Ben Hoffman's donor recommendations

by Rob Bensinger1 min read21st Jun 201819 comments


Effective AltruismCause Prioritization
Personal Blog

A conversation I had on Facebook last month, saved here so I can link back to it:

Anonymous: I want to give away some money. Who should I give it to? [...]

Note that I am familiar with the effective altruism movement and with (I think “GiveWell’s top charities” might be the right answer, and I am even curious how many people reading this would say that - I just don’t want to get comments starting with “Have you heard of…”.)


Buck Shlegeris: I think donor lotteries probably have higher EV than anything else you can do from your current epistemic state.


Rob Bensinger: I came here to recommend donor lotteries, but Buck already did it. I think most people should donate via donor lotteries. If you win the lottery and don't know where else to donate, the EA Funds are usually a better fallback option than GiveWell.

Ben Hoffman: Agreed on donor lotteries but not on EA funds.

Rob: Oh, interesting, why do you think GiveWell beats EA Funds?

Ben: They seem pretty similar in prospect, given the extent to which they seem to funge against each other (especially when you notice the level of coordination between GiveWell, Good Ventures, and Open Philanthropy Project), and the strong overlap in management. Basically it seems a bit odd to spend attention distinguishing them, vs spending effort distinguishing substantially different strategies.

Ben: Here's my explanation of donor lotteries, which links to a couple others:


Ben: I would recommend either gifting it directly to individuals you think have done good work in the world, without restrictions, or reaching out to them directly and asking them where they think you should give it.

Facebook queries like these will select for charities that are memetically fit answers to "where should I give?". If you don't have time to track this sort of thing, then just keep rolling it over into donor lotteries until/unless you "win" enough money to make it worth your time to track it.

Ben: Another decent option: giving unsolicited monetary gifts to friends or acquaintances (people known to you personally, not via mass media) who seem like they're basically benevolent and competent, have high marginal value for money, and aren't asking for any.

Ben: Anyhow, the reason I'm not suggesting any specific charities should be pretty obvious. If you want specific recommendations from me for some reason you can reach out to me directly. Likewise for other people you expect to be following similar heuristics.