TL;DR

  • Good content can reach a lot of people with a relatively low investment of time, effort, and money.
     
  • We have a huge potential to grow the number of people aware of effective giving principles through good-quality content.
     
  • The kind of content we want to produce can get people to donate more effectively, but also has indirect value by getting more people interested in EA as a whole.
     
  • We can build a large audience while maintaining a commitment to excellent research quality.
     
  • There are many ways to get involved with our content team. You could:
    • Apply to write for us on a contract basis.
    • Submit a blog post. To do so, email julian.hazell@givingwhatwecan.org with a brief pitch about what you’d like to write about, and a bit about yourself. If successful, you’ll be published on our website.
    • Work with us to summarise your academic research for our audience.
    • Have a member profile written about you if you’ve taken a pledge.
    • Use some other creative skill to help us produce something awesome (think illustrations, videos, or infographics).
    • Reach out to us with that great idea we haven’t even considered.

Intro

I started writing for Giving What We Can back in 2020 as a volunteer, and then joined the team a few months ago to work on our content production. We have plans to massively ramp up our content output in 2022, and we’d like you to be a part of them. 

If you’re someone who is a particularly strong writer or creator, you could play a key role in making these plans a success. In this post I'll explain the ‘why’ by outlining the reasons I think content can be extremely impactful, and the ‘how’ by providing clear ways you can get involved.

Why

Content can be impactful

Good content can impact a lot of people.

Our two best-performing blog posts each received around 25,000 unique views in under a year. In addition, our How Rich Am I calculator and our charity recommendations page each receive hundreds of thousands of views each year. This is just conjecture, but I feel confident that the return on investment on pieces like these can be huge relative to the time it takes to write, edit, and promote them. 

If each well-performing article causes just one person to either pledge, become highly engaged with EA, or both, the benefits can far exceed the costs. But even thinking solely about the pledge, for example, still shows the large potential for impact that content can have. Our current best guess [1] of a counterfactual pledge's value is $73,000; even if you think the real number is a half, or even a quarter of this, the benefits still seem like they significantly exceed the costs of writing an article or some other form of content. And we think good content can affect far more than just one person in this way. 

Sam Harris’s advocacy for us contributed to at least 1,000 people taking either The Pledge or the Trial Pledge, and this is likely an underestimate. There’s also evidence from the 2019 EA Survey that his podcast increased the number of people who became involved with effective altruism. Of course, Sam already has a huge audience, so maybe his successful advocacy is the exception rather than the rule. But my impression is that there are still plenty of people out there who we can reach — by collaborating with other popular figures, creating our own content, or both.

I’m also reasonably confident that we can increase our content output without sacrificing quality, which I will touch on later.

Accessible content is neglected

There is an endless amount of excellent writing on many different EA topics, so why write for Giving What We Can? 

My impression is that most of the best work of late tends to focus on some of the more esoteric areas of EA. The majority of this work is also tucked away on the Forum, academic publications, or blog posts from organisations that often don’t actively promote their work. As an example of what success looks like, 80,000 Hours manages to reach millions of people through their website. And, at least as of 2019, they were one of the biggest feeders into the effective altruism community. This is all in spite of 80,000 Hours’ tendency to aim at a more narrow audience (college students and young professionals).  

What if there was a regular stream of similarly well-researched EA content targeted at an even wider audience?

This work that targets narrow audiences — or just pre-existing EAs in general — is clearly important. But some people (who could eventually become highly engaged EAs) might not be compelled right away if the first thing they read is about insect sentience or infinite ethics.

Introductory content for the cause areas EAs tend to focus on — and how donors can help those causes through charitable giving — can serve as a good funnel to get more people interested in effective altruism. We think this is robustly good. From a neartermist perspective, getting more people motivated to end factory farming, or improve global health and wellbeing is a great thing (especially as those areas still significantly benefit from more funding on the margin).

But from a longtermist perspective, there can be additional benefits as well. For many people, reading our content (such as on promoting beneficial AI or biosecurity) will be the first time they learn about longtermism. Even though there are challenges around finding effective donation opportunities on the margin in these areas (something we plan on writing about — and something you could help us write about) we think that being introduced to longtermism in the context of thinking about effective giving is a compelling entry path. It selects for people who are interested in learning about doing good and actually taking action — even if that brings some degree of personal sacrifice. We think that providing a funnel for people to get involved in EA and longtermism could be one of our largest sources of value (from a longtermist perspective).[2]

Of course, there is already a lot of great introductory content out there (e.g., Doing Good Better, Ajeya Cotra’s introductory EA work, 80,000 Hours’ explainer on EA), but the output of that sort of content seems to have slowed down quite substantially in the past few years. I also have the impression that there are still plenty of unanswered questions that are important to people who are just starting to learn about EA/effective giving.

What’s more is that I think it is possible to make high-quality content that is broadly appealing. Content that is rigorous, clear, accurate, and truth-seeking can still appeal to a general audience (a great example of this being Scott Alexander’s writing). The topics that EAs care about — AI safety, pandemic preparedness, wild animal welfare, measuring charity effectiveness — are really interesting, all without any need for gimmicky writing or epistemic corner-cutting.

Creating content can build your career capital

Creating content is a low-cost way for you to build career capital:

  • you’ll have access to a lot of detailed feedback from us,
  • your name will be featured on content that is read by a wide audience,
  • and you’ll be able to write clearly about highly important topics.

One of our goals is to make sure you’re improving as both a writer and an EA. Writing for us means that your ideas and thinking will be analysed by other highly engaged EAs, and we’ll provide you with a substantial amount of feedback in the process. Your writing will be read by a large number of people, both new and experienced. You’ll also be able to make novel contributions to important topics.

How

If you’re interested and think you would be a good fit, below are a few ways you can get involved. (There might be more, so email me if you have an idea!)

 

1. Apply to write for us regularly on a contract basis. 

Just submit a resume, 100 words about a topic you’d like to write about, and three writing samples. This position is paid at $30 USD an hour, but for very experienced writers we are willing to consider paying more.

 

2. Write for our blog without any need for an ongoing arrangement.

Email me a topic pitch and a writing sample (or draft of your idea) if you’d like to write something for us. For the most promising suggestions (especially from experienced writers) we are happy to compensate people for their work, but we are also interested in hearing from less experienced writers who can write on a volunteer basis, improving their own skills in the process, or more experienced people who are too busy for a regular commitment.

 

3. Work with us to summarise your research for a general audience.

If you’re an academic working on topics related to effective giving (or an adjacent topic of interest), we could work together to write a summary or other adaptation that expands the reach of your work. (Here’s an example.)

 

 

5. Use another creative skill to enhance our written content. 

For example:

  • Maybe you’re a talented illustrator who could add some life to our articles.
  • Maybe you are a creative writer who would like to write a short story about effective giving and cause prioritisation.
  • Maybe you’re good at writing scripts and can help us make a video explaining a topic of interest.
  • Maybe you’re a graphic designer who could make an infographic about one of our cause areas, or something similar.
  • Maybe you’re a whiz at data visualisation, and can make complicated data more understandable for a wider audience.

 

6. Reach out to us about an idea you have that you think would be amazing, exciting, interesting, intriguing, or inspiring!

  • Maybe you just thought of the next How Rich Am I? calculator and want to build it with us.
  • Maybe you know about a topic we should definitely write about that we’ve perhaps neglected.
  • Maybe there’s another content medium you think we should look into (yes, we’ve thought of TikTok).

 

7. Help us translate our core content into a language you’re fluent in.

We’re looking to translate some of our writing over the coming year. If you’re interested, email me and I’ll add you to our list of translators to contact when we need some work done. (Sorry, Python doesn’t count.)


If any of these apply to you, I would be happy to hear from you at any time. Or maybe none of them do, but you think I missed some other relevant way you can contribute to our goals. You can email me at julian.hazell@givingwhatwecan.org.
 

My thanks to Michael Townsend, Katy Moore, Luke Freeman, and Grace Adams for their helpful feedback on this post. 

  1. ^

     We are currently working to produce a more accurate estimate of this number, potentially through experimentation. If you have any ideas about what methodology we should consider using to do this, please email me.

  2. ^

     We’re currently writing an update on what we see our value as being, stay tuned!

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10 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:27 AM
New Comment

I will just chime in to say that I have collaborated with Luke and Julian before, and they are both very reliable, nice and competent people. I recommend reaching out! 

Thanks Peter :)

TARGETED INTRODUCTIONS TO EA FOR SPECIFIC AUDIENCES
 

ADDENDUM: The above post about "Targeted Introductions" has been moved to get its own feedback, to this location:  https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/nJP2iLJZxjF8z8frw/a-case-for-targeted-introductions-to-effective-giving-for

I would suggest that if this of interest to you, you link to and read that updated version. 

 

TL;DR - Slightly verbose  :-)  rationale for conducting a defined outreach effort, comprised of a series of articles targeted to and tailored for very specific audiences outside EA to orient them to effective giving. 

---<>---

Here's a concept relevant to this post as it offers one possible direction for EA writing. 

It is not unlikely something like this is already in the works somewhere in EA that I don't know about, and if so, I am sure the community will not let me remain uninformed.

(I was recommended to make this a full-on post rather than a reply, but I'd like to see what sort of feedback it gets here first.)

As marketers know, a specific target audience is easier to reach than a very broad one. You can choose a channel that already targets that audience with a message tailored to reader and context (e.g., a magazine about knitting reaches knitters particularly and quite efficiently). Plus, you might benefit from the medium itself if its ideas are trusted by and shared widely between people in that target population.

Meanwhile, there is much discussion, as EA increasingly meets the world, about how to disseminate information about the movement clearly, delicately—after all, you are asking people to examine their values—and in manageable doses. First impressions are oh-so important. You can see discussions about this around the forums. Examples include this Forum post, this podcast on this set of guidelines, portions of this Forum post—e.g., about the dangers of a “low-fidelity [first] exposure” with EA—and this video providing a teacher’s views on risks and solutions around external movement building.

So alongside any efforts to write content for a broad distribution, one might visualize a specific project to turn out a series of highly focused introductions to EA targeted towards specific audiences outside EA, written by or at least in the voice of an “insider,” and pitched to relevant publications.

The example that sparked this idea was an intro to EA written specifically for product managers by Clement Kao, speaking the language of its audience, making connections between their approaches and EA's that would, one hopes, make Kao's fellow product managers feel 1) well understood and 2) positively inclined towards EA.

This targeted outreach could be addressed to any community: Unitarian Universalists; sci-fi fans; AARP members, eSport gamers; you name it. But certainly EA has been looking to establish more momentum in reaching people in the workplace, and there are widely distributed publications within just about any professional community. As an example, consider how many developers’ eyeballs meet mass-distribution magazines like CODE or .NET.

Such a project could start by targeting the broadest and potentially most EA-aligned audiences—for our Market Testing team to identify, of course—and aim to be published in top specialized media for those groups. While containing a central common set of well crafted ideas and terminology, articles would differ in addressing the particular concerns of people in that target group, highlighting ways EA fits their world view and how its tenets can help them improve their work or their lives. 

For authentic insider voices, we might do well to mine the multitalented ranks of EA for writers to author articles on areas in which they have experience. 

Can anyone see a downside risk here? I haven’t so far, and it seems to me that, with careful attention to leading readers to further engagement with EA, such an effort might also cultivate a growing crop of EA groups in the workplace (or among any targeted groups).

A broader question is whether EA outreach would benefit from a far-reaching, coordinated program (perhaps with some elements like the above) to ensure a consistent, vetted message using consistent EA language—or continue to be accomplished as it is now, not badly, but ad hoc by various organizations within the community. Also, whether one particular organization, such as GWWC, would be the logical hub for such an undertaking.

 

 

(Thanks: David Reinstein for feedback on my early draft and Sunnie Huang for extra encouragement.)

This is interesting, Adam. Thanks for sharing. I think you should consider posting this as a standalone piece on the forum, because I can imagine there will be a wide variety of opinions regarding the speed at which EA should grow. What I will say though is that I really like the idea of doing profiles on specific people — e.g.,  "How this software engineer approaches charity" — in order to relate to a wider audience. I think this is the exact kind of content we'd like to work with our members to produce, so thanks for sharing the idea!

Thanks, Julian! It's now posted -- see link above.

Thanks for sharing - I just wanted to quickly reply to mention that I agree that you should post this as a full post because it probably won't get much attention here (which might also lead you to think it wasn't well received). As a very quick additional comment, I'd also look into the arguments for and against rapid movement growth, as I think that that debate is the main reason why EA as a movement isn't trying to grow especially rapidly.  I'll offer more thoughts 

when I see your post!

Thanks again for your initial thoughts.

The post is now posted -- here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/nJP2iLJZxjF8z8frw/a-case-for-targeted-introductions-to-effective-giving-for

What a compelling post! Are you only recruiting writers now, or do you anticipate onboarding new writers on a rolling basis?

Thank you!

My impression is that I will keep the application open until I'm satisfied that I've found a strong team of approximately 2-4 core writers. I'm not quite sure how long that will take, however.

I could also see a desire to scale in the future, so we could onboard on a rolling basis.

Not sure if you want this to be available to twitter at large but if you do, please tweet it and link it here.