The Open Philanthropy Blog

Last year, the year before, the year before that, and the year before that, we published a set of suggestions for individual donors looking for organizations to support. This year, we are repeating the practice and publishing updated suggestions from Open Philanthropy program staff who chose to provide them.

The same caveats as in previous years apply:

  • These are reasonably strong options in causes of interest, and shouldn’t be taken as outright recommendations (i.e., it isn’t necessarily the case that the person making the suggestion thinks they’re the best option available across all causes).
  • In many cases, we find a funding gap we’d like to fill, and then we recommend filling the entire funding gap with a single grant. That doesn’t leave much scope for making a suggestion for individuals. The cases listed below, then, are the cases where, for one reason or another, we haven’t decided to recommend filling an organization’s full funding gap, and we believe it could make use of fairly arbitrary amounts of donations from individuals.
  • Our explanations for why these are strong giving opportunities are very brief and informal, and we don’t expect individuals to be persuaded by them unless they put a lot of weight on the judgment of the person making the suggestion.

In addition, we’d add that these recommendations are made by the individual program officers or teams cited, and do not necessarily represent my (Holden’s) personal or Open Phil’s institutional “all things considered” view. Also, I just want to note that per our policy we’re no longer publishing all potentially relevant relationships.

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We believe that every life has equal value — and that philanthropic dollars can go particularly far by helping those who are living in poverty by global standards. This year, we explored the high bar set by the best global health and development interventions. Currently, the best giving opportunities we’ve found in the Global Health and Development focus area are recommended by GiveWell, a nonprofit dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing its full analysis to help donors decide where to give.

GiveWell recently announced its updated list of top charities that focus on programs with a strong track record and excellent cost-effectiveness, can use additional funding to expand their core programs, and are exceptionally transparent. As we have in the past, we asked GiveWell to make a recommendation — both in terms of the total amount donated and in terms of the distribution between recipient charities. GiveWell recommended, and we plan to approve, an allocation of $54.6 million for its top charities in 2019.

For setting the total amount, our methodology was the same as last year’s. In brief, we started from the assumption that 10% of total available capital will eventually go to a “straightforward charity” bucket that is reasonably likely to line up fairly well with GiveWell’s work and recommendations. This 10% allocation includes a fixed percentage of total giving each year of 5% and another flexible bucket of 5%, which can be spent down quickly or slowly, based in part on GiveWell’s expectations of when funds can accomplish the most good. (For more detail, please see our blog post on our 2017 allocation.)

Based on these considerations, GiveWell recommended that Open Philanthropy grant $54.6 million this year, allocated to its top charities as follows:

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We are excited to announce a new co-funding partnership with Ben Delo, co-founder of the cryptocurrency trading platform BitMEX and a recent Giving Pledge signatory. In his Giving Pledge letter, Ben said his ambition is to do the most good possible with his wealth, in particular by funding work to safeguard future generations and protect the long-term prospects of humanity. He explained the reasons for his focus:

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How accurate do long-range (≥10yr) forecasts tend to be, and how much should we rely on them?

As an initial exploration of this question, I sought to study the track record of long-range forecasting exercises from the past. Unfortunately, my key finding so far is that it is difficult to learn much of value from those exercises, for the following reasons:

  1. Long-range forecasts are often stated too imprecisely to be judged for accuracy. [More]
  2. Even if a forecast is stated precisely, it might be difficult to find the information needed to check the forecast for accuracy. [More]
  3. Degrees of confidence for long-range forecasts are rarely quantified. [More]
  4. In most cases, no comparison to a “baseline method” or “null model” is possible, which makes it difficult to assess how easy or difficult the original forecasts were. [More]
  5. Incentives for forecaster accuracy are usually unclear or weak. [More]
  6. Very few studies have been designed so as to allow confident inference about which factors contributed to forecasting accuracy. [More]
  7. It’s difficult to know how comparable past forecasting exercises are to the forecasting we do for grantmaking purposes, e.g. because the forecasts we make are of a different type, and because the forecasting training and methods we use are different. [More]

We plan to continue to make long-range quantified forecasts about our work so that, in the long run, we might learn something about the feasibility of long-range forecasting, at least for our own case. [More]

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Note: This post originally appeared in the monthly farm animal welfare newsletter written by our farm animal welfare team. Sign up here to receive regular email updates with 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 the 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.

From 2015-17, advocates secured pledges from over 300 US food companies to eliminate battery cages for the more than 240M egg-laying hens in their supply chains, mostly by 2025. (Advocates also secured another 800+ pledges from non-US food companies — the subject of a future newsletter.)

This was a big win for the farm animal movement. Fewer than 50 full-time advocates pushed the $9B US egg industry to commit to eliminate its core business practice — confining hens in tiny cages — at a cost to the industry of $7B-$9.5B. A 2016 Washington Post front-page story declared a “victory for the animal welfare movement”, noting that even egg producers think a “cage-free future is a fait accompli.”

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Although we have typically emphasized the importance for effective philanthropy of long-term commitment to causes and getting the right people in place, the most obvious day-to-day decision funders face is whether to support specific potential giving opportunities. As part of our internal guidance for program officers, we’ve collected a series of questions that we like to ask ourselves about potential funding opportunities, including:

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Our thinking on prioritizing across different causes has evolved as we’ve made more grants. This post explores one aspect of that: the high bar set by the best global health and development interventions, and what we’re learning about the relative performance of some of our other grantmaking areas that seek to help people today.

To summarize:

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Note: This is an experiment with a different style of blog post, aiming to more casually share thoughts from a broader set of staff. We’re interested in feedback on this format.

Earlier this year, the Open Philanthropy Project awarded a five-year grant and made an additional investment in Sherlock Biosciences to support the development of a diagnostic platform to quickly, easily, and inexpensively identify any human virus present in a patient sample.

Development of this technology would represent a significant advance in viral diagnosis, and could both reduce threats from viral pandemics and also benefit health care broadly. In one implementation of the test, which might be suitable for use in field clinics or for home use, samples can be tested in less than an hour using just a strip of paper.

We believe that the broad potential of Sherlock’s technologies is matched by co-founders and a team of deeply experienced scientists, entrepreneurs, and clinicians who are aligned with our goal of making a universal viral diagnostic system available worldwide. The new company, recently spun out of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, is developing technologies licensed from the Broad Institute and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute.

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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.

In brief:

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We have had a lot of new staff join Open Philanthropy over the last year. In this post, I’d like to introduce the new members of our team. We’re excited to have them!

More new staff are joining soon, and I will be introducing them in coming months.

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