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.
After running a door-to-door pilot with a sample size of 1,528 houses spanning roughly a month, the data supports the general consensus within Charity Science that door-to-door fundraising on behalf of direct-level charities is not viable for a charity in our particular financial and reputational position. Below is a report unpacking our methods and discussing the results that ultimately led us to declare door-to-door fundraising as a strategy not worth pursuing any further.
Below are four key findings that ultimately informed our conclusions on the door-to-door fundraising pilot:
Unlike several of the fundraising techniques previously explored by Charity Science, face-to-face fundraising, and door-to-door campaigns specifically, allow for a wide variety of metrics to be recorded and analyzed. In this particular pilot, the amount of data gathered was sufficient enough to make long-term projections on the viability of door-to-door as a method of fundraising for Charity Science, but not large enough to produce any conclusions of statistical significance. Despite the final outcome, Charity Science is nonetheless of the opinion that the aggregated data and analysis contains value for the effective altruism community and the nonprofit sector as a whole.
After completing our first two month phase of research across thirty intervention areas, we have ruled out twenty-two intervention areas, leaving eight broad intervention areas left. We have now turned those into numerous specific charity ideas that we will dive deeper into with further research.
Each of these intervention areas were researched for up to forty hours (using this outline) to determine whether our team could and should create an effective charity in that area. While we have ruled out these twenty-two interventions at this stage for our team going forward, we still think many of these interventions could be worth considering as donation targets or for other teams to found charities in. Also, some interventions were ruled out largely because they already had an exceptionally strong charity recommended by GiveWell. Additionally, all ratings were relative to other intervention areas on our list, and the interventions that we ruled out are likely still unusually cost-effective and evidence-based relative to average global health programs.
Below we attempt to provide a quick summary of the research we have conducted and published including links to more detailed information. This is not meant as a full justification or explanation so much as to give a sense of our views on the weakest and strongest of interventions we looked at. Over time we will be posting many blog posts explaining our thinking and outlining our research on interventions that did make the cut. We will also eventually start posting our ideas about which concrete charities we think may be high value and why.
Charity Science has been running for 2.5 years and conducted six experiments (with three failures, two successes and one pending). It has raised an estimated $300,000 CAD spending about $80,000 CAD in operating costs for GiveWell recommended charities. Our best guess for a ratio is 1:4, although we include many different ways of estimating impact in our report. We feel as though our biggest mistakes include running too cheaply, not hiring soon enough and relying too heavily on skilled EAs. Our plans moving forward are for half of our team to continue conducting experiments and scale up successes in Charity Science and for half of our team to move onto the new project of Charity Entrepreneurship.
What this blog post includes
After 2.5 years of working on Charity Science, we felt like it was time to write an internal review. This post aims to be a broad overview of the work Charity Science has done historically, what we’ve accomplished, to give insight as to what hasn’t worked, and to provide some of the rationale and context for our future plans.
A significant development for Charity Science’s operations is that many of our staff, as of this month, have moved to our new sister project Charity Entrepreneurship. This will mean that they will be in India for at least the next few months conducting research on the ground into the formation of a new direct anti-poverty charity. You can follow updates as to Charity Entrepreneurship’s activities here: www.charityentrepreneurship.com
Much of our time over November has been directed to our peer-to-peer fundraising program, in particular, making preparations for the ‘Donate Your Christmas’ fundraiser. We have been conducting donor stewardship with our past peer-to-peer donors to investigate retention rates. We have also worked on providing training and assistance to our fundraisers. Notably, we discerned that offering to set-up campaign pages for people and then provide them the log-in details substantially increased follow-through. We have also made various tweaks and improvements to the CauseVox platform for this year’s fundraiser. We have also worked to notify potential fundraisers about matching possibilities and pair matchers with campaigns. The peer-to-peer fundraiser has been advertised through contact with student groups, posts to Facebook and the EA Newsletter. We have also published posts to the Huffington Post and Patheos (which have been shared almost 300 times and liked almost 200 times respectively).
A full report on the impact of the Christmas fundraiser will follow early in the new year.
Skeptics for Charity
The SFC experiment continued during the course of November. We published a number of articles on the Huffington Post and the SFC blog, and posted these to around 40 skeptic or atheist specific Facebooks groups to increase traffic, as well as reaching out personally to other skeptic-oriented groups and individuals. We have continued to update our website and online content in response to Google Analytics and adjustments to our Google Adwords. We have also run A/B testing of pitches aimed at soliciting regular donations versus long-term pledges due to the slow take-up of pledges noted last month, (which we speculated in October may be too big an initial ask).
The results of this experiment so far have not been positive. Full details and our evaluation of the project can be found in our full report here.
We have continued to receive significant interest from a number of individuals and organisations. Our legacy services are still currently suspended, however, while we research different options for taking this forward. At present, we are looking into the possibility of collaboration with a variety of legal companies in order to provide the service. One question to address is how best to deal with the legal requirements of different jurisdictions. We expect negotiations with different legal firms to continue into the early new year, but are optimistic that we will be able to reach agreement on a viable solution.
Our team of interns and volunteers is now the largest it has ever been. We have been pleasantly surprised by the contribution they have been able to make so far on tasks ranging from data-mining, article-writing, and content design for our peer-to-peer campaign.
We have declared Skeptics For Charity as a niche marketing strategy a failed initiative. Below is a report unpacking our methods and discussing the relative successes and shortcomings that ultimately led us to declare this particular project as a strategy not worth pursuing any further.
Top Reasons For Failure:
Among the ~9 pledgers, all were non-counterfactual pledges totalling between $15,500 and $22,300. Even for non-counterfactuals, these numbers are underwhelming to say the least. Below are the suspected reasons for failure split between four broad categories:
Money moved update
A portion of the money that moved through Charity Science’s account amounts to roughly $10,000 in the last month (this does not include fundraisers on the AMF platform, in the US, or matching funds, among other sources. Counterfactuals are currently very rough approximations and will be updated more precisely at the end of the year).
We are starting to move our hours into the X-mas fundraiser and are excited at some of the expansive steps we are taking. However, we are also concerned at the lack of matching funding we have this year. Last year, we had a large matching donor that might have had a large effect on how much funds were raised successfully. This and other factors, such as donor fatigue, might contribute to less money being moved than last year. Currently we are unsure how well X-mas will do but think the implications of its results could be far researching on charity sciences future activities.
We currently have 6 staff and several interns and volunteers. The last two months have seen Charity Science grow into the largest team we have ever had.
Two big experiments have been going on at Charity Science over the last month or two. These are the Skeptics For Charity and legacy fundraising experiments. We are starting to get a sense of how both of these are doing and although we plan on publishing more complete reports on our website, we wanted to give a quick update here:
The legacy experiment so far looks promising. We have started it off in a relatively lean way with very low monetary costs and time costs. The last month has seen the free will preparation service spike in popularity with over 30 people interested in donating to effective charities in their wills. Popularity is likely due to the articles written by Kieran and Baxter posted on various online publications, including the Huffington Post, Atheist Republic, Quartz, and The Life You Can Save blog. The majority of users have been from the US, with some traffic from Australia and the UK, as well as several other countries that are not yet supported by the service. We have been able to use the last will templates accurately, but we have had to seek paid services when dealing with more complex requests. One user in particular could potentially be a very influential donor, so we have taken particular care in this case.
Although we feel the service is going well given the size of some of the wills, we want to look more into liability and legal concerns. We currently think that although these issues are resolved it’s better not to write more wills until we have confirmed all the details for the process. Thus, we have temporarily suspended the service until these questions can be answered and we have contacted previous users to extend our apologies. Users may still fill out the form and we will contact them in the future with further options.
The Skeptics For Charity experiment has had less positive results, although there have been a lot of outreach methods, including newsletters, Adwords adjustments, and a round of social media postings. The site has enjoyed some decent web traffic, but there has been a very low pledge sign up rate. We have had some confusion as to what explains a peculiar spike in traffic that occurred and plan on doing more thorough tracking in the future. We plan on doing further outreach and website improvements and re-evaluating the progress of this experiment in the next couple months.
One theory is that there’s interest, but pledging is a major step. Although we do allow visitors to the site to mitigate the risks by donating instead, it still might seem intimidating and not completely clear as to what the visitor is pledging. Plans are in motion to run a/b split testing using Google Analytics to test whether ‘regular donations’ should replace pledging.
Our Online ads experiment is still progressing with minimal time expended and results. We do not plan to scale this up until we are accepted to the larger Google grants program.
Help Charity Science match donations for the Christmas 2015 fundraiser.
The holiday season is near, which means we at Charity Science are once again gearing up for our annual Christmas fundraiser. This campaign has become one of our most prolific methods of raising money for effective charities with an over 1000% return on investment, and that’s thanks in part to our inclusion of a counterfactual match guarantee, meaning for every dollar that is raised, another dollar is committed to the cause.
This may at first seem to be a trivial gesture, but a closer look reveals it’s much more than that. We’ve found that donors find motivation in partnership. Take, for example, one of our fundraisers from last year who has noted he would not have run a fundraiser that earned over $25,000 if not for the match guarantee. It’s symbiosis in action.
Our goal at Charity Science is to harness the momentum that can be achieved through a partnership between donors and matchers. Logistically, this means we must have matchers in place to be the motivators. This is the first line in a dialogue that might go something like this:
Matcher: “If you go to the gym, I’ll go with you.”
Donor: “Alright, fine. I’ll go.”
Matcher: “OK, then I’ll go too.”
Everybody else: “What a great idea! Let’s all go.”
As the matcher instigates the process, this is where we must begin. And this is where we call on you.
In order to see the kind of success we’ve seen in the past, we need EAs to pledge a counterfactual match to GiveWell charities for the Charity Science Christmas campaign. If you’d like to do so, simply sign up here.
By focusing on global poverty, you’re funneling in money from donors that may otherwise been given to non-EA charities (or no charities at all). Considering the multiplier effect, a strong case can be made that participating in our fundraiser through matching will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
It’s important to note that this is not merely speculation. Our metric for measuring the success of fundraisers is not simply the amount that’s donated, but the amount that wouldn’t have been donated otherwise. And that success has been substantial. So to ensure this continues, we will be asking donors and matchers where their money would have gone.
Consider participating in Charity Science’s Christmas fundraiser. Whether you’re pledging $50 or $50,000, remember that by doing so, your impact is even greater than your contribution.
Pledge to match here.
Money Moved Update
Portion of money moved that went through Charity Science’s account: $4000 in the last month (This does not include fundraisers on the AMF platform or in the US or matching funds, among other sources. Counterfactuals are currently very rough approximations and will be updated more precisely at the end of the year.)
Hiring / Training Update
External Review Update
Our first choices for reviewers, Ben Kuhn and Jonas M, were too busy and declined. GiveWell was skeptical that the external review would be worth our time, as it would be hard to find someone who has enough available time and is sufficiently skilled.
Could we get a new hire to do it? Probably too much bias, since they’d be in a trial and want to get hired.
Could we reach out to the EA community? Yes, but we might not get someone aligned similarly enough in values. However, this seems like the best next step.
Could Joey do it? He’s critical, but still too internal and likely biased.
Housing / Office Update
New office/house space that will be 100% office and made up to look like that.
Online Ads Update
Past impact of online advertising was found to be small. Only ~$300 could be traced to it from one person running a P2P event.
Kieran contacted Kyle Scott and got some good ideas. Explored outsourcing and listed a volunteer project on Google’s volunteer network. None of these options came to much. Kieran is now Adwords Certified.
Click Through rate in Adwords is now over 1%. It was 0.8% and is now ~1.35%. Other organizations are also around 1%. We are on track to get the Ad Grants for March of next year. Recently, we had the first ever newsletter sign up from Adwords.
Improving the tracking of online advertising has been stalled. E-commerce tracking requires coding skills that we don’t have at the moment. Switching to Stripe will be time consuming and difficult to set up. There is no point setting it up now if we are just going to switch to Chimp.
Moving forward, Kieran is going to start AB testing on landing pages and otherwise see if there are changes that can be made to our site to optimize it. Kieran is also interested in contacting top charities and/or GW to see if they will let us take a look at their Adwords to help them optimize their accounts.
Legacy Fundraising Update
Kieran has created basic landing pages for the campaign on our website (see here and here).
He also wrote three posts about the campaign and has created an MVP will software/system that many people have already used.
General promotion will continue.
Niche Marketing Update
b) Started making the website. Chose to do lean startup model for ask, where people don’t immediately sign up for monthly donations; we simply get their name, number, and email address so we can do the stewardship experiment. We’ll only set up the monthly donations if enough people sign up for it to be worth our time to make a really nice signup sheet.
c)Secured interview with a prominent skeptic who could potentially be a celebrity to promote the site. He has 169,000 followers on Twitter and often speaks about science-based morality, so he has the potential to help us grow bigger much quicker.
Luan is doing well. It looks like we are on pace to do everything that needs to be done.
Have recently given a $75K grant to AMF and a $25K grant to SCI.
Experience Poverty update
Total money moved: ~$47K ($25k after some adjusting for counterfactuals)
Changes on the Board
Proposal: Change Peter Hurford’s Title from “Board Coordinator” to “Vice Chair” - Vote passes (6-0)
Process for people applying to join the board (This person wants to join)
Proposal: Add Marcus Davis to the Board (5 in favor, 1 abstention)
How often to have board meetings? QUARTERLY (6-0)
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.