Suggestions for Individual Donors from Open Philanthropy Staff – 2020

Last year, the year before, the year before that, 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.

Similar caveats to 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).
  • The recommendations below fall within the cause areas Open Philanthropy has chosen to focus on. While this list does not expressly include GiveWell’s top charities, we believe those organizations to be the most cost-effective, evidence-backed giving opportunities available to donors today, and expect that some readers of this post might want to give to them.
  • Many of these recommendations appear here because they are particularly good fits for individual donors – due to being able to make use of fairly arbitrary amounts of donations from individuals, and in some cases because the recommender thought they’d be particularly likely to appeal to readers. This shouldn’t be seen as a list of our strongest grantees overall (although of course there may be overlap).
  • 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.

Note that we are no longer including “Why we haven’t fully funded it” information for each option. In most cases, these grants are coming from limited per-focus-area budgets.


Suggestions are alphabetical by cause (with some assorted and “meta” suggestions last).

 

1. Criminal Justice Reform – recommendations by Chloe Cockburn

1.1 The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls

What is it? The National Council, led by Andrea James, is a membership organization that does training, advocacy, and organizing to end the incarceration of women and girls. They regrant money to set up and support hyper-local organizing hubs in multiple locations around the country, plus thousands of members both in and out of prison around the country. They bring policy expertise to local and national campaigns, and are very focused on reducing incarceration.

Why I recommend it: A core facet of a successful social movement is leadership by those most directly affected by the issue. The National Council is doing some of the strongest work around the country to mobilize and train people with the experience of incarceration to lead efforts to transform their communities away from reliance on incarceration. They have a highly capable and visionary leader in Andrea James, and a powerful bench of leadership in the executive team. The potential for impact in the long term is high. They are still in relatively early stages of the organization, and therefore dollars at this point can have a lot of impact on their long term trajectory. It’s a lean organization where additional dollars tend to be regranted to where they are needed most across the network of organizations working with the Council.

How to donate: Here’s a link to donate to the Council.

1.2 The Black Strategy Fund

What is it? This entity was founded by Patrisse Cullors, who is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and a prominent organizer leader on the ground in Los Angeles. The fund identifies and supports emerging leaders around the country who are working to address excessive policing and jailing. Support from the fund looks like training, communications help, and campaign strategy development help.

Why I recommend it: By giving to the fund, you’re buying into the vision and expertise of Patrisse and her team, who have chalked up many wins to reduce incarceration and have strong judgment and discernment. Your dollars will be going to people who they assess to be the most promising, which is better than almost anyone else (including me) could do. One of the most critical times to support someone’s leadership is when they are first emerging and the momentum in their area is high. Putting dollars into this fund ensures that the people in the best position to locate these opportunities have the resources to move quickly to support that emerging leadership. It’s also a good place to add marginal dollars, since the more money they raise, the more individuals they can help add capacity to.

How to donate: Here’s a link to donate to the Black Strategy Fund.

1.3 Fair and Just Prosecution

What is it? FJP serves as an information and advocacy resource to reform-oriented prosecutors. They research best practice in policy and share throughout their dozens of members, convene prosecutors to form relationships and learn from each other, and put out statements on policy at the national level.

Why I recommend it: I think that the organizing efforts listed above are the most impactful ways to give. However, not everyone is comfortable funding organizing. Fair and Just Prosecution may be appealing to donors who are interested in supporting inside game efforts to transform how system actors lead. As you can see from reading our CJR strategy document, we think that transforming prosecution is one of the most impactful things that can be done in the CJ reform space. Since it isn’t a very well known group, I’m happy to take the opportunity to share this with OP fans who want to give to an effective organization that’s enabling reform prosecutors to be bolder and quicker in changing outmoded policies and practices.

How to donate: Here’s a link to donate to Fair and Just Prosecution.

2. Farm Animal Welfare – recommendations by Amanda Hungerford and Lewis Bollard

2.1 Wild Animal Initiative

What is it? The Wild Animal Initiative publishes research on wild animal welfare, raises awareness of wild animal suffering, and works to build an academic field for this research.

Why we recommend it: We think that wild animal welfare is a very important and neglected issue — there are trillions of wild animals alive at any time, yet almost no funding goes to evaluating and improving their welfare (as distinct from conserving their species or habitat). We’re not sure if there are any opportunities for improvements that are both clearly beneficial and tractable, but think the magnitude of suffering argues for doing more research to see if there could be. We’re particularly impressed by the thoughtfulness and approach of the Initiative’s staff, especially executive director Michelle Graham and deputy director Cameron Meyer Shorb, and their clear research agenda.

How to donate: You can donate online here.

2.2 EA Animal Welfare Fund

What is it? The EA Animal Welfare Fund, which Lewis chairs alongside three other fund managers, seeks to identify and fund the most promising neglected opportunities to reduce animal suffering. These typically end up being smaller groups in neglected nations (e.g. Russia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines) or on neglected topics (e.g. EA animal advocacy research, wild animal welfare, invertebrate welfare).

Why we recommend it: The EA Fund is a simple way to support a more diverse portfolio of groups than you could easily support directly. E.g. the past three grant rounds (here, here, and here) supported 35 different groups across 24 countries. Because these groups are typically small, even small gifts to the Fund can go a long way. And because the fund is disbursed by four managers who work full-time in this space, it can draw on their knowledge of new opportunities and information about existing groups you may not be aware of. (Conversely, there’s a risk that this cements groupthink within the movement, so you may not want to support the fund if you have independent views on what works or are aware of unique opportunities.)

How to donate: You can donate online here.

3. Global Health and Development – recommendations by Jacob Trefethen

3.1 Center for Global Development

What is it? The Center for Global Development (CGD) is a think tank based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research on and promotes improvements to rich-world policies that affect the global poor.

Why I suggest it: We’ve supported CGD for many years, and Alexander Berger has recommended CGD in previous years’ versions of this blog post. We view CGD as the leading U.S. think tank in an important area, global development, and as unusually well-aligned with Open Phil’s values around the importance of evidence-based policy and cost-effectiveness. When we first supported CGD (before I joined Open Phil), we thought its track record justified its historical spend many times over. We haven’t scrutinized CGD’s more recent activities at that level of depth, but tentatively believe that remains true. For example, it seems that CGD had a significant impact on the recent creation of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, originally called for in a CGD memo. CGD is a large, mature organization, and I don’t have a clear sense of what impact marginal funding is likely to have, but I (and Alexander) see it as worthy of support.

How to donate: You can donate here.

3.2 COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa

What is it? The COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa (CAF-Africa) is a partnership of nonprofits working with health ministries to deliver Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to community health workers in up to 24 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Why I suggest it: I recommend CAF-Africa for donors looking to have an impact on the direct and indirect health harms caused by COVID-19 around the world. Donations are useful relatively linearly up to a large total amount, for pooled purchases that secure better pricing for PPE across lower income countries; that PPE is targeted at key health actors in those countries (community health workers) who often cannot do their job without it; and the NGOs that make up CAF-Africa have credible experience with procurement, shipping, and last mile delivery. Community health workers carry out essential work related to (among other things) HIV, malaria, and COVID-19 prevention and care. High global demand for surgical masks and gloves in the pandemic has led to shortages, felt most acutely in lower income countries. I believe that health systems in the affected countries alone will not succeed in getting enough PPE to community health workers in the next few months, and existing multilateral actors like UNICEF will not either (though they make more sense for pooled procurement over the long term). We made a grant of $275,000 to CAF-Africa recently.

How to donate: You can donate here. CAF-Africa partner Direct Relief is managing donations on behalf of the partners.

4. Other policy causes – recommendations by Alexander Berger

4.1 International Refugee Assistance Project

What is it? The International Refugee Assistance Project is a legal advocacy organization that works to ensure safe resettlement options for refugees.

Why I suggest it: I think IRAP has been an effective advocate for expanding various legal channels for refugee resettlement to the United States, most notably in championing the special immigration visa for Iraqis and Afghans who worked with the U.S. military. They also played a key role in causing the protests against the travel ban at U.S. airports in early 2017, and have had a number of successes with litigation. They have grown rapidly over the past few years, so I think it’s harder than before to assess the impact of marginal funds, but I don’t know of another group that has a similar track record of cost-effectively expanding opportunities for people from low-income countries to be able to safely move to high-income countries.

How to donate: Donate here.

4.2 California YIMBY

What is it? California YIMBY (short for “yes-in-my-back-yard”) is a relatively new advocacy organization devoted to increasing the supply of housing in California.

Why I suggest it: California YIMBY is the most prominent group aimed at changing California state policies to allow more housing, which we see as a promising philanthropic opportunity because California has the worst housing supply problems nationally, which contributes to high poverty rates for low-income people and foregone economic growth. California is large enough that state policy reforms could make a meaningful dent in the national problem, but state policy reforms are not necessarily vastly harder here than in other places. Between reducing rents and allowing more people to be able to move to or remain in high-wage areas, we roughly estimate the social value of each new home in coastal California to be in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars, which means that even a very small improvement in the state’s housing policies could deliver a high return.

How to donate: Donate here. Note that CA YIMBY is a 501c4, not a 501c3, so your donations are not tax-deductible. Donating here may be relatively more attractive for you than others if you don’t itemize your deductions.

Suggestions for Individual Donors from Open Philanthropy Staff – 2019

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.


Suggestions are alphabetical by cause (with some assorted and “meta” suggestions last).

 

1. Criminal Justice Reform – recommendations by Chloe Cockburn, Jesse Rothman, and Michelle Crentsil

Note: The CJR program has a limited budget and many grantees we would support more generously if we could. Accordingly, the rest of this section will omit the “Why we aren’t fully funding it” section.

1.1 The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls

What is it? The National Council, founded and led by Andrea James, convenes, trains, connects, and drives policy campaigns with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls around the country. Their work ranges from hyper-local work (sometimes supporting groups that cover just a few blocks) to national. They focus on the incarceration of women, the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population. Their work also affects the larger field, as campaign tactics and strategies tested here can be expanded to the whole, and women are a more sympathetic population to start within moving transformative changes.

Why we recommend it: Andrea and her team, who are all formerly incarcerated, are in deep relationships with emerging leaders around the country. We think that they are best situated to identify the strongest leaders and efforts meriting support in this rapidly growing area of the field. For example, thanks to the Council, we met Dawn Harrington of Free Hearts and have supported that group. We feel very aligned with the National Council on commitment to impact, and trust them to make better decisions than we would in this area, and in so doing to lift up more groups that we and other major donors could fund at higher levels. Money to the National Council will increase their capacity to make subgrants and in other ways support emerging groups and leaders. We think that even small contributions will go a long way.

How to donate: Here’s a link to donate to the Council. If you’re interested in making a large (>$10,000) contribution, it’s helpful if you can contact us to help you and the organization manage contribution logistics.

1.2 Life Comes From It

What is it? Life Comes From It is a grants fund supporting restorative justice, transformative justice, and peacemaking work around the United States. Grants are limited to $25,000, and decisions are made by a circle of highly experienced practitioners. Chloe worked with restorative justice leader Sonya Shah to set up the fund after it became apparent that the restorative justice and related fields are nowhere near developed enough to be prepared for the types of political victories in favor of reform that groups around the country are fighting for and winning. The fund takes requests from many dozens of groups and will grant ~$900,000 in 2020, with funds raised from multiple donors. Chloe is the administrator of the fund but does not make grant decisions.

Why we recommend it: The practitioner circle that’s running the fund reports that they have more good opportunities for funding than they have resources, and that they would like to increase their funding to some existing grantees. They are the only potential source of funding for many groups that, in the future, are going to be at the forefront of implementing larger scale alternatives to jail and prison. Just as with the National Council, we are happy to see extremely qualified people, who are very close to the ground on their issue, and whose goals we are aligned with, make these decisions where funding goes.

How to donate: Here’s the link. If you’re interested in making a contribution over $5000, it’s helpful if you can email Sonya (link on the donation page) to make sure there are no hiccups in processing.

1.3 Worth Rises

What is it: Worth Rises identifies and challenges predatory corporate practices in prison and jail systems. Executive Director Bianca Tylek uses her background on Wall Street to focus on financial leverage points to change harmful practices. They have produced a good report on the thousands of companies profiting off of current systems, and have in the past year led an extremely successful campaign to challenge Securus, one of the largest prison services companies (which charges extraordinarily high rates for phone calls from jail and prison). As a result of their efforts, the private equity firm that owns Securus has been singled out by the press on multiple occasions, in ways that have (according to Worth Rises) substantially impacted their bottom line and ability to raise funds from major investors; Platinum is now restructuring the company to preserve its value. This has implications not only for the cost of phone calls, but for all private companies in the criminal justice space, the vast majority of which are owned by private equity.

Why we recommend it: Worth Rises has shown that it can have extremely leveraged impact on its targets. It’s a very satisfying organization to support in terms of watching a $100k contribution have a $100 million (or more) impact on the valuation of a harmful company. We think Bianca is an extremely capable leader and can do more with more. We note, however, that we think it will take a few more steps for them to have a clear impact on decarceration, but there are strong prospects for accomplishing that.

How to donate: Here’s the link to donate.

2. Farm Animal Welfare – recommendations by Amanda Hungerford, Lewis Bollard, and Persis Eskander

2.1 Wild Animal Initiative

What is it? The Wild Animal Initiative publishes research on wild animal welfare, raises awareness of wild animal suffering, and works to build an academic field for this research.

Why we recommend it: We think that wild animal welfare is a very important and neglected issue — there are trillions of wild animals alive at any time, yet almost no funding goes to evaluating and improving their welfare (as distinct from conserving their species or habitat). We’re not sure if there are any opportunities for improvements that are both clearly beneficial and tractable, but think the magnitude of suffering argues for doing more research to see if there could be. The Initiative is pursuing a promising research agenda and strategic plan, and have clear room for more funding. (Note that Persis Eskander co-founded Wild Animal Initiative before joining Open Philanthropy, and no longer contributes research.)

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We’re not currently funding non-academic research in this space.

How to donate: You can donate online here.

2.2 Sinergia Animal

What is it? Sinergia Animal is a Latin American group with a history of success securing cage-free commitments in that region (Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile). Sinergia has recently expanded its operations to Southeast Asia.

Why we recommend it: Southeast Asia is home to a large numbers of farmed animals, but receives relatively little attention from many donors and advocates. Sinergia has sought to fill that hole by working on cage-free corporate campaigns in Thailand and Indonesia, in collaboration with national organizations.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We’ve made grants to Sinergia Animal for their work in both Latin America and Asia, but are constrained by how much of their budget we’re comfortable being.

How to donate: You can donate online here, or for gifts >$5K, secure tax deductibility by donating via ACE (email Heather Herrell).

3. Other policy causes – recommendations by Alexander Berger

3.1 Center for Global Development

What is it? The Center for Global Development (CGD) is a think tank based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research on and promotes improvements to rich-world policies that affect the global poor.

Why I suggest it: I see CGD as the leading U.S. think tank focused on global development and as being unusually well-aligned with Open Phil’s values around the importance of evidence-based policy and cost-effectiveness (as well as, obviously, placing great weight on the prospects of the global poor). I think it has an unusually strong track record of impact, likely justifying its historical budget many times over. I don’t have a clear sense of what impact marginal funding is likely to have but see CGD as generally very worthy of support.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We gave CGD $1M/year for 3 years this June, and we also fund their migration program specifically. With general operating support for a mature institution like CGD, we don’t see a particularly obvious point of declining returns, though it is likely that at some point it would begin to save resources for the indefinite future rather than spending more reasonably soon. However, in the long run, we would guess that CGD benefits from having a diverse base of donors, and we would prefer not to provide so much support that CGD might become reliant on us.

How to donate: Donate here.

3.2 International Refugee Assistance Project

What is it? The International Refugee Assistance Project is a legal advocacy organization that works to ensure safe resettlement options for refugees.

Why I suggest it: I think IRAP has been an effective advocate for expanding various legal channels for refugee resettlement to the United States, most notably in championing the special immigration visa for Iraqis and Afghans who worked with the U.S. military. They also played a key role in causing the protests against the travel ban at U.S. airports in early 2017, and have had a number of successes with litigation. They have grown rapidly over the past few years. I don’t know of any other group that I regard as similarly promising in terms of cost-effectively expanding opportunities for people from low-income countries to be able to safely move to high-income countries.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We gave IRAP $1 million of general operating support at the beginning of 2019. However, we’re especially uncertain about the amount of funding we’ll dedicate to our immigration policy program in the long run, and are accordingly reticent for IRAP to become too dependent on our funding.

How to donate: Donate here.

3.3 California YIMBY

What is it? California YIMBY (short for “yes-in-my-back-yard”) is a relatively new advocacy organization devoted to increasing the supply of housing in California.

Why I suggest it: California YIMBY is the most prominent group aimed at changing California state policies to allow more housing, which we see as a promising philanthropic opportunity because California has the worst housing supply problems nationally, which contributes to high poverty rates for low-income people and foregone economic growth. California is large enough that state policy reforms could make a meaningful dent in the national problem, but state policy reforms are not necessarily vastly harder here than in other places. Between reducing rents and allowing more people to be able to move to or remain in high-wage areas, we roughly estimate the social value of each new home in coastal California to be in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars, which means that even a very small improvement in the state’s housing policies could deliver a high return.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We gave CA YIMBY $1M/year for two years in April, and don’t want to be their dominant funder.

How to donate: Donate here. Note that CA YIMBY is a 501c4, not a 501c3, so your donations are not tax-deductible. Donating here may be relatively more attractive for you than others if you don’t itemize your deductions.

4. Scientific Research – recommendations by Chris Somerville and Heather Youngs

4.1 Engineers Without Borders

What is it? Engineers Without Borders is an international organization that organizes and deploys teams of volunteer engineers to carry out engineering projects that empower underserved communities throughout the world to meet their basic human needs. The volunteers work with communities to create appropriate and sustainable solutions for their infrastructure needs.

Why we suggest it: We encountered this group while investigating solutions for off-grid refrigeration, and we were impressed by the basic concept and model.

Many of the health and quality-of-life problems around the world are due to lack of infrastructure such as lack of clean water, poor sanitation, inefficient use of fuels for cooking, and lack of refrigeration, which impacts medicines and food storage. Engineers Without Borders (EWB) has chapters in 65 countries and provides a gathering point for tens of thousands of engineers, including more than 10,000 engineering students and many tens of thousands of established engineers. It responds to requests for engineering project support from governments, international NGOs, United Nations agencies, local communities and other institutions who lack access to the necessary technical resources to address the engineering challenges facing some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. EWB recruits engineers who volunteer their time to work on the ground in needy communities around the world. We see EWB as both potentially very cost-effective and empowering in ways that do not duplicate other organizations. We also like that, upon returning to their home regions, EWB volunteers retain knowledge and connections to the communities where they have served and can provide an ongoing source of technical innovation and advice.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We currently support a project focused on designing off-grid refrigeration, and are just beginning to evaluate other opportunities. We see a very large need for improved infrastructure.

How to donate: Donate to the international organization here and the USA chapter here.

5. Assorted recommendations – by Claire Zabel

5.1 Organizations supported by our Committee for Effective Altruism Support

What is it? Within the space of longtermist effective altruist organizations, there are several organizations we fund using a committee mechanism. These are organizations we think may be doing a lot of good, but have unusually intangible or difficult-to-assess activities and/or outputs. That’s a large part of why we decided to experiment with a committee mechanism for funding the organizations, and it’s also one of the reasons (coupled with the growing size of the organizations) that we prefer not to be too large a fraction of the organizations’ budgets.

In this recommendation, I am attempting to speak for the committee rather than as an individual (and I ran this post by the other committee members prior to sending it).

The organizations are:

Why we suggest it: We think 80,000 Hours, CEA, and FHI are all reasonable donation targets for individual donors who find the case for longtermist effective altruism compelling.

80,000 Hours and CEA provide a variety of services to the larger EA/longtermist communities, largely at either a fairly high quality level, or at a level we think is on a positive trajectory. We think providing these services well is highly valuable to building up the field of people working on longtermism and effective altruism, a goal which we think could, if achieved, play a critical role in multiple cause areas we prioritize.

FHI does a wide variety of activities, and our best guesses about the expected value of their work varies substantially between those, but we likewise think that the average presents a fairly good giving opportunity for a longtermist donor.

GPI houses philosophy and economics research about global priorities at Oxford University. We hope that this will result in more thoughtful attention to global priorities in these fields, and, in the long run, facilitate more thoughtful approaches to thinking about how to do good. GPI’s current research is primarily focused on longtermism.

The cases for MIRI and Ought likely require a couple of additional premises: one needs to (a) find the case for working on reducing the risks from transformative AI plausible and (b) think their specific approaches are worth supporting. However, if you hold those beliefs, then we think they present fairly compelling donation opportunities.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: Our views on why we don’t want to fully fund these organizations, and organizations in general, are sometimes difficult to convey. There are a few reasons we don’t want to fully fund these organizations:

  • We think there are other donors who are interested in and fairly well-positioned to evaluate the relevant organizations, and so it’s feasible for those organizations to fundraise from other funders.
  • We generally don’t like to be too large a proportion of an organization’s budget when we believe that the previous condition holds. This is a heuristic-driven preference that doesn’t have a single easy-to-offer explanation, but a couple of things driving it are:
    • A desire to avoid an organization’s being too dependent on us, especially when we don’t plan to put commensurate effort into evaluating it and holding it accountable. Being in this position can raise the stakes on our view of the organization beyond what we feel is appropriate, given the amount of time we’re putting into assessing it; it can also make it overly difficult for us to wind down support if we become less enthusiastic about the organization in the future.
    • A desire to avoid a situation in which Open Philanthropy’s being interested in an organization actively discourages other donors from giving to it.
    • A preference for organizations to have multiple funders paying attention to them and critically evaluating them, on the view that different funders will often notice different relevant considerations.
    • (Note that we don’t have a hard-and-fast rule on this front. We will sometimes be comfortable providing the overwhelming majority of an organization’s support when conditions apply such as: (a) we are highly confident in the organization and/or our ability to assess its outputs and progress; (b) we are highly confident in our ability to exit if we become less enthusiastic; (c) we are supporting a relatively early-stage organization at a relatively low level in the hopes it will pull in more support later; (d) we feel there are no other realistic sources of funding.)
  • Many of these specific organizations are expanding quickly, and if we fully funded them and didn’t encourage them to cultivate relationships with other funders, that might come at a (substantial) cost to the amount of funding we reserve for other forms of longtermist giving.

How to donate:

  • You can donate to 80,000 Hours here
  • You can donate to the Centre for Effective Altruism here
  • You can donate to the Future of Humanity Institute here
  • You can donate to the Global Priorities Institute here
  • You can donate to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute here
  • You can donate to Ought here

5.2 Personal suggestions

Last year, Luke shared some suggestions that I (Claire) think continue to be good suggestions for individuals interested in effective altruism/longtermism:

Within the domains I understand best (transformative AI safety and strategy, effective altruism community-building, and improving institutional decision-making), several of the best funding opportunities I’ve seen in previous years now have less room for more funding than was previously the case, in part due to receiving funding from Open Philanthropy.

As a result, my personal donation strategy is to fund a mix of the following:

  • Small one-time opportunities that seem (to me) to have higher expected value than Open Philanthropy’s last dollar, and for which I have lots of context that would be more time-consuming to communicate to another funder than the monetary cost can justify. An example would be to buy a new laptop for a likely high-impact person who I know well and who is low on savings because they are transitioning to a higher-impact career and had an unexpected financial setback.
  • One or more of the Effective Altruism Funds.
  • The EffectiveAltruism.org donor lottery.

My hope is that, as the effective altruism community’s stock of well-trained grant investigators (at Open Philanthropy and elsewhere) begins to “catch up” to the amount of available funding (from Open Philanthropy and others), even better funding opportunities will be identified. I am confident that better funding opportunities for individual donors exist, but for the most part, I do not have the time to identify and vet them. That said, for a variety of reasons I prefer to donate at least once per year rather than hold my money for future opportunities. If you have similar views and values to me, and want to donate soon rather than hold your funding, you might want to follow the strategy outlined above.

Suggestions for Individual Donors from Open Philanthropy Project Staff – 2018

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.


Suggestions are alphabetical by cause (with some assorted and “meta” suggestions last).

 

1. Criminal Justice Reform – recommendations by Chloe Cockburn

1.1 The National Council

What is it? The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, led by Andrea James, seeks to end the incarceration of women and girls. They have a membership of roughly 5,000 women and girls (which they seek to grow), many of whom are affiliated with organizations and campaigns. The Council provides these members technical support, complex coalition building assistance, training, and other resources that assist local initiatives. The Council had its first national conference this year in Tulsa, OK, with roughly 400 people attending.

Why I suggest it: Focusing on women is a good leverage point: women comprise roughly 10% of all people in America who are in prison or jail on a given day, which is a small portion, but they are a very quickly growing portion. Due to the relatively small numbers, it could be possible to reduce the incarceration of women to extremely low levels state by state (some states have only one prison in the state). Making that kind of progress in the area of women may positively impact the overall work to reduce incarceration in America, by showing how much change is possible.

This is an overlooked area: Very little funding has gone specifically to reduce the incarceration of women and girls in the past. Each marginal dollar at this stage makes a large difference in this sub-cause area. Moreover, because the National Council is a relatively small-budget organization, which makes sub-grants to organizations with even smaller budgets, even small contributions can have an impact.

I am particularly confident in the strength of Andrea’s leadership and the power of the community she is building through the Council. It is unusual to find an organization that is on track to achieve national impact where small gifts can make a difference; I think the National Council is one such group.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: Open Philanthropy wants to encourage other funders to support the National Council so that the organization is not overly dependent on us for funding. In 2018, we provided more than 50% of this organization’s budget.

How to donate: For donations up to $5,000, give here. Or, mail a check to:

National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls
100 R Warren Street
Roxbury, MA 02119

For donations larger than $5,000, please email [email protected] to be put in contact with organizational staff.

1.2 The Texas Organizing Project

What is it? The Texas Organizing Project is a multi-issue basebuilding group that started in Houston, and has grown to include Dallas and San Antonio. It does non-profit and electoral work through different arms. Since 2016, TOP has focused intensively on criminal justice reform as a top issue of concern to its membership base, and has engaged intensively in both electoral and accountability work for prosecutors in their main jurisdictions.

Why I suggest it: Unusual opportunity for impact: Four of the top seven counties in the country by prison admissions are in Texas: Houston, Dallas, Bexar (San Antonio), and Tarrant (Fort Worth). In the past two years, TOP has played a major role in electing new, forward-thinking prosecutors (DAs) in the first three of these counties. This is a significant opportunity to transform the lives of people in these cities and, by extension, national incarceration numbers (since the volume of cases is so high, what happens in these counties impacts the country).

Unusually strong organization: TOP is a sophisticated organization that has a track record of being accountable to its base, following through on its commitments, and aggressively pursuing impact. Moreover, TOP has the strong leadership, good strategic vision, discipline, and organizing chops needed to coherently organize community justice reform demands and push newly elected prosecutors and other county officials to meet those demands.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: Open Philanthropy wants to encourage other funders to support TOP so that the organization is not overly dependent on us for funding. In 2018, we provided more than 50% of this organization’s criminal justice reform budget.

How to donate: Donate up to $5,000 online here. Or, mail a check to:

Texas Organizing Project
Attn: Michelle Tremillo
2404 Caroline St.
Houston, TX 77004

For gifts over $5,000, email [email protected] to be connected to the organizational staff.

2. Farm Animal Welfare – recommendations by Lewis Bollard and Amanda Hungerford

2.1 EA Animal Welfare Fund

What is it? The EA Animal Welfare Fund, which Lewis chairs alongside three other fund managers, seeks to identify and fund the most promising neglected opportunities to reduce animal suffering. These typically end up being smaller groups in neglected nations (e.g. Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines) or on neglected topics (e.g. EA animal advocacy research, wild animal welfare).

Why we recommend it: The EA Fund is a simple way to support a more diverse portfolio of groups than you could easily support directly. Past rounds of re-grants (e.g. here, here, and here) have supported 38 projects across 20 countries. Because the fund is disbursed by four managers who work close to full-time in this space, it can draw on their knowledge of new opportunities and information about existing groups you may not be aware of. (Of course, there’s a converse risk that this cements groupthink within the movement, so if you have independent views on what works — or are aware of other unique opportunities — you may not want to support the fund.)

Why we haven’t fully funded it: Open Phil typically makes grants directly, rather than via an intermediary like the EA Fund, which is better suited to individual donors.

How to donate: You can donate online here.

2.2 The Humane League

What is it? The Humane League (THL) campaigns globally to ban the most extreme forms of factory farming cruelty and to build a vibrant farm animal movement.

Why we recommend it: THL has played the biggest role of any group in securing more than 1,000 corporate animal welfare pledges that advocates have achieved globally over the last five years. It has directly won pledges via hard-hitting US corporate campaigns to eliminate battery cages and the worst abuses of broiler chickens from their supply chains. And it has contributed to international victories via its Open Wing Alliance, which supports a coalition of 58 groups around the world to secure pledges from Brazil to Poland. We’ve also been consistently impressed by THL’s focus on building a vibrant farm animal movement, through recruiting and retaining talented staff, supporting grassroots activism, and working closely with other groups.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We recently made a $10M grant over 3.5 years to The Humane League. We didn’t fully fund THL’s room for more funding because we don’t like to be too significant a portion of a group’s budget.

How to donate: You can donate online here.

3. Other policy causes – recommendations by Alexander Berger

3.1 Center for Global Development

What is it? The Center for Global Development (CGD) is a think tank based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research on and promotes improvements to rich-world policies that affect the global poor.

Why I suggest it: I see CGD as the leading U.S. think tank focused on global development and as being unusually well-aligned with Open Phil’s values around the importance of evidence-based policy and cost-effectiveness (as well as, obviously, placing great weight on the prospects of the global poor). I think it has an unusually strong track record of impact, likely justifying its historical budget many times over. In a 2017 conversation, CGD COO Amanda Glassman reported that CGD’s unrestricted funding had grown from ~20% to ~33%, but that they’d like to reach 40% unrestricted and currently only raise 2% of their operating budget from individuals. I don’t have a clear sense of what impact marginal funding is likely to have but see CGD as generally very worthy of support.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We gave CGD $1M/year for 3 years in February 2016, and are in the process of considering renewal; we also fund their migration program specifically. With general operating support for a mature institution like CGD, we don’t see a particularly obvious point of declining returns, though it is likely that at some point it would begin to save resources for the indefinite future rather than spending more reasonably soon. However, in the long run, we would guess that CGD benefits from having a diverse base of donors, and we would prefer not to provide so much support that CGD might become reliant on us.

How to donate: Donate here.

3.2 International Refugee Assistance Project

What is it? The International Refugee Assistance Project is a legal advocacy organization that works to ensure safe resettlement options for refugees.

Why I suggest it: I think IRAP has been an effective advocate for expanding various legal channels for refugee resettlement to the United States, most notably in championing the special immigration visa for Iraqis and Afghans who worked with the U.S. military. They also played a key role in causing the protests against the new administration’s travel ban at U.S. airports in early 2017, and have had a number of recent successes with litigation. They have grown rapidly over the past few years, from a ~$1.6M budget in 2016 to ~$4.5M in 2018, but have continued to achieve policy victories that seem commensurate with their new scale and to suggest that ongoing growth is warranted. My understanding is that expanding their model to Europe, which strikes me as a promising opportunity, is one of several potential priorities for marginal funds. I don’t know of any other group that I regard as similarly promising in terms of cost-effectively expanding opportunities for people from low-income countries to be able to safely move to high-income countries.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We gave IRAP $700K of general operating support over two years in 2016 and anticipate recommending another $1M over two years when they complete their spin out from the Urban Justice Center (their fiscal sponsor). However, we’re especially uncertain about the amount of funding we’ll dedicate to our immigration policy program in the long run, and are accordingly reticent for IRAP to become too dependent on our funding.

How to donate: Donate here.

4. Assorted recommendations – by Luke Muehlhauser

Within the domains I understand best (transformative AI safety and strategy, effective altruism community-building, and improving institutional decision-making), several of the best funding opportunities I’ve seen in previous years now have less room for more funding than was previously the case, in part due to receiving funding from Open Philanthropy.

As a result, my personal donation strategy is to fund a mix of the following:

  • Small one-time opportunities that seem (to me) to have higher expected value than Open Philanthropy’s last dollar, and for which I have lots of contexts that would be more time-consuming to communicate to another funder than the monetary cost can justify. An example would be to buy a new laptop for a likely high-impact person who I know well and who is low on savings because they are transitioning to a higher-impact career and had an unexpected financial setback.
  • One or more of the Effective Altruism Funds.
  • The EffectiveAltruism.org donor lottery.

My hope is that, as the effective altruism community’s stock of well-trained grant investigators (at Open Philanthropy and elsewhere) begins to “catch up” to the amount of available funding (from Open Philanthropy and others), even better funding opportunities will be identified. I am confident that better funding opportunities for individual donors exist, but for the most part, I do not have the time to identify and vet them. That said, for a variety of reasons I prefer to donate at least once per year rather than hold my money for future opportunities. If you have similar views and values to me, and want to donate soon rather than hold your funding, you might want to follow the strategy outlined above.

Suggestions for Individual Donors from Open Philanthropy Project Staff – 2017

Last year and the year before, 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). Note that interested staff wrote separately about where they personally donated, in this post.
  • 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.


Suggestions are alphabetical by cause (with some assorted and “meta” suggestions last).

 

1. Biosecurity and Pandemic Preparedness – suggestions from Jaime Yassif

1.1 Center for International Security and Cooperation program on Biosecurity and Global Health

What is it? The Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford is a university-based center that does policy research and development in the international security space. CISAC was founded 34 years ago and has a long history of working on nuclear issues; it has done some limited work on biosecurity over the last decade.

CISAC has been looking to expand the scope of its biosecurity work, and it has partnered with its parent institute, the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) for International Studies, to launch a new initiative in this area. FSI and CISAC are trying to raise funds to get this initiative off the ground. They are looking to hire program staff to run in-house biosecurity projects and to support collaborative projects with faculty in other departments at Stanford and with partners outside the university. The program staff would also like to develop new biosecurity courses.

Recent biosecurity publications by CISAC staff include:

Why I suggest it: I think independent science and technology policy research and advocacy is an important means of developing new ideas for reducing biological risks; in some cases these ideas can influence practices in industry and academia and shape decision-making within governments. More specifically, I think developing new approaches to governance of dual-use bioscience is particularly important for reducing global catastrophic biological risks (GCBRs). This view stems from my working assumption that engineered pathogens pose some of the most acute risks for large-scale pandemics that can spread quickly, have a high case fatality rate and circumvent existing medical countermeasures.

I think CISAC has a comparative advantage in working on the technical aspects of biosecurity and developing new approaches to governance of dual-use bioscience and biotechnology. My view is based on the Center’s existing biosecurity staff, its ties to bioscience departments at Stanford and its location in Silicon Valley, which is a biotech industry hub. CISAC’s in-house biosecurity experts, David Relman and Megan Palmer, are both thought leaders in the field, and the Center collaborates with other faculty at Stanford, who have deep technical knowledge and biosecurity expertise. Examples include Drew Endy, a bioengineering professor and a leader in the synthetic biology field, and Tim Stearns, chair of the Biology Department and a member of JASON, an independent group that provides scientific advice to the US Government on national security issues.

Contributions to CISAC could have a significant impact on its activities because the Biosecurity Initiative currently has very limited funds. CISAC’s biosecurity project ideas are under development, and they’re likely to include some GCBR-relevant work, but I don’t have specifics about planned projects. If it can hire additional staff to get this initiative up and running, I think the Center has the potential to make a valuable contribution in governance of dual-use bioscience and biotechnology, and potentially other areas like biosecurity education and field building.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: Open Philanthropy is supporting Megan Palmer’s work at CISAC, but I haven’t yet prioritized investigating and making the case internally for a broader programmatic grant. I’ve been weighing this type of grant-making opportunity against opportunities in other areas within biosecurity and pandemic preparedness, and that prioritization work is still in process. I estimate that CISAC/FSI can productively absorb at least $1M-$2M per year for its biosecurity work.

Write-up forthcoming? No.

How to donate: Visit this site. Under ‘How to Give’ Select ‘Centers, Institutes and More’ and ‘Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies’. Under Special Instructions, list the Biosecurity Initiative. Interested parties can also contact Michelle Townsend at [email protected]

1.2 Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

What is it? The Center for Health Security (CHS) is a U.S.-based think tank that does policy research and development in biosecurity and pandemic preparedness (BPP), along with some communications and advocacy. Most of the organization’s work focuses on BPP issues that are broadly relevant to reducing global catastrophic biological risks, and a substantial portion of its activities–at least one third–is specifically focused on GCBRs.

Examples of ongoing GCBR-focused projects include a red-teaming project to improve our understanding of global catastrophic risks and a project focused on identifying technologies that could be used to reduce global catastrophic biological risks. CHS has also initiated a public discussion about GCBRs by publishing a working definition of this concept, which has started to get a little bit of traction in policy circles.

CHS is also doing valuable work on BPP issues more broadly. This work includes running track II (nongovernmental) biosecurity dialogues with partners in India, which we view as important in light of India’s rapidly growing biotechnology sector. In addition, CHS is weighing in on high-priority policy issues, for example this analysis of the Trump Administration’s 2018 proposed budget for programs in the biosecurity and pandemic preparedness space. We view this as a valuable contribution because it’s otherwise very difficult to track US government spending in this area; this analysis serves as a source of accountability by making government BPP spending more transparent. Another example is this commentary on the security risks associated with recent work on synthesis of the horsepox virus, which has implications for the synthesis of more dangerous viruses like smallpox.

Why I suggest it: Think tanks and advocacy groups can have a large impact in the BPP space by influencing and improving the use of government funds through policy research and development, acting as an independent source of accountability, and having the flexibility to work on long-term projects or politically controversial issues. They can also conduct research and develop innovative ideas that are useful to private donors, industry and academia.

I think CHS is among the best organizations to support because it has an excellent track record of producing quality research, analysis, and policy recommendations and a strong team that combines expertise in bioscience, medicine, public health and security. CHS is also a trusted source of independent advice to the US Government, and it is developing relationships with government partners in other key countries.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: Open Philanthropy supports approximately 75% of CHS’ budget, and the rest of its funding comes primarily from the US Government. We haven’t fully funded CHS because we think the organization will be stronger and more effective if it has additional funders, including government and private donors. I estimate that the organization can absorb an additional $500K per year.

Write-up: The write-up of our grant to CHS is here.

How to donate: Go to this site. In the “Please designate my gift to support” field at the top of the form, select “other (please specify).” In the “Please describe” field that appears immediately below, type in “Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.” Complete the remaining required fields in the form and click “Submit” at the bottom-right corner of the page.

2. Criminal Justice Reform – suggestions from Chloe Cockburn

2.1 Good Call

What is it? Good Call is a nonprofit that runs a free 24/7 arrest hotline, allowing anyone to connect with a free lawyer right away if they or a loved one are arrested. There are over 14 million arrests in the US every year, concentrated in low income communities. Despite the fact that most people are arrested for low level offenses, roughly 500,000 people are held in jail awaiting trial on any given day. Good Call’s service (currently operating in the Bronx, and preparing to expand across NYC and to other cities around the country), helps prevent costly, unnecessary pretrial jail time by ensuring that people who are arrested and their families get legal advice as quickly as possible.

You can read more about their work in this New York Times feature from this summer.

Why I suggest it: Spending even one night in jail can have significant detrimental effects – making it more likely that a person will plead guilty, and putting their housing, employment, parental status, and other key components of their lives in jeopardy. I think Good Call is a good fit for marginal dollars because it reports strong outcomes, it’s an innovative approach that uses a known pathway (legal representation is clearly a good thing), and the impact of the giving should be pretty clear to donors.

Why I’m not fully funding it: Good Call is not currently a grantee. It has not been an obvious fit because my portfolio focuses on more upstream, structural interventions (policy change, for example), and because I think this is an organization that many other, lower-risk funders are likely to see the value of and support.

How to donate: click here.

2.2 Court Watch Nola

What is it: Court Watch Nola (CWN) is a New Orleans based court watching program that engages 100-200 volunteers on an annual ​basis (having trained over 1000 over the past 10 years) to witness court proceedings and take detailed notes on what they observe. CWN compiles data from these notes into reports issued regularly, such as this one. To my knowledge, it is the largest and most rigorous court watching program in the country, notwithstanding which its budget has traditionally run about ​​200k ​a year. In 2017, information gathered by CWN contributed to substantially increased scrutiny of the New Orleans District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, who was found to be issuing fake subpoenas and jailing sexual assault victims for refusing to testify.

Additional funding to CWN allows it to expand the number of trainings it gives to new court watchers, and will allow it to expand staff capacity to be responsive to the requests regularly made to the program ​for guidance and assistance from other developing court watching programs around the country.

Why support it: CWN believes, and I agree, that systemic change comes if directly-impacted people and the community at large ​are actively engaged in the process of legal education, direct observation and data collection. Court monitoring, observation and the collection of data can empower the people most affected by the criminal justice system to ultimately lead movements to improve the policies that affect their lives.

Court watching programs lower the barrier to entry for regular people to hold the CJ system accountable. They also can change outcomes in specific cases: the presence of court watchers ​in the courtroom, especially in the case of CWN where they carry highly-recognizable clipboards and bring the credible threat of exposure of bad behavior, has the reputation of impacting sentences, ​​pre-trial violations that can result in jail, and bail determinations. CWN goes beyond other court watching programs I know of by publishing regular reports, aggregating the data they have collected in order to bring transparency to the court’s overall operations. Other outcomes of CWN’s reports include: winning access for the public to bail hearings, pushing the sheriff to stop recording attorney-client calls in the jail, and this year pressuring the New Orleans DA to stop issuing fake subpoenas.

Why we don’t fully fund it: We have made two grants to CWN, one for $25k and one for $100k. I am very enthusiastic about court watching but have not been able to provide additional funding thus far due to competing priorities in my portfolio.

How to donate: click here.

3. Farm Animal Welfare – suggestions from Lewis Bollard

3.1 Compassion in World Farming USA

What is it? Compassion in World Farming USA is one of four groups responsible for the major recent US corporate wins for layer hens and broiler chickens. (The others are The Humane League, the Humane Society of the US Farm Animal Protection campaign, and Mercy for Animals.) Its focus is on winning further corporate reforms for broiler chickens and ensuring that corporate cage-free pledges are implemented.

Why I suggest it: CIWF has a strong track record of success: most recently it helped secure new broiler chicken welfare pledges from Nestle, Unilever, and Moe’s, and launched EggTrack to push companies to fulfill their cage-free pledges. It also has a talented leader in Leah Garces, and solely focuses on what I believe to be one of the most cost-effective interventions: corporate outreach for layers and broilers. But it remains a ~$600K/year group, perhaps partly because it isn’t an ACE top charity (though it did become a standout charity this year) and partly perhaps because corporate outreach work is harder to fundraise for. At this size, I think that small donors can make a bigger marginal difference in the group’s future — especially since CIWF USA needs a broader donor base to grow sustainably.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: In April of 2016, we made a two-year $550K grant to CIWF USA, which filled much of its room for more funding at the time, and we later made it a $30K grant to support a specific project. I’ve separately recommended a total of $50K in additional grants to CIWF USA via the EA Fund for Animal Welfare that I manage for the Centre for Effective Altruism. We likely will recommend more funding over time, but we’re constrained in how much we give by not wanting any group to be overwhelmingly dependent on our funding.

Writeup: Here.

How to donate: You can donate here.

3.2 Wild-Animal Suffering Research — a project of the Effective Altruism Foundation

What is it? WAS – Research is a new initiative of the Effective Altruism Foundation to fund the research of Ozy Brennan, Persis Eskander, and Georgia Ray. They’re seeking to found a new research field focused on understanding and improving the wellbeing of wild animals.

Why I suggest it: I think that wild animal welfare is a very important and neglected issue — there are trillions of wild animals alive at any time, yet almost no funding goes to evaluating and improving their welfare (as distinct from conserving their species or habitat). I’m not sure if there are any opportunities for improvements that are both clearly beneficial and tractable, but think the magnitude of suffering argues for doing more research to see if there could be. I think that Ozy, Persis, and Georgia are some of the most promising researchers currently in the field (although I agree with them that “in my ideal world the [wild animal welfare] field would consist of conservation biologists, wildlife managers, ecologists, ethologists and other people who can apply their academic knowledge to the question of improving wild animal welfare”). They have clear needs for more funding, which I don’t expect other funders to fully address, though I have recommended a $50K grant to fill half of these needs via the EA Animal Welfare Fund.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We’re not currently funding wild animal welfare work. The cause is distinct enough from farm animal welfare (and carries distinct enough risks) that we would want to carefully consider an entry into this area.

Writeup forthcoming? No.

How to donate: You can donate here.

4. Potential Risks from Artificial Intelligence – suggestions from Daniel Dewey

Disclaimer: I (Daniel Dewey) spend most of my time thinking about how the Open Philanthropy Project can use its resources and capabilities to mitigate potential risks from AI. I think this is a very different question from how an individual donor can best use their funding to mitigate potential risks from AI. I’m giving suggestions in case they are helpful, but I would encourage individual donors to do their own investigations and read arguments from many different people.

4.1 EA Funds Long-Term Future Fund

This is a fund managed by Nick Beckstead, who also works at the Open Philanthropy Project. You can see more details about this fund here. This is where I give the portion of my personal donations aimed to make a difference to the long-term future. My basic reasoning is that money goes further in this space when it can be given in larger amounts by an executor who has the time and experience required to think carefully, communicate with grantees, and help develop new projects or extend existing projects in significant ways. I personally trust Nick Beckstead’s judgement and think he’s a good representative of my values, which makes the EA Funds Long-Term Future Fund a good fit for me.

How to donate: follow instructions on the EA Funds website.

4.2 Academic AI safety work via donor lottery

A donor lottery was recenly announced on the Effective Altruism Forum. While I think it is generically difficult for a small donor to make effective academic grants, a donor lottery could collect enough funds and give the executor of the lottery enough time to make an academic grant supporting technical AI safety work. The most straightforward execution I can see is that the executor of a lottery could contact me in order to figure out how to add more funds to existing academic projects (e.g. MILA, Stanford), which I think could be competitive with other uses of money to mitigate potential risks from AI. (Thanks to Carl Shulman for this idea.)

How to donate: follow directions on the donor lottery announcement post.

4.3 The Future of Humanity Institute

In addition to the basic case for FHI I gave last year, I currently think that FHI is the organization with the best shot at producing AI strategy and governance researchers. I don’t have a detailed model of how marginal funds given to FHI will play a role in producing those researchers, but I still expect funds on the current margin to increase the expected number of AI strategy researchers in some way.

We granted FHI $1,995,425 earlier this year, and are in the process of evaluating another large grant; I think it makes sense to ask whether marginal funds from individual donors are likely to make a difference to FHI’s activities. Unfortunately, I think it’s very difficult to answer this question confidently. FHI’s activities change a lot from year to year, there’s not a simple model that I know of for how marginal dollars translate into activities, and the translation of dollars into impact is even more difficult since most of FHI’s expected impact would come in the long-term future through indirect effects of their work.

In the absence of a concrete model, I still feel good about suggesting FHI to individual donors; I think it’s reasonable to expect additional funds on the current margin to improve the quantity and quality of work they do, though I can’t say exactly how this will play out.

How to donate: I would suggest supporting FHI either by donating to the collaboration between FHI and the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative (by visiting this page and adding “For BERI’s collaboration with FHI” in “special instructions for to the seller”) or by donating directly to FHI on their site. I think that marginal funds to the BERI/FHI collaboration are slightly more flexible, but I don’t think that the difference in effectiveness is very significant.

4.4 Center for Human-Compatible AI (CHAI)

The Center for Human-Compatible AI is an academic research center primarily housed in UC Berkeley’s EECS department. You can find our initial grant writeup here. Since our initial grant, I think there has been some evidence that CHAI is having a positive impact on the growth of the technical AI safety field. Most notably, the CHAI paper Inverse Reward Design was accepted as an oral presentation at NIPS 2017, making it the most well-received (by mainstream AI/ML academics) AI safety paper that I know of, and CHAI researchers have reported that many PhD applicants mention AI safety as a possible research focus when applying to Berkeley’s AI PhD program.

How to donate: I would suggest supporting CHAI by donating to the collaboration between CHAI and the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative (by visiting this page and adding “For BERI’s collaboration with CHAI” in “special instructions for to the seller”) or by contacting CHAI directly if you are planning to make a large donation.

4.5 Machine Intelligence Research Institute

See suggestions from me and Nick Beckstead last year, and our most recent grant writeup.

How to donate: follow directions on MIRI’s website.

5. Assorted suggestions from Nick Beckstead

My suggestions have slightly changed relative to my suggestions last year. I’ll state my new ranking and then comment briefly on some reasons for changes. I am leaving out much of my reasoning because I don’t know how to share it explicitly without substantial additional work.

My suggestions for individual donors are as follows (in descending order of preference, organized by category):

  1. Very meta suggestions:
    1. If you already know what to give to and you don’t think your decision would change if you thought about it more or let someone more informed decide on your behalf, give there.
    2. If you know someone who is likely to make a better decision than you would on your own, ask them to allocate your giving. If you think that person should be me, donate to the Long-term Future Fund. This might be a good fit for people who have some combination of the following properties: interest in global catastrophic risks, context needed to assess my track record, trust in my judgment, limited time/context available to make donation decisions themselves.
    3. If you are uncertain where to donate and uncertain who to trust to donate on your behalf, participate in a donor lottery and then only think carefully about donations if you win.
  2. My next suggestion, which I consider not far behind, would be to donate to FHI or MIRI. I don’t have much of an opinion between the two of them. If you do donate to FHI, I would suggest donating to BERI and earmarking the funds for use at FHI’s discretion. (Note that I used to work at FHI.)
  3. My next suggestion, which I consider not far behind, would be to donate to CEA, 80,000 Hours, or my EA Community Fund. I don’t have much of an opinion between the three of them. (Note that I am a board member of CEA, and 80,000 Hours is part of CEA.)
  4. My next suggestion is to support a biosecurity organization suggested above, or possibly Dave Denkenberger’s ALLFED. These suggestions are based on a lower level of understanding and offered more tentatively. I don’t necessarily think these are the “next best bets” from a long-term perspective, but I offer them because I could imagine favoring these areas over AI safety or developing the EA community if I were more skeptical of the ability of people’s ability to anticipate and meaningfully prepare for AI.

The main updates relative to last year’s suggestions are that:

  1. I now tentatively favor work directly focused on AI safety over work promoting effective altruism. I’m not fully sure what caused this update over the last year, but the main factors are probably: (i) I am now more impressed with the track records of MIRI and FHI, including their ability to bring talented people to work on their causes, than I was previously; (ii) the EA community could potentially contribute to these areas by recruiting additional funds to support them, but that appears to me to be a less important bottleneck than it did previously; (iii) some of my friends have arrived at similar conclusions, though I’m not sure if their reasons are the same.
  2. If you want to offer funds for me to regrant at my discretion, I now prefer that you donate through the Long-term Future Fund.
  3. I no longer favor MIRI over FHI because I see fewer differences in terms of room for more funding.
  4. I no longer favor biosecurity over nuclear weapons as a cause by as much as I used to. This is partly due to a tentative decrease in my estimate of the probability of global catastrophe from the use of bioweapons that occurred when I thought through an internal spreadsheet prepared by Claire Zabel as part of our work on biosecurity and pandemic preparedness.
  5. Within nuclear weapons, my (less informed) pick has changed from Ploughshares Fund to Dave Denkenberger’s ALLFED. This change was partly based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations I did and partly based on learning more about nuclear weapons policy via conversations that Claire Zabel had.

I’ve limited my suggestions to organizations that focus on effective altruism and global catastrophic risks (and not short-to-medium-term factory farming or global poverty) because those are a couple of the areas I consider to have highest expected altruistic returns and know most about.

Suggestions for Individual Donors from Open Philanthropy Project Staff – 2016

Last year, 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 last year 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 recommender thinks they’re the best option available across all causes). Note that interested staff wrote separately about where they personally donated, as part of GiveWell’s post on staff members’ personal donations.
  • 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 recommendation to 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. A couple of situations in which this can apply:
    • There are cases where we feel an organization would specifically benefit from a broad base of support, often because this would improve its credibility.
    • There are cases where we make a grant to fill what we see as an organization’s most important funding needs, but feel the organization could still do productive work with more funding. In these cases, there is often a wide range of funding that could be justified, and we often determine our exact grant size non-systematically and somewhat arbitrarily. In the process of putting together this post, we’ve reflected on this fact, and we are likely to put more work into refining (and writing about) our principles for such situations in the future.
  • 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 recommendation.

Suggestions are alphabetical by cause (with some assorted and “meta” suggestions last).

1. Biosecurity and Pandemic Preparedness – recommendation by Jaime Yassif

1.1. Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense

What is it? The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense is a bipartisan group of former high-level policymakers and government officials with experience and interest in public health preparedness, biosecurity, and biodefense. It is co-chaired by former Senator Joe Lieberman and Governor Tom Ridge, who was the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

In 2015, the Panel issued a report that comprehensively assessed U.S. biodefense efforts and provided 33 recommendations to improve them. They also began developing congressional and Executive Branch support for these proposals, which culminated in several congressional hearings discussing their recommendations. Going forward, the Panel plans to continue its efforts to improve U.S. biodefense policy, including implementation of these recommendations.

Why we recommend it: We think supporting this general type of work can make an impact because the U.S. government spends more money on biosecurity than any other organization in the world; accordingly, U.S. biodefense policy and programs have a large influence on global biosecurity.

We think the Panel’s work, if successful, has the potential to impact the U.S. government in two ways:

  • Creating policy change via new legislation and/or Executive Branch action.
  • Bringing the importance of biodefense to the attention of policymakers and creating champions for these issues in Congress.

While U.S. biodefense goals are not perfectly aligned with the Open Philanthropy Project’s goal to reduce global catastrophic risks from pandemic pathogens, there is substantial overlap between these two mission areas, and progress on this front seems feasible.

The Study Panel’s track record to date gives us some confidence that the next phase of its work will be effective. We believe that the 33 recommendations in its 2015 report are practical and largely uncontroversial, and have been generally well received within government. We generally agree with the majority of the Panel’s recommendations, though a handful of them are lower priority from our perspective. We also see some preliminary evidence that the Panel’s work has already had an impact on policy.

The Study Panel plans to identify three to five of its 33 recommendations as focus areas for the next phase of its advocacy work. We think this strategy makes sense and that the following planned activities for the coming year are particularly important:

  • Outreach to members of Congress and the new Administration. The Study Panel has hired a government relations firm to support its staff, increase its presence on the Hill, build new relationships with policymakers, and strengthen existing relationships–with the goal of increasing the likelihood of policy impact.
  • Hosting public meetings
  • Producing reports that describe recommended policy changes and offer guidance on how to implement them
  • The Study Panel has hired two communications firms to help with public outreach, including through traditional and social media.

Why we haven’t fully funded it:
We provided a $300,000 grant in 2015 to support the Panel’s initial work, and we renewed our support with a $1.3M grant in 2016 for activities through the end of 2017. When we made our most recent grant, we expected that other organizations would help meet the Panel’s remaining funding needs for this time period, but that hasn’t happened. We are considering topping up our grant to the Panel, but even with increased funding from Open Philanthropy we think they can still absorb additional funds.

A grant top-up from us would provide the Panel with the amount of money they requested for a defined set of activities that are focused on improving U.S. biodefense policy. But there isn’t a hard cut-off for the amount of money they can absorb to continue doing useful work. Valuable activities, like public appearances by Panel members and communications & outreach, can continue to be scaled up with additional funding without placing an undue burden on the core staff running the organization.

Writeup: A write-up about our most recent $1.3M grant is available here, and information about our original $300K grant is available here.

How to donate: Make checks payable to: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Send to Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, ATTN: Robert Zambreny, 901 N. Stuart Street, Suite 1200, Arlington, VA 22203. Please include a note stating that your donation is for the purpose of supporting the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense. Donors can also call Robert Zambreny at 703-525-0770 to donate using other methods of payment.

2. Criminal Justice Reform – recommendations by Chloe Cockburn

2.1 Alliance for Safety and Justice

This recommendation is substantially the same as last year’s.

What is it? The Alliance for Safety and Justice is a national organization that aims to reduce incarceration and racial disparities in incarceration in states across the country, and replace mass incarceration with new safety priorities that prioritize prevention and protect low-income communities of color. ASJ aims to build on the successful strategies of Californians for Safety and Justice and its sister organization, Vote Safe, the 501c4 that launched and ran the successful Proposition 47 campaign in 2014 and Proposition 57. Californians for Safety and Justice’s leadership, Ms. Lenore Anderson and Mr. Robert Rooks, launched Alliance for Safety and Justice to take the best of what they’ve achieved in California and support other state advocates in winning substantial reductions in state incarceration. The Alliance for Safety and Justice aims to build durable capacity in partner states for sentencing reform; develop a national networking center of gravity to strengthen reform efforts in as many states as possible across the country; and popularize new safety priorities through crime survivor organizing and strategic communications.

Why I recommend it: We have unprecedented national attention to justice reform, yet we have seen only slight decreases in incarceration in the states (CA and NY aside, and racial disparities and spending are still extreme). The failure to convert attention to wins is due in part to criminal justice reformers’ failure to articulate a forward-thinking vision of safety without extreme incarceration, as well as the very limited capacity at the state level to get durable wins – most states don’t have an organization on the ground focused on reducing incarceration at all, let alone one with the capacity to successfully win and sustain reforms. There is almost no civic engagement capacity built on this issue, there are limited mainstream partnerships, and limited political influence (no organized candidate and campaign influencers). ASJ is an ambitious, large-scale effort to address exactly these problems, with the best possible leadership for the job. Lenore’s and Robert’s work on the successful California Proposition 47 and 57 campaigns was impressive.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: Given the amount we’re aiming to allocate to criminal justice reform as a whole, my portfolio has too many competing demands for us to offer more. In addition, I think having a diversified donor base would be good for ASJ, so at this point $X from an individual probably helps them more than an additional $X from us.

Writeup: see our general support grant from earlier this year.

How to donate: Click here and choose “Alliance for Safety and Justice” from the drop-down.

2.2 Cosecha

What is it? Cosecha is a group organizing undocumented immigrants in 50-60 cities around the country. Its goal is to build mass popular support for undocumented immigrants, in resistance to incarceration/detention, deportation, denigration of rights, and discrimination. The group has become especially active since the Presidential election, given the immediate threat of mass incarceration and deportation of millions of people. Their goal is to raise $500,000 in the next few months; they have raised $200,000 so far. Incremental amounts of money are put to good use, and the overall impact may be very large. The organization was built to escalate and absorb energy as trigger events in the world push more people to become active on issues like immigration.

Why I recommend it: I’m a big fan of organizing, but I admit that most organizers don’t have a precise explanation of how their methods work and what the impacts are. Carlos Saavedra, who leads Cosecha, stands out as an organizer who is devoted to testing and improving his methods, who has deeply studied the cycles of social movements in the United States and in other countries, and is honed in on strategies and tactics that show evidence of impact. He is a rigorous, skeptical thinker, taking leadership in a space of low predictability and high energy. Based on his approach, and the fact that I think Cosecha can do a lot of good to prevent mass deportations and incarceration, I think his work is a good fit for likely readers of this post.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: Given the amount we’re aiming to allocate to criminal justice reform as a whole, my portfolio has too many competing demands for us to offer more.

Writeup: we will be publishing a grant page later, but probably no detailed writeup.

How to donate: Click here.

3. Farm Animal Welfare – recommendations by Lewis Bollard

3.1 Animal Charity Evaluators

What is it? Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) seeks to find and promote the most effective ways to help animals via research and donor outreach. Its charity recommendations provide guidance to small donors looking to support effective animal groups, while its outreach seeks to build a community of effective altruists committed to animal issues.

Why I recommend it: ACE does a lot on a small budget (~$300K in projected expenses this year), and serves an important role within the animal movement by providing critical research, guiding small donors, and advocating for a focus on efficacy. Although I originally had major reservations about the quality of ACE’s research — especially its reliance on flawed studies — I’ve been impressed by ACE’s willingness to update based on criticisms and new information. And while I don’t agree with all of its research or recommendations, I think its top charities list provides good guidance for small donors. I’m also increasingly confident in its ability to put more funds to good use, especially in pursuit of its goals to attract more donors toward supporting effective animal advocacy.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: I will soon start working on an investigation and recommendation for an ACE grant, but even assuming that goes through I see value to ACE having a broad support base to (a) signal to groups that donors care about its recommendations, (b) raise its profile, and attract more donors, and (c) allow it to invest in longer-term development, e.g. higher salaries (i.e. without fear of expanding with a fragile support base).

Writeup forthcoming? Likely not.

How to donate: you can donate online here.

3.2 Compassion in World Farming USA

What is it? Compassion in World Farming USA is one of four groups responsible for the major recent US corporate wins for layer hens and broiler chickens. (The others are The Humane League, the Humane Society of the US Farm Animal Protection campaign, and Mercy for Animals.) It’s now focused almost exclusively on winning further corporate welfare reforms for broiler chickens.

Why I recommend it: I personally plan to support all four of the groups mentioned above, but think the case is especially strong for CIWF USA for small donors. First, we’re already funding roughly half its budget, so we’re restricted in supporting it significantly more (see below). Second, it’s small so donations can go further. Third, it’s exclusively focused on the corporate outreach strategy I’m most excited about, whereas the other groups pursue multiple strategies.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: In April, we made a two-year $550K grant to CIWF, which filled much of its room for more funding at the time. I think it’s now likely ready to absorb more funds, and we’re limited in our ability to provide all of them by the public support test and a desire to avoid being the overwhelming funder of any group.

Writeup: Here.

How to donate: you can donate online here.

4. Potential Risks from Artificial Intelligence – recommendations by Daniel Dewey

4.1 Machine Intelligence Research Institute

What is it? See our grant writeup for a description of the organization and their work.

Why I recommend it:

Highlights of factors in favor of supporting MIRI from our recent grant writeup, listed in order of the importance I would assign them:

  • “MIRI constitutes a relatively ‘shovel-ready’ opportunity to support work on potential risks from advanced AI because it is specifically focused on that set of issues and has room for more funding… If we had decided to pursue maximal growth for MIRI, we would have awarded a grant of approximately $1.5 million per year, and would likely have committed to two years of support.” As far as we can tell, there are very few such opportunities in this area.
  • “MIRI strikes us as assigning an unusually high probability to catastrophic accidents and as being pessimistic about the difficulty of implementing robust and general safety measures. We believe it is likely beneficial for some people in the field to be focused on understanding the ways standard approaches could go wrong, which may be something MIRI is especially well-suited to do. In general, it seems valuable to promote this kind of intellectual diversity in the field.”
  • “Though we have strong reservations about MIRI’s past research, we see our evaluation as uncertain. If MIRI’s research is higher-potential than it currently seems to us, there could be great value in supporting MIRI, especially since it is likely to draw less funding from traditional sources than most other kinds of research we could support.”
  • “We believe that MIRI has had positive effects (independent of its technical research) in the past that would have been hard for us to predict, and has a good chance of doing so again in the future.”
  • “We see a possibility that MIRI’s research could improve in the near future, particularly because some research staff are now pursuing a more machine learning-focused research agenda.”

There are a few additional reasons that I think MIRI is a reasonably strong option for individual donors:

  • In my view, there is no other organization so fully focused on global catastrophic risks from advanced AI.
  • I believe that MIRI is unusually good at focusing on the interventions they think will be most effective; though I disagree with their judgement, I think this property is very valuable.
  • Given high uncertainty about this area in general and MIRI in particular, I think it is even more important than usual to maintain a diverse funding culture and to ask individual donors to make their own judgements. I remain uncertain about what level of support for MIRI is best, and I wouldn’t recommend interpreting Open Phil’s funding as decisive evidence.

Why we haven’t fully funded it:

We have strong reservations about MIRI’s past research. Quoting our writeup:

“While we are not confident we fully understand MIRI’s research, we currently have the impression that (i) MIRI has made relatively limited progress on the Agent Foundations research agenda so far, and (ii) this research agenda has limited potential to decrease potential risks from advanced AI in comparison with other research directions that we would consider supporting. We view (ii) as particularly tentative, and some of our advisors thought that versions of MIRI’s research direction could have significant value if effectively pursued.”

We had trouble weighing the strengths against the reservations, and the ultimate size of our grant was fairly arbitrary and put high weight on accurate signaling about our views:

“we felt a case could be made for any figure between $0 and $1.5 million per year (the latter being enough that MIRI would no longer prioritize fundraising and would expand core staff as fast as possible, as discussed above). We ultimately settled on a figure that we feel will most accurately signal our attitude toward MIRI. We feel $500,000 per year is consistent with seeing substantial value in MIRI while not endorsing it to the point of meeting its full funding needs. “

It’s worth noting that we are likely to fund MIRI at the same level next year, but two years from now it’s likely that our funding will either increase or decrease.

Writeup: here.

How to donate: Donate here.

4.2 Future of Humanity Institute

What is it? The Future of Humanity Institute is a small academic research group at the University of Oxford that studies “big-picture questions for human civilization”, including strategic and technical questions about how advanced AI could pose existential risks and how these risks could be mitigated. Nick Bostrom (FHI’s director) and other FHI staff were among the first to research potential risks from advanced AI. Bostrom and FHI also played a significant role in bringing further attention and funding to these problems, largely through the 2014 book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.

Why I recommend it:

  • FHI is one of few “shovel-ready” opportunities in potential risks from advanced AI.
  • Bostrom’s Superintelligence, written with the help of FHI staff, is the best existing analysis of potential risk from loss of control of very powerful AI systems. It played a significant role in bringing further attention, funding, and legitimacy to this topic.
  • FHI has been collaborating with Google DeepMind on potential risks from advanced AI (e.g. Stuart Armstrong’s work with Laurent Orseau).
  • FHI has recently invested in machine learning expertise by hiring Owain Evans, and by hosting David Krueger (from Yoshua Bengio’s lab) and Jan Leike (formerly full-time at FHI, now moved to DeepMind). I think providing a good environment for good AI and machine learning researchers to work on potential risks from advanced AI is very promising, especially if these researchers move on to high-profile academic and industry labs.
  • FHI has little unrestricted funding, and has trouble getting funding for things that academic grants typically underfund (e.g. personal assistants, external contractors, hires with fewer formal qualifications).

Why we haven’t fully funded it:
We’re in the process of recommending a grant to FHI, but I would prefer to maintain diversity in their sources of funding, and I think individual donors are well-placed to do so. We are trying to give FHI substantially more financial flexibility than it’s had in the past, but additional donations beyond our grant would provide further flexibility, and we think this has value.

Writeup: forthcoming.

How to donate: donate here.

5. Assorted recommendations by Nick Beckstead

5.1 General/”meta” suggestions

My suggestions for individual donors are as follows (in descending order of preference, organized by category):

  1. Very meta suggestions:
    1. If you already know what to give to and you don’t think your decision would change if you thought about it more or let someone more informed decide on your behalf, give there.
    2. If you know someone who is likely make a better decision than you would on your own, give them your money and let them decide what to do with it. If you think that person should be me, donate to the “EA Giving Group” DAF (as I am doing, as explained here). This might be a good fit for people who have some combination of the following properties: interest in effective altruism and/or global catastrophic risks, context needed to assess the DAF’s (still early) track record, trust in my judgment (I’m one of two decision-makers for the DAF), limited time/context available to make donation decisions themselves. If you want to make a contribution to this DAF, then fill out this form.
    3. If you are uncertain where to donate and uncertain sure who to trust to donate on your behalf, participate in a donor lottery and then only think carefully about donations if you win. As explained in the linked post, there is currently an easy way to try this out.
  2. My first object-level tier of recommendation is “give to one of 80,000 Hours, CEA, FHI, or MIRI” (alphabetical order). For each of these organizations, Open Phil either has given them a grant or is in the process of deciding whether to give them a grant. I don’t have very strong opinions about which are better uses of additional funds, and room-for-more-funding considerations and uncertainty about likely level of support from Open Phil play a significant role in my uncertainty about which to recommend. My recommendations there are (in order for the two categories below, categories presented in order of preference):
    1. Potential risks from advanced AI: Donate to MIRI. (I currently see more of a funding gap there than at FHI. FHI is my second choice for this category. Note that I used to work at FHI.)
    2. Effective Altruism Community: Donate to 80,000 Hours. (The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) is my second choice in this category. Note that I am a board member of CEA, and 80,000 Hours is part of CEA.)
    3. Note: There’s an internal debate about how conservative vs. aggressive to be on grants supporting organizations like these with, I think, legitimate arguments on both sides. I tend to favor larger grants to organizations in these categories than other decision-makers at Open Phil. That is large part of the reason that I think there are, or are likely to be, any funding gaps in these areas. My inclusion of CEA and 80,000 Hours is also potentially sensitive to timing because I have not yet made a recommendation to Open Phil. It’s plausible we’ll support them at a level where I don’t see additional funding as particularly urgent.
  3. Biosecurity and pandemic preparedness: Donate to whatever Jaime and Howie recommend.
  4. Nuclear weapons policy: Donate to Ploughshares Fund.

I’ve limited my suggestions to organizations that focus on effective altruism and global catastrophic risks (and not short-to-medium-term factory farming or global poverty) because those are a couple of the areas I’m most excited about and know most about.

5.2 Machine Intelligence Research Institute

My reasoning is largely the same as Daniel Dewey’s (above), but I would add a few points in favor of donating to MIRI:

  1. Paul Christiano and Carl Shulman–a couple of individuals I place great trust in (on this topic)–have argued to me that Open Phil’s grant to MIRI should have been larger. (Note that these individuals have some connections to MIRI and are not wholly impartial.) Some other people I significantly trust on this topic are very non-enthusiastic about MIRI’s work, but having a couple of people making the argument in favor carries substantial weight with me from a “let many flowers bloom”/”cover your bases” perspective. (However, I expect that the non-enthusiastic people will be less publicly vocal, which I think is worth keeping in mind in this context.)
  2. My understanding is that MIRI is meaningfully funding-constrained right now, with at least a couple promising researchers they could be hiring on a trial basis but are not due to lack of funding.
  3. In contrast, FHI seems relatively less funding constrained at the moment.
  4. My impressions about potential risks from advanced AI have grown closer to Eliezer Yudkowsky’s over time, and I don’t think it would be too surprising if that movement on my end continues. I see additional $ to MIRI as an appropriate response to potential/anticipated future updates.

You can donate here.

5.3 80,000 Hours

What is it? 80,000 Hours provides free career advice (primarily aimed at young people) on its website and through workshops. Its advice is offered from an effective altruist perspective.

Disclaimer: I’m a board member of the Centre for Effective Altruism, which 80,000 Hours is part of, so that’s a potential source of bias.

Why I recommend it:

  • I think they have a good track record of causing people to change their career plans based on receiving their advice, and they have had a good rate of growth over the last couple of years (with their monthly rate of “impact-adjusted plan changes” tripling annually). A couple of years ago, I spent some time looking at some of the plan changes they were claiming, and I got the impression that they were meaningful and not empty statistics.
  • I think it’s very important that their target audience have access to good advice and make good decisions about their careers, and I am aware of little other high-quality work on this problem.
  • I feel that I have a good understanding of their work, and that their Executive Director is good at explaining their plans and progress.
  • They are trying to expand a number of programs this year, and I expect that they’ll have more room for more funding than usual.

Why we haven’t fully funded it:

  • We considered funding them several months ago, but decided to wait until they had completed some pilot projects and re-assess around this time.
  • Over the next month or two, we’ll consider whether to make a grant.
  • If we do make a grant, I think there’s a good chance they could productively use additional funds from other donors for a couple of reasons. First, my enthusiasm for supporting specific grants to support the effective altruism community has been higher than other decision-makers’ at Open Phil, and we’ve given less than I’ve been inclined to recommend in some other cases. Second, we would not want to be more than 50% of 80,000 Hours’ funding in any case (for coordination/dependence reasons).

Writeup: not available.

How to donate: Donate here.

5.4 Ploughshares Fund

My reasons for recommending them this year are the same as my reasons for recommending them last year. Open Phil is likely to consider a grant to the Ploughshares Fund this year, though.

Suggestions for Individual Donors from Open Philanthropy Project Staff

The Open Philanthropy Project looks for outstanding giving opportunities, but its target audience is large institutional donors – unlike GiveWell’s top charities work, which targets individual donors. Some individuals have expressed interest in hearing whether there are any organizations we’ve come across, in our work on the Open Philanthropy Project, that they might consider donating to.

For this post, I polled the Open Philanthropy Project team and asked whether there are any organizations they think are reasonably strong options for individual donors, based on their Open Philanthropy Project work. The recommendations are listed below, along with some brief reasoning and information about how to donate.

Some caveats to these recommendations:

  • 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 recommender thinks they’re the best option available across all causes). For example, Alexander suggests two groups in causes he’s worked on, but he personally gave to top charities this year (as did I).
  • 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 recommendation to 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. (These tend to be larger organizations.)
  • In the cases below, we don’t yet have a public writeup making the case for these organizations. Unlike with GiveWell top charities, we don’t prioritize having writeups completed by the holiday season. As a result, our explanations for why these are strong giving opportunities are very brief and informal, and we don’t expect individuals to put weight on them unless they trust the judgment of the person making the recommendation.

Summary of the recommendations:

If you decide to support one of these organizations based on our recommendations, please let us know.

Criminal Justice Reform – recommendations by Chloe Cockburn

Alliance for Safety and Justice

What is it? The Alliance for Safety and Justice is a new national organization that aims to reduce incarceration and racial disparities in incarceration in states across the country, and replace mass incarceration with new safety priorities that prioritize prevention and protect low-income communities of color. ASJ aims to build on the successful strategies of Californians for Safety and Justice and its sister organization, Vote Safe, the 501c4 that launched and ran the successful Proposition 47 campaign in 2014. Californians for Safety and Justice’s leadership, Ms. Lenore Anderson and Mr. Robert Rooks, are launching Alliance for Safety and Justice, to take the best of what they’ve achieved in California and support other state advocates in winning substantial reductions in state incarceration. Alliance for Safety and Justice will aim to build durable capacity in partner states for sentencing reform; develop a national networking center of gravity to strengthen reform efforts in as many states as possible across the country; and popularize new safety priorities through crime survivor organizing and strategic communications. Note that ASJ does not yet have a public website.

Why I recommend it: We have new and unprecedented national attention to justice reform, yet we have seen only slight decreases in incarceration in the states (CA and NY aside, and racial disparities and spending are still extreme). The failure to convert attention to wins is due in part to the very limited capacity at the state level to get durable wins – most states don’t have an organization on the ground focused on reducing incarceration at all, let alone one with the capacity to successfully win and sustain reforms. There is almost no civic engagement capacity built on this issue, there are limited mainstream partnerships, and limited political influence (no organized candidate and campaign influencers). ASJ is an ambitious, large-scale effort to address exactly these problems, with the best possible leadership for the job. Lenore’s and Robert’s work on the successful California Proposition 47 campaign was impressive.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: ASJ is seeking to raise upwards of $10 million in the coming year, and the Open Philanthropy Project is limiting the amount we grant on criminal justice reform for the time being as we get to know the space better. I have recommended a grant of $1.75 million from Open Philanthropy along with a $250,000 individual gift from Cari Tuna. If it weren’t for limits to our grantmaking on criminal justice reform, I would have recommended $5 million, and even then I’d want to leave room for other donors. In addition, I think having a diversified donor base would be good for ASJ, so at this point $X from an individual probably helps them more than an additional $X from us.

Writeup forthcoming? Yes

How to donate: Click here, choose “Californians for Safety and Justice” from the drop-down, and put “Alliance for Safety and Justice” in the field following “I want my donation to be dedicated:”

Bronx Freedom Fund

What is it? The Bronx Freedom Fund posts bail for people charged with low-level offenses in the Bronx who can’t afford to pay and who would otherwise be forced to await trial in jail. Bronx defendants who qualify for the Fund can have their bail posted with no contribution from them and spend that time before trial home with their families. Defendants released pretrial are far more likely to have positive resolutions to their cases (those who can’t post bond often end up pleading guilty just to get out of jail), so the benefits include not only less incarceration, but also fewer convictions. The Bronx Freedom Fund discusses the impact of its work here.

Why I recommend it: This is an excellent option for individuals looking to immediately impact incarceration in a relatively concrete and linear way. The Bronx Freedom Fund keeps approximately 150 people out of jail per year with about $90,000 out at a time in bails posted. They could do more with more, including expanding their assistance to other boroughs. The Fund provides an unusually cost-effective model: when defendants make all of their court appearances, bail is returned which means the vast majority (the Fund has a 97% appearance rate) of dollars donated revolves to help multiple cases and lives. The Bronx Freedom Fund also provides assistance to other cities working to start up bail funds. Finally, the benefits aren’t just immediate – the Bronx Freedom Fund has helped lay the groundwork for systemic bail reform, since the high reappearance rates for people released through the Fund demonstrate that money bail, which provides freedom only to those who can afford it, is not necessary to ensure court appearance.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: So far I have prioritized other grants, which I think are a more pressing use of our funds and less of a fit for other donors. I think the Bronx Freedom Fund is an excellent choice, though if I had to choose between it and ASJ, I’d choose ASJ.

Writeup forthcoming? No

How to donate: donate here.

Farm Animal Welfare – recommendations by Lewis Bollard

The Humane League

What is it? The Humane League seeks to reduce the suffering of the billions of farm animals confined, mutilated, and inhumanely slaughtered around the world. It has three main programs: institutional cage-free and meat reduction campaigns, online ads to raise awareness of farm animal suffering, and grassroots organizing to build a national movement.

Why I recommend it: As a lean organization that achieves a large amount on a small budget, The Humane League is a good bet for a small donor. I’m impressed by its pragmatic approach: it seems genuinely interested in sparing the most animals from the most suffering per dollar spent. Its corporate cage-free campaigns seem to be particularly cost-effective — generating pledges that will spare millions of hens from extreme confinement for small sums spent — and it’s our priority to support these, though I think the other activities are valuable as well. I believe The Humane League has played an important role in the successful campaigns to date and is positioned to play a major role in more going forward, and can use additional funding productively.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We’re currently working toward a decision on a grant, but the decision hasn’t been made yet. If we did recommend a grant, it would be to meet THL’s needs for corporate campaigns (what we consider its most effective activities), not its full organization-wide funding gap.

Writeup forthcoming? Yes

How to donate: via Network for Good

The Humane Society of the United States Farm Animal Protection campaign

What is it? The Farm Animal Protection campaign of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) drives corporate farm animal welfare reforms, institutional meat reduction pledges, and increased public attention to farm animal suffering. It also conducts undercover investigations, lobbies for state laws and federal regulations to protect farm animals, and campaigns for ballot measures to outlaw the cruelest confinement systems in factory farming. (Disclosure: I previously worked at HSUS, and am friends with the leaders of the Farm Animal Protection campaign.)

Why I recommend it: The HSUS Farm Animal Protection campaign has been the key player in driving major animal welfare pledges from U.S. corporate giants. In particular, it has helped secure pledges from over 100 corporations — from Aramark to Dunkin’ Donuts — to ditch gestation crates, battery cages for hens, or both. These reforms have already reduced the suffering of millions of animals, and are on track to reduce the suffering of millions more. Its Meatless Monday campaigns and undercover investigations are raising awareness of factory farming and reducing the number of animals forced to endure it.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We’re currently working toward a decision on a grant, but the decision hasn’t been made yet. If we did recommend a grant, it would be to meet HSUS’s needs for corporate campaigns (what we consider its most effective activities), not its full funding gap

Writeup forthcoming? Yes

How to donate: you can donate online here.

Other policy causes – recommendations by Alexander Berger

Center for Global Development

What is it? The Center for Global Development (CGD) is a think tank based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research on and promotes improvements to rich-world policies that affect the global poor.

Why I recommend it: I see CGD as the leading US think tank focused on global development and as being unusually well-aligned with GiveWell’s values around the importance of evidence-based policy and cost-effectiveness (as well as the obvious overlap in being concerned about how actions of the global rich can be better channeled to improve the lot of the global poor). Several times during its 15-year history, CGD seems to have a played a causal role in decisions affecting billions of dollars directed towards the global poor, though it is of course very difficult to trace the impact of those decisions through to improved humanitarian outcomes. Despite its apparently strong track record, CGD has less unrestricted support than it would like (<25% currently vs ~1/3 ideally), and its communications and (especially) policy teams seem very small relative to other think tanks.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We’re planning to recommend a 3-year grant of $1M/year, which would close much but not all of the gap between CGD’s current level of unrestricted funding and where they would like to be. This amount is a bit arbitrary: CGD told us that the most unrestricted funding that it would ideally like to receive from a single source is $2M/year, its current largest unrestricted funder is the Hewlett Foundation, at $1.2M/year, and we asked for projections about how they would spend $200K, $500K, or $1M more per year. With general operating support for a mature institution like CGD, we don’t see a particularly obvious point of declining returns, though it is likely that at some point it would begin to save resources for the indefinite future rather than spending more reasonably soon. However, in the long run, we would guess that CGD benefits from having a diverse base of donors, and we would prefer not to provide so much support that CGD might become reliant on us.

Writeup forthcoming? Yes, hopefully within a few weeks. We’ve also made a previous unrestricted grant to CGD and a grant to support CGD’s migration work.

How to donate: Donate here.

Center for Popular Democracy’s Fed Up Campaign

What is it? The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive national advocacy group that works with community groups across the country, is running a campaign (“Fed Up”) that aims to encourage more expansionary monetary policy and greater transparency and public engagement in the governance of the Federal Reserve (“the Fed”).

Why I recommend it: I see three basic reasons to support the campaign’s goals:

  • I think the Fed is probably going to raise interest rates more than it should. I see the disagreement here as stemming largely from values differences: the Fed currently tends to weigh a point of inflation about the same as a point of unemployment, and I think a humanitarian perspective would weigh the latter more heavily. This may be partially because the Fed is currently more likely to be blamed if inflation moves too high than if unemployment remains higher than necessary or inflation stays below target longer than necessary.
  • It is quite likely that there will be another recession that returns interest rates to the zero lower bound in the next few years, and having an active group pushing the Fed to do more at that point may lead to a more balanced set of political pressures acting on the Fed and give them the political space to do (proportionally) more than they were able to in the Great Recession.
  • The campaign’s procedural goals around increasing the transparency and accountability of the Fed, and particularly of the regional Federal Reserve Banks, strike me as worthwhile, though I have no idea how to estimate their humanitarian value.

And while the Federal Reserve is, appropriately, fairly insulated from outside pressure, the campaign has had surprising success during its first ~18 months in drawing press attention and access to policymakers. Overall, I see this as a substantially more complicated and risky case than the vast majority of grants we make, and I readily recognize that I could be mistaken.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We think the humanitarian stakes of monetary policy decisions are very high, and that many more funders would be engaged if the stakes were more widely understood, so part of our goal is to create a field of actors in this area that other funders could eventually support. To increase the incentives for other funders to engage, we’re planning to match contributions to the campaign during the next year, up to $1M.

Writeup: A February 2015 grant writeup is here; we’re planning another writeup in the next couple months.

How to donate: Donate here.

Nuclear Arms as Global Catastrophic Risk – recommendation by Nick Beckstead

Ploughshares Fund

What is it? Ploughshares Fund is a public operating foundation that “seeks to reduce and eventually eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons.” Since the U.S. and Russia possess 95% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, Ploughshares Fund has a Washington policy focus. Its annual budget is around $8 million; about $5.5 million is spent on grants, with over $1 million for its own programmatic activity. The organization’s advocacy focuses on global nuclear arms control treaties (including defending existing ones), influencing U.S. nuclear posture, limiting expenditures on nuclear weapons systems, and promoting nuclear arms control champions in the U.S. House and Senate. Ploughshares Fund provides grants for groups and individuals to produce expert reports, articles, op-eds, town hall meetings, briefings for Congress and other advocacy tools.

In addition to ongoing efforts to stop a new nuclear arms race, Ploughshares Fund most recently received attention for its advocacy work on the Iran nuclear deal. It believes its “Iran Campaign” helped create the “political space” required to resolve the nuclear impasse with Iran by convening and funding a network of 85 organizations and 200 experts and advocates. Ploughshares stated to us that this network furnished government officials with expert analysis, produced first-hand reporting on the status of negotiations, provided rapid response fact checks, and mobilized U.S. public support for the final nuclear agreement. For more, see recent articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Currently, Ploughshares Fund is focused on U.S. policy toward Iran and limiting additional expenditures on the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.

Why I recommend it: Advocacy work – in contrast with policy analysis or demonstration projects – appears relatively neglected in the nuclear weapons policy world. I have a limited understanding of the organizations that work on nuclear weapons policy advocacy issues, but Ploughshares Fund seems like a good bet in that area because:

  • Ploughshares Fund is the largest funder in the field focused on advocacy.
  • Ploughshares Fund is seeking additional funding.
  • We found Ploughshares Fund helpful when we spoke to their President and Executive Director in order to get an overview of the field.
  • They are the main grantee of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, which is the other major foundation in this space that is focused on advocacy.

Nuclear weapons policy work abroad is arguably more neglected than such work in the U.S., but I have too limited understanding of work going on outside of the U.S. to recommend any individual organization.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We haven’t taken the time to investigate how Ploughshares Fund would use additional funding, and nuclear arms risk isn’t a focus of ours for the time being: we have prioritized biosecurity and pandemic preparedness and potential risks from advanced artificial intelligence more highly.

Writeup forthcoming? No

How to donate: Donate here.

Biosecurity and pandemic preparedness as Global Catastrophic Risk – recommendation by Howie Lempel

UPMC Center for Health Security

What is it? The UPMC Center for Health Security is a think tank that works to protect people’s health from epidemics (caused by natural pathogens or by accidents or deliberate misuse of biotechnology) and other disasters. Their work includes researching these threats and designing policy to address them, informing decisionmakers, and developing the biosecurity community by connecting experts in science, medicine, public health, law, social science, national security, and other fields. Much of this work is targeted toward mitigating potential global catastrophic risks although a substantial portion of it is also targeted toward smaller threats. A few examples of recent work by UPMC scholars that I am aware of are:

  • A Delphi Study that analyzed the biosecurity community’s collective judgment about threats from bioweapons.
  • Several publications ( 1, 2, 3) related to the current U.S. policy debate on how the federal government should evaluate the risks of funding certain types of “gain of function” research (research that might increase the transmissibility or pathogenicity of influenza, SARS, or MERS).
  • A discussion paper on mitigating risks related to developments in synthetic biology.
  • The Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative, which builds the biosecurity community by identifying, developing, and providing networking opportunities to potential new leaders in the space.
  • Many examples of lending their expertise by speaking and testifying at hearings and meetings.
  • The Center is running a multilateral strategic dialogue on strengthening biosecurity for Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the US, which works to improve prevention and response to deliberate biothreats, epidemic response, and biosafety.

Why I recommend it:

We have identified biosecurity and pandemic preparedness as an area receiving relatively significant attention from the public sector but fairly little philanthropic funding. In this situation we believe that think tanks and advocacy groups may have particularly high impact by influencing and improving the use of government funds through policy research and development, acting as an independent source of accountability, and having the flexibility to work on long-run and/or politically controversial issues.

I do not know every organization working in the field but I perceive the UPMC Center for Health Security to be the most influential think tank working on health security issues and to be generally well-respected in the field. They seem to be the go-to source of expertise for many health security issues and are one of a small handful of organizations that combine expertise in science, medicine, public health, and security. I have heard particularly positive reviews of their Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative, which is one of the only institutions I’m aware of that provides multidisciplinary networking and development opportunities for the biosecurity field.

Why we haven’t fully funded it: We haven’t taken the time to investigate the UPMC Center for Health Security’s track record in detail or how the organization would use additional funding. We’re currently prioritizing hiring over grantmaking when it comes to biosecurity.

Writeup forthcoming? No

How to donate:Write a check to UPMC Center for Health Security and send it to their address at: UPMC Center for Health Security, 621 East Pratt Street, Suite 210, Baltimore, Maryland 21202. The Center also requests that you include a simple explanation of why you decided to contribute.