Many groups metrics have grown by 100% to 400% in the past year

by JoanGass8 min read3rd Nov 20215 comments

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Centre for Effective AltruismOrg updateEffective altruism groups
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For CEA's Q3 update, we're sharing multiple posts on different aspects of our work.

We help EA group organizers by advising them, providing resources and funding, and creating online spaces where they can share resources and support each other. The following overview describes support we provide across university groups, city/national groups, and our virtual programs platform.

Some highlights:

  • We did more support calls this quarter than we did in the whole of last year.
  • We estimate that around 970 people started an 8-week fellowship (virtual or in-person) related to effective altruism this quarter. This compares to 184 for the same period last year.[1] This 5x growth is partly (but not wholly) due to our additional support for groups generally, for fellowships in particular, and for virtual programs.
  • We tested out retreats and remote summer training programs to help us identify and train potential full-time organizers at focus universities.
  • Due to this, as well as the efforts of our collaborators, 13 of our 17 focus universities now have at least one funded organizer (compared to 6 last year).
  • 7 universities are participating in a pilot program to support early-stage university groups outside of our focus universities.

We’ve also been talking a lot more with recipients of community building grants, and with other full-time community builders. We should have spent more time on this sooner: we think that these community builders are doing vital, challenging work, and they have a lot of important expertise. We’ve learned a lot from talking with them, and it’s also caused us to reflect on how we could improve our advice, logistical and financial support, and communications. We’re working with them to implement some of these improvements.

University Groups

Support calls

We had over 100 support calls with focus university group organizers this quarter (beyond the broad groups calls mentioned below).

Grants to focus universities

13 out of 17 focus university groups[2] now have funding for a part-time or full-time organizer in the 2021-2022 school year (compared to 6 groups in 2020-2021). This impact shouldn’t just be attributed to CEA (e.g. we think that the Student Careers Team also encouraged people to apply to these programs).

The majority of the new CBGs are part-time, but we think they’ve led to folks spending more time on their groups, and we expect these part-time roles to work well as a pipeline towards full-time roles.

We approved 24 Community Building Grants applications (CBGs), for a total of 7.4 FTEs for at least the fall term of this school year.

  • Cambridge: 1 FTE (1 person)
  • Berkeley: 0.9 FTE (3 people total)
  • Columbia: 0.75 FTE (4 people total)
  • Swarthmore: 0.75 FTE (2 people total)
  • Harvard: 0.625 FTE (2 people total)
  • LSE: 0.5 FTE (2 people total)
  • MIT Impactful Careers Society: 0.5 FTE (1 person)
  • UPenn: 0.5 FTE (1 person)
  • Yale: 0.45 FTE (2 people total)
  • MIT: 0.375 FTE (2 people total)
  • Stanford: 0.3 FTE (1 person)
  • Brown: 0.25 FTE (1 person)
  • Georgetown: 0.25 FTE (1 person)
  • Harvard Law School: 0.25 FTE (1 person)

Scalable university support

Jessica McCurdy, a former organizer of EA Yale, joined CEA to build out a program that can support many EA university groups at scale.

The goal of this program is to develop a scalable process to help 2-3 volunteer group organizers, from any university, to create a new group and get it off to a strong start in its first semester (through events like club fair tabling, intro presentations, and an intro fellowship). This program provides resource templates, training, calls, and funding. 7 groups are currently participating in the pilot program.

Retreats/programs

We ran three programs this summer to increase the number of CBG applicants:

  • An 8-week community building summer fellowship that paid potential organizers to learn community building concepts and develop plans for their groups
  • A retreat for group leaders in the US
  • A retreat / unconference for group leaders in the UK

We also talked to group organizers who were in Oxford as part of a summer program organized by the Student Careers Team.

User feedback was positive (summer fellowship likelihood to recommend of 8.1/10, US retreat LTR of 8.5/10, UK retreat LTR of 9.0/10).

Tentatively, we think that:

  • Remote summer programming to get individuals to consider full-time community building could be effective, especially at seeding newer campuses
    • We’ve done some rough Fermi estimates that suggest that this sort of program might generate an extra FTE working on local community building for ~200 hours of our staff time. But we’re quite unsure about these estimates, and want to dig into the question more.
  • Having experienced group leaders conduct “residencies” (visiting other campuses in person, having 1:1s with individuals interested in EA, encouraging promising group leaders to consider community building) could be an equally effective use of CEA team / organizer time.
  • Retreats seem important for motivation, but the impact varies a lot depending on the invite list

As a result of the efforts above, our bar for awarding a CBG to a group organizer has become higher. This means some grants we made earlier in the summer may no longer be competitive, given the increasing number of students interested in community building and the amount of support we’re trying to provide to each grantee.

This quarter, we’re focusing on:

  • Working with focus university group leaders to measure how many people their programs helped to become highly engaged over the last 2 school years
  • Exploring opportunities to make full-time CBGs a more appealing career option, and to help grantees build more career capital in these roles
  • Providing more 1:1 coaching to CBG group leaders

Fellowships

Marie Buhl (contractor) provided support to 26 local groups running the Intro Fellowship over Q3, improved our marketing materials, and ran two marketing workshops and a facilitator training.

Below are numbers for in-person fellowships.

Notes:

  • A number of groups are running programs after their Intro Fellowships (besides the In-Depth Fellowship we developed) — for example, career-specific and cause-specific fellowships). We’re excited to see this innovation and think there may be several strong models in this space.
    • For simplicity, we aren’t reporting details on those more varied programs.
  • Participant numbers are only available for 50% of Intro Fellowships. Groups ran roughly 10x as many Intro Fellowships during the school year as during the summer. When we didn’t have numbers for a given fellowship, we used the median number from fellowships where we had data.
  • All data is based on the number of people who started a fellowship in the listed quarter. Fellowships last for 8-10 weeks.
  • The average completion rate in Q1 for Intro Fellowships was ~81%. That is, 81% of participants attended at least 6 out of 8 sessions.

Virtual programs

255 people went through Virtual Programs in Q3, compared to 388 in Q2. We think this dip is in part due to a shift from online to in-person events in many parts of the world (thanks to the start of most universities’ fall semesters).

In Q3:

  • Yi-Yang Chua started working full-time on the EA Virtual Programs.
  • Virtual Programs are now operating independently of university groups (EA Stanford and EA Oxford have provided significant support to EA Virtual programs over the first half of this year).
  • Yi-Yang also focused on collecting attrition data, clarifying completion standards, and developing assessments of learning objectives.

Below are numbers for virtual programs.

Notes:

  • All data is based on the number of people who started a fellowship in the listed quarter. Fellowships last for 8-10 weeks.
  • The average completion rate for Virtual Programs is ~75-85%.

City / National groups

Rob Gledhill (CBG Programme Manager) started in September and conducted a listening tour, calling 22 city / national CBG recipients to understand their groups and the ways the CBG program could better serve them.

Program updates:

  • We made a renewal grant to EA Switzerland at 2 FTE.
  • The fraction of highly-engaged EAs that have a funded group organizer in their city remained constant as in Q2 (36%).
  • We planned a retreat for city / national groups which will be held after EAG London for groups participating in the CBG program.
  • We launched an updated website about the CBG program which emphasizes the case for impact and opportunities for alumni.

We contracted Jona Glade, Founder of the EA Consulting Network, to support workplace groups. He has offered support to 18 groups and is working with Anneke Pogarell on this project.

Broad Support

We maintained our broad support for group leaders, and responded to increased demand for support.

  • We had around 65 calls (up from 54 in Q2) and 125 significant email / Slack exchanges with group leaders. We received positive feedback on the calls (average likelihood to recommend of 9.4/10[3] vs 9.3/10 in Q2).

  • We funded 39 small group projects (e.g. for food, books, technology and event costs) in Q3 (compared to 16 in Q2).

  • We contracted a graphic designer to create graphic templates, and created an online space for organizers to copy and share templates.

  • One specific example of our impact: We connected three community members from Nairobi, and it seems likely they’ll be able to restart the city’s dormant group.

Hiring

In Q3 we added the following people to the Groups team:

  • Will Payne - Groups Associate: Campus Specialist Manager (formerly a contractor)
  • Kuhan Jeyapragasan - Groups Associate: Campus Specialist Manager (part-time)
  • Jessica McCurdy - Scalable Uni Support (part-time)
  • Yi-Yang Chua - EA Virtual Programs (move from part-time to full time)

  1. Some of this may be because we’re tracking more of the fellowships that are happening, but we think there has also been significant real growth. ↩︎

  2. There are currently 17 focus university groups (chosen primarily based on the expected influence of an average graduate, with some weight also placed on the groups’ track records and leader quality.) Current focus university groups in no particular order: Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Hong Kong University, Georgetown, Swarthmore, London School of Economics (LSE), Caltech, Brown, Berkeley, University of Chicago, Columbia, Penn. We added Brown this quarter due to the group’s sustained strong track record. ↩︎

  3. n = 29 ↩︎

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This is great! Do you have a breakdown of the total number of FTEs for each focus university (rather than just those that were approved recently)? I think this would be useful for people to understand how much the groups are staffed.

Hi Thomas, great question. I’ve included a list below for our records as of today (mid Nov).

It’s worth noting that we think any of these groups could absorb at least 2 FTE at a minimum, so I’d like people looking at these numbers to not be put off applying for the Campus Specialist Internship or Campus Specialist Programme based on the amount of FTE they currently have (although if you’d want to work on some of the under supported groups that would be amazing).

  • Berkeley 1.9 FTE (of which 1 FTE is EAIF funded)
  • Brown 0.25 FTE
  • Caltech 0 FTE
  • Cambridge 3.5 FTE (grant transfer in progress)
  • Columbia 1 FTE
  • Georgetown 0.25  FTE
  • Harvard 1.375 FTE
    • Of that:
    • Harvard Undergrad 0.925 FTE
    • Harvard Grad 0.25 FTE
    • Harvard Law 0.2 FTE
  • LSE 0.75 FTE
  • MIT 1.125 FTE
  • Oxford 2 FTE
  • Princeton 0 FTE
  • Stanford 1.3 FTE
  • Swarthmore College 0.75 FTE
  • UChicago 0.15 FTE
  • UHong Kong 0 FTE
  • UPenn 0.875 FTE
  • Yale 1.9 FTE

This is so exciting! Quick note that the footnote says Chicago University although the linked post says University of Chicago.

Thanks for the note! Fixed.

Excellent work. Really great to see.