Manifold Markets spent ~$3k in opportunity costs just applying for grants. A common application, shared between different funders in the EA space, could save time for applicants and surface more projects to funders.
- Sources of grant funding Manifold has applied for:
- ACX Grants
- FTX EA Fellowships
- EA Funds
- Emergent Ventures
- Pluralism and Civil Exchange Grant
- Paul Christiano’s bounty
- And we’re now considering SFF through Rethink Charity
- Ballpark estimate: writing these applications up took about 1 fulltime day each
- Let’s call it 7 days * 8 hours * $50/hour = $2800 spent on writing applications
- Seems high? Yeah, it seemed high to me too. Some funders (e.g. EA Funds) try to be nice and explicitly say “this should only be a 30min process”
- But think about incentives: if we apply for a $100k grant, then a 5% increase in success rate is worth $5k. So if writing a good grant takes our probability of winning from 20% to 25% (which feels conservative), it’s easily worth at least one person’s entire day to do it.
- Also: think back to how long you spent on each of your college applications!
- Applying for grants sucks (through no fault of the funders)
- Takes a long time to hear back
- You get rejected a lot
- Wastes time that you could be spending on Actually Doing Things
Proposal: Create a Common App for EA funding
Examples of existing Common Apps
- Common App for undergrads
- Triplebyte for software engineer jobs
- Angellist for startup angel investments
- National Resident Matching Program for med school residents?
V0: A new standard
- Two or more grantmaking orgs standardize on a set of questions to ask (eg Google Form). Here are the common questions we’ve seen:
- Two sentence intro
- One page project explainer
- Bios of people running the project
- How much money do you want
- What you’ll do with the money
- Opt-in public database where other granters can see proposals (eg Google Spreadsheet)
V1: A new website
- Funders can set up profiles, listing:
- What they’re looking for
- Funding timelines
- Decision criteria
- Applicants can submit grant proposals to multiple funders at once
- Grantmaking orgs can browse through public proposals on an ongoing basis
V2: And beyond
- The platform could allow funders to coordinate on particular projects
- Share vetting notes and decisions
- Split up what portion of funding gap to fill
- Grant proposals could be opened to the public ala Kickstarter?
- Quadratic funding could be used to (see Gitcoin Grants)
Problems a Common App could solve
- Applicants save time applying to different funds
- Applicants can discover more funding sources
- Navigating EA funding has been tricky, e.g. we thought Manifold (not being a 501c3) was ineligible for SFF, until Nuno mentioned Rethink Charity. And I’m fairly deep into EA!
- Funders can see more project applications
- New funders like Scott can get started without needing to invent infrastructure from whole cloth
- Funders can see who else is funding and adjust accordingly, reducing over & underfunding
Cost effectiveness estimate
warning, here be dragons
There were 656 applicants to the first round of ACX grants.
- If 10% of those continue on to apply to EA Funds,
- and 10% apply to the FTX EA Fellowship,
- and a common application saves 1 hour per additional application
- that’s 130 hours saved, or about 3 weeks of full-time work
3 weeks of full-time work is also my rough estimate of how long V0 and V1 would take to build out; so after a single grant round, the Common App would pay for itself. ACX and FTX have both indicated interest in future rounds, and EA Funds presumably will be open for a long time.
(This calculation doesn’t include funder time saved, or the positive externality of more/better proposals being funded through a standardized system. You may also want to discount for a less than 100% chance of success, and the opportunity cost for an engineer-hour vs the average applicant-hour.)
- Funders may have specific criteria they’re looking to fund
- But just like the college Common App, funders can add supplementary questions, essays, or interviews
- Increasing the total number of applicants could increase filtering load on funders
- Solution: funders with too much work add more essays, or delist themselves
- Big chunk of value of winning a grant is in the prestige of winning
- But individual funders can still publicize the grants they chose to distribute
- Another chunk of grant value is in the network of other winners
- Again, funders can still do this
- Getting any marketplace/network off the ground is hard (aka cost of convincing funders to get on board)
- E.g. Would Tyler Cowen want to run Emergent Ventures through this common app?
- Don’t think this is a huge issue; a common app is already usable if any single funder uses it, and valuable once 2+ funders do
- Also, the common app could branch out of EA, and work for charities in general (and hopefully draw in more people towards EA causes)
- Opportunity cost of building this out
- 2-4 weeks of 1 full-time engineer
- A new common app might compete for funding mindshare
- Maybe this is what EA Funds already is?
- Unknown unknowns: maybe I don’t understand the funding space
- Haven’t done much grantmaking myself; would love to chat with grantmaking orgs!
- Maybe grantmakers already have too many applications to review
- Maybe most grant applicants only fit for one or two categories, and have an easy time discovering those
Who should implement this?
- EA Funds, probably
- ACX Grants already runs through EA Funds infrastructure
- Lightcone/LessWrong team, maybe
- Manifold could build this as a side project... if somebody wants to fund us to do it 😉