INTRODUCTION (IE. THE EMOTIONAL ELEVATOR PITCH)
There is a huge untapped potential to build a strong vibrant world-changing EA community in London. Recent EA events in London show we can have a significant impact on giving behaviour: 79% of attendees at a talk said they would 'think more where they donated' 19% of attendees at a career workshop took the GWWC pledge. Yet these events, and other events, sold out. People were turned away. Elsewhere we are turning down requests to give talks. Potential is being missed and the growing task of building the community needs more than just volunteer time. If we can raise the funds for a paid coordinator we are confident we can get 100s of new attendees at events and expect well over 50 people to take the GWWC pledge or make some other significant behaviour change this year alone.
But more importantly than just supporting and growing the community, a paid coordinator could experiment. They would be expected to take an entrepreneurial approach to movement building: considering and testing hypotheses; learning, measuring and discovering better ways of creating a powerful effective altruism community; and so defining the path for other EA communities in cities around the world. A paid city EA coordinator is in itself an experiment and one with huge potential.
But this project will not happen without your funding!
A generous donor is matching all money donated so we only need to raise £12-£15k. We are looking for commitments to donate at some point within this year (likely in the next tax year)
To find out more or arrange a Skype call or pledge to donate, please email Sam Hilton at firstname.lastname@example.org
Full details below
KEY INFORMATION AND ESTIMATED IMPACTS
Key information contents
- Background - Introduction to effective altruism and Effective Altruism London
- Background - Size and growth of EA London so far
- Background - The impact of EA London so far
- Plans - How funds will be used?
- Plans - What actions will be taken by the EA London staff member?
- Impact - Estimated returns
- Impact - Other considerations
Background - Introduction to effective altruism and Effective Altruism London
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of effective altruism (EA) or the rationale for building an EA community in London then please see the background note here.
Background - Size and growth of EA London so far
So far (as at drafting date of 10 Jan 2016), EA London has approximately 6 events a month and a growing network of around a 1000 individuals (not counting university EA groups). This is made up of a Meetup.com group of 682 people, a Facebook group of 634 people 299 email addresses. The majority of the events socials, which require minimal organisation. This group is growing rapidly. In the last year the Meetup group grew by 500 people and we have gone from holding only 2 events a month to 6 events a month.
We have a 3 stage model of how we create impact. Awareness of the London EA community leads to people engaging with the community which leads to people changing their behaviour to be more altruistic and effective:
Awareness (of EAL)
Meetup.com, word of mouth, wider EA
Numbers on Meetup, Facebook, email, etc
Event attendance, Facebook conversation
Surveys on self-reported change, projects started
600 event attendees
75 regular attendees
25+ seen a significant change in behaviour
Background - The impact of EA London so far
We measured self-reported behaviour change by surveying attendees at social events. Of regular attendees 29% said that EA London has already had a significant impact on their behaviour. Taking a best guess at the number of attendees at social events we expect EA London to have had a significant impact on behaviour of over 20 regular attendees in the last year. For more on this see the section on How did you estimate your impact to date?
As well as encouraging changes in behaviour we also have anecdotal reports that we help keep people acting in EA ways and remaining connected to the EA community. We have also received praise as being a useful place for networking.
EA London has also hosted a number of highly successful (albeit harder to organise) events in the past year, specifically 2 large talks and a careers workshop run by 80,000 Hours (80K). All these events sold out, at 400 tickets, 150 tickets and 79 signups (with actual on the day attendances of was roughly 330, 110 and 21). The careers workshop was particularly successful with 9 people making changes to their career plans including 4 people taking the Giving What We Can (GWWC) pledge at the event. EA London has also helped start student groups in 3 London universities.
This has been achieved on a minimal time cost. Estimated time put in by the main organiser (Sam) over the last year into EA London event organising, strategy, managing volunteers and admin was roughly 200 hours (additional time has now gone into fundraising). Very little money has been spent (in fact we raised more for effective charities from ticket sales than we spent).
Plans - How funds will be used?
Money raised will go towards:
- One part time or full time member of staff (£20k-£30k)
- Additional funds for some marketing and events (£1-£5k)
The money will at first fund Sam Hilton, who has been running EA activity in London to date. Sam will be paid £10 an hour for a 32 or 40 hours work a week, depending on funds available (and it is highly likely that Sam would put in additional time and/or take a lower salary). This may change as the project progresses, we may bring on an intern or hire a different staff member, and so on. The lead staff member will likely be supported by a small volunteer management board who provide some additional support and ensure accountability of the staff member oversight to the project.
The employee will implement a plan for supporting and growing the EA community in London, likely with the following aims:
- Primary aim: Work out the best ways of building an engaged EA community in London
- Secondary aim: Support and inspire those in the EA London community to have a greater positive impact on the world.
- Tertiary aim: Grow the EA movement in London
This document talks a lot about “building” an EA community. We consider this to be both growing the EA community and also supporting and improving those already in the community. We have prioritised the supporting and improving aspect above generating large numbers of interested people, for more on this see the FAQ on Why have you prioritised the supporting and improving aspect above generating large numbers of interested people?
Plans - What actions will be taken by the EA London staff member?
Working out the best ways of building an engaged EA community in London. We want to take a experimental, entrepreneurial approach to movement building. This will involve:
- Researching movement building and interacting with other EA orgs such as EA Outreach (EAO).
- Generating testable hypotheses on how to build an EA community in London and how to change people’s behaviour and testing those hypotheses.
- Setting up CRM software to collect data on those who engage with EA London and a website that can be used for AB testing and so on.
- Experimenting with different strategies for raising awareness and engagement. As part of this we will monitor how quickly different people brought in from different routes take on board EA ideas. We will experiment with:
- Different forms of online marketing
- Press coverage
- Differently branded Meetup groups such as “Christians for doing good”, “ethical self-improvement”, “how to heal the world”, etc
- Large events
- Corporate engagement (e.g. workplace giving programmes)
- In person (networking / door to door / careers fairs)
- Experimenting with different strategies for changing behaviour and with a variety of events designed to build understanding of EA ideas, such as:
- Giving Circles
- One-on-one support / conversations
- Data collection through focused conversations with individuals, surveys at events, the EA survey, and passively monitoring attendance numbers and GWWC pledges.
- Analysing data collected.
- Monitoring for any potential risks of rapid movement growth. See question in the Q&A on What are the risks of growing the movement too fast?
- Publishing data, lessons learned and information gleaned so others in the wider EA community can look at and use what we discoverer.
Supporting and inspiring those in the EA London community to have a greater positive impact on the world. Much of this will be covered by the actions above but we will also:
- Make sure the community is supportive and welcoming
- Ensure regular events continue
- Managing any volunteers who are keen to help with building the EA London community
- Encourage the creation of EA projects / social enterprises / charities in London and provide support to anyone looking to start an EA project.
Grow the EA movement in London. Much of this will be covered by the actions above but we will also:
- Provide sufficient events and continual routes of engagement to make sure those that are aware of EA London have a way to engage with us.
- Take up any particularly good opportunities to grow EA London, such as speaking events at large companies.
- Supporting the growth of the university chapters in London
Impact - Estimated returns
The estimated returns in the next year for this project are:
- Awareness: New contacts (email, meetup, etc) of 1,500-2,500 people.
- Engagement: Unique new event attendees of: 400-800
- Behaviour change: Become regular event attendees: 50-250
- New GWWC pledges: 20-55
- New significant career changes: 10-30
This is the counterfactual benefit that would be created on top of the benefit that will be achieved if no additional money is put into EA London.
We expect to raise in year over £120,000 for top charities that would have not been donated anyway, at a cost of £30,000, with over 10 times more raised in total in the long run as a result of future pledges to give and people changing their behaviour.
We believe there is a small chance of having a much much higher direct impact. For details please see the section below on How did you estimate the expected returns?
Impact - Other considerations
We think that this represents a particularly good way of spending funds on EA outreach, in comparison to other EA outreach opportunities. We have a strategy for EA movement building that could benefit from further exploration and experimentation, whist at the same time is not just a shot in the dark, as we have data behind us showing our success over the past few years of growth. We have the advantage of being able to outreach to a wide audience of 9 million Londoners yet follow up in person. For more on this see the FAQ on Why do we think this is a particularly good way of spending funds on EA outreach?
We also think that as well as these impacts there will be a significant impact of knowledge gained through experimenting in movement building which could lead to an exponential positive impact on the world. We think this project largely ticks the boxes as being hugely valuable based on what 80K describe as “the growth approach to evaluating startup non-profits” For more on this please see the section in the FAQ on What is your potential for growth?
Money is needed now as those involved in EA London are deciding in what direction to take the project forward and whether to invest additional time in the community. If we do not make a minimum target of £25k by Sunday 20th March* this project will not go ahead.
This project is being half funded (up to £30k) by Kit Harris who many of you may know. This means your donation will be matched. The funds are true matching rather than an outright donation because he wants the project to be funded if and only if the community believes it to be highly valuable. Thanks to this matching the minimum additional amount we need to raise is only £12.5k. Our ideal target is £15k (£30k after matching) and we could use up to £35k in order to cover the costs of events and marketing as well as a staff member.
We are hoping that people within the EA community – especially those in London who know the community first hand will consider donating to this.
As we are not yet a registered charity we are asking for a commitment to donate in the future (likely in the next UK tax year). We may be able to process some larger donations now through connections with other organisations.
*Deadline pushed back a week due to competing commitments that week.
FAQ – WITH ALL OF THE FACTS AND DATA
- What will happen to EA London if not funded?
- Who is Sam Hilton and why is he qualified to be running this?
- Why do we think this is a particularly good way of spending funds on EA outreach?
- What is your potential for growth?
- What are the best reasons to not fund EA London?
- What projects fall into a similar reference class that can give some idea that this will be a success?
- Why now?
- Why London?
- Why have you prioritised the supporting and improving aspect above generating large numbers of interested people?
- What are the risks of growing the movement too fast?
- Will my donation make a difference – won’t this just get fully funded anyway?
- How does this fit in with the strategy of the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) / why are CEA not funding you?
- Will I have a say over how you use my gift?
- What is your plan for monitoring and evaluating impact?
- How did you estimate your impact to date?
- How did you estimate the expected returns?
- How much have you raised so far?
- What function will the oversight committee play?
- I have feedback on the plan.
What will happen to EA London if not funded?
If the project does not go ahead EA London will continue to be run but on a much more minimal basis than it has been recently (unless additional volunteers step in). There will likely still be at least a monthly social. This benefit of this has already been included in the estimated returns calculations.
Who is Sam Hilton and why is he qualified to be running this?
Sam has been helping run effective altruism events for 5 years since early 2011 when he started helping GWWC with their early research and outreach in Oxford. He has been heavily involved in the EA movement ever since. In 2012 and 2013 he helped run two small charities that outreach EA ideas, The Life You Can Save and THINK. Since 2013 Sam has been working as a policy advisor for the UK Treasury and running EA activities in London.
Why do we think this is a particularly good way of spending funds on EA outreach?
- Due to being based in a single (very large) city we are able to follow up any outreach with in person communication (without running out of people to talk to). Based on previous experience we think this is an excellent way of outreaching EA ideas
- Our estimates, based on successes so far, of expected returns on changing people’s behaviour and giving habits are easily comparable to that of other EA organisations. Please see the section on How did you estimate the expected returns?
- By attempting something different, ie. a paid city coordinator, from what has been tried elsewhere, there is a lot that can be learned from this project.
- Because of our location in London we are well placed to target demographics who have skills, experience, money and influence.
(Note: This section was edited following feedback)
What is your potential for growth?
The estimated returns presented represent what 80000 Hours call the “marginal approach to evaluating startup non-profits”. In this article they make a case for evaluating non-profits based on the potential for future growth. We think that this project largely ticks the boxes as being hugely valuable when assessed in terms of the potential for future growth as:
- We have a great track record of success at building an EA community so far and those working on the EA movement in London have shown significant skill at community building and determination in this pursuit.
- By identifying good ways of building an EA community in London we are generating an approach that could be replicated, both within London in future years (given a population of 9 million we are unlikely to reach a plateau soon) or in other cities all around the world. The impact of this is potentially exponential.
- Finding a way of getting people to do more good and to do so effectively would be hugely valuable to the world.
- This is not currently being done anywhere else. London is currently the largest non-student EA community in any city making it an excellent place to begin such an experiment.
What are the best reasons to not fund EA London?
Some genuine attempts to steel-man the case against donating:
- If you are a member of the EA London community you are likely to be biased towards thinking that this is a good idea and so should be wary of donating.
- You should significantly discount much of what is written here as the authors are likely biased. Sam’s initial estimate of impact (see point 1. here) was much higher than later estimates of impact, this is evidence that he feels that the value of growing EA London is greater than it actually is. This means he is likely to overestimate the impact of EA London. There is also some risk that the authors of this document are overly driven by desires for personal gain or status or satisfaction.
- One should not fund new projects unless there is a strong need for them – only fund tried and tested projects. Most social interventions fail. Most development charities are worse than a charity that just gives money to poor people (ie. Give Directly). It is unlikely that this will do anything but fail. The evidence for the success of this is too weak.
- The estimated impacts are poorly constructed speculative nonsense. See the section below on How did you estimate the expected returns?
- Supporting meta-charities, like this project, is the wrong course of action. Building a movement that spends money on its own growth is circular and helps nobody. It is unlikely that new EA’s brought into the movement will create sufficient additional social impact to make this project worthwhile.
- If the EA movement was to spend on meta-charities it should do so by spending on building up the quality of research it has carried out rather than direct outreach. This is how GiveWell have been so successful.
We also think there are counter-arguments for each of these points.
Some useful countervailing information is:
- When considering point 2. please consider that Sam and one other London EA predicted the result of data collected from surveys prior to data collection and their predictions were overly pessimistic rather than overly optimistic.
- On points 5. and 6. please see the articles here and here.
What projects fall into a similar reference class that can give some idea that this will be a success?
Within the EA community
- Organisations such as 80,000 Hours and Giving What We Can outreach EA ideas. They lead to a new career change or GWWC pledge for each £1000.
- Local student group successfully outreach EA ideas. However professionals in London have less time (and hopefully more money).
Within London there are a number of other groups in London that promote philanthropy and are successfully growing including:
- Beyond Me
- Be More
On the other hand it has been reported that humanist and secular organisations have found paid organisers in cities to be a poor use of time and resources.
The Humane League (a top recommended animal charity) report that they have staff working on vegan outreach in specific locations. However most other vegan outreach charities do not do this.
The timing of this is closely tied up with Sam’s career decisions. He currently works part time at the UK Treasury. He is keen to alter this career path some-what, and many of the likely job options involve moving back to full time work and it does not seem likely that he will be able to or keen to put more than an hour or 2 a week into EA London when in a new job, depending on the demandingness of the job, the location of the job and so on.
- This kind of EA outreach is not currently being done anywhere else. London is currently the largest non-student EA community in any city making it an excellent place to begin such an experiment.
- London promises huge potential for change and influence, it is one of the world’s richest cities and also the seat of UK political power.
- London is also the home of other organisations connected to the EA movement such as SCI, AMF, the Founders Pledge, etc.
Why have you prioritised the supporting and improving aspect above generating large numbers of interested people?
This decision is based largely on our model of how to build a successful movement and how the global EA community should be growing. This is in turn based largely on the research into movement growth carried out by EAO. Their primary reason for believing a local EA group should prioritise supporting and educating those already aware of EA is that they see risks of too rapid movement growth. See section below on What are the risks of growing the movement too fast?
It is a key part of this project to do more research into how movements grow. It is likely that our understanding and views will change as we look into these issue in greater detail. In that regard we will adapt our priorities accordingly.
Another reason for taking a slower approach to movement building is that a plan for outreaching EA to as many people as possible was considered and rejected by EA London supporters at the most recent EA London strategy meeting. Details of specific plan considered are on p2 here and minutes of the meeting are available upon request.
What are the risks of growing the movement too fast?
- Ossification: Loss of key ideas, such as cause neutrality and changing one’s mind.
- Misrepresenting EA: People don’t join / do join for the wrong reasons.
- Internal upheaval: Eg. if too popular may attract difficult to handle individuals.
- Dilution: Not enough EAs to lead to good conversations etc. (Eternal Sept Effect)
- Lack of diversity: Could halt movement growth outside typical demographic.
Will my donation make a difference – won’t this just get fully funded anyway?
Whether this project goes ahead is entirely dependent on if we get sufficient donations. Our current best guess is that there is a 65% chance we will get sufficient donations.
How does this fit in with the strategy of the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) / why are CEA not funding you?
EA London is a separate group from CEA, albeit with similar aims (and a similar name), and should not be confused. However we have worked closely together to date and are keen to do so in future. We did ask EAO (part of CEA) for funding and for feedback on this project. They chose not to fund us but do recognise this as a this as a potentially valuable project.
On funding Kerry Vaughan from EAO said: "If we provide money for folks to do movement building, I'd want them to be a part of the full EAO team. The problem for EAO is that a) we're management constrained; and b) We haven't yet defined exactly what the local movement builders would do. I think we need to solve these problems before taking on new people." and "At this stage in EAO's development, I think I need very high credence in the person to make additional hires and I don't think I'm there currently."
On whether funding EA London is a good use of funds they said they "think EA's funding EA London is totally reasonable" and have been generally positive about the out-puts of EA London. EAO have their own plans for paid EA coordinators in large cities further down the line, and we hope the actions of EA London can support this
Will I have a say over how you use my donation?
You will have limited input on the details of how your donation is spent but if this is a big reason to consider not donating then get in touch. Currently everyone in EA London can have a say on how they see the London EA movement progressing at the quarterly strategy meetings. As mentioned there will also likely be some form of oversight committee, but it is unclear who will be on it.
What is your plan for monitoring and evaluating impact?
We will be looking to measure impact across all of this. We are open to the best ways of measuring impact but we will consider metrics such as self-reported change in behaviour or in career plans, taking the GWWC pledge and amounts donated.
We will collect data through, focused conversations with individuals, surveys at events, the global EA survey, and passively by monitoring attendance numbers and GWWC pledges.
How did you estimate your impact to date?
We carried out surveys of attendees at social events. Our impact was largely estimated from the results of surveys taken at events. This data and some analysis are available here.
We primarily looked at answers to the question “Do you think that these events, run by EA London, have caused an effect on any behaviours you perform?” Where 1 is no effect and 4 is yes a big effect. Of 21 regular attendees asked 2 said “3” and 4 said “4”. A significant behaviour change means answering 3 or 4 on the question. Please note that this is asking if people have in the past changed their behaviour, we did not look at changes to plans or intention to change behaviour.
The estimated the number of attendees over the course of a year and calculated that about that 21.1 regular attendees at social events saw a significant change in their behaviour. Rather than rounding to 20 we rounded this up to 25 to account for people who saw a significant behaviour change as a result of attending the 80K workshop which saw 9 change career plans.
As the effects on people who only attended 1 or 2 socials or talks are largely unmeasured and unaccounted for. We therefore suspect that the amount of significant behaviour changes caused to be higher than 25. Hence our final estimate is 25+ significant behaviour changes have happened this year as a result of EA London.
How did you estimate the expected returns?
We considered two different methods of coming up with expected returns:
- Calculated based on experience of running EA London so far
- Based on comparison of other similar projects
Method 1 - on experience. Different people who had worked on EA London made a number of different estimates of the expected return of investing additional time into EA London considering various different bits of data available. These estimates were then combined and a final estimate created. We 80-135 significant behaviour changes which is roughly somewhat over 100 significant behaviour changes as a result of funding EA London for one year (after subtracting the behaviour changes that would happen anyway). The details of how we calculated this can be found here.
Method 2 - comparison. In this case we considered the rate of return of GWWC and 80K, which seem to be the closest most relevant similar projects. GWWC has got a pledge for just over £500 spent (and 80K has lead to a significant career plan change for each £1,667 spent). We took a weighted average of how effective these projects are at causing a behaviour change (see: p4 here). We then calculate that if we spent £30,000 on EA London and had a similar rate of return we would have a counterfactual impact of roughly 45 significant behavior changes. Expecting pledges to be more likely this comes to 15 career changes and 30 pledges. Giving a reasonable range to reflect uncertainty this becomes 10-20 career changes and 20-40 pledges
Concluding steps: Overall, it is very promising that our calculated expected impact gave similar but slightly higher results than our reference class comparison. It is plausible that our expected impact lies somewhere between the two. Reference class comparisons are thought to be much better than calculated estimates. So in the end we went with the second method, but slightly raised the upper bound of the estimates to reflect the higher results of method 1. This gives us the estimated returns of 10-30 career changes and 20-55 GWWC pledgees. The upper bound here is roughly mid-way between the upper bound from Method 2 and the estimated returns of method 1.
We expect that as well as these impacts there will be a significant impacts though:
- Knowledge gained through experimenting in movement building.
- Benefits and support provided to existing EAs. The group will help keep those already involved in politics, earning to give and other EA activities in London connected to the EA community. The group will support London EAs and get EAs networking with and helping one another.
(Note: This section was edited following feedback)
How much have you raised so far?
A total of how much has been donated can be found here.
What function will the oversight committee play?
A function of the oversight committee will be to act as a backstop to ensure that there are no problems, (for example if Sam is unable to work or is performing poorly).
Another function of the oversight committee will be to provide mentoring and support to the staff member in specific areas. For example in marketing, data collection, movement building, event management, etc. If you or someone you know has skills and a few years of experience in any of these areas or other relevant areas, and would be interested in helping out, then please get in touch.
I have feedback on the plan.
Get in touch email email@example.com or comment below.