I. What’s Going On

We got 351 proposals for ACX Grants, but were only able to fund 34 of them. I’m not a professional grant evaluator and can’t guarantee there aren’t some jewels hidden among the remaining 317.

The plan has always been to run an impact market - a site where investors crowdfund some of the remaining grant proposals. If the project goes well, then philanthropists who missed it the first time (eg me) will pay the investors for funding it, potentially earning them a big profit. In our last impact market test, some people (okay, one person) managed to get 25x their initial investment by funding a charity which did really well.

So in my ideal world, we’d be running an impact market where you could invest your money in the remaining 317 proposals and make a profit if they did well. We’ve encountered two flaws on the way to that ideal world:

First, although about 140 of you expressed interest in and qualified for the impact market round, only 44 have responded to emails from Manifund, signed the necessary documents, and actually gotten featured. So there are only 44 proposals on the market so far. If you want to participate in the impact market, but aren’t on there yet, please check your email and spam folder for messages from Manifund. If you didn’t get any, but you applied to ACX Grants and want to participate, please email rachel@manifund.org.

Second, you can’t legally run a stock-market-like institution without lots of SEC approvals that we’re not really specced to get. Last time we got around this problem by only selling to accredited investors (ie rich people). This time our sponsors at Manifund want to try something different. Anyone, accredited investor or not, can invest in charities. But when you sell your investment, you won’t get a payout in real money. You’ll get it in special Manifund dollars that you can donate to other charities, but can’t spend on non-charitable purposes. I realize this is less fun than real dollars, sorry.

Despite these minor hiccups, I’m still pretty excited about this. Go to https://manifund.com/causes/acx-grants-2024?tab=certs to check this one out.

II. Sample Projects

There are 44 projects available right now. I’m hoping other ACX Grants applicants will put their projects up and there will be more by the time you look at it. I can’t discuss all 44, but here are some that I find interesting:

  • LLM multi-actor tool to automate economic experiments. Rutger van Bergem and his group at Technical University of Delft want $15K - $25K to create AIs that can bargain in economic experiments (think prisoners’ dilemma, but more complicated), see whether they behave in human-like ways, and maybe free economists from the need to get human subjects for this kind of thing. ACX Grants evaluators were very split on whether this would work or not, and eventually I decided to fund other things instead, but I still think it’s a potentially great idea.

  • You’ve probably encountered vaticidalprophet in the ACX comments section or the ACX Discord, and heard their spiel about why researching schizotypy is interesting. They want $2K - $50K to research psychosis in velocardiofacial syndrome (DiGeorge/22q11.2 deletion syndrome), which might shed more light on the relationship between schizophrenia, schizotypy, autism, and psychosis. We decided not to fund this because velocardiofacial syndrome is rare, understanding it better wouldn’t directly help many people, and we weren’t convinced this would have knock-on effects for more common psychiatric diseases - but I would love to be proven wrong.

  • Platform for migrants to start legal and profitable microbusinesses. $1K to $20K to create a system for helping migrants start their own businesses. I think this is a great idea, but I didn’t feel qualified to evaluate whether it was legit or could work.

  • Distribute Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality copies to students in Bangalore, India. A surprising number of people get into the rationality/effective altruism ecosystem through this particular fan-fiction, and someone calculated that distributing copies of it was a super-cost-effective way to grow the movement. I didn’t fund this because the last time someone tried this, lots of people got angry at them for spending charity money on printing a fanfiction, and I hate when people get angry at me. Maybe if one of you funded it through an impact cert, and then someone provided evidence that this was good, I could buy back the impact cert without looking like a crazy person. Alternately, we could funnel this one through the EA Infrastructure Fund, which is supposed to do this kind of field-building.

  • Convert a hybrid car to chip wood and generate electricity. David Denkenberger works on projects to help humankind survive after global technological collapse. This is one of them: he wants $25K to convert hybrid cars into electrical generators. We didn’t fund this because we’re not sure how a successful result translates to anyone except David Denkenberger knowing how to do this in the case of a technological collapse, but I would be happy to buy an impact cert if someone believed they could make this public enough that the average small community of survivors would be able to take advantage of it.

…and 39 others, hopefully more by the time you read this. Even if you’re not interested in investing, I still think it’s fun to browse through some of these and see what kinds of wacky ideas people have.

III. Technical Details

Remember, an impact market is like a stock market or VC ecosystem for charity. Investors fund projects, and then big philanthropists play the role of an IPO or final acquirer, funding successful projects in a way that gives value back to the investors. A toy example:

Suppose I rejected a proposal to grant $50,000 to lobby for an animal rights law in Norway - not because I’m against animal rights, but because I believe the lobbying won’t work.

You disagree with me and think this could work really well, so you invest $25,000 to buy 50% of its shares, and someone else buys the other half. The team lobbies for the law. I was wrong about their proposal, the law gets passed, and it’s great.

You sell the impact certificates to an animal rights charity, who decide that if they were trying to get a law like this passed ex ante , they would be willing to spend up to $75,000 on it. They have a good sense of this because they fund animal rights proposals all the time. They pay $75,000 to the holders of the certificates, so you and the other buyer each get $37,500, a 50% profit.

Obviously this depends on having big philanthropists willing to cooperate with this new system. Our current impact market has five partners: The Long Term Future Fund, The EA Infrastructure Fund, The Survival And Flourishing Fund, The Animal Welfare Fund, and future rounds of ACX Grants. That means if you buy an impact certificate today, you can try selling it to one of those funders later, after the project is done. Each of these charities has specific things they fund, so you might want to check their past history before trusting them to buy one of your certificates.

Impact markets are pretty new. We ran a test round last year and it went well, but this round is a bit more complicated and has some new moving parts. Along with the issue where you won’t get real money back, please be aware of the following possible risks:

  • You think your project did great work, but I (or our other funders) don’t find it interesting, don’t buy it, and the certificates go to $0. There are only five funders, and most of them are in pretty specific areas, so you might have only one or two possible buyers, and if they disagree with you, you’re out of luck.

  • The team accomplishes part of their goal, but not enough to be worth transaction costs. Since most people won’t create literally zero value, and I don’t want to be overwhelmed with requests to buy certificates for tiny amounts, I’m going to set a limit that I won’t buy certificates that I value at less than half their starting price.

  • I don’t do any more ACX Grants rounds because I lose all my money / become greedy / die. In this case you’ll have to sell your certificates to one of our partners; if you can’t find one who will take it, your certificates will go to $0.

  • The effective altruism funding ecosystem collapses, our partners have much less money, and they have much less money to spend on your certificates. If this happens, the price of your certificates will go down.

  • We get lots of great applications in the future and choose to fund those instead of buying back your impact certificates. I pledge to try to consider impact certificates on an even footing with ex ante applicants, but if the ex ante applicants are really good they’ll beat you fairly, and the price of your certificates will go down.

  • Probably other risks I haven’t thought of.

But some possible benefits are:

  • All money you spend on impact certificates is tax-deductible. You can treat it as a donation to Manifund, a registered charity.

  • If you do a good job investing in charities, you can turn a small amount of charity money into a larger amount of charity money. Your extra charity money won’t give you extra tax deduction, though.

  • If you don’t sell your impact certificates, you can keep them. Impact certificates aren’t good for much besides bragging rights, but bragging rights aren’t nothing.

  • Other people besides our five partners might one day decide to buy impact certificates, and you can sell to them too.

  • If anyone makes an especially good trade, I’ll probably feature it on this blog.

IV. Logistics

Again, go to https://manifund.com/causes/acx-grants-2024?tab=certs to see the projects available.

You can also choose to invest extra money to grants I’ve already funded. Currently ten of these are looking for extra money; you can see them here. You can try selling me these impact certificates, but I would only buy back the impact that came from your extra funding, not from my original funding, and you would have to do a good job convincing me about what that was.

And Manifund has other projects which aren’t related to ACX Grants or part of the impact market, but which you can still fund if you want. You can find them here.

Manifund will be hosting a Q&A on Discord tomorrow (Friday 3/8) at 10 AM Pacific, go here for more information.