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 can start doing certain small actions, like running a fundraiser or doing Shop for Charity.
...They could start earning and donating small amounts.
...They could try to volunteer for an EA org.
...They could join another action group, like EA Advocates or .impact.
...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.
Totally agree--I've been noticing that the later stages of the funnel are neglected as well. These are great suggestions! I hope people are inspired to follow them.
I'm especially optimistic about the potential for local meetups and student groups. Regular, discoverable, newbie-friendly EA meetups have already been a big source of growth for the Boston scene (and I imagine other places as well). I'd just like to plug Weeatquince's great guide for running them efficiently, to anyone who's considering starting one!
I agree with this and would add that even monthly meetings only could be very valuable if they're combined with good online follow-up. When you know someone from a meeting first you're probably more likely to ask them lots of questions that if they were just recommended to you over the internet. Nevertheless, I also think it could be promising to invest into personalized online guidance. Michelle mentioned below that the buddy-system wasn't used much, but maybe something similar could work well especially if the demand from new people increases as expected.
Just to add - Weeatquince is Sam Hilton (he's happy for the article not to be anonymous) - I'm sure he'd be happy to chat about it in person too if people are interested in setting up groups!
Thanks for this Peter. Definitely an important area for more work, and this has lots of great ideas for us to work on! I’m not sure I agree that there more people wanting conversations than are willing to talk. Giles’ ‘buddy’ system seemed to yield a bunch of people happy to chat to new effective altruists, but very few people with questions (that was my impression anyway, as a ‘buddy’ who didn’t end up having any conversations). I think I’d actually characterise Giving What We Can a bit less as focusing on getting people to first hear about effective altruism, and a bit more as focusing on the problem of how to get people from having heard about it to acting on it. We’re planning to hire Luke Ilott in June, the largest part of whose job will be reaching out to people who have had some contact with the idea of giving effectively, and chatting/answering questions/addressing concerns/seeing how the person could get more involved. Our current outreach is also focused heavily on local groups (led by Jon Courtney). These seem both good ways of introducing people to the ideas, and also good ways to get people more engaged with them. Since GWWC is first and foremost a community, we’re hopefully in somewhat of a good position to support people in the process of going from liking the sound of effective altruism, to really putting effective altruism into practice.
On finding people with questions. If I think I could find people who wanted to talk about EA stuff who should they be put in touch with? Is there a clear contact for this? What if I am fairly sure that the conversation would be of low value?
As someone who runs an EA chapter if I get messages from people reasonably often. In the past I have offered to meet people to talk about EA stuff one-on-one and have had this offer taken up. I no longer make this offer due to lack of time. But having someone (ideally someone local) who could meet people could help outreach in London.
This is what I've been setting up for the new local presences I've been creating, and for existing EA groups. I'll put contact details for these local people up on the list and map of EA groups soon.
I obviously agree with this post given that we've already talked about it :-). Three notes:
1) I'm uncomfortable with the idea that introducing people to EA is well funded. First, relative to the size of the opportunity here, I the amount of funding is minuscule. Second, we have yet to find a massively scalable approach to finding new EAs. Until we have that, we're not going to achieve true hockey stick style massive growth
2) A project applied to EA Ventures with an idea to work on solving this problem :-). Still working them through the evaluation process, so I can't say much now. More info may be available in the near future.
3) I think effectivealtruism.org is the natural home for projects in this domain. I'd love to work with you (or anyone else) on developing and testing out ways to get people that sign up there plugged into the community.
Peter talked to me about this recently. I think that it's good to get people to do something that's low/zero management overhead first, as a filter. I think running a fundraiser might be too harsh a filter though - significant numbers of promising people won't do that. The other small things don't really provide filters that we can test to see who's promising - so it would be great if we can come up with something that does, though none are springing to mind. I've asked if his suggestion is that they'd tell us about a few of the small things that they've done before we try hooking them up with volunteer opportunities.
I don't think this is true, I think there's a shortage of proven volunteers who'll spend reasonable amounts of time.
What kind of work do you have in mind?
To take just a couple of examples, work on the EA Hub and on local groups.
I'm up to help do both of those. Of course, how much I can help with the former will depend on what exactly needs to be done.
Work on the EA Hub might be good for learning how to program? I don't know.
How much of this work is unskilled? I think unskilled work is probably best handled by virtual assistants rather than EA volunteering. What do you think?
Wasn't one of your suggestions to find small/unskilled work for EA volunteers to do, to see if they're ready for a bigger task? I think it'd defeat the purpose of getting EAs involved in a small way to just hire virtual assistants for unskilled work.
Yep. Good point, I can definitely see the tension between those two statements and you're correct to point it out.
That being said, I think I'd prefer VAs over EA volunteers when the task is easy, long, and unskilled, because then skilled EA labor can be used somewhere where it's a better fit that VAs can't do. This could even include getting and coordinating the VA, which itself does take some work.
Of course, if it's faster to just use a volunteer, then it could be worth it. And, I suppose it might be better in the long-run to draw people in via unskilled VA-able tasks if there are no other options.
There's some of each. I think you're right about VAs, but I don't know if everyone's willing to pay for them.
I guess the two that will be marketed heavily by professionals are Peter Singer's The Most Good You Can Do and Will MacAskill's Doing Good Better, but could you please tell us which the other two books are?
There's also "How to be Great at Doing Good: Why Results are What Count and How Smart Charity Can Change the World" by Nick Cooney and "Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help" by Larissa MacFarquhar.
Thanks for the great post Peter! As Michelle mentioned I am spending most of my time focusing on chapter growth, and helping to support established and emerging chapters. I completely agree with everything you said about the importance of local groups- in particular I think you are right that we need to be spending more time on supporting new EA meet-ups once they have started up. More generally i think local meet-ups and chapters have a really important role to play in the 'EA funnel'. They serve as a natural 'next-step' after people have heard about EA and are intrigued by the concept, "interested in EA? Why not meet up with other people in your area talking about it?". Chapters and meet-ups also serve as natural launching-off points for other projects like pamphleting or fundraising campaigns. Also, in Giving What We Can's experience, chapter involvement has played a large part in many people deciding to sign the pledge. This gives us some reason to think that chapters can play an important role in moving people from being interested in the ideas of EA to acting on them in their life. For all of these reasons I think that we should be working hard to both create as many chapters and meet-up groups as we can, and provide a system to support and sustain chapters these chapters once they have started out. Hopefully in the next week or so I will be posting here with concrete a proposal for a volunteer run 'Chapter Growth Team' which can help in this venture!
I think it's very important to give new members a sense of belonging and importance. We had a new member in our group who had some ideas but didn't get a lot of support from the existing members, and (I believe), dropped off because they weren't being listened to.
My hunch is that specialising might be interesting. We've got good groups working together around EA for profit ventures, mainly in tech. We've got emerging groups around earning to give, even for poker players specifically. I'd like to see the EA movement get so big that we have groups that are focused on particular things. These might be organised by method (e.g. cognitive sciences, maths, management) and organised by subject (e.g. politics or healthcare). Having an organised matrix where people can be organised by which fields they have skills/networks in would also be interesting. I see this as a little bit in tension with the whole 'breadth' thing, but you have to pin your stripes to a mast for some portion of time to get anywhere, and can always switch camps later.
The thought behind it is that organising in this way suddenly makes the questions of 'what to do with them' much less of a problem: each group will have projects they want help with at different stages, will be appropriate as a source of mentoring, will be open to ideas in this domain, and can help to bring some more focused suggestions.
A different way of thinking about the "gold rush" idea is that EA has achieved product-market fit. We know we have a set of ideas that are valuable to people and that people want. Now is the time for the hockey stick growth curve.
I really like this and the funnel stuff cribbed from for profit orgs. I see the biggest value add of EA being broadly characterizeable as getting non-profits to start doing all the effective things for profits do.
My guess is that it would be useful to have meetups have a strong component of people talking about earning to give. Their experience with it, how they set it up, etc. A large influx of people means most of them will not be joining EA orgs to work on things directly.
Is anyone working on adapting this guide to EA startups to supply meetups with a default agenda? This should lower the frictional costs associated with organizers who may have access to a venue not knowing what to do.
This has been done to death, but perhaps under advertised. See the list of various EA chapter guides at http://effective-altruism.com/ea/a6/outreaching_effective_altruism_locally_resources/
That would be great. There are some shorter guides already, which are indexed on the EA wiki, including the excellent one by Sam referenced in the comment by Ben above.
I am keen to work on this. I have made a post about it in .impact at https://www.facebook.com/groups/dotimpact/permalink/430648037102852/ So if anyone else is keen on helping with this project then feel free to get in touch on facebook or add thoughts to the Hackpad at https://impact.hackpad.com/.impact-and-Solving-the-EA-Funnel-hoSefyU3Sti#:h=Step-#2:-Figure-out-the-"small