Certificates of impact

We’re giving awards in exchange for certificates of impact. Here’s how it works.

  • You tell us about something good you did.
  • We offer you some money.
  • You decide whether the money would be enough to justify undoing the impact of your project. If so, you take it. (The impact of your project isn’t actually undone!)
  • In attributions, you mention that you’ve sold part of the impact in order to finance the project.

To speed things up, we’ll also request an offer price in the first step, so that we know roughly how much you should be willing to accept.

You might ask: why shouldn’t I just always accept the money in step 3? I don’t care about these certificates of impact, so what do I stand to lose?

If all you care about is making money, that’s the right strategy (unless you optimistically think that you can sell the certificate for more money later). But in that case, why did you do the project anyway? (If you only did the project to make money from selling it to us, then we’re happy to give you the money with no strings attached and call our project a success!)

If you care about humanitarian impact, then you also need to think about whoever would receive the money if you don’t take it. You could try to figure out how bad their loss is by thinking through a complicated counterfactual (who are they? what would they do with the money? what will they do if they don’t receive the money?).

We’re proposing a simpler alternative: we’ll try to ensure that if we offer you $X for project P, our next-best-use of that $X would be about as awesome as project P. So accepting our $X really does amount to undoing the humanitarian impact of project P.

If you still have questions, you can read about the certificate system in more depth, and post comments or questions, here.

What exactly am I agreeing to here?

If you take money from us in exchange for X% of your project’s certificate of impact, we’d like you to do two things:

  1. Consider the offer as if it undid X% of the project’s humanitarian impact, as described above and detailed here, and don’t accept the money if this isn’t a good trade. Of course we can’t enforce this recommendation, but we’ll do our best to protect the spirit of the exercise.  At the same time, you should ignore the negative effects of us having less money—that would be double-counting.
  2. Anywhere that your project is described with explicit attribution, you should mention that it is backed by a certificate of impact. In particular, if you assign credit to a person or organization, you should specify what fraction of the certificate they still own. (You have no obligation to say who owns the rest of it.)

Other impacts, such as personal development, enjoyment, or signaling, are of course not transferred. There is no particular obligation to transfer “social credit,” beyond point [2].

As a consequence of [2], you will probably not be able to sell the same part of the same certificate to anyone else in the future. Someone purchasing a certificate for your project will ask who was responsible for the project, and at that point you must disclose that you have already given away part of the certificate associated with the project. If you’ve already sold 50% to us and then try to sell 60% to someone else, they are likely to turn down the offer.

Why sell certificates?

The rationale for the certificate system itself is outlined at Why Certificates? This section is about why you might want to sell a certificate, assuming you are taking the process seriously.

I expect that most applicants will be selling responsibility for projects that they are passionate about and whose impacts they value. Even if I’m really excited about my project, there are some clear cases where it’s a good idea for me to sell a certificate. For example:

  • Suppose that a research project took me 30 hours, and that I currently take public transit to work. I could take a cab instead; for every $60 I spend on fares, I could save a quality-adjusted hour. I think that I could complete an even more impressive follow-up project with my next 30 hours of work, and on top of that I’ll learn things while doing it. So I’m more than happy to sell the original project for $2000. Using the money I can take a cab, complete the follow-up project, and pocket $200. I’ve gained some skills, pocketed some money, and on net I’ve had a larger impact.
  • Suppose that I wrote an article that I think is very helpful—in fact, I think it’s as good for the world as a $3000 donation to AMF. I would be very happy to sell causal responsibility for $4000, if someone was willing to buy it for that. I could donate $3500 to AMF, have a net positive impact on the world, and pocket an extra $500.

In general, funders and implementers have different willingness-to-pay for altruistic projects, if only because they have different amounts of money. So swapping money for impact can be a win-win trade.

How to pick a price?

The examples above illustrates one general technique for setting a price:

You should be willing to sell a certificate of impact for $X if you could do something else equally impactful with an additional $X (on the margin).

“Equally impactful” means according to your evaluation, not according to ours.

If a project mostly requires time, it can be hard to translate the required investment into dollars. You could instead think about “wth an additional $X” as: “with an amount of time you’d be happy to spend in exchange for $X (without having any altruistic impact).”

You might adjust this price downwards if a project produces benefits other than humanitarian impact, such as skills, reputational capital, or enjoyment.

You may have other reasons for being willing to sell a certificate for $X, but we expect this one to be particularly common.


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