Announcing Forecasting Impact Mini-Grants
I still dream of running an ACX Grants round using impact certificates, but I want to run a lower-stakes test of the technology first. In conjunction with the Manifold Markets team, we’re announcing the Forecasting Impact Mini-Grants, a $20,000 grants round for forecasting projects.
As a refresher, here’s a short explainer about what impact certificates are, and here’s a longer article on various implementation details.
Creators (ie people with forecasting projects that need funding) can participate in this whether they understand impact certificates or not; their experience will hopefully just be that mysterious things happen offscreen and then their projects get funded. Potential investors will want to understand the details before making any investments.
Go to Manifold’s impact market site, Manifund, who have kindly agreed to handle the technology side of this.
Explain your project and how much funding you’re asking for. This should be $20,000 or less; for the best chances of funding, it should be $5,000 or less. Our minimum size is $250; after that transaction costs start getting a bit high.
By default, we’re assuming you don’t care about impact certificates, don’t plan to personally profit off of them, and you just want your project to get funded. If you do understand / care about / want to profit off impact certificates, you’ll have the option to sell some of your shares in your project and keep the rest. Click “advanced settings” in the top right of your project proposal page. Warning that this may have complicated tax implications.
Talk to potential investors and answer their questions.
If your project gets funded, do as much of the project as you can before September 1. You don’t have to finish before that time, but our oracular funding will only consider the portion completed before that date.
On September 1, we’ll look at all of the projects that got funded and try to value all of them.
We’ll try to buy impact certificates of the projects we value most. We’ll spend either 3x the total invested at stage 1, or $20,000, whichever is less. So if people fund $3,000 worth of projects, we’ll spend $9,000, but if people buy $10,000 worth of projects, we’ll spend $20,000. We’ll distribute this in the same ratio as our valuation of the projects.
So suppose three projects get funded, for $5,000 each. Since that’s a total of $15,000, and $15,000 x 3 > $20,000, we hit our cap and will spend $20,000 on this grants round. Suppose that one project is really excellent and we value it at $70,000, another project is also excellent and worth $20,000, and the third is still pretty good, and worth $10,000. The ratio is 7:2:1, so we’ll pay $14,000 for the impact certificate for the first, $4,000 for the second, and $2,000 for the third. You could also choose not to sell us the impact certificate for that price, in which case you can try selling it to someone else (currently nobody else buys impact certificates, but that could change!) or keep it for the bragging rights (currently nobody else cares about impact certificate bragging rights, but that could change). If you refuse to sell to us, then we’ll split our money in such a way that other people who do sell get more.
We reserve the right to not buy impact certificates up to our full commitment, or according to this exact schedule, if we think people are munchkinning the rules to money-pump us.
For Accredited Investors:
Register on Manifund as an accredited investor. Accredited investors must have either net worth of > $1 million, or have made $200,000 ($300,000 combined income if married) for each of the past two years, with an expectation of continuing to make that amount. Manifund may ask you for a bank/tax statement proving that you meet this requirements.
We’ll try to have all accreditations approved and all project proposals up by March 1, though if you approve you before then you can start bidding on any projects you see.
Bid on shares of any project you like. You can buy shares in a project either because you personally like it and want to give it charitable funding (in which case you’ll keep the shares) or because you think I’ll like it and give it oracular funding through the process above (in which case you’ll sell the shares to me later, potentially making money).
Initial auctions (“IPOs”) will close on March 8th, but you can keep buying and selling impact certificates among one another up to (and during, and after) the September 1 deadline.
If this project doesn’t work for some unexpected reason, we’ll refund up to $20,000. But even if everything goes well, people who invest in bad projects might lose all their money. Please don’t invest unless you’re comfortable with this potential outcome.
For Other People Who Might Be Interested In Funding Forecasting
If you want to add to our $20,000 commitment, let me know at email@example.com, and I’ll advertise this. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this right now unless you really understand how impact markets work.
You can compete with us to buy impact certificates, either before, on, or after September 1.
Q: What is an impact certificate? Why would I want to do this?
A: See here.
Q: Who are you? Where am I?
A: This is Astral Codex Ten, a blog about various science / technology / philosophy / politics issues, which sometimes does grants rounds and projects like this one. I think I have a good reputation of paying for things I say I am going to pay for, see for example last year’s ACX Grants.
Manifold Markets is a company that runs a prediction market website and is generally interested in unusual market structures solving social problems. We’re co-sponsoring this impact market in order to test impact markets as a charitable funding mechanism.
Q: What do you mean by “forecasting”?
A: Any project about trying to improve our knowledge of the future will be eligible. This can include writing prediction market / Metaculus questions, fortified essays for Metaculus, studying forecasting/prediction-related topics, new websites or companies in this space (yes, Manifold will fund its own competitors) or anything else you can think of.
Q: Who will be the final judges?
A: We’re trying to figure that out. I would have liked to do it myself, but I think there are legal issues about me both providing the money and determining who gets it. Probably they will be some respected people from Metaculus or Manifold, or someone with forecasting grant-making experience.
Q: What if I’m not a US citizen?
A: You may want to consult a lawyer in your home country, but it seems to us that the US allows you to invest in this project as long as you’re an accredited investor by the US definition of the term.
Q: Do I need to prove I’m an accredited investor?
A: Manifund will ask you for documents demonstrating your net worth and/or income; hopefully these won’t be too painful to provide.
Q: Who’s funding this?
A: I’m funding it, thanks to the money I’ve received from generous donors and paid subscribers like you.
Q: Oh, good, so definitely not any fraudulent companies embroiled in giant legal disasters who are known for trying to claw back their previously spent money?
A: Manifold received some money from the Future Fund, an FTX-associated charity, for a related project. Some of those funds have been used for Manifold's charity program and platform development; the rest is sitting in an account pending final disposition. None of the final oracular funding for the Forecasting Impact Mini-Grants round is coming from an FTX-related source.
Q: Are you sure this is legal?
A: Impact market supporters have been trying to get guidance on this for years without a clear answer. Finally last year the Future Fund was able to get some lawyers’ opinions on this issue; they said that impact markets were definitely legal as long as they were restricted to accredited investors. But I think these lawyers worked for FTX, so I don’t have complete confidence in their judgment.
Our understanding is that the recognized way to solve issues like this is to start the project, try to comply with all relevant laws as best we can, and see what happens. If the government tells us to stop, we’ll stop and refund everyone all their money, up to the first $20,000 spent.
Q: So it sounds like it might be risky to invest more money after the first $20,000 of investments have come in?
A: Right, for two reasons. First, our final oracular funding will only be $20,000, so if more than $20,000 goes into investing, investors will lose money on average (although individual investors could still gain). Second, if this project explodes for some reason, we’ll only refund the first $20,000 spent. If you don’t care about either of these issues, we won’t stop you from investing more money once there’s already $20,000 in the pot. Earlier investors should keep in mind that if someone else makes this decision, there could be more than $20,000 in investments chasing only $20,000 in final oracular funding.
Q: I have a project that isn’t about forecasting / requires more than $20,000 / won’t be done by September 1 / is a bad match for the ACX Grants team - may I add it to the impact market?
A: Yes! We’re trying to kickstart the existence of a broader impact market. Your project won’t be eligible for our contest, but someone else could provide oracular funding for it, or someone could invest without oracular funding. Both of these would be risky decisions that I would only expect people to make if they cared a lot about weird charity experiments - but if that’s you, then I salute you. Projects like these will carry a warning flag advising everyone that they’re not part of our contest, don’t have guaranteed oracular funding, and don’t get our $20,000 backstop if the impact market stops working.
If you’re going to do this, go to Advanced Settings on the top right of your project proposal and click the “This project is NOT a part of the ACX Mini-Grants round” checkbox.
Q: How will participating in this affect my taxes?
A: You should ask a lawyer or accountant in your jurisdiction, but our guess is that funding to creators will be ordinary taxable income unless you’re otherwise tax-exempt, and money made by investors will be ordinary investment income taxed at the usual short-term capital gains rate.