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Poorly Organized Thoughts on Funding

June 5th, 2016
metacharities, giving  [html]
When Julia and I started thinking about funding effective altruism metacharities four years ago, there weren't very many of them to choose from. We ended up funding CEA (unrestricted) because at the time GiveWell wasn't doing general fundraising and there weren't other meta organizations we knew about that shared our values and outlook. In the past four years, though, many EAs have founded organizations aimed at expanding or improving the EA movement, and there are now quite a few organizations I might consider funding as I learn more about them. For example:

(This is a sample, not an attempt at a complete list: summarizing all the EA organizations would be a bunch of work for a different post.)

So: how should I think about who to fund? I see two main options:

Organizational-level funding seems like the normal thing here, and is certainly the easiest logistically. On the other hand, organizational boundaries within EA organizations can be pretty fluid, with lots of people being affiliated with lots of organizations in various capacities. My impression is that many times someone has a project and finds a home for it somewhere, and exactly where doesn't matter nearly as much as the person whose project it is.

While it's still pretty likely I'll just decide to stick with organization-level funding, here are two ways individual level funding could work:

  • Fellowship model: identify people who are very good, pay them full salaries to do what they most think needs doing. If they work with an existing EA organization then they become effectively free to the organization, but the organization shouldn't use their work in fundraising since that would mislead other donors about the effect of their donation. Ideally this would mean less people worrying about fundraising, but it could turn into a model where all EAs are expected to find funding before they can work, which would be pretty bad.
  • Bonus model: identify people who have recently done something very well, give them a bonus for it. One way this could work would be a peer-bonus style program that organizations could opt into, where anyone at any participating organization could recommend a ~$250 bonus to anyone else at these organizations. You'd have to write a paragraph describing what the person did that was so awesome, and the presumption would be that the bonus program would accept the recommendation >95% of the time. Getting rewarded for a job well done feels good, and should help keep people feeling rewarded and motivated. Potential downside would be jealousy (why did Pat nominate Sam for a bonus when I've been working at least as hard) and encouraging flashy behavior (if I do something more visible I'm more likely to get a bonus).

I'm still thinking a lot about this, and am looking for people to talk to, publicly or privately.

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