[We are sharing this guide on the Forum as an example for other organisations and groups that may be organising events. This guide is used by volunteers and staff at both Giving What We Can (GWWC) and One for the World (OFTW) when planning and running events.]
Who is this guide for?
This guide is for anyone who is organising events in association with Giving What We Can or One for the World, whether that be paid staff or volunteers. We also hope it will be a useful resource for anyone else who is looking to organise community events in a safe and inclusive way.
Why have a guide?
It can be hard to think of all the relevant considerations around running events by yourself, and each of us have biases or preferences that mean that we may be more likely to think of some areas and not others. This guide aims to cover a broad range of considerations to help all organisers and ensure safe and inclusive events for all attendees.
Giving What We Can and One for the World take providing safe and inclusive events seriously. Our organisations exist to improve the world, and aim to do so through the lens of compassion. We believe our events should mirror our commitment to creating a better world.
What are other helpful resources to consult?
- CEA’s Advice about Community Health at Retreats
- How to help someone having a panic attack
- Resources from CEA on community health
What to keep in mind when planning the event
Who will be attending the event
Considerations around age
- The organisation may not be covered by insurance to host attendees under the age 18 when unaccompanied by a parent. Please reach out to staff to discuss this more if you think Under 18s may be interested in attending.
- Be aware of the restrictions on drinking in different countries. In the US, students at the undergraduate level are typically not of legal age to drink, which is 21.
- In other countries, it may be more common for students to drink together. That said, be mindful of the dynamics that alcohol can introduce to events, regardless of age. At the top of the event-planning process, you should first consider running the event without alcohol. You should only decide to include it if there is a strong reason to, and if there are no concerns about the mixing of young students or professionals of different ages, who come with different cultural and regional contexts around drinking.
- Having alcohol at your event increases associated risks for serious, negative outcomes, like sexual harassment, bullying, and even assault.
- Be aware of power dynamics that may be unintentionally (or intentionally) created within your spaces. People who have management responsibility typically have a degree of power, whether intentionally or not, over those who are in a reporting relationship to them. People who are older, especially with significant age differences, sometimes have a level of unstated power relative to those who are younger than them. This can be doubly true when mixing folks of different ages and genders.
- There may also be funding relationships within your spaces that manifest through power dynamics. A person with any degree of responsibility for funding a particular person, group, or organization has a degree of power over those that they are funding. People who are in the process of reviewing grants or funding proposals from others may also have a degree of power over those people.
- GWWC and OFTW events typically cater to either students or young professionals. Keep in mind that either group may have families and children who might be involved in an event that you host.
- When planning an event, especially a larger one, consider whether it would be accessible to those with families and young children. You may also want to plan any content that you are presenting or discussing accordingly.
Considerations around diversity
Anti-Discrimination & Harassment
- If you organise an event as a volunteer or staff member at Giving What We Can or One for the World, you are bound by the policies of the organisation(s) you are helping. This includes anti-discrimination and harassment policies, which for One for the World, can be found here and here. Giving What We Can’s Code of Conduct can be found here.
- When advertising your event, depending on the size, you may consider adding anti-discrimination and harassment statements to your promotional materials.
- Characteristics and factors you might protect against discrimination and harassment at your event may include but are not limited to: age, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, disability status, neurodivergence, veteran status, national origin, pregnancy, and religion.
- Ensure that your policy on both is clear up front, and agreed to by all attendees. Usually, this can be done by sharing the policy prior in pre-event communications. If there are issues with attendees discriminating against or harassing other attendees, you will be able to refer back to your stated policy.
Providing appropriate facilities and products
- Be mindful of the potential range of attendees at your events, and have the appropriate facilities for them to use. You may have attendees who have recently given birth, who have a need for menstrual products, who are non-binary or transgender, or who need a quiet space to themselves throughout the day.
- Depending on the size of your event, you may consider creating a space for people who have recently given birth to lactate or otherwise provide care to their child. Reach out to your host venue and check if such a facility is available or could be created within existing facilities.
- If possible, provide access to gender-neutral restrooms. Some may prefer single-use restrooms for this purpose, with a lockable door. When in doubt, consider asking your venue host if you are able to re-mark a single or multiple restrooms as gender-neutral if they do not already have them available. Non-binary or transgender attendees may feel uncomfortable using bathrooms that are only marked for use by cisgender men and women.
Considerations around accessibility
- When planning a large event, it’s likely that people with a variety of accessibility requirements will be in attendance, so it’s best to arrange a venue that is accessible to most people, and let people know the accessibility information upon registration, in addition to asking if there are additional requirements.
- For smaller events, provide accessibility information for the venue upon registration
- Accessibility of bathrooms: Check with your venue about whether they have accessible stalls in any bathrooms for those who are using wheelchairs or other mobility devices. You may consider the optimal solution of including accessible stalls in your restrooms that are marked as gender-neutral, allowing someone who needs either or both options to be accommodated in that restroom.
Checking about accommodations required
- For any event, but especially for larger ones, reach out to your attendees list ahead of time to request accommodations needed for accessibility. Give yourself several weeks to months if possible to allow time to work with your venue to accommodate these requests to your greatest ability.
Considerations around safety
Thinking about volunteer capacity
- Wherever possible, you will want at least two volunteers organizing an event. Indeed, a rule of thumb is to have one volunteer per 10 people attending.
- It's also strongly preferable to have at least one person whose role is to help with safety. That person should be prepared to drop other tasks like logistics, be available to participants and also set expectations about how they will handle any uncomfortable or harmful situations reported to them.
Types of events
There are many types of community events that may be appropriate for you to organise. The following discusses considerations in organising different types of events. When selecting the type of event to organise, it is worth thinking about selecting the type of event that balances the value provided to attendees with any considerations or risks. For example, if an event will provide just as much value as a dinner at a local restaurant when compared with a party at someone’s home, it would be preferable to host a dinner at a local restaurant, if costs were equal, as people may feel more comfortable in a public setting.
Accommodation and sleeping arrangements
People have varying levels of comfort when it comes to sleeping arrangements, and it’s important to respect people’s boundaries.
When organising accommodation, people should always be offered the option to stay in a room with people of their own gender, and offered an option to stay in a room by themselves, if they require. It is key for people to be able to express their desire to change their sleeping arrangements if they are not comfortable.
If there is limited space or funds available for accommodation, and someone’s preferred option is not available, you should brainstorm ways you could meet this person's requirements within the constraints.
It could also be wise to have an additional room available in case anyone falls ill or requires a space to themselves during the event.
Many people will have dietary preferences due to religion, allergies or medical conditions and lifestyle preferences. When organising a multiday event, you should ask for everyone’s dietary preferences in advance so that food can be appropriately prepared.
Allergens should be clearly labelled whenever possible, and an organiser or venue staff member should be able to identify all ingredients in the food. If someone has a severe allergy, consider whether it’s practical to avoid having the allergen present at all,
Ideally, you will be able to cater for all preferences throughout the event, but if someone has very complex dietary requirements, you may wish to contact the person to discuss and come up with solutions together about how best to cater for them. Meal times are generally highly social, so we should endeavour to have everyone included.
Within the effective altruism community, a large portion of people are vegan or vegetarian and many events are catered to be vegan by default. This is generally considered to be best practice as it is also generally inclusive of religious food restrictions such as kosher and halal. At a larger event, there will often be a couple of people who are also gluten free, and nut allergies are common.
During multiday events, it becomes more likely that the event will crossover with religious rituals or traditions that attendees may be following. You may want to actively provide a space for prayer during the event or people may choose to disclose any requirements to you in lead up to the event. No one should have to disclose their religion to you or anyone else at any point, and be mindful that you may not know who is religious amongst attendees.
Attendees should be allowed to leave any sessions or activities to undertake prayer or religious obligations.
Over a multiday event, thinking about how different people live their lives is important. Some people may be extroverted and want to stay up late and chat, while others may want to go to bed early, or prefer quiet time alone. Providing spaces for people to engage in their preferred way to unwind or recharge will make for a more fulfilling event for all involved.
- Providing a quiet space
Some people may benefit from a quiet space to relax, reflect or work during downtime at an event. Providing a space that is intentionally quiet can also help signal to others that someone does not want to be disturbed at the moment. This can be especially helpful if the accommodation involves shared rooms.
- Managing noise and different schedules
Bedtimes and wake up times vary significantly in adults, so it may make sense to group those who generally go to bed early or late together when planning accommodation. This can be done through a survey during registration.
It is also worth thinking about designating a social space where people might be making (reasonable levels of) noise late in the evening or early in the morning.
We recommend having a set of ‘quiet hours’ where noise should be kept to a minimum. Depending on the location, 10pm-7am may be reasonable.
Timing (i.e. new parents might struggle to attend)
Dinners are an easy option for a social gathering, but it may be worth bearing in mind that not all people will be able to attend evening events. They might be new parents who don’t want to interrupt their baby’s sleep schedule, or they may have an early bedtime or limited energy which may conflict with evening engagements. If organising a dinner, try to alternate the next event with a lunch or a differently timed activity to allow different attendees to come along.
If going out to a restaurant, selecting a venue that can cater for multiple dietary requirements is important. Many people in the effective altruism community are vegan or vegetarian, so a restaurant that is vegan, or has multiple vegan options is usually a good bet. Vegan options also generally cater for those seeking kosher or halal options.
Let people know you’ve chosen an option that caters to specific dietaries in the event description and registration. It makes sense to collect dietary requirements as far in advance as possible, and to let the chosen venue know in advance as well.
Events at private homes
Events in private homes can be a wonderful way to develop relationships with people in your community, but they carry an extra set of responsibilities to ensure that the event is safe. Generally, we would recommend hosting events in public spaces but recognise some people would prefer to host in their own home. If hosting events in your home, try to host alternating events in public spaces.
When hosting in your home, you are in a position of power and it is worth being mindful of how others may feel in your home. People may be more deferential to you as a host than they would normally as they are not in their own space, and may feel indebted to you for hosting. This means that attendees may be more vulnerable and less likely to speak up if they are uncomfortable. Choosing a co-host who does not live in the home may provide an alternative option for people to raise concerns to during the event. It may also help women feel more comfortable attending if a woman is co-hosting if the other hosts are men.
Ideally, you would close off any private areas of your home, i.e. bedrooms and make it clear that they are not to be entered during the event with signs on doors. Also having a sign on the entry or gate can affirm to people that they’re in the right place.
When starting the event, you should let people know where to find the bathroom, where items like glasses and water are and what areas of your home they may use. Encourage people to stay in the main areas of your home where the majority of others are.
It can be particularly difficult to provide adequate bathroom facilities for a large group of people in a private home. In general, we recommend not hosting more than 15 people in a private venue unless it is particularly well-equipped for large groups.
If someone has invited you to their home, you should always gain their permission before sharing the address with another person, and let the host know who exactly you intend on bringing, in case there was a reason that person was not invited.
In most cases events run in association with Giving What We Can or One for the World would be considered social professional events, where a standard of professional conduct would apply. When in a private home, it can be easier to relax into more personal than professional behaviour, especially if some attendees are close friends. It should be made clear to all attendees what kind of behaviour is and isn’t encouraged in your home during the event, as well as reminding attendees that this event is run in association with Giving What We Can or One For The World, and that the event should be treated the same as if it was hosted in a public space.
During the event
At the start of the event
- Share expectations with attendees
- Prepare and share an event code of conduct (reminder that Giving What We Can’s code of conduct is here)
- Outline who is available as a contact person if issues arise, and emphasise you want to hear about issues
- Share in advance how issues will be dealt with, including confidentiality expectations (see below). Doing this in writing in advance will mean you can reference the guidelines at the start of the event, rather than explaining them for the first time during the introduction
- Outline positive behaviours you would like to see, as well as what is not acceptable
- Remind everyone to be welcoming, and encourage behaviours like sitting in a U shape so people feel welcome to join a conversation
If you notice any issues during an event
In general, organisers should feel empowered to ask people to leave if there are any issues. Agreeing in advance who is responsible for asking people to leave can help organisers feel more comfortable in actioning this.
If anyone is in physical danger, you must call the authorities. You should also contact a member of staff from One for the World or Giving What We Can at the earliest practical opportunity, so that they can assist (see below). If someone is in immediate danger, it is entirely appropriate to involve the police.
If you believe a crime has been committed but the immediate danger has passed, you should offer to support the victim in reporting it or offer to do this on their behalf if they consent. That said, if you have reporting obligations [such as a “duty-to-report” in the US], you must always report to the police and other authorities according to your legal and contractual obligations.
If in doubt, you should seek advice at the earliest opportunity from a member of staff at One for the World or Giving What We Can.
If you encounter an issue that doesn't rise to the level of involving the authorities, and if the involved parties are safe to do so, address any less serious issues calmly and take appropriate action (more guidance on issues you could encounter below).
Take down a record of what happened and contact the organisation’s person in charge of community events. Record the contact details of witnesses as appropriate. They may want to investigate what happened and take further action.
For Giving What We Can events, you can contact the CEA Community Health team, or Luke Freeman. For One for the World events, you can contact: Jack Lewars or Emma Cameron. [Note: personal contact information has been redacted for the EA Forum version]
Handling interpersonal issues
Someone feels left out
If someone is shy or feels left out, one solution could be to offer activities during breaks or to ask if someone wants to participate in a discussion on a topic you know they might have an interest in.
Someone is made to feel uncomfortable
There are differing levels of what people will and will not be comfortable with in terms of ways of communicating, topics of discussion etc. While we recommend being mindful of what is discussed and how, for example, avoiding discussing things of a sexual nature, graphic violence or other commonly upsetting topics, it is possible that someone may feel uncomfortable with less obviously difficult topics.
If someone is in distress as a result of a conversation or interaction, they should be encouraged to talk to the event’s point of contact to discuss it and talk about whether anything can be done to help. This could mean moving the distressed person into a new room, new accommodation or a different working group.
Depending on the conversation or interaction, it could be worth having a conversation with the person who initiated it, to let them know that this can be seen as making others uncomfortable, and to encourage them to avoid similar topics or behaviour.
If it persists, you may want to ask them more explicitly to stop, or explain that you will ask them to leave the event. If the conversation or interaction is deemed to be harassment then consider the below advice.
Bullying, Harassment, Discrimination
There may be occasions where behaviour at an event may constitute harassment, bullying or discrimination. If someone raises a serious concern about or reports this behaviour:
- Check that you have the time and resources to have the conversation at that time. If not, reschedule and let the person know they will have time to be properly heard. Offer them assistance to mitigate the problem in the moment, such as a taxi ride home or new accommodation arrangements. Reasonable expenses will be reimbursed by One for the World or Giving What We Can.
- Make it clear whether you can keep it confidential. Depending on your local regulations, you might be obliged to act or inform someone else. If you’re not obliged to act, ask them what they think would be best.
- Focus on listening to what they say and clarify as needed.
- Thank them for bringing up a difficult subject and reassure them that bringing up the information was very valuable. Be clear on what action you will take and when, even if that means being honest about uncertainty. It is fine to say "thank you for sharing this and I am sorry you experienced that. Would you mind if Ispeak to someone at HQ before taking further action, but I will let you know tomorrow evening what the outcome of that conversation is."
- As soon as possible, write down detailed notes recording the conversation. Ideally email them to yourself so you have a time stamp on them
If you think there is a conflict of interest at any point, you should make the other person aware as soon as possible and find someone else to manage the situation.
If you would like advice on a situation like this, you can reach out to the CEA Community Health team. For more guidance on responding to and investigating a report of this nature, you may want to look at these resources from CEA on community health.
Mental health: helping someone experiencing a panic attack, or overwhelm
If anyone is in immediate danger or seriously injuring themselves or others, you should call emergency services. Ideally, this should be done with the consent of the affected person, if at all possible, but you have a primary responsibility to keep everyone safe.
It is possible at a large event that someone may experience a panic attack, we recommend familiarising yourself with this article about someone who is having a panic attack.
Especially at multiday, overseas, or large and busy events, it’s likely that someone will become overwhelmed at some point. Often the topics being discussed can be emotionally distressing or heavy to talk about.
Having a quiet space for people to recover or unwind is a good idea. Scheduling breaks between sessions or activities can also give people space to decompress if the programming is heavy or difficult for some attendees. Mentioning at the start of the session that people are welcome to step out if they are finding it overwhelming can also be a good idea if the content is potentially upsetting. Remind attendees that they can always speak to the contact person.
The contents for this guide have been based heavily on the Advice about Community Health at Retreats from CEA.
Latest version: July 2023
Thanks to JL, LF and CL for reviewing and providing input.