I recently created the first EA group in Romania and about 3 months ago I applied for a grant from EAIF to work full-time on community building. I got rejected and it was hard to get feedback but after a few email exchanges and a lot of conversations at EAG London, EAGx Prague, and online, I left with the following takeaways:

  1. I should develop a more solid track-record.
  2. Instead of a generic community building plan, I should find out what comparative advantage my group has and focus on that.
  3. I should share my plans with the community and ask for feedback.

With that in mind, I rewrote my application and decided to post my plans here. As far as track record is concerned, I have been running the EA Romania group since September 2020, but I couldn’t accomplish much in the first year because of my job and the pandemic. In the past 3 months, however, I have focused more on EA and here’s what I have accomplished so far:

  • 205 members in our Facebook group
  • 205 likes on our Facebook page
  • 54 followers on Instagram
  • 8 meetups with 10-15 participants each
  • Approximately 20 active members (who come to the meetup regularly)
  • 4 applications for the Virtual Intro Program
  • 1 application for the In-depth Program
  • 1 participant (me) at EAG London 2022
  • 4 participants at EAGx Prague 2022
  • 1 applicant (me) for volunteering at EAGx Berlin 2022

It is still not much of a track record, but it's better than what I had in my previous application.

Here's the one sentence description of my project:

6-month salary + budget for web design and social media management in order to create an NGO and promote EA in Romania.

And here's the brief summary:

The project consists in creating an “Effective Altruism Romania” NGO in order to promote the EA philosophy in the country with a particular focus on fundraising and tech outreach. We believe community building and value change in general are important and can have a large multiplier effect in most regions. However, there might be a comparative advantage in focusing on fundraising and tech outreach in Romania for two reasons. First, even though Romania is not a high income country, companies here can donate 20% of their profit taxes to local NGOs, while employees can donate 3.5% of their income taxes. This means that if we could convince the top 3 tech companies in Bucharest to donate 3% of their donation budgets to us (at no cost to themselves), this would be enough to entirely cover the costs of this grant. Second, as a developer I am well connected in the tech sector and it would be relatively easy for me to attract human capital to EA tech projects and research positions.

The full budget I asked for was $34,185.00 (6mo salary + website/design), but I have specified that I am open to work with less, with a lower salary or part-time. For more details about the goals, strategy, and my overall background, you can read/skim through the full application here (feel free to add comments).

Do you have any thoughts? I am a bit unsure about who to include in the "references" section. I have included Catherine Low from CEA and Manuel Allgaier from EA Berlin, who reviewed my first application before I submitted it. Any tips about who else I should include, or perhaps some other people I should talk to before submitting the new application?

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12 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:46 PM
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Hi Ariel, Thanks for sharing this document and asking for feedback publicly! 

A few thoughts on your application:

General principles :

  • It may in fact be better for you to spend some more time building a track record by doing a small project with very narrow goals (e.g. 1 outreach project or 1 program). Happy to brainstorm what that might be.
  • In your application, I'd also encourage you to focus on just 1 minimum viable project that will help you build a track record
  • It's okay to be narrow if you're deliberate about it, and point to the scope for expansion later. You don't need to cover everything at once.

What I see as the most promising strategy based on your application (and my extremely limited knowledge of Romania):

  • Leaning into your comparative advantage to do outreach to the tech sector (and balancing the risks of founders effects while you do so by doing targeted outreach to avoid non-tech people from being excluded - maybe by giving the project a more specific name e.g. EA Romania Tech outreach or something)
    • At the same time, I wouldn't underestimate the challenges of recruiting in the tech sector, even if you're part of it. I might spend more time in your application talking about what recruiting strategies you would use
  • Establishing a schelling point / person (you) for EAs in Romania via monthly meetups & 1-1s

Strategy feedback :
 

  • Right now, your application consists of too many goals and your strategy also has a lot of sub-items which I don't think are realistic to accomplish well in 6 months. I think if you narrowed your focus and chose 1-2 goals, as well as reduced your strategy section to maybe 3-5 core activities (at most), this would be better.
  • Areas to narrow or cut :
    • I don't see obvious benefits of setting up a legal entity / NGO in Romania at such an early stage
    • I don't know if donations are necessarily the right thing to focus on right now - if your group is producing impact, EA funders would be likely to fund it (that being said, it's good perhaps for your org's sustainability to have multiple donors, I just wouldn't focus on this)
    • I'm not sure how much value a website or content creation would bring at this stage - I could imagine copying an existing group's site and changing the language could be more than sufficient.
      • Since it's in your 1 line summary, it seems like you think this is important. If so, I'd make more of a case for it in the application.
    • It's not clear to me how you would support students (outside of general meetups & 1-1s), maybe you could mention that you would forward them to existing resources (e.g. CEA's UGAP program)

 

Feedback on the application itself (vs. the strategy)

  • I would make the "what we have accomplished" section a bit more easy to understand. For example, what role did you play in getting 4 participants to EAGxPrague or the intro fellowship? Did you have 1-1 calls, encourage people to attend etc. I also wouldn't lead with followers on social media - to me that is a vanity metric. I'd be more interested in how active your local WhatsApp group is, or if people are actively working on independent projects.
  • I left a comment or two in the google doc as well.

 

I hope this is helpful!

Hi Vaidehi! 

Great points! I very much agree with most of your feedback, it's a lean, startuppy approach, so I'm not going to re-write, just say thanks that you wrote it! I would just like to share my view on the donations part. (for context, I am Romanian, living in Berlin).

I fully agree that it's perhaps too early to start the legal entity and it seems a lot better to fund EA Romania from a separate source of income. 

That being said, what I do see as an opportunity is to set up an NGO to offer people a super-easy way to donate to effective organizations, since: 

  • Romania is a high-income country since a few years ago, 10th by GDP in Europe
  • It's almost a no-brainer for people to donate, because the money goes from their taxes to NGOs instead of the government (they get the same after-tax income)
  • Marketing this (with separate funding, again, for trust & transparency) would not only push funds into effective orgs, but would have the effect of making EA more known in the country.

To me this is somewhat of a parallel topic to the community-building though, so I would suggest to keep them separate. 

Hi Vaidehi, thank you so much for taking the time to write all this, it is definitely helpful :)

The benefit of setting up a legal entity in Romania is that it would allow me to get donations. The benefit of a website is also donations. I can't really have an NGO and ask for donations without having a website to show. It doesn't have to be a complex or expensive website, but I do need something. I could even remove website creation from the budget, but then I would have to create it myself and this would consume more of my time. But yes, I can definitely remove the focus from creating content (i.e. blog and social media).

I guess one aspect that I perhaps should make more explicit is how easy it is to get donations in Romania via the tax incentives I mentioned. I talked to my employers and they said many companies allocate their donation budgets based on recommendations by employees, which are relatively rare, so usually each recommendation gets a big chunk of the donation budget. If everybody who comes to our meetups convinces their companies to donate 1k EUR to us, and if at least some of them donate 3,5% of their income taxes, we could raise some funds quite easily. I actually know a Romanian member of the EA community (currently based in Berlin) who has been encouraging me to set up an NGO because she has a company and wants to also convince her family to donate 3,5% of their income taxes to something impactful, but currently this is simply impossible. I don't necessarily have to focus on getting as much money as possible in the short-term, but I do think it's useful to have the legal structure in place so we can slowly start to get donations. My hope is that one day our donation revenue will be greater than the funds we receive, but this is something I can aim to achieve in a long-term basis, so I don't need to dedicate much of my time to this within the next 6 months.

Does it make more sense now? I will update the application in the meantime and try to cut more from my goals and make it more focused and less ambitious, but in principle I still think it's important to have a basic website and a legal entity ready to receive donations, even if I don't focus on fundraising.

Is an earning to give or donations focused the right strategy in Romania, or is something else is more impactful?

My guess would be exploring this more would be good, I think the case has not really been made yet. I'm more excited about filling the need for software engineers.

So my point about e.g. the website isnt really about asking for funding for it for not, or focusing on content or not, but rather about whether the high level goal (effective giving) makes sense as your strategy.

My hypothesis is that focusing on donations is a good strategy in Romania because of the tax incentives I mentioned. Because this is a new project, I am approaching everything experimentally. The plan is to test my hypothesis by estimating how many hours per week I spend on activities related to fundraising, and then measuring how much money I raised in the end of those six months. If the amount of money per unit of effort seems too small, then I will conclude that my hypothesis was wrong. If the amount is decent, then I will conclude that it was right. Of course, it's hard to put a number on what "decent" is in advance. It's also worth noting that I expect this effort to be cumulative: if during year 1 I make effort E1 and money M1, I would expect to have M1 again in year 2 without all that effort because once we make it to the list of NGOs a company contributes to, it's easy to stay there. Therefore, even a modest return in the end of 6 months can be enough encouragement to continue the experiment.

The only case I can make in favor of this hypothesis a priori is to say that the people in my company have experience both raising funds and offering them and that they estimated that I could easily raise $5-10k in my first year. And I think their estimate is plausible because I think I could easily find 10 members in our community who can convince their companies to donate $1k per year to us. Then as the community grows we should develop relationships with people in more companies, perhaps bigger ones that can donate larger sums, especially if we focus on tech outreach.

This is another reason why I think these 2 goals are actually interconnected: the activities involved in achieving one goal are also helpful in achieving the other. In some way, if I pursue only the tech goal, I feel I will be wasting opportunities to raise funds. Every developer that I attract to EA is somebody that I can both add to a database of EA-aligned developers, and also ask them to convince their employers/companies to donate to us. The actual hard part of the work is attracting these developers to EA, once they're part of the community, asking them to talk to their employers is the easy part.

I mean, sure, I could be wrong about all that, but this is something we can only find out if we try it. Do you think my hypothesis is so implausible that it's not worth testing?

Are one of the regular attendees are your sessions in Romania willing to be a reference? If I were giving the grant, I'd be interested to talk to someone who's actually been to events you've hosted!

Yeah, sure! I didn't think of adding them cause they're even newer to the community than me, and in the description of this section they say:

References by people who are directly involved in effective altruism and adjacent communities are particularly useful, especially if we are likely to be familiar with their work and thinking. (E.g., long-time members of the effective altruism community who have given you feedback or otherwise engaged with your work.)

And also they would be the same people that I list in my team of volunteers… So I figured it would be a bit redundant…

(small side note: I'd suggest changing the title of this post to be more specific so people know that you're requesting feedback, rather than giving feedback on the EAIF application)

I don’t know if the title was changed after this comment, but “Any feedback on my EAIF application?” initially made me think that you had an active EAIF application and wanted the EAIF grant makers to publicly comment on the ongoing application.

Maybe something like “Request: critique my EAIF application”?

Data point: I understood "Any feedback on my EAIF application?" as intended.

Upvoted for your perseverance in trying again, the levelheadedness with which you seem to be taking feedback into account, and the courage it takes to invite public suggestions for improvement.

Have you spoken to the Czech group about their early days? I'd recommend it, and can put you in touch with some folks there if you like.