tldr; if you’re a new EA community builder, or someone who has considered it but decided not to because it seemed like too much of a sacrifice, please consider the fact that the best kind of community building is fun for the organizer too. You should value your enjoyment of the events and the community building process higher than you likely do at the moment, even if you take a completely altruistic rather than egoistic perspective.
(Disclaimer: a reviewer noted that this article was ironically not that exciting to read, but I’m not that excited about rewriting it so I’ll follow my own advice and work on more exciting tasks)
I have been active in the Swedish EA community since 2015 and have done both community building and guided others doing the same. From this time my biggest takeaway has been that new community builders focus way too much on what they feel they "should" be doing rather than what they want to be doing. Doing what would actually be fun for them. When we started the group at my local university we saw the other associations running public lectures, so we felt like we had to do that too. Even if we weren’t that excited about it nor really had any lecturers in mind. So we spent way too much time thinking about and planning for that instead of just arranging something more fun. And these days all the other cool EA groups run fellowships, which we’ve enjoyed so far, but I’m concerned that it gets so heavily recommended that organizers feel obligated to do them even if they don’t feel like it.
While it’s good to not reinvent the wheel, I think this type of behavior really limits the potential of both the community builders themselves and the group as a whole. In my opinion community builders should also be more hesitant about running projects that they aren’t excited about.
Why excitement is important:
- Your interest in EA is a really valuable resource that you should be very hesitant to use up.
- Your impact as an EA is ideally going to be over a period of many years of work, donations, and thinking. So anything that increases your risk of just giving up on those aspirations is something to be careful with. It’s not worth it to drain away your excitement for improving the world just for the sake of doing events you feel like you should want to run.
- The “Scratch your own itch” principle applies to community building too.
- “Scratch your own itch” is the idea that many of the best businesses (especially startups) come from someone making a product to solve a problem they have themselves. I think this applies to community organizers too. You should have more events you’re excited to go to, not that some hypothetical other person might want to go to. Most of the best EA events I’ve been to or organized have just come from one organizer being super curious about a topic and creating an event to try to dig deeper into it. For example some years ago EA NTNU in Norway arranged an event where the crown princess attended, which was certainly impressive. But it was also a lot of time and effort to organize. So they felt like that event was much less worthwhile than another event where they just asked lots of really in depth questions to one of the people at Against Malaria Foundation. The lecture was more impressive, but the organizers seemed more excited about scratching their own itch of getting all their questions about the Against Malaria Foundation answered.
- EA groups tend to die off if it’s not fun to be an organizer in them.
- The main recommendations for how to create an ea group is to make sure to have a core group of active members who are engaged enough to keep the group going. Such a group can be pretty hard to find. Several groups here in Sweden are in permanent limbo because they never get enough interested people at a time for it to take off. In such cases I think you have two problems both stemming from organizers not having enough fun. Firstly many potential organizers don’t end up starting the group because they view it as an obligation rather than an opportunity to do interesting things. Secondly, the ones that actually are motivated enough to start can quickly burn out or lose interest because they are so focused on running the association “the right way” instead of doing what they are excited about.
How can organizers have more fun?
- Deprioritize projects if organizers aren’t excited about them
- Let organizers work on the projects that most excite them
- Arrange some events purely for fun! (board game nights, parties, dinners etc)
- Attend EAG conferences (lots of organizers tend to find especially their first one really exciting)
- Retreats/go outside the university sphere together
- Encourage people to bring friends to events
- Use excitement as a metric for deciding what to do in general
- Set aside time for brainstorming/ask individual members directly to do something they would find interesting, and hype each other up to actually carry out the event!
Please add more suggestions in the comments to this post if you can think of any!