SIAI Fundraising

Please re­fer to the up­dated doc­u­mented here: http://​​less­​​lw/​​5il/​​siai_an_ex­am­i­na­tion/​​

This ver­sion is an old draft.

NOTE: Anal­y­sis here will be up­dated as peo­ple point out er­rors! I’ve tried to be ac­cu­rate, but this is my first time look­ing at these (some­what hairy) non-profit tax doc­u­ments. Er­rors will be cor­rected as soon as I know of them! Please dou­ble check and crit­i­cize this work that it might im­prove.

Doc­u­ment His­tory:

  • 4/​25/​2011 - Ini­tial post.

  • 4/​25/​2011 - Cor­rected Yud­kowsky com­pen­sa­tion data.

  • 4/​26/​2011 - Added ex­panded data from 2002 − 2009 in Overview, Rev­enue, and Expenses

  • 4/​27/​2011 - Added ex­panded data to Officer Com­pen­sa­tion & Big Donors


  • Create a de­tailed pro­gram ser­vices anal­y­sis that ex­am­ines the SIAI’s al­lo­ca­tion of funds to the Sum­mit, etc.

  • Create an in­dex of or­ga­ni­za­tional mile­stones.


  • I am not af­fili­ated with the SIAI.

  • I have not donated to the SIAI prior to writ­ing this.

Act­ing on gw­ern’s sug­ges­tion in his Girl Scout Cookie anal­y­sis, here is a first pass at look­ing at SIAI fund­ing, sug­ges­tions for a fund­ing task-force, etc.

The SIAI’s Form 990′s are available at GuideS­tar and Foun­da­tion Cen­ter. You must reg­ister in or­der to ac­cess the files at GuideS­tar.

Work is be­ing done in this Google Spread­sheet.


Some­times the listed end of year bal­ances didn’t match what the spread­sheet calcu­lated:
  • Filing Er­ror 1? - There ap­pears to be a minor typo to the effect of $4.86 in the end of year bal­ance for the 2004 doc­u­ment. This money is ac­counted for, the re­sults just aren’t en­tered cor­rectly. * Some­one else please ver­ify.

  • Filing Er­ror 2? - The 2005 doc­u­ment ap­pears to have ac­counted for ex­penses in­cor­rectly, re­sult­ing in an ex­cess $70,179.00 re­ported in the end of the year as­set bal­ance. This money is ac­counted for un­der 2005 Part III. It is merely not cor­rectly de­ducted from the year end as­set bal­ance. * Some­one else please ver­ify.

  • Theft? - The or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ported $118,803.00 in theft in 2009 re­sult­ing in a year end as­set bal­ance lower than ex­pected. The SIAI is cur­rently pur­su­ing le­gal resti­tu­tion.


  • The SIAI as­set sheet grew un­til 2008 when ex­pen­di­tures out­paced rev­enue.

  • As­sets would have re­sumed growth into 2009, ex­cept for theft (see above.)

  • Cur­rent as­set bal­ance is in­suffi­cient to sus­tain a year of op­er­a­tion at ex­ist­ing rate of ex­pen­di­ture. Sig­nifi­cant loss of rev­enue would re­sult in a shrink­age of ser­vices. Such a loss of rev­enue may be un­likely, but a rea­son­able goal would be to build up a year’s re­serves.


Rev­enue is com­posed of pub­lic sup­port, pro­gram ser­vice (events/​con­fer­ences held, etc), and in­vest­ment in­ter­est. The “Other” cat­e­gory tends to in­clude Ama­ af­fili­ate in­come, etc.


  • In­come from pub­lic sup­port (dona­tions) has grown steadily with a sig­nifi­cant reg­u­lar in­crease start­ing in 2006.

  • This reg­u­lar in­crease is a re­sult of sig­nifi­cant new con­tri­bu­tions from big donors.

    • As an ex­am­ple, pub­lic sup­port in 2007 is largely com­posed of sig­nifi­cant con­tri­bu­tions from Peter Thiel ($125k), Brian Cart­mell ($75k), and Robert F. Zahra Jr ($123k) for $323k to­tal in large scale in­di­vi­d­ual con­tri­bu­tions (break down be­low).

  • In 2007 the SIAI started re­ceiv­ing in­come from pro­gram ser­vices. Cur­rently all “Pro­gram Ser­vice” rev­enue is from op­er­a­tion of the Sin­gu­lar­ity Sum­mit.

  • The Sin­gu­lar­ity Sum­mit rev­enue con­tinues to grow. The Sum­mit is roughly break­ing even. If this con­tinues, the Sum­mit will be able to com­pen­sate speak­ers bet­ter, im­prove the qual­ity of pro­ceed­ings, or net some of the rev­enue for other goals.


Ex­penses are com­posed of grants, benefits, salaries & com­pen­sa­tion, con­tracts, travel, pro­gram ser­vices, and an other cat­e­gory (mostly ad­minis­tra­tive costs and usu­ally item­ized, check the source data).
The con­tracts column in the chart be­low in­cludes le­gal and ac­count­ing fees. Check the source data.


  • This chart can use im­prove­ment. It’s cat­e­go­rized rather clini­cally. Would be more use­ful to break down the Con­tracts and Pro­gram cat­e­gories (this may not be pos­si­ble from the Form 990s).

  • The grants in 2002, 2003, and 2004 were paid to Eliezer Yud­kowsky for work “of unique rele­vance and value to the Sin­gu­lar­ity, to Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence, or to Friendly Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence.”

  • Pro­gram ex­penses in­clude op­er­at­ing the Sin­gu­lar­ity Sum­mit, Visit­ing Fel­lows Pro­gram, etc.

  • The Other cat­e­gory in­cludes lots of ad­minis­tra­tive costs that are some­what item­ized.

  • Over­all, ex­penses have grown at pace with rev­enue.

    • Salaries have steadily de­clined. (More de­tail be­low.)

    • Pro­gram ser­vice ex­penses have in­creased, but this is ex­pected as the Sin­gu­lar­ity Sum­mit has grown and new ser­vices like the Visit­ing Fel­lows Pro­gram have been in­tro­duced.

Big Donors


  • Con­tri­bu­tions in the 2010 column are de­rived from http://​​sin­​​donors. Con­tri­bu­tions of less than $5,000 are ex­cluded for the sake of brevity.

  • Con­tri­bu­tions in 2003 − 2009 are from offi­cial filings. The 2009 Form 990 dis­closes ex­cess dona­tions for 2006 − 2009. This is not an ex­haus­tive list of con­tri­bu­tions, just what could be found in the Form 990s available on­line.

  • The 2006 dona­tion from Peter Thiel is sourced from a dis­cus­sion with the SIAI.

  • Peter Thiel and a few other big donors com­pose the bulk of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s rev­enue.

    • Should any ma­jor donor be lost, the SIAI would have to re­duce ser­vices. It would be good to see a broader base of dona­tions mov­ing for­ward.

    • Note, how­ever, that over the past five years the base of dona­tions HAS been im­prov­ing. We don’t have the 2010 Form 990 yet, but just based on data from MA and things are look­ing a lot bet­ter.

Officer Compensation

  • This graph needs fur­ther work to re­flect the du­ra­tion of officers’ ser­vice.

  • In 2002 to 2005 Eliezer Yud­kowsky re­ceived com­pen­sa­tion in the form of grants from the SIAI for AI re­search.

  • Start­ing in 2006 all com­pen­sa­tion for key officers is re­ported as salaried in­stead of in the form of grants.

  • SIAI officer com­pen­sa­tion has de­creased in re­cent years.

  • Eliezer’s base com­pen­sa­tion as salary in­creased 20% in 2008 and then 7.8% in 2009.

    • It seems rea­son­able to com­pare Eliezer’s salary with that of pro­fes­sional soft­ware de­vel­op­ers. Eliezer would be able to make a fair amount more work­ing in pri­vate in­dus­try as a soft­ware de­vel­oper.

  • Both Yud­kowsky and Vas­sar re­port work­ing 60 hours a work week.

  • It isn’t in­di­cated how the SIAI con­ducts perfor­mance re­views and salary ad­just­ment eval­u­a­tions.

Fur­ther Edi­to­rial Thoughts...

Prior to do­ing this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, I had some ex­pec­ta­tion that the Sin­gu­lar­ity Sum­mit was a money los­ing op­er­a­tion. I had an ex­pec­ta­tion that Eliezer prob­a­bly made around $70k (pro­gram­mer money dis­counted for be­ing paid by a non-profit). I figured the SIAI had a broader donor base. I was off base on all counts.* I am not cur­rently an SIAI sup­porter. My find­ings have greatly in­creased the prob­a­bil­ity that I will donate in the fu­ture.

Over­all, the al­lo­ca­tion of funds strikes me as highly effi­cient. I don’t know ex­actly how much the SIAI is spend­ing on food and fancy table­cloths at the Sin­gu­lar­ity Sum­mit, but I don’t think I care: it’s grow­ing and it’s nearly break­ing even. An at­tendee can have a very con­fi­dent ex­pec­ta­tion that their fee cov­ers their cost to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. If you go and con­tribute you add pure value by your at­ten­dance.

At the same time, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been able to ex­pand ser­vices with­out drain­ing the coffers. A donor can hold a strong ex­pec­ta­tion that the bulk of their dona­tion will go to­ward ac­tual work in the form of salaries for work­ing per­son­nel or events like the Visit­ing Fel­lows Pro­gram.

Eliezer’s com­pen­sa­tion is slightly more than I thought. I’m not sure what up­per bound I would have balked at or would balk at. I do have some con­cern about the cost of re­cruit­ing ad­di­tional Re­search Fel­lows. The cost of ad­di­tional RFs has to be weighed against new pro­grams like Visit­ing Fel­lows.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion ap­pears to be man­ag­ing its cash re­serves well. It would be good to see the SIAI build up some as­set re­serves so that it could op­er­ate com­fortably in years were pub­lic sup­port dips or so that it could take ad­van­tage of un­ex­pected op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion has a heavy re­li­ance on ma­jor donor sup­port. I would ex­pect the 2010 filing to re­veal a broad­en­ing of rev­enue and con­tinued ex­pan­sion of ser­vices, but I do not ex­pect the or­ga­ni­za­tion to have be­come in­de­pen­dent of big donor sup­port. Things are much im­proved from 2006 and with­out the ini­tial sup­port from Peter Thiel the SIAI would not be able to provide the ser­vices it has, but it would still be good to see the SIAI op­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity be larger than any one donor’s an­nual con­tri­bu­tion. It is im­por­tant for Less Wrong to be­gin a dis­cus­sion of broad­en­ing SIAI rev­enue sources.

Where to Start?

There is low hang­ing fruit to be found. The SIAI’s an­nual rev­enue is well within the range of our abil­ity to effect sig­nifi­cant im­pact. Th­ese sug­ges­tions aren’t all equal in their promise, they are just things that come to my mind.

  • Grant Writ­ing. I don’t know a lot about it. Pre­sum­ably a Less Wrong task force could in­ves­ti­gate likely can­di­date grants, re­search proper grant writ­ing method­ol­ogy, and then ap­ply for the grants. Aca­demic mem­bers of Less Wrong who have ap­plied for re­search grants would already have ex­per­tise in this area.

  • Soft­ware. There are a lot of pro­gram­mers on Less Wrong. A task force could de­velop an ap­pli­ca­tion and donate the rev­enue to the SIAI.

  • En­courag­ing Dona­tions. Ex­pand­ing the base of dona­tions is valuable. The SIAI is heav­ily de­pen­dent on dona­tions from Peter Thiel. A task force could fo­cus on meth­ods of en­courag­ing dona­tions from new sup­port­ers big and small.

  • Prize Win­ning. There are prizes out there to be won. A Less Wrong task force could iden­tify a prize and then co­or­di­nate a group to work to­wards win­ning it.

  • Crowd Source Utiliza­tion. There are sites de­voted to crowd sourced fund­ing for pro­jects. A task force could con­ceive of a pro­ject with the po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate more rev­enue than re­quired to build it. Risk could be re­duced through the use of crowd sourc­ing. Ex­cess rev­enue donated to the SIAI. (Pro­jects don’t have to be soft­ware, they could be fabri­cat­ing an in­ter­est­ing de­vice, piece of art, or mu­sic.)

  • Gen­eral Fund Rais­ing Re­search. There are a lot of char­i­ties in the world. Pre­sum­ably there are doc­u­mented meth­ods for grow­ing them. A task force could at­tack this ma­te­rial and iden­tify low hang­ing fruit or syn­the­size new tech­niques.

I have more spe­cific thoughts, but I want to chew on them a bit.