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80,000 Hours — General Support

Ben Todd, 80,000 Hour's CEO (left), and Robert Wiblin, the organization's Director of Research (right), discuss their research. (Photo courtesy of 80,000 Hours)
Organization Name 
Award Date 
3/2017
Grant Amount 
$1,125,000
Purpose 
To support the work of 80,000 Hours.
Topic (focus area) 

Published: May 2017
Grant investigator: Nick Beckstead

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. 80,000 Hours staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project awarded a grant of $1,125,000 to 80,000 Hours for general support. 80,000 Hours provides free career advice on its website and in-person, targeted at talented young people who want to use their careers for social impact. It plans to use this grant to hire several new staff, increase staff salaries, and expand its marketing.

Background

This is one of a small number of grants we are making to support organizations focused on expanding and supporting the effective altruism (EA) community. More on our interest in this space here.

About the grant

Budget and proposed activities

80,000 Hours plans to use the grant to fund the following activities:

  • Hiring four new junior staff members (or perhaps a smaller number of more senior ones): one researcher to improve 80,000 Hours’ career guide and career profiles; one person to do career coaching; one software engineer to replace a part-time staff member who is leaving; and a fourth person to do either research, career coaching, or marketing.
  • Increasing staff salaries by about 30% from previously low levels, to match comparable organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area (to which 80,000 Hours has recently moved).
  • Marketing activities including online retargeting advertisements, Facebook advertisements for workshops targeted at universities, and giving away books. The marketing budget includes $125,000 for year 1 and about $375,000 for year 2; the funds for year 2 will be released only if results from year 1 are favorable.
  • A substantial fraction of the funds will be held in reserve for year 2.

We expect to recommend another grant to 80,000 Hours at the beginning of 2018, with the amount recommended being whichever of the following is smallest:

  • $1.25 million
  • The amount 80,000 Hours raises from other donors in 2017
  • The amount necessary for 80,000 Hours to have $3.75 million in its bank account

We roughly estimate that this will result in a recommendation of between $750,000 and $1.25 million.

Case for the grant

We believe that 80,000 Hours has a good track record of causing people to change their career plans. As of the end of November 2016, it reports about 1,500 “impact-adjusted significant plan changes” (IASPCs) since it was founded in 2011, with about 900 of those occurring in 2016.1 We believe that a significant portion of the total IASPCs resulted from each of the following:

  • 80,000 Hours’ in-person efforts (e.g. workshops and coaching)
  • Its web outreach (i.e. people came to the 80,000 Hours website from a search, earned media, or links from websites not affiliated with effective altruism)
  • People who would have made similar plan changes around the same time independent of 80,000 Hours’ work as a result of other parts of the effective altruism community

There is also a significant portion of IASPCs for which we are unsure which of the above was the main cause.

80,000 Hours designed “1 IASPC” to be about as valuable in expectation as a Giving What We Can pledge2 (though the benefits are more varied and are less donation-centric). Plan changes that it judges as substantially more or less valuable than this are rated as 0.1s or 10s. (More about this weighting system here.3) 80,000 Hours staff have told us that it has, as a historical average, spent about £472 per IASPC.4 Nick Beckstead, who led our investigation for this grant (“Nick” throughout this page), is fairly confident that at least half of the IASPCs are meaningful and valuable; of those that seem meaningful and valuable, he assigns weightings fairly similar to 80,000 Hours for most of the 1-rated plan changes (though in general he’d rate the 10s as somewhat more valuable and the 0.1s as somewhat less valuable). Nick is unsure how 80,000 Hours’ expected marginal cost per unit impact going forward compares with its historical average, but thinks it has a favorable expected return.

We arrived at these conclusions primarily through a combination of: following 80,000 Hours’ work for several years, prior knowledge of the effective altruism community, spot-checking documents provided by 80,000 Hours on plan changes it attributes to its work, and discussing 80,000 Hours’ mechanism of impact with its CEO.

Risks and reservations

Some of the documents that 80,000 Hours has shared with us and published on its website5 seem “salesy” to us and to create an impression of more impact being attributable to 80,000 Hours than we believe is reasonable. These documents also do not cleanly distinguish between the different ways in which 80,000 Hours influences people’s career plans, and many of its most significant successes seem to us to have come from networking efforts that we think are unlikely to be scalable. It also seems to us that 80,000 Hours has understated the role that other parts of the effective altruism community have played (or likely would have played, albeit somewhat later, in 80,000 Hours’ absence) in bringing these changes about. Despite these reservations, we do think 80,000 Hours’ efforts are overall likely to be valuable and cost-effective.

Plans for follow-up

Key questions for follow-up

Key questions that we intend to ask when following up on 80,000 Hours’ progress include:

  • How much progress has 80,000 Hours made on hiring?
  • How much progress has it made on fundraising?
  • How many IASPCs does 80,000 Hours believe it has caused since the beginning of the grant period?
  • Did 80,000 Hours provide plausible evidence that marketing funds were used to increase proxies for outcomes we care about, such as newsletter subscriptions, workshop attendance, or, ideally, plan changes?
  • Did 80,000 Hours produce written material that we think is high-quality and useful?

Internal forecasts

For this grant, we are recording the following forecasts (though note that these forecasts are rougher than usual):

  • 80,000 Hours claims at least 1,500 impact-adjusted plan changes in 2017: 66%
  • 80,000 Hours claims at least 2,400 impact-adjusted plan changes in 2017: 33%
  • 80,000 Hours hires at least two staff members in 2017: 60%
  • 80,000 Hours raises at least $750,000 by February 1, 2017, not including funding from the Open Philanthropy Project: 70%
  • 80,000 Hours raises at least $1,250,000 by February 1, 2017, not including funding from the Open Philanthropy Project: 35%

(The above predictions were made on December 16, 2016. In fact, 80,000 Hours raised about $1 million between February 1, 2016 and February 1, 2017.)

Sources

Document Source
80,000 Hours website, “End of year update on plan changes” Source (archive)
80,000 Hours website, Financial accounts Source
80,000 Hours website, “Has 80,000 Hours justified its costs?” Source (archive)
80,000 Hours website, “Update on number of significant plan changes” Source (archive)
80,000 Hours annual review Dec 2016 Source (archive)
Giving What We Can, The Pledge Source (archive)