Rethink Charity

Powering High-Impact Charitable Projects

Rethink Grants: an evaluation of Donational’s Corporate Ambassador Program

2019-06-19


Click here to view the full report. 


Executive Summary

Rethink Grants

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.

Methods

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 LowMedium, 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.

Results

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.

Decision

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.

Click here to view the full report. 

Share post:

Announcing New Rethink Charity Board Members

2019-06-19

As part of ongoing efforts to continually invest in governance and accountability infrastructure, Rethink Charity is proud to announce the expansion of our board of directors by five new members. We are welcoming Kalista Barter, Travis Cooper, Ozzie Gooen, Alexander Gordon-Brown and Colm Ó Riain to the board.

RC conducted a thorough process in searching for new independent directors, considering candidates with a wide range of skill sets from across the globe who also hold a strong personal belief in the Rethink Charity mission and vision. Each newly inducted board member possesses valuable skills and industry knowledge across crucial domains that we believe will greatly benefit RC and the broader EA community.

In addition to the board expansion, RC senior leadership commissioned the creation of specific oversight committees within the board (e.g. executive committee and budget committee), and the formation of internal Objective and Key Result (OKR) boards aimed at holding projects to stated goals and associated deadlines.

New Board Members

Kalista Barter

Kalista has dedicated the last 12 years of her career to fundraising for animal welfare causes, after having been persuaded to prioritize the plight of animals during her philosophy courses at the University of Southern California. Nearly four years ago she started the philanthropy department at Animal Charity Evaluators, and became increasingly involved in the Effective Altruism community, solidifying her commitment to effective advocacy for farmed animals. She currently serves as the Senior Director of Development for The Humane League.

Travis Cooper

Travis graduated from the University of Alberta in 2014 with a Bachelor’s of Commerce in Honors Accounting. He has worked in public practice in Edmonton Alberta for 5 years, specializing in US/Canada cross-border tax issues. He obtained his Chartered Accountant designation in 2016.

Ozzie Gooen

Ozzie is a Research Scholar at the Future of Humanity Institute, currently working in forecasting infrastructure research. He’s previously worked at 80,000 hours and has cofounded multiple tech companies, including Guesstimate.

Alexander Gordon-Brown

Alexander is a longstanding member of the EA community, having taken the Giving What We Can pledge in 2013. He has spent most of that time earning to give, and donated to a variety of organizations involved in movement-building, as well as to Givewell-recommended charities.

Colm Ó Riain (MIRI)

As Head of Growth at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Colm coordinates MIRI’s philanthropic strategy and supports recruitment as MIRI grows. After 15 years working in the video game industry at companies including Electronic Arts and Activision, he moved into philanthropy work at Zynga.org and Harmony Project Bay Area before joining MIRI in July 2016. He has a master’s degree in AI from the University of Rochester and a joint honours bachelor’s in Mathematics and Computer Science. Colm is also a professional violinist and composer.  

All of the new and existing board members are committed to helping us make our work as impactful as possible. We look forward to working with them, and we hope you will join us in welcoming them to the team.

Share post:

Public Request for Feedback for EA Survey 2019

2019-06-16

The annual EA Survey serves as a benchmark for better understanding the state of the Effective Altruism (EA) movement. It is a project of Rethink Charity with analysis and commentary from researchers at Rethink Priorities. Last year, we produced 12 posts that analyzed 2018 EA survey data, exploring how people get involved in EA, where they donate, what causes they support, geographic and demographic insights, and how EAs view their own community.

We’re looking to conduct the 2019 survey again very soon, but first we’d like to invite the community to give us feedback about what you would like to see changed or potentially included. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments section of this post. Please keep in mind that the survey is already about as long as we can possibly make it without fatiguing people, so we’re unlikely to be able to add much more to the survey without also taking something out. Suggestions for things to remove are also welcome.

Here’s a list of the questions we asked on last year’s survey.

Here are a few things that we already plan to change for next year:

  • We will be updating the options for where people first heard about EA to in line with which categories were popular last year (e.g., adding EA Global and podcasts, nuancing the “Other” category with additional options)
  • We expect to be adding a page of questions about skills people possess (requested by Ben Todd)
  • We expect to be adding some questions to help differentiate EAs’ involvement and engagement further (e.g., EAG attendance, and possibly other additional metrics)
  • We expect to add a question, in addition to the specific cause questions, about whether people prioritise the Long Term Future specifically, as discussed in last year’s cause post.
  • We will be removing and changing most of the extra credit section.

To give feedback, please email peter@peterhurford.com.

Here are the articles we produced using the 2018 data:

I – Community Demographics & Characteristics

II – Distribution & Analysis Methodology

III – How do people get involved in EA?

IV – Subscribers and Identifiers

V – Donation Data

VI – Cause Selection

VII- Group Membership

VIII- Where People First Hear About EA and Influences on Involvement

IX- Geographic Differences in EA

X- Welcomingness- How Welcoming is EA?

XI – How Long Do EAs Stay EA?

XII – Do EA Survey Takers Keep Their GWWC Pledge?

Share post: