The Open Philanthropy Blog

In February 2018, Open Philanthropy announced new openings for “generalist” Research Analyst (RA) roles, and we have since hired 5 applicants from that hiring round. This was one of our top priorities for 2018.

In this post I summarize our process and some lessons learned. I am hoping that in addition to our general audience, this post might be useful to others looking to hire a similar talent profile, and to potential future generalist RA applicants to Open Philanthropy.

Process overview

Sourcing: For this round, we experimented with many different outreach methods. In addition to posting the job ad to our website, we promoted our RA roles via an episode of the 80,000 Hours podcast, social media, personal outreach to promising individuals, emails to university departments, emails to a few special mailing lists, and more. As a result, many applicants reported hearing about our roles through multiple sources.

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Today, Georgetown University announced our support for the launch of a new think tank dedicated to policy analysis at the intersection of national and international security and emerging technologies. The Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) is led by Jason Matheny, former Assistant Director of National Intelligence and Director of Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the U.S. intelligence community’s research organization.

Read our full grant page here.

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Last year, the year before, 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 Project 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.
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In October 2016, we wrote:

we are contracting [a developer] to build a simple online application for credence calibration training: training the user to accurately determine how confident they should be in an opinion, and to express this confidence in a consistent and quantified way.

That online application is now available:

Play “Calibrate Your Judgment”

Note that you must sign in with a GuidedTrack, Facebook, or Google account, so that the application can track your performance over time.

We expect many users will find this program to be the most useful free online calibration training currently available.

That said, we think there are several ways in which a calibration app could be more engaging and useful than ours, if someone were to invest substantially more development effort than we did. Some reflections on the challenges we encountered, and some lessons we learned, are available in this Google doc.

Spencer Greenberg, the lead developer of Calibrate Your Judgment, has released a paper describing the scoring rules used in the app, here.

Update April 23: In response to feedback, we have now improved the set of questions used for the app’s confidence intervals module, by removing hundreds of ill-formed or confusingly worded questions. We hope this leads to a better and more useful experience for users.

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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. 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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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