The default model for EA community builders, especially college community builders, is to do most community building via formal programs such as intro fellowships targeted at students who the community builders have little or no particular connection to.  However, I claim that per unit time, EA outreach to your family/friends/associates (which I will refer to as your "social network") is much more effective.  This is for four reasons:

  1. Even very smart/rational people are persuaded of things significantly on the basis of how much they like the person who is attempting to persuade them/how much they trust them.  As a community builder at a large college, random students who join a reading group have no particular reason to trust or like you.  However, presumably your friends/family/associates like and trust you a decent amount, making it easier for you to persuade them of things in general (and potentially to apply mild social pressure to them to take actions on the basis of the things you persuade them of).  Moreover, if you are known by your social network to be a more thoughtful/smart/good person than average (as I suspect that the average EA is), you will be even more able to influence them relative to a person who does not know you.
  2. People in the social networks of EAs are likely to themselves have significantly stronger proto-EA attitudes than randomly selected college students, as people tend to befriend people who are like themselves, and people tend to be similar to their families for genetic reasons.  Given that whether a person has strong proto-EA attitudes appears to me to be the main determinant of whether or not you can successfully convince them to get involved in EA, this makes people in the social networks of EA community builders much more promising targets for outreach than people from many other groups.
  3. You have much more information about the people in your social networks than you do about random college students.  This allows you to select members of your social network to pitch EA to who are particularly persuadable and promising, and also enables you to tailor your pitch more specifically to them than you are able to for a random college student.
  4. In my experience, long-ish one-on-one conversations are remarkably effective as a community building tactic.  Generally, random college students will not be willing to have an extended one on one conversation about EA with you.  However, you can almost certainly have an extended one on one conversation about EA with someone in your social network.

Personally, as a community builder at Harvard EA, I believe I have had much more impact through my informal discussions with my friends and family members than I have through running formal programs and reading groups.  While I think I select my friends for proto-EA characteristics more than the median EA, my guess is that it would still be more effective at current margins for most EA community builders in college to spend a unit of time on this kind of informal outreach as opposed to a unit of time on formal community building.





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I've generally had the opposite experience. I could spend ages talking to friends and family and not change their opinions, whereas just half an hour with someone who is already interested in EA can help accelerate their progress and get them connected to other people/projects/events.

I think for people interested in EA, they should mention it to their social network and see if there is any interest. But for community builders, there is much more value from finding people who are already interested in EA and are ready to get more involved.

Also once you've spoken to your social network, you can't keep on doing that in future months.

I also don't like the language of 'persuading' and convincing'. 

See the 3rd point of this post.

3.Avoid naive EA outreach.

Outreach is an offer, not persuasion. It can be tempting to try and persuade as many people about EA and run events that tweak the message of EA in an attempt to appeal to certain people. From our experience, this is generally a dangerous approach as it leads to low-fidelity diluted or garbled messages. Instead, think about outreach efforts as an ‘offer’ of EA where people can get a taste of what it’s about and take it or leave it. It’s OK if someone’s not interested. A useful heuristic James used for testing whether to run an outreach event is to ask “to what extent would the audience member now know whether effective altruism is an idea they would be interested in”. It turned out that many speaker events that Oxford were running didn’t fit this test, and neither did the fundraising campaign.

Heavily cosigned (as someone who has worked with some of Nick's friends whom he got into EA, not as someone who's done a particularly great job of this myself). I encourage readers of this post to think of EA-sympathetic and/or very talented friends of theirs and find a time to chat about how they could get involved!

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