In this post, some ACE staff members explain where they gave their charity contributions this year. This is intended to give interested readers examples of different approaches to charitable giving, from some of the people most familiar with our materials.
Darina and I share finances, and we generally make our decisions together or support each other’s judgment if one feels strongly in favor of a particular charity. This year, in addition to supporting some well-established, strong animal charities, we decided to fund some charities working in what we think are interesting, innovative, or important ways. We view these donations as exploratory; while we think the areas being addressed are particularly important, we will monitor these charities over the next year to determine if we will continue to support their specific efforts.
We directed 24% of our giving to Animal Charity Evaluators because we continue to believe that ACE offers an outstanding return on investment while addressing some of the most important questions in animal advocacy. We think that ACE offers a unique ripple effect. This is a lower percentage of our overall donations than in previous years; this was largely due to the outstanding contributions from our donors which helped fill ACE’s room for more funding in 2017. Because of this, we gave about 25% less in total donations this year than last year, and spread out some of the donations that we would have otherwise invested in ACE to the charities identified below. We expect to return to investing about 50% of our charitable donations in ACE in 2018.
We gave 24% of our donations to The Good Food Institute (GFI), as we remain excited about the potential of meat, dairy, and egg alternatives as a tool to combat animal suffering. Aside from ACE’s evaluation and subsequent decision to continue recommending GFI as a Top Charity, we are especially impressed by GFI’s success in obtaining media coverage about alternative products, something that we think has particularly high value.
We gave 20% of our donations to Vegan Outreach. They continue to excel at distributing leaflets in an efficient and economical manner. We appreciate the value of leafleting, not just in the direct change that it may cause, but because of the low cost and and ease of execution, which we think has provided a platform for many advocates to become involved in the movement. That being said, ACE’s recent leafleting intervention report has given us food for thought when considering our donations in future years.
For the final three charities, our gifts were primarily based on my recommendations; though Darina doesn’t disagree, she wasn’t involved with making the decision.
We gave 8% of our donations to both A Well-Fed World (AWFW) and Better Eating International (BEI). I think that AWFW engages in innovative grant-making that provides meaningful support to those who are especially in need of financial means to accomplish their initiatives to improve the world. I feel that such funding can help overcome a bottleneck and empower people in a large variety of communities to take action on—and then receive more attention and support for—activities to promote social good. We gave to BEI because I think they are taking a measured approach to evaluating their plans to ensure that they will be as effective as possible with their outreach. I value this not only because it means that they will likely take a structured approach to achieving good, but because we think that doing so helps set an example for the rest of the movement.
Last but certainly not least, we gave 16% of our donations to Encompass. I strongly believe that animal advocacy will benefit from becoming a more diverse movement, something which will organically foster innovation while helping advocates target their work to a larger audience. I think this area has particular value due to the insufficient attention given to it by animal advocates in the past.
This year, David and I split our donation evenly between Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and ACE’s Recommended Charity Fund. We made our donation to DxE early in the year to get a match from David’s employer at the time—otherwise, we would have preferred to consider ACE’s new recommendations for all our donations.
We still see DxE as a case where we may be able to have enhanced impact by supporting a small-but-growing organization through its early growth, though this is becoming less relevant for us as the organization has grown. We know people on DxE’s core organizing team and like their theory of change, and David is on their advisory board. This makes DxE an especially attractive giving opportunity for us and this is why we thought they were the charity that we would most likely support this year regardless of ACE’s eventual recommendations.
We donated to ACE’s Recommended Charity Fund as part of a coordinated effort of effective altruists to direct as much as possible of Facebook’s Giving Tuesday match to effective charities. We chose ACE’s Recommended Charity Fund because we like the fund allocation and because we didn’t think it was likely that ACE would reach the per-charity maximum for the Facebook match, even if the effective altruists were very good at getting Facebook to match their donations. We did get most of our donations matched by Facebook, but we would have been happy with our donation going to ACE Top and Standout Charities either way. In particular, we think we would have made the same donation without the matching effort, just perhaps a few weeks later.
This year, my partner and I were not able to give as much as we would have liked. However, when we got married in May, we requested that any guests who wished to signal support for our marriage do so by donating to The Good Food Institute or the Against Malaria Foundation rather than by getting us gifts. (I think GFI is likely one of the most effective giving opportunities there is, but we also wanted to provide a human-related option in case some of our guests were more likely to support human- rather than animal-related causes.) I’ve also made some donations this year to newer and/or smaller charities that I felt had the potential to do a lot of good. I was particularly excited for the opportunity to support inclusivity within the animal advocacy movement by donating to Encompass.
Sofia didn’t have time to write a section for this post, but wanted to share the list of charities she’s donated to this year:
This year I will most likely fulfill my Giving Pledge. I currently plan for all of my donations to be donations to ACE. I believe ACE’s actions cause resources to be reallocated such that the expected value of my donating to ACE is more than that of donating the equivalent directly to ACE’s Top or Standout Charities. I am considering restricting some of my donations to ACE’s experimental research division, because I think that this work will decrease uncertainty about the effects of certain promising farmed animal advocacy interventions. I think that there are now annually millions of dollars in the movement from donors who are seeking to make high-impact, evidence-based donation selections. I think that my funding such experimental research has the potential to cause significantly more effective allocations of those donations such that the expected value of donating to fund such research is also greater than that for donating the equivalent directly to ACE or ACE’s Top or Standout Charities.
I haven’t put much time into evaluating donation targets outside of ACE and ACE’s Top or Standout Charities. While I am interested in funding the following projects, unfortunately I am currently unaware of highly promising donation targets for them:
- Corporate campaigns to improve the welfare of farmed fish1 including baitfish,2 and other numerous and neglected animals.3
- Humane insecticides4
- Feature length documentaries that advocate for farmed animals5
- Genetic interventions that will improve the welfare of large numbers of animals6
- Establishing wild animal suffering as an academic field
- Funding talented researchers to do effective animal advocacy research
If you’re aware of good donation targets for any of the above points please contact me.
At the start of 2017, I was very much at the early stages of developing my understanding of effective altruism, and my donations consequently were somewhat erratic as my thinking evolved on where I felt my money would be best put to use. I decided initially that I would cycle through different cause areas that I was interested in and support different charities within those areas each month, as my thinking developed. This included donating to ACE’s Top Charities at the time: The Humane League, The Good Food Institute, and Mercy For Animals—as well as some of GiveWell‘s top charities: the Against Malaria Foundation and GiveDirectly. My main interest has always been in causes focusing on animals, but I felt that it would best to spread my bets as I didn’t necessarily feel I had a good understanding of how comparable animal and human causes were at the time.
As the year progressed, I became increasingly confident that animal advocacy was substantially neglected and decided to shift my donations exclusively towards that area. In July I joined ACE as a research associate, and, seeing as I was now working on understanding the most effective ways to reduce the suffering of animals on a full-time basis, it made sense to save my donations until the end of the year when presumably my understanding would have evolved a great deal. I feel now that this was certainly the right decision and I intend to make my donations annually in the future. My donation decision at the end of this year came down to choosing between my preferred charity, GFI, and the newly established ACE Recommended Charity Fund. While I’m very excited about the ambitious scope of GFI’s work, the Recommended Charity Fund’s matching meant that I could extend my reach further, while GFI still took a significant portion. Thus, the majority of my donations this year have gone towards our Recommended Charity Fund.
Erika didn’t have time to write a section for this post, but wanted to share the list of charities she’s donated to this year:
- Animal Charity Evaluators
- Animal Equality
- Food Empowerment Project
- The Good Food Institute
- The Humane League
- Mercy For Animals
- New Harvest
Although I identify as an effective altruist, my household usually diversifies its donations more than you might expect. Partially, this is because we believe in epistemic humility, remaining unsure of which donations are the most effective, and partially this is because we feel we have reasons to donate other than maximizing impact.
Our impact-oriented donations this year were primarily given to the Centre for Effective Altruism and GiveDirectly (for their Universal Basic Income initiative), with lesser amounts given to Animal Charity Evaluators (in support of the new experimental research division), Effective Altruism Funds (focused on animals/far future), Giving What We Can, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, and the EA donor lottery. I’ve also considered supporting smaller EAA startups this year in the hopes that they will one day be considered highly impactful; so far, my sole donation in this category has been to Encompass.
The other fourteen charitable causes we’ve supported this year have been for fuzzies, not utilons, and so haven’t counted toward my Giving Pledge. These include gifts that are intended to encompass the virtue of generosity, as Leah Libresco suggests in the Doing Good Better podcast. Some of these donations were for friends/family in need, such as when a fellow ACE employee lost most of their possessions after Hurricane Harvey. Some were political donations aimed against Trump’s harsher policies. Some were to strangers in my local community, such as when we purchase low-value fast food gift cards to hand to the homeless during our commutes to work. But we generally try to use effective altruist values even when giving to less impactful charities.
For example, we consider neglectedness when choosing which non-EA causes to support. We wanted to adopt someone in need to give holiday gifts to this year; rather than choose a child, we picked a senior who would be less likely to otherwise be chosen. When my partner wanted to donate to a tinnitus organization in memory of her father who had that condition, she chose to specifically fund riskier, underfunded research programs. And when we heard that post-hurricane relief efforts did not have enough plus-size clothing available, we seized on this as a neglected area and did our best to fulfill that niche.
But not all of our donations followed these principles. In some cases, we just wanted to support the arts. This includes PBS, Wikipedia, and several patreon podcasters/writers/artists whose content we appreciate.
There are several things about the culture of EA giving that I’d like to see changed; the simplest is the wrong idea that supporting the arts is low status. While it’s certainly not impactful on the margin, neither is buying another pair of shoes. As long as it fits in the fuzzies bucket, I’d like to see a larger proportion of EAs support the arts.
This year, I donated about 10% of my salary to charities as part of the Giving What We Can Pledge I took a few years ago. My largest donation was to ACE’s Recommended Charity Fund. I have consistently been impressed with the research team’s rigorous evaluation process and believe the charities they’ve recommended are a great option to give to. In recent years, I’ve given a substantial portion of my donations to ACE, and I intend to do that again next year (this year ACE reached its funding goal before most of my donations).
I also made substantial (for me) donations to the Centre for Effective Altruism and two newer effective animal advocacy organizations which haven’t yet been evaluated by ACE, but which I think seem promising: Sentience Institute, whose mission is to “build on the body of evidence for how to most effectively expand humanity’s moral circle, and to encourage advocates to make use of that evidence;” and Wild-Animal Suffering Research, which conducts “multidisciplinary research in the hope of identifying effective interventions to improve the wellbeing of all types of wild animals.”
There may well now be more farmed fish than there are combined numbers of farmed birds and farmed mammals and the welfare levels of farmed fish seem likely comparable to the poor welfare levels experienced by most farmed birds. Corporate campaigns have been very successful at generating pledges from organizations to switch industrial agriculture practices from caged to cage-free laying hens and, to an extent, likely improved conditions for broilers. I think this relatively strong track record helps make corporate campaigns aimed at improving the welfare of farmed fish a very promising intervention. It seems possible that the diversity in fish farming systems compared to the few closely related farming systems for chickens may also mean that advocacy organizations can more easily cause groups to switch to farming techniques that have greater average welfare levels for fish than for chickens. However, the public most likely has lower levels of empathy for farmed fish than for other farmed animals that are evolutionarily closer to humans, like chickens. That could mean corporate campaigns to improve the welfare of farmed fish receive very little public support, which in turn may cause them to have poor levels of tractability.
This article claims that “six billion bait minnows—predominantly golden shiners, fathead minnows, and goldfish—are raised in Arkansas each year and shipped throughout the country.” That would be nearly 19 minnows per capita, more than all the finfish farmed for food for U.S. consumption. The article also states that “Arkansas leads the nation in the farming of bait and feeder fish, providing sixty-one percent of the value of all cultured baitfish in the country.” However, the sources of these claims are unclear.
- By one rough estimate, it seems that hundreds of billions of silkworms are killed annually for silk production and it seems that ∼hundred billion lac bugs and cochineals are killed annually for shellac and carmine respectively.
- Another rough estimate suggests that there are something like 900 billion farmed honey bee years annually.
There is an incredibly large number of insects; by one estimate, for every farmed animal there could be 100 million insects. An increasingly strong case can be made that substantial numbers of these insects ought to be included within our circle of compassion. For instance, Klein & Barron (2016) contend that insects possess the capacity for subjective experience. I know very little about interventions that could help insects. I think humane insecticides should be more seriously considered by animal advocacy organizations, as they seem to be a promising intervention because they seem to score relatively well on a commonly used prioritization framework (scale, neglectedness, and tractability). The large number of insects—combined with the plausibility that they have moral status—results in a strong possibility that this intervention is quite important. I don’t have a great sense of how tractable this intervention will be, but my very soft sense is that it’s probably in the same ballpark of tractability as promoting concern for the suffering of wild animals. As far as I know, no one is currently directly working on this intervention.
Animal advocacy documentaries played a significant role in my own animal advocacy journey, and there is correlational evidence suggesting that a large proportion of people who have become vegetarian or vegan did so after watching a documentary (Humane League Labs, 2014). Blackfish is widely recognized as having a substantial effect on SeaWorld and public perceptions of using animals as entertainment. It seems that a feature-length documentary focused on farmed animals could lead to similarly dramatic changes in attitudes towards them.
For example, the production of hornless dairy cattle from a genome edited cell line or more radically, knocking out pain in farmed animals.