Charity Science: Outreach is a program to identify and implement fundraising techniques to raise money for GiveWell top charities. Over the past three years, we raised over $300,000 at a cost of ~$80,000. Most of this time was spent on trying experiments that did not work, such as grants, networking, door-to-door fundraising, niche marketing, and events. Nearly all of our money moved to date has come from peer-to-peer fundraisers, though initial work on scaling up legacy fundraising and online ads still look promising. For more details, see our 2.5 year review.
After surveying 24 different potential fundraising areas, we now feel that we have run out of high-promises to pursue further under the Charity Science: Outreach model. We now plan to scale down Charity Science: Outreach into a maintenance mode to generate passive impact at the highest possible return.
Why scale down Charity Science: Outreach?
More people have started working on fundraising since Charity Science was founded.
When Charity Science was founded, the world was a very different place. Aside from Giving What We Can and The Life You Can Save there was very little effort being put into raising money for GiveWell top charities. More importantly, no one was putting any effort into traditional fundraising techniques that were tried-and-true in the fundraising industry, such as grant writing, donor calls, networking, etc.
However, there has recently been a lot of effort to change that. GiveWell now has outreach officers and does donor calls with the intention of directly fundraising for themselves and GiveDirectly is going to spend over $6M building a fundraising team.
In 2014, Raising for Effective Giving was created and has moved over $1M through a niche marketing model based on poker. They have since expanded into finance, gaming, and Daily Fantasy Sports, continuing to explore this approach. While we originally saw niche marketing as a highly promising area we could explore ourselves, we now see REG as much better positioned to take this on. Dotimpact recently expanded into a Focus Projects team that does fundraising work, such as re-running the Living on Less peer-to-peer campaign. Novel fundraising approaches have been created targeting EA charities, such as the Founders Pledge, which has claimed to have raised more than $64M. On top of all this, the Local Effective Altruism Network, EA Outreach and Giving What We Can continue their plans to fundraise through movement building.
The need for money in the effective altruism movement has changed.
Another significant development that happened since Charity Science was founded is the existence of the Open Philanthropy Project, a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures that plans to eventually donate hundreds of millions of dollars a year. This makes it a lot more likely that we will run out of pressing fundraising needs before we run out of available money to fill those needs.
Additionally, the general attitude of whether more money is needed in the effective altruism movement has shifted, as captured in 80,000 Hours post that emphasizes the need to fill talent gaps instead of money gaps.
We ran out of high-promise experiments to explore
Lastly, even if the above were not the case and it still was clear to us that more fundraising was necessary, we’ve simply run out of experiments we think are sufficiently promising to pursue.
We surveyed 24 different potential fundraising areas. We’ve tried eight of those areas ourselves; seven of those areas -- niche marketing, content marketing, celebrity fundraising, pledges, high-net-worth acquisition and stewardship, and donor stewardship -- are now a better fit for other existing orgs than us. Most of the remaining nine ideas did not seem promising enough to get reliable return on investment higher than the existing opportunities, but we will be on the lookout for people who may be a good fit to take on to some of these activities.
Additionally, the two areas we think may have any promise -- workplace giving and corporate fundraising -- seem easily done by other parties we could encourage rather than be implemented by us directly.
What will a maintenance mode look like?
Instead, we propose putting Charity Science: Outreach in a maintenance mode where we continue running all our promising initiatives on minimal budget and staff, without expanding our projects further. We plan to continue to our peer-to-peer Christmas fundraiser and our online ads campaign. We also plan to launch and scale up our legacy fundraising project as originally planned.
With an estimated total cost (including opportunity cost) of $35K, with us potentially moving $40K-$175K a year, this would maintain a fundraising ratio between 1:1.1 and 1:5 going forward.
The existing money that has been donated to Charity Science by our generous donors will go entirely toward funding this maintenance mode.
What is the future of Charity Science?
Even though the outreach project is in maintenance mode, Charity Science itself would still continue to grow. We intend to roll out our Charity Science: Health as our full-time focus, hoping to create a GiveWell top charity.
While we expect the large bulk of our impact from this project to come from offering a more cost-effective charity, we also see this project as having the opportunity to significantly scale up the work that we started with Charity Science: Outreach.
A key takeaway we had while fundraising is that it is easier to fundraise for your own charity than to fundraise on behalf of other charities. Most importantly, we can apply for large grants on our own that we wouldn’t have been able to apply for for others. Additionally, by creating our own charity, we think we could more effectively re-pursue networking than we could under the Charity Science: Outreach brand.
Lastly, adding a new top charity to GiveWell’s list of top charities might increase the total amount of funds given to GiveWell top charities as a whole, as it creates excitement and gives people a new option if they are for some reason dissatisfied with the other choices.
Overall, we’re excited by this new direction. We’re happy to see the rest of the EA movement doing so well at raising funds that our fundraising work no longer seems necessary. We’re also happy that we were productive at looking at various fundraising ideas and coming up with ideas that we can run without that much time and money.
This is a blog that details our month to month organizational progress as well as the more technical ideas we have. The RSS feed is just for this content, not for normal blog content.