Application Process for the 2019 Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program

by Darius_Meissner, KarolinaSarek4 min read17th Sep 20191 comment

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I wrote the following report while interning at Charity Entrepreneurship (CE). My work was supervised and is endorsed by Karolina Sarek, CE's Co-founder and Director of Research.

Introduction

We at Charity Entrepreneurship recently ran our first formal two-month charity incubation program in London, which resulted in the foundation of around five counterfactual new charities.

This post provides a brief overview of the application process that we used to select our 13 program participants and its outcomes. The main goal of the application process was to identify the candidates most likely to successfully found and execute one of our recommended charity ideas. We hope that this post will be useful for future applicants and other organizations in the effective altruism (EA) community.

Recommendations for future applicants

  • Develop and showcase your dedication to doing the most good and your understanding of EA. We have found that members of the EA community tend to have a comparative advantage in our incubation program relative to other applicants. EA community members tend to be more motivated by social impacts and have a better understanding of key concepts, such as cost-effectiveness reasoning, which are vital to founding an impactful charity.
  • What you do not need to have a realistic chance of being accepted into the program: i) an advanced academic degree such as a master's or PhD; ii) a degree from a prestigious university; iii) professional experience relevant to founding a charity; or iv) pre-existing strong (professional) expertise with respect to your preferred cause area.
  • If in doubt about your fit, apply. Several of our successful 2019 program participants thought it was unlikely that we would accept them, or they were initially uncertain about whether they were a good fit for the incubation program. Even if you are unsure of whether charity entrepreneurship is the best career path for you, we recommend that you apply to our incubation program and consider the application itself as a test that will provide you with valuable information regarding your fit. The application process for next year’s incubation program will open in late 2019 or early 2020. If you are interested in applying, sign up to our mailing list to hear about when the application opens.​
  • Watch this talk to learn more about which skills and traits we believe to be required and not required for successful charity entrepreneurship.

The application process

Our application process had five stages. These were, in chronological order (the time we estimate each applicant spent per stage is in brackets), as follows:

  1. Application form (including a CV and three long-form questions with a maximum of 1,000 characters each) (~1 hour)
  2. First interview (~0.5 hours preparation + ~0.75 hours interview)
  3. First test task (~5 hours)
  4. Second interview (~0.5 hours preparation + ~1.5 hours interview)
  5. Second test task (~3 to 5 hours)

We coded the responses from the application form and the two interviews numerically, to the extent that this was possible, to avoid subjective biases from affecting the selection of candidates.

​The following table shows the correlations between the scores of all application rounds and being accepted to join the program. We find that the scores from the two interviews were slightly more highly correlated with being accepted to the program than the test task scores (~0.59 vs. ~0.47). The scores of the two interviews were strongly correlated with each other at 0.62, and the scores of the two test tasks were moderately correlated at 0.33. However, the correlation between the interviews and the test tasks was fairly low (~0.2). One plausible explanation for this finding is that the two interviews and the two test tasks successfully selected for different dimensions of ability, as was intended. 

Outcome

Number and share of applicants

One hundred and forty-five people applied to the incubation program. After five application rounds, we accepted 17 applicants, and 13 applicants actually participated in the program. Overall, we were satisfied with this outcome, and by the end of the process we were confident in the abilities of all the accepted candidates.

Time-cost

Charity Entrepreneurship staff members spent a total of approximately 213 hours on the application process. The most time-intensive application stages for staff members were the evaluation of the written applications (a total of ~60 hours) and conducting and evaluating the first and second interviews (a total of ~51 hours and ~68 hours, respectively).

The total time spent by all 145 applicants on the application process was approximately 585 hours. To put this into perspective, a single participant would spend approximately 400 hours working on the incubation program over the course of two months. The most time-intensive application stages for applicants were the application form (a total of ~145 hours), the first test task (a total of ~235 hours), and the second test task (a total of ~92 hours). 

We estimate that a single applicant who went through all five application rounds invested a total of approximately 13 hours into the application process, while 82% of all applicants spent less than around seven hours on the application process, and 64% only spent around one hour. Next year, we plan to introduce changes to the application process that will reduce the time-cost for both the applicants and ourselves without reducing the ability of the application process to select good candidates.

The applicants

The applicants that we accepted into the program were diverse with respect to their educational backgrounds and levels of professional experience. Five of the 13 program participants were female, and 12 of them were either from the US or the UK.

Cofounder preference

Four-fifths of all applicants did not have a preference for a specific cofounder, while the remaining applicants either had ‘some preference’ or a clear preference. The shares of those three groups stayed fairly constant throughout the application process.

Cause area preference

The share of poverty candidates dropped from ~40% to less than 25% over the application process. The share of animal candidates first grew from ~25% to ~40% but then dropped to less than 10%, as two of the accepted animal candidates resigned. The share of applicants interested in either cause area (‘Both’) increased from ~30% to ~60% over the application process. Only one candidate was accepted into the program who was not interested in either poverty or animal welfare and instead wanted to work on mental health and happiness.

Country of residence

We received an almost equal number of applications from the US, the UK, and other EU countries. The share of US applicants remained stable at around one-fifth throughout the application process. In contrast, the share of UK applicants increased from one-fifth to more than three-fifths as the share of other EU applicants and applicants from other countries dropped substantially. We were surprised to see so few EU applicants advance in the application process. We did not find a statistically significant difference in performance across a range of key metrics between the EU and US/UK applicants. Our hypothesis is that this result is partly explained by language barriers and partly by a statistical fluke.

Familiarity with effective altruism

While the vast majority (88%) of the candidates who were accepted self-reported their familiarity with EA as either “very high” or “high,” only 46% of all applicants described themselves this way. Thirty percent of applicants stated that their familiarity with EA was “low” or “none,” and none of them were accepted.

Cause area familiarity

Based on self-reports, the average applicant’s familiarity with their preferred cause area was lower than their familiarity with EA. Seventy-one percent of the applicants who were accepted self-reported their cause area familiarity as either “very high” or “high.” Seventeen percent of applicants stated that their cause area familiarity was “low” or “none,” and none of them were accepted.

Conclusion

On the basis of these and other (unpublished) results, we will thoroughly review the design of our application process for the incubation program before launching next year's application process to see how we can further improve upon it.

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