In a conversation with Kerry Vaughn, he told me there's "a gold rush" around getting new people involved with the effective altruist movement. It's easy to see why this is so. EA has been more frequently in the press in the past year. And there are four different books on effective altruism coming out, at least two of which will be marketed heavily by professionals. EA Advocates are helping spread EA content on Facebook and Twitter. The EA Outreach team is also working full speed on other projects and the upcoming EA Global conference sounds like it will be pretty awesome.
So, fingers crossed, the EA movement will be growing a lot in 2015. But what should we do once those EAs show up?
From Intro to Impact
Stages of Effective Altruism
Having someone self-identify as an effective altruist is great, but ideally we want them to do something significant and impactful, such as donating 10%+ of one's income to effective charities, spending a similarly significant time doing direct work, considering a more ethical diet, and/or advocating to others.
While it definitely has happened with people in this community, my guess is that people don't usually pick up a copy of Singer's book, read it, and then instantly decide to give 10%. Instead, there seems to be some intervening stuff between getting introduced to EA and giving 10%.
From this, we can then theorize an "EA funnel", similar to any other marketing / sales funnel, where you maximize the impact of the EA movement by getting as many people involved with EA as possible and then getting as many of those people do give as much as they can. People can drop off at any stage along the way, which is what we seek to minimize.
The Involvement Problem
Introduction is Well Funded
Many people are working hard to introduce people to EA. There's the four books I mentioned. There's this forum you're at here, plus the active Facebook group. LessWrong also has a lot of EA activity. And there are many orgs -- such as The Life You Can Save, Giving What We Can, Charity Science, Raising for Effective Giving, and 80,000 Hours -- all working full-time to bring people into the movement. There are many meetups across the world and people are working full speed to make more. Lastly, there's a lot of EA introductory talks going on throughout the world, including Peter Singer's TED talk which has received over 1.1M views.
There certainly are many more things that can be done to introduce people to EA. I've heard many interesting proposals I'd like to see go forward, such as experiments with flyering.
Involvement is Relatively Underfunded
What can people do once they join the movement, to further their involvement?
...They certainly can join things. Facebook groups, this EA Forum, mailing lists. They can begin to post and comment.
...They can make an EA profile.
...They could start earning and donating small amounts.
...They could try to volunteer for an EA org.
...They could change their diet to be more animal-friendly.
But it seems hard for people to do more than that and many of these actions aren't even that well advertised anyway. So what can we do?
I'm an EA. Now What?
There is little between the introduction and quitting your job. We should fix that. So what do I propose?
Get engaged on the "small things"
We've previously compiled a list of small things people can do. People's identities are reinforced by taking action, so doing small actions can lead to people doing larger actions in the future. Moreover, these actions are quite valuable in their own right.
We should update the list, think of what more we could add to it, think about how to make it more digestible, and then try to publish it widely (such as prominently on effectivealtruism.org).
Talk 1-on-1 with an EA
Several people are trying to talk to a lot of EAs, but they're busy with other things. I've been lead to believe that there are more people who want conversations than there are people willing to talk, though I'm not sure if this is true. Giving What We Can seems to have their member base covered with their latest hires, but no one is currently doing this for the wider EA community. There seems to be little standardized network to connect a new EA to a relevant person to have a friendly chat about how to get involved, whether by email or by Skype.
We could try to build an informal network, but I think it might be easiest just to hire (as in pay, potentially well, with money) someone or multiple people to dedicate time to being in contact with new EAs. In particular, we'd be looking for people who are (1) knowledgable about the community, (2) relatable and friendly, (3) generally reliable, and (4) has the time and desire to commit to do this moderately long-term.
More work on building and sustaining local groups
Despite the world of the internet, meeting in person is still important. There have been a lot more resources into building up local EA groups lately, but I'm less sure if there's sufficient resources going into maintaining existing groups -- checking in, making sure people have sufficient funding, trying to apply lessons learned elsewhere, etc.
We also should have better norms for EA meetups. I've heard of many people, myself included, neglecting EA meetups because they have more impactful things to do than what usually turns out to be glorified socializing. But socializing is valuable for getting people involved and we should take this more seriously. To make things a bit better, remember you don't have to meet monthly -- even quarterly is probably better than never. Lastly, you could try to do more hands-on stuff in your meetups, like working through the aforementioned "small stuff" in groups, or doing other volunteering / outreach projects.
An Online Hangout
For those people not fortunate enough to be in a sizable local group, we can offer an online hangout. Currently, .impact is serving this role by providing a meetup for anyone to join and learn about how they can get involved in the community. And now we'll start running these biweekly.
Think about scalable, more meaningful, projects to offer more dedicated volunteers
Many people get involved in groups and do the small stuff, but want more. Generally, though, orgs are disappointed by people -- despite having the best of intentions -- finding themselves unable to follow through. This is totally understandable, but ends up giving a reputation of volunteers as unreliable and not worth the time.
However, once we have enough small stuff for people to do, we can refer them to finish the small stuff and establish a track record. If someone has done a good job, say, running a fundraiser, than chances are that they'll also do a reasonable job at some other task. You can build from there.
Right now, we don't really have that much readily available work to give to those people who are proven. So we need more work to develop some projects that anyone can do, but are a bit bigger than the current ones. Maybe current EA orgs could work to better open source tasks that are typically done by interns? Maybe we could think of something else?
Connect the funnel together
Lastly, we need to finish connecting introduction to further involvement. People who are introduced through any of the various materials should be funneled to a place where they can learn about how to get involved, or they might end up dropping off. And getting involved should include a clear progression from joining things, doing some small stuff, maybe talking 1-on-1, and progressing to more meaningful projects. Hopefully, this eventually culminates with someone either earning to give or working full-time on EA stuff.
Right now, many people aren't getting any answers about what to do next after seeing EA content. And people who do get answers frequently get inconsistent ones. It might be hard with the books that have already gone to print, but I think we could standardize this some more.