Suggestions for Individual Donors from Open Philanthropy Staff – 2020

Last year, the year before, the year before that, the year before that, and the year before that, we published a set of suggestions for individual donors looking for organizations to support. This year, we are repeating the practice and publishing updated suggestions from Open Philanthropy program staff who chose to provide them.

Similar caveats to previous years apply:

These are reasonably strong options in causes of interest, and shouldn’t be taken as outright recommendations (i.e., it isn’t necessarily the case that the person making the suggestion thinks they’re the best option available across all causes).
The recommendations below fall within the cause areas Open Philanthropy has chosen to focus on. While this list does not expressly include GiveWell’s top charities, we believe those organizations to be the most cost-effective, evidence-backed giving opportunities available to donors today, and expect that some readers of this post might want to give to them.
Many of these recommendations appear here because they are particularly good fits for individual donors – due to being able to make use of fairly arbitrary amounts of donations from individuals, and in some cases because the recommender thought they’d be particularly likely to appeal to readers. This shouldn’t be seen as a list of our strongest grantees overall (although of course there may be overlap).
Our explanations for why these are strong giving opportunities are very brief and informal, and we don’t expect individuals to be persuaded by them unless they put a lot of weight on the judgment of the person making the suggestion.

In addition, we’d add that these recommendations are made by the individual program officers or teams cited, and do not necessarily represent my (Holden’s) personal or Open Phil’s institutional “all things considered” view.

Note that we are no longer including “Why we haven’t fully funded it” information for each option. In most cases, these grants are coming from limited per-focus-area budgets.

Suggestions are alphabetical by cause (with some assorted and “meta” suggestions last).

Criminal Justice Reform – recommendations by Chloe Cockburn

The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls

What is it? The National Council, led by Andrea James, is a membership organization that does training, advocacy, and organizing to end the incarceration of women and girls. They regrant money to set up and support hyper-local organizing hubs in multiple locations around the country, plus thousands of members both in and out of prison around the country. They bring policy expertise to local and national campaigns, and are very focused on reducing incarceration.

Why I recommend it: A core facet of a successful social movement is leadership by those most directly affected by the issue. The National Council is doing some of the strongest work around the country to mobilize and train people with the experience of incarceration to lead efforts to transform their communities away from reliance on incarceration. They have a highly capable and visionary leader in Andrea James, and a powerful bench of leadership in the executive team. The potential for impact in the long term is high. They are still in relatively early stages of the organization, and therefore dollars at this point can have a lot of impact on their long term trajectory. It’s a lean organization where additional dollars tend to be regranted to where they are needed most across the network of organizations working with the Council.

How to donate: Here’s a link to donate to the Council.

The Black Strategy Fund

What is it? This entity was founded by Patrisse Cullors, who is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and a prominent organizer leader on the ground in Los Angeles. The fund identifies and supports emerging leaders around the country who are working to address excessive policing and jailing. Support from the fund looks like training, communications help, and campaign strategy development help.

Why I recommend it: By giving to the fund, you’re buying into the vision and expertise of Patrisse and her team, who have chalked up many wins to reduce incarceration and have strong judgment and discernment. Your dollars will be going to people who they assess to be the most promising, which is better than almost anyone else (including me) could do. One of the most critical times to support someone’s leadership is when they are first emerging and the momentum in their area is high. Putting dollars into this fund ensures that the people in the best position to locate these opportunities have the resources to move quickly to support that emerging leadership. It’s also a good place to add marginal dollars, since the more money they raise, the more individuals they can help add capacity to.

How to donate: Here’s a link to donate to the Black Strategy Fund.

Fair and Just Prosecution

What is it? FJP serves as an information and advocacy resource to reform-oriented prosecutors. They research best practice in policy and share throughout their dozens of members, convene prosecutors to form relationships and learn from each other, and put out statements on policy at the national level.

Why I recommend it: I think that the organizing efforts listed above are the most impactful ways to give. However, not everyone is comfortable funding organizing. Fair and Just Prosecution may be appealing to donors who are interested in supporting inside game efforts to transform how system actors lead. As you can see from reading our CJR strategy document, we think that transforming prosecution is one of the most impactful things that can be done in the CJ reform space. Since it isn’t a very well known group, I’m happy to take the opportunity to share this with OP fans who want to give to an effective organization that’s enabling reform prosecutors to be bolder and quicker in changing outmoded policies and practices.

How to donate: Here’s a link to donate to Fair and Just Prosecution.

Farm Animal Welfare – recommendations by Amanda Hungerford and Lewis Bollard

Wild Animal Initiative

What is it? The Wild Animal Initiative publishes research on wild animal welfare, raises awareness of wild animal suffering, and works to build an academic field for this research.

Why we recommend it: We think that wild animal welfare is a very important and neglected issue — there are trillions of wild animals alive at any time, yet almost no funding goes to evaluating and improving their welfare (as distinct from conserving their species or habitat). We’re not sure if there are any opportunities for improvements that are both clearly beneficial and tractable, but think the magnitude of suffering argues for doing more research to see if there could be. We’re particularly impressed by the thoughtfulness and approach of the Initiative’s staff, especially executive director Michelle Graham and deputy director Cameron Meyer Shorb, and their clear research agenda.

How to donate: You can donate online here.

EA Animal Welfare Fund

What is it? The EA Animal Welfare Fund, which Lewis chairs alongside three other fund managers, seeks to identify and fund the most promising neglected opportunities to reduce animal suffering. These typically end up being smaller groups in neglected nations (e.g. Russia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines) or on neglected topics (e.g. EA animal advocacy research, wild animal welfare, invertebrate welfare).

Why we recommend it: The EA Fund is a simple way to support a more diverse portfolio of groups than you could easily support directly. E.g. the past three grant rounds (here, here, and here) supported 35 different groups across 24 countries. Because these groups are typically small, even small gifts to the Fund can go a long way. And because the fund is disbursed by four managers who work full-time in this space, it can draw on their knowledge of new opportunities and information about existing groups you may not be aware of. (Conversely, there’s a risk that this cements groupthink within the movement, so you may not want to support the fund if you have independent views on what works or are aware of unique opportunities.)

How to donate: You can donate online here.

Global Health and Development – recommendations by Jacob Trefethen

Center for Global Development

What is it? The Center for Global Development (CGD) is a think tank based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research on and promotes improvements to rich-world policies that affect the global poor.

Why I suggest it: We’ve supported CGD for many years, and Alexander Berger has recommended CGD in previous years’ versions of this blog post. We view CGD as the leading U.S. think tank in an important area, global development, and as unusually well-aligned with Open Phil’s values around the importance of evidence-based policy and cost-effectiveness. When we first supported CGD (before I joined Open Phil), we thought its track record justified its historical spend many times over. We haven’t scrutinized CGD’s more recent activities at that level of depth, but tentatively believe that remains true. For example, it seems that CGD had a significant impact on the recent creation of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, originally called for in a CGD memo. CGD is a large, mature organization, and I don’t have a clear sense of what impact marginal funding is likely to have, but I (and Alexander) see it as worthy of support.

How to donate: You can donate here.

COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa

What is it? The COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa (CAF-Africa) is a partnership of nonprofits working with health ministries to deliver Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to community health workers in up to 24 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Why I suggest it: I recommend CAF-Africa for donors looking to have an impact on the direct and indirect health harms caused by COVID-19 around the world. Donations are useful relatively linearly up to a large total amount, for pooled purchases that secure better pricing for PPE across lower income countries; that PPE is targeted at key health actors in those countries (community health workers) who often cannot do their job without it; and the NGOs that make up CAF-Africa have credible experience with procurement, shipping, and last mile delivery. Community health workers carry out essential work related to (among other things) HIV, malaria, and COVID-19 prevention and care. High global demand for surgical masks and gloves in the pandemic has led to shortages, felt most acutely in lower income countries. I believe that health systems in the affected countries alone will not succeed in getting enough PPE to community health workers in the next few months, and existing multilateral actors like UNICEF will not either (though they make more sense for pooled procurement over the long term). We made a grant of $275,000 to CAF-Africa recently.

How to donate: You can donate here. CAF-Africa partner Direct Relief is managing donations on behalf of the partners.

Other policy causes – recommendations by Alexander Berger

International Refugee Assistance Project

What is it? The International Refugee Assistance Project is a legal advocacy organization that works to ensure safe resettlement options for refugees.

Why I suggest it: I think IRAP has been an effective advocate for expanding various legal channels for refugee resettlement to the United States, most notably in championing the special immigration visa for Iraqis and Afghans who worked with the U.S. military. They also played a key role in causing the protests against the travel ban at U.S. airports in early 2017, and have had a number of successes with litigation. They have grown rapidly over the past few years, so I think it’s harder than before to assess the impact of marginal funds, but I don’t know of another group that has a similar track record of cost-effectively expanding opportunities for people from low-income countries to be able to safely move to high-income countries.

How to donate: Donate here.

California YIMBY

What is it? California YIMBY (short for “yes-in-my-back-yard”) is a relatively new advocacy organization devoted to increasing the supply of housing in California.

Why I suggest it: California YIMBY is the most prominent group aimed at changing California state policies to allow more housing, which we see as a promising philanthropic opportunity because California has the worst housing supply problems nationally, which contributes to high poverty rates for low-income people and foregone economic growth. California is large enough that state policy reforms could make a meaningful dent in the national problem, but state policy reforms are not necessarily vastly harder here than in other places. Between reducing rents and allowing more people to be able to move to or remain in high-wage areas, we roughly estimate the social value of each new home in coastal California to be in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars, which means that even a very small improvement in the state’s housing policies could deliver a high return.

How to donate: Donate here. Note that CA YIMBY is a 501c4, not a 501c3, so your donations are not tax-deductible. Donating here may be relatively more attractive for you than others if you don’t itemize your deductions.

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