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This post introduces Rethink Priorities’ Charitable Resource Allocation Frameworks and Tools Sequence (the CRAFT Sequence). After a brief statement of the problems that CRAFT aims to address, we provide an overview of what it includes.

Building Giving Portfolios

Some people think that you should go all-in on particular giving opportunities. Some people think that you should diversify your giving portfolio. What assumptions and circumstances favor going all-in? What assumptions and circumstances favor diversification? And either way, what should your resources support?

Rethink Priorities’ recent Cross-Cause Cost-Effectiveness Model (CCM) can help us rank interventions within certain cause areas. It can also help us rank options based on a handful of key decision theories. However, the CCM isn’t designed to produce giving portfolios per se. The CCM can help us compare interventions with respect to their expected value or risk-adjusted value. But it was never intended to answer the question: “How should I split a certain amount of money given what matters to me?” We need other tools for that purpose.

The CRAFT Sequence introduces beta versions of two such tools: a risk-based portfolio builder, where the key uncertainties concern cost curves and decision theories, and a moral-parliament-based portfolio builder, which allows for the modeling of both normative and metanormative uncertainty. The Sequence’s primary goal is to take some first steps toward more principled and transparent ways of constructing giving portfolios. Our tools make debates about worldviews more tractable by illustrating how assumptions about cost curves, attitudes toward risk, and credences in moral theories can influence allocation decisions.

These tools are limited in ways you would expect. Their specific recommendations are only as good as their highly uncertain inputs; they assume that you’re acting in isolation even though others’ allocations can be relevant to what’s optimal for you; they sometimes sacrifice granularity for computational efficiency; and so on. Still, the process of operationalizing and implementing proposals is instructive: it makes the choice points clear, it automates relevant calculations, it makes optimization possible, and it paves the way for future research. These tools therefore offer significant improvements over commonly used BOTECs.

What’s to Come

In the coming sequence, we will introduce and comment on two tools for constructing portfolios: one focused on cost-effectiveness under various attitudes toward risk and a second that uses a moral parliament to allocate resources under metanormative uncertainty.

The second post introduces the Portfolio Builder Tool that allows you to build a giving portfolio based on (a) the amount of money you want to give, (b) your attitudes toward risk, and (c) some assumptions about the features of the interventions you’re considering. The third and fourth posts explore two risk attitudes that this tool incorporates. The third considers challenges to caring about making a difference; the fourth considers the common practice of “rounding down” low probabilities, which is one way of implementing an aversion to poorly justified probabilities.

Of course, people don’t simply have different attitudes toward risk; they also give some credence to a range of different moral views. So, the fifth post introduces our Moral Parliament Tool, which allows users to consider the impact of moral uncertainty in addition to various risk attitudes. This tool implements a moral parliament and several voting procedures for adjudicating disagreements among the delegates. And, like the first tool, the associated documentation explores the philosophical choice points in developing it further.

In the final post, we recap the sequence and make the case for the value of these tools.

The Value to You

Our tools are designed to help us structure and navigate uncertainty. Insofar as you’re uncertain about any of the parameter values in our tools—e.g., the correct moral theory, the correct procedure for making decisions under uncertainty, the cost curves for various interventions, the risk profiles for those interventions, etc.—our tools give you a better understanding of the implications of your uncertainty.

However, you might not feel particularly uncertain about these sorts of issues. Still, our tools offer considerable value. Suppose, for instance, that you’re largely sold on the idea that we ought to maximize expected value. Here’s a sampling of the benefits that our tools provide:

  • Even if EV maximization is the correct decision theory, it doesn’t follow that it’s the correct decision procedure. A criterion of rationality is an account of when actions are and aren’t rational. A decision procedure is a tool that ordinary, fallible people can use to make decisions, given all their uncertainties and limitations. Whatever the merits of EV maximization as a criterion of rationality, it’s an open question whether it’s the best decision procedure even if your aim is to maximize EV. Our Portfolio Builder Tool shows that you can productively use other decision theories as decision procedures, in the sense that we can formalize them well enough to get practical guidance out of them. So, it’s worth seeing what these alternative decision procedures recommend.
  • Even if you’re confident that you should maximize EV, you might not be confident about what’s valuable. Pleasure? Flourishing? Justice? Something else? Our Moral Parliament Tool shows how different theories of value would change your allocation.
  • You might want to reach a consensus with people who are less bought into EV maximization than you are. Our tools can help you find compromise positions with broad appeal.
  • You might be uncertain about how to represent cost-effectiveness or how to optimize donations once you've represented it. Or, you might know how to model cost-effectiveness but you would like an easy-to-use and interactive calculator. Our Portfolio Builder helps on all these fronts.

We could make similar points for those who have other strong normative or metanormative commitments. In general, the takeaway here is that these tools can serve you even if you’re quite confident about some cruxes, as you’re likely uncertain about others, and/or may have instrumental reasons to value tools for structuring and navigating uncertainty. Accordingly, we hope that these tools will be useful resources for conversations about cause prioritization and resource allocation.    


This post was written by Bob Fischer with feedback from Hayley Clatterbuck, Arvo Muñoz Morán, and Derek Shiller. This is a project of Rethink Priorities, a global priority think-and-do tank, aiming to do good at scale. We research and implement pressing opportunities to make the world better. We act upon these opportunities by developing and implementing strategies, projects, and solutions to key issues. We do this work in close partnership with foundations and impact-focused non-profits or other entities. If you're interested in Rethink Priorities' work, please consider subscribing to our newsletter. You can explore our completed public work here.

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I'm so excited about the risk-based portfolio builder!

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