The Open Philanthropy Blog | Open Philanthropy Project

The Open Philanthropy Blog

This post gives an update on our work with “external donors” - donors other than our current primary funders (Cari and Dustin). In brief:

  • Over the long run, the Open Philanthropy Project aspires to work with many donors, and to inform far more giving than our current primary funders can do on their own, in order to maximize our impact and do as much good as possible. (We also continue to try to learn as much as we can from other philanthropists.)
  • Outreach to donors other than our current primary funders is not a major organization-wide priority at this time. We’re prioritizing refining and improving our work - and getting to the point where we have more recommendations than our primary funders can fund on their own - before we put major organizational effort into outreach.
  • One area where we have been working significantly with other donors is criminal justice reform. This is an area where our Program Officer sees far more giving opportunities than the funds we have made available for the cause. This may come to be the case for other Program Officers over time.
  • As an organization, we intend to be helpful to external donors however we can be (subject to constraints on our own time and availability), whether this means intensive partnerships, informal conversations, approaches such as the Accountable Justice Action Fund (discussed below), etc. We also aim to accommodate and support our Program Officers in any efforts they make to mobilize funds from external donors.
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This post aims 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 most recent previous open thread here.

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There’s an adage about philanthropists: “when you become a philanthropist you never again eat a bad meal or tell a bad joke.”

Being a funder comes with unusual challenges to activities as simple as gathering feedback, exchanging ideas, and expressing opinions:

  • It can be extremely difficult to get honest, critical feedback from potential grantees (who often fear that giving critical feedback could jeopardize their funding).
  • Tentative or unconsidered program officer feedback can have more effect than intended in shaping potential grantee priorities, even if the program officer only meant to offer a consideration or idea.
  • It is easy to “lead people on” and waste their time, even when we aren’t trying to do so. Expressing even casual interest in something can be interpreted by a prospective grantee as encouragement to put a great deal of planning and work into things they hope we’ll fund.
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This post compares our progress with the goals we set forth a year ago, and lays out our plans for the coming year.

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The Open Philanthropy Project’s mission is to give as effectively as we can and share our findings openly so that anyone can build on our work. When we first started making grants, we tended to assume that would mean conducting and publishing in-depth reviews of the performance of each grant. But as our first grants have wound down, we’ve spent more time evaluating and reflecting on the work we’ve done so far, and have developed a new framework to guide our approach to grant check-ins.

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We’ve recently posted a number of new openings to our jobs page, including:

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Suzanne Kahn, a consultant who has been working with us as part of our History of Philanthropy project, recently finished a case study on the role of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in state-level Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) programs. This report is a follow-up to her earlier report on CBPP’s founding and early growth, and investigates CBPP’s claim that CBPP “created the concept of state EITCs and… developed state issue campaigns to secure their adoption. Before we started this work, no state had its own EITC; today, 26 do.”

The report finds that:

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Last year, we wrote:

A major goal of 2017 will be to reach and publish better-developed views on:

This post gives an update on this work.

The questions we’re tackling here are complex, and we are still far from having a fully developed framework.

However, we do have a tentative high-level approach to these questions, and some rough expectations about a few high-level conclusions (at least as far as the next few years are concerned). Hopefully, laying these out will clarify - among other things - (a) why we continue to work on multiple highly disparate causes; (b) ranges for what sort of budgets we expect in the next few years for each of the focus areas we currently work in; (c) how we decided how much to recommend that Good Ventures donate to GiveWell’s top charities for 2017.

In brief:

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Note: This post originally appeared in the monthly farm animal welfare newsletter written by Lewis Bollard, our program officer for farm animal welfare. Sign up here to receive an email each month with Lewis’ research and insights into a farm animal advocacy research topic. We decided to cross-post this one because we thought it was especially interesting and wanted to make people aware of Lewis’ newsletter, but note that the newsletter is not thoroughly vetted by other staff and does not necessarily represent consensus views of the Open Philanthropy Project as a whole.

When we think of farm animals, we likely don’t think of carp. But this family of freshwater fish — which includes the three most populous farmed fish species in the world: crucian carp, silver carp, and catla — is likely the most numerous farmed vertebrate animal in the world, with an estimated 25-95 billion farmed every year. (About 62 billion chickens are farmed every year, but each is farmed for just 5-8 weeks, whereas carp are farmed for 12-14 months, meaning far more carp are alive at any given time.)

Fish are the forgotten farm animal. Of the more than 100 undercover investigations that U.S. animal advocates have done to expose abuse of farm animals, just one focused on fish. For a long time scientists questioned if fish could feel pain, though our internal investigation suggests there’s about as much evidence for some fish being able to feel pain as there is for birds.

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A little over a year ago, the HistPhil blog put up a post by Tamara Mann Tweel about a now-published report we commissioned her to work on, regarding the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI)’s role in global price drops for antiretroviral drugs (which can be crucial in treating HIV/AIDS).

The HistPhil post states:

Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) went down from 10,000 – $15,000 per person per year to $140 per person per year between 2000 and 2005. This price drop inspired governments and international bodies to purchase ARVs and administer therapy to millions of individuals stricken with HIV/AIDS.

While the Clinton Foundation often receives credit for the entirety of the ARV price drop, my report affirmed scholarship that claimed the price drop actually occurred in three stages. The first, from $15,000 per person per year to approximately $1000 per person per year in specific cases, can be attributed to activists persuading pharmaceutical companies to offer philanthropic prices to discreet pilot projects; the second price drop, from approximately $1000 per person per year to approximately $350 per person per year, can be attributed to the active creation of an international generic drug market; and the final drop, from $350 to $140, can be attributed to deliberate market interventions into the generic market by the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI).

As discussed in the full report, this three-stage price drop corresponded to a massive increase in the purchases of antivirals (especially by governments and nonprofits); we haven’t specifically estimated the deaths averted by this development, but feel confident that it qualifies as the sort of hit we’re interested in.

We don’t feel fully confident that any particular funder or nonprofit was crucial to the price drop. The key things we learned from the report were that:

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