This post aims is to give blog readers and followers of the Open Philanthropy Project an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about the Open Philanthropy Project or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at info@openphilanthropy.org if there’s feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

You can see our previous open thread here.

Comments

Are there ways for those outside the organization to contribute to the Open Philanthropy Project’s work?

I am a recent college graduate currently working as a security analyst. While my focus right now is “building career capital” I’d really like to stay close to this type of work in my free time if for no other reasons than to learn and keep myself motivated.

Kelvin, thanks for your interest! The best ways to follow along with our work are listed here. (We generally don’t take volunteers.)

“We’ve also updated in favor of the “expert” model of philanthropy described in this blog post.”

What were 1-2 of the driving factors behind updating to the expert model, rather than a broad model?

Arik, we’ve now experimented a fair amount with each model - “expert” philanthropy via Program Officers who specialize in one area, and “broad” philanthropy via the policy work mentioned above and a variety of one-off grants. We’ve subjectively felt, so far, that the former model has generated more exciting grants, and that the writeups for these grants have indicated a level of understanding and deep context that seems important and hard to replicate under the “broad” model.

What a few constraints on Open Phil, as you see them? i.e. “if we had X, we’d be able to make more progress”

Arik, I think we’d make more progress in our mission if there were more potential grantees - and other people in the fields we work in - who were highly value-aligned (as well as good at communicating with us). Another answer would be that I feel we’re expanding our staff and giving at a prudent rate, so that even though we aren’t yet where we eventually want to be, I don’t have a particular desire to be moving faster on either dimension than we currently are.

How often do you explore and consider completely new focus areas, and is there any process for doing so?

Arik, see answer to your next question.

Arik, those documents are not actively updated; they’re a record of our past decision-making. We don’t have a particular date at which we’re hoping to revisit our cause selection overall, though at some point we will (and in the meantime, we can always change focus areas using an informal process, and have done so to some degree).

Thanks for all the answers, Holden. I appreciate it!

(x-post Facebook)

Great to hear about Open Phil’s first investment. It also yields a number of questions for Open Phil staff:

1. Would you consider this to be philanthropic? (i.e. Did you take worse terms than other investors? Or are there other reasons it’s philanthropic?)
2. Was this part of a round of funding? Who advised you on terms? What was your role in the round? (i.e. Can you share if you constituted less than 10%, less than 50%, or more than 50%?)
3. Did you take into account the possible financial return? To what extent did it play a role in your decision?
4. What was your interaction with the other investors? Are they at all troubled by your reasons for getting involved, and the limits that might put on the company?
5. Are other investment opportunities on your radar?

The blog post makes clear many of these may not be answerable, but I thought I’d throw them out there anyway.

Josh, as noted in the writeup, there are some points we’ve been asked not to disclose. Here are some answers we can give:

#1, #3 - our main reason for recommending the investment was to improve farm animal welfare. We aren’t discussing the terms of the investment.

#5 - not at this time.

This post is missing the “open threads” tag, hence it fails to show up at http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/open-threads

Thanks Vipul! Fixed.

Do you have publicly available, or would you be willing to make publicly available, the criteria that need to be met for a grant to be eligible to be given as a discretionary (formerly “no-process”) grant? As well as how discretionary granting differs from your usual grantmaking process.

For instance, I got the impression that discretionary grants cannot be used in cases of conflict of interest, and that there is also some money cap on individual discretionary grants and total discretionary grants by program officer, but I wasn’t able to locate any place where you’d said these things.

Hi Vipul,

We haven’t published detailed information about the discretionary grantmaking process, though pages about discretionary grants describe the aims of the process.

The way it works is that some staff members have a discretionary “budget” and can use the discretionary process for grants (within their focus area) adding up to that figure or less. Discretionary grants are subject to the same approval requirements as other grants (Cari and I need to approve), but the investigator submits only a brief (1-paragraph or so) explanation of their reasoning along with any risks/downsides, rather than completing a full internal writeup, and we have a strong default to approving the grant in the absence of serious risks/downsides. The overall aim is for us to be able to move forward on relatively small and low-risk grants, based purely on the judgment of a single staff member and with minimal delay.

Thank you, Holden. Is it also the case that grants where the program officer might have a conflict of interest cannot be made through the discretionary grantmaking process? That’s the impression I got when looking through the grants database, but I don’t have a reference offhand.

Hi Vipul,

There is no such restriction. It would need to be disclosed, and the usual decision-makers (Cari and myself) could stop a grant from moving forward on that basis or any other basis.

Your “Farm Animal Welfare” grantmaking area is listed as being under U.S. Policy, though for the past year it has included a lot of non-U.S. activity. Do you plan to restructure the grantmaking areas to put it outside of “U.S. Policy”?

http://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/farm-animal-welfare

Hi Vipul, we don’t plan to do that at this time. The “U.S. Policy” designation doesn’t have much practical importance here except to help people understand how we came to the focus area in the first place, and to some extent to assist with site navigation.

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