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More Meta Funding Thoughts

December 11th, 2016
giving, metacharities  [html]
Several months ago I was thinking about metacharity evaluation, and I haven't made much progress since then. At the time I was considering something like talking to other medium sized donors who want to fund metacharities, dividing up the task of trying to talk to all the different metacharities out there and get a sense of what they were doing, why they were doing it, and how well it was going. After sketching this out some and trying a few skype sessions with people, I realized it would be much more work than I was up for, and stopped.

While my research in previous years was also less detailed than I would have liked, I'm much more concerned about it this year. Specifically, I'm pretty worried that it's bad for the EA movement if people can generally get funding to do meta things as long as their plan sounds plausible, especially when this funding doesn't come with any checking up. Two main reasons:

  1. Vulnerability to fraud, charlatans, abuse. If EA becomes known as a place where all you need is a good story we'll get lots of good storytellers. Without outside investigation there's not really a check on this, and donors are the natural people for it.

  2. I'm generally skeptical of people's ability to make progress without good feedback loops. Attentive and involved funders want information that will let them to tell how things are going, which sets up minimal loop. This isn't ideal or enough, but I think having external people paying attention to your output gets most people to produce better work.

One potential option here would be to fund Nick Beckstead's "EA Giving Group" donor-advised fund (see Nick Beckstead's section of the GiveWell staff personal donations post:

One of my side projects has been working with a private individual (who has provided the vast majority of the funds and prefers to remain anonymous) to make donations to organizations working in the effective altruism space and organizations working on mitigating global catastrophic risks (especially potential risks from advanced AI). We meet every three weeks to discuss potential donation opportunities and make decisions, and we both keep up with activities in the space through relationships we've built up over time. The DAF is jointly controlled by me and this partner. ...
Another option would be to not make any "meta" donations this year, and only make "direct" donations. This would mean basically all our 2016 donations would be to the Against Malaria Foundation).

I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet, and mostly am frustrated with myself for not putting more work into keeping up with the various organizations working in this space.

Disclosure: my wife, Julia, works at a metacharity (CEA) and is on the board of GiveWell (which recommends the Against Malaria Foundation).

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