In 2017 I made the following donations:
In the past, my approach has been to split my donation between a conservative, clearly beneficial target, and a more speculative but higher expected-impact target.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Signalling/”keeping my feet on the ground”. I find it much easier to convince others (any myself) that I actually care about the problems in the world if I’m donating a substantial amount of money to tackle them directly, rather than just funding organizations run by my friends.
- Ensuring the pyramid scheme pays out. When funding outreach, there is a risk that you produce a pyramid scheme style of growth, where you just focus on building your capacity. This can go wrong if you never actually convert that capacity into productive capacity for some reason (corruption, disaster, etc). If at each stage you spend some of the gain in capacity on the direct target you avoid this, at the cost of slower growth. (I’m not sure how good a reason this is - I hadn’t articulated it before now)
In previous years my conservative donation has tended to be to the Against Malaria Foundation or the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, and my adventurous donation has been to the Centre for Effective Altruism, since I thought they were in a good position to use the money more wisely than I, and I trust their judgement.
This year, I’m focussing more on exploratory options. I’m on record as saying that EAs should invest more in exploration, and I’d like to contribute to a culture of funding early-stage, exploratory ventures. As it happens, I also happen to know of a couple that qualify.
Charity Science: Health
CSH have done something that I consider to be very difficult: deliberately start a new organization targeting a high-priority area and make it work. I therefore have a very high opinion of the team, the area they’re working in, and the potential for learning about the process of directed entrepreneurship (charitable or otherwise). I love it.
CSH is my “conservative” donation, even though it is still quite a speculative venture. This is because the signalling aspect of my conservatism is more about method than risk, and I don’t need to pay out of the pyramid scheme since I’m not funding outreach this year.
Wild-animal Suffering Research
I don’t know what I think about wild-animal suffering. I think it could be enormously important, and the research is currently really, embarrassingly, non-existent. So I think the value of information here is very high. I suspect that after a year or two the VoI may drop without any plausible interventions being discovered, in which case I expect I am likely to switch away from this.
I was also very impressed by Persis Eskander’s talk at EA Global London. I had previously thought that the area was almost certainly intractable, but she convinced me that it was only probably intractable.
Why not CEA?
CEA has a strong case to be a top-tier donation target. They’ve been focussing increasingly on outreach, which is vital for capacity-building in the long run.
However, I’ve actually become less interested in funding them. This is for two reasons:
- They are prominent enough that I think they are well-funded. This is mainly relevant because I think I have other donation options that are less likely to reach their funding goals.
- I am comparatively less excited about more outreach than I was about their research and incubation work, which they’ve scaled down.
The second reason is controversial, and I’m not sure I have a watertight case for it. I may just be wrong, and outreach is the most important thing. But nonetheless it is one of my actual reasons.
Why not XRisk?
I also don’t really know what I think about XRisk. I’m increasingly concerned about it, but it’s unclear to me where to donate to have the most impact. There are several organizations that look like they could be good on the margin (MIRI, ALLFED, etc.).
Again, I may be wrong here and this might be the most important thing.
£10000 is substantially over 10% of my income. My current non-systematic approach is to have a hard floor at 10% and then give more spontaneously if I feel like it. I had a good year and my savings were higher than expected, so I decided to just give more.