The Open Philanthropy Blog

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. Currently, the best giving opportunities we’ve found in the Global Health and Development focus area are recommended by GiveWell. (Read more about our relationship to GiveWell here.)

Throughout the course of this year, we have recommended GiveWell Incubation Grants to support the development of potential future top charities, as well as general support funding for GiveWell’s operations (capped at 20% of operating expenses for reasons described here). 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 coordinated with GiveWell on how to recommend grants from Good Ventures — 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 $64 million for top charities in 2018.

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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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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)

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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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