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Intro

EA Wellington (EAW) in New Zealand, has been iterating on the same basic stall idea since 2021, we have found this low cost method to be effective at encouraging engagement at the stall, with mixed results in people then turning up to our regular events, and unknown impact on people’s long term thinking.

This post outlines how we ran the stall at a recent Clubs’ Day at our local university, including the thinking behind some of our decisions, what we learnt from the process, and some things you might want to consider if you’re running a stall.

This post was written by me (Tom) with feedback from the rest of the EAW exec. I use “we” a lot, and when expressing opinions this generally means “I think this and no-one else challenged it when reading the draft”.

I pulled some parts of this post from our Clubs’ Day Planning document put together by Oscar, a lightly edited version of which is available here. I also consulted Peter and Daniel’s post on their experience in 2021.

The Why

To put an outcome focus on our efforts we set 4 specific goals for our stall:

1) Tell people about our upcoming events.

In particular our session the following week with Luke Freeman from GWWC running a workshop on effective giving.

2) Get people to sign up for a temporary (2 emails) email list.

This list was used to support Goals 1, 3, & 4 after Club’s week

3) Tell people about the EAW Facebook page.

This is the best place for updates about upcoming EAW events

4) Offer people a free EA-themed book.

Only for those who were particularly engaged. This could either be a physical copy of “The Life You Can Save”. Or by telling them about the 80,000 hours book giveaway, or the EANZ Doing Good Better Giveaway.

The How

Below is a broad overview of our process on the day. For a more detailed and less refined take have a look at our planning document[1] 

0) Interact with people - The Hook

To achieve our goals we first needed to get people interested and interacting with us.

Our Hook was having a bag of pasta and 4 plastic tubes with images and text representing cause areas/charities on the table. As people walked past, and often slowed down to figure out what was going on, we’d ask them if they wanted to vote for one of our charities. Once they came over we’d explain that we’re donating $100 to these 4 charities, with the money being distributed based on the votes, and offer them a pasta shell to vote with.

Once they’d voted, or as they were voting (depending on how fast they were) we’d start to talk about the decision, EA, our events, etc, with a mind to our specific goals. “Have you heard of Effective Altruism before?” was a good default segue into an explanation of the wider movement and what we do as a group: “We meet every Tuesday evening at [location], here’s a list of our upcoming events.”

This worked fairly well to get people interested. There were multiple people who would have walked past had we not asked them to vote, who then seemed really engaged in talking about EA. We also had comments from people taking part that this was a good way to get them interested in the stall.

Part of the strength of this approach is making it easy for (particularly more shy) people to approach, they don’t have to come up and start a conversation out of the blue because there’s a clearly defined activity to take part in. This also very naturally leads into discussion on EA in general, specific cause areas, or having to make choices with finite resources.

1) Tell people about our upcoming events.

On either side of the voting set-up we had an A4 poster listing our upcoming events and providing QR codes for our Facebook Page and Clubs’ Day Mailing List sign up. We’d call attention to these and encourage people to take a photo, which also gave people an easy exit strategy if they weren’t actually interested but felt awkward leaving.[2]

Our workshop on High Impact Giving (intentionally scheduled for after Clubs’ Week as a good intro event)[3] was the main event we promoted. This flowed fairly well from the voting “Yeah it is a pretty tough decision. We’ve actually got a workshop next Tuesday all about making decisions like this, and how to make your donations have the most impact!”

2) Get people to sign up for a temporary (2 emails) email list.

As well as the QR codes, we had a laptop with our two question google form sign up[4]. The form noted that this would be just 1-2 emails[5], and we made sure to state this when asking people if they wanted to sign up. We don’t run an ongoing Newsletter as EAW[6], and didn’t want people thinking it was a bigger commitment than it was.

Very few people used the QR code/their phones instead of the laptop, so having this available likely led to a higher number of sign-ups. The first email we sent can be viewed here. The second will be very similar.

3) Tell people about the EAW Facebook page.

The QR code on the poster saw some use here, given how fast they are to set up we’d definitely recommend having them any time you want people to go to a url.

4) Offer people a free EA-themed book.

We had ~12 copies of The Life You Can Save and a single copy of Doing Good Better to give away[7]. These made for good set dressing for the table, and occasionally after/while we were talking people would pick them up to read the back. Usually we’d wait for this to happen before letting people know they could keep it: “If you’re keen to read it, it’s all yours!”. 

At least one person who had previously been to the stall came back to ask how much we were selling the books for, which maybe means some people who would have read them missed out. We opted for small text and talking about free books rather than a big sign to balance wider exposure with meaningful engagement, and to direct the limited number of books we had to people who would actually read them, and hopefully pass them on to others.[8] I.e. We wanted people engaging with EA and leaving with a free book, not engaging with the stall purely for the free book.

From day 2 (once our physical book stocks were getting low) we also set up a QR code on the email sign-up screen linking to the EANZ Doing Good Better Giveaway.

Results

Some context on numbers: EAW is a hybrid group of students and working professionals, with the balance skewed heavily towards working professionals. Prior to Clubs’ week we had ~40 regular members, and 10-20 people at any individual event.

Over the 3 days we had in depth conversations with ~30 people, and interacted, typically for 1-5 minutes with ~200[9] people including multiple city councilors and the Leader of the Opposition[10]. Overall people seemed interested and there were significantly more meaningful interactions (>90%) than people just voting and leaving.

We had one (1)[11] new person at the High Impact Giving Workshop as a result of clubs’ day, they were a friend of a regular member and while clubs’ day was the final push to attend they may have attended anyway in several counterfactual situations.

We had 16 email sign-ups on the first day, 20 on the second, and 1 on the third (different campus with a very different vibe to the clubs’ day).

FB analytics currently says we have 7 new likes and 11 new followers, my draft of this post from immediately after clubs’ week (2.5 weeks ago) recorded 8 likes and 14 followers. The analytics show data over the last 28 days, so this means we had lower new engagements during/after clubs’ week than immediately before.

We gave away ~10 EA books to people, and encouraged another ~5 to order books online.

Some things we didn’t do

Fellowship

In previous years we’ve tried to run a fellowship/reading group. We’ve found that while sign-ups may be high, interest drops off very quickly. This also creates significant extra workload for our exec. This year we instead chose to focus on getting people along to the high quality events we are already running, and to consider running a reading group if we had enough new people, who remain engaged after a few weeks of regular events. In hindsight this seems like a good decision as any effort to set this up would have been wasted.[12]

Long form mailing list

As mentioned above we don’t run an ongoing newsletter. We talked about setting one up, but this seemed like extra work, especially when the nationwide newsletter exists. Our experience (/vibe) is also that newsletter sign-ups at Clubs’ Day don’t translate well into engagement.

Sticker/bookmark/EAW branded paraphernalia giveaways

We’ve done this in the past, but again it doesn’t seem to translate into meaningful engagement.

Conclusion

Based on our experience we’re unsure if this is an effective way to run a stall. We observed higher engagement than nearby stalls[13] and generally felt like we did a good job at creating engagement with EA ideas in the moment. We don’t know if this engagement at the stall translated into meaningful engagement with EA ideas in the long term, and it did not lead to significantly increased attendance at our events.

We think it’s likely that our tabling strategy is comparatively good for creating initial engagements, and that in order to be more successful we need to work on conversion into outcomes, adjust our events to be more appealing to students (e.g. by changing location)[14], or not treat tabling as a recruitment pathway (i.e. have more directed student recruitment initiatives, and/or treat clubs’ day as a chance to share EA ideas).

We would be interested to hear from other groups around their challenges and successes with tabling!

In terms of running an engaging stall, we think the most important elements for us were:

  • An easy to bite Hook. Something that:
  • Let interested and socially awkward people engage with us without having to start a conversation with strangers themselves, and
  • Was visually interesting so people slowed down long enough to be asked to come over
  • A clear idea of our target outcomes.
  • Making it as easy as possible for people to meet those outcomes through e.g.
  • A laptop for email sign ups
  • QR codes for links
  • A clear conversational pathway with actions to take “Here’s a list of our upcoming events, you can take a photo if you want”

For further reading we recommend this guide, this post from EAW in 2021, and our 2023 planning doc.

  1. ^

     Everyone behind the table read/contributed to this so we were all on approximately the same page, and so people had ideas for things to say and ways to respond to more awkward questions e.g. SBF/FTX

  2. ^

     We want to spend our time with people who are interested, so giving an out is better for them and for us

  3. ^

     I had some initial hesitancy about an intro event being highly donation focused, because of the “welcome to our group, please give us all your money” optics. After 3 days tabling I noted that: “This worked well, didn’t come across too strongly, and I would now advocate for running a similar event at this time in future years”. Given the lack of follow through I’m now less convinced this was a good idea (and would be interested in people’s thoughts on this in the comments)

  4. ^

     1: Name 2: email address

  5. ^

     We hadn’t decided whether it would be 1 or 2 at the time

  6. ^

     We did link to the EANZ newsletter sign-up in our first email, for anyone wanting ongoing updates

  7. ^

     Donated by one of our members, in future we’d aim to have slightly more books in total, and more copies of Doing Good Better.

  8. ^

     Plus there’s some optics stuff about loudly giving away free books advocating for a specific worldview

  9. ^

     I was not counting at the time, these numbers are based on memory and have wide error bars

  10. ^

     Who on current polling may be our Prime Minister before the end of the year

  11. ^
  12. ^

     There’s an argument to be made that a Fellowship/Book club may have seen more engagement/buy-in. I don’t find this argument compelling.

  13. ^

     Not including the political party stalls that have incredibly strong existing brand recognition and a strong built in audience

  14. ^

     We currently meet at a side campus (where we did day 3 of tabling) that is more convenient for most our non-student members but less convenient for most students

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:58 AM

Thank you for going through the effort of writing this up!

Ditto this experience of a successful stall (we've also been iterating on a set up similar to yours) but difficulty translating that into regular event attendance (about a handful). EA UNSW (Australia). New member influx tends to come from catching folks who have discovered EA via internet or through event collaborations with other related societies. Tabling at the start of the year has caught such EA internet lurkers.

To add more data here from a different location, we ran tabling (~30 hours / 70 man-hours) across 4 different universities in first month of term, and did not go on to find any significant impact (i.e. newsletter sign-ups, but no-new members). 

Thanks for sharing—this seems like a good strategy. I'm curious what people said when you asked whether they had heard of EA; like, what percent had, and of those, what percent had a positive/neutral/negative impression?

I'd say maybe 10% of people we talked to said they'd heard of EA. Most of those were fairly evenly split between "Positive impression after having some form of previous/current engagement" and "Have seen news about FTX/SBF", with some overlap between the two groups. There were 1 or 2 with vague neutral impressions. 

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