Starting a local group is really easy to do, a lot of fun and you meet some amazing people. And of course you can have a huge huge impact on the world by encouraging people to do good and to think more carefully about how they do good.
I started organising regular EA social events in London in the summer of 2013. I had for a while been helping organise irregular GWWC events, then, one day, I thought why not try something a little different. I arranged an evening at a pub with a friend, created an EA social Facebook event and invited anyone who I thought might be interested. It went well and I have been creating infrequent social events ever since.
I recently came to the rather surprising realisation that the EA London group was growing quite fast. This was particularly curious because for quite a while I had been putting in less than 30 minutes a month. Essentially the only organising I had been doing was taking the responsibility to choose a time and place for a social event and posting this on Meetup.com and Facebook about once a month.
Now perhaps it is just chance that the group has grown of late, some twist of fate or flimsy whim of the gods. But either way it was suggested that I write my tips down on paper (well screen). The recipe below describes how I have organised things in London. Everywhere is different but I hope some of this is useful to someone.
The rest of the article from hereon in has been cross-posted to the EA Wikipedia so that others can add their advice. So to see the most up-to-date version go to:
HOW TO RUN A LOCAL EA GROUP IN A MINIMAL AMOUNT OF TIME
Starting a local group is very high value and very easy. This page is aimed at non-students living in a city that does not already have an effective altruism group, who may not have much time to put into growing a group but who will be in the same city for a prolonged period of time. This post does not set out the ideal way to run a local group but sets out how to run and grow a group if optimising for investing a minimal amount of time.
Building a group – first event
- Create a Facebook event for a social event and invite friends of yours who you think might be interested. Have at least one friend who can definitely come, so if your event is not popular you are not sitting alone for an evening. Choose a time (Eg. evening/weekend) and place (Eg. pub/bar/café/arts centre/etc) that people should be able to make.
- Turn up and have a pleasant evening.
Well done - you have started a local group!! It should take about 20 minutes to organise a first event. Once this is done you can use Facebook to create future events and automatically invite all the same people by going to the first event on Facebook and clicking " ••• " then clicking "copy event".
Building a group – get an online presence
- Create a Meetup.com group and/or create a Facebook group and/or start and email list and/or find other places online to post events. It is useful to have an online platform which can gradually grow in membership and from which events can be publicised. A good online platform (I highly recommend Meetup.com) will help your group grow without you having to do extra work or publicity. Posting about each event in more places will help your group grow faster but will take some a little bit of extra time on a regular basis to copy and paste across the event details. EA London posts all events on Meetup and on Facebook. See below for more advice on different online platforms.
- Host more social events. See below for advice on running events. Make sure events are posted on all the sites that you are using (Facebook/Meetup/etc).
Building a group – low cost publicity
Once you have an online platform that people can join and be invited to events, then you can start publicising it. Below are some very simple quick easy ways of publicising your group:
- Spread through word of mouth. Encouraging people who turn up to bring friends and to add people to the online groups is crucial.
- Let the EA community know that you exist. Post about your new group in the EA Facebook page. List your group on the EA Hub. Maybe even add the occasional event on to the EA forum.
- Let other groups know you exist. Tell the people who run other groups whose members might be interested about your group. Ideally tell them about a specific relevant upcoming event. People to tell would be local groups for: Less Wrong, students, philosophy, charity, atheist and humanists, religions, RESULTS, etc.
Building a group – try things
Trying something slightly different every few months is low cost and will allow you to gradually work out what works best in your city. You can experiment with: Frequent / infrequent events. Regular times / ad hoc times. Evenings / weekends. East side of town / west side of town. Different ways of describing the event. Etc. (And if you find out useful information that can apply to other cities then come and edit this Wiki to help the rest of us.)
Building a group – final words
And that is it – SUCCESS – you should now have a growing thriving local group. And none of the steps above should have taken you very long to do.
Remember, you can spread this work out over as much time as needed. In London this whole process was spread out over about a year and took a small amount of time each month. Alternatively you can take a single evening to kickstart the process and do all of the above steps at once.
Below is more advice to make sure that events run smoothly and that the group does not fail.
Additional tips – Choosing online platforms
- Meetup.com has a cost but it has really helped the EA London group grow. It may not work for your city but it is likely to be worth trying. Keep the description snappy, make sure you add lots of popular “labels” so that your event will be found.
- A Facebook group (not a Facebook page) lets people add their friends to the group and events turn up on people’s Facebook newsfeed. If you create a Facebook group add anyone who you think would be interested and then when you create future events create them from the Facebook group so people in the group are automatically invited.
- Other platforms. Consider looking for other websites where events are posted. For example Eventbrite or Time Out or Yelp. Try googling “how to meet new people in [city]” or “finding interesting events in [city]” and seeing what websites appear prominent.
- EA London meetup group
- EA and GWWC London Facebook group (click About to see the description. Feel free to copy and paste this)
Additional tips – Preparing for an event
If trying to run a group with minimal time and effort a simple social event is the easiest to organise. People turn up when they want and discuss whatever takes their fancy, often including effective altruism.
- Choose a time. In London we tend to meet at 7pm on a weekday evenings. Increase the regularity of events as the group grows. In London we started off with events every few months, then every other month, then every month, and now a few times a month. As the group grows having a fixed time for events (Eg. 1st Tuesday of each month) can help people plan around them.
- Choose a place. In London we tend to meet in a centrally located pub. The ideal location will be somewhere cheap, without background music, with some vegetarian/vegan foodstuffs where space can be pre-booked.
- Theme. People are more likely to attend events and enjoy events more if each event has a specific theme. It helps give people something to discuss and a reason to talk about EA topics as well as educating people about the key questions that underpin the EA movement. Put a list of interesting questions in the event description. (Optionally print of some articles that are connected to the theme. This can help spark interest and conversation but can also be a sizable time sink.)
- Event description. Remember that your target audience for the description is not people who turn up every week but the people most likely to be persuaded to turn up with a good event description (ie. new people or people who have only attended once). Be welcoming. Describe something about effective altruism. Add a phone number so people can find you. Make it clear that people can turn up at any time.
- Print Signs. Have signs so people can find you. Example.
- Have leaflets. The main benefit here is for people who have been brought along by a friend or by word of mouth and are keen to sign up on Facebook / Meetup / etc. A small piece of paper with a short explanation of effective altruism and a link to any Facebook / Meetup / etc groups would suffice.
- Effective Altruism fun pub times!! (Theme: Giving strategically)
- Effective Altruism fun pub times!! (with Isha Datar Director of New Harvest) (Theme: Lab grown mean)
- Super Fun EA Pub Social - How to choose between causes?
- Under the influence @ the Shakespeare's Head (Theme: Influencing others)
- Effective Animal Activism – short talk and social
- Effective Altruism - Awesomely Fun Christmas Social (Theme: Christmas!)
Additional tips – Hosting an event
- Be welcoming, friendly, hospitable, nice and so on. Talk to the new people. Explain effective altruism. Smile.
- Ask for feedback from attendees as to how they found the event.
- Suggest people move around. Feedback has suggested that it is useful to walk about at the half way point of an event and say: “Hi everyone. Sometimes at events like this people end up talking to the same person or group of people the whole evening and wish they had met more of the wonderful people here. So I want to suggest that you move about, now or in a few minutes. Just saying this to prompt you or to give you an excuse to get up and move around and meet more people”.
- Zero-tolerance to any offensive or off-putting behaviour.
- Have fun!
At first you do have to turn up to your own events – although once you have a few regulars this is a relatively easy task to pass on to someone else if you need to.
Additional tips – Avoiding failure
- Do not get disheartened. Most EA groups that have fizzled out have done so because the leaders have had limited success at growing the group, have felt disheartened and given up. To avoid this:
- Aim low and you will not be disappointed.
- Be aware of the huge potential benefit of EA outreach. Read haste consideration and do a back of the envelope calculations.
- Have fun. Make sure you enjoy the events. Do not get stressed organising things - organise things at your convenience. Finding a co-organiser may help.
- Put less time into running the group (see below).
- Feeling like this is a sub-optimal use of time. Put less time in but keep events going. Eg have events every 2 months. Copy and paste the same event description for each event. Organise them at your convenience (oh I am meetup up with a friend that evening anyway so I can make it an EA event and invite others). If people ask for more events then suggest they organise them. If necessary try to hand over (see below).
- Handovers can be difficult (without significant effort). If you think there is a high chance that you will leave a town in less than a year then maybe don’t start a group like this. Ask lots of people and pressure them into helping. Write a very detailed handover note with everything you can think of.
- Feeling like this is a sub-optimal use of money. Ask me (Sam) and I can pay for the cost of a meetup group. Or maybe ask Giving What We Can (email@example.com). Remember 1 Meetup account can host 3 groups.
- Group does not grow at all. Bigger groups grow faster – if the group is not growing you could try some of the additional things to do with extra time that are listed below. If you can or find someone to organise one big event – such as a famous talker that may be all the group needs.
Additional tips – Things to do with extra time
- Speaker events. A single big well publicised event can help group the group significantly. In London we had Peter Singer come and talk to a crowd of 400 and this helped the group take off (event).
- Other kinds of events. For resources on other events see this post. Examples to consider: volunteer-a-thons, dinners, small talks, interactive theatre, and so on.
- Responding to emails and communication. As the group leader your main time sink after creating (and attending) the event each month or so will be responding to emails form people who are interested in EA. The easy thing to do is to ignore these or send a standard message to people. Being polite and responding to individual emails is likely to be a useful way to spend extra time.
- Keep trying things. With more time your experiments into how best to run the group can be bigger and more rigorous. You can trial different kinds of events or having a to do list with tasks that anyone can take on or sending a personal message to new members and so on.
Great writeup, thanks!
Have you had any problems with your meetup becoming too insular?
I live in Berkeley, and I'm missing the Boston meetups, which is weird because the Bay Area is a much bigger EA hub. But the meetups here are basically 100% people from the rationality community, which means whenever I go it's the same people talking about the same stuff, and if I bring new people, they mostly get bored if they're not super-compatible with the rationalist community (which includes lots of people for various reasons).
Would love any advice you/others have about ways to deal with this.
I have not had much of this problem think we had this problem a little bit before it was on Meetup. I think we have slightly more insular groups now that meetings are more regular. Based in part on this experience, the advice I would give would be:
• Advertise more (be on Meetup etc)
• Have less frequent but bigger events rather than more frequent smaller events. At bigger events people can find people they get on with and the regulars can sit in the corner doing regular talk. Also regulars will come more frequently so bigger events will dilute the numbers of regulars somewhat.
• Actively encourage people to be more welcoming to new folk.
• You could split up the events into an event for regulars and and event for new folk. I have never done this but it could be worth trying and if you do this let me know how it goes!
Thank you for writing this! It had a lot of useful suggestions. (E.g. I'll take away from this post that I should also publicise our meetups on Facebook.)
I'm not sure whether "30min a month" translates that well to the time when you're just starting as well as smaller cities than London.
I've recently started a meetup in Frankfurt (we had one so far and the next is already planned) and I think I've invested about five to ten hours already, not even counting the meetup itself. Those went into creating a meetup account and getting familiar with the website, creating a mailinglist and curating it, preparing a talk for the first meetup, writing texts to be inviting, etc, then opportunity costs (I couldn't manage to organize the LW meetups as I usually do, so I was trying to get other people to do that and so on).
But for me it's not so much the time as the mental energy which is the problem here, in the sense that it grabbed a lot of my attention. This might be my own personal problem that others don't have, but I don't know what to do about it.
The other point is that I live in a much smaller city where "just post an event" doesn't seem to work very well, when I look at my experience organizing the local LW meetups for the past 1,5 years. To get people to show up, I need to think of an interesting programme that is the biggest time sink. For what it's worth, maintaining the LW meetups costs me a lot less time than starting EA meetups costed me.
Whenever I am in London and visit LW or EA meetups, I can see how it can easily work differently just by the fact that you have lots of people showing up - they'll always find something interesting to talk about in smaller groups. In a smaller city we have fewer attendees and they need more deliberate entertainment.
In general, I'm strongly in favor of encouraging people to start meetups, I wish I had started ours sooner. A clear outline of what to do can help a lot with that!
I want to add that having organized the second and third meetup which were quite successful, it shows it actually doesn't require many resources to keep the minimum level up.
I have a similar experience for EA in the Netherlands. My post may sound somewhat negative, but I decided to continue writing it to reduce possible bias towards success stories.
We are a very small meetup group, and the most frequent attendees do not even live in the same city - the density of people interested in EA is very low. We meet near the train station in Utrecht, which is a city in the centre of the country. Convincing people from your local network to a meetup in another city is difficult (I managed twice). The large travel cost, low popularity of donating money and unfamiliarity with EA are big thresholds for potential attendees.
I always have great time during the meetups and met really awesome people, got a lot of new insights, and some people reported the social support has been useful.
Mental energy cost is significant for me too. I don't see this as something really bad.
My rough guess is that in a city where very few people are already interested in EA, organizing a meetup is probably not worth it (depending on how much you value your time). EA Netherlands falls below this threshold, although we decided to keep going. Alternative EA or LW events do not exist at reasonable travel distance. The nearest are Frankfurt for EA and Brussels for LW.
What is LW?
LessWrong, a community dedicated to improving "rationality". It has a decent overlap with the EA community.
I don't understand... are your events less than 30 minutes long (because it says that they now happen more than once a month)? It seems like most of the time in running our group doesn't go into social media promotion and reminders, but into the group meetings, discussions, and activities, and the socializing before and after that makes people stick around.
I felt like this post was a misleading because the author appears to spend more than 30 minutes, as any group leader should expect. I am concerned that the author used a surprising title to get attention but then added lower-value, common-sensey content.
Hi Claire, sorry if the post and the title were unclear. (I will edit to make it clearer). I can totally see why this is misleading as I did not count the time spent at events.
I think the very basic principle I wanted to get across here is that the only thing the organiser NEEDS to do on an ongoing basis is to take the responsibility to choose a time and place and post an event online, somewhere where a group of members can grow, once every month or every other month, and this does not take long.
I personally do not consider the events as work. Almost all the events are socials so there is very little to do to host the event (be nice and make sure people can find us) and I would attend the events anyway if someone else was doing the organising.
Also I have not even attended all of the events that I have organised and have on occasion asked others to host.
I hope that helps. Thanks for the feedback on my post.
When I saw the title I understood it to mean "30 minutes of overhead," not that the author was accomplishing something physically impossible.
PS. Also I wanted to add that if you are putting in and can put in more than 30 min a month (+ time at events) of organising events that are better than just social events then that is amazing and you should keep doing that. Running a group on a very minimal basis is not ideal - but, in London at least, it can be done when needed - and such a group can grow!
This is great!
Do you have any "impact stories" to share about the group? That is, people who signed the Pledge but would not have if not for EA London, or donations given that otherwise would not have been, etc.? Getting 250 people into a Facebook group is definitely a good thing, and worth replicating, but any tricks for turning semi-passive followers into an active/impactful community would also be welcome.
I have asked people for their success stories here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/EALondon/permalink/776410502448627/
I have had a few success stories of people becoming more involved and donating more effectively and I think someone recently told me that they took the GWWC pledge. We have also had people with very high impact jobs turn up. But it is hard to take the various counterfactuals into account.
I do not have any tips for generating success in only 30 min a month. But if you had extra time to put in on top of the 30 min a month you could run extra events to promote people actively doing something. Eg A pledge panel where people talk about taking the GWWC pledge and there is a panel of pledgees who have taken the pledge in the past and can answer questions. Or a volunteer-a-thon like: https://www.facebook.com/events/1066695483346249
Great post, thanks for that. I've noticed that most of the other EA groups seem to meet in the evenings, but in the Adelaide chapter we always meet for lunch! Not sure why it's turned out that way. Do you have any thoughts about whether evening meet ups are better/worse? The first thing I can think of is people might not have to rush back to work (as I do), but others with young families might not be able to come.
Thanks Sam, this is really useful! I love the specificity of the recommendations. I always find things so much easier to get around to if I know the precise steps I'll be taking. Also really appreciate all the links to samples of all the stuff you mention. If you or others ever want to respond to questions about EA but don't have time, do feel free to introduce them to Giving What We Can central team people. Jon would be a particularly good person to answer questions. As our Director of Outreach, he's keen to get to know everyone in chapters and answer All The Questions.
Minor complaint: It felt like you spent most of the space going over obvious (to me, at least) things like how to use Facebook/Meetup. The only reason I've not started a group in my area is because I have no idea what would happen at events. This article did not do much to clarify.
Unrelated: Question: Why do you recommend Facebook, specifically, to start with?
Not the OP, but I've run a bunch of events with a college group and we consistently got higher turnout when we used Facebook invites than other methods. I suspect it's a good way to reach people because everyone checks Facebook all the time and people can see that their friends are going.
Hi. Thanks for the feedback.
EVENTS - To clarify, most of our events are just social events. People turn up at a pub and discuss whatever takes their fancy often including effective altruism. This is low effort but seems to be working.
FACEBOOK - My cop out answer to this is just - this is what I did and it worked for me. (This post is an awkward mix of writing up what I did in a way that could be posted to the EA wiki so that others could edit it and add their advice.) That said the "copy event" feature does make it very very easy to create repeat events with minimal effort until you get round to starting an actual facebook group.
Thanks for replying. Have you run into much issues with underage members not being allowed in pubs?
Most of the pubs in London are happy to have families with young kids come in, and I haven't seen anyone have their age checked despite being a young looking group.
Even when our events are not in pubs we do not really attract many (if any) under 18s so I suspect the negative impacts of people not being able to turn up because of age are minimal. (But we do have a few 18-21 year olds so if the UK had a higher drinking age that could be problematic.)