Wanted to get community feedback and optimization suggestions on promoting effective giving using list-style articles.


The purpose for list-style articles would be similar to other types of effective giving content, namely to lead people to shift their giving toward more effective charities from less effective ones. To be clear, it is not to get people to join the Effective Altruism movement, to avoid the danger of rapid movement growth (see this video and paper). It is also not to get people to go down the Earning To Give path, as most likely only a small portion of people should go down that road, and moreover the EA movement as such faces a higher talent gap than funding gap. Instead, the goal is to redirect some of the hundreds of billions spent per year on charitable giving toward effective causes.


Now, getting to why use list-style articles as such. On the one hand, most list-style articles pattern-match with shallow content, not something that EAs typically appreciate. On the other hand, list-style articles are one of the most widely read and shared types of content on the web, and there are specific strategies for doing high-quality list-style articles.


One concern is that these articles might be a turn-off for people who are oriented toward more high-brow content, and would not be inclined to learn about effective giving and especially effective altruism due to it being presented in a list-style article form. To address this concern, I think we should aim to avoid using the term "Effective Giving" and certainly "Effective Altruism" in the title of a list-style article. Thus, anyone just glancing at the headline would not be turned off by seeing this term in association with a list-style article. Only the people who click on the article and read it would learn about this term and the organizations associated with it. Since the readers of a list-style article are the ones who would enjoy list-style articles and not be put off by them, they would be highly unlikely to be negatively impacted by this type of article and the message of effective giving as conveyed by it, and instead would be impacted positively, on a weak to strong range.


To practice an experimental and data-gathering approach, I decided to try to publish a list-style article, and got this one, "8 Secrets of Savvy Donors," placed in The Huffington Post. It does not reference effective giving in the title, but talks about it in the body of the text. It is written in an engaging manner, has a clear narrative, conveys emotions, has a variety of images, and conveys a mixture of helpful ideas with promotion of EA organizations, such as Giving What We Can, GiveWell, and The Life You Can Save. It briefly mentions effective altruism as a movement, but does not specifically tie positive emotions with it, and suggests readers contact effective altruists for strategies on donating effectively. I suspect this is the first EA-written and EA-themed list-style article, but please correct me if I'm wrong - I know EAs made other broad-type content, such as memes, but not list-style articles.


Posted less than 48 hours ago, this article is spreading organically on social media with minimum publicity. I have not yet shared it with any EA groups, but it has already been shared more than 160 times on StumbleUpon, for example, as of the time of this writing (most articles published at the same time as this one on The Huffington Post Impact section, where this article was published, have less than 20 social shares). Social media shares provide significant evidence of reader enthusiasm for this article, since people are willing to put their personal social capital into sharing the article for their Facebook friends, Twitter followers, StumbleUpon followers etc. to read. Of course, social media sharing also has the additional benefit of many more people getting exposed to the content - a general rule of thumb is that for every social media share, 100 people read the article thoroughly, and many more skim it.


Another benefit of list-style articles is that they are well suited for fellow EAs to share on their social media. This is because EAs who are social media savvy know that this type of article will be more likely to be read by non-EAs in their social circle, and shared by other EAs. Thus, EAs can help spur social sharing of this type of article strategically, knowing the positive consequences of doing so.


A more broad medium-term goal would be to provide a depository of such articles that EAs can draw from and adapt to their local context. All of you should feel free to do so as well. Another medium-term goal is to have some EAs who specialize in marketing effective giving ideas for a broad audience. This should help address one area of talent gap in the current EA movement. For more on promoting effective giving from a systematic perspective, see this post.


Now, I'd appreciate your thoughts on this article. Does it work to convey the benefits of effective giving in an easy-to-read and engaging manner? Knowing about the benefits of sharing this type of article, would you share this article on your social media?


Also, would appreciate your thoughts on the meta issues, the strategy of using list-style articles as a way of spreading EA-style ideas about effective giving. Thanks!


P.S. This article is part of the EA Marketing Resource Bank project lead by Intentional Insights and the Local Effective Altruism Network, with support from The Life You Can Save.






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You say that you're not trying to get people to join the EA movement, to avoid the issues of rapid movement growth, and cite my paper on this.

I wanted to say that I can see some of the same issues arising, to varying degrees, when spreading the memes which are central to the movement. Effective giving seems like it falls into this category: it would be possible for a bad presentation to turn people off the ideas altogether. I don't think the direct danger of that is all that high, though it's something to bear in mind. I'm a bit more concerned about building momentum around different versions of the core ideas. This could lead to the same kind of bad dynamics I was worried about, with the advantage that there is a bit less reputational damage since the brands are separate, but the disadvantage that it is much harder to coordinate the broader community, or get people to find the high-quality stuff when relevant.

On balance my guess is that these disadvantages outweigh the advantages. I therefore think it would be better not to use the new term 'super-donor' which looks like a term of art and could cause memetic clustering. I'd prefer just using straightforward language which means what it says -- "effective giving" is very good from this perspective.

I actually think it may be good to mention effective altruism somewhere, but buried -- the idea being not to try to bring as many readers as possible on board, but to provide a hook so that people for whom the article strongly resonates have something to follow up.

Owen, thanks a lot for that feedback!

First, regarding citing your paper: my goal in doing so was to give more information to people who don't have a strong awareness of the complexities of movement growth, in order to make them aware of the dangers involved. I hope that clarifies things regarding my intentions there. The same for Kerry Vaugn's video.

Regarding spreading memes about effective giving, I think I can see your concern with using the term Superdonor as a potential source of memetic clustering. Let me echo to make sure I understand correctly what you mean. You are concerned about people congregating around the term "Superdonor" and it leading to the building of momentum around an essentially different version of core ideas, correct? Another way of saying it would be to suggest that the term "Superdonor" would be something that people build a sense of identity and even community around?

Instead, you suggest that the best thing to do to promote the ideas themselves would be to use straightforward language such as "effective giving" or "research charities before you give" or "plan your giving in advance." This would minimize the problem of memetic clustering, as people are unlikely to build an identity around straightforward language.

I see what you mean now that you pointed out the dangers of self-identification. That's a downside I and Jon Behar had not considered. I will bring it to him and we will talk about it - thanks for pointing it out!

You also suggest mentioning effective altruism somewhere in a buried fashion. I think I did that in the article I cited above, in point 7 - does that seem the kind of buried hook that you had in mind? If so, then we're on the same wavelength.

Yes, no problem with citing it. I just had an initial negative reaction to the interpretation because (i) I thought "that's not quite what it means" (although it's extremely close), and (ii) I had the same thought about the link to Ben's piece later in the sentence (he argues that only a minority of EAs should earn-to-give long-term; you say only a minority of people should earn-to-give).

Yes, you have understood my concern correctly (and thanks for repeating back to me in your words -- that's an efficient way of checking).

Yes, I like that buried hook. :)

Owen, glad to get on the same page. I'll work on getting the phrasing more clear in citing papers, thanks for giving me feedback on that, much appreciated!

I don't know that there's been that much downvoting, when on balance the score is -1, but it does say that it's been 55% downvoted, so that implies that before I arrived there were 4 up, 5 down, most likely. First, I'll say that the top link you provide is about encouraging more voting behavior, not discouraging downvotes.

Second, I'll provide my best guess on the reasons for downvotes.

This author has been posting... a lot. This is the third post in the last 48 hours, and the EA Forum often goes 48 hours without any posts at all. Furthermore, each post is also shared on 3-5+ EA Facebook groups.

This would be fine but, at the risk of overgeneralizing, the posts seem to score just so-so on some key considerations that make some other posts on the EA Forum great. Things these posts score just so-so on are compellingness/proof, understanding/engagement/knowledge of EA, relevance to EA, non-obviousness, and uniqueness. It doesn't help that they seem to pattern-match quite strongly for self-promotion, and that the author is new to the community with unknown background (meaning there's a higher hurdle for believability in expertise and engagement).

I think it's great for people new to the community to put their thoughts out there, but as often as this has occurred, in this manner, and on the EA Forum, perhaps aren't the best fit. EA Hangout and EA Movement Building are two Facebook groups that might be a better match, although I'd also suggest that these types of posts would benefit from more humility/restraint as well.

As someone who's still on the newish side of EA, I've been struggling with some of these same things as well, learning how to craft a post that is really compelling with the EA community. I'm working to improve myself, and while I maybe haven't gotten the downvotes that this one received, I've gotten feedback that's been highly upvoted on my other posts and has shown that I have work to do in my writing here.

Thanks for the feedback, helpful stuff!

Regarding the self-promotional stuff, I will repeat what I stated earlier. I generally have an approach of saying the things that I will do, and then doing them, and then getting feedback from the community about them. My goal is to try to improve based on feedback. This helps explain the multiple posts, I think.

I can see how it might come off as self-promotional to some, though - they can't read my mind about my motivations. Having gotten some feedback about the perception of self-promotional just a bit earlier, I will aim to mention Intentional Insights less in my posts - for example, in the post above, I did not mention it once. I will also decrease the number of EA forum postings.

Regarding FB groups, I find that many people find it easier to engage on FB than in the EA forum, and so I make a longer post on the EA forum, and then let folks know about it on FB. It promotes a more dynamic form of discussion. Similar to what Tom did with raising the question regarding downvoting on FB, in some ways. I do hear what you're saying about posting to several groups, though, and will keep in mind to reduce the FB group posts.

I see the downvoting trend as a symptom of some potentially problematic community dynamics. I think this warrants a top-level post so we can hash out what the purpose, value, and risks are of downvotes.

Ironic that your comment was downvoted by someone. I think this exemplifies the need for a top-level post.

It seems that the point of upvoting and downvoting is not for people to use it for purposes of popularity and anonymity, but to evaluate quality of ideas independent of who they came from, and also to signal to others whether they should engage with the post or not. For example, a good policy change is for people explain their justifications for downvoting as part of downvoting something.

I'd also be interested to know that. I want to optimize what I'm doing, and the downvoting doesn't really encourage optimization - I don't know what people are reacting to. Comments are much more helpful :-)

Hi Gleb, I was the first person who voted on this post at all and it was a downvote. I didn't explain it immediately because people's preferences for whether they like explanations or not seem to differ.

My reasons were the same that other people have mentioned before - you write a lot in a small forum, that can come across as overwhelming and I think it would be preferable if you (had) made one long post with all your ideas.

Your posts also have a weak feeling of being self-promotional to me.

I wasn't sure whether you preferred public or private feedback, if you prefer private feedback, I'm happy to delete this comment.

(I also just decided not to approve your posts in the 'Effektiver Altruismus' FB group for roughly the same reasons.)

Denise, thanks a lot for the explanation! Really appreciate it.

I generally have a perspective that we're all in this movement together, and have some disagreements about getting to shared goals. But if we don't give each other feedback, how will we learn and improve? Private feedback is fine, or public feedback if you think others should see it, but some kind of feedback is super-helpful :-)

Regarding the many posts, I'd like to understand more how it might come across as overwhelming. After all, people may choose to read them or not.

On the point of writing one long post versus more smaller ones, what I tend to find is that as I get feedback on smaller posts, I update, think more, have more interactions, and then my ideas develop to write another post. I see this as the essence of community engagement - co-creating ideas collaboratively, not me coming up with ideas in isolation and then writing about them.

I accept your choice for the FB group. I'm curious what are the attitudes of members of the group about this. If you want to figure it out, it should be easy enough to do via a FB poll. Not saying you need to do it, and I'm fine with your choice just based on your say-so, but this would be the way of gathering evidence that I would take if I wanted evidence.

I hear you about the self-promotional stuff. I generally have an approach of saying the things that I will do, and then doing them, and then getting feedback from the community about them. My goal is to try to improve based on feedback. I can see how it might come off as self-promotional to some, though - they can't read my mind about my motivations. Having gotten some feedback about the perception of self-promotional just a bit earlier, I will aim to mention Intentional Insights less in my posts - for example, in the post above, I did not mention it once.

I didn't explain it immediately because people's preferences for whether they like explanations or not seem to differ.

This makes sense. :) Ideally people should get to specify whether they prefer to have public versus private criticism, as having public criticism forced on them without their requesting it would likely put a lot of people off entering into EA discussions altogether.

Maybe it would be useful to have a rule that you can only downvote after you post a comment?

I like that idea! Then people can choose to avoid revealing that they downvoted, but would have to post comments at least.

Again, ironic that someone downvoted your comment - I upvoted it when I posted this.

Not really ironic - just clearly someone who disagrees.

Should people downvote just because they disagree? I'm not saying they shouldn't, just that it'd be good to have a discussion of this. :) I've just started one in the latest open thread. I've heard people argue that they shouldn't, and the text that appears when you other over the upvote/downvote icons suggests as much.

Thanks for starting the discussion, Tom!

It's a pretty universal standard on websites with comment voting that you shouldn't downvote to indicate disagreement. People still do it anyway though.

Yup, people do it anyway, I just hoped EAs would be better about it. We're all in this together, after all - we share the same goal, even if disagreeing somewhat about the methods.

Why is that an universal agreement?

Common reasons I hear:

  • Downvoting for disagreement creates an insular environment where people only see popular opinions.
  • We should vote based on quality, not agreement, so that the top comments are high quality even if a lot of people disagree with them.

You misunderstand me. I don't think the person is down voting because they disagree, but the fact they are down voting without commenting is an indication they disagree that a down vote requires a comment. That's not ironic.

Ah ok, gotcha. Sorry for misunderstanding.

I didn't downvote, but something I didn't like was citing pieces in support of claims which are subtly different from the claims they actually make.

[I do support allowing people to down vote without explanation, although of course explanation is better where possible.]

I responded about this below.