This post gives an update on our work with “external donors” – donors other than our current primary funders (Cari and Dustin). In brief:
- Over the long run, the Open Philanthropy Project aspires to work with many donors, and to inform far more giving than our current primary funders can do on their own, in order to maximize our impact and do as much good as possible. (We also continue to try to learn as much as we can from other philanthropists.)
- Outreach to donors other than our current primary funders is not a major organization-wide priority at this time. We’re prioritizing refining and improving our work – and getting to the point where we have more recommendations than our primary funders can fund on their own – before we put major organizational effort into outreach.
- One area where we have been working significantly with other donors is criminal justice reform. This is an area where our Program Officer sees far more giving opportunities than the funds we have made available for the cause. This may come to be the case for other Program Officers over time.
- As an organization, we intend to be helpful to external donors however we can be (subject to constraints on our own time and availability), whether this means intensive partnerships, informal conversations, approaches such as the Accountable Justice Action Fund (discussed below), etc. We also aim to accommodate and support our Program Officers in any efforts they make to mobilize funds from external donors.
1. Our long-term goal of informing many donors’ giving
Currently, our primary funders are Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz. However, we are not a family foundation (note that Cari and Dustin have their own foundation) – our mission is not to serve any particular person’s goals or interests. Rather, our mission is to do as much good as possible. As such, we expect that the work we do and the recommendations we make could be useful – in principle – to a large number of donors in the same way that they are useful to Cari and Dustin. (At the same time, we have tried to learn as much as we can from other philanthropists, via our History of Philanthropy work and other projects.)
In the long run, we aspire to:
- Help Cari and Dustin give away the vast majority of their wealth in their lifetimes.
- Make recommendations to a number of other philanthropists.
- Potentially work as closely with some other philanthropists as we currently do with Cari and Dustin.
2. Why we aren’t focused on this goal today
Today, we spend the vast majority of our time working with Cari and Dustin. We make relatively few efforts to connect with other donors who might find our recommendations appealing, and we don’t expect the vision described in the previous section to come about for some time.
This is because:
1. The amount of grantmaking we recommend is currently below Cari and Dustin’s long-term annual target. Thus, we currently have more total funds available than total giving opportunities, at an organization-wide level (although, as discussed below, there are particular causes where the giving opportunities we see outstrip the funds we’re making available). This means that (with some exceptions, as discussed below) we have little to offer other donors in terms of not-yet-funded (and hence actionable) recommendations.
As discussed previously, we feel that we could greatly increase annual giving if it were our main goal, but this is not our main goal at this time. As such, I see this situation as temporary. I expect that in the future, we will have more giving recommendations than funds to match them, and we will seek funds from additional donors.
2. We’re prioritizing refining and improving our work, before we put major effort into outreach for it. Our current main goals pertain to improving our organization, our processes, and our underlying intellectual framework. At some future date, we hope that we will have a more mature organization and a well-developed approach to grantmaking; that will, in my view, be the most logical time to work harder at packaging, communicating about, and advocating for our approach.
3. Working with other donors on criminal justice reform
One area where we have started working significantly with other donors is criminal justice reform.
Chloe Cockburn leads our work in this area, and as such has led our outreach to other donors. To date, we estimate that her advice to other donors (i.e., other than Dustin and Cari) has resulted in donations moved (in the same sense as the metric GiveWell tracks) that amount to a reasonable fraction (>25%) of the giving she has managed for Open Philanthropy.
It appears that interest in her recommendations has been growing, and we have recently decided to support the creation of a separate vehicle – the Accountable Justice Action Fund – to make it easier for donors interested in criminal justice reform to make donations to a pool of funds overseen by Chloe. The Fund is organized as a 501(c)(4) organization; those interested in contributing to AJAF should contact us.
Separately, Chloe has also partnered with another donor to create a fund to support restorative justice projects, which will be housed at the Tides Foundation and will take recommendations from an advisory council of restorative justice practitioners.
The main reasons we have done more outreach in this area than in other areas are as follows:
- Criminal justice reform was the first area we hired a full-time Program Officer for, so it is in some sense the area where our approach is most developed and “mature” today.
- Chloe sees a very large number of shovel-ready grant opportunities in the criminal justice reform space. I think part of this is that the criminal justice reform space is itself further-developed, and less “nascent,” than some of the other areas we work in, such as potential risks from advanced AI.
- As such, the giving opportunities Chloe would like to fund are significantly beyond the annual budget we have set for this cause, which has led her to prioritize mobilizing funds from others. (We sometimes set a maximum annual budget for a cause, because we don’t want to ramp up grantmaking too much in any particular area before we have more clarity on how we are allocating funds between worldviews. Our approach to setting targets has been fairly ad hoc, and we have been quicker to set targets in areas with cause-specific specialists who are less involved in analysis of comparing grants across causes.)
- Criminal justice reform also seems like a cause that many donors are naturally/initially interested in, compared to many of the other causes we work on.
Some additional notes on our work in this area:
- The donors we tried a co-funding partnership with about two years ago have now moved into focusing on criminal justice reform, and have Chloe as their primary point of contact with Open Philanthropy. After a year of visiting our office periodically and engaging with our work as a whole, they told us that they preferred to narrow their scope in order to more tangibly see and feel the impact of their work, and that they had become interested in criminal justice reform as a primary focus area; we agreed that it would make sense for them to make this transition, and Chloe has continued to support their work.
- So far, we’ve seen more interest in the ideas of “Considering Chloe’s recommendations” and/or “Providing some funding for Chloe to allocate” than in the idea of “Partnering with Open Philanthropy similarly to Cari and Dustin, i.e. using the full Open Phil grantmaking process and including grants on the Open Phil website.” The donors Chloe has worked with have connected with her on criminal justice reform and her vision for it, rather than on the full set of Open Phil practices and principles. We aim to accommodate external donors’ preferences and work with them in whatever way they choose. Accordingly, we have not been putting Chloe’s recommendations to these donors through the full Open Phil grantmaking process or including the grants on our website, nor will we do so for grants made with funds provided by external donors via the new Accountable Justice Action Fund or the restorative justice fund mentioned above, though they will of course show up on the appropriate form 990s.
4. Other causes
We have engaged in some degree (though a lesser degree) of working with external donors in causes besides criminal justice reform.
We estimate that advice from Lewis Bollard, who leads our work on farm animal welfare, to other donors has resulted in donations moved that amount to a small fraction (~10%) of the giving he has managed for Open Philanthropy to date. He has recently begun co-organizing meetings of major farm animal welfare donors to coordinate and discuss funding strategy.
There are also Effective Altruism Funds managed by Open Philanthropy staff, as well as some more informal and/or private cases of staff advising and/or managing donations for other donors.
5. Looking forward
It continues to be the case that outreach is not a major organization-wide priority for Open Philanthropy. However, it has become a priority for Chloe due to the fact that she sees so many more giving opportunities than funds available. This may come to be the case for other Program Officers as well over time.
As an organization, we intend to be helpful to external donors however we can be (subject to constraints on our own time and availability), whether this means intensive partnerships, informal conversations, approaches such as the Accountable Justice Action Fund, etc. We also aim to accommodate and support our Program Officers in any efforts they make to mobilize funds from external donors. Through the modest level of outreach and experimentation we’re doing today, we hope to be in good position to broaden and intensify our outreach in the future so that we can continue to grow our impact over time.