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Rethink Grants (RG) is an analysis-driven grant evaluation experiment by Rethink Priorities and Rethink Charity. In addition to estimating the expected costs and impacts of the proposed project, RG assists with planning, sourcing funding, facilitating networking opportunities, and other as-needed efforts traditionally subsumed under project incubation. We do not yet fund grants ourselves, but refer grants to other grantmakers within our networks who we have reason to believe would be interested.
Donational’s Corporate Ambassador Program
This report is our first published evaluation – an assessment of a new project proposed by Donational. The Donational platform more efficiently processes donations made through its partner organizations, and allows users to set up donation portfolios informed by the expertise of charity evaluators endorsed by the effective altruism community. Donational requested $100,000 to establish a Corporate Ambassador Program (CAP), which would recruit advocates for effective giving in US workplaces. These ‘ambassadors’ would encourage their colleagues to donate through the platform, thereby raising money for highly effective charities.
We evaluated CAP with reference to five criteria: a formal cost-effectiveness estimate, team strength, indirect benefits, indirect harms, and robustness to moral uncertainty. Each was given a qualitative assessment of Low, Medium, or High, corresponding to a numerical score of 1–3. The weighted average of these scores constituted the overall Project Potential Score, which formed the basis of our final decision.
Cost-effectiveness Estimate: Low (1)
Over a 10-year period, our model suggests that CAP would generate about $1 million in time-discounted donations (90% confidence interval $7,000 – $4 million) at a discounted cost of $500,000 ($50,000 – $1.4 million). The base case donation-cost ratio of around 2:1 is below the 3x return that we consider the approximate minimum for the project to be worthwhile, and far from the 10x or higher reported by comparable organizations. However, very rough value of information calculations also suggest that the benefits of running a pilot study to further understand the impact of CAP would outweigh the costs by a large margin.
Team Strength: Medium (2)
Donational’s founder, Ian Yamey, is very capable and falls on the high end of this score. His track record suggests above-average competency in several dimensions of project implementation. While the planning process for the CAP presented some potential gaps in awareness, Yamey demonstrates an eagerness to take corrections and steadfast commitment to iterating his plans in search of the most effective version of the program.
Indirect Benefits: High (3)
We think there is a small-to-moderate chance that CAP would generate several very impactful indirect benefits. For example, the additional donations going to animal-focused charities may reduce the risk of global pandemics caused by antibiotic resistance, and the program may help create a broader culture of effective giving at US workplaces.
Indirect Harms: High (1)
We also think there is a small-to-moderate chance that CAP would indirectly cause or exacerbate a number of problems. For instance, charities that reduce poverty and disease may cause economic growth, which is likely to increase the number of animals raised in factory farms and could contribute to climate change and existential risks.
Robustness to Moral Uncertainty: Medium (2)
CAP is compatible with most worldviews, but there may be exceptions. For example, some socialists believe charity often does more harm than good by promoting individualistic norms.
Project Potential Score: Low (1.27)
RG team members gave the vast majority of the weight to the cost-effectiveness estimate, leading to an overall Project Potential Score of 1.27. This falls clearly into the Low category.
After concluding the evaluation, we have decided not to recommend funding for a full-scale CAP at this time. This is based heavily on our cost-effectiveness analysis, which suggests the program is unlikely to be worthwhile at any reasonable cost-effectiveness threshold, at least in its proposed form. However, we have recommended funding of up to $40,000 to run a pilot study based on three primary considerations: (i) concern that the cost-effectiveness analysis may underestimate CAP’s promisingness relative to comparable programs; (ii) the potentially high value of information from running a pilot; and (iii) the relatively low risk involved, given that we expect the pilot’s costs to be lower than the volume of donations generated.
The future of Rethink Grants
Any further evaluations conducted by RG will not necessarily involve the same process or level of rigor as seen in this report. This evaluation was an experiment that involved frontloading many one-time costs, such as creating the evaluation framework; however, we also recognise important shortcomings of our methodology, and are aware that evaluations of early-stage projects in this depth may not always be advisable, depending on factors such as the grant size, feasibility of running a low-cost pilot study, and availability of relevant data. Should RG continue, future evaluations will incorporate a number of important lessons learned from this experience.
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