Announcing Effective Altruism Community Building Grants
I’m announcing a new project from the Centre for Effective Altruism: Effective Altruism Community Building Grants. This program will provide grants of between $5,000 and $100,000 to individuals and groups doing local effective altruism community building work. We expect to have a particular emphasis on funding groups aiming to transition from being run by volunteers to being run by full-time, paid organizers. We are currently in talks with LEAN about how we will collaborate on administering/implementing grants.
The aim of this project is to build the capacity of the effective altruism community to produce value, by strengthening a small number of high-potential effective altruism groups. We believe that community building grants will help achieve this aim for the following reasons:
Providing these grants will enable the people with the most expertise and personal fit for local community building to significantly increase the time they can dedicate to building the highest potential effective altruism groups.
Increasing the groups’ organizational capacity in this way will significantly increase the number of highly talented people dedicated to working on the most important problems, as a result of understanding the ideas and methodology of effective altruism (furthering CEAs charitable object No. 2).
Providing grants for effective altruism community builders promises to be a scalable way of using funding to increase the talent pool available to the effective altruism community. Upon completing the first round of effective altruism community building grants, we expect to further increase our understanding of both the specific contribution that effective altruism groups can make to the aims of the community, and the role that additional funding can play in strengthening effective altruism groups.
Though we expect the typical application to be for a grant to cover full-time or part-time work organizing an effective altruism group, we are open to grant applications which are outside of this scope but are focused on the aim of creating successful local effective altruism communities.
CEA’s mission is to improve humanity’s long-term trajectory by building a community that can work together to solve humanity’s biggest problems. Right now, there are three main mechanisms by which individual EAs can come together as a community: online (e.g. EA Forum, Facebook), yearly conferences (e.g. EA Global) and local groups (e.g. university groups like Harvard EA and community groups like EA London).
Local groups provide the only option for regular, in-person interaction within the EA community. We think this is likely to be essential to a thriving EA community for at least three reasons:
- Regular in-person interactions are essential to establishing informal information networks, which are particularly useful as a way to learn things you didn’t know you needed to know.
- Regular in-person interactions facilitate strong connections within community, and these connections are likely to be essential to helping many people remain stably motivated to work on improving the world.
- Regular in-person interaction is a good method for introducing new people to the community.
The impact of local groups appears to follow a heavy-tailed distribution, with some of the larger, more established groups producing substantially more value than the average local group. Historically, much of the local group support provided by CEA, Rethink Charity, EAF and others has focused on either seeding local groups or providing a small amount of support to a large number of different groups. EA Community Building Grants are an experiment in shifting our focus towards making some of the most promising local groups even better.
In the past, CEA has considered similar plans, but ultimately decided not to push forward for three reasons:
EA community size
The effective altruism community used to be much smaller than it is now, both in terms of the number of people who identified with the aims of the community, and the reach of the ideas of effective altruism.
Local groups need to be able to reach a critical mass of regular attendees to succeed. As the number of people in the community has grown, reaching critical mass has become easier, resulting in more groups gaining significant traction.
High opportunity cost for group leaders
The best way for group leaders to attract excellent people to their group is for them to be personally excellent themselves.
However, this means that the best group leaders are also likely to have the highest opportunity costs. We weren’t sure that we knew enough about the overall value of local groups to know when a group leader should focus on their local group full time instead of pursuing other options.
When a stable local group forms, it’s typically the case that no one else attempts to form a competing local group. This is generally quite positive and represents good norms of cooperation rather than defection.
However, this creates a lock-in effect whereby the first stable local group crowds out the possibility of different groups forming in the future. Funding full-time organizers exacerbates this effect.
As the EA community grows, the importance of local groups will grow as will the quality of the local organizer talent pool.
This means that funding a local group today could mean that we can’t fund a better instantiation of that group in the future.
A few things have changed such that we think now is a good time to provide funding for local groups that want to professionalize.
First, the size of the EA community has grown. Local groups serve as an early contact point for people who learn about EA. Therefore as the reach of the ideas of effective altruism grows larger, more people are learning about EA and the more valuable it is for local groups to serve as a first point of contact with the community.
Second, we’ve been increasingly impressed with the productive output of some of the local groups we’ve talked to. This makes it more likely that running a local group is better than the alternative.
Third, we’ve gained a better understanding of what constitutes a promising local group and how local groups can produce value. For example, we’ve come to believe that a major comparative advantage of effective altruism groups is in supporting group members to develop high-value future plans, and that groups can achieve this aim more effectively by building strong (rather than simply large) communities.
Fourth, the available funding in the EA community has increased whereas important talent gaps remain. This project may be able to turn money into talent which makes it especially promising.
Finally, we think we can set clear expectations with the groups that we fund such that the project is viewed as an experiment and that part of the goal of the experiment is to determine whether the local group leaders should continue working on community-building full time.
The Ideal Candidate
In making funding decisions, we’re looking for two main things: exceptional organizers, and high-potential groups.
In the simplest terms, the heuristic for evaluating organizers is “Would we be excited to replicate these people 10x or 100x in the EA community?” This heuristic is inspired by YC’s advice on hiring and culture, and we think it encapsulates the importance of local community builders in setting the culture and trajectory of the EA community.
More specifically, we expect the organizers to have the following characteristics:
If you want to spread EA you should first be an expert on EA.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be a cutting edge researcher. It does mean that you should have a thorough, nuanced understanding of the core EA ideas, and that you should be able to map out the considerations surrounding questions like what cause area to support, or what careers to consider.
Adherence to the guiding principles of effective altruism
We want to fund organizers who adhere to the core principles of commitment to others, scientific mindset, openness, integrity and collaborative spirit.
We aim to take a relatively hands-off approach to the groups we fund. This means that we will tend to prefer organizers who we trust will tend to make reasonable, well-considered decisions and who display appropriate caution about difficult or risky decisions.
Skill at EA community building
We’ll also look for evidence that organizers possess skill at EA community building. The core heuristic for assessing this is “Will this person be able to attract talented, dedicated people to make major contributions on the most important problems?”
There are many different ways of meeting this heuristic, but we expect to evaluate areas like social skill, executional competence, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness, among others.
Understanding of EA community building
EA community building has the potential for being both highly valuable, but also harmful if done poorly. Organizers should have a very strong understanding of the relevant considerations determining the value of EA community building.
We’re looking for groups that are likely to have a strong potential to flourish given a significant increase in their resources.
Building on our experience at Y Combinator and their emphasis on building services for your 100 most dedicated users, we think one of the most important qualities of high-potential groups is the depth of engagement and understanding of the groups’ core members. This is intended to be a departure from assessing groups based on metrics related to size, such as event attendance or number of members.
We are looking for groups with the potential to facilitate the development of people who contribute valuable work to high-priority areas, Specifically, the features that we expect to see are:
An inner core of well-coordinated organizers
Successful local groups need to be able to attract a small inner core of people who can help make the group succeed. The inner core typically consists of people who aren’t working on the group full time, but attend events regularly, are willing to pitch in to help when needed and who the leaders can turn to for support and advice.
Stable, highly-engaged group members
This is a group of people who attend fairly regularly, don’t generally help with organizing events, but who are otherwise highly engaged and derive significant value from the group.
A goal-oriented activity portfolio
This will consist of activities and projects which have been chosen on the basis of a developing understanding of the goals of the effective altruism community, and how they will contribute to achieving these goals.
A record of past success in attracting talented, dedicated people to make major contributions to the most important problems.
This includes looking at whether people currently in the group seem like they could make such a contribution in the future.
The grant period lasts for between three months and a year, and applicants may choose to delay the start of the grant period until the start of September 1st, 2018. By default, grants will be paid out on a quarterly basis, although there is flexibility in the payment schedule to accommodate the needs of grantees. Grant recipients will be required to write a brief quarterly report, including an itemized list of expenditures, as well as periodically checking in with CEA. Groups will also be required to write a full report at the end of the grant period.
For applications for a grant to cover full-time work organizing an effective altruism group, the default grant will be $35,000 to cover the living costs of one organizer over the course of a year, in additional to $10,000 for general expenses related to the group itself. For applications for funding below $5,000, see the effective altruism groups funding guide instead. Individual or joint applications may be submitted.
CEA will only be able to make grants which further some of its charitable objects, which are stated within the application form. CEA is not an employer of those to whom it awards grants, and reserves the right to terminate payment of the grants should they deviate from the agreed-upon terms.
Applications will open on February 21st and close on March 21st 2018. Applicants will be asked to include their CV, an overview of their group (where relevant), and a proposal for their project or group. Applicants will receive a confirmation of submission email, and will be contacted within two weeks letting them know whether they will be invited to interview, which will take place within three further weeks. Interviewees will receive notification of the status of their application within three weeks of interview, and successful applicants will receive a grant offer specifying the terms and expectations of the grant.
If an application is particularly urgent, or you have any queries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We're happy to answer questions from potential applicants about the process, either via email or in a call.
1) 'We are currently in talks with LEAN about how we will collaborate on administering/implementing grants' added to paragraph 1.
2) 'We're happy to answer questions from potential applicants about the process, either via email or in a call.' Added to the final paragraph
This sounds like a good idea - I think in-person contact could counteract attrition. Could you clarify how this interacts with the next round of the more general EA grants (e.g. allocated money amounts and timing)?
Did you consider giving the grants to several organizers working part-time with one group?
Some arguments against:
It's more difficult to coordinate with multiple people
Organizers need to coordinate with each other
The required skillset is very rare, assuming each organizer needs to perform well w.r.t all of the skills listed.
Some arguments in favor:
Low transferable career capital (outside the EA community). Some potential candidates expressed concerns that working full time would require them to interrupt their studies. Working part time would mostly just mean they would quit their student jobs (e.g. as tutors at the university), which has significantly lower opportunity costs. Offering part-time positions might therefore result in more high-quality applications.
Tax considerations (In Germany and likely even more in Scandinavian Countries). In Germany, with an income of 35000€ per year you'll have to pay about 5000€ in taxes. Three incomes of ~11650€ result in 0€ in tax payments. The average income of a student in Germany is 918*12=11016 (according to the German social suvey 2016 -http://www.sozialerhebung.de/index_html/documents/englisch).
Yes, we're open to accepting both for either for grants covering project in which people either intend to work full-time or part-time, and for either joint or individual applications. We don't have a strong preference for receiving any particular type of application within this.
Please know, I am not being critical, just genuinely curious.
"We expect to have a particular emphasis on funding groups aiming to transition from being run by volunteers to being run by full-time, paid organizers." Why? What more can a paid organizer do?
I'm thinking about myself, and I don't see how paying me would significantly increase my time related to EA advocacy. For example, I plan to put up college student tailored posters in the academic buildings. After that, speaking to several large lecture halls before class starts (given permission from each prof). Although, in retrospect, I am more of an average joe EA (E2G on the brink of going from the GWWC 1% student minimum to the professional donation, 10%, and investing the rest).
$5k for renting out a facility? $100k for a group for what? A bigger facility? Or is it more like those fancy $500-a-plate dinners? Is there an EA organizer who's put on a benefit-type dinner before? I mean, I presume that putting on such events need money to start with...
I think the idea is more targeted at groups which try to do more than putting up posters or give EA pitches. Organising high-quality talks, discussion meetups and doing long 1 on 1 conversations (career planning etc.), can be very time-consuming. In our local group, the biggest obstacle to improve further and to develop long-term projects is the fact that everyone has other things to do, like earn money to pay the rent. So in these cases, a grant could enable one or two highly motivated people to focus on EA community building full-time and increase the impact of the group substantially.
It may be that paid organisers simply increases the scale of the things they do already - eg. putting on more discussion groups, talks, workshops etc. though it could also be that having increased capacity enables groups to test promising strategies that they wouldn't have previously been able to.
One reason for thinking that it should be possible for organisers to increase the scale of their activities (and for this to result in an increase in the value that the group produces) is that even the largest groups seem to reach a fraction of their target audience. If groups aren't limited by the available target audience, and the grants process means that groups aren't limited by organiser time or funding, it seems that groups are likely to be able to increase the value they produce.
Out of curiosity, how many local groups already have paid organisers and how do you think this compares with an additional employee at a non-local EA org?
The org's I can remember off the top of my head are: EA Sweden (that's me), EA Geneva, EA London, EA China, EA Netherlands (used to have full-time staff, but don't anymore) and EA Australia.
I'm excluding CEA, EAF and Rethink Charity here.
On EA Netherlands: a major reason why we chose to switch part-time is because we had to look for other income sources (i.e. two of us were working full-time and didn't manage to raise enough funding to cover our basic living costs).
My understanding is that EA Australia is hiring, but they don't have anyone yet.
Yep, EA Australia currently has no paid employees. But we are hiring for an Accounting and Administration Manager, with that wage funded by private donations from within Australia.That role won't be targeted towards community building, it will primarily be ensuring EA Australia meets its accounting and reporting obligations as a charity.
However, after recent discussions with Australian local EA group organisers, and in line with planned changes to our org structure, EA Australia is considering recruiting a person to serve as a central coordination point for Australian local group organisers. Yes, meta.
I'm interested to know if there is any similar model for this in other regions. That is - are there any situations where one person acts as a central resource point and support for local groups in their country/region and as an interface between their country/region's local groups and the rest of the global EA community?
Ps. If you have any Australian based friends who might be good for EA Australia's Accounting and Administration Manager position please let them know about the role: https://www.seek.com.au/job/35533240?type=standard&userqueryid=ccec30d92e7aa652b9d1f30349919d04-7905238.
EA London estimated with it's first year of a paid staff it had about 50% of the impact of a more established EA organisation such as GWWC or 80K per £ invested.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the non-monetary costs of ' an additional employee' are higher than the non-monetary costs of a grant (eg, training, management time, overheads, risks, opportunity costs)
Are they mostly counting impact on Givewell-recommended charities? I'd imagine that for donors who are mostly interested in the long-term cause area, there'd be a perceived large difference between GWWC and 80k, which is why this sounds like a weird reference class to me. (Though maybe the difference is not huge because GWWC has become more cause neutral over the years?)
EA London estitated counterfactual "large behaviour changes" taken by community members. This includes taking the GWWC pledges and large career shifts (although a change to future career plans probably wouldn't cut it)