October 2017 Open Thread

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 [email protected]anthropy.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.


Hi Michael, the main sources of disagreement I notice here are:

1. Most importantly, we are not taking the approach of putting every grant in the same terms and making all grants that beat the GiveDirectly benchmark. Our framework is in flux, but we are moving toward something that looks more like “$ allocated to a variety of different worldviews; grants compete with other grants in the same worldview-bucket.” Our latest post on this topic is here.

2. GWWC pledges, for us, are largely a proxy for growing the effective altruism community. The figure you noted was a forecast intended to pick something measurable that is related to what we care about; it was not the central cost-effectiveness estimate justifying the grant. Our work on supporting the effective altruism community is not primarily about driving more $ to GiveWell’s top charities.

3. I suspect I would disagree with your figures if I looked into them in more detail, but this doesn’t seem central here. I certainly disagree with this: “I would value preventing 10 factory farming years over creating 5 human QALYs*; I imagine you don’t, but they should at least be on the same order of magnitude.” (I.e., my own take is not within an order of magnitude of yours)

What may make open Phil investigate the cause of “low well-being” (both as depression, but also as likely the larger thing of “mild unhappiness”) at a shallow level? Likely with solutions trying to create cost effective/scalable ways to boost people’s social relationships.

Super rough back of the envelope, it seems like this cause would fare excellent on importance and crowdedness, and the question would be more on tractability.

It seems like it would be possible to increase funding towards open Phil’s recommendations, and that the EA community will continue to grow, also increasing funding available to these “effective causes” - and as this happens, the limiting factor of value aligned grantees will become more and more important over time.

If this is true then investing in capacity building for future donations, to try and shift open Phil from being opportunity constrained to capital constrained (capital constraints, while hard, seem easier to address than opportunity constraints), may be highly impactful. (Also, my understanding from discussions with a friend who works in philanthropic advising is that there is a substantial amount of funding “on the sidelines” that isn’t deployed because there aren’t high quality giving opportunities available, in part due to an unwillingness of many large foundations to fund organizational capacity instead of programmatic funding - so investments in capacity building in the right areas could also increase deployed funding from other philanthropists.)

What may make open Phil consider a shallow investigation into doing substantially more capacity building investments?

By “to increase funding towards open Phil’s recommendations” I mean from selling other large philanthropists on the idea

I realize open Phil isn’t capital constrained currently, but I wonder - what would make open Phil want to spend time/energy on convincing other giving pledgers to be more EA aligned?

May there be a time in the future such that this makes sense to invest time in?

Thanks, Holden and the rest of the team.

My selected questions:

1) Polarization

We’ve gotten what we incentivized, and unfortunately ad-driven businesses seem to incentivize outrage and tribalism.

What may cause open phil to become interested in investigating the possible consequences/importance of increased polarization at a shallow level?

The main thing that would make us more interested in this topic would be a particular approach, or angle, on the problem that seems tractable and/or neglected. So far, we’ve had a fair number of conversations about this topic and thought about how it relates to the other causes we work on, but we haven’t seen a particular set of people, organizations or approaches that seems like a good fit for a shallow investigation.

2) Thriving

To what extent is helping humanity thrive / improving collective well-being currently important as an end/ultimate goal for open phil?

a) If to a relatively low extent, what may cause well-being to be evaluated as a potentially more important/end goal for open Phil?

or b) If helping humanity thrive / improving collective well-being *is* substantially important as an end goal for open phil, what may cause open phil’s to become interested in evaluating directly working on well-being as a cause area, at a shallow level?

- e.g. Might it be valuable to:
- 1) research and publish Open Phil’s thoughts on what it means to ‘thrive’ (i.e. is “thriving” the same as high well-being as typically measured by positive/negative affect, and life satisfaction?)
- 2) research and publish Open Phil’s thoughts on what leads to high levels of ‘thriving’ or interventions/things that can cause large increases in the level of thriving of an individual or society (perhaps, what leads to high levels of well-being?)
- 3) look for interventions that address this. e.g. mental health interventions, policy work to improve how QALY scores are calculated (in short - weightings are created “by asking people how bad they expect various conditions to be, rather than assessing asking people with those conditions to report their subjective well-being. As mental health conditions are hard to imagine and hard to adapt to, they are underrated.” http://effective-altruism.com/ea/yv/is_effective_altruism_overlooking_human_happiness/), expressed interest in finding solutions as a way to unearth more ideas
Other thoughts, no response required unless one immediately comes to mind and you’d like to include it.

- Might it also be valuable to bake in ‘thriving’ or well-being (depending on how Open Phil views the importance of thriving/well-being/similar) analyses to focus areas. It seems plausible that there will be some areas that appear to be beneficial, but that don’t have the desired end benefits: e.g. “It’s questionable whether cash transfers to those in poverty will increase happiness. The only RCT into Give Directly showed their cash transfers had no long-term effect on life satisfaction scores. The trial showed GD’s recipients did have increased life satisfaction in the short-term (6 months) but that the non-recipients had their life satisfaction go down by more than recipients’ went up. This suggests Give Directly’s work does not increase happiness (taking ‘happiness’ as ‘life satisfaction’). More research is needed.” (Plant, http://effective-altruism.com/ea/yv/is_effective_altruism_overlooking_human_happiness/) Basically if well-being is a root goal of Open Phil, then it seems valuable to bake into each cause area a rationale for how working on the cause will help boost the well-being of humanity now / in the future — as this may be a ‘crucial consideration’ in some cases.

- Working on ‘ordinary unhappiness’ may be itself a good cause area. As a very rough back of the envelope, 33% of American’s said they were ‘very happy’ in 2017, so 67% fall outside the ‘very happy’ classification (http://time.com/4871720/how-happy-are-americans/). To calculate for just Americans: 320 million Americans * 67% not ‘very happy’ = 214 million American’s that are not ‘very happy.’ If we value a ‘very happy’ year at 15% more than a not ‘very happy’ year, then: 214 million people * 15% well-being boost * $50,000/QALY = $1.6/trillion/yr. Also, from what I can tell, directly working on ‘ordinary unhappiness’ is highly neglected. I’m less certain of solvability. In short, the current hypothesis I hold is that the best way to move most people from not ‘very happy’ to ‘very happy’ may be to increase their amount of face-to-face social time and increase the strength of their social relationships. It seems plausible that there may be appropriate philanthropic methods of helping this.
- Possible things that could be explored: funding religious and non-religious organizations that cultivate and hold regular community-style meetings and/or community centers, funding the creation of groups like the military ‘family readiness group’ for other kinds of people (the military has an organization that provides social support, regular in person hangouts, and similar things for family members of people in military units), funding the creation of other kinds of organizations designed to provide community and purpose at a large scale (religious affinity seems to be trending downwards so it seems useful to have things that fill this space), infrastructure that makes it easier for real estate developers to create housing developments that are optimized for community building (and/or that nudges them to do so, e.g. perhaps research examining whether doing so may lead to more profitable housing development), financing a non-profit or a for-profit (but likely with below-market returns expected) organization that researches and promotes existing positive communities both religion specific and non-religion based that people can join, infrastructure to help existing community organizations both religious and non-religious be more successful in terms of creating strong social relationships for members, funding a non-profit or a for-profit (likely below market return, as it seems to have been tried by startups but I get the sense it hasn’t been profitable enough) to help people find housing amongst people that they may get along well with, etc.

I’d like to modify and split up this question for improved clarity.

Also I realize much of what Open Phil does is about well-being, and what I’m really asking about are specific potentially good routes for improving well-being.

2) To what extent is helping humanity thrive / improving collective well-being currently important as an end/ultimate goal for open phil? How is, or isn’t this involved in the vision of open phil i.e. of everyone being able to meet their needs and shape their own lives?

a) If well-being is important only to a relatively low extent, what may cause well-being to be evaluated as a potentially high importance end goal/vision for open phil?

b) Question b in it’s original form has been split up into two separate questions.

7) “Ordinary human unhappiness” (Plant)

As a cause, “ordinary human unhappiness” “(e.g. ‘normal’ stress, worry, sadness)” seems promising based on possibly extremely high importance (in part due to billions of people suffering from it) and neglectedness. It does seem to have a disadvantage though in that not many people perhaps think it’s “appropriate” to work on. Though the optimist in me says that there was probably a time where not many people thought it was appropriate to work on animal welfare.

What may cause open phil to become interested in investigating ‘ordinary human unhappiness’ as a cause, at a shallow level?

8) Mental health

What might cause open phil to become more interested in investigating global mental health as a cause area, at a shallow level?

(I’m less optimistic on this as a cause area vs global poverty or ordinary unhappiness, as it seems like mental health may not compare well against global poverty in terms of $/DALY. https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/post/2015/12/mental-health-interventions-may-be-more-cost-effective/. However, it also seems like the DALY scores may not be a good measure of well-being based on some things Michael Plant has written about, and so with a better scoring mechanism based on well-being, mental health may be a better cause area than global poverty. http://effective-altruism.com/ea/yv/is_effective_altruism_overlooking_human_happiness/)

I’d say that “helping humanity thrive / improving collective well-being” is very similar, in our view, to “everyone being able to meet their needs and shape their own lives.” Hence, I’d say that it’s central as an end/ultimate goal for us.

However, a couple of things temper the extent to which we see this goal as leading to the causes you lay out in 7) and 8):

  • We don’t think “thriving” or “well-being” is equivalent to subjective well-being (as e.g. measured in happiness surveys). We endorse a mix of hedonic, preference/desire-based, and objective list conceptions of well-being; people being able to meet their needs and shape their own lives can count as a major well-being boost on the second two fronts, even when it does not lead to increased subjective well-being.
  • Even if we had a hedonic focus, we’d still feel that:

In addition, we haven’t seen particular angles or interventions on the topics named in 7) and 8) that seem likely to be stronger than our current focus areas. Finally, I should add that shallow investigations have fallen in priority for the time being as we’ve shifted most of our focus from choosing causes to grantmaking. We are certainly still interested in exploring newly promising causes, but at this stage, we’d want to see either enormous potential gains (competitive with those of global catastrophic risk reduction and farm animal welfare) or highly promising, tractable+neglected interventions in order to do an in-depth investigation of a new cause. This could easily change in the future.

hello Arik,
your posts are very interesting, but this one in particular is very close to what I think. This maybe because I’m going trough a period of “unhappiness”, (actually I’m desperate). I wrote a post as well few weeks ago in this open thread, explaining that as no us citizens I’m not aware of what philanthropy is in your country. Now reading the posts on this thread I understand it a little better. But basically I think this way of giving is a little bit too capitalist, it looks like the giving thing is a big big business (always with all the respect for the guys who do this job, I’m sure I’m not seeing the full picture)….

Well I agree with your thought about the well being, but it looks like we always forget the main cause of depression and unhappiness. Money.

And it looks like that there is no foundation or organization than can help people like me (at least here in mexico). I started with a small debt due to a wrong surgery they made to my shoulder and then I start to accumulate debt and debt and debt, Bu this is not the point.. it looks like in a capitalist world and for the giving structure, people like me do not deserve help, because I made wrong investments, I did not have my full cover insurance plan. It looks like the world prefer help people after that inevitable things happen, and not to prevent tragedies.

All around the world honest people kill theirself or make insane things like robbery for not be able to pay taxes, debt, leaving widows and orphans. If they not commit suicide they do something crazy, dying or going to jail.

Then maybe there will be foundation that can help their depressed wife, their signed for all life child, their friends that maybe help them with some money that never will have back….

Look I know I’m going too personal maybe, but I know a lot of people like me… and I know that is impossible for big foundation give to specific and particular cases, but maybe as you say, creating association to be more close in the territory, more close to the people….

The most horrible thing is that I have nobody to talk about it, I’ m not religious, I even tried to go to talk with a priest, but it was just just for take out some feelings…There is not a place where I can go to get some hope, and you know Arik, the only hope for people like me is get some money…
Look I tried with crowdfunding, but in did not help to me at all, I do not have a big social net of friends and I can’t even publicize too much my condition because some friends I own money does not even know what I’m facing. Even in crowdfunding it looks like all like a big business. and I feel so bad to see kids with desease, mothers with cancers and I’m asking money why I was not able to cover an emergency 3 years ago and let my debt grow with lenders and lenders…..I fell like I do not even deserve charity or help….

Anyway, sorry for bother all you guys with this, I know maybe is completely out of contest and that my bad english can confuse a little your reading. I just think that people who makes error for search a better life for them and their family, deserve an opportunity as well, like people who spent or fund billions for go to mars, for animal welfare, for send politicians to ruin the world.

An open letter from a desperate man. In my crowudfunding in youcare there is my history if someone is a little bit curious. search for “the worst error”

Thank you


Sorry one more thing,
obviously people like me, or at least I, looking for grants or help to start again to think about work and family, and we (I) will be the biggest potential donors int he moment we set our life back to normality. Help people looking for welfare, it should be a good inversion as well. I have big ideas in my job, but every day I have to go out to search for money guys, this is not the way of leaving. Instead if I should concentrate on my job I should give back the money to who help me to get out of this mess and then be a donr too….


You’re probably not looking for advice, but in case it’s helpful, check out this: https://www.reddit.com/r/personalfinance/comments/42n021/are_there_any_real_ways_to_make_extra_cash/. Many won’t apply, but you may find something useful.

Wishing you the best of luck.

Also, this isn’t what you want to hear, but for a variety of reasons, entities like Open Phil are almost never suited to direct person-to-person giving. So it seems very unlikely that this is something that they would be able to do.

Arik, thank for answer to my comment. It is really good for people in my situation be heared by someone.
Thanks for the suggestion as well. I did not say that I have a good entrepeneur job in my hands, I’m in the lodging industry with a really good software for hotels and bed and breakfast. I made web pages and code a little.
And I have a really good project in my closet for an application covering the whole incoming industry (tours, concierge connection, lodging, airport transfer) as I live in a touristic town here in Mexico and thanks to my experience I really know what the sector need. I can even expand my idea for the worldmarket.

The problem is that since I’m in this mess with money (don’t know if you read my fundraiser post on youcaring, there I explain what happened to me) I can’t even think to my job to my family, every given morning I have to think some excuse, or find some money to pay my creditors, this week I even went with a shark and I had big troubles. I swear is it really hard to get focus on your job when you see the end. When you have that heartache with you the whole day and night, and you think few times every day to make some last crazy think.

Sorry for go out from the theme of this post. Going back to the philanthropy theme, I really understand that entities like openphil or givingwell, or big foundation cannot help people like me but I repeat for people coming from not US countries, it looks like these big foundations are really profit making focused.
I understand that the profit is for go on and reinvest on charity and giving works, but in case of some foundations or organization I think that this can bring to loose some money on the process.
It looks that foundation like these catalyze moneys of big donors, and invest part of this giving for charity, but the biggest part to promote and keep the organization working.
So, and maybe this way of think is too European, it shouldn’t be better for them (donors) have less intermediaries and give more directly to the causes they would like to help?
Is there a taxes issue involved in all these process of giving ?
These was just few considerations about philanthropy world.

Now going back more closer to my case.

I was studying few data from the giving world and from the World health organization. Here you can see that 800.000 people committed suicide in 2016 and about 20 million tried to, over a population of million of people with depression, addictions and mental illness.
Then what I see, (at least here in Mexico a developing country where these rates are higher than in developed ones), is that there is no place or association, or foundation where you can find psychological, medical, financial or emotional help.

According to giving USA: “Giving to religion increased 3.0 percent (1.8 percent adjusted for inflation), with an estimated $122.94 billion in contributions.” and I think this trend is valid for all the world.
So I went to a Church, I’m not religious, but I can’t even found a father to take out my herthache and I remain on the bench crying as a baby..

Anyway, I’m degressing a little.
Just want to say, and I know that these considerations are dictated more by my personal condition than from real “market, giving world” vision, that in this world, in this time, it is really fine and fare think and give to the poor people in developing country, research for a better future, save the planet programs, save the children that are our most precious treasure, education (I think is the most important), but, have a look to the well-being and mental health of the middle class in some way, could help to have a more healthy society, willing to help other people.

Last considerations.
I think that some funds, always through associations, foundations or no-prof, should be addressed more on local communities, on the territory. Here in Mexico you can see children working on the street, schools without furnitures, or people going ahead with mortgage from banks or department store with shark interest that ruins their lifes, low salaries (very low, you think 3 usd / hours is a wothy salary?). The same in all south america and developing countries. I think that sometimes all these billion of dollars of givings (talikg about churches, politics, arts and animal welfare, even if I love art and animals) are too far from the real world.

Sorry for be so prolix and confused, but I’m really angry with my self for the conditions in which I am due to my errors, for the pain I’m causing to people around me and for this feeling that society or my background transmit to me, that is that due to my inability to manage my finance (even if it was initially caused by an accident), I do not deserve any help.

Thanks to Holden and to you Arik for let me take out this. I’m sorry if this post is not on line with the thread argument.

Thanks again


Last thing.
Maybe a solution for people like me in places like this, where governements and local authorities does not care about people, should be a “charity loan” organization. Give to people access to easy loans, with no or low interest, by presenting a project or a documentable history.
Here in Mexico there is a philanthropist that say he create a loan company to help women.
Check this out:

106.5% anual interest. Is this a joke????? Not even the shark I ask a loan last week ask me this rate. Is this philanthropy???

Thank you

3) Ray Dalio

Have many of the team members read Principles by Ray Dalio? It seems to be a generally good meta-guide to achieving goals.

I read most of an earlier version of Ray’s principles, and at least one other employee here has read the new book in full. I’ve found some of Ray’s ideas helpful.

4) Investing in future grantee capacity

It seems that open phil may currently be “opportunity constrained” / value-aligned grantee constrained. There may be some opportunities for value-aligned grantees to invest funds in a way that increases their ability to effectively absorb and create value from large amounts of funding in the future. Additionally, there may be some opportunities where the pipeline of future value-aligned grantees could be increased.

What may cause open phil to become interested in investigating ‘increasing future capacity of effective value aligned non-profits’ as a cause area itself?

e.g. things like:
- funding to great organizations specifically to increase their ability to pay staff salaries, so that they can recruit people who live in expensive cost-of-living cities like SF and NYC
- funding/providing a set of best-in-class service providers for grantees to access, things like staff recruiters/sourcers, executive coaches, executive recruiters, sales coaches, branding/storytelling, paid marketing expertise
- marketing campaigns designed to encourage more excellent potentially value-aligned people to consider founding non-profits to address problems they deeply care about as a career path
- research designed to assess what makes the ‘flow’ of exceptionally high quality non-profit founders the current level it is, and potential methods for increasing this flow of future founders
- PR or marketing campaign aimed at other funders, designed to make them aware of the benefit of funding organizational capacity in addition to programmatic funding
- for grantees where open phil is particularly excited about their effectiveness and progress over time, having a focus on (Open Phil may already do this?) always going back to these grantees and assessing with them if there are ways that they could invest reasonable amounts in organizational capacity that would lead to substantial increases in ability to productively absorb and distribute funding
- funding things that aim to ‘create more effective people,’ particularly things that aim to specifically create more extremely effective people i.e. “more Elon Musks” — Paradigm Academy is the only thing I’ve heard of in this space
- perhaps promoting the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program as a way of increasing talent availability to non-profits
- summer funding for particularly determined college students to work on creating new non-profits

We are highly interested in building grantee capacity. We do a fair amount of the activity you describe starting with “for grantees where open phil is particularly excited”; we engage in cross-cutting field building activities tailored to fields of interest, such as our AI fellows program; and through our work on funding effective altruism organizations (such as Centre for Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours), we support a number of other activities along the lines of what you describe.

5) Addiction

The incentives of capitalism seem strongly aligned with more addiction, so it seems that this will increase over time. E.g. sugar addiction, social media addiction, smartphone addiction, etc.

“Addiction is the disease of the 21st century.”

Some of this addiction will be negative and impede people’s ability to live a happy/healthy life/self-actualize.

I also believe that it may be possible to find general purpose addiction treatments, based on a comment from a researcher that I found on early-stage (apparently under-funded) research into a novel addiction treatment that implied it may have worked by helping participants “make decisions that were in their long-term best interest, and they were less likely to make decisions based on short-term, hedonistic desires. They also reported an increase in their self-efficacy, their confidence in their ability to remain quit.”

Existing general and specific addiction treatments from what I can tell are shockingly bad, in terms of their % success rates. (E.g. look at the research into addiction treatments for smoking - as far as I can tell, the best I could find in the literature had a ~32% success rate)

Also as far as I can tell 12-step programs don’t appear to be particularly effective by my definition of effective: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16856072, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2746426/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4285560/

What may cause open phil to become interested in investigating addiction (where it causes suffering, i.e. perhaps as ‘dependence’) as a cause at a shallow level?

The answer here is similar to the one I gave above in response to questions 2), 7), and 8) - finding a particularly tractable/neglected intervention/angle/organization would help. We have looked into some related issues in the past; I’d say that alcohol taxation is the most promising-seeming tangible intervention point we’re aware of for mitigating some of the problems associated with addiction.

6) General pro-social/altruistic behaviors

Say that “pro-social behavior” is actions that are intended to help others. (And say that it’s related but separate to effective altruism, where effective altruism is more about doing good in a way that tries to maximize the amount of good.)

What might cause open phil to become interested in investigating “increasing the total amount of pro-social behavior that people demonstrate” (both by increasing the number of people who demonstrate pro-social behavior, and by increasing the amount of pro-social behavior a given person demonstrates) as a cause, at a shallow level?

Benefits of this may be: increasing the pool who actively do things to help others may be useful for growing the EA movement, by then convincing these people to do good most effectively. May have positive effects on well-being through strengthening social relationships and social support, which I’ve read has a large effect on well-being. May assist existing and future social related causes, like immigration attitudes/reform and criminal justice attitudes/reform.

That’s the last question I have written out. Thanks again!

As with some of the other topics you raised, finding a particularly tractable/neglected intervention/angle/organization would help. I note that I don’t currently think that this cause is as promising for the goal of “growing the effective altruism community” as the more targeted interventions that effective altruist organizations are currently focused on. I think the other potential benefits of increased prosocial behavior that you mention are real, important and potentially very large, but in order to get very far with them we’d have to find an intervention that looked promising for delivering very broad-based changes in behavior, which is challenging.

Thanks for all the excellent questions!

Thank you very much for your great answers, and again thanks to the rest of the team, to you, and your funders for doing what you do.


Have you thought about how to make the charity world less competitive to try and avoid distorting biases?

Currently every researcher/charity is (sub-consciously) incentivised to say that they are the most efficient charity (or give rosy data), so that they get a some amount of funding (so that they can support their families etc). How can we avoid this distorting effect?

This also means that researchers in competing groups are less likely to help each other, however we all need to pull together.


I agree that “every researcher/charity is (sub-consciously) incentivised to say that they are the most efficient charity (or give rosy data), so that they get a some amount of funding,” but I see this condition (and the fact of some sort of “competition”) as somewhat fundamental given the limited resources available for nonprofits as a whole. I see some promise in trying to play our part in addressing this issue by vetting nonprofits’ claims - and tending to reward those that are more open and honest when making their case.

I have a few questions regarding grant terminology and payment logistics.

(1) I see that for some payments, it is explicitly specified that the funder is Good Ventures, or Cari Tuna (https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/criminal-justice-reform/working-families-party-pros… for the latter). Are all grants where the funder is not specified funded through the Open Philanthropy Project Fund, as described at https://www.openphilanthropy.org/giving/guide-for-grant-seekers? Also, one of the potential funding sources is specified as the Open Philanthropy Action Fund, but Googling it on your site does not turn up any grants where it is explicitly stated that the grant is made through that fund. Has that fund never been used for any donations published so far?

(2) For some grants such as https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/global-catastrophic-risks/potential-risks-advanced-artificial… it is said that the grant is “over years”. Does that mean that the grant is disbursed in annual installments for that many years, and are all the installments the same size? And for grants where no such thing is specified, does that mean all the grant money is disbursed at once?

(3) You sometimes refer to grants, particularly those made to universities, as gifts, e.g., https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/global-catastrophic-risks/potential-risks-advanced-artificial… Is there any special meaning to the use of “gift”, or is that simply mirroring the language typically used by the grantee (since universities often refer to money sent to them as gifts)?

(4) I see you’ve used a few terms related to grants: “discretionary grant”, “planning grant”, “exit grant”, and “grant for general support”. Do you have a glossary of special terminology you use to describe grants? I see there’s a page describing discretionary grants: https://www.openphilanthropy.org/giving/grants/discretionary-grants but I didn’t find similar pages for some of the other terminology you’ve used.

Hi Vipul,

Thanks for these questions! Responses below:

1) We will generally only identify the type of vehicle that made a grant if doing so helps mitigate potential confusion. For example, we mentioned the personal contribution from Cari on the page you referenced to avoid readers mistakenly inferring that a 501(c)(3) entity, e.g. the Open Philanthropy Project fund, gave a political donation, which is prohibited. In most cases we will not identify the specific vehicle that made a grant because doing so does not help our readers understand what the grant is for and why we made it. When a grant has been made by a 501(c)(4) grantor entity (such as the Open Philanthropy Action Fund) we will generally state on the page that: “This grant was made by a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, to which we occasionally make funding recommendations.”

2) Your assumptions here are generally correct, though multi-year grants are not always made in equal annual installments as it largely depends on the needs of the project. We don’t plan to specify this in pages unless we determine it would add value for readers. Also, though we usually note when grants will be paid out over multiple years, we don’t do this in 100% of cases, so would not recommend drawing confident conclusions that a given grant is not a multi-year grant just because it wasn’t stated to be so on the grant page.

3) Many universities make a distinction between funds sent as a “gift” and funds sent as a “grant”. Generally, gifts are less formal and require less intensive reporting, and give funders less control over the use of funds and less ability to dictate terms, though the specifics differ from university to university. (See, for example, Yale’s page on gifts vs. grants: https://your.yale.edu/policies-procedures/procedures/1304-pr02-distingui…). Because of this difference, gifts are often easier for the university to process than grants, so we fairly often go that route if it seems less burdensome and a quicker way to get the funding to the grantee. We usually distinguish between gifts and grants in our writeups, but do not do this in 100% of cases, so would not recommend drawing confident conclusions.

4) We don’t have a glossary of terms, but generally you can take “exit grant” to mean our last planned grant of support for an organization for the foreseeable future (we will generally say why we’re making the exit grant on the page); “planning grant” to mean funding intended for researching or scoping a potential, usually larger, project that we might want to fund; and “general support” to mean there are no specific restrictions placed on the funding, so grantees can employ it at their discretion toward any expense category they choose. In contrast, grants that don’t say “general support” can generally be taken as meaning our funds are intended to be restricted to the project/activities described, and not for other priorities or activities of the grantee organization.

Hope that helps!


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