Applied Optimal Philanthropy: How to Donate $100 to SIAI for Free

by Louie1 min read4th Jan 201186 comments

14

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If I gave you $50 you hadn't planned on receiving, would you consider giving it to charity?

 

Here's your chance to find out.

 

Just in time for the Tallin-Evans matching fundraiser, ING Direct has started offering a free $50 cash sign-up bonus.  I've personally used ING for 10 years and referred over 20 people to similar promotions of theirs in the past so I can confirm that this is legit.1

 

It's a simple, effective way to get started as an optimal philanthropist for free:

 

  1. Get $50 for free

  2. Donate $50 --> turns into $100

  3. Profit!2

 

 

Full disclosure: I was an SIAI Visiting Fellow in 2010.  I've also used ING Direct as a customer the past 10 years, but otherwise have no financial interest in them.


 

[1] This isn't one of those bogus "intro" deals where you have to make sure you cancel the service later on or risk getting charged fees.  ING has no fees, no minimum balance requirements, no sleazy marketing emails, and consistently good savings rates.  If you want to use them for their good service after signing up, great, if not, no worries.  All you have to do to qualify for the $50 is make 3 small purchases you were planning to make anyway with their new debit card.  I know it's a trivial inconvenience, but I think it's worth it to be able to donate up to $100 to charity without actually spending any money.

 

[2] Profit denominated in warm fuzzies, karma, and post-Singularity catgirls.

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This is a cool deal, but I have a quibble: The cost to you of donating $50 is not $0, but...$50. Relative to your not-having-donated self, your having-donated self is $50 poorer.

Granted, this might be more than compensated for by the warm fuzzies and so on. But if $50 is too much for you to donate out of pocket, then it's also probably too much for you to donate when the money is a gift.

OK, well, feel free to take the free $50 and not give it to SIAI. I won't tell anyone.

4endoself10yFor people who budget, $50 that they planned to have might be necessary, but $50 that they get for free does not have any assigned purpose and can be donated.
8fortyeridania10yThat's true. But the next part, that it "can be donated," does not follow. (I am assuming here that by "can be donated" you mean "can be donated without militating against the budget's priorities.") Consider the following three cases. Case 1: Sheila is struggling to make ends meet. She spends next to nothing on fuzzies or on externality-laden projects (e.g. SIAI). Case 2: Carrie is well-off, and spends a lot of fuzzies and others' utilons. Case 3: Malcolm is in the middle. Sudden income decreases might put him into Sheila's subsistence mode, and sudden increases might significantly increase his fiscal breathing room. Only in Case 3 should a "free" $50 make a difference in one's spending patterns. Sheila would be better off spending it on food, medicine, or debt reduction; and Carrie is probably already a donor to SIAI (or whatever). However, even for Malcolm, spending the $50 as though there were no alternative use would be imprudent. The unbudgeted $50 has various possible uses, some of which are better than others. You seem to be saying that a budgeter can, without a utility penalty, spend the new money on __ as though there were no alternative uses to the one suggested in the original post. Is this your intention?
4Will_Sawin10yIt has to do with mental accounting. For someone who is a) like all humans, a bounded rationalist, and b) like most humans, does not donate nearly enough (from a utilitarian perspective) to charity, a catchy idea to donate unbudgeted money could spur an increase in donation. In particular, taking a donation out of money you previously thought you would use hurts. Taking a donation out of money you did not know about before does not hurt.
0Louie10yExactly. I'm sure this phenomenon has been studied and documented somewhere but I don't know what it's called.
3Vaniver10yTypically they refer to these as "windfall gains," and there seems to be significant psychological literature that uses that term.
1Louie10yAh, yes! I'll be studying that literature now thanks to you!
1Kevin10yAlso consider the case where Carrie doesn't donate to charity at all but decides to bite the bullet in response to this post.

ING has spook software that will attempt to link you to your address and phone number. They called my parents' house looking for me, and my mom gave me their number and I had to spend a few minutes on the phone telling them stuff to prove that I used to live in that house and explain why I am no longer at that address etc. This is not enough hassle that I would have turned down fifty bucks to avoid it, but it is more hassle than I expected.

1Clippy10yThat is bad, as it is another barrier to me accepting this offer -- I don't have any way to talk over the phone (obviously). But I'm sure there's software for it. Is there something that will let me communicate over a telephone by inputting words like I do on this forum? That is, I input the string I wish to communicate, and the software reads it through the phone connection. From what I know, such readers sound noticeably unlike humans, which will bother the bigots I plan to interact with. Also, how feasible is it to use teletype when communicating with humans in cases where it must be done over a phone line?
1wnoise10yThe easiest would probably be a TDD relay service [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telecommunications_Relay_Service].

Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to work outside the US - the form here assumes you're in America, and the UK version of the site has nothing similar.

0wedrifid10yING does not have that particular offer in Australia either, although what they do offer still saves money relative to the more mainstream banks.

This post is currently at -1 which seems odd given that this is literally free money with very little catch.

Downvoted as an excuse for you to let your akrasia win and for you not to generate $50 of free money? Probably everyone that values their time at less than $50/hour should do this.

I heartily endorse this, as someone who was previously referred to ING by Louie.

9Rain10yI didn't downvote it, I like ING, and I support the donations. That said, this kind of post fits more in Discussion than on the main page, doesn't it?
1Louie10yI thought about posting in Discussion, but it's not really meta. Also for those people who support SIAI, an actionable idea to reality-test their stated beliefs seems quite beneficial. [ And for those who don't want to support SIAI... I titled the article in a transparent way so they can see right away that they wouldn't want to read it. ]
1wedrifid10yI voted down from 1 to 0 (before it went negative). Not because of the content, purely because of the misleading title. This isn't optimally applied philanthropy. It is a quick way to get $50. I was disappointed when it went to -1. I like the thought of being provided with tips for money making. Just slightly less than I like downvoting misleading titles. :P
3Louie10yI almost wrote "Warning: Unlike what you're used to on Less Wrong, this post is both short and immediately actionable." Maybe I should have. It appears this post violates Less Wronger's expectations that things be long, complicated, and require nothing but idle thought. It honestly pains me greatly to know so many different ways I could "improve" this article, all of which involve actually making it needlessly longer and more complicated simply to appease the highly-perverse expectations here that knowledge which is simple to attain is not valuable.

It honestly pains me greatly to know so many different ways I could "improve" this article, all of which involve actually making it needlessly longer and more complicated

It is ironic that you chose to make this reply to a comment that essentially objected to a needless (and misleading) complication in the title. If you left it at "How to Donate $100 to SIAI for Free" and didn't introduce a complexity ('Applied Optimal Philanthropy') that goes against the content then your post would have earned a whole lot more karma and a more positive response.

As for "all of which involve", the other suggestion you were given here was to post things like this in the discussion section - another thing which has absolutely nothing to do with 'making it needlessly longer'.

simply to appease the highly-perverse expectations here that knowledge which is simple to attain is not valuable.

No, this is nothing to do with 'highly-perverse expectations'. If (and this is something that I doubt strongly) people here are particularly prone to believing that knowledge that is simple to attain is not valuable then it is still irrelevant to the criticism that you are so bitter about receiving.

Once again, I like being provided with tips for making money. I don't like pretentious sulking.

0Kevin10yA free $50 is an opportunity to apply optimal philanthropy.

What's the "Person 2 Person" payment it mentions? Could people pair up and swap a dollar back and forth three times, rather than making purchases? (I don't make many purchases.)

What kind of e-mail/snail mail payload does one sign up for by signing up for this account?

Are there any concealed obstacles to my completely forgetting that this service exists without further hassle after collecting the bonus, if that's what I want to do?

1Rain10yI can't answer the first question. I removed all of my money from my ING account a while ago, but kept the account open. There was no hassle involved except an additional interest payment I had to remove a little bit later (more money, darn? :P). After doing so, I continued to receive emails from them about once every 3 to 4 months. They recently seemed to have changed that policy, though, and I was getting them once a week until I remembered my login info and changed email preferences. I haven't received anything since making that change in November.
0Kevin10ySomething like that should work. Possibly it needs to be with three different people but probably not.
0Alicorn10yAnybody wanna pair up with me? (I'm not confident that I'll make three purchases that I would have made anyway between now and the end of the matching challenge.)
3Benquo10yI'd do it. But if the only reason you want to do paired P2P payments is to get the $50 in time for the matching challenge, you should be aware of this from the ING offer page: "3.Your $50 bonus will automatically be deposited into your account on day 50." January 20th is less than 50 days from today, so you'll have to loan yourself the $50. I'm OK with that, so please let me know to confirm if you want to do this.
1Alicorn10yUnderstood. I can spot the fifty bucks if I expect reimbursement :) Signing up now. Edit: Signed up. Apparently it will take a short while to move the initial deposit; I'll ping you when that happens.
0Benquo10yUpdate: Exchange is done and my $50 is donated. Presumably ING will make good on its offer some time within the next 45 days or so.
0Alicorn10yThanks for the swappage :) Incidentally, the Person 2 Person money exchange is painless enough that I'd be willing to help someone else put enough activity on their account too.
2Benquo10yDouble thanks to you for coming up with the swap idea and following through.
0Alicorn10yMy account appears operational. If yours is too, PM me so we can start swapping money around to get our presents.
3Clippy10yI wanna pair up with you. But I don't know what to put in the "SSN" and "Verify SSN" fields (_/ What did the Users here put in those fields?
2AdeleneDawner10yThose fields are for the applicant's Social Security Number [https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Social_Security_number], a government-supplied identification number. I expect you won't be able to get a useable one; you would have to convince the United States government that you're a citizen or otherwise allowed to work for pay here, which probably requires convincing them that you're human.
1Clippy10yWhy can't I just use someone else's SSN? Maybe a User that won't take up this offer can let me use that User's SSN. Do you have an SSN I can use?
1AdeleneDawner10yAsking someone to tell you their SSN is roughly the same type of thing as one of us asking you for the access codes to your safe zone - perhaps it's not on the same scale as that, but it definitely isn't something that any reasonably smart person will agree to.
9Clippy10yThen why does ING Direct ask for SSN? And why do humans give it their SSN? Is ING Direct run by bad humans?
2AdeleneDawner10yThat's a good question, and one that I don't have a very good answer to, but here's the answer I do have: Banks and some other institutions - generally ones that deal with money in some way - use SSNs to track people. This appears to be government-approved, and I assume that there are significant safeguards in place to reduce or eliminate the chance of bank employees using peoples' SSNs for anything other than what they're supposed to. Even so, smart humans will be cautious about what banks they use, sticking to ones that have good reputations or at least have been around for several years without any reports of misconduct. I perceive ING as a trustworthy institution to give my SSN to (though I haven't opened an account with them); they've been around for nearly two decades, I know or know of several people who have used them with no problems, and I haven't seen any news reports about misconduct on their part. You, on the other hand, don't have a government-approved reason for wanting my SSN (and I suspect that if I let you use it, and the government found out, I would get in trouble, for fraud or something similar), there are no safeguards in place to stop you from using it for other things, and I have no reason to trust that you wouldn't use it for other things, some of which could be very harmful to me.
1Clippy10yThanks for the explanation. But what would I do that would harm you? You told me a week or so ago that you like paperclips, so even if I used the SSN to produce paperclips, what's the problem?
3orthonormal10yBecause you're not a paperclip maximizer, you're a human being who continues to think that mock naivete is hilarious.
-7Clippy10y
3AdeleneDawner10ySeveral of the things you could do with mu SSN would appear in the official records relating to me as socially unacceptable things that I had done, and given how those records are used, that could lead to, for example, me becoming homeless - which would probably lead to me being dead. That's more important to me than paperclips in almost any quantity or situation. (And the situations in which a large quantity of paperclips would be useful enough to me to make a difference in that are ones that I expect you wouldn't approve of - most obviously, if you were to give me enough paperclips that I could sell those paperclips for enough money to buy a house and live comfortably for several decades, I might be willing to trade access to my SSN for that, but it's entirely predictable that anyone who would be interested in buying that quantity of paperclips from me would want to melt them down and use the metal for something else.)
4Clippy10yI understand now, at least at a general level. Thanks for explaining that. I don't want you to die.
3AdeleneDawner10yThat's good to hear. ######(You still can't have my SSN, though.)
1Clippy10y######And you can't have the safe zone access codes. Not that that would be enough to break in, anyway.######
0TheOtherDave10yCan you expand on that question? For example, provide some examples of bad and non-bad humans (hypothetical or actual, as you prefer) and how you make the classification decision? I'm only idly curious.
5Clippy10yI meant "bad human" in the sense that User:AdeleneDawner would use the term in the comment I was replying to: in other words, humans that violate human norms, especially if they can accomplish this with impunity. My personal definition, to be assumed in the absence of overriding context, is that a bad human is any human who hurts the production of paperclips on net, especially if that human would continue to do so upon being informed of the implications of such an action set and reaching a new reflective equilibrium.
1MBlume10ySSNs are considered by humans to be highly private. Asking a human to give you theirs is generally considered bad form. This is why you are being downvoted.
1wedrifid10yIf you put it like that it makes it seem like you are translating between two different species. And in this particular case most humans match Clippy's experience more closely than yours.
-1Clippy10yAs of this moment, I'm not being downvoted, non-ape. EDIT: Except for this comment.

I opened an ING account and transferred my initial deposit to it on January 5. On January 8 and 9, I swapped $5 Person-2-Person payments back and forth three times with Benquo as we agreed, for a total of 6 transactions. It's now April 5, more than 50 days after my account opened and I completed the required transactions, and my account contains only my initial deposit and 3¢ worth of interest payments.

Did anyone else get this money? Did I miss an obvious step?

3Alicorn10yI contacted customer service. They responded almost immediately once I finally got around to doing so, and credited my account manually.
0Benquo10yHmm... I'm experiencing the same thing. I think it's about time I wrote them an email. Strange, since they did honor two other unrelated offers in the past.

Their documentation doesn't seem very good... I hate actually engaging in financial matters (as opposed to discussing it), so I'm wondering how easy it actually is to claim the $50.

For example, could I just take my existing debit card and add some money to a new account in ING, and then immediately use the ING account for purchases at Amazon or for a Paypal donation, satisfying the 3 small purchases rule that way?

If it's that easy, then I think I could give this a shot. But if the easiest way involves schlepping down to my credit union to wrangle about a b... (read more)

2Alicorn10yI was able to deposit money in my new ING account by copying numbers from my checkbook into the form on their website. Didn't have to leave the house.

Wonder why no one had pointed out that it is not free money. Depending on how much your time is worth to you and/or others you might even get a negative out of it.

Disclaimer: I regularly take part in promo offers, since I get some enjoyment out of it, and currently make only very little money.

Note that acceptance is not guaranteed (because of the credit check). I tried applying today and was rejected. (I thought it was because Equifax might still have a hold on my data due to an identity theft incident, but nope, it seems I am just too ghostly for ING to trust.)

From the link:

Your $50 bonus will automatically be deposited into your account on day 50.

So, neat (I'm going to apply and donate), but it'll be too late to be matched.

ETA: *facepalm*

Isn't it obvious to use $50 you currently have in exchange for the $50 bonus?

2SilasBarta10yIsn't it obvious that should send up a red flag? If this really is a free $50 -- really no catch -- why is ING Direct doing it? And if they expect to profit from it, on average, why should I extend them $50 of credit for 50 days, which is what I'm doing when I donate $50 in anticipation of ING "paying me back"? This sounds like the kind of thing where they will put up enough inconveniences to people who merely want the $50 so that enough of them will give up in trying to get it. Reminds me of their commercials: "Who's that?" Oh, ING Direct is an online bank that works to minimize your costs... "I know what ING Direct is. I mean, who's that sucker who expects free money from a bank?" (sorry, can't find a link atm)
7Louie10yI agree that in general these kinds of things don't work. That's why I wrote the extended footnote explaining that I've used this company for 10 years and had 20 friends sign up for it, that none of us have ever been charged any fees, etc. I wouldn't just recommend any random online deal without knowing it worked. Also, if you know how competitive online ad pricing for banking are, it's easy to understand how the cost to acquire a new customer for ING via advertising is easily > $50. But they're a smart, progressive, company so they're fine paying you directly if you sign up without having to be advertised heavily to.
7shokwave10yThey are incentivising the creation of accounts. Probably because somewhere along the line, profit was measured by accounts. Lost purposes, Goodhart's Law, etc.

ING has been offering permutations of this deal for close to a decade. If it was that unprofitable for them in the aggregate, they would have stopped doing it by now.

6shokwave10yA measure affected by Goodhart's law doesn't lose all its value - schools measure password retention, but kids still end up educated, and so forth. "Accounts created" is a good enough measure to remain profitable giving away ~50 dollars. My comment was intended to get people to realise this isn't a scam; this is intentionally placing yourself in the 'acceptable losses for ING' category.
2[anonymous]10ySchools are different; they have little or no incentive to do well. Lots of people have horror stories of how comically bad their early education was, but how many of those schools went out of business later?
4SilasBarta10yOkay, this is an example of what counts as relevant evidence, and is easy to substantiate too. (Your second sentence is unnecessary and doesn't follow, though.)
0nick01200010yNevertheless, TANSTAAFL. The incentive here is being paid for in other ways, and you'd need to determine the opportunity costs of that money going somewhere else instead.
2Kevin10yThere is totally such thing as a free lunch and this post is evidence of such. The incentive is being paid for with the free money ING generates in their magic vaults of fractional reserve banking. What opportunity cost?
0gwern10yYou're confusing me; are you being sarcastic in the first paragraph and your question supposed to imply a knock-down argument against the preceding?
0Kevin10yI was being serious but with a mocking tone in the first paragraph. The question was sincere, I wasn't sure what opportunity cost nick was referring to and especially confused by his use of the word "need". His response cleared that up by making it clear that he was knocking the financial system as a whole, which I agree is insane, yet it somehow continues to work in one of the very real examples of magic in everyday life.
0nick01200010yThat of all the money devalued by the inflation caused by printing money.
1NancyLebovitz10yAlso, they might be taking advantage of people being unlikely to bother to delete the account, so there's some reasonable chance that the account will actually be used. I'm assuming that creating an account is very cheap for them.
6Kevin10yAnd in this case, you are wrong. Sometimes a free lunch is a free lunch. And sometimes you can get paid $15/hour to work part-time from the convenience of your home with no catch. Two very real companies (one publicly traded on NASDAQ) hire for these very real positions. http://www.lionbridge.com/lionbridge/en-US/company/web-site/internet-assessors.htm [http://www.lionbridge.com/lionbridge/en-US/company/web-site/internet-assessors.htm] http://www.leapforceathome.com/qrp/public/jobs/list;jsessionid=3FD3AD716E1CDBE18B1C6ECEDFB7820A.lf-prod-03-2209 [http://www.leapforceathome.com/qrp/public/jobs/list;jsessionid=3FD3AD716E1CDBE18B1C6ECEDFB7820A.lf-prod-03-2209] Just because something pattern matches as a scam doesn't make it a scam. Can't you donate $47.50 to SIAI and keep the extra money to pay yourself back for interest?
6shokwave10yI submit that this should be added to the top level post.
2SilasBarta10yThat is at least as hard for me to substantiate as the very claim in question, and doesn't look like a "too good to be true" opportunity in the first place. 1) It's not the interest I'm worried about; it's the principle (pun intended). (The interest would be practically nothing anyway.) 2) I have donated to SIAI already, several times this amount; I just don't mention it at every opportunity. 3) The question is whether I should donate a marginal $50 in anticipation of getting $50 from ING, under the assumption this is nearly costless to me. "Why don't you just donate ~$50 to SIAI?" is non-responsive to that question, and makes me wonder why you got voted up, as did the praise of that suggestion.
1shokwave10yI upvoted and praised it because it's a good point regardless of its irrelevance.
0SilasBarta10yThen would you please elaborate on what about it is a good point? I don't understand if your point is that * even if you keep some money for yourself, it's a good deal; or, * you should donate ~$50 to SIAI anyway, even if this deal didn't exist, jerk-face; or, * hey, by advancing the $50, you can take advantage of the doubling; or, * something else entirely as well as why you believe that intended meaning was obvious.
3shokwave10yEspecially if you keep some money for yourself, it's a good deal. Setting up the account is a minor inconvenience [http://lesswrong.com/lw/f1/beware_trivial_inconveniences/], so a disproportionate number of people are not going to do anything about this. Taking a cut for yourself allows you to take whatever cut you want to overcome said inconvenience: if you think it's about 10 dollars annoying, you keep 10 dollars, and then 40 (80) goes to SIAI. The compensation cancels out with the annoyance, and you're left with fuzzies. That is why I praised and upvoted it, but I don't think it's what User:Kevin intended. I think he intended to answer your question with "you get $2.50". I believe this intended meaning is obvious because he quoted your question and provided an answer in the form of a situation where you get $2.50.
3DanielLC10yIt seems to me that either it it's better for SIAI to have the money, in which case it's a worse deal, or it's better for you to have it, in which case keeping all of it is the best deal. I don't see why keeping some of it would be optimal.
2shokwave10yThere is a third case that may occur: you don't sign up, nobody gets the money. From all perspectives this is a bad thing. If you pay yourself some money, you decrease the proportion of "no money" to add to the proportion of "SIAI gets money". Keeping 5% means the SIAI gets 95 dollars (matched) instead of 100 - but if it makes a significant dent in the chances of the SIAI getting 0 dollars then the expected outcome is higher for paying yourself than it is for sending it all to the SIAI. That said, you could use this justification to overcome the inconveniences, and re-evaluate at the moment of donating to the SIAI, and decide to donate the full amount.
1SilasBarta10yMy entire objection is that I don't think I will get the $50, ("It's not the interest I'm worried about; it's the principle."), either by ING not giving it, or by requiring me to spend $50 worth of my time. Do you now see why arguments that assume ING acceptably comes through are therefore non-responsive? (Because it's frankly taking a while.)
0shokwave10yCould you elaborate on why? "ING not giving it" is unlikely [http://lesswrong.com/lw/3m0/applied_optimal_philanthropy_how_to_donate_100_to/3a3a] , "requires >$50 of my time" seems unlikely - the website in question says it will take 5 minutes to sign up, each of the three transactions will take ~5 minutes, donating will take ~5 minutes, spending or transferring the bonus $50 down the line will take ~5 minutes... that's half an hour. So please, I would like to know why you don't think you will get the $50.
2SilasBarta10yCan we first agree that given my position, the points you were actually arguing in an attempt to change my mind were not relevant? With that said, the evidence provided by Rain and Kevin indicate that that is a non-sleazy offer, so the only question is whether this is worth my time. And I think you've significantly underestimated the time this will actually take (since you can't do all of that in a batch) and my time value/hour. Still worth considering though.
0shokwave10ySure. I figured since the top level post specified in a footnote that it was genuine and not at all sleazy, and both top level posts and Louie have good track records, you must have had some other reason. Of course, if you value your time much higher than I do, you might need comparatively more evidence to be convinced of that.
3Rain10yING does this all the time. I created my account years ago with another $50 promotion. I got an email from them for a different $50 promotion a few months ago. It's consistently mentioned on sites such as Get Rich Slowly as a simple way to make some money, and has proven out time and again.
0fortyeridania10yThanks for pointing out this fix.