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TLDR
I applied for funding from the EA Infrastructure Fund. They promised to give me their decision in a month, but they only kind of approved my application in 3 months. A month later they explained that they didn't actually approve my application, and I still have to wait for their final decision. It's almost 5 months since I applied, and I'm still waiting. During this time, my manager failed to meet 4 of his own deadlines, didn't answer me for many weeks, while expressing little accountability, empathy, and failing to properly communicate. 

Believing these false promises, I paused new projects, sustained financial and reputational damage, and the situation affected my mental health. I told my manager about it, but he didn't express empathy, and again failed to meet his own deadline.

During this time I sent 35 emails to 3 fund managers but was unable to solve the issues.
 

 

The story

I'm a psychotherapist, and I focus on helping EAs. At some point I realized that some of them could benefit from therapy, buy can't afford it, so I decided to apply for funding from the EA Infrastructure Fund to offer my services pro-bono. It's a small and straightforward grant.

 

The timeline of my application

October 20
I applied for funding, and outlined that the hard deadline for my application is November 24. In the automatic response they told me that they expect to give me the decision before this deadline. As psychotherapist can't suddenly stop working with their clients, I paused taking new clients in advance in case I would get funding.


November 24
Contrary to the promise, I don't get any response.

I send emails asking for an update


December 5
My manager Caleb Parikh apologises about the delay, and promises to give me an update within the following few days, but he broke his promise, and didn't send an update in time.


December 18
Caleb sent another email, promising to tell me the decision within a week, and apologising for the delay. He breaks his promise again, and don't send me anything that week.


I send him several emails asking for an update.


January 30 
Caleb sends me an email stating that the Fund is interested in making a grant on slightly different terms than I initially applied for. He also noted that this needs to be reviewed by their legal team. He didn't mention his failed promises, or what I should do next. I interpreted it as "Yes", and was relieved. I stopped taking new clients completely, and made promises to other people based on this information.


I send Caleb several emails asking what I should do next, but he doesn't answer any of them. I reached out to another manager asking to help me reach out to him, and Caleb answers me only when this manager asked him to do so.


At this point my financial situation became worse since I expected to rely on the fund money after they said that they are interested in funding me. I started feeling frustration, and I started thinking that I might not be able to fulfill things that I promised other people expecting money for the project.


February 23
Caleb wrote that he still has to consult with lawyers to understand whether they can fund my project or not. In this email he also promised to give me an update within 2 weeks. I was confused on why did he initially said that they are interested in funding me, while making me wait for the final decision for more than a month?

After that I told him about financial and mental issues caused by this situation. He answered, but didn't acknowledge his shortcomings, or express empathy. 

I also tried to reach out to other fund managers asking for help, but they didn't help me.


March 8
Caleb breaks his promise once again, and don't send me an update on my application. To solve this situation, I decide to publish this post.


At this point all these false promises, poor communication, and poor accountability made me feeling frustrated and anxious, and caused me other problems. Maybe I relied on this grant more than I should, but constant promises reinforced my decision to do so. I would also say that if someone promises me things, and consistently fails to fulfill these promises, they lie. Apart from that, I started feeling like an annoying spammer while asking for updates on my application. I believe that this behavior is unprofessional, unethical, and disrespectful.

I want to mention that at one point Caleb helped me. I made some dumb typos while sending an application, and asked him to not judge my application based on them. He promised me to fulfill my request, and he did that.

 
At the EA funds website, they write that they usually grant money within 21 days from sending an application, and that their managers care (no further specification). My experience is strikingly different from these statements.

 

I hope that this feedback will help EA funds to avoid such situations in the future, and will help me finally deal with this situation. If someone will question my statements, I'm open to publish all my correspondence mentioned in this post.

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This is entirely consistent with two other applications I know of from 2023, both of which were funded but experienced severe delays and poor/absent/straightforwardly unprofessional communication

I had a similar experience with 4 months of wait (uncalibrated grant decision timelines on the website) and unresponsiveness to email with LTFF, and I know a couple of people who had similar problems. I also found it pretty "disrespectful".

Its hard to understand why a) they wouldn't list the empirical grant timelines on their website, and b) why they would have to be so long.

I think it could be good to put these number on our site. I liked your past suggestion of having live data, though it's a bit technically challenging to implement - but the obvious MVP (as you point out) is to have a bunch of stats on our site. I'll make a note to add some stats (though maintaining this kind of information can be quite costly, so I don't want to commit to doing this).

In the meantime, here are a few numbers that I quickly put together (across all of our funds).

Grant decision turnaround times (mean, median):

  • applied in the last 30 days = 14 days, 15 days 
    • this is pretty volatile as it includes applications that haven't yet closed
  • applied in the last 60 days = 23 days, 20 days
  • applied in the last 90 days = 25 days, 20 days

When I last checked our (anonymous) feedback form, the average score for [satisfaction of evaluation process] (I can't quite remember the exact question) was ~4.5/5. 

(edit: just found the stats - these are all out of 5)

  • Overall satisfaction with application process: 4.67
  • Overall satisfaction with processing time: 4.58
  • Evaluation time: 4.3
  • Communications with evaluators: 4.7

I'm not sure that these stats tell the whole story. There are cases where we (or applicants) miss emails or miscommunicate - but the frequency of events like this is difficult to report quickly and also accounts for the majority of negative experiences (according to our feedback form and my own analysis).
 

On (b), I really would like us to be quicker - and more importantly, more reliable. A few very long-tail applications make the general grantee experience much worse. The general stages in our application process are:

Applicant submits application -> application is assigned to a fund manager -> fund manager evaluates the application (which often involves back and forth with the applicant, checking references etc.) -> other fund managers vote on the application -> fund chair reviews evaluation -> application is reviewed by external advisors -> fund chair gives decision to grantee (pending legal review)

There's also a really high volume of grants and increasingly few "obvious" rejections. E.g. the LTFF right now has over > 100 applications in its pipeline, and in the last 30 days < 10% of applications were obvious rejections).

Thanks for engaging with my criticism in a positive way.

Regarding how timely the data ought to be, I don't think live data is necessary at all - it would be sufficient in my view to post updated information every year or two.

I don't think "applied in the last 30 days" is quite the right reference class, however, because by-definition, the averages will ignore all applications that have been waiting for over one month. I think the most useful kind of statistics would:

  1. Restrict to applications from n to n+m months ago, where n>=3
  2. Make a note of what percentage of these applicants haven't received a response
  3. Give a few different percentiles for decision-timelines, e.g. 20th, 50th, 80th, 95th percentiles. 
  4. Include a clear explanation of which applications are being included, or excluded, for example, are you including applications that were not at all realistic, and so were rejected as soon as they landed on your desk?

With such statistics on the website, applications would have a much better sense of what they can expect from the process.

Oh, I thought you might have suggested the live thing before, my mistake. Maybe I should have just given the 90-day figure above.

(That approach seems reasonable to me)

Do you know what proportion of applicants fill out the feedback form?

I'm not sure sorry, I don't have that stat in front of me. I may be able to find it in a few days.

Is there (or might it be worthwhile for there to be) a business process to identify aged applications and review them at intervals to make sure they are not "stuck" and that the applicant is being kept up to date? Perhaps "aged" in this context would operationalize as ~2x the median decision time and/or ~>90-95th percentile of wait times? Maybe someone looks at the aged list every ~2 weeks, makes sure the application isn't "stuck" in a reasonably fixable way, and reviews the last correspondence to/from the applicant to make sure their information about timeframes is not outdated?

We do have a few processes that are designed to do this (some of which are doing some of the things you mentioned above). Most of the long delays are fairly uncorrelated (e.g. complicated legal issue, a bug in our application tracker ...).

it includes applications that haven't yet closed

How are these included? Is it that in you count ones that haven't closed as if they had closed today?

(A really rough way of dealing with this would be to count ones that haven't closed as if they will close in as many days from now as they've been open so far, on the assumption that you're on average halfway through their open lifetime.)

Is the repetition of “applied in the last 30 days” possibly a typo?

oops, fixed - thank you

Are you factoring in people who withdraw their application because of how long the process was taking?

Empirically, I don't think that this has happened very much. We have a "withdrawn by applicant status", which would include this, but the status is very rarely used.

In any case, the numbers above will factor those applications in, but I would guess that if we didn't, the numbers would decrease by less than a day.

My point is more around the fact that if a person withdraws their application, then they never received a decision and so the time till decision is unknown/infinite, it’s not the time until they withdrew.

Oh, right - I was counting "never receiving a decision but letting us know" as a decision. In this case, the number we'd give is days until the application was withdrawn.

We don't track the reason for withdrawals in our KPIs, but I am pretty sure that process length is a reason for a withdrawal 0-5% of the time.

I might be missing why this is important, I would have thought that if we were making an error it would overestimate those times - not underestimate them.

My point was that if someone withdraws their application because you were taking so long to get back to them, and you count that as the date you gave them your decision, you’re artificially lowering the average time-till-decision metric.

Actually the reason I asked if you’d factored in withdrawn application not how was to make sure my criticism was relevant before bringing it up - but that probably made the criticism less clear

you’re artificially lowering the average time-till-decision metric

What would you consider the non-artificial "average time-till-decision metric" in this case?

Hmm so I currently think the default should be that withdrawals without a decision aren't included in the time-till-_decision_ metric, as otherwise you're reporting a time-till-closure metric. (I weakly think that if the withdrawal is due to the decision taking too long and that time is above the average (as an attempt to exclude cases where the applicant is just unusually impatient), then it should be encorporated in some capacity, though this has obvious issues.)

what does 30/60/90 days mean? Grants applied to in the last N days? Grants decided on in the last N? 

How do the numbers differ for acceptances and rejections? 

What percent of decisions (especially acceptances) were made within the timeline given on the website? 

Can you share more about the anonymous survey? How has the satisfaction varied over time? 

The question relating to website timelines would be hard to answer as it was changed a few times I believe

I answered the first questions above in an edit of the original comment. I’m pretty sure when I re-ran the analysis with decided in last 30 days it didn’t change the results significantly (though I’ll try and recheck this later this week - in our current setup it’s a bit more complicated to work out than the stats I gave above).

I also checked to make sure that only looking at resolved applications and only looking at open applications didn’t make a large difference to the numbers I gave above (in general, the differences were 0-10 days).

I'm not following- what does it mean to say you've calculated resolution time to applications that haven't been resolved?

I had a similar experience in spring 2023, with an application to EAIF. The fundamental issue was the very slow process from application to decision. This was made worse by poor communication.

Yes, this is consistent with my experience too. Bad calibration of expected timelines, unresponsiveness to (two) emails asking for updates or if they needed anything (over one month), and something I would also qualify as somewhat disrespectful: they asked for additional information that was already available in the initial application.

For me it means that they probably didn't read through completely before asking for more, besides the application being less than a dozen sentences long, one of them being "here are the relevant links" which contained all the information the follow-up email was asking for. I agree that it was not obvious that the requested info was there in the application, but I would expect a grant manager to actually skim or even read everything before asking for additional details.

In my perspective, it felt like a disregard for my time in an attempt to compensate for a longer turnaround than they wished they would have.

(Opinions my own)

PS: We received a decision a bit less than 3 months after applying.

We also had feedback with very clear inconsistencies (e.g. saying we had closed accounting, even when it was publicly available and clearly linked. Saying our application had not changed from last rejection, even though we applied with a completely different project). Disrespectful. 

Same here

I was funded with long delays. I wouldn't have said "straightforwardly unprofessional" communication in my case.

It was a fairly stressful experience, but seemed consistent with "overworked people dealing with a tough legal situation", both for EVF in general and my specific grant.

I did suggest on their feedback form that misleading language about timeframes on the application form be removed. It looks like they've done that now, although I have no idea when the change was made. (In my case this was essentially the only issue; the turnaround wasn't necessarily super slow in itself -- a few months doesn't seem unreasonable -- it's just that it was much slower than the form suggested it should be.)

I believe we changed the text a bunch in August/early September. I think there were a few places we didn't catch the first time, and we made more updates in ~the following month (September). AFAIK we no longer have any (implicit or explicit) commitments for response times anywhere, we only mention predictions and aspirations.

Eg here's the text at near the beginning of the application form: 

The Animal Welfare Fund, Long-Term Future Fund and EA Infrastructure Fund aim to respond to all applications in 2 months and most applications in 3 weeks. However, due to an unprecedentedly high load, we are currently unable to achieve our desired speedy turnarounds. If you need to hear back sooner (e.g., within a few weeks), you can let us know in the application form, and we will see what we can do. Please note that: EA Funds is low on capacity and may not be able to get back to you by either your stated deadline or the above aims -- we encourage you to apply to other funders as well if you have a time-sensitive ask.

This is a very unfortunate situation, but as a general piece of life advice for anyone reading this: expressions of interest are not commitments and should not be "interpreted" -- let alone acted upon! -- as such.

For example, within academia, a department might express interest in having Prof X join their department. But there's no guarantee it will work out. And if Prof. X prematurely quit their existing job, before having a new contract in hand, they would be taking a massive career risk!

(I'm not making any comment on the broader issues raised here; I sympathize with all involved over the unfortunate miscommunication. Just thought it was important to emphasize this particular point. Disclosure: I've recently had positive experiences with EAIF.)

On one hand, I agree with you that expressions of interest or even intent are different than commitments, and commitments are different from money in hand. I wish we had exact quotes to figure out what interpretations were justified, but it's certainly possible Caleb's communication was precise and Igor read too much into it. 

OTOH, there is an embedded problem here. If the grant were approved, it would be unethical to drop patients in favor of EAs. Igor's choices were to behave unethically, stop taking new clients before the grant was approved, or delay implementation once the grant was approved. People often feel an obligation not to delay after they've received funding[1], in which case pausing new clients was the only ethical choice. 

I do think Igor made mistakes here. But I also see patterns that shouldn't have happened. Even if Caleb merely expressed a hope to be able to give an answer by a given date, rather than promising it, he appears to have missed a lot of intentions and should have updated on his own ability to predict response times. Maybe Igor is more heavily misrepresenting the exchanges, but this seems fairly typical of my experience within EA (not with Caleb in particular, and not just with grantmakers). 
  

  1. ^

    it's me, I was people, although after enough delayed grant responses I'm mostly over this. I'm not sure how much of this was internal pressure vs. a vibe from grantmakers. 

People often feel an obligation not to delay after they've received funding

Thanks for flagging this! As a purely forward-looking matter (not blaming anyone), I'd now like to explicitly push back against any such norm. For comparison: it's standard in academia for grant-funded projects to begin the following academic year after grant funding is received (so, often 6 months or more).

This delay is necessary because it's not feasible for universities to drop a planned class at the last minute, after students have already enrolled in it. But independent contractors can have prior commitments too. For someone in that situation, I think it would be a great idea to explicitly build into a proposal that its start date would be "X months after confirmation of grant approval", to allow time for the necessary adjustments. I expect grant-makers would be understanding of such a timeline. (It's not fair to applicants to expect them to make risky adjustments prior to receiving grant confirmation, after all!) And if the timeline is built into the proposal that they approve, there seems less risk of pressure of any sort (internal or otherwise) to imprudently accelerate.

I think that would be a big step forward- and it might not even be a change in policy, just something that needs to be said more explicitly. 

I don't think it solves the entire problem, but at a certain point I just need to write my Why Living On Personal Grants Sucks post. 

If the grant were approved, it would be unethical to drop patients in favor of EAs. Igor's choices were to behave unethically, stop taking new clients before the grant was approved, or delay implementation once the grant was approved

Surely the onus is on the applicant to explain all their constraints to the grantmaker, so that expectations can be set? If Igor had said he was not taking new clients in anticipation of the grant, I feel fairly confident it would have been discouraged and the uncertainty of the grant being approved emphasised.

It would never have occurred to me that discontinuing patient relationships is considered unethical, so that definitely needed to be spelled out.

I tentatively agree with you Igor should have done several things differently, including making his constraints clearer and not changing his job until he had the money in hand. 

I think the real question is "how many applicant mistakes should grantmakers be expected to gracefully handle?" Given that they interact with so many people, especially people new to direct work who couldn't possibly figure out the exact rules ahead of time, I think it's reasonable that EAIF and other entry-level grantmakers be able to handle a fair number[1]. I imagine that someone with no application experience and inconsistent communication from EAIF would have found it challenging to explain the nuances of their situation in a way that was heard.

I was going to say "someone with no application experience would have found it difficult to know how to interpret EAIF's communications", but I reject the concept that EAIF should need that much translation. It makes me sad that I automatically double timing estimates from EA orgs, treat that as the absolute minimum time something could take, and am often still disappointed. If they can't be more accurate, they could at least give more conservative estimates. 

On the other hand, this case appears to have been unusually legally complicated and have ESL issues. Maybe EAIF is handling the 98th percentile case well and this was the unlucky 99th. It's surely not worth the effort to have zero mistakes, and I don't what the right goal is. 

  1. ^

    My understanding is SFF deliberately does the opposite and considers ability to fill out the detailed forms to be a qualification. I can also see an argument for that approach. But I do think granting orgs should make a decision and follow through on it. 

It makes me sad that I automatically double timing estimates from EA orgs, treat that as the absolute minimum time something could take, and am often still disappointed.

I definitely strongly agree with this. I do think its slowly, ever so slowly getting better though.

This is more of communication issue. Any misunderstanding on my part could be resolved very quickly with proper communication from the Fund side. 

Also, while applying for grant, I outlined that I expect to start project shortly after the the deadline for getting an answer.

This is impossible for us to evaluate without the exact wording. If Caleb agrees, would you be willing to post screenshots of the emails? 

If it's okay with you, I'd prefer not to have screenshots of my emails posted right now; I'm happy to rethink this in a few days when it feels a bit lower pressure.

I generally don't write emails, assuming that they will be posted to a public place like the forum.

I’m very sorry that you had such a bad experience here. Whilst I would disagree with some of the details here I do think that our communication was worse than I would have liked and I am very sorry for any hardship that you experienced. It sounds like a stressful process which could have been made much better if we had communicated more often and more quickly.

In my last email (March 4th), I said that we were exploring making this grant, but it’s legally challenging. Grants for mental health support are complicated, in general, as we have to show that there is a pure public benefit. We have an open thread with our legal counsel, and I’m cautiously optimistic about getting a decision on this relatively soon.

In general, I don’t think I made promises or hard commitments to get back in a certain time frame; instead, I said that we aim to get back by a certain time. I believe I am at fault for not making this distinction appropriately clear, and I am upset that this mismatch of expectations resulted in hardship.

Edit: As I said above, from my perspective, this account doesn't accurately depict EAIF's interaction with Igor. We did actually reject this application, but I did say that I was interested in finding another funding arrangement. In hindsight, it would have been better to reject the application (even if that lowered the chance of the applicant receiving funding). I personally don't want to spend a long time engaging with critiques on a public forum - I'd prefer to spend that time fixing problems. That said I think to some degree it's helpful (and expected) for EA orgs to communicate on public forums, despite my personal feelings.

Still, I think that some of my comments on people's negative experiences would fall into the following categories:

  • cases where grantees took many weeks to get back to us to answer relatively short questions, which slowed the process down on our side
  • cases where the grantee received funding from other organisations and didn't tell us about this, which created confusion and made the situation seem much less urgent than they implied
  • in cases where people said they had already provided information in their application, it was often unclear, and we were asking for more details

One thing to note is that at the end of January, we rejected the original grant (which I believed that we wouldn't be able to show a clear public benefit for), and then said we were interested in a different version of the grant that seemed more defensible to me (subject to legal review). Since then, we have been working out whether we can make this alternate grant.

I didn't realise that Igor stopped taking clients completely, and I regret that I didn't make a stronger effort to understand the consequences of the unclear situation whilst we tried to understand the legal implications of making the grant.

Thank you for the attitude you expressed here, although I believe that you promised me to get back in a certain time.

A part from your email from December 5
We sincerely regret the delay and assure you that we will provide you with an update within the next few days.

Your email from December 18
We expect to give a decision this week.

I provide parts of your emails because you expressed that you would rather not share everything in your other comments here.

The first one is a commitment, but the second one isn’t - it’s rather a prediction. Perhaps there is a language familiarity issue?

I agree that the second statement is a prediction, and suspect the issue may lie in the inferences one might draw from it. 

As a formal matter, does "it's likely X will happen within one week" imply "it is very likely X will happen within two weeks" and "it is extremely likely X will happen within three weeks"? Without more, I do not think the first statement logically implies any particular confidence intervals.[1]

However, I think it is readily foreseeable that a good number of readers would assign significant credence to the latter two statements based on the first, but would feel hesitant to nag the decisionmaker on their grant to be clearer on the confidence intervals. Thus, if the two week / three week statements are not valid, and that is not otherwise clear from the context,[2] I think it would be much better to include a disclaimer here. E.g.: However, there is a reasonable possibility that our decision could take 3-4 weeks, or even longer, primarily due to other things on our lawyer's desk.

  1. ^

    An example of "without more": I call a company customer-service line, and am told that there are 30 callers ahead of me, that calls are answered in the order received, and that the estimated wait time is 15 minutes. Due to the law of large numbers, I think I'd be entitled to infer a wait time between ~10-20 minutes here.

  2. ^

    I would view "nothing may get done in the 1-1.5 weeks surrounding Christmas" as obvious if the correspondents both lived in countries where Christmas leave is common.

Without commenting on the rest of this case or EA Funds more broadly, this stood out to me:

At the EA funds website, they write that they usually grant money within 21 days from sending an application, and that their managers care (no further specification).

I was surprised the OP would request a response within one month when applying for a grant until I saw this truly is emphasized on the EA Funds site. This seems inconsistent with my understanding of many people's experiences with EA Funds and easy messaging to change to set more realistic expectations. I appreciate EA funders' efforts toward quick turnaround times, but traditional funders typically take many months to reach a decision, even for comparably sized (i.e. small) grants. This seems like a strong case for "underpromise, overdeliver."

I believe our application form says

The Animal Welfare Fund, Long-Term Future Fund and EA Infrastructure Fund aim to respond to all applications in 2 months and most applications in 3 weeks. However, due to an unprecedentedly high load, we are currently unable to achieve our desired speedy turnarounds. If you need to hear back sooner (e.g., within a few weeks), you can let us know in the application form, and we will see what we can do. Please note that: EA Funds is low on capacity and may not be able to get back to you by either your stated deadline or the above aims -- we encourage you to apply to other funders as well if you have a time-sensitive ask.

In other parts of the site we say things like “usually we get a decision within 21 days”. It’s possible that the application form said something different when Igor applied, we edit it fairly regularly though I’m not aware of changing that specific like recently.

I thought it might be helpful for me to add my own thoughts, as a fund manger at EAIF (Note I'm speaking in a personal capacity, not on behalf of EA Funds or EV).

  1. Firstly, I'd like to apologise for my role in these mistakes. I was the Primary Investigator (PI) for Igor's application, and thus I share some responsibility here. Specifically as the PI, I should have (a) evaluated the application sooner, (b) reached a final recommendation sooner, and (c) been more responsive to communications after making a decision
    1. I did not make an initial decision until November 20. This was too short a timeframe to provide Igor a final decision by November 24.
    2. I did not reach a final recommendation until November 30th. This was due to the final recommendation we made being somewhat more complex than the original proposal.[1]
    3. In February, I did not provide with a full response for Igor's request for an update on his application.
  2. Second, I'd like to apologise to any other applicants to EAIF who have faced similar unreasonably long delays. Whilst we get back to the most applicatants on a reasonable timeframe (see other comments), there are a few cases I am well aware of where we deadlines have been missed for too long. I'm aware of a couple of instances where this has caused significant stress - again, I would like to express my deepest regret for this.
  3. As broader context, I think it's worth emphasising that EAIF is highly under-resourced at the moment. It's fairly common for orgs to say they're "capacity constrained" - but I think this is more true for EAIF in the last ~3 months than any other period:
    1. In summer 2023, EAIF had five part-time fund managers. With OP's distancing from EAIF, we dropped down the three. In late 2023, we then dropped to just myself (part-time), and Caleb as acting EAIF chair.
    2. Given these changes, I would be suprised if EAIF has run on more than ~0.25 FTE over the past three months. 
    3. As such, it has been a challenge for EAIF to fulfil all of it's key responsibilites - as well as developoing a coherent strategy and fundraising given constraints.
    4. We are now recruiting / onboarding new fund managers, so this pressure should be alleviated soon.
  1. ^

    I'm happy to go into details as to the details about changes we proposed and why, although I don't think they are especially relevant to this situation

Specifically as the PI, I should have (a) evaluated the application sooner, (b) reached a final recommendation sooner, and (c) been more responsive to communications after making a decision

 

This comment feels to me like temporarily embarrassed deadline-meeter, and I don't think that's realistic. The backlog is very understandable given your task and your staffing, I assume you're doing what you can on the staffing front but even if that's resolved it's just a big task and 3 weeks is a very ambitious timeline even with full staffing. Given that, it's not surprising that you're falling short of your public commitment, and I want to look at what changes could be made to make a better experience for applicants without a change in capacity. 

All of my ideas are going to be shots in the dark given how little information I have, but maybe they'll spark something:

  1. Set a longer timeline for grant decisions. No one is going to complain if they hear back early.
  2. Give decision-times with percentiles. E.g. 50% are decided in 3 weeks, 75% at 12 weeks.... Then when someone gets a slow response they can think "I guess I was in the 10%" rather than "EAIF missed the deadline"
  3. Update applicant's expectations if a grant looks likely to run long, either on the website or upon first review of the application. It sounds like some projects fall into buckets that cause predictable delays, but applicant's don't know if they fall into that.
  4. Give applicants timelines for when you will follow up, and when they should bug you if you failed to do that. It is really demoralizing to sit there plotting how long you should wait on a grant maker and what the consequences of a mistake will be. 

@Tom Barnes thank you for this insight. Your team and Caleb must work under a lot of pressure and this post, even when important, must not be nice for you to read.

It was clear to me from our EAIF applications and interactions that your team is overworked, understaffed and or burned out. I think it's so important that you are honest about that, and you work on a process that keeps your quality high. It seems from this post that EAIF is not meeting timelines, not communication clearly, and it was clear from the feedback on our application that it was not carefully reviewed (I can share the feedback and the errors and inconsistencies in that). 

Can you limit applications somehow and focus on making better decisions on fewer applications with clear communication? I'd rather wait for your team to carefully consider our application, so I don't have to waste time drafting it every 6 months and it not being carefully reviewed. 

@Igor Ivanov my experience with Caleb and EAIF have been incredibly similar (with the exception of Michael Aird who is smart, helpful and emphatic). I'm unfortunately not surprised to see this post and its many upvotes, and I know of multiple people who have ranted about EAIF's disrespectful and unemphatic ways of working. I hope they will also start speaking up, and your post has persuaded me to do so, so thanks for that!

I will disclose the email I sent to Caleb below. In his defence: he did reply with feedback after this email for which I'm thankful. Unfortunately the feedback contained factual errors about our application and company, and made it clear that our application was not carefully reviewed (or reviewed at all). We recently got another application rejected by Caleb, even though I specifically asked for someone else to review it too, because I believe he has something against me (no clue what that would be since he always ignored me and we never met). 

I still believe EAIF and its managers are good people trying to do a good job, I just don't think they are actually doing a good job based on others and my experiences. 

Here's the email:


Hi Caleb,

I hope you are well!

I know it's not your policy, but after many applications that are, and I mean this respectfully, wasting a lot of time on both ends, I think it's in both our interests if we have some clarity on our applications. Many others and myself think EAIF is an incredibly good fit with our common goals, but after the declined applications it's clear EAIF does not think so (at least currently). That's fine, but because we continue to believe this is a good fit we're continuing to apply and up until now wasting a lot of EA's time. At this stage I'm confident it would help a lot if you could give a little bit of feedback, even if it's just one line of feedback, so we can either move on or reapply with something that we both agree if effective. 

I hesitated to write this because I'm anxious it will hurt our future within EA because I believe you and EAIF have a position of power, but I have decided honesty is more important and it's more helpful if you know who this is coming from so I decided not to be anonymous. This might be emotional and irrational and not at all true, but I have the feeling you don't like me or the work that I'm doing. If true, I haven't figured out why, but I'd prefer to hear that out loud so I can stop frustrating you (if I am) and I can stop being frustrated by not being answered. For context: I have read up on EAIF's and your work, I've been to two office hours on two EAG's, I went to your talk and I tried to get both written or F2F feedback at multiple occasions, each time emphasizing I'd do whatever would be easiest for you, and even if it was one minute of feedback it would help us a lot. I tried to be very respectful of your time because I completely understand you are incredibly busy. You wrote me back once that you could give feedback but after replying I was again ignored. If I may be completely frank I have found it quite disrespectful, considering how respectful I tried to be with your time and space, and how much time we put into our applications. 

These are just emotional observations and they do not constitute truth, but I think it's helpful for you to know the impression you and EAIF (although others at or affiliated to EAIF did reply to our requests for help, most of them pointing to you to ask for feedback) are leaving on me. I'm very sorry if this is making you feel bad, I don't at all think that you are a bad person and I admire the amazing work you do. I'm just sharing the impression our encounters (or the lack thereof) have made me feel. 

Any feedback would be helpful because I believe it will help EAIF save considerable time in the future. I would appreciate it if our next EAIF will be reviewed by someone else so we can remove any personal biases there might be between you and us. We continue to believe the fit is great and won't give up until we get clear feedback saying otherwise. 

Thanks and all the best,
 

Vin 



 

I think this situation is pretty different. In my email, I said we would not be able to provide feedback, but I decided to provide feedback anyway. The grants were reviewed by other fund managers internally, who agreed that your application was not a good fit for the fund.

I will disclose the email I sent to Caleb below. In his defence: he did reply with feedback after this email for which I'm thankful. Unfortunately the feedback contained factual errors about our application and company, and made it clear that our application was not carefully reviewed (or reviewed at all). We recently got another application rejected by Caleb, even though I specifically asked for someone else to review it too, because I believe he has something against me (no clue what that would be since he always ignored me and we never met).

I also don't think I made factual errors when evaluating your application. I don't want to publicly share details of your grants, but it's probably at least somewhat helpful to have it on the record that I disagree. Other fund managers and I have actually reviewed your applications. I didn't evaluate all of them due to your request, but I do send the rejection emails.

Thanks for the reply Caleb. I'm not arguing it's not a good fit here (although I disagree with that too, obviously, otherwise I wouldn't apply to EAIF). Ultimately you guys decide the fit. What I'm arguing is that I felt disrespected by our interactions, and it seems I'm not alone.  

I stand by that your feedback contained multiple factual errors. An example is the feedback mentioning we don't have transparent financials even though all of that was linked clearly (and was even publicly available at that time). Happy to go into other examples but I don't think we're going to agree on this. 

FWIW I'm happy for you to share public details of our grant application, we're transparent. I don't think the public will disagree with you our project is not a fit, because other funders have also declined our Profit for Good ideas so far. 

That sounds upsetting.

Did you inform EAIF in advance of your intent to publish this? There are sometimes good reasons to dispense with the default norm of running critical posts by orgs, but I am not seeing any of them present on the face of this post.

I don’t know how I feel about applying that standard in this case, given that lack of communication is the thing at issue

That's a fair position. To me, the advantages of prior notification still seem in play here. Quoting from Jeff's post:

This allows the org to prepare a response if they want, which they can post right when your posts goes out, usually as a comment. It's very common that there are important additional details that you don't have as someone outside the org, and it's good for people to be able to review those details alongside your post. If you don't give the org a heads up they need to choose between:

  • Scrambling to respond as soon as possible, including working on weekends or after hours and potentially dropping other commitments, or
  • Accepting that with a late reply many people will see your post, some will downgrade their view of the org, and most will never see the follow-up.

Given the simplicity of the complaint, I would not think more than 2-3 days notice would be warranted, although I would suggest an extension to ~1 week if the org could identify specific workload commitments that made it difficult for the org to prepare a timely response to the Forum post.

I do think the simplicity of the complaint also helps in the other direction as well though - I would guess that it was fairly unburdensome to respond in this case. Though I will say that there were certain aspects of the post that already flagged to me that we were getting a skewed view (eg the pausing of clients seeming premature), so maybe that makes me unduly unconcerned about others absorbing an unbalanced view.

Though re you point about making an extension due to workload, I’d be strongly against that in this case as the whole complaint is around disorganisation and frustrating extensions of deadlines - that is the case where someone least owes an org flexibility, and I think it would reflect rather poorly on an org to request it in that situation.

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Quite apart from the courtesy (and the OP apparently feels like he hasn't been treated with courtesy himself), this seems like an obvious case for communicating to an organisation that you're upset because you feel that you've been misled about timelines [and are considering publicising your complaint] before going public because, despite the delays, they may actually be quite close to awarding you significant sums of money...

(I'm not sure what was promised, but this sounds like exactly the sort of thing I'd expect to always take longer than expected)

I am wondering if there are generally strong enough recommendations on building a substantial personal runway? I am thinking that one might actually want to do something like the following:

-Before applying for a grant/applying for non-permanent/project based work, perhaps even target a personal runway of 12 months, especially if you have dependents?

-Then when you are applying, calculate the salary/rate you think you need.

-Then assume you might burn up to 6 months of your runway on working on this grant (either before it starts and/or when waiting for follow-on funding/your next project).

-Therefore take your runway per month number, multiply by 6, add taxes, pension etc. and then, before you suggest a rate/budget, add this amount. This is similar to how consultancies often have "billable hours" percentages of 70% or lower and they have rates that are high enough to create a buffer for lulls between projects.

The reason for doing this is that if you burn away your runway on your first grant, you are then out of commission for EA work after the grant. It seems to dawn on me that you should expect multiple months between grants/projects of no "EA income". 

I am making this comment because after reading a few other comments here and generally maybe picking up on the mood from e.g. the upvotes on this post, it seems that perhaps delays is more of a norm than the occasional exception? And I think grant makers are under a lot of pressure and also have incentives to "market" themselves as fast, incentives we should not expect to go away.

That said, one might significantly increase the amount one is asking for in these grants by following my recommendations. However, I am not sure this is such a big deal, because I expect the major parameter grantmakers are using for decisions is expected impact, not the cost. E.g. increasing your requested rate/budget by 30% or perhaps even 40% might actually not lower your chances of getting a grant by that much (feel free to comment on this if you disagree!). Such practice might also be good in a solidarity type of way as we could re-calibrate expectations of compensation with grantmakers, making them think less poorly of people "asking for a lot". And if you end up not needing this extra money you know where to donate it!

My experience with the fund has been slightly different, but also disappointing. 

The fund rejected my application, but didn't seem to stand by their own conclusions.

I submitted an application which was rejected. The fund manager offered to provide feedback, however over the course of the conversation, we discussed how the concerns they raised were things that we already had on our radar, and that our approach was to tackle those issues head on and "fail fast" (i.e. work out whether the issues were surmountable, and if not, pivot).

I was confused that the fund manager sounded like they were updating over the course of the conversation, because I wasn't saying anything which wasn't in the application.

I then mentioned that someone in the project team might be able to fund the project from his own pocket, but if the project wasn't impactful enough, he would prefer to use the money on higher impact things, and invited the fund manager to help us make a better decision. The fund manager didn't seem to think they could add much value given that they thought that I'm clearly thoughtful about how to assess such projects.

I would have liked it if the fund had provided either feedback or funding. I came away with neither.

Reasons to be cautious when updating on this information

The main reason that readers should be cautious when updating on this comment is that this refers to something which happened multiple years ago. This is relevant because:

  • The fund managers are probably different people now (although presumably there is some continuity of processes). [I recommend you update moderately for this point]
  • EAIF has outlined a specific strategy which they didn't have at the time. When they had a broader remit, it was presumably harder for them to make effective decisions. [I recommend you update moderately for this point]
  • Although I did point out that other EA money might fund the project, and I did ask for feedback to help stop that money going to this project if it weren't high impact enough, when the fund manager didn't feel able to provide a rationale for rejection, I didn't then push for the Fund to provide us with funding. I felt this would have violated norms of respecting their decision. However doing so might have caused them to come up with reasons which they didn't state in the call. Overall, I find this less convincing, because if they did come up with more reasons, then they would have had to essentially contradict themselves, which means my conclusion of low confidence in their decision-making remains unchanged. [I recommend you update to a small extent for this point]
  • I can't guarantee that I've remembered things correctly. [I recommend you update significantly for this point with regard to certain details, listed below, and to a small extent for the most important element, see below]

In case it helps, I can expand on the "potential for misremembering" point:

  • I'm very confident that the call was for feedback on rejection, and that it ended with the fund manager conceding that he could not defend the decision to reject the application.
  • Things I can't remember very well:
    • Although I definitely remembering thinking that we were discussing things which were in the application, I can't remember whether I looked back at the application to check. I can't rule out the possibility that the feedback call included new information, but I do think I would have remembered if the fund manager had indicated that something was new.
    • I don't have high confidence in my impression that the fund manager was showing signs of updating in the call, as they weren't super-expressive. I can't remember enough detail to know how confident we should be of this point.
    • I can't remember how cruxy the "fail fast" element of the discussion was.

Overall, I came away with low confidence in their decision-making ability, and would not recommend that donors provide funds to them.

Sorry to go anon on this one. Also, I appreciate the details here are (deliberately) vague enough that it will be hard for the fund managers to identify the case or respond. I'm sorry about this, but I also don't want to doxx myself. 

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