The Open Philanthropy Blog

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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The campaign for marriage equality in the U.S. over the past couple decades is a remarkable success story. To better understand philanthropy’s role in it, we commissioned Benjamin Soskis, whose work we’ve funded via our history of philanthropy project, to produce a literature review and case study (.pdf). It covers the history of the campaign to secure marriage equality in the United States, which culminated in the Supreme Court’s decision, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

Here are a few of our takeaways from the report:

  • Philanthropic efforts likely played a role in the campaign for marriage equality, but there were also broad cultural trends toward more people being “out” as homosexual, and more people knowing someone who was out, and this likely shifted public opinion substantially. Thus, it’s not clear that this campaign’s “philanthropy playbook” would be effective if applied to other causes that do not benefit from analogous cultural trends.
  • There is mixed evidence with respect to whether philanthropic “insiders” had correct strategic views:
    • Some strategic decisions made by “outsiders” looked at the time (to insiders) to be reckless and counterproductive. Some of those look like good decisions in retrospect, while others ended up looking counterproductive in the short run, but may (or may not) have been productive in the long run. Some decisions that look good in retrospect may only appear so due to the (potentially) inevitable long-run success of the campaign.
    • Some of the data-driven messaging analysis pushed by the “insiders” looks quite successful in retrospect.
    • Despite the fact that the ultimate victories were in the Supreme Court, there were some philanthropic contributions that seem highly relevant, particularly funding messaging analysis and ballot initiatives. There are good arguments that legislative and ballot victories played an important role in later Supreme Court decisions, including Obergefell v. Hodges.

Read the full literature review and case study here (.pdf) Read More

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

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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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