[‘Operations’ (in the effective altruism community) refers to everything that supports and facilitates direct work, from HR to finance to office management to recruiting]
One of the key challenges facing the EA community is the lack of much-needed operational support - which drove us to form Anti Entropy. We believe that by providing guidance, tools, and resources to equip and empower EAs for effective operations management, we can help EA organizations to survive and thrive.
In this post, we share our thoughts on the challenge for EA operations, what the EA community can do about this, and what Anti Entropy offers.
Why is ops support lacking?
We set up Anti Entropy to address a general lack of operational support in the community. What causes this situation?
First, there are relatively few experienced ops professionals in the community. Second, good resources are limited or inadequately vetted. And third, EA founders and organizational leaders don’t always take advantage of existing operational support. For example, a newly-formed organization may not be aware that they can pay a hiring agency to help them with hiring; or they may not have the budget to use one even if they are aware of them because they didn’t anticipate this expense when they applied for funding.
This is exacerbated by a culture of frugality and self-sufficiency in EA. Grantees feel like they need to spend their funding responsibly, which is generally good and admirable, but often they are not given clear guidance on what ‘responsible’ means and what the funders would or would not consider a ‘responsible,’ reasonable use. So they err on the side of caution and inaction.
This leads to several problems:
Organizations fail unnecessarily
A lack of operational support can cause promising organizations to shut down prematurely. This is often due to practical issues rather than a lack of impact or bad ideas. This is particularly concerning for new or rapidly-growing organizations, which may struggle to keep up with the demands of fast growth. A lack of ops support can lead to bottlenecks, internal cultural issues, a loss of efficiency, and an unnecessary loss of impact.
Stress and burnout
Even among organizations that succeed, employees are more stressed and prone to burnout. Ops people have too much responsibility and not enough support. In some cases, employees who are not specifically trained in operations may be required to take on operational tasks in addition to their normal work, leading to overwork and burnout.
While the need for operational support in the EA community has been recognized in the past, this has sometimes led to people taking on operational roles without the necessary training or support. Luckily, this has become less common, but there is still room for improvement.
People sometimes think, ‘I don’t need to hire an ops person to deal with taxes/write my grievance policy/deal with the bureaucracy of setting up a nonprofit - I’ll just look up how to do those things myself’. Unfortunately, this can lead to people relying on inaccurate or inappropriate information, potentially leading to legal issues.
For example, a UK organization can’t use a US vacation policy since the laws are different. Similarly, some topics related to organizations’ financial status are very poorly understood - for example, what does it mean to ‘set up an entity’, ‘get fiscally sponsored’, or hire people ‘as an independent contractor’? When organizational leaders don’t understand these things, it can lead to them unwittingly breaking the law.
What can I do?
If you’re currently working in operations for an EA organization
- Check the Anti Entropy website for resources to help with common operational challenges.
- Get help and support from organizations like cFactual (strategy and decision making), Altruistic Agency (tech development and support), Pineapple Operations (ops, personal assistant, and executive assistant people matching), High Impact Recruitment (hiring and recruiting), or User-Friendly (branding and marketing).
- Don’t be afraid to ask for additional funding for the operational support you need. Most funders understand the importance of strong operations and are willing to provide additional funding for this purpose. If you're not sure whether a certain use of funds is appropriate, ask for clarity. Make sure that expectations are clear between you and your funders.
- Have a budget for operations work and professional development for your operational staff. This will help to ensure that your operations are well-managed and effective over time.
If you’re an EA funder or grantmaker
Funders can help here by explicitly advising grantees about the operational expenses that they may need to budget for: for example, hiring, accounting, HR, office management, and professional development. If grant applicants haven’t included these expenses in their grant proposals, funders can encourage them to include them or offer additional funds specifically for this.
Funders can also make it explicit that grantees are allowed to use their general budget for things like hiring accountants, recruiters, office managers, HR people, and generalist operations people. This will empower grantees to use the money on these essential but often overlooked services without worrying about whether it is a misuse of their grant.
If you’re keen to found an EA organization
Consider founding an organization providing services, consultants, and coaches to help organizations scale.
If you’re interested in providing a certain service, but an organization addressing that need already exists, don’t worry too much about overlap. Chances are there is demand for many organizations doing the same thing or that you’ll fill a slightly different niche than the original organization.
From our experience working with EA clients, we believe that there is a lot of room for collaboration and/or competition - we invite more talented individuals to serve the EA community for stronger foundations in operations.
If you have some uncertainties about what services might be needed in the community- feel free to reach out to us! We’d be happy to help you think through your plans and provide advice if needed.
What Anti Entropy can help with
Anti Entropy is an organization that offers operations support to EA organizations. We currently offer the following services:
- Operational Consulting - Direct assistance to EA organizations to: (i) free up team members’ time to focus on their core impact and responsibilities; (ii) help organizations tackle large or complex projects, saving organizational bandwidth and time spent on unfamiliar ops-based tasks; and (iii) allow organizations to scale up effectively with minimal friction.
- Resource Portal - A vetted database of tools and resources for all of the EA ops community.
In the coming year, we plan to expand how we serve organizations in the EA community by: (i) improving and expanding the resource portal; and (ii) launching a series of specific enablement programs and workshops surrounding operations management.
The goal is to continue to equip ops professionals to be able to quickly apply resources, tools, and knowledge directly to their respective organizations.
Let’s support each other for better EA ops
Through Anti Entropy, we hope to create a culture of strong support for operations professionals in the EA community.
We believe that by providing guidance, tools, and resources to equip and empower EAs for effective operations management, we can help EA organizations to survive, thrive, and achieve better impact - reducing chaos one organization at a time!
If this post has inspired you, if you need any help regarding operations and how to contribute to organizations as an EA, or if you’d like to join us in the pursuit of our mission, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
that's one heck of an endorsement!
"Don’t worry too much about overlap. Chances are there is demand for many organizations doing the same thing or that you’ll fill a slightly different niche than the original organization."
I think this is good advice. There's a lot of (justified) focus on neglectedness in EA, but this is often confused with one-of-a-kind-ness, when in reality there can be multiple organizations providing the same service and it is still neglected/in short supply. EAs who want to help can found new projects that are basically just using a pre-existing template in another context/niche.