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Why effective altruists should do Charity Science’s Christmas fundraiser

tog 01 December 2015 11:59PM

"Maybe Christmas", he thought, "doesn't come from a store."

"Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"

-The Grinch, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (p.29)

The Donate Your Christmas fundraiser is simple–instead of Christmas gifts, ask for donations to your preferred GiveWell-recommended charity. Of course, you can take it further than that if you’d like and ask colleagues or your social network.

You should Donate Your Christmas because by using the available resources with relatively small time commitments, it’s likely you’ll raise counterfactual funds for your preferred GiveWell recommended charity. In addition, it’s worth considering because it’s an opportunity to potentially spread ideas relating to effective altruism.

It’s likely to raise counterfactual funds for your preferred GiveWell recommended charity


First, I will outline why it’s likely you’ll raise money by briefly looking at seasonal trends, donor motivations, and results from other peer-to-peer campaigns, and then briefly state why it seems likely that part of the funds raised will be counterfactual.

Much evidence suggests people are more likely to give in December. For instance, one survey reported that 40% said they’re more likely to give during the holiday season than would be for the rest of the year. Network For Good’s Digital Giving Index also reports that 31% of annual giving occurred in December.

In addition, evidence on donor motivations indicates that peer-to-peer fundraisers may be successful. For instance, academic research suggests that social ties play a strong causal role in the decision to donate and increases average gift size as well. Complementary to this influence are the many people who give to those who ask. One survey recorded 20% of respondents saying that they simply donate to the charities that ask them.

Moreover, available data indicates that peer-to-peer fundraising pages regularly raise hundreds of dollars. One peer-to-peer fundraising platform reports that the average fundraising page raises $568 and this blog post reports Charity Water’s average peer-to-peer fundraiser totals at $770. These figures match well with Charity Science’s experience from last year’s Christmas Fundraiser which raised an average of $750 CAD per peer-to-peer fundraising page and a median amount of $319 CAD.

Unless your peer group and family regularly donate to GiveWell-recommended charities, it’s reasonable to suggest that a portion of the funds raised will be counterfactual.

There are relatively small time costs

The Christmas Fundraiser is easy to set up – visit our Christmas fundraisers page for the US, the UK, Canada or Australia on the donations platform CauseVox and then click “Create a Fundraising Page.” The next steps should be self-explanatory, and we’ve provided default text which you may adjust and pictures too so that the time costs involved are minimal.

When running your fundraiser, you can check out Peter Hurford’s guide to running a fundraiser for an overview of techniques that could lead to a successful fundraiser. Also know that we’ll provide email and Facebook status templates for you to save time in promoting your campaign. Here’s an example of one of the email templates:

Hi [Person A]!

How are things? How are your kids doing? Over here, things are going really well. I just came back from a trip to Chicago, which was surprisingly beautiful and very cold. It snowed! The buildings were gorgeous and ornate though. It felt like I’d come to a steampunk city. [Note: start with something personal]

So I know we never really exchange gifts at Christmas but I’m hoping you might be up for making an exception this year. The thing is, as I generally have way too much stuff already and I’d rather gift money go towards saving lives, so I’ve decided to run a birthday/Christmas fundraiser in lieu of gifts.

All of the money I raise is going to give kids in the developing world medicine. Here’s the charity it’s for (LINK). Just $1.25 pays for the pill which treats them for an entire year. My goal is to raise $1,000, so that will treat 800 kids for a year. Would you like to help me reach this goal and donate to my campaign? Even just $10 would help eight kids. [Note: saying even just a small bit helps makes it so people can donate just a little and feel OK about it. Makes them know that what they can contribute matters] To donate you can just go to this link (LINK) If not, no worries. :)

Thanks and Happy Holidays!

[Insert name]


And here’s an example of one of the Facebook status templates:


"Fair warning. This post is totally a plug, but it’s for awesome charities so I feel pretty okay about it. Also, I’m not asking for money. Just a bit of your time and some holiday spirit.


I want to give you a chance to help raise money for the best charities in the world. And by that I mean the ones that have been heavily scrutinized and give you the biggest bang for your buck. I’ll put some more information about those charities in the comments so you can check them out.


For those of you who are fed up with the materialism of Christmas (or just think you have some mega-generous, awesome family and friends), my pitch is that you ask for donations instead of (or in addition to) gifts this Christmas. Simply put, consider setting up an online fundraiser and put that multiplier effect to use. Check it out here: http://www.charityscience.com/christmas-fundraisers.html


If that’s not your cup of eggnog, remember you can still help me with my fundraiser. :)

It’s worth sending messages and posts like these because evidence suggests compared to fundraisers who don’t ask, those who do substantially increase donations. What’s more, a DonorDrive report described that around 15% of peer-to-peer donations came through Facebook (p.4). This report also described that more than 40% of those who donate return to a peer-to-peer fundraising page multiple times before they donate (p.14). This suggests you should consider politely asking peers more than once, however use discretion.

Charity Science will also send you a series of helpful emails so that a successful fundraiser can be completed at low personal time costs. The emails will include:

  • How to ask people for donations if you’re nervous

  • How to post/email more than once without sounding repetitive

  • Ideas for Facebook comments on your Facebook posts

If at any stage you would like help, advice, or support for your Christmas Fundraiser, contact us at team@charityscience.com for one-on-one support. Our goal is to make the process as simple and easy as possible.  

By partaking in the Christmas Fundraiser, there’s potential to spread ideas relating to effective altruism


Jeff Kauffman said talking about effective altruism with coworkers can be awkward and Eric Herboso has noted it can be hard for introverts to raise effective altruism in social contexts. Often something is required to initiate conversations and the Christmas Fundraiser may provide this opportunity. This could mean it leads to conversations relating to effective altruism that wouldn’t otherwise happen and these conversations may spread ideas relating to effective altruism.

This conclusion is supported by evidence suggesting individual giving behaviours are affected by social influences or that your actions may promote a reluctant altruism that leads to charitable giving. As previously mentioned, there’s also research suggesting social ties play a strong causal role in the decision to donate and increases the average gift size as well. In further support of this, Giving What We Can states that publicly committing to our convictions can inspire others to give and can make giving normal and expected.  

It could also be argued that by partaking in this Christmas Fundraiser you may be more likely to donate in the future. This seems to be partly supported by several GiveWell staff members mentioning the importance of giving becoming a habit. In addition, it could be argued that by completing this fundraiser, you may become a better advocate for effective altruism as your actions may better align with your beliefs and your communication skills might also improve as a result of the fundraising process.       

There’s also evidence suggesting that giving makes people happier. This may particularly apply for peer-to-peer fundraising because, as this blog post notes on this research, the “overarching conclusion is that donors feel happiest if they give to a charity via a friend, relative or social connection rather than simply making an anonymous donation to a worthy cause.”

Some core ideas of effective altruism include:

  • We have an incredible opportunity to do good by giving to charities

  • A great deal of happiness can come from giving

  • Some charities are much better than others

The potential to spread these ideas is quite valuable and by partaking in the Christmas Fundraiser there’s the potential to spread these ideas and others that relate to effective altruism.

Additional things to consider

  • When doing your Christmas shopping through Amazon, be sure to use Shop for Charity so that a 5% commision goes to SCI.

  • If you feel that participating in this fundraiser isn’t a good personal fit, then you may be interested in pledging a counterfactual Christmas match. Last year we had sufficient funds to counterfactually match all funds raised during Christmas Fundraisers. This year we have not acquired those funds, and as a result, it seems likely that we will not be able to offer everyone counterfactual matches for the funds they raise.

Some other donation options that you may be interested in include:

Signing up information

You can sign up for the Christmas Fundraiser through the following links:

If you don’t reside in one of those countries, you can sign up for the country whose unit currency is closest in value to your own, or consider making a page on the AMF’s site which has tax deductibility in more countries.

Fundraising pages made on AMF’s site also have lower fees because CauseVox, the fundraising platform hosting the Charity Science Christmas Fundraiser, charges a 4.25% fee on donations. There are also possible fees common to both pages of approximately 2.1% when donating via PayPal. Due to these relatively large fees we encourage those participating in the Charity Science Christmas Fundraiser to tell parties interested in donating substantial amounts to donate directly to the relevant charity to maximize the impact of their gift.    

People may prefer using Charity Science’s pathway over AMF’s because our third-party fundraising page is more visually appealing, easier to edit, and allows fundraising for GiveWell recommended charities other than AMF.  However, we are unsure how this compares to lower fees and think reasonable people could disagree about the best platform to use.

Take the EA survey, help the EA movement grow and potentially win $250 to your favorite charity

5 peter_hurford 01 December 2015 05:07PM

This year's EA Survey is now ready to be shared! This is a survey of all EAs to learn about the movement and how it can improve. The data collected in the survey is used to help EA groups improve and grow EA. Data is also used to populate the map of EAs, create new EA meetup groups, and create EA Profiles and the EA Donation Registry.

If you are an EA or otherwise familiar with the community, we hope you will take it using this link. All results will be anonymised and made publicly available to members of the EA community. As an added bonus, one random survey taker will be selected to win a $250 donation to their favorite charity.

Take the EA Survey

Please share the survey with others who might be interested using this link rather than the one above: http://bit.ly/1OqsVWo


(Cross-posted on Discussion from Main by popular request.)

Why startup founders have mood swings (and why they may have uses)

11 AnnaSalamon 01 December 2015 05:00AM

(This post was collaboratively written together with Duncan Sabien.)


Startup founders stereotypically experience some pretty serious mood swings.  One day, their product seems destined to be bigger than Google, and the next, it’s a mess of incoherent, unrealistic nonsense that no one in their right mind would ever pay a dime for.  Many of them spend half of their time full of drive and enthusiasm, and the other half crippled by self-doubt, despair, and guilt.  Often this rollercoaster ride goes on for years before the company either finds its feet or goes under.






Well, sure, you might say.  Running a startup is stressful.  Stress comes with mood swings.  


But that’s not really an explanation—it’s like saying stuff falls when you let it go.  There’s something about the “launching a startup” situation that induces these kinds of mood swings in many people, including plenty who would otherwise be entirely stable.



Moving parts


There are plenty of stressful situations which don’t cause this sort of high-magnitude cycling.  Waiting on blood test results from a cancer scare, or applying to prestigious colleges or companies, or working as a subordinate startup employee[1]—these are all demanding, emotionally draining circumstances, but they don’t induce the same sort of cycling.

Contrast those situations with these:

  • People in the early stages of their first serious romantic relationship (especially those who really really really want it to work, but lack a clear model of how)
  • People who are deeply serious about personally making a difference in global poverty, space exploration, existential risk, or other world-scale issues
  • People who are struggling to write their first novel, make their first movie, paint their first masterpiece, or win their first gold medal
  • ... all of which have been known to push people into the same kind of oscillation we see in startup founders.  As far as we can tell, there are two factors common to all of these cases: they’re situations in which people must work really, really hard to have any hope of success, and they’re also situations in which people aren’t at all sure what kinds of work will get them there.  It’s not a response to high pressure or uncertainty, it’s a response to high pressure and uncertainty, where uncertainty means not just being unsure about which path to take, but also about whether the paths (and the destination!) are even real.

    Subconscious intentionality


    It’s easy to point to the value in euphoria and optimism.  You get lots of code written, recruit lots of funding and talent, write a perfect draft—it’s the part of the cycle where you’re drawn to working seventy hour weeks, checking off each and every item from your to-do list.  But the “down” parts often feel like they’re pointless at best, and dangerous or counterproductive at worst.  Most of the online commentary on this phenomenon treats them as a negative; there’s lots of talk about how to break the pattern, or how to “deal with” the extremes.  In our own pasts, we found ourselves wondering why our brains couldn’t just hang on to the momentum—why they insisted on taking us through stupid detours of despair or shame before returning us back to apparent “forward motion”.


    Interesting things happened when we began treating that question as non-rhetorical.  What, we wondered, might those down cycles be aimed at?  If we were to assume that they were, on some level, useful/intentional/constructive, then what sorts of instrumental behavioral patterns were they nudging us toward?


    Imagine breaking the two parts of the cycle into two separate people, each of whom is advising you as you move a startup forward.  One of them is the voice of confidence—the classic "inside view"—with a clear sense of the possibilities and lots of enthusiasm for next actions.  The other is the voice of pessimism, with a range of doubts and concerns from the object level all the way up to the fundamental assumptions of your whole project.


    A naive manager might assume that one of these advisors is better than the other.  Certainly one of them is more “pleasant” to have around.  But it’s almost trivially obvious that you’ll build better models and more robust plans if you keep both of them involved.  It’s not just about balancing positive and negative outlooks, or constructive and destructive impulses (although that’s a part of it).  It’s about the process of building an accurate map in unexplored territory, which often requires a kind of leapfrogging of provisional model-building and critical model-tearing-down. You start with a bad but workable model, collide it with reality, and then refine the model in response before colliding it again.  Both halves of the process are critical—a good entrepreneur needs both the ability to follow a line of thinking to its conclusion and the ability to throw the line away and start from scratch, and would be equally crippled by a lack of either.



    Why despair?


    Startup founders, aspiring filmmakers, and would-be worldsavers “have to” be enthusiastic and positive.  They have to sell their models—to skeptical investors, to potential hires, and oddly often to themselves—and many people struggle to hold both determined confidence and fundamental uncertainty in their minds at the same time.  Instead, their brains use mood to encourage them to alternate.  The euphoric half of the cycle is where assumptions are taken to their conclusion—where you collide your models with reality by building code, attempting to enroll customers, and so on.  And the despair half is where those assumptions are challenged and questioned—where all of the fears and doubts and worrying bits of evidence that you’ve been holding off on looking at are allowed to come forward.


    Interestingly, the real power of the down cycle seems to be less that it allows thoughts like “maybe my startup will never work,” and more that, because it allows such thoughts, it also allows “maybe my understanding of the sales landscape is wrong,” or “maybe the product manager we’ve just spent three months getting up to speed is actually a terrible fit for the team.”  Despair can be a key that unlocks whole swaths of the territory.  When you’re “up,” your current strategy is often weirdly entangled with your overall sense of resolve and commitment—we sometimes have a hard time critically and objectively evaluating parts C, D, and J because flaws in C, D, and J would threaten the whole edifice.  But when you’re “down,” the obviousness of your impending doom means that you can look critically at your past assumptions without having to defend anything.[2]



    Moving forward (or backward, as the case may be)


    Our recommendation: the next time you’re working on something large, important, and very, very uncertain, don’t resist the occasional slide into despair.  In fact, don’t even think of it as a “slide”—in our experience, it stops feeling like a slide as soon as you stop resisting it.  Instead, recognize it for what it is—a sign that important evidence has been building up in your buffer, unacknowledged, and that it’s time now to integrate it into your plans.


    Understanding the subconscious intentionality behind this sort of mood swing doesn’t make it any less painful, but it can make it far more pleasant—easier to endure and easier to mine for value.  Think of it as an efficient and useful process for building accurate models under stressful uncertainty, and trust yourself to hold together in both states, resisting neither.





    There’s a version of you that is good at moving forward—that has the energy to pour seventy hours a week into your current best guesses, stretching the parts of your model that are correct as far as they can go.  And there’s a version of you that is good at dealing with the darker side of reality—that is actually willing to consider the possibility that it’s all garbage, instead of just paying lip service to the idea.  Embrace each in turn, and the result can be periods of high productivity followed by periods of extreme flexibility, a combined strategy whose average utility often seems to outweigh the utility of an average strategy.



    [1] The example of subordinate startup employees seems perhaps particularly revealing, since they share the same uncertainty and long hours as their bosses, but are not expected to come up with the same kinds of strategic solutions.


    [2] Alternating between despair and forward motion may also be a good strategy given human working memory limitations. :) 




    Take the EA survey, help the EA movement grow and potentially win $250 to your favorite charity

    16 peter_hurford 01 December 2015 01:56AM

    This year's EA Survey is now ready to be shared! This is a survey of all EAs to learn about the movement and how it can improve. The data collected in the survey is used to help EA groups improve and grow EA. Data is also used to populate the map of EAs, create new EA meetup groups, and create EA Profiles and the EA Donation Registry.

    If you are an EA or otherwise familiar with the community, we hope you will take it using this link. All results will be anonymised and made publicly available to members of the EA community. As an added bonus, one random survey taker will be selected to win a $250 donation to their favorite charity.

    Take the EA Survey

    Please share the survey with others who might be interested using this link rather than the one above: http://bit.ly/1OqsVWo

    Weirdness at the wiki

    7 NancyLebovitz 30 November 2015 11:37PM

    Richard Kennaway has posted about an edit war on the wiki. Richard, thank you.

    Unfortunately, I've only used the wiki a little, and don't have a feeling for why the edit history for an article is inaccessible. Is the wiki broken or has someone found a way to hack it? Let it be known that hacking the wiki is something I'll ban for.

    VoiceofRa, I'd like to know why you deleted Gleb's article. Presumably you have some reason for why you think it was unsatisfactory.

    I'm also notifying tech in the hope of finding out what happened to the edit history.

    [link] Pedro Domingos: "The Master Algorithm"

    1 GMHowe 30 November 2015 10:28PM

    Interesting talk outlining five different approaches to AI.



    Blurb from the YouTube description:

    Machine learning is the automation of discovery, and it is responsible for making our smartphones work, helping Netflix suggest movies for us to watch, and getting presidents elected. But there is a push to use machine learning to do even more—to cure cancer and AIDS and possibly solve every problem humanity has. Domingos is at the very forefront of the search for the Master Algorithm, a universal learner capable of deriving all knowledge—past, present and future—from data. In this book, he lifts the veil on the usually secretive machine learning industry and details the quest for the Master Algorithm, along with the revolutionary implications such a discovery will have on our society.

    Pedro Domingos is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, and he is the cofounder of the International Machine Learning Society.

    Promoting rationality to a broad audience - feedback on methods

    10 Gleb_Tsipursky 30 November 2015 04:52AM

    We at Intentional Insights​, the nonprofit devoted to promoting rationality and effective altruism  to a broad audience, are finalizing our Theory of Change (a ToC is meant to convey our goals, assumptions, methods, and metrics). Since there's recently been extensive discussion on LessWrong of our approaches to promoting rationality and effective altruism to a broad audience, one that was quite helpful for helping us update, I'd like to share our Theory of Change with you and ask for your feedback.


    Here's the Executive Summary:

    • The goal of Intentional Insights is to create a world where all rely on research-based strategies to make wise decisions and lead to mutual flourishing.
    • To achieve this goal, we believe that people need to be motivated to learn and have broadly accessible information about such research-based strategies, and also integrate these strategies into their daily lives through regular practice.
    • We assume that:
      • some natural and intuitive human thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns are flawed in ways that undermine wise decisions.
      • problematic decision making undermines mutual flourishing in a number of life areas.
      • these flawed thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns can be improved through effective interventions.
      • we can motivate and teach people to improve their thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns by presenting our content in ways that combine education and entertainment.
    • Our intervention is helping people improve their patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior to enable them to make wise decisions and bring about mutual flourishing.
    • Our outputs, what we do, come in the form of online content such as blog entries, videos, etc., on our channels and in external publications, as well as collaborations with other organizations.
    • Our metrics of impact are in the form of anecdotal evidence, feedback forms from workshops, and studies we run on our content.

    Here is the full version.


    I'd appreciate any feedback on the full version from fellow Less Wrongers, on things like content, concepts, structure, style, grammar, etc. I look forward to updating the organization's goals, assumptions, methods, and metrics based on your thoughts. Thanks!

    Open thread, Nov. 30 - Dec. 06, 2015

    3 MrMind 30 November 2015 08:05AM

    If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

    Notes for future OT posters:

    1. Please add the 'open_thread' tag.

    2. Check if there is an active Open Thread before posting a new one. (Immediately before; refresh the list-of-threads page before posting.)

    3. Open Threads should be posted in Discussion, and not Main.

    4. Open Threads should start on Monday, and end on Sunday.

    The value of ambiguous speech

    3 KevinGrant 30 November 2015 07:58AM

    This was going to be a reply in a discussion between ChristianKl and MattG in another thread about conlangs, but their discussion seemed to have enough significance, independent of the original topic, to deserve a thread of its own.  If I'm doing this correctly (this sentence is an after-the-fact update), then you should be able to link to the original comments that inspired this thread here: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/n0h/linguistic_mechanisms_for_less_wrong_cognition/cxb2

    Is a lack of ambiguity necessary for clear thinking?  Are there times when it's better to be ambiguous?  This came up in the context of the extent to which a conlang should discourage ambiguity, as a means of encouraging cognitive correctness by its users.  It seems to me that something is being taken for granted here, that ambiguity is necessarily an impediment to clear thinking.  And I certainly agree that it can be.  But if detail or specificity are the opposites of ambiguity, then surely maximal detail or specificity is undesirable when the extra information isn't relevant, so that a conlang would benefit from not requiring users to minimize ambiguity.

    Moving away from the concept of conlangs, this opens up some interesting (at least to me) questions.  Exactly what does "ambiguity" mean?  Is there, for each speech act, an optimal level of ambiguity, and how much can be gained by achieving it?  Are there reasons why a certain, minimal degree of ambiguity might be desirable beyond avoiding irrelevant information?

    Linguistic mechanisms for less wrong cognition

    6 KevinGrant 29 November 2015 02:40AM

    I'm working on a conlang (constructed language) and would like some input from the Less Wrong community.  One of the goals is to investigate the old Sapir-Whorf hypothesis regarding language affecting cognition.  Does anyone here have any ideas regarding linguistic mechanisms that would encourage more rational thinking, apart from those that are present in the oft-discussed conlangs e-prime, loglan, and its offshoot lojban?  Or perhaps mechanisms that are used in one of those conlangs, but might be buried too deeply for a person such as myself, who only has superficial knowledge about them, to have recognized?  Any input is welcomed, from other conlangs to crazy ideas.


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