2017 Donations

December 23rd, 2017
ea, money
Each year Julia and I need to decide where we're giving. Here's what we've been thinking about this year:
  • We want to continue dividing our donations 50-50 between things that directly do good and more speculative options. This is the approach we've been following since ~2012, and I think I first discussed this in my 2015 EA Global talk.

  • We're planning to continue donating 50%. In January, I had written that because I was switching from earning to give to direct work we'd be targeting 30%, but when I switched back we decided to switch our target back as well. [1] As in the past few years I worked with an accountant to estimate our adjusted gross income so we would know how much 50% translates to.

  • For things that directly do good we're planning to continue to follow GiveWell's recommendations. This year their preference is for people to donate to GiveWell for allocation at their discretion, but I wanted to participate in donation matching at work and for that we needed to pick a charity to fundraise for. For people who want to donate directly to charities GiveWell is recommending 70% to the Against Malaria Foundation and 30% to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. Because we had already donated $6k to the AMF in January [2], however, and because we weren't sure what our donation total would be at the time I signed up for matching, we ended up splitting 79% AMF and 21% SCI. [3]

    For the Against Malaria Foundation we donated through the PayPal Giving Fund. When you donate this way PayPal covers credit card transaction fees and also matches an additional 1%. This let us use a 2% cash-back credit card, saving $1k on $50k of donations, and gave the AMF an extra $0.5k. None of the other places we wanted to give to this year are covered, and the reasons pushing us toward the other opportunities were more important than the extra 3%, so everything else was by check.

  • For more speculative things, we want to put part of the money towards a project that a friend we know through the Effective Altruism movement is starting. In general I think this is a good way for people to get funding for early stage projects, presenting their case to people who know them and have a good sense of how to evaluate their plans. [4]

    This project isn't set up as a 501(c)3, so donations to it aren't tax deductible. We're currently talking to CEA to see if we can donate to this project through them, but they may decide it's not something they can do. Because Julia works there, we want to be careful not to unduly influence the decision, so we're trying to approach this clearly as community members rather than as staff. If it's not possible to do this through a grant by a nonprofit, we would fund the project directly but we're currently talking to CEA to see if we can donate through them. There's a good chance this will end up being an early 2018 donation instead of a 2017 one.

    For the remainder of the speculative portion we're planning to donate to the new EA Community Fund. Last year we donated to Nick Beckstead's EA Giving Group donor-advised fund, and the EA Community Fund is a more formal continuation of that.

I've also enjoyed reading the posts by GiveWell, Open Phil staff about where they're giving and why.

[1] This does mean borrowing some money. Modeling our cash flow I think we'll have it paid back in March or April. Much of my current compensation is in stock, and I won't start getting that until I'll have been back at Google for a year, which will be this September.

[2] Before I left Google, in January 2017, I wanted to max out their donation match for the year.

[3] That our division favored AMF a bit more than GiveWell's shouldn't be taken as disagreement, and if anything we (especially Julia) lean a bit more towards towards SCI.

[4] Another option for this sort of funding would be EA Grants if it used a rolling process.

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