Mindless Algorithm

A blog for someone who sometimes writes

2020 Donations

December 21, 2020

TL;DR: I’m giving away £35k this year. £3.5k to SCI and the remainder to the Long Term Future Fund

I normally write myself a few pages on how I’m thinking about donations for the present year. As an experiment I’ve decided to be more public this year. Be warned: this post will be relatively meandering.

Practicalities

I have taken the Giving What We Can pledge to give 20% of my income away every year. This year my company got acquired by Google so my income is higher than a normal year. I also have ~£8k in Google donation matching to use.

My overall donations for 2020 will be £35k:

  • £27k by me
  • £8k by Google

Considerations

I buy the standard EA arguments that making the long-run of humanity better is the best thing to do in expectation. I like the way Nick Beckstead puts it: “From a global perspective, what matters most (in expectation) is that we do what is best (in expectation) for the general trajectory along which our descendants develop over the coming millions, billions, and trillions of years.”

So I like for the majority of my donations to focus on making the future go well, as opposed to making a shorter run impact on beings alive today or in the near future.

Of the things that could make the future go badly, extinction is the most obvious thing and the thing we can most easily affect. So I’m happy to fund things which aim to reduce extinction risk, directly or indirectly.

The main issue with focusing on the long run as opposed to short is always the difficulty of getting feedback on whether the thing you’re doing is helping. This can be sidestepped by focussing on extremely plausible causes (e.g. stopping climate change) and plausible interventions (e.g. funding clean energy R&D). But I think even more speculative interventions are worth the risk, for a portion of the global altruistic portfolio. As I think these speculative interventions are relatively neglected, I’m happy to focus on them.

I have some semi-selfish considerations for donations as well. I dislike being seen as too weird, which makes me want to put at least a small portion of my donations to “normal” causes such as poverty relief. I think this could be partially defended: talking about my donations publicly could induce others to give more, and this is more likely to work if the donations are less weird.

I also dislike all of my donations going to speculative causes. I don’t like the idea that everything I do could just go to funding researchers working on problems that are ultimately pointless. So I like for some of my donations to go towards less speculative causes - usually poverty relief or health interventions.

Previous years

In previous years I tended to donate around £12k to charity.

I have donated to a variety of organisations. For poverty relief:

  • Against Malaria Foundation
  • Givewell: Maximum Impact Fund
  • Schistosomiasis Control Initiative

For future oriented giving:

In the past two years the donor lottery has used most of my budget (I did not win either time).

Allocation

I will allocate 10% of my donations to a poverty relief charity and the remaining 90% to influencing the long run future.

I use Givewell to help with my poverty donations. Given their ranking, I prefer deworming interventions to anti-malarial interventions. This is because their cost-effectiveness is higher in general (but downweighted by Givewell due to higher uncertainty). I also mildly prefer improving people’s future health and income to ensuring there are more people in total. So this year I will be giving to SCI for this portion of my donations.

For my future focussed choices, I would usually use the donor lottery. I decided not to use the lottery this year as the increased amount I’m donating made it more likely I would win the pot, so I felt like I wouldn’t save much time in expectation.

I decided to give to the Long Term Future Fund instead. I have been generally impressed by their grants, particularly their ability to find small orgs and individuals to give to. I’m mostly in agreement with their stated principles, and trust the fund managers (particularly Matt Wage). My one wish would be for them to do a little more followup with grantees.

I considered investing the money, for example in a Donor Advised Fund, but this seems harder to do in the UK as compared to the US. If it had been easier, I think I would’ve invested it until next year.

Next year

From 2021-2024 (unless circumstances change) I will be giving a much larger amount (at least £50k and potentially twice that). This is partially a result of me having more money, and partially because I’m considering giving away a larger fraction of my income as I earn more.

This will put me in what feels like a qualitatively different position to previous years. I will be able to make up significant portions of funding for small organisations, or fund a whole person at a normal organisation.

Because of this, I will aim to do much more research to find good options for funding. This will hopefully involve talking to smaller organisations or individuals to get an idea of their funding needs, though I may end up giving to more established orgs instead.