TLDR: In this post we present the current iteration of a business plan for a German Effective Altruism Network (GEAN) focused on community building. We aim to increase the inclination toward and awareness of Effective Altruism in Germany by coordinating the expertise and pooling the resources of local EA groups through a community-driven regional support network. Next to the announcement we are also conducting a survey with local EA groups in Germany and starting a series of workshops and events focused on the further refinement and development of our plans. To support our activities we are currently looking for feedback, funding and in-kind support.
Effective Altruism (EA) is an ambitious movement focused on having as much positive impact as possible on the lives of others. Towards this goal, EA has developed a sophisticated and ever-developing set of interrelated concepts and ideas that require in-depth engagement to fully understand and apply in practice . Against this backdrop, local groups of aspiring and engaged effective altruists play major roles in helping to sustain and grow the EA movement. For example, local EA groups may…
- provide a high-fidelity point of contact for new people interested in EA.
- provide a community for aspiring EAs to develop and support each other.
- prepare potential candidates for high-impact career paths.
- direct additional funds to important causes (e.g., via GWWC pledges).
However, running a local EA group is a challenging task, given, not only the complexity of EA concepts and ideas, but also general challenges inherent to community building [2,3]. For example, often times local groups are not founded or run by experienced EAs but by students or professionals who themselves are just starting to learn about EA and, thus, have to concurrently figure out how to run and engage a local community while still skilling up in terms of their knowledge about EA.
As a first step towards alleviating this challenging situation, general insights about EA community building have been started to be compiled by some of the major institutional actors in the EA movement, e.g., CEA , LEAN  and (until the beginning of this year) EAF . Moreover, projects like the EA community building grants offered by CEA  can enable people interested in community building to dedicate more time this activity.
Although these resources and initiatives provide a basic foundation for local EA community building in general, due to the complex and context-specific (e.g., in terms of cultural or regional circumstances) nature of community building, we argue for the need of in-depth, high-fidelity support tailored to the specific regional contexts of local EA groups. Big questions that are regionally dependent and that almost all local EA groups struggle with at some point are, for example:
- How to handle local finances? Setting up an organization with a shared bank account is quite time-intensive but more robust when a group grows.
- How to handle local leadership transitions when core members leave the region or simply don’t have enough time to continue in a local leadership capacity?
- What are good practices for structuring meetings, retaining members, building an engagement funnel, etc.?
- How to find the right balance for outreach activities, especially when starting a new local group?
- How and when to connect to the wider EA network (e.g., for workshops, talks, job referrals, etc.)?
- How does the EA movement differ by regions?
- What are potential regional comparative advantages and how can they best be leveraged?
It is our working hypothesis that questions such as the above are currently best worked on and answered through collaborative work between local groups in similar regional contexts. The state of organizational infrastructure for supporting this kind of regional exchange is largely dependent on the actors and institutions in any given region. For example, while some countries already have national-level EA organizations focused on supporting a national network of local EA groups (e.g., EA Netherlands, EA France, EA Norway, etc.) such an organization is absent in Germany where community building was traditionally supported by the EAF but discontinued as of 2019. Thus, there is currently no professional organization explicitly engaging in regional support for local EA groups in Germany, which creates bottlenecks for local group growth as established institutional actors engaging in community building worldwide (i.e., CEA and LEAN) are in a difficult position to help address regional challenges in Germany.
For example, while CEA can fund promising EAs with community building grants or support local groups with monetary resources to do events (e.g., workshops) there is substantial overhead associated with the current practice of monetary transfers to individual bank accounts. As of yet, there seems to be no well-established way of handling money transfers that go beyond an occasional reimbursement for costs associated with small events. Moreover, existing organizations like CEA are in a comparatively bad position to change this situation and assist in managing local group finances as this requires a deeper insight into local day-to-day operations which is prohibitively expensive for such organizations to come by. At the same time, having well working financial management independent of individual people is very important for sustainable local groups that can survive multiple leadership transitions. Other examples of existing support are the EA Forum or the EA Hub which both aim to facilitate knowledge exchange within the EA community and between local groups but are limited in their accessibility to newcomers and cannot yet replace in-depth, context-aware, high-fidelity transmission of ideas and concepts afforded by personal interactions.
We aim to address this challenging situation through the development and maintenance of a lean infrastructure that helps to coordinate and support the local EA groups in Germany by
- pooling resources (e.g., common website, financial management, etc.) and
- coordinating a structured knowledge exchange to facilitate more effective capacity building between local EA groups and with the larger EA community (e.g., establish systematic quality assessments and development, curate relevant resources for community builders in Germany).
A results chain (click this link to enlarge) summarizes our current thinking in a visual format. It is a succinct outline of how we expect to use the resources available to us to reach our desired objectives .
We propose the pooling of regional resources as an effective way of improving the utility and efficiency of regionally available resources and expertise by making them easier available to a larger pool of users. For example, investments with high initial costs (e.g., setting up a non-profit with a bank account) or fixed costs (e.g., maintaining a regional website and newsletter, organizing a workshop) are often not viable for small local groups but become increasingly viable and useful for a larger regional network of local groups. Moreover, as the local groups in Germany mature and professionalize a danger of duplicating costly investments with limited returns increases.
Regarding IT infrastructure, we want to set up a common website as a central point of contact for people interested in regional EA activities. The website will aggregate information about all participating local EA groups in a given region with clear and up to date information about past and current activities and events as well as provide a clear pathway for interested parties to contact engaged core members of local groups or sign up for a regular regional newsletter. The relevant information will be updated by the participating local EA groups themselves who will in return get an easy to maintain and highly discoverable personalized website for their local group with a high chance of attracting potential new members. This incentive structure is designed to distribute costs and rewards fairly and keep the overall overhead of maintaining the website low.
In addition to the public facing website, internal activities of participating local EA groups are planned to be supported with easy-to-use digital customer-relationship management (CRM) software such as Odoo  or a less structured document oriented infrastructure such as NextCloud . We aim to centralize the infrastructure for tasks that are highly similar between local EA groups in the same region but are often duplicated or reinvented (e.g., financial management or workshop organization). To make this kind of centralization viable, we...
- deliberately plan to use proven open-source software.
- follow a participative infrastructure development approach with a focus on the needs of the community.
- strive for a fair distribution of required investments and maintenance costs as well as rewards across a network of local EA groups.
Beyond IT infrastructure, we are planning to set up a sustainable organizational structure in the form of a non-profit registered association ("gemeinnütziger Verein") or a non-profit cooperative ("gemeinnützige Genossenschaft") with the medium-term (1-year) plan of becoming a possible target of tax-exempt donations in Germany. The expertise acquired in setting up the organizational structure shall enable us to become the central point of contact for financial reimbursements and associated questions in relation to EA community building efforts in Germany. Our main goal is to streamline the overall financial management of local groups in Germany and reduce the uncertainties and inefficiencies that currently still persist.
Coordinating a Structured Knowledge Exchange
We propose to coordinate a structured knowledge exchange between local groups and with the larger EA community as an effective way of improving the capacities and effectiveness of local groups. Our knowledge exchange strategy can broadly be divided into 5 components.
- The first component are topic-centered working groups that bring together individuals from from different local EA groups with the goal of harnessing multiplier effects across groups. First examples of this approach are the organization of a working group interested in specializing in career workshops, a working group for the development of a introductory workshop series to EA to be held by regional EA members and a working group for an advanced workshop series focused on recruiting high-profile speakers.
- The second component is the organization of regular local group retreats on a regional and national level. Retreats provide a great forum for in-depth, context-aware, high-fidelity transmission of ideas and concepts as well as human bonding.
- The third component is the participative development and organized collection of an appropriate repertoire of community metrics and good practices to gauge, benchmark and steer the overall development of constituent local EA groups and the EA movement in Germany.
- The fourth component is the streamlining of the knowledge exchange between local EA groups in Germany and the larger EA community. Through the bundling of expertise in working groups it will be easier to quickly disseminate new insights to local EAs on the ground, who are sometimes not aware of the most recent EA thinking (e.g., through a lack of knowledge or interest in the EA forum or the EA hub). Moreover, it will be easier and more efficient for EA community building organizations such as CEA or LEAN to interact with local groups that are well connected and already engaging in structured regional knowledge exchange.
- The fifth (and most tentative) component is the development of a structured incubation program for new local EA groups in which people interested in creating a new group are supported by more experienced organizers. By offering structured guidance together with personal assistance for new groups, we expect to speed up the evolution and improve the long-term sustainability of local EA groups.
Based on the collective experience of a number of local EA groups in Germany there is a great opportunity and demand for increased coordination in EA community building activities in Germany which is only going to be amplified by EAF's recent withdrawal from community building activities. Given the results of the 2018 EA survey  and comparing the number of engaged EAs in Germany with the rest of the world, we see much room for growth in Germany. We argue that a systematic and coordinated approach to community building will help to lift this potential in a more effective and efficient way.
Germany has around 83 million inhabitants and, thus, is the second most populous state of Europe after Russia, the most populous state lying entirely in Europe, as well as the most populous member state of the European Union . A recent survey highlighted that the percentage of donors in Germany is generally stable at around 25% of people but has been as high as 44% of people in 2005 when the Tsunami in South East Asia had a strong influence on donation behavior . Nevertheless, the total amount of private donations has slightly increased and is currently at around 3.3 Billion € per annum. Private donors in Germany on average give around 6.8 times a year  with an average donation of around 38 € .
According to the 2018 EA survey , Germany has a relatively low number of 185 engaged EAs which leads to an EA density of ~ 0.000002 EAs/Population. Holding the UK and Norway as comparable to Germany in terms of relative market potential, a plausible estimate of the potential market of EAs in Germany would be ~ 0.000006 EAs/Population. Based on this estimation, we would expect at least a potential for a 200% increase in active EAs (who are engaged enough to fill out the EA survey) in Germany (~370 additional EAs).
Competition / Alternatives
Currently there seems to be no competing regional organization focused on supporting community building in Germany that we are aware of. Taking a global perspective, most tasks that we propose to take on are being coordinated by CEA, however, as we argue, in a more granular and less focused way. Alternatives to creating a new regional organization include staying with the status quo as well as creating a less community-driven organization that focuses on the aspects that we propose in this business plan. While the later may be quicker to set up and easier to control, we argue that substantive accountability towards the community is a great mechanism to ensure an overall alignment as well as the sustainability of activities.
We strive to build and sustain a participatory and democratic governing body for the organization by opening up membership to all EA community builders in Germany which pass a peer review by three existing members. Guidelines for peer review assessment will be developed in close relation with experienced EA community builders and be openly available for critical reflection and undergo regular revisions. Based on the developed guidelines structured training materials will be developed to guide the development of novice EA community builders and provide a clear path towards participation in the governing body of the organization.
The specific set up of the managing board ("Vorstand") of the organization still needs to be decided but the goal is to have an adequate representation of necessary organizational and important regional perspectives. Roles should be covered if at all possible but, due to limited resources (especially in the beginning), regional representation will be optional. Important roles and tasks that would need to be covered are as follows:
- Chairperson: Lead of strategic and organizational development
- Financial Management: Coordination and management of financial resources
- Operations Management: Coordination and management of infrastructure and general operations
- Event Management: Coordination and management of event operations
- Quality Management: Coordination and management of knowledge and quality operations
- Representative of North Germany (Optional): Coordination of regional EA community building
- Representative of West Germany (Optional): Coordination of regional EA community building
- Representative of East Germany (Optional): Coordination of regional EA community building
- Representative of South Germany (Optional): Coordination of regional EA community building
The managing board will be elected yearly by the general assembly ("Mitgliederversammlung") based on a presentation of a one year plan with associated outcome predictions and targets as well as a more general five year roadmap. The goal of requiring formal plans and predicitions as well as a more strategic roadmap is to balance short-term accountability with the possibility of advocating and planning for longer-term goals and visions. An early formation of possible management teams is encouraged and block voting for teams shall be made possible if legally possible to ensure a well-running managing board. Votes regarding personnel decisions shall be held anonymously. Currently, approval voting and quadratic voting are being investigated as possible voting mechanisms. Decisions within the managing board will be openly documented to ensure personal accountability.
Means for discussing and submitting proposals that concern the organization will be made openly available for all interested parties but endorsement by at least one ordinary member of the organization is required for them to be considered for official adoption. For official adoption, proposals which are not related to the organization's legal bylaws may be decided by normal vote of the general assembly. Proposals that affect the legal bylaws require a 3/4 majority in the general assembly.
The main intended beneficiaries of the organization are all EAs that are living in or visiting Germany for any amount of time. Our vision is to make Germany an environment where all people interested in EA find EA-aligned activities and resources that fit their "engagement and potential profile". As resources are limited, careful considerations will need to be made in the development of our activity portfolio to ensure the sustainable growth and long-term engagement as well as overall effectiveness and impact of EAs in Germany.
To ensure the long-term viability of the organization, we aim to build on three complementary fundraising avenues, namely, grant seeking from EA-aligned foundations and initiatives (e.g., CEA community buildings grants), direct donations by our core beneficiaries (i.e., EAs in Germany) as well as the sale of services (e.g., tickets for events, etc.). We expect that especially in the beginning fundraising will be focused on grant seeking and sale of services and may shift to direct donations in the future when the value and impact of the organization will be easier to demonstrate to benefiting EAs in Germany. Our messaging to solicit donations would highlight the service nature of our work (i.e., it's more like a gym membership) and clearly state that we don’t expect donations to the organization to compete with donations to other high-impact cause areas. Over time we hope to establish a social norm for moderate support of local EA groups or regional networks of EA groups in one's area in addition to more substantial donations to the most effective causes. This three-pronged business model aims to set the incentives of the organization so as to favor a sustained focus on supporting the alignment of the global and the local level of the EA movement.
To assess the impact of our work several metrics are being considered for reporting at this time:
- Workshop evaluations (e.g., number of participants and feedback as well as follow up surveys)
- Career changes affected by local groups
- Counterfactual money moved to effective charities by local groups
- Number and trajectory of GWWC pledges in local groups
- Assessment and trajectories of group climate in local groups
- (Self-)Evaluation by local group leaders
- Number and trajectory of local groups and membership numbers
- Number and trajectory of cooperations with partner organizations
- Counterfactual staff-time saved at CEA due to our work
We have already assembled a well-rounded diverse core-team of 7 active EA community builders. Together we combine a broad set of different backgrounds (e.g., information systems, physics, medicine, CFAR-alumni, CEA community building grant recipients, with experience running start-Ups, non-profits, workshops, and more) and have community building experience of 15+ years with 7+ years specifically focused on EA.
Alexander Herwix is a late stage PhD student in information systems and is generally motivated by the question how collective problem solving communities can be effectively supported. His research background allows him to provide a theory informed perspective to many aspects of the organization as well as provide direction for the ongoing development. He is currently co-organizing EA Cologne and has around 2 years of direct community building experience in the EA space as well as substantial project management experience in small to medium sized teams.
Max Schons is a freshly minted physician who is going into medical research to investigate infectious diseases with machine learning techniques. Besides his studies he has substantial experience in running a start up and co-founding a charity. He is currently co-organizing EA Cologne with around 2 years of direct community building experience in the EA and running a well-received EA workshop series of 4 events held in Cologne/Stanford with in total ~80 participants, 8 speakers, and an average rating of 1.5 to 2 on -3 to 3 scale compared to an average workshop.
Florian Zeidler is a software developer and entrepreneur with technical and strategy skills who has also worked with non-profit human rights organizations in the past. He is currently an organizer of EA Münster and very engaged in helping us set up a sound IT infrastructure.
Manuel Allgaier has done a bachelor of science in environmental science and is currently a CEA community building grant recipient as well as an organizer of EA Berlin. He has substantial experience in community building and event management which he plans to use to organize events such as unconferences, retreats and workshops. He is also interested in professionalizing and coordinating EA career coaching.
Tom Lieberum is a bachelor student in physics and currently organizing EA Aachen. He is interested in organizing workshops and collaborations between EAs. He also wants to help improve the personal exchange of EAs in Germany.
Luise Wolf is a pediatrician currently working in pediatric cardiology. She is the founder of EA Leipzig and interested in organizing a EAGx conference in Germany. She is advocating for equal rights and an inclusive strategy to community building.
Jasper Götting is a PhD Student in infection biology and virology. He has multiple years of community building experience running EA Osnabrück and now EA Hannover. He has also interned at EAF and done a EA speaker tour in 2017. He aims to contribute to the professional development of the organization.
As we are building a new type of organization for the EA movement in Germany as well as in general, it is very difficult for us to make accurate financial predictions. For example, on the one hand, we only have tentative ideas about how much funding is reasonably available to us via the traditional grant making bodies in EA (e.g., CEA, meta fund) and are basically clueless about our chances to attract large-scale donations by well-off individuals in the EA sphere. On the other hand, at this point, we can also only crudely estimate how quickly local EA groups will want to work with us (we are currently working on validating our assessments with a survey). Thus, we decided to embrace this uncertainty and use guesstimate sheets to calculate averages based on our best guesses of reasonable scenarios. If you have trouble interpreting the guesstimate sheets we are happy to provide feedback if you contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost estimation: https://www.getguesstimate.com/models/13653
Funding estimation: https://www.getguesstimate.com/models/13661