Stanford EA History and Lessons Learned

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Written by Alex Richard.

 

1) Getting Official Approval

 

We had significant trouble getting official approval; it wound up taking us over two years. Lessons learned:

 

  • Be very, very careful about implying (or even hinting) that other groups are less than optimally effective. We may (or may not? memory is difficult) have done so at our first meeting, which left university staff very reluctant to approve us.

  • Check whether your school explicitly desires or opposes affiliation with an outside organization. In our case, we were originally rejected partially because of concerns over our close affiliation with THINK; when we eventually were approved, it was as Stanford EA, not as Stanford THINK. On the other hand, at other schools it might be easier to get approved if you are explicitly an affiliate of a broader organization. You should figure this out before applying- just shoot a quick email to whoever’s in charge of registering new groups.

 

2) Expect Very Low Initial Turnout

 

During its first year of existence, Stanford EA both had very low turnout (never exceeding 4) and only irregular meetings. (We now have regular turnout of ~20-25 and meet twice a week.)

 

  • In my [Alex Richard’s] experience, one of the main reasons local organizations close down is that their founders get discouraged by low initial turnout, go for maybe 4 weekly meetings with just them and 1-2 other people, and then give up.

  • Some people will come once, then never come again; ¼-⅕ of people will come once and then come very consistently. Once a few consistent members aside from the original founders join, the group is very likely to survive the next few years. (The next trouble spot will likely be when the original members graduate, which hasn’t occurred at SEA yet.)

  • Crucial for groups’ early survival is that the original founders/founder and first members are or become friends outside of the meetings. This will keep people engaged even when it appears that outreach is not going as well as could be hoped. (Once a decent sized group has regular meetings, this is no longer needed; at our summer meetings most of our original members were elsewhere for the summer, but they’ve still been going fine.)

  • I’m not sure how to fix this in general; suggestions include:

    • Lower expectations of initial turnout/clarify that chapter leaders will likely need to wait around 1-2 years until the group is large and self-sustaining-ish

    • Focus more on initial recruitment, to make it more likely that the group gets big and sustainable quickly

      • Not sure if this will work; I feel like our history, the norms we’ve established through trial and error, and our community are important above and beyond the number of individual members. One possibility is to hope that there is shared community at the start, via either LW or people who are already EA’s in an area

 

3) Establish A Regular Meeting That Draws People

 

  • We described ours here; all materials are here

  • Other models: Harvard brings in speakers, Berkeley teaches a class

 

4) Recruitment Methods We’ve Tried

 

  • Relying on personal contacts: Generally low yield, but produced committed people. Was better for us at the start; we eventually basically ran out of easily recruitable and interested people we knew.

  • Posting to EA Forum and LW Meetups list: super effective given the minimal time it takes. We got maybe ¼ of our regular attendees from these posts.

  • Blind emails: Not effective. We ‘recruited’ exactly one person this way.

  • Advertising in-person to interested groups: Effective for us. (e.g. relevant classes, other relevant student groups)

  • General outreach: e.g. sharing our website/mailing list, handing out flyers, etc. Was probably not effective, at least in terms of getting new attendees to our meetings

 

Thanks to Michael Dickens, Caroline Ellison, and Kelsey Piper for providing feedback on this post.