We are experimenting with a new approach to setting grant sizes for a number of our largest grantees in the effective altruism community, including those who work on long-termist causes. Rather than have a single Program Officer make a recommendation, we have created a small committee, comprised of Open Philanthropy staff and trusted outside advisors who are knowledgeable about the relevant organizations. Committee members review materials submitted by the organizations; gather to discuss considerations, including room for more funding; and submit “votes” on how they would allocate a set budget between a number of grantees (they can also vote to save part of the budget for later giving). We average the committee members’ votes to arrive at final numbers for our grants.
We are trying this approach because:
- As our grantees in the effective altruism community grow, we’ve found it hard to arrive at satisfying judgments of the right size grant for each.
- We’ve found it particularly hard to have enough understanding of each grantee’s strengths, weaknesses, and impact to provide what we consider sufficient oversight and accountability (given how much of their funding we’re providing).
We’re hoping that involving more people in our grantmaking decisions (as discussed above) will make our judgments less idiosyncratic and create more points of accountability for each organization, while preserving our hits-based philosophy. The committee remains a small set of close-in people, and we average individuals’ allocations rather than using majority or consensus decisions in order to preserve scope for individual judgment.
We note that the experiment described above reflects our high uncertainty about how to set the right grant amounts for these organizations and our sense that we aren’t providing the level of accountability, oversight and vetting that we ideally would like to. We believe that individual donors (particularly to these organizations) sometimes seem to think our investigations into the organizations in question have been deeper than is actually the case. We hope the committee structure described here will lead to better allocations within this set of grantees, and that our explanation of our limitations and rationale will lead to a clearer understanding of our actions by other donors and stakeholders.