Our priority ask reports are focused on what are the particular improvements or changes that can be “asked” for from corporations, governments, or individuals. Going cage free, making dietary changes, regulating slaughter practices, and many other asks all serve as examples here. They are compared based on the strength of the idea (including the evidence base and estimated cost-effectiveness), limiting factors, execution difficulty, and externalities. All of these factors together could begin to suggest which asks might be the most effective when combined with a priority animal, country, and approach. However, these ask reports are short summaries of longer unpublished reports and, therefore, even if an ask looks promising this does not necessarily suggest that it will end up being a promising charity once paired with other elements and cross-compared to the other strongest possible charities. It just suggests that it is worth further and deeper investigation from our team. You can see our full planned research process here.
This ask report is focused on the food fortification of factory farmed animals’ feed. Micronutrient fortification is one of the most well established and cost effective interventions in global health, and all beings, including both humans and factory farmed animals, can benefit greatly from the right levels of micronutrients. Food fortification is an unusually direct and cost-effective way of addressing major sources of suffering (e.g. bone breaks in egg laying hens) and, overall, looks moderately promising. This report considers multiple micronutrients and supplements that could be added to an animal’s feed to increase its welfare.
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Animal advocacy is a huge area and there are thousands of possible ideas to investigate, which could all be the basis for forming charities. Our research process goes through multiple steps to compare and consider areas and ideas to help found the most effective charities.
The research process involves multiple steps of differing breadth and depth. It would be impossible to go in depth with thousands of ideas; and while it would be possible to cover a huge number of ideas very shallowly, this would most likely not provide enough detailed information on whether a new charity in the area would be effective. Many research processes, including ours, thus involve varying levels of depth.
Our first stage is what we call “broad understanding”. We have written a full post on it here. This is comprised of broad, often cross-cutting, reading, research, and projects that will help with gaining an understanding of the area and inform later decision-making. A few of the many things we did in our broad understanding stage were conducting interviews with 30 experts in AR, take an online course on animal husbandry, and read a variety of books by many different sources.
This research was aimed at both inspiring new ideas outside of our more standard animal activism, and to get as wide an understanding of the issues as possible. After this, we felt pretty confident with listing a very wide range of possible charity ideas and being relatively sure we didn't omit opportunities simply because they fell outside the established AR perspectives.
The second stage of our research is prioritization within domain. In an ideal world, we would have time to look at each possible idea in some depth, but as a result of the broad research stage, we have a list of several hundred possible ideas. In practice, it would not be possible to evaluate each of these ideas to a high level of scrutiny, given the time we have. However, subcomponents of an idea can be more easily cross-compared (such as which animal is most important). These subcomponents could then be combined in a short list of fully developed, specific charity ideas (e.g. Government lobbying for water quality aeration improvements for catfish in Thailand.). We broke up a charity idea into four subcomponents, each of which will have an individual priority report, a comparison spreadsheet, and a list of priorities within that component. The four subcomponents are animals, countries, asks, and approaches.
The animal priority research would include both factory farmed animals (cows, pigs, fish, birds, etc) as well as wild animals (bugs, rodents, larger mammals, etc). Animals would be prioritized based on the number of animals, the amount of suffering per animal, the number of causes of the suffering within the animal, neglectedness, and the animals’ probability of sentience. These factors will suggest which animals are promising to work on and will eventually be combined with other elements into a strong charity idea.
Countries would include locations across all 5 continents, with 5 factors being considered. The number of animals produced within the country, the number of priority animals produced, neglectedness as measured by the ratio of funding to animals produced (funding/number of animals), tractability, and if it has any limiting factors that would affect scale. We expect these factors to lead us to countries that might be currently overlooked by the animal movement or which are disproportionately important due to the size of the animal population that can be addressed by a charity.
Asks tell us what the particular improvement that an activity would be aimed at would be like. This could be cage free, dietary changes, slaughter practices, or any other ask that could be made to a corporation, government, or individual. They would be compared on the strength of the idea (including the evidence base and estimated cost-effectiveness), limiting factors, execution difficulty, and externalities. These factors could begin to suggest which asks might be most effective when combined with a priority animal, country, and approach.
Approaches encompass the different ways in which you aim to get an ask applied. They would include government lobbying, corporate campaigns, and individual outreach. The same ask could, in theory, go through any or multiple of these channels, but, overall, it seems that some channels have been historically more successful than others. We have not yet determined the main factors we will consider when comparing these approaches.
Charity Idea Creation
The third stage of our research will involve combining the top priorities researched above into coherent possible charities. Not all combinations of a top animal, ask, approach, and country will be applicable or coherent. For example, even if China is a top country and government lobbying is a top approach, they might not be a good combination. After we have combined the ideas that seem internally valid to our organization, we will then speak to experts in the animal community, government officials, non-farming corporations (such as retailers), and the broader farming world as a whole to get a sense of the ideas’ viability and to vet them externally. Finally, the specific ideas that continue to look promising after the external vetting will be put into a spreadsheet for the final phase of research.
Priority Charity Reports
The final and most important set of reports will be our priority charity reports. This will involve diving deeply into a small number (~20) of the most promising specific charity ideas. The criteria will be similar to our ask report criteria but in much further depth. For these charity reports we plan on looking at four broad areas with 16 sub-areas. Ordered below, in rough order of importance, these are:
Each targeted report will follow a system and set of questions very similar to our broad intervention research, aiming at systematic, deliberate research for each area. Unlike our other reports where we plan on publishing short summaries, the most promising of these reports will be between 10-50 pages and we intend to publish the full reports (as well as a 1 page executive summary) so that people looking to found these charities can learn as much about them as possible. They will lay out all the pros and cons of a specific charity idea alongside a cofounder profile for showing who might be a good fit to run them. They will also include implementation details, such as first year plans and theoretical budgets. The goal is to be specific enough so that a founder could pick up the idea and found an effective charity with minimal further research.
We expect some cross-cutting research to come up throughout the process, and thus expect to publish a post covering our methodology or research findings about once a week throughout the year (for example, our animal reports), although we expect the bulk of our research hours to go into process outlined in the previous section.
If we end up hiring more research staff, it is possible we will be able to cover more ground or go into more depth in certain promising areas. Considerable hours are also spent on non-research activities, such as outreach, logistics, and the CE incubation training camp.
We expect to go through 4 phases of research that will progressively narrow down a very large option space in order to arrive at 2-5 recommended charities to found in the animal advocacy movement.
Estimated hours: 1910 focused hours or about 54 FT staff weeks.
The small animal replacement problem is the concern that certain diet changes aimed at causing less harm to the world might, in fact, cause more harm - specifically, changes that result from eating smaller animals instead of larger ones. For example, when many people see the problems with factory farming, the first meat to go is often red meat, specifically cows. Sadly, if this person increases their chicken or fish consumption even moderately, this might be a bad move ethically. There are two main factors that drive this: welfare condition and meat generated per animal.
Welfare condition is pretty simple. Some factory farmed animals are treated worse than others. More specifically, there is a pretty clear consensus, both among animal activists and animal husbandry experts, that cows are generally given a much better life than chickens. You can see below a picture of cows in a feedlot (one of the worst stages of their life) vs the chickens (the default for almost all of their life). The conditions in the chicken situation are much worse (indoors, higher density, higher bird on bird aggression) basically across the board. You can imagine that if you had to choose to be a factory farmed chicken or a factory farmed cow you would definitely pick cow.
Size of the Animal
The second factor that plays a huge impact is meat generated per animal or the size of the animal. Simply, cows are much, much larger than chickens. If you eat meat for a year you affect far more chickens than cows (even if you eat a perfectly equal weight in both). Chickens generate about 5 pounds of meat per animal, where cows generate around 750 pounds of meat. This results in the average person eating a lot more chickens than cows per year.
The results are that considerably more chickens are eaten by each person and consumed in the world as a whole. The below charts show the very strong impact that chicken has relative to other land based animals. Sadly, these charts do not include fish, but if they did they would dwarf even the chicken numbers. Broadly, the smaller the animal, the more eaten for the same number of calories, thus many more fish and chickens are eaten over cows or pigs.
What it Means
The ethical implication of all this data is that if you are reducing the amount of meat you eat, the best thing to do would be to give up chicken, fish, and eggs instead of the more traditional path of giving up red meat first, or becoming a pescetarian. It also means that animal activists should be careful about encouraging changes, such as reducing red meat, as these sorts of changes might result in more chicken and fish being consumed and more animals being harmed.Instead they should consider focusing on interventions such as corporate campaigns on behalf of smaller animals such as birds or fish.
Is it better to be a wild rat or a factory farmed cow? A systematic method for comparing animal welfare.
TLDR: We looked at a lot of different systems to compare welfare and ended up combining a few common ones into a weighted animal welfare index (or welfare points for short). We think this system captures a broad range of ethical considerations and should be applicable across a wide range of both farm and wild animals in a way that allows us to compare interventions.
Full post here.
As part of researching the most effective charity options, Charity Entrepreneurship (CE) has previously conducted research on Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programs (see here). Since then a few things have changed that we feel are important enough to merit an update (available here).
In brief, this new evidence base points towards a large effect of CCTs on increasing clinic visits and institutional deliveries, and also suggests a larger effect of CCT programs targeted at healthcare workers, rather than healthcare patients, for certain outcomes such as antenatal care visits, clinic visits, and institutional deliveries.
Why it was worth updating the evidence base
There are a large number of studies (70+) that were not included in the previous write-up and which provide a much larger sample for estimating average treatment effects.
An initial reason for CE’s interest in CCTs was that the field is relatively uncrowded. The largest non-profit we know of that implements CCTs is New Incentives, which currently operates a program that offers CCTs to incentivize infant vaccination in Nigeria, after moving away from encouraging the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV by incentivizing birth in clinics, antiretroviral adherence, and HIV screenings for newborns. After this additional round of research we did not find any new large non-profits working on CCTs that we were not already aware of, although, we have been able to gather much more evidence from the more than a dozen government-run programs.
Wider Array of Conditions
Given the identification of these additional studies and the changes in some organisations’ (e.g. New Incentives) target outcomes, we believed there was likely to be evidence on a larger set of conditions than we considered before.
We are looking for more specific options in the field of conditional cash transfers. Our initial report did not make a strong specific recommendation, instead listing a few possible options. Improving the evidence base is a necessary step in the process. We plan on publishing a fully updated CCT report with specific details on updated options by the summer of 2019.
What process was used to find the studies
How to read the spreadsheet
The evidence is grouped into “Directly applicable evidence”, “Related studies”, and “Organizations currently doing C/UCT”, in addition to some rough Average Effect estimates.
Author, Year, Study
Effect: Includes the percentage point increase or decrease in the target outcome mentioned in the study. Where possible confidence intervals or p-values were included.
Sample size (Control + Experiment): The number of individuals with the targeted outcome (including both those in treatment and control groups). In some instances individual-level numbers were unavailable and rougher units such as number of households are provided.
Target Outcome: These include Antenatal Care (ANC), Immunizations, Institutional delivery, etc.
Location & Region: The country where the program being studied was conducted. The region (Asia, Africa, Latin America) was also included for comparative analysis.
Experiment Type: Lists whether the study was an RCT, observational data study, longitudinal or cross-sectional or quasi-experimental RDD or DinD.
Intervention: Whether the program was a CCT for Education, Healthcare Utilization, or Healthcare Worker Performance (which could be targeted at education or healthcare utilization target outcomes).
Size of Cash Transfer (USD): Many of the studies provide the dollar per month equivalent of the cash transferred to recipients. Where the program distributed cash at some other time interval the monthly size has been calculated. Where no US dollar amount was listed the USD equivalent was used when it was easy to do so.
Link & Alternative Link: A URL to the original source in online pdf or through a journal access website.
Notes: Any other points of interest.
Some of the books I read to try to get a sense of animals lives from different angles
I have been a vegan for 8 years and have been semi-actively involved in animal rights for the past 5 years. Despite this, I have realized that my understanding of many aspects of animals lives is surprisingly narrow, and I think this is fairly common for activists in animal advocacy (or any movement, really). As the project I am now working on is recommending charities that should be founded in the animal advocacy movement and providing an incubation camp for them, I feel the need to broaden my understanding of these issues.
Why a broad understanding matters
There are a few reasons as to why getting a broad understanding can increase long term impact.
The first is to get a truer and less biased sense of the world. Animal advocacy activists have an incentive to show the worst of the worst that goes on in factory farms. Likewise, the industry has an incentive to show only the best living conditions. But ideally, you want to have a good sense of the true state and variability of the conditions. For example, some of the most graphic scenes in a video are focused on pigs and cows, but the day to day life is far worse for a chicken, even if it does not yield as emotionally salient a clip. This is often easy to see if you visit a farm but less clear in much of the anti-factory farming content.
The second major benefit is that broad research provides distinct information on different, and often more focused, domains (e.g. animal behaviour under stress). For example, a few books I read were on how animals grieve, which changed some of my views about how to mitigate psychological distress in a farm setting. This sort of information is hard to get from more standardized anti-factory farming sources.
The third major benefit is due to the synergistic benefits of cross-domain knowledge. For example, an activist book might tell me that corporate outreach has been effective in the past, while another book, written by someone in husbandry, lets me find out about the detailed conditions of how chickens live on a farm and what behaviours they exhibit when given a choice between two toys. Together, these books might give me an interesting idea for what might be a good future lobbying technique.
How to get a broad understanding
1) Reading diverse sources
For example, one might break down the content produced in animal rights into three distinctive groups.
2) Seeing the full supply chain - directly
Another way to get a broad understanding of the matter is to witness firsthand or familiarise oneself with each step of the process. When I worked in poverty, I was one of the few people who talked to every employee at every level of an organization. This often yielded different results: for example, we worked with a company where I talked to the CEO, manager, field manager, head surveyor, and standard surveyor, and as I got closer to where the work was being done I got more and more accurate (and often negative) information.
In the context of animal rights, a way to get a more wholesome picture can be from visiting a farm, or preferably a few farms at least. Ideally, by witnessing each step of the work done in multiple farms you can start to get more of a sense of what really happens there, contrary to the comparatively selected images that are published in the content arguing for or against animal welfare. For example, on the highest standard farms (e.g. AWA or GAP level 5+), how do they compare to farm sanctuary? Is it just the fact that animals are slaughtered or are there noticeable day to day differences in quality of life as well?
Visiting multiple farms is something that relatively few people do as it comes with a fairly high time cost, but I also think it provides a different angle on what is currently neglected in the animal movement. For example, it gives a much stronger intuitive sense of rates and severity of different issues, something that can be very hard to find in academic research.
Overall we feel getting a broader understanding is worth the time it takes to increase the accuracy of our world models and turn up new ideas that might be currently neglected in the animal movement. The ways listed above are just a few of many ways to get a broader understanding. Other ways include speaking to a wide range of people both within (like our animal experts survey) and outside of the animal advocacy movement, or working directly in any related field.
One of the hardest things about charity entrepreneurship is getting a sense of whether it's a good fit for you. Historically, we have created a blog post aimed at some of the key characteristics, but we also now have a short quiz you can take to start to get a sense of whether you are a good fit. A short quiz will never have perfect predictive abilities and we expect our full interview process (which the people, who apply for the CE program will go through) will be far more predictive overall. That being said, we feel this quiz, if taken self-reflectively, does likely correlate with the people who will be the most effective charity entrepreneurs, and it can be taken right now, contrary to applying for our program, which is still several months away from opening (March 2019).
Take the quiz now
There are a variety of ways to prepare for founding your own charity. There is, of course, the legal and bureaucratic work, but much more important is getting ready, skill and knowledge-wise. Many charities are founded on a whim or impulse, but the best charities are founded after considerable careful and deliberate thought.
Read, read and read some more
Most of the best books on founding things are for-profit books that have cross-applicable lessons. Here is some of the most helpful reading for founding a new charity, regardless of area:
As to area-specific reading, for example, if you’re interested in global poverty, you might want to read:
As well as review these websites:
For animal rights you might read:
Websites that could be of help:
But, of course, reading can only get you so far if you want to start a truly great charity.
Get some hands on experience
Work, volunteer, or intern at charities! Getting some experience, particularly at a smaller nonprofit in your area of choice, will give you a deeper understanding of the details of how charities work. Generally, you will learn more by getting a wide variety of experiences, e.g. interning at 4 organizations rather than working at a single one for several years.
We offer internships explicitly aimed at teaching charitable skills, but do consider organizations working directly in your field of interest, even if they do not mention the intent to train.
Don’t get married to a single idea
There are hundreds of charities that the world needs, so the real question is, which ones are of the highest priority to found. Thankfully, research has been done by Charity Entrepreneurship, Givewell, and Animal Charity Evaluators in order to pin down what the most effective interventions might be in any given area, and, more specifically, what the overall best charities to found might be.
Speak to others who have founded a charity
Many people are willing to speak extensively about their field. If you contact the heads of the biggest charities, they will, most likely, not be able to speak to you, but the leaders of smaller organizations in fields related to the ones you are considering will often be interested in talking about their work if you have done your homework beforehand. If you cannot contact them directly, you can listen to them talk at lectures, conferences, or TED talks.
I am happy to speak to people who are considering charity entrepreneurship as a career path and help them think over whether it might be a good fit for them. I have also introduced people to other founders across different charities, and many others will likely do the same if you ask them.
Apply for the Charity Entrepreneurship incubation camp
Programming bootcamps can teach in months what schools often take years to teach. Likewise, the Charity Entrepreneurship camp is focused on teaching as much as possible in 2 months to get someone from 0 to founding a great charity.
The camp focuses on both the hard and soft skills of building a charity: anything from making your first fundraising proposal to how to hire staff with the expertise you do not personally have. It’s built to apply to a range of people, from students fresh out of school to individuals who have worked in the charity sector for many years. All costs are covered for accepted applicants, including room and board. Applicants who go to the camp and decide to found an effective charity are also given a grant to cover their first ~6 months of charitable operating expenses.
Sign up to our mailing list, to be the first to know when the application process for the camp begins.
The most helpful things you can do to get ready for founding a successful and high impact charities are:
“I’m convinced that half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
- Steve Jobs
If you are convinced that charity entrepreneurship might be a high impact and satisfying career, the next question you might ask yourself is whether charity entrepreneurship is a good personal fit for you.
Starting a charity involves a lot more risk, stress, open-ended tasks, and heavier responsibility than most other jobs. We’ve listed out the key personality traits and skills we think are necessary for a successful charity entrepreneur. The good news is, your personality is dynamic; you can cultivate certain traits if you want to so if you do not have of these its not set in stone.
Successful charity entrepreneurs are:
It goes by many names - grit, determination, resolve, resilience. The strength to keep trying no matter what obstacles crop up (and, believe me, there will be obstacles) is absolutely critical if you are to succeed. Rome wasn’t built overnight, and founding a top charity won’t happen after a week of part-time work. If you want to start a charity, you have to want it even after your plans A through P have all failed. You have to keep trying even after you’ve had a scathing review online, because once you’re doing something big enough that strangers start to comment, there will always be somebody who doesn’t like what you’re doing.
Being resilient means being dedicated at the highest level. It does not mean getting stuck on a specific plan or idea. It means aiming for the same goal over a long period of time. For example, if someone with grit were pursuing journalism, they wouldn’t apply for the same position dozens of times and no others. They would apply for hundreds of jobs in journalism and if that didn’t work, they might take an online course and build up their skills, or start reporting on events in a public forum that gets them a following.
You’re ambitiously altruistic
You want to help so many people over your lifetime that they wouldn’t all be able to fit in a football stadium. You want to wake up knowing you are pushing the limits of what is possible. Most people want to make the world a better place, but the majority only go so far as to be nicer to those around them or put a little extra thought into a present. Those gestures are laudable, but to do what it takes to run a great organization needs more vision, otherwise you’ll be too tempted by easier ways to change the world.
You worry that a lot of charities, while well-intentioned, are misguided. They often accomplish nothing and sometimes even make the situation worse. You think that the response to knowing that things can go wrong is not to say that making a positive difference is impossible, but that you have to learn as much as you can about the situation before making a decision. You want the analytical, critical, rigorous and empirical thinking which is found in the scientific sector to become the norm in the nonprofit sector too. The stakes are too high for decision-makers to value emotional appeals over evidence and results.
Good charity entrepreneurs always remain open to the possibility that any and all of their assumptions may be incorrect. If you are not open-minded enough to consider new evidence and update your beliefs and actions accordingly, you are almost certain to fail. As a small condolence, you probably won’t realize that you’ve failed because, as Kathryn Schulz explained, how you feel when you are wrong is identical to how you feel when you are correct. On the flip side, if you are open-minded, even if you don’t have the highest IQ, you will eventually outpace many of your peers because you will be able to steadily improve your model of the world.
So, even if you initially think that something is incorrect, approach it with an open-mind. Have a ‘scout mindset,’ trying understand situations and concepts as honestly and accurately as possible even when they are not convenient. Remember, changing your mind is the ultimate victory, because in those moments you are improving your model of the world. And how can we ever hope to fix a problem without understanding it?
You’re not afraid to admit your mistakes
Humans are world class self-deceivers, commonly making excuses for bad decisions, rationalising away negative outcomes, and constructing fantasies to replace unpalatable truths. Charity entrepreneurs need to be able to work hours on end for years and then admit that they made a mistake or that the project isn’t effective enough to continue pursuing. This requires a rare level of self-honesty. Many people end up burying their heads in the sand and rationalizing away negative information. Their fragile pride is more valuable to them than achieving the most positive impact possible.
As an entrepreneur you have to convince many people that your idea is a great one, but the first person you have to convince is yourself. You have to be able to get yourself up in the morning with no boss threatening to fire you. You have to motivate yourself to do unpleasant but necessary tasks. It's difficult and some people just can’t get the work done without a push.
A good way to proxy this style of work is to take an online course. There are thousands online that you can take for free at your own pace. With such a powerful resource publicly available, it is amazing people pay such huge sums of money for a university degree, but it comes down to motivation. Most people cannot complete an online course by themselves without a teacher guiding them to the finish line. As an entrepreneur, you can set up a board or peer group to help you with this, but when it comes down to it, you will also have to be able to motivate yourself.
Of course coming up with the initial concept takes creativity, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Almost every day entrepreneurs need to devise and compare multiple solutions to any given problem. Great entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to think outside the box, do things differently, and bend or break social norms. Difficult problems require creative solutions.
That being said, it is possible to have a strong team that can collaborate creatively to build a strong organization. Not all original thinking has to come from the top. We find that encouraging board and staff members to contribute and collaborate freely is a great way to produce brilliant ideas.
You’re doing it for the right reasons
There are many reasons to start a charity and not all of them are altruistic. Some people do it to impress others, have adventures, or feel good about themselves. If you let these kinds of motivations interfere with the ultimate goal of helping, people will be harmed. For example, if your primary motivation is the warm glow of assisting others and you find out that instead of ministering to the ill, it’s better to prevent the disease in the first place, you may choose to stick to ministering because prevention is not as emotionally rewarding as treatment. Many people will die because of your misguided motivations. Likewise with prestige. A desire to impress others may cloud your judgement. Sometimes the best thing for the charity is to give the credit to somebody else.
We created the list of our recommended poverty charities to found in 2016. Our original list included 5 promising interventions:
In the last few years, a couple of things have changed, so updating the list is in order. Excitingly, two of the following charities were, in fact, founded.
Although there is room for the founding of more than one effective charity in the given area (for example, one could easily work on SMS vaccinations in Africa), the founding of these two charities does change the scope of neglectedness in those areas. Thus, both of these ideas were removed from the Top Charities to Found list.
Secondly, over the last few years, we have been able to get a deeper understanding of the poverty research space. This occurred as a result of considering and speaking to multiple poverty research organizations, as well as through working more deeply with IDinsight. Given the relative strength and growth of these organizations-particularly IDinsight, which we feel is working on covering much of the ground we see as of highest impact-, we no longer see the founding of a poverty research charity as substantially neglected. Because of this, poverty research has also been removed from our list.
Thirdly, we are looking for more specific options in the field of conditional cash transfers. Our initial report did not make a specific recommendation, instead listing a few possible options. By the end of the year, we plan on recommending a specific best condition, or two, to improve the shovel readiness of the area.
Our views on tobacco taxation have not changed substantially. We continue to feel that this is a promising area and a very effective charity can be founded here. However, we have updated slightly positively towards it as time has passed, given our increased optimism about the promisingness of working with governments in order to achieve cost-effective metrics.
In summary, here is our updated list:
In the past, Charity Entrepreneurship (CE) has been focused on poverty charities, founding one ourselves and supporting the creation of another, both of which were GiveWell incubated. So why the shift in our research focus? Ultimately it comes down to what we think is the highest impact area to focus on. Some of the factors that most influenced us were.
The impact of the cause area of animal rights has been well described by EAs in the past, covering aspects including scale of the problem, tractability and neglectedness. I will address these briefly but will mostly cover fundamental assumptions, as these seem the most likely area for disagreement.
The CE team generally believes animals are conscious and morally relevant agents. Given the numbers of animals involved in animal agriculture and other animal-use endeavors, this makes it a high scale and high importance issue. From a neglectedness perspective, animal rights are clearly more neglected than global poverty and many other cause areas, attracting both less money and fewer talented entrepreneurs. In the past, our team has always been most concerned about tractability of issues in this area and about the relatively weak evidence surrounding animal focused interventions. This remains our biggest concern with working in the area.
Our team expertise is mostly focused in poverty, but we have developed a secondary knowledge base regarding animal rights. Our co-founders have both been vegan for many years and when Charity Science was founded it was founded with a dual focus on animal rights and poverty, working with THL and AMF in applying for grants. Although our focus moved to poverty, we have stayed relatively informed about the animal rights space throughout the 5 years of Charity Science’s existence. More recently, most senior staff have been vegan and kept up to date with the animal rights movement, with one of them working for ACE after he left Charity Science. In addition our recent hires have been made with animal rights expertise as a key requirement, with our new senior hire coming from Open Cages (a ACE standout charity).
A fundamental premise of Charity Entrepreneurship is that many of the skills used to found charities in one area can be cross-applied to other areas. Our team has in the past founded both meta and direct poverty organizations. We found the skill sets between the two had very strong generalizability. Following discussion with individuals in the animal rights community and given our experience with early stage animal focused charities we believe many of these skills will transfer, particularly with regards to consulting and advising.
On our announcement post we discussed the benefits of cause rotation, which we see as three fold. First, in the time necessary to feel very confident in prioritizing one cause area over another, we would be able to incubate a good charity in each top cause area. Second, there is a limited pool of people interested in starting organizations in each area, so focusing on putting out marginal recommendations in one field will lead to less output than switching between them periodically. Third, given the extremely uncertain nature of doing good, rotating between cause areas will make the impact more robust in the event that one of our assumptions or beliefs is very wrong. This perspective also aligns well with the recent writing on epistemic humility which we found persuasive.
The final major factor that lead us to thinking animal rights would be the most effective area in which to run the next round of CE is the current distribution of funding and talent gaps between the animal and poverty movements. Right now there is a large funding gap in poverty charities and a relatively smaller funding gap in animal rights (despite AR’s historically very large funding gap). This makes founding new charities in animal related fields more promising than founding more GiveWell incubated charities.
Overall, we think research on animal focused charities seems like the clear next area for our team to focus on. In future years, we plan on considering other areas, such as mental health and far future.
Our current incubation program will accept applicants interested in founding charities from areas we have previously researched. For example our 2019 cycle will consider poverty (research conducted in 2016) or animal rights focused applicants (research conducted in 2018); from 2020 onwards, we will accept animal rights and poverty focused applications as well as applications focused on any additional areas we have researched at that point.
About Charity Entrepreneurship:
Charity Entrepreneurship is a research and training program aimed at creating multiple counterfactual EA charities annually but with a different focus area each year. Our first year was focused on poverty research. We ended up recommending 5 charities 2 of which have been founded via the charity science team (Charity Science Health and Fortify Health). We plan on expanding out program by recommending several new charities in animal rights as well as offering wider support for individuals looking to found animal or poverty focused charities. We will have room to support 10-20 charity founders compared to the original 4 we were able to support in our first round.
The outreach interns will be to find and connect with people who might be a good fit for the CE incubation program. This could included attending college career fairs, polishing content, speaking to EA chapters, attending conferences, and getting the information out to relevant email lists and job boards. A time commitment of 5-40 hours a week is required for this position, and the intern should be comfortable talking to a wide range of people.
Benefits to you:
To apply, please send the following to email@example.com
About Charity Entrepreneurship:
Charity Entrepreneurship is a research and training program aimed at creating multiple counterfactual EA charities annually but with a different focus area each year. Our first year was focused on poverty research. We ended up recommending 5 charities 2 of which have been founded via the charity science team. There is room for updating and improving the three other options with a particular focus on tobacco taxation. The focus of the research will be systematic, spreadsheet based and directly applicable to recommend charities being founded. It will be very similar to previous research that led to the founding of Charity Science Health and Fortify Health.
The interns will be tasked with researching key areas of interest in relating to top poverty interventions, for example, what country would be the best to focus on if lobbying the government to increase tobacco taxation. They will work together with a manager and other members of the team to slowly flesh out the best steps forward for people who found charities in these areas. They will be expected to complete their work to a high standard given the limited time that will be spent on each report. A time commitment of 5-40 hours a week is required for this position, and the intern should be familiar with research in other contexts.
Benefits to you:
To apply, please send the following to firstname.lastname@example.org
How do we get more EA charities started? There’s a good case that charity entrepreneurship is high impact for EAs, but it seems not many are starting them. Part of the reason is that it’s intimidatingly hard. Not only do you have to have multiple rare and difficult skills, but you also have to choose a good idea to begin with. And if people are put off by the uncertainty of career selection, that’s nothing compared to the sheer ambiguity of all the potential interventions one could run. That is why we are starting a new program called Charity Entrepreneurship. We will make yearly charity startup recommendations, much like what GiveWell does for donations and 80,000 Hours does for careers. This research will be accompanied by an incubation program, similar to Y Combinator, that will teach people the prerequisite skills to start a nonprofit. In this post I’ll explain more about the rationale, details, history, and plans moving forward.
The first project undertaken by Charity Entrepreneurship (CE) was 6 months of research in 2016 by 4 full time staff (~24 staff months). This resulted in Charity Science Health being founded, which has since received two GiveWell incubation grants and assisted over 200,000 families in India. This was the primary goal of this project and we feel CE succeeded. However, in a another way, CE was much more successful than we anticipated. Another project, Fortify Health, was founded, helped by our intervention recommendation, mentorship, and seed grants. Not only that, but several other EAs and non-EA charity founders showed a large interest in founding high impact ideas, such as the ones we had researched, although we did not have the ability to support more than two groups at the time.
How it will work
The organization’s time will be broken down into three sections. The first section will be systematic empirical research into an intervention area focused on finding the highest impact gaps to found a charity in. This will result in a list of “top charities to found in X area”, much like our published list from our last round. The second part will be a two month summer incubation program equivalent to about a summer term university course load, focused on building the practical skills need to found a charity. The third section will be a seed grant and weekly mentoring sessions for the organizations that are founded out of the program, similar to the support we were able to give Fortify Health. We believe this program has potential to found 1-3 GiveWell incubation/ACE recommended equivalent charities a year.
Each year a different area will be chosen to focus on, with research being aimed at prioritizing specific possible charities within that area, as opposed to actively comparing across them. This is for multiple reasons. Firstly, in the time it would take to feel very confident in prioritizing one cause area over another, we could have incubated a good charity in each of the top cause areas. Secondly, there is a limited pool of people interested in starting organizations in each area, so focusing on putting out marginal recommendations in one field will lead to less output than switching between them periodically. Thirdly, given the extremely uncertain nature of doing good, rotating between cause areas makes the impact more robust in case one of our assumptions or beliefs are very wrong. This perspective also aligns well with the recent writing on epistemic humility which we found persuasive. The area we are running the first year on is animal rights, and for the next year we are considering far future and mental health, among others. We already have recommendations listed for global poverty and count CSH and Fortify Health as a somewhat informal first year of running this project.
Case for impact
The case for why charity entrepreneurship is effective has already been made here, here, hereand here. I’ll make the case for how Charity Entrepreneurship as an organization has impact in this section.
CE’s impact hinges on two factors - the counterfactuals of the staff running the organization and the counterfactuals of the participants. My personal counterfactuals would be starting another direct nonprofit myself. The benefits of CE compared to this is that, while I think I could start another good charity, it takes about 3-8 years to take a charity from starting to being able to run without the founders. On the other hand, with CE we would be able to launch an expected 2-3 charities through our program every year. While I may be an above average charity founder, I do not predict that I am 6 to 24 times better than the incubatees.
Which brings us to their counterfactuals. Some people would undoubtedly start charities without our aid, but many wouldn’t. Fortify Health for instance, has said that they think they wouldn’t have started their organization without my mentorship and initial funding. Making the leap from structured jobs to the uncertainty of entrepreneurship without a guide and some initial money is intimidating enough to turn off a lot of people. Providing a structure, education, guidance, and seed funding can help a lot of people gain the confidence to make the switch. Additionally, the support makes it more likely that they’ll run a higher quality organization, making better decisions and having a broader skill set than simply jumping in. The assistance will also help them stick with it at the beginning when things are particularly challenging. It’s easier to keep going when there’s a setback if you have a coach encouraging you to keep going. Part of the inspiration for this is to be what we wish we had when we had started.
Aside from the direct effects of causing more people to join, there’s the benefit of choosing a better idea. Most startups are started based on jumping on the first opportunity the founder sees rather than systematically comparing their options. This can sometimes lead to good ideas but is dominated by comparing between alternatives, which I go into more deeply here. Furthermore, far more time and expertise will be put into prioritizing the interventions. Even if the founder might have put some effort into comparing their best options, it’s hard for an individual to put in the multiple person-years that will go into our research. Lastly, the intervention prioritization will be done by people who have specialized in and have a track record in choosing good ones. All of this combined will lead to higher impact charities getting started than otherwise would have.
How you can get involvedIf you want to help this project you can:
There have been previous posts about the impact of founding a new GiveWell charity, the impact of charity founding, and some of the results of charities founded by EAs. This post, however, focuses on a specific question I get a lot. Namely, why should EAs in particular start charities? This is especially a concern for many EAs who are younger or inexperienced.
I think a strong piece of evidence for this is the historical track record of EAs founding high impact charities. Given that I already covered that in a previous post, I want to focus this one on why it's not just fluke or limited to extremely talented EAs, as well as the core reasons I think EAs can outperform other folks aiming to start nonprofits. My experience with this question comes from having worked in several charities founded by EAs and starting multiple ones myself.
Overview relative to other founders:
EAs will often be better at:
EAs will often be better at cause and intervention selection
The first point is one of the clearest. A huge amount of the impact rests on which specific charity gets created. Launching something aimed at being recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators or GiveWell leads to very different interventions than the vast majority of social endeavors. Most nonprofits focus on the personal experience of the founder, not on the most relevant data available. EAs are much more likely to use that data when making an initial charity selection. It’s not shocking that charities like Evidence Action or Charity Science Health go far in GiveWell’s system, as these sorts of charities have similar underlying goals of making the most possible impact per dollar using the available evidence. If EAs generally start fundamentally more high impact ideas, that goes a long way (although far from the whole way) towards having a large impact.
EAs will often be better at value alignment
It’s easy for any charity, even EA charities, to get mixed up about the goals the charity is trying to accomplish. Are we trying to get bigger as an organization or have more impact? Are we trying to increase the amount we help each individual or focus on preventing the most suffering as a whole? Questions like these come up very often in charities, particularly new ones. The different directions the charities end up taking can have a large impact on their endline effectiveness. For example, a chronic problem in many health charities is the overemphasis on helping fewer individuals more. Often other poverty organizations recommend Charity Science Health to do strategies that will increase our program’s impact on our already existing participants by 20% but at twice the cost. That same funding could have more substantial impact by reaching a larger number of beneficiaries as we scale. Although anyone can make the wrong choices on issues like these, EAs are far less likely to do so compared to typical charity entrepreneurs. In addition to this, EAs are more likely to hire other staff members who also think this way. For example, even my non-EA team members are more focused on cost-effectiveness than the average NGO employee.
EAs will often have better networks and resources
The EA community has access to a lot of resources that other charities struggle with. Things like early stage funding, social support, mentorship from others who have done similar projects, legal incubation, access to a value-aligned talent pool, and incubation programs are all very rare resources to have outside of the EA movement. Very few of these resources are field or intervention specific. For example, the help I was able to give to Fortify Health was not on the technical details of iron supplementation, but on the broad process of founding charities. This network and pool of resources is one of the things many entrepreneurs find difficult. Many nonprofits, including Charity Science and Fortify Health, would not have been able to get off the ground without this sort of support.
EAs will often have better measurement and evaluation
Getting team buy-in for a strong measurement and evaluation (M&E) system is a tricky process. Having EAs as the leaders of the organization greatly increases the chance of having quick feedback loops and the strong M&E required for a charity to be highly impactful. EAs will generally think of M&E-focused systems more naturally and be more emotionally invested in applying them across their charity. EAs are far from perfect on this, but it is a stronger part of EA culture than it is of standard animal advocacy, poverty or most other charity areas’ cultures. Many might think that M&E is best done by an expert who has experience at M&E focused organizations, and although I think these experts are very helpful to have on a broader team, I think there are too few of them willing and able to found charities to let them close all the gaps. Often an EA charity might work best with one of these employees hired (a hire many other charities might not make) to work on it full time, with the leadership also being M&E oriented.
EAs will often be more dedicated and focused
By “dedicated and focused” I mean being focused on the endline charitable goals and objectives. EA orgs that have this focus on doing good can be more flexible in making large-scale pivots towards impact. For example, New Incentives has had several large pivots, but because the founders are focused on and dedicated to preventing suffering (as well as being highly competent), they continue to be a promising charity. If an organization doesn’t have this dedication to the fundamental metrics, then it’s much more likely that a change of direction will mess up its focus on the end goal.
EAs will often have better personal ability
This point really comes down to what reference class you are comparing with. For example, if you compare to the baseline population of people founding charities, I expect EAs to do better than this reference class on metrics like getting into an Ivy League school. But I can see a case for drawing a much tighter reference class. EAs don’t generally want to start charities that are merely better than average, but charities that will be among the best. The reference class of “founders of the absolute best charities” (e.g. those recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators or GiveWell) is much more comparable to the group of EAs I expect to be able to found charities.
In the next section, I’ll explore more deeply the weaknesses that EA founders have.
EAs will often be worse at having experience working and managing broadly
EA founders will generally be young and, importantly, have much less working and management experience than others who found charities. Although inexperienced entrepreneurs are common in tech startups, in charities it's still often people who have been working for many years. This management and general work experience is hard to teach via school or books and is often learned through personal experience. This is the biggest factor making EAs weaker founders, although I do think there are some slight mitigating factors. Small charities generally grow from a small team to a larger one instead of starting with a very large number of direct reports. EAs can hire more experienced middle management to help compensate, but even with this, there will still be a lot of rapid learning that will need to occur.
EAs will often be worse at having experience in the field
This is broken out from the other category above because one could, in theory, have work experience broadly, but not experience within the specific field. I think this lack of experience is many EAs’ number one concern. Unlike the above experience, this sort of experience is very niche. Fortunately that very fact is what makes it not that difficult to acquire because the area of specialization is so narrow you can learn it fairly quickly. For example, there are only a limited number of studies on SMS vaccine reminders in the developing world. As an Executive Director your knowledge set will need to be broader than just that, but you do not need to have a masters degree in public health to work on a global health intervention. You just need to gain a very strong understanding of the very narrow area you work in. My experience has been that EAs can generally get to this level of knowledge in a matter of months, not years, as many might expect, largely because the knowledge needed ends up being more specific than expected. The other common concern people have is that they won’t have the very local and cultural knowledge of the area. This is a fair point, but this is thinking from an individual instead of organizational perspective. You can, and should, hire local people who will be able to guide the organization on this front.
EAs will often have worse connections within a field
Some charities are started with heavy connections in the field, whether in the form of funders, advisors or co-founders. This network is often essential to having your charity run well. The reason I tend to rank this as less important is that I have found that it’s fairly straightforward to build up a network in your field of interest. For example, if you send out ten emails to field experts asking to speak to them about working in the area, between six to ten will respond, and some of those will be able to connect you to more people in the field (if you ask them to) and from that your network can grow quickly. Many nonprofits are quite happy to talk to others in the field and some of these contacts will end up being advisors and board members long term. I think that people generally expect that not many people will respond to a cold email, but unless the person is fairly famous, I have found that nonprofit people are very willing to do a quick Skype session. However, this approach does require more social skills than the slow build of working in a field for years.
EAs will often be worse at having a related degree
I think this factor is far less important for founding a charity than many others think it is. The domain-specific knowledge gained through a degree is less important than one might believe, for the same reasons given in the section on experience within a field. And as for the reputational benefits of a degree, it's quite easy to hire a communication director or other staff members with degrees that provide that reputation, and in general this reputation will often quickly be overshadowed by the success of your charity. Think about top EA charities: how many of their founders have degrees in relevant fields? How many do you even know this information for? If you become very knowledgeable in a field, people are usually happy to talk to you and may often assume you have a degree based on your knowledge.
EAs will often be worse at personal attachment to the cause
This is the least important factor. Being personally attached to a cause area has the benefit of giving you more motivation for that cause area, but it also has the potential to cloud your judgement and lead to worse decision making.
Overall, choosing good interventions and having good connections and resources overwhelm counter considerations, which are often less of a problem than anticipated, or can be overcome with intelligent effort or hiring. When considering these factors and the track record of EA-minded people starting strong charities, I think that this is a strong career path for EAs.
About Charity Entrepreneurship:
Charity Entrepreneurship is a research and training program aimed at creating multiple counterfactual EA charities annually but with a different focus area each year. 2018-2019 will be focused on animal rights, including: meat alternatives, wild animal suffering, and bug suffering. The focus of the research will be systematic, spreadsheet based and directly applicable to recommending charities to be founded. It will be very similar to previous research that led to the founding of Charity Science Health and Fortify Health.
The interns will be tasked with researching key areas of interest in animal rights. They will work together with a manager and other members of the team to slowly determine the best charities to found in the field. They will be expected to complete their work to a high standard given the limited time that will be spent on each report. A time commitment of 5-40 hours a week is required for this position, and the intern should be familiar with research in other contexts.
Benefits to you:
To apply, please send the following to email@example.com
Track record and tractability
Historically, some of the highest impact individuals in the EA movement and across the broader world have been people who founded effective charities. The difference between an average charity and the top charities is likely very large. Estimates for how large this difference is range from 10 to 1,000 times more impactful. But even if we look at the estimated difference between GiveWell’s top charities or between ACE’s top charities, we can see the range is extremely wide. The impact of the individuals who have founded the charities at the very top (e.g. THL and AMF) have been massive. This is not even mentioning the founding of more meta-organizations like GiveWell, who has directed millions of dollars to high impact organizations.
There is a perception that founding high impact charities is near impossible or unlikely to happen without the founders having decades of experience and specifically related credentials. However, if we look at the historical evidence it seems this perception is misguided. The following charities were founded by people with less than 4 years experience in a closely related field but had an explicit focus on doing the most good. This is not a complete list, as I do not know the history of many of the other top charities in the EA movement:
Although track record gives us a sense of some tractability, asking whether this can be deliberately replicated is still reasonable. However, I think the evidence weighs up favourably for this as well. If we look at the most recent three charities on this list (all founded within the last 2 years), Charity Science Health has gotten two GiveWell incubation grants and has signed up over 180,000 people to their program. Good Food Institute is both ACE recommended and funded by the Open Philanthropy Project and is seen as a leader in its field. Fortify Health was founded less than 6 months ago and is now doing very well and is on track to potentially becoming a top GiveWell charity. These need to be compared to the relatively few failed direct projects founded by EAs to get a sense of what the odds are of a new charity becoming high impact.
Another factor to consider with tractability is the relatively high levels of support the EA movement can give to young projects. Fortify Health for example was legally housed, funded, advised and supported by Charity Science. Similarly, Charity Science Health was given lots of support from other more established charities. Very few charity founders have the strength of community that EA charity founders have which allow them to research a project before founding it or get funding before establishing themselves fully.
A big reason why the founding of so many effective organizations was and still is possible is to due with how the charity market works. Sadly, it's fairly rare for a charity to be established at the start with the explicit goal of being high impact from an EA perspective. A huge number of charities are started out of personal passion or being personally affected by a cause, and although these can end up being high impact, their average effects are much lower than a nonprofit started from a research and impact-focused mindset. This inefficiency makes it much easier to start a high impact charity than an equivalently successful for-profit endeavor. Many organizations that have done research into charitable areas, such as GiveWell and Charity Science, have found non-trivial gaps, even in fairly research-focused areas like global poverty.
It's also worth noting that it can be high impact to start multiple charities in similar areas but with somewhat different focuses or country targets. GiveWell, for example, has recommended several deworming charities. Even more dramatically, it would be easy for someone to say, “Charity Navigator already exists. Why do we need GiveWell?” when clearly the quality and organizational focuses are sufficiently different that founding GiveWell is likely one of the highest impact charities ever started. Furthermore, Elie and Holden might have joined Charity Navigator and tried to change them from the inside. However, that would have been a lot less efficient than them starting their own organization. From what I have seen, people find it difficult to impossible to transform an existing institution, and this is all the more acute the larger it is. Unless you can get a position near the top, starting your own organization allows you to move much more resources towards more cost-effective or evidence-based methods. This will also true in many other areas.
Although EAs have been fairly aggressive on founding meta-charities, relatively few direct charities have been founded by the EA movement, despite the relatively high success levels of the direct charities that have been founded by EA-minded individuals. Aside from the ones listed above, there’s also Evidence Action, New Incentives, The Humane League, and MIRI.
Founding an organization is a powerful way of getting more resources into a high impact direction. As an individual, even a very high talent one, you are limited to 40-60 hours a week of work and generally have an earning potential of under $500,000. However, both these numbers pale in comparison to general organizational scales. Even a smaller organization with say 5 staff and a one million dollar budget, greatly increases your ability to make major progress on an issue. If you hire and fundraise exclusively from EAs, you have to compare your counterfactual to the other place they would have donated/worked at, which sometimes is very high impact and other times less so. This also leads to one of the major assets of charity entrepreneurship. If you succeed in founding a charity that’s better than the current top, you can act as a multiplier to all of the donations going to the present best by shifting them to your newly enacted intervention. If somebody starts a charity that is 1.5 times better than AMF, that will multiply future would-be donations to AMF by 50%, which at tens of millions of dollars per year is huge. However, even if you don’t manage to oust the prevailing org of your area, often within an organization you can have your funding and jobs filled by non-EAs, which greatly alleviates counterfactual concerns.
In addition to the general force multiplier and chance at being very high impact, charities have a chance of becoming very large. The impact of even a marginally better, but very high budget, charity can be extremely large. For example, if Oxfam was 1% more cost-effectiveness focused, it could save an enormous number of additional lives. Founding charities now gives EAs the opportunity to become the next generation of very large nonprofits. Particularly with initial funding sources such as the EA movement and Open Philanthropy Project, it’s not impossible that a charity founded by EAs could grow to be a field leader, which would have immense impact on the world.
Flow through effects
In addition to the case for average impact (e.g. a 10% chance of founding a GiveWell recommended charity) and a case for potentially very large hits (e.g. a 0.001% chance of founding the next Oxfam), there is a strong case that founding direct charities has strong movement building effects. It gives EA a very concrete achievement it can point at as an example of EAs doing something clearly good and high impact. Appearing more action-focused can have major benefits and help offset the perception of EAs as exclusively being focused on philosophy and theoretical concerns. This can draw more people into the EA movement, particularly people that want to see actionable, counterfactually caused accomplishments before connecting to a movement.
There is also the inspirational effect on others to start a similar organization. Evidence Action was started with deliberate reference to evidence and cost-effectiveness and they got recommended by GiveWell, which inspired us to start Charity Science Health, which in turn inspired Fortify Health. I suspect that at a certain point there will be diminishing returns on this particular aspect, but at the moment it’s still very high. The more people who succeed the more people will see that this wasn’t a one-off fluke, but rather something that can be repeated.
An additional effect is if you think value drift is a possible risk, establishing career and social capital in the charity sector is a way to increase the odds of long term altruism. If your CV is in the social sector, even if you value drift, you’re likely to stay in the area because it’s easier to get jobs there.
See previous writing on the value of CE and the expected value of a top charity for more reasons on the impact of charity entrepreneurship. We are also going to write more on this topic soon, including the pros and cons of EAs founding charities and an announcement post for a related organization on this topic.
About Charity Entrepreneurship:
Charity Entrepreneurship is a project with the aim of getting more high impact charities to exist in the world. The project has helped the founding of Charity Science Health and Fortify Health.
Charity Entrepreneurship produces a lot of written content, both direct research and more meta EA posts as well as smaller writing pieces. This content generally needs a lot of improvement from its original in terms of style and grammar. Sometimes the intern will have to re-write full paragraphs or pages. For some of our team members, English is not a first language and one member of our team has a form of dyslexia. Currently our ability to publish content is limited by the amount of time a few volunteer editors can put in. This role is best for someone remote but who can be online often and edit small things quickly with longer but still fairly quick turn around times for longer written pieces (e.g. 24 hours turnaround time per page, 30 minute response time for single sentence checking).
Benefits to you:
To apply, please send the following to firstname.lastname@example.org
About Charity Science Health:
Charity Science Health was launched with the ambition of being the first direct poverty charity started by EAs to become GiveWell-recommended. Eight months into the project, we have received a GiveWell incubation grant and are expanding our team to increase our capacity.
We are starting an internship program to help others gain experience with charity startups. This is intended to help them with starting one of their own. We have had multiple employees move on to found EA charities, and we intend to continue the trend.
The main sources of impact you will have from getting into this program will be:
Job responsibilities will be tailored according to the strengths of the candidate, their areas of potential growth, and the needs of Charity Science Health. This can range from doing cost-effectiveness analyses, designing a measurement and evaluation program, writing and editing charity entrepreneurship lessons, and anything in between.
To apply, please send the following to email@example.com
This is a job position for a project the Charity Science / Charity Entrepreneurship team advises but which is not part of our organization.
High impact charities are just waiting to be founded. This presents us with an opportunity to make a remarkable impact on the lives of others. Put another way, not pursuing these opportunities may come at a sizeable cost to the people who remain unhelped. Charity Science, an organization dedicated to promoting the causes that can best improve the world, has rigorously examined neglected cause areas that have the potential to join GiveWell’s top charities. They were evaluated in terms of cost-effectiveness, scalability, strength of evidence, ease of testing, flexibility, and logistical possibility. Charity Science concluded there are five promising charity ideas that are just waiting for an effective team to make possible.
The Charity Science team has already begun to work on one of these charities. With the guidance and advice of Charity Science, I (Brendan Eappen) am assembling a team to found one of the other top charity ideas:
Once a co-founder is identified, we would work together to identify which charity we could best implement. You can read more about each charity idea via the links above. Experts in the field, including GiveWell, 80,000 Hours and Charity Science all think this is an effective way to make a difference in the world. You can see a detailed model of the estimated impact here.
What we have to offer
What we need
What we want
Your application should include two files: your resume and a document containing the following. Please download and complete the template linked here.
Start dates are flexible, but ideally we would decide whether or not to found the charity by early April. Please send questions or application materials to Brendan Eappen Eappen@alumni.harvard.edu by March 26, 2017 (extended). Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis beginning on March 4, 2017.
Want to learn more about who I am? Let’s chat! To give you a sense of what I’ve done, you can view my resume. If the right team is formed, I believe my investments in this charity startup will have a higher marginal impact and learning value than they would in an established organization. I’m excited to pursue this opportunity and look forward to reading your application!
Charity Entrepreneurship was a project started by the Charity Science team with the intention of founding a highly effective charity (e.g., one that was competitive with the cost-effectiveness of current Givewell recommended charities). After six months of research into different priority program areas we found five ideas we think are worth starting a charity around. We launched Charity Science Health to start one of them.
Charity Entrepreneurship in 2017:
We consider Charity Entrepreneurship a success, but there were two large areas we could see further working being done on.
The first area is the creation of other high impact charities based off our other four top ideas:
Given the strength of the remaining ideas, it seems worthwhile to create additional charities following our work. Right now our team does not have the capacity to start more than a single idea at a time, but we have considered and tried a few ideas in this space to hire or inspire others, and excitingly it now looks as though a second charity might be founded based on CE research. An EA we have spoken with is going to create one of the top charity ideas with our support and advice. We think this is an incredibly high impact career and will soon post a job ad to join this EA to our CE website.
The second area is a broadening of our research to include other cause areas:
Our research was extremely focused on evidence-based poverty interventions. However, there are many other cause areas we think could be high impact and would like to conduct similar research in these other areas, such as expanding GiveWell’s shallow reviews, but focused on what charities could be started rather than funded. Our first step on this project is to do upfront crucial considerations research before being able to dive into comparing a more diverse range of cause areas.
How to help out:
The speed of Charity Entrepreneurship has slowed down from our initial six month burst because a majority of our team has moved to working on other projects (primarily Charity Science Health). We want to be conscious of not spreading our team too thin, but we could imagine completing the crucial considerations research and then scaling a team to do cause area research. Currently we are not hiring for this project, but we are looking to expand our pool of volunteers and unpaid interns from our other projects. Volunteering/interning is a great way to get to know our team and help us get a sense of your skills and abilities.
Earlier this year, GiveWell Experimental predicted that we, the team behind Charity Science Health (CSH), have a 15% chance of becoming a GiveWell top charity by giving season 2019. That sounds pretty cool. But what does it mean for our plans? How good is it to be a top charity? And how does having a 15% chance of achieving top charity status compare to other things we could be doing with our time?
While it would take a lot of time to treat this question rigorously, a rough initial sketch seems very prudent for guiding our staff plans as we enter 2017 and decide whether to continue as-is, scale up, or scale down, with a keen mind to what we could be doing instead. An initial analysis and back of the envelope calculation seemed like the best way to inform our intuitions on this topic, so we set out to make one.
Our estimate is based on assuming that GiveWell top charities have impact according to four factors: (1) funding from GiveWell (both from Good Ventures and directed by the interest of GiveWell donors, which will likely add up to $108M a year or more), (2) funding from non-GiveWell sources (e.g., other foundations), (3) how cost-effective they are, and (4) the total room for more funding of the organization.
Funding from GiveWell
Between 2011 and 2015, the four top GiveWell charites collectively received $166M, with $108M coming from just 2015. If we divide the $166M over five years evenly among all four charities, that’s $8.3M per year per charity. A 15% chance of us achieving this is thus worth an expected value of $1.3M a year, which divided among three full-time employee equivalents (FTE) is $433K in expected value per person.
However, GiveWell is moving a lot more money now than it used to, especially with Good Ventures (though due to an unusually large 2015 grant from GiveWell to GiveDirectly, the trend may be exaggerated). Additionally, there’s somewhat of a power law even within GiveWell top charities. In 2015, GiveDirectly got ~50% of all the funding, the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) got 35% of the funding, and SCI only got 3% of the funding. While we have a 15% chance of being a top charity, there’s still a good chance we’d end up on the lower half and get only 3%.
So let’s assume now that instead of it being the 2011-2015 track record of $166M over five years (averaging to $33.2M per year), giving instead continues linearly at roughly $80M a year. We’ll also assume that we’ll break up our 15% chance into a 5% chance of getting into the top three (along with AMF and GiveDirectly) and receiving roughly one third of the funding and a 10% chance of getting ~5% of the funding like Deworm the World and SCI. 5% chance of 33% of $80M/yr plus a 10% chance of 5% of $80M/yr is $1.32M/yr + 400K/yr = $1.72M/yr or $344K per person per year.
Lastly, it seems quite plausible that the addition of a new GiveWell top charity would bring in more overall money to GiveWell top charities. At minimum, an eighth top charity would likely lead Good Ventures to make an additional incentive grant of $2.5M that they would not have otherwise made. However, it also seems plausible to me that a new charity, especially one focused on something other than malaria or deworming, would bring additional interest to GiveWell from new donors or old donors interested in new areas. If we thought this effect would, together with the additional Good Ventures grant, boost the total money moved by an additional $10M, this would boost our expected of $344K per person per year to $364K per person per year.
Another major factor is how cost effective we will be, relative to other GiveWell top charities. For example, if we take GiveWell’s 2016-2017 estimates literally, AMF is ~4x as cost-effective as GiveDirectly (though I expect GiveWell would kindly ask us not to take these estimates literally).
While our current estimates don’t place us to be as cost-effective as AMF, we think we have a good shot of being more cost-effective than GiveDirectly (GD). If we could even be 2x GD (or 0.5x AMF) and shared 50/50 with GD for money from GiveWell’s sources, we’d be effectively doubling the impact value of that share.
To make this more concrete, GD got $19M in 2015 excluding Good Ventures and AMF got $15M. If we adjusted those numbers to the literal cost effective estimates and did not adjust for diminishing marginal returns, we might be able to say something roughly like the $19M to GD being worth the same as $4.75M to AMF, or 1.9M in cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars. The total among AMF and GD would then be 19.75M cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars.
If Charity Science Health was a 2x GD charity, and we still assumed that AMF got $15M but split the remaining money 50-50 between GD and CSH (So that GD got $9.5M and CSH got $9.5M), the new cost-effectiveness adjusted total (relative to AMF) would be 15M cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars derived from AMF’s impact, 2.375M cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars from GD and 4.75M cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars from CSH, for a total of 22.125 cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars. Thus the addition of CSH could be modeled as a net gain of 2.375M cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars, even though the total amount of money donated has not changed.
The more cost-effective the new top charity, the better. If CSH were instead the same as AMF and still split with GD 50/50, the net gain would increase from 2.375M cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars to 7.125M cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars.
Overall, while I think the concept of “cost-effectiveness adjusted dollars” is useful for sketching out one potential area of impact for CSH, I hestitate to take the notion literally and think that a lot more work would be needed to sketch out the concept more rigorously. In practice, however, comparing our internal rough guess cost-effectiveness estimate of Charity Science Health with a rough guess of the average cost-effectiveness of GiveWell top charities from 2016-2017, the two numbers seem to be roughly even, so I don’t expect any practical benefit from this factor.
Funding from sources outside GiveWell
While people in the EA movement may not think about it much, GiveWell and Good Ventures are not the biggest funders of non-profits out there. A potential GiveWell top charity could also hope to vie for the attention of other funders, like the Gates Foundation, the Lampert Family Foundation (funders of New Incentives), the Global Innovation Fund, YCombinator, and others. While the GiveWell stamp of approval could certainly help lead these funders to a charity, the best charities could certainly find funding independently from GiveWell’s endorsement.
A new GiveWell top charity could unlock hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars from large funders, and it’s quite likely the money counterfactually would not have gone to as good of a charity (by GiveWell’s standards).
Room for more funding
It doesn’t matter if you can attract tens of millions of dollars if you cannot effectively spend tens of millions of dollars. For example, GiveWell determined that Deworm the World could only make use of ~$15.5M in “execution level 1 and 2” funding over 2017. We’re highly uncertain about our own potential for room for more funding in future years, so this could really cap our potential for impact even if we otherwise succeed. If we were only able to take in $5M, our ability to move $20M would not matter.
Right now, we have all our high-talent “senior” staff allocated to running CSH. However, there could come a time when we could run CSH in a more “passive” mode, continuing to have nearly as high impact, though without seeking as strongly to scale. This is similar to what CSH staff have already done with our prior project of Charity Science Outreach, dropping the team from ~5.5 FTE to ~1 FTE while still continuing to move a good amount of money.
Thus, in a hypothetical future, perhaps CSH could spend $10M per year almost indefinitely while the CSH “senior” staff move on to start a different charity. If we assumed that “passive” mode lasted for a decade, the present value of that $100M over ten years would be worth $55.8M today (assuming a 6% interest rate), or $18.6M per current “senior” staff member (3 FTE), though we still would have to adjust for the counterfactual value of the non-senior staff members.
A new GiveWell top charity will have impact by (a) attracting some new funding through GiveWell that would not have otherwise been attracted, (b) being more cost-effective than current GiveWell top charities, and (c) by attracting new funding from non-GiveWell foundations. However, it is capped by a large chance of failure, room for more funding, staff time from people who could otherwise be doing other great things.
When I try to model all these factors out in the following Guesstimate model, I get an estimate that the total efforts of our team (including senior staff, non-senior staff, and volunteers) are roughly equal to, in expectation, the work of a team of full-time equivalent people each earning to give $400K a year to GiveWell top charities, with our 95% confidence interval ranging from $220K/yr to $720K/yr. This compares favorably, as $400K donated per year is, I think, higher than what a typically ambitious and skilled EA could be expected to earn to give and is much higher than the earning to give levels found in 80,000 Hours 2014 report.
However, more work has to be done to refine this estimate. For example, this does not take into account the tricky aspect of double counting, since our impact would be partially in moving the donations of others. Also, this does not separate out the fact that the counterfactuals and individual impact of all our staff and volunteers are definitely not the same. Using the same model, attributing 100% of the impact to senior staff and 0% of the impact to anyone else, shifts the estimate to $4.1M per senior staff year ($550K/yr to $25M/yr).
But overall, this makes founding a GiveWell top charity could be a very high earning (though also somewhat high variance) career choice. Hopefully this estimate will continue to be further refined as we learn more about our chances of success and failure!
When considering which charity idea would be the best one to create, we accounted for standard factors such as cost-effectiveness and the strength of the evidence that goes into the cost-effectiveness estimate. However, this analysis still left us rather uncertain, with a nagging feeling that we could be somewhere between mildly inaccurate and terribly wrong. What if we picked an intervention that turned out not to be very cost-effective or we picked an intervention that was effective generally speaking but beyond our ability to implement correctly?
The fear that we could be wrong drew us to our favorite metric for evaluating ideas -- flexibility. This is “keep your options open” applied to charity. How easily could we shut down this project and move to another project if this project turned out to not be very good?
The Value of Flexibility
We’ve been wrong a lot over the years, dramatically changing our beliefs, values, and career paths several times as we update on new information. It’s unlikely that the first thing you stumble upon will be the highest impact thing to do, any open minded person would experience a fair degree of change. While we’d like to think things are more stable now, chances are good that we will change our beliefs again as time goes on and that this will require yet another change.
Lastly, even if we don’t change our minds, the world itself is constantly changing. New laws and regulations could make our previous plans untenable. New opportunities could open up that didn’t exist when we first started putting our plan into action. New competitors could arise implementing our intervention just as well or better, rendering our work obsolete.
The more likely it is that change will occur and the more important you think the change will be, the more value you should put on flexibility.
Flexibility Over Robustness
Flexibility is the ability to change if circumstances change. Robustness is the ability to withstand change. For example, if there’s a flood in a village, a flexible population might move to another village. A robust population would have built flood-protecting walls around the village so that it’s not harmed by the flood. If there’s a disaster that prevents farming corn, a flexible population might switch to farming beans, whereas a robust population would have already known to genetically engineer their corn ahead of time to be immune to the disaster.
We definitely see the merit of robustness and would like to be as robust as we can. However, we see robustness as requiring stronger predictive ability about how things may go wrong plus the ability to create effective mitigation strategies, whereas flexibility can be reactive without needing to anticipate. In our examples, the village would have already needed to know to build flood-protecting walls and genetically engineered corn, which may have been hard to know in advance and costly to implement. For instance, maybe they worry about a flood so they build walls, but the disaster that actually strikes is a drought. Since we believe that anticipating and mitigating problems would be nearly impossible given that we face so many unknown unknowns, we think flexibility beats out robustness, at least for us.
Flexibility and The Lean Non-Profit
Flexibility is discussed a lot as a value for start-up for-profit companies. This philosophy, emphasized by Eric Ries’s book The Lean Startup, strongly encourages building just the minimum viable product (MVP), testing for user demand before scaling, and pivoting if your initial idea doesn’t work. The start-up world emphasizes that you are frequently wrong about the world (called “product-market fit”) and that you will fail many times before you succeed. Thus, the most successful start-up teams are the ones that are the most flexible.
We think this philosophy should equally apply to start-up non-profits too, though we seek “skills - capacity for impact” fit rather than “product-market fit”. While this idea has not taken off as much in the non-profit world, Luke Muelhauser wrote in 2013 about how the Machine Intelligence Research Institute was operating as a lean non-profit that emphasized MVPs, A-B testing, and pivoting. Since then, there have been two articles in the Stanford Social Innovation Review showing one particular experience implementing lean methodology in the non-profit world and another advocating for the benefits of pivoting and the lean methodology. Charity Science has also followed this model since 2013.
The Many Kinds of Flexibility
How can we increase flexibility? We found that flexibility can be increased in a wide variety of different ways. Here are some of them:
A flexible intervention can be adjusted at a moment’s notice and doesn’t require that much upfront cost before seeing results.
A flexible organization is able to quickly act differently based on new evidence.
While we already have flexible senior staff and management that can pivot from one project to another, we’ll also need to hire additional staff and ideally these people could fit into our flexible mindset. The following are a few ideas to increase our chances of coming into contact and hiring such people.
A lot of funding in the charity world is tied to particular ideas. But this is bad for the charity that wants to be able to change quickly, as changes will result in disruption of funds, which disincentivizes flexibility.
We think it is important to be flexible in other areas as well, such as with connections (e.g., people on the board, contacts in public and private sectors, relationships with academics) and with personal situations (e.g., location independence, being independently wealthy).
Overall, improving organizational flexibility by iterating quickly, building a culture that improves pivoting and open-mindedness, by putting a lot of work into hiring and skill training, and by building a broad, diversified funding base looks to be a relatively easy and high-value way of improving an organization’s potential for making an impact.
Do you want to play a pivotal role in founding one of the most effective charities in the world? Join us and you will work on some of the most challenging problems, making decisions that will potentially influence hundreds of thousands of lives. This is a job where your day to day work can make a huge impact on the world.
The Charity Science team has spent hundreds of hours researching the most important poverty charities. Our top charity, SMS vaccine reminders, has the potential to increase immunization rates and decrease death and disease around the world. And this is just the beginning -- if we execute well, we could be in a good position to start other promising mobile health charities.
This is a competitive job but we have non-traditional standards so we encourage a wide range of people to apply. We do not expect our applicants to fulfill all our needs and wants
What we offer:
What we need:
What we want:
This position would start at a fairly senior level and the employee would be expected to be able to make hard calls and come up with intelligent ways to progress the project soon after joining the team and getting up to speed on the pre-existing research.
Your application should include a (1) cover letter explaining what you bring to the team, your (2) resume and a (3) clear list of which of our needs and wants you meet. We do not expect our applicants to fulfill all our needs and wants, but we’d like to know how you fit before the interview. We’re flexible on start dates and all jobs start with a one month trial period to assess fit prior to extending a permanent offer.
Send your application or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 30th