newer.

These changes mean that we are not planning to hold a formal application round this year. (In a previous EA Forum update, we stated that we would be hosting an application round in the Summer of 2019, but we think this new process will work out better for applicants and for CEA.)

We want to try this approach because we think increasing the amount that we communicate with applicants, especially in the early stages, will give them a better understanding of what we’re looking for and help them improve their plans. We also think that a more flexible process will improve the quality of our assessment of applications.

We see these updates as somewhat experimental. If the approach works well, we’ll continue to use it going forward, but if not, we may go back to holding application rounds or try some other approach.

Bar for Successful Applications

The bar for successful applications to EA Community Building Grants has risen since our first round of grants in 2018. This means that we expect to be making a smaller number of new grants and providing less total funding for new grants than previously. Our current best guess is that we’ll offer between $50,000 and $100,000 in new grants between now and the end of 2019, though these aren’t strict upper and lower bounds and it’s plausible that the amount we end up granting lies outside of this range. ‘New grants’ here does not include renewed funding for grants made during previous rounds.

There are a number of reasons that we’ve decided on a higher threshold for new grants:

Increasing the focus on the best grantmaking opportunities: We think that there is a large amount of variance in the impact of individual grants that we’ve made. After evaluating the grants made over the course of 2018 we also think that we now have a better understanding of which kinds of grantmaking opportunities will be most impactful. We want to focus on those opportunities, rather than funding a wider set of grants, because we want to be confident that our grants are better uses of money than alternative options for donors interested in community building.

Leaving room for future changes to the programme: CEA is currently in the process of hiring a new CEO. Because of this, and the newness of this programme, we want to ensure that the programme has the flexibility to make changes going forward, and we don’t want to allocate a lot of resources in advance.

Limited available funding: In our last fundraising round for Community Building Grants, we received slightly less total funding than we expected, reducing the amount available for granting.

Prioritising other aspects of the programme: We want to be able to spend more time on developing appropriate policies (eg. conflict of interest policy, salary policy) and providing support for existing grantees, as well as having more flexibility to determine which projects to focus on in the future. Currently, evaluating new applications and applications for renewed funding takes a significant amount of time. We expect that reducing the number of grants we make will free up capacity for these projects.

Increasing financial reserves: We want to ensure that the programme has more financial reserves. We believe that higher reserves will allow us to provide more stability to current grantees by ensuring that we always have the option to fund renewals for existing grants. Additionally, this will mean that we have the ability to fund particularly promising opportunities not previously accounted for. Though the majority of the funding for the programme previously came from CEA, we are now moving towards having the programme raise most of its funds from external donors. Because of this, while we haven’t previously focused on ensuring that the project has significant financial reserves, we now think that this is appropriate going forward.

Increased quality of granting opportunities: The quality of grant applications has risen over time, and the quality of recent applications to the programme exceeded our original expectations. We expect to have a similarly high calibre of applications going forwards and as a result we expect that we’ll have a higher bar to fund future applications. (One could argue that high-quality applications justify keeping the same bar and putting more funding into the program, but we think increasing the bar for successful applications is more appropriate given the other considerations for allocating less funding than previously.)

If you have any questions regarding Effective Altruism Community Building Grants, please contact harri.besceli@centreforeffectivealtruism.org

You can see previous updates about the programme here https://www.effectivealtruism.org/community-building-grants/