Last Chance to Fund the Berkeley REACH

post by decodyng · 2018-06-27T21:38:49.299Z · score: 119 (40 votes) · LW · GW · 52 comments

Contents

    TL;DR We have 2 days - until July 1 - to increase monthly donations  by $2260 or raise $27,000 in lump sum , or else REACH will lose its current location and go on indefinite hiatus
  Background Reading
  Current Financial Reality
    Assets
    Costs
  Closing the Funding Gap
  Why not move somewhere less expensive?
  Why are we posting this?
None
52 comments

(This post was co-authored by me (Cody Wild), Tessa Alexanian and Ray Arnold)

TL;DR We have 2 days - until July 1 - to increase monthly donations by $2260 or raise $27,000 in lump sum , or else REACH will lose its current location and go on indefinite hiatus

Do you care about the Berkeley REACH staying open? Has an open-access community space added value to your life? We have a few days to raise enough money to comfortably sign a one-year lease. If not, REACH will lose its current location, and the project will go into indefinite hiatus.

Community support for REACH has been substantial, and we’re proud to see the number of people willing to pay seriously for something important. But we haven’t hit the level where it’s realistic to sign a full year lease. For that, we’d either need an additional $2260/month on Patreon, or up-front donations of around $27,000 to make us secure enough to do so. If this lease isn’t signed in the next few days, REACH will lose its current location at the end of July.

If you’re excited about REACH, you’re probably already donating. We care about our community not overextending itself. One of the main benefits of REACH is to help those who haven’t yet gotten their financial footing stabilized, and if that’s your situation we don’t want you feeling pressure here.

But if you can comfortably donate more to REACH – if you’re one of those 6 figure salary programmers who are excited by the prospect of having an honest-to-goodness community in a world that increasingly pushes towards atomization, we’d like you to consider whether you want to do more.

If you’re willing and able to pledge more ongoing support than you already have, or want to make a large, one-time donation to help an early-stage project get its footing, the next few days are the time to come forward and do so.

Background Reading

Current Financial Reality

REACH has a funding gap. While this funding gap remains, it doesn’t make sense to sign the lease.

Assets

Costs

Taking into account solely the cost of rent, the funding gap on recurring and reliable funds is $900 per month, or $10,800 for the year. If we’re trying to fund the real cost of the space in a sustainable way, we estimate the size of this year’s funding gap at:

That’s a funding gap of $2260 per month, or $27,120 for the year.

Closing the Funding Gap

A few large donations to the PayPal, in the next few days, could offset enough of the $27,120 full-year shortfall that signing the lease would seem like a reasonable risk.

In general, though, a Patreon donation pledge can be relied upon in a way that ad hoc donations just can’t. Many of you have, in the past, given PayPal donations— which have been valuable— but if REACH is to survive, more people for whom REACH is valuable need to commit to donating funds on a monthly basis.

Why not move somewhere less expensive?

First off, this is the Berkeley REACH. It’s not surprising that rent is kind of high.

A house? There are houses in Berkeley with a similar amount of common space, but modifying them into a community center would require a permit from the city. This would, very optimistically, be a 5-8 month process.

Other commercial space? There are commercial spaces in Berkeley that are less expensive on a per-square-foot level. However, they typically require 3-5 year leases. This project is still evolving and stabilizing financially, so that’s too long of a commitment to ask a leaseholder to take on.

Even putting aside the hurdles of one of the above options, it would take at minimum several weeks to find an alternative, lower-rent venue, during which significant momentum on the project would be lost. The investments to the space, the donations, and the ways that REACH’s primary caretakers have configured their lives around it would be temporarily undone, and would have to be built up again.

Why are we posting this?

We won’t argue that this is effective altruism – while you could make a case for that, it depends on a lot of assumptions, and you may not want to count this in your Giving What We Can Pledge.

Yet. Humans are built for living in community, and we believe that donating money to help members of your community connect and thrive will make us stronger. We all spend money on things to make us happier, and we believe that, out of the available options, investing in community is one of the richer and more sustainable ways to do that. To quote Ray Arnold:

I think it’s very good that the rational/EA-sphere spends attention on helping far away or future people, even if they won’t return the favor. Part of living in the present era can and should include noticing that you have a lot of power, and the opportunity to use that power to help people at scale.
But, while money is the unit of caring, there’s plenty of things to care about other than far away people.
Freethinker-esque communities don’t just have trouble cooperating for grand altruistic projects. They struggle to cooperate to just buy themselves some god damn nice things._
I’m of the opinion people do not spend nearly enough money investing in their own communities.
—from Thoughts on the REACH Pateron [LW · GW]

By reducing the necessary activation energy, we make it easier for any given community member to think of a valuable community meetup series, or workshop, or activity, and just do it. There is a lot of bonding and mutual growth that comes out of events that would be too high-effort to initiate if an open space weren’t easily available.

There aren’t many parts of urban, secular, atomized society that optimize for community. REACH is still very much an experiment in going against that grain and creating an intentional space to be together and build together. We haven’t yet seen the full results of that experiment, but what we’ve seen so far is enough to make us hopeful.

Without more funding, the REACH will close. We hope you will join us in extending its run a little further.

52 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-06-28T03:04:27.650Z · score: 71 (22 votes) · LW · GW

This is the third time in a few years (second time this year) that I've seen a beloved community institution try its futile best to raise enough funds to stay afloat, reach a point where it looks like it will have to close immediately, and suddenly successfully raise the money it had been trying and failing to get.

This makes sense - as a donor, I'm willing to pay substantially more if my contribution is likely to make a difference between a thing I care about existing and not. But this clearly creates a lot of stress for the organizers - if you won't get the support you need until you're almost out of business, you have to get right up to the edge before you can succeed, even though the resources you needed were there all along.

I wonder if this is something that can be improved on somehow.

comment by Raemon · 2018-06-28T00:56:42.752Z · score: 49 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Cody didn't feel comfortable pitching this concretely as an EA cause. I think it is virtuous not to make claims you aren't sure you can defend, and to not incentivize people to argue things are "EA" when they aren't necessarily.

I hadn't pitched it very hard as an EA cause either, since it needed money now and it was easiest to make the case for it as a "local community funds a nice thing for themselves."

However, I think REACH does qualify as EA – importantly so. And I think it is both healthier and good for the world if most of the funding gap was closed via larger donors and organizations.

I've written previously about [LW · GW]:

  • The Water Cooler effect – REACH allows people in Berkeley to casually bump into each other, forming stronger relationships over time, bouncing ideas around, finding jobs and starting new projects.
  • The Agency Ladder – REACH provides a way for people joining the Berkeley community to get involved and start contributing to low-stakes projects that build their agency and competence, while giving them a chance to get settled in, network their way around, and eventually join a major org or found a new project.
  • Free Energy with Low Activation Costs – REACH allows latent energy and enthusiasm to turn into events, with low barrier to entry. Those events in turn help give other people additional water-cooler/agency-ladder opportunities. REACH hosts 3-4 events per week, and was been valuable for things like helping arbitrary numbers of people crash during EA Global. When I ran the Summer Solstice carpool, I didn't have to spend any effort thinking about where people would meet to coordinate – Reach was the obvious choice.

Having a healthy community is important so that people can actually have the stability and energy to grow as EA-aligned people.

I think the local community is close to donating "at sustainable capacity" here. If you do have capacity to donate more that's good. But I actually think, from a collective rational/EAsphere perspective, the correct allocation of REACH funding is something like "50-70% local donors, 30-50% EA grant money."

Right now, if too many 6-figure programmer types are donating too much of their income to REACH out of pocket on an ongoing basis, that limits their ability a) to fund other new projects that they have private information on, b) limits their ability to, say, switch careers into a lower paying EA-org job.

So I think it'd be valuable for major donors to fund REACH, specifically because the whole point here is to keep enough slack in the system for a healthy EA community.

comment by Raemon · 2018-06-28T00:56:54.833Z · score: 20 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(I'm already donating to REACH at my personal sustainable capacity on a monthly basis. I just gave an additional $200 as a one-time donation)

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2018-06-28T08:50:35.853Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think this somewhat strange representation of the case. You should carefully consider what is the counterfactual.

As I understand it, the counterfactuals are

  • People use MIRI/CFAR office as a default meetup and coworking space. This has the disadvantage of going through alocked doors and an elevator with access control. Possibly this can be solved by installing some remote control on the door, and the elevator? Possibly this could cost less than $70k a year?
  • New CEA office is also not that small, and can host events?
  • Another counterfactual is turning it into a rationalist coffee. This would likely capture most of the benefits, without big part of the financial burden.

From the outside, the different quality of these spaces seems to be in part in level of professionalism and ideological differences, where some of the things which you will be likely allowed to organize and do in REACH would probably not be welcome in MIRI/CFAR or CEA space. Than, the hard question is, whether this is not actually a desirable feature.

comment by epiphi · 2018-06-28T16:24:10.373Z · score: 28 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm appreciative of you bringing up counterfactuals and do think they're important to consider.

As someone who regularly hosts events at REACH, my counterfactual locations would be a room on UC Berkeley campus or in a public library. These have some disadvantages compared to REACH:

  • The campus rooms require a Berkeley student to unlock open the door to the building, which means one of the organizers has to sit out the first 15 minutes of the meetup, either standing by the door or wandering in and out to let people in.
  • The library would allow us to expose far fewer EAs to our (biosecurity-specific) meetup content, since right now many attendees just wander in due to being in the space.

They aren't terrible options- I don't think our meetup would shut down if REACH did. Still: they have disadvantages. I wouldn't be trying to host at CFAR or CEA since:

  • The access control on the CFAR office space is required by the building management. They used to have more lax access controls, but it's now much harder to have the CFAR office space be one that people can wander into. The MIRI space, AFAIK, has never been regularly used for open, non-technical gatherings.
  • I don't believe that CEA is interested in hosting events and coworking in their office. My impression is that they (reasonably, I think) don't consider it a part of their mandate.

I'm not sure about your final counterfactual suggestion- what would that look like in practice? Is this suggestion to open a rationalist-focused coffee shop?

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2018-06-29T10:32:42.290Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the reply! Continuing with counterfactual exercise and some goal factoring

  • hiring an external person to just stand by the door and open the door, either at the campus or CFAR space, for 1h / week, could cost $750/y
  • doing the same for 4 meetups a week per year would cost $3000, approximately 1/2 the price for reach per month

Yes, another counterfactual suggestion is to run a rationalist-focused coffee shop, as some form of social business. Apparently there are at least two places in the world where something like that works - Kocherga in Moscow https://kocherga-club.ru/, and we have a tea-house in Prague.

I'll probably not comment on REACH further, my impression is matters of REACH are too emotionally charged and not up for rational discussion, at least not in public - note the down-votes on my comments.

comment by Raemon · 2018-06-29T19:13:35.436Z · score: 37 (7 votes) · LW · GW

(I do think its important to be able to have this sort of conversation. Understand if you don't want to continue, appreciate you raising the counterfactual considerations in the first place)

I do think considering counterfactuals are important, but I think your points here are missing the core point I was making: the value of REACH is in reducing trivial inconveniences to zero* (for running events, and for casually bumping into each other).

*well, close to zero.

The reason there are 2-3 extra events per week now is that there is an easy way to make them happen, and a lot of flexibility on what sort of events one can host. If running a public event required arranging a person for that particular evening, it'd be much harder. This wouldn't allow the spare energy in the system to turn into new-events-that-turn-into-more-people-and-energy.

It's important that people can show up most times of day to work or hang out.

There's also the fact that travelers can crash at REACH in a publicly legible way (whereas before the only way to do so was to know people in the Bay).

So the counterfactuals here are more like:

1) CFAR hires a person to let people in all day, every day. (right now CFAR has people, one of whose jobs is to let people in, but it often takes a long time for them to hear the bell and get around to it and come downstairs. This makes it feel like showing up is imposing an obligation on them, which discourages people being able to casually bump into each other, or to run extra events)

If you're paying people $10/hour, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, that's more like $40,000. Technically cheaper, yes, but same order of magnitude, and coming with stronger costs (since CFAR is an office which sometimes needs control over the space for work reasons)

2) People who are less socially connected don't get to visit the bay as often.

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2018-06-30T12:39:24.103Z · score: 18 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Trigger warning: If you love REACH, invested a lot into it, had some unforgettable moment there, or have some other strong connection to it, following post may trigger some negative emotion in you. I would be glad if you invest the effort in disassociating the negative emotions with people. I wish Berkeley community to have great spaces, be welcoming, and do great public events.

Probably I'm a bit confused what is your main claim of the impact produced from an EA perspective. Lowering the barriers for some things to happen from small to zero, and creating value by randomly occurring social connections? In the first case, I would propose to take a step forward, and estimate the impact of things actually happening, and costs ofcounterfactual conditions also causing them to happen.

From my experience, the inconveniences of co-working in CFARs office are really trivial (waiting about 1 minute). On the other hand, the environment, at least for me, felt more conductive to work. I agree the psychological barrier "like the feel showing up is imposing an obligation on them" is real, but it may difficult to evaluate all the effects. One of the effects may be a subtle pressure to actually work on EA projects.

It also seems plausible some value may be not created but lost for some of the visitors to Bay who are less socially connected, as they may end up hanging in the zero-entry-effort space and not overcome the barriers to get to more walled spaces, where they would get more value.

(I'm not arguing the total EV is negative, as this is very uncertain and I would expect positive EV, just arguing that people should take the possibility of creating such low-cost low-value equilibrium traps seriously.)

With meetups, it seems the things most likely to cause impact are the biorisk meetups and possibly EA meetups. Which would likely happen anyway, maybe with fewer participants.

"There's also the fact that travelers can crash at REACH in a publicly legible way"

Again, a simple counterfactual would be to create a web-page, of just a facebook group, where people can ask for couches, and incentivize existing rationality houses to participate. (e.g. give some money to every house which is taking short-term guests)

To sum up my my ideas on somewhat more meta- level.

1. I agree that some of the problems REACH tries to solve are real and important. IMO most value depends on some way how to integrate new people in the community where most of the existing members are saturated by social connections and have little incentives to meet new people. And how to have evening hangout space.

2. I'm totally pro physical spaces, humans need spaces. Also noticing that there already are already lots of physical spaces in Berkeley.

3. It is plausible that REACH is close to optimum solution. I don't see any reasonable analysis showing this is the case. Also I don't see how a community of a hundreds people can have problems supporting such a place, _if it really wants it_. If it is a problem, maybe it has support of only some minor fraction of the community? If the community is "voting" that way, why should institutional grant-makers step in?

4. At least to me, REACH "as a process" does not seem a well-thought rational way of solving the problems, but more of a solution, backtracking to what the positive impacts generally are. With a lot of emotional energy and personal costs invested in the project.

5. I disapprove the epistemics surrounding REACH. E.g. the "Reflections on Berkeley REACH" post does not represent reasonable criticism of REACH the author was aware of, and in contrast includes a call to discourage public negative comments in the form "I am hosting a pre-EAG party tonight and will be volunteering at EAG this weekend so may be slow to respond to comments. If you have harsh critical feedback for me, I’d prefer to receive it privately and have a chance to consider and address it before it is posted publicly." I totally emotionally empathize and for sure only a total asshole can now post critical feedback. Also anything framed "Last Chance", only 2 days,... is kind of obviously not a good background for dispassionate discussion. (The rent hike was known for weeks.)

comment by Raemon · 2018-07-01T23:29:53.816Z · score: 19 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed that these are important questions. I think I shared most of my takeaway on these in Thoughts on Reach [LW · GW], although it wasn't quite optimized to answer them in this format.

There's a few potential cruxes here and I'm not sure which seem most relevant to you:

1) How important to have a centralized space that is public, legible and is easy to get to?

2) If #1 matters, could the CFAR venue adequately provide that space?

3) How important are trivial inconveniences?

4) How important is it for people to get to bump into each other over time and form connections in low-stakes settings?

5) Are there meaningful alternatives to how to fund and organize REACH at a core project level? (By which I mean "the basic premise of have a crowdfunded space with events and coworking")

6) Are there tactical ways REACH should be differently organized (given it's current resources), such that it makes sense to withhold funding?

If the CFAR office didn't exist yet, you might ask similar questions about why it's necessary for them to have an office at all – can't we just meet at people's houses? (This is how many early organizations get started). But there is a level of scaling that a business have trouble doing when they get to a certain size if they don't start having a physical space to allow a wider swath of possibilities than individual houses.

Similarly, when a community reaches a particular size, entire swaths of possibility become enabled when you start investing in larger infrastructure. Distributing public events and people-staying-over along individual houses is extra organizational work that you have spend with each instance, and depends on group houses wanting to serve as semi-public venues. (Often, in my experience, they sometimes do, but then sometimes actually want their house to be private, and not being able to because you already committed to an event can build up psychological stress over time)

I think the strongest counter-argument to REACH is "why can't you just use the CFAR office?". The counterargument to that is "CFAR doesn't seem to especially want people to use the CFAR office for this purpose" (My impression is that CFAR doesn't have the organizational capacity to optimize themselves as a community center in addition to running their core workshops and additional experimental programs. It makes sense to have a place and organization that is _just_ optimizing for that. Someone from CFAR feel welcome to weigh in here)

For easy reference, the relevant bit of Thoughts on REACH:

Measuring Intangibles
The most saliently high-impact output of meetups I’m aware of:
* The Boston meetup provided a lot of enthusiasm and volunteer infrastructure that allowed Max Tegmark to launch the Future of Life Institute, which in turn got Elon Musk involved with AI. (There’s room to debate if this was net-positiveor not. But my current guess is yes, and the magnitude of the impact was both unmistakably high and unmistakably causal with meetups)
* I’m not sure how relevant the meetups were, but my impression is that years ago in NYC, the existence of the rationality community lowered the activation energy for Michael Vassar introducing Holden Karnosfky to Carl Shulman, most likely substantially changing Givewell’s direction.
More generally, meetups seem to :
* Foster the growth of rationalists and EAs, many of whom then go on to work on important projects. Sometimes this effect is immediate, sometimes it happens over the course of years
* Introduce people to each other (and to the broader ecosystem of organizations and thinkers) that increases the overall “luck surface area” of both individuals, and the collective rationalsphere.
* Provide a change-in-social-environment that allow important ideas from the sequences to actually take root, leading eventually to more capable individuals and ideas.
* Incubate projects (I think FLI counts. MetaMed didn’t work out in the end but I think from an expected-value and learning framework it counted. I think many organizations have their roots in people bouncing into each other at meetups)

comment by stardust · 2018-07-01T03:08:41.776Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · LW · GW
I disapprove the epistemics surrounding REACH. E.g. the "Reflections on Berkeley REACH" post does not represent reasonable criticism of REACH the author was aware of, and in contrast includes a call to discourage public negative comments

I actually had more of a response to your email in the original draft, and was advised to cut it for the final version by multiple people as being too personal/specific for a public post.

I admit that I am not perfectly rational, and have never tried to be. Harsh public criticism of me and my project hurts me, and I prefer avoiding pain whenever possible. Critical feedback that is not framed in an overly aggressive way is definitely welcome, and if I get super harsh feedback I will recover, but I will be sad about it. I assume this is how most people feel, but given the level of harsh criticism on LessWrong plus typical mind fallacy, it seemed worth spelling out here.

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2018-07-01T09:36:33.882Z · score: 8 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately this

I actually had more of a response to your email in the original draft, and was advised to cut it for the final version by multiple people as being too personal/specific for a public post.

is not a positive sign.

The core worries of my email were impersonal and quite generic.

So the core of my email was this concern:

This should be not much controversial facts
1) REACH put itself into the position of being one of the most public-facing things in Berkeley community. If non-Berkeley people come to Bay and look for events and places, they'll highly likely land up at REACHs page, or at the physical space.
-- you have obvious incentives to be it that way
2) REACH got some support from SSC, so many people noticed, some of
them are donating
3) This is actually happening: during my stay, few times some random
person asked at the door that they heard about REACH and wanted to see
it.
4) As Berkeley is one of the main hubs, people from other places will
come to Berkeley and take inspiration

the result is REACH is one of the "store-fronts" of the community

These are my vague impressions
5) At the same time, it seems REACH is actually supported only by some
part of the community, or the support is more like "donating stuff"
6) The ambition is more focused on the local community.

On the object level
7) It is very expensive (...)
8) It is obviously cash-strapped
9) The lack of money is signaled in various ways

(which together make it somewhat problematic store-front)

So in short, my worry was that having REACH as one of the most public facing things with the external world could be harmful mainly from signalling/PR perspective.

As it may be unclear what I have meant by 8) and 9): we have talked previously in person about, for example, "donated clothes exchange". While "donated clothes exchange" may be a typical activity of a "stock community center", it is surprising in a rationalist centre. From the signalling perspective, to an external visitor, it shows

  • implicitly very low valuation of your time
  • implicitly somewhat low valuation of the cost of your space

The rest of the email were mainly constructive suggestions how to get aligned/ potentially get funding from CEA to get the place more professional look, and that really was more personal.

The more meta-point is: What I care in this about is EA (and rationality, x-risk, etc), and I raised a concern about a possible harm to these from a "brand" perspective. The harm caused by such problem would be mainly in opportunities (the specific way of causing impact being some of the random SSC readers visiting, looking at this, and turning away with the first impression "ok these people talk a lot about changing the world online, but it is not a serious effort")

If it was impossible to distill some sort of impersonal, generic concern from the previously quoted text, and if multiple people advised you that addressing concerns like this is too personal/specific for a public post, than, well, that's the point 5).

comment by philh · 2018-07-03T23:47:52.516Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Some of this feels like a kind of criticism that's inevitably going to apply to a project like REACH, whether it succeeds or not. Like, there's basically no way to avoid it being very expensive. There may be a path to "not cash-strapped", but it seems like basically any such path is going to go via "cash-strapped store front", because it's going to be much easier to get money after it's seen to be successful.

(Perhaps it would be nice if we could raise money for these things without someone like Sarah needing to fund their initial success, and then maybe we could avoid them being both cash-strapped and highly public. But if so, that's more a criticism of the community than of REACH.)

That doesn't make your criticisms false, but if I'm right, this seems like a property of them that's important to note and engage with.

Separately, I'm not convinced that the signaling properties of clothes exchanges are what you say. I have no evidence here, just intuition.

comment by stardust · 2018-08-23T07:28:07.134Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Jan, I'm curious after seeing REACH again this month if you still have the same impression as before.

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2018-08-24T21:43:50.725Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to be moving in good direction! Things I noticed and like include

  • Seems a larger group of people is involved in the management of the place
  • It has a web separate from http://www.bayrationality.com/
  • The back rooms now look like more coworking space, no longer like thrift store
  • Various "suggested donation" things now really look like "suggested donation" less like "if you don't pay this price you should be ashamed"
  • You seem less stressed
  • It seems REAC will turn into REACH, & similar

The impression I had before was more nuanced that how you possibly interpreted it at that time. I'm definitely pro "people need spaces"; I also believe how spaces feel have important and underappreciated influence on what people do in them. To somehow sum it, I like how things have changed.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2018-07-01T00:08:27.703Z · score: 24 (7 votes) · LW · GW

From what I hear, any plan for improving MIRI/CFAR space that involves the collaboration of the landlord is dead in the water; they just always say no to things, even when it's "we will cover all costs to make this lasting improvement to your building".

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-07-01T01:04:57.511Z · score: 1 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Does MIRI/CFAR view having such a landlord as an acceptable state of affairs? Is there a plan for moving to another space, with less recalcitrant owners/renters?

comment by Vaniver · 2018-07-02T06:23:27.810Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · LW · GW
Does MIRI/CFAR view having such a landlord as an acceptable state of affairs? Is there a plan for moving to another space, with less recalcitrant owners/renters?

No, and yes. But as you might expect, real estate in Berkeley is a difficult problem to solve quickly.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-07-01T16:20:21.363Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yep, I think there is a plan for at least MIRI to move out.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-06-29T19:04:32.137Z · score: 18 (6 votes) · LW · GW

[With mod hat on]: My model of the situation here is indeed that discussing REACH and other community institutions is harder than the average topic on LessWrong, and as such will have more unjustified upvotes/downvotes than usual. I don't think the discussion so far has made me think that it's that politicized though, and your direct reply to Ray is currently at 5 karma, which doesn't ring any major alarm bells for me (in general, since a single strong downvote can move things relatively far into the negative, I would encourage people to have a bit more patience to let the karma system settle into its final equilibrium. Seeing your comment at -2 can really hurt, and how easy that can happen with our new karma system is indeed a problem that I would like to fix. I do think the benefits of weighting opinions by overall karma is worth it, and I don't yet have a great alternative solution besides hoping that people develop more patience).

One meta-level up, I think that complaining about vote patterns is a dangerous pandora's box that I would only want to open in exceptional circumstances, and I don't think this is one of those situations. I recognize that we right now don't have a great solution to pointing out patterns in voting that seem to highlight important aspects of the overall site culture, and this comment has made me more aware of the need for that, so for now I would encourage people to use the report button or Intercom to let the moderators know that you feel that a bunch of ideas are getting unjustifiably dismissed or hyped. We should soon have some better technology of dealing with this.

I do think that discussing this object-level issue is important, and that I would like LessWrong to be a place where that discussion can happen.

comment by deluks917 · 2018-06-27T22:47:57.965Z · score: 46 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I neither live in Berkeley nor am I unusually wealthy for a rationalist. but I think it would set a very bad precedent for Sarah and friend's efforts to end in failure. My vision of the rationalist community can make projects work.

I pledged $100

comment by ESRogs · 2018-06-27T23:45:03.727Z · score: 37 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Just bumped up my monthly Patreon pledge from $50 to $100.

comment by Benito · 2018-06-27T22:19:28.018Z · score: 36 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for letting us know. What's the deadline for signing the lease?

Added: I'll also add that I give $100/month via patreon.

comment by Benito · 2018-06-27T22:24:31.045Z · score: 16 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ray tells me: 2 days!

comment by Benquo · 2018-06-27T23:23:34.097Z · score: 35 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I'm already on the record as hoping the community can support a project like this, and already pledged $100/mo on an ongoing basis, but I want to reiterate that support explicitly.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2018-06-28T18:02:08.555Z · score: 33 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I've increased my monthly donation to $600. Thanks again to Sarah and everyone else who works on this.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-06-29T09:27:36.682Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is surprising to me given that searching SlateStarCodex for Berkeley REACH (or Berkeley Rationality and Effective Altruism Community Hub) provides no hits. Given the project a shout-out on SlateStarCodex might be valuable for it both for getting more donations and also simply making people aware of it existing and thus visiting.

comment by arundelo · 2018-06-29T14:22:41.914Z · score: 22 (5 votes) · LW · GW

He has plugged it or mentioned it in at least three open thread posts but I had trouble finding them. They all call it a "community center" but none uses the names "Berkeley" or "REACH" (or Sarah Spikes's last name).

Correction: The first one does say it's in Berkeley (but not as part of the name so I missed it when looking at search results).

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-06-29T20:09:57.082Z · score: 9 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, then I stand corrected.

comment by stardust · 2018-06-28T02:54:17.028Z · score: 30 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Update: The bare minimum "making rent" goal of $5k/month on Patreon has been reached, along with around $1500 in one time donations today!

To really be sustainable, we need more like $6.6k/month, but the swell of support has been really great, thank you all! <3

comment by stardust · 2018-07-01T02:55:23.293Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Further update: the lease has been signed! REACH is on for at least 14 more months!!! (The lease starts Aug 1 and goes til Aug 31 for some reason.)

Still figuring out how to fund management of the space, and still appreciate further contributions.

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-06-28T00:31:25.437Z · score: 27 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It will be tragic if REACH closes. Thanks for letting us know of the urgency of the need. Just doubled my pledge, though it's still fairly small compared to the need.

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-06-28T00:36:33.435Z · score: 23 (7 votes) · LW · GW

...actually, let me increase it further, I think I was undervaluing how much I care about REACH existing.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-06-28T11:09:07.927Z · score: 26 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Pledged $50 / mo. I haven't been to an event at REACH yet but I'm happy about the events I've seen on Facebook being hosted there, and expect to attend and/or host something there in the nearish future if it keeps existing. Everything Ray et al. have been writing about community health and so forth resonates with me and I'm happy to put my money where my resonance is.

comment by malcolm.m.ocean · 2018-06-28T02:39:02.691Z · score: 25 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Just pledged $120/mo, bumping the monthly Patreon amount over $5k. That means just $860/mo to go!

comment by mingyuan · 2018-06-28T03:05:26.480Z · score: 24 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I recently cancelled my recurring Patreon donation due to financial insecurity, but with the new developments both at REACH and in my life, I'm happy to say I've reinstated and increased my donation. Best of luck <3

comment by Screwtape · 2018-06-28T15:06:20.408Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Upped my donation to $10 via Patreon. Being on the far end of the country and being noticeably cash constrained conspire to make that number smaller than I'd prefer, but I want projects like this to work.

comment by Taymon Beal (taymon-beal) · 2018-06-30T02:42:01.686Z · score: 18 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I've just pledged $40 per month.

I could afford to pay more. I'd do so if I ever actually visited REACH, but I live thousands of miles away (and did give a small donation when I visited for the pre-EA Global party, and will continue to do so if I ever come back). I'd also pay more if I were more convinced that it was a good EA cause, but the path from ingroup reinforcement to global impact is speculative and full of moral hazard and I'm still thinking about it.

My pledge represents a bet that REACH will ultimately make a difference in my life by some causal pathway not yet visible. Perhaps I ultimately wind up in the Bay and it helps me connect to the community there, or perhaps its success ultimately facilitates other community-building projects that aren't so geographically limited (which is a thing I'd really like to see). It'd be nice to be able to wait and see, but that won't work if REACH runs out of startup capital and dies—so I'm taking the risk.

comment by ioannes_shade · 2018-06-29T03:05:56.127Z · score: 15 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Just pledged $10/month. I'm not sure I'll ever use REACH but I want to see projects like this succeed.

comment by Gurkenglas · 2018-06-28T09:33:47.123Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Consider discussing what assumptions equate which REACH donation to which maximum utility donation.

Consider estimating future upkeep.

comment by Chris_Leong · 2018-06-29T04:16:07.323Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have an income at the moment, otherwise I'd seriously consider donating despite being on the other side of the world, although it certainly demonstrates the limits of our ability to co-ordinate as a community. I guess this is one of the downsides of a community where members have such a diverse set of goals.

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-06-28T00:33:10.118Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Possibly it may be a good idea to also post an update like this on the Patreon itself, to reach anyone who might not be plugged in to LW/FB all the time.

comment by eugene_fama · 2018-06-28T00:47:37.643Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Do you know if donations are tax deductible?

Is there a way to make donations tax deductible?

comment by malcolm.m.ocean · 2018-06-28T02:38:53.953Z · score: 23 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you're self-employed and you donate at the $100/mo Sponsor tier, then your donation may be tax-deductible as a business expense, because you can consider it as paying for advertising. (This may depend on which country you live in and the nature of your business; I am not a lawyer.)

comment by stardust · 2018-06-28T02:55:12.984Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ooh, neat!

comment by Raemon · 2018-06-28T07:34:18.067Z · score: 11 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One thing to consider – there are a few organizations that may plausibly have "support REACH-esque-projects" in their mission statement, and it might be possible for them to act as a donation funnel.

comment by Taymon Beal (taymon-beal) · 2018-06-30T02:24:41.582Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is a problem I've been thinking about for awhile in a broader EA context.

It's claimed fairly widely that EA needs a lot more smallish projects, including ones that aren't immediately legible enough to be fundable by large institutional donors (e.g., because the expected value depends on assessments of the competence and value alignment of the person running the project, which the large institutional funders can't assess). It's also claimed (e.g., by Nick Beckstead of OpenPhil at EA Global San Francisco 2017) that smallish earning-to-give donors' best bet to do the most good is to use their local knowledge to find and fund promising opportunities that the big institutional donors aren't already covering.

This creates a seemingly obvious opportunity for an EA org to make it easier for donors to crowdfund these kinds of projects. E.g., by being a 501(c)(3) they can funnel donations from DAFs, which individuals can't accept. (For me, at least, this is a bigger deal than tax deductibility; my DAF is overprovisioned relative to my personal savings right now, so I'd rather make donations from there.)

The two obvious hypotheses for why nobody's already doing this are 1) all the EA meta-orgs are too constrained on staff time to set it up, and 2) it doesn't actually work because the level of oversight required to avoid undue legal and/or reputational risk would destroy the efficiency gains. I would very much like to know to what extent each of these is the case.

comment by Raemon · 2018-06-30T02:32:14.562Z · score: 9 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think to some extent we have this, but it depends upon local trust networks that aren't always legible to newer people. (For example, LessWrong is funded through CFAR)

comment by Taymon Beal (taymon-beal) · 2018-06-30T02:52:09.986Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmmm. Do you think that's a bug, or a feature?

LessWrong seems like a bit of a weird example since CFAR's senior leadership were among the people pushing for it in the first place. IIRC even people working at EA meta-orgs have encountered difficulties and uncertainty trying to personally fund projects through the org.

comment by decodyng · 2018-06-28T00:56:35.343Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

REACH has currently applied for 501(c)3 status, and is currently waiting on the bureaucratic process for donations to be officially tax deductible. But the hope is they will be soon!

comment by nBrown · 2018-06-28T00:09:52.669Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Might want to state what a $2260 monthly gap means in terms of a patreon target. Perhaps, having one clear number might motivate folks. eg 6k/month or something.

pledged $20. edit: reduced to $10 for personal finance reasons.

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-06-28T00:29:15.253Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It looks like based on the numbers in this post, the Patreon target is $5860.

comment by brown (niclas) · 2018-11-20T06:40:04.175Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

edit: reduced to nil for personal finance reasons.