AMA Patrick Stadler, Director of Communications, Charity Entrepreneurship: Starting Charities from Scratch

by Patrick Stadler1 min read27th Mar 202025 comments

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The EAG 2020 team has invited Charity Entrepreneurship (CE) to conduct an AMA on the sidelines of this year’s virtual conference. CE helps start high-impact charities through extensive research and a two-month incubation program.

Hi EAG, Patrick here. I joined CE in the summer of 2019 as a Charity Mentor and have since become more involved, most recently as a Director of Communications. Besides communications, I contribute to developing the curriculum and content of the upcoming incubation program.

I look forward to your questions about CE, our current application window for the 2020 incubation program and on starting high-impact charities from scratch (as our exciting charities incubated last year).

Please post your questions by midnight GMT on Tuesday, 31 March 2020. I will then get back with written responses on the EA Forum by the end of the week. Thanks for your questions. :-)

I also hope you consider applying for our 2020 program by 15 April here (if needed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the program will be conducted online).

A few of my articles for Charity Entrepreneurship:

More about my background

Besides Charity Entrepreneurship, I am involved in making the Swiss public sector more user-centric and innovative. I am also contributing to the Swiss ballot initiatives to increase development aid.

I am a co-founder and chair of the board of the GiveWell-incubated charity New Incentives. Previously, I was a political advisor for Switzerland’s economic development agency where I participated in the negotiations on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. I also worked on strategic communications in the context of peacebuilding and mediation at the United Nations Department of Political Affairs in New York. Happy to connect on LinkedIn

P.S. Follow Charity Entrepreneurship on LinkedIn.

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25 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 6:18 AM
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How much do you think CE can effectively grow? Are the limits for growth in promising applicants, outreach, seed funding, charity ideas, diminishing returns for training, or something else entirely?

Interesting question! Our current bottleneck is seed funding for new charities. We consider donations to our charities to be a high-impact opportunity for institutional and individual donors. Researching a sufficient number of ideas has been a bottleneck in the past, but we have been able to address it by expanding our research team. In terms of promising applicants, there is no shortage at the scale of 20-30 participants per year but it could become an issue as we scale as well.

If we go with an online program this year, this will provide an interesting learning ground in terms of scaling up our course platform, similar to what Y Combinator is doing with Startup School.

A Charity Entrepreneur School would be amazing. Thanks, and looking forward to the release of the handbook!

Building off of Mathias' question, it seems like the idea behind CE is to find passionate generalists, give them a few months of training/mentorship/support, and set them off to implement a research-backed intervention. How does expertise, experience, and personal fit play a role with regard to founding a successful charity?

Personally, I can't imagine signing up for the incubation program without having a concrete idea that I'd feel uniquely capable of working on. Is that common?

I understand where you are coming from. Our general belief is that an evidence-based idea coupled with a strong and value-aligned founder is a recipe for success. We would rather have a smart inexperienced person who believes in the methods of science and cost-effectiveness than a domain expert who thinks less in these terms. In this sense, being an impact-focused effective altruist is a “unique capability”.

We do, however, acknowledge that expertise and experience can add a lot of value. Our recruitment targets experts from subfields of our cause areas as well, e.g. young global mental health professionals. In the program, we try to pair generalists with domain experts, whenever possible. In addition, many founders recruit domain experts as their first hires.

How would you distribute the value proposition of attending the program for aspiring charity entrepreneurs between things like:

1) thoroughly researched charity ideas

2) skills/training

3) networking with other EA's for things like co-founders, mentors, and donors

4) seed funding/legal services/office space

Interesting question, Matt. At the top, we would put thoroughly researching and comparing charity ideas. Without that, the other steps are lost. The second priority would be finding a suitable pre-screened co-founder in the course of various matchmaking exercises, while also getting intros to mentors and donors. Third, seed funding, legal services, and office space. Lastly, we would rank the skills and training. Many resources in this regard are available online or can be learned on the job. We will also publish our CE Handbook on starting a charity - it’ll be available for free online by June. Having said that, we still believe we add value here, as program participants get one-on-one coaching and learn to produce real-life work outputs (e.g. theory of change, fundraising plans). You can read more about our curriculum here.

I hope I'm not too late: In which ways (if at all) has your experience at the UN and SECO been useful for your recent and current work (New Incentives and Charity Entrepreneurship)? Do you think it would be useful for more EAs to get that kind of experience?

I definitely see a case for EAs working in larger organizations and shaping policy. Some exposure to hierarchical and political settings might also be valuable for charity entrepreneurs. It helps you see the world from the perspective of a public servant or politician. Of course, this perspective can also be gained as an outsider, but it is sometimes easier to experience it firsthand. For individuals interested mostly in charity entrepreneurship as opposed to policy, I would not recommend my former career path and suggest moving into entrepreneurship more immediately.

My prior, as well as conventional wisdom, would be that charities run by people with local and cultural understanding of the areas in which they operate would have the largest impact.

This seems not to be the case, judging by givewells recommendations.

What would be your best guess to why western founders can expect to do well on eg. regional problems in India?

Valid point, Mathias. Our goal is to recruit founders with an EA-mindset from around the globe. Understanding the local context is a clear plus in this regard. We would, however, not trade that for other values (e.g. unwillingness to focus on cost-effectiveness). Of course, that mindset is not limited to a particular region. In general, we believe in a balance between an outside perspective (i.e. a fresh pair of eyes) and a local perspective (i.e. that offers valuable contextual knowledge).

In addition to being linked to a co-founder with local knowledge, it can also be helpful to rely on staff or partners who can add local knowledge. I have personally learned tons from fantastic colleagues in Nigeria.

I hope I'm not too late: What were some of the crucial influences / events / experiences / arguments that set you on the path towards becoming an entrepreneur?

Thanks for your question, Jonas! In addition to the usual EA literature, the book “Poor Economics” by the recent Nobel prize winners Duflo and Banerjee had a considerable impact on me, as it makes a convincing case that global poverty can be fought with a more pragmatic and science-based approach. I also noticed that despite working for larger institutions early in my career I enjoyed the creative and experimental work at startups. The challenge of getting from 0 to maybe 50-80% implementation of a project is one that I enjoy, as it usually consists of hands-on work across multiple disciplines. I was also lucky to have met my partners in crime Svetha and Prat when I started my entrepreneurial journey at New Incentives.

Are there any charity ideas outside of the four here that you'd like to see incubation program applicants suggest?

Good question, Michael. We are laser-focused on research in our four focus areas at the moment, so could not recommend any particular outside interventions. In general, we would recommend applying with ideas that are evidence-based, cost-effective, and neglected.

What kinds of charities (and specific interventions?) are on the radar to cofound for this round of applicants?

The best resource for this question is our Idea Prioritization Reports. They summarize the roughly top ten interventions our research team is currently looking at in detail.

See the reports for family planning, animal welfare, health and development policy, as well as mental health and happiness. Alternatively, you can get an overview in our summary of CE’s 2020 research plans.

What's your involvement in the Swiss ballot initiative on foreign aid? Is this to make sure it's implemented correctly and actually accomplishes what it was intended to, with respect to the effectiveness requirement?

Exactly. I co-coordinated the campaign last year. We are currently following up with high-impact NGOs and city officials to contribute to effective implementation where possible. We are also looking into scaling the initiative in additional Swiss cities.

What's the average day like running a charity for a co-founder? I guess this may vary significantly by role and how long the charity's been around.

Indeed, Michael. Initially, you are a Jack of all trades and might work on high-level strategy, fundraising but also office logistics and IT issues on a given day (see the section unglamorous work here). As time progresses, you hand over more and more of your tasks to employees or contractors and focus on your organization’s strategy, recruitment, and management.

Hi Patrick, I hope this message finds you well. I am interested in the incubator program but I am a Brazilian citizen working in the USA. Does your team help applicants secure UK visas or would I need to get one on my own? Cheers, Vitor

Thanks for your interest in the program, Vitor! Our team supports participants in securing visas, e.g. through letters of recommendation. We don’t have the capacity to manage the full process though. Based on our past experience, we are optimistic that we can solve visa issues in most cases.

Given the ongoing global pandemic, it seems the program will likely be conducted remotely. What will that mean for the program? For example, the curriculum has quite a bit of in-person team-building activities and project-based work. Does CE have plans to adjust to this new reality that it can share?

Hi Matt, we are optimistic that a remote program would provide a similar value as the in-person program. Many of the project-based work happens in pairs, which translates well into the online world. Several charities, including CE incubatees, already operate remotely.

We are currently redesigning the curriculum to make it fully remote-compatible. As you have seen here, the core content of the program will be published in a freely available online handbook anyhow, so we don’t have to translate a lot of content to online courses and are ready to take any necessary steps. A final decision on the program’s format will be taken in the next few weeks.