Hide table of contents

Executive summary

EA Helsinki created a giving guide booklet for student organisations in Finnish. https://www.altruismi.fi/lahjoitusopas 

The main aim of the Giving Guide for Student Organisations was to raise awareness of EA among students by providing them with information on how to give effectively. A sub-goal was to redirect donations from student organisations, although we do not expect the expected value of redirected donations to be worth the effort of producing and marketing the guide.

We distributed printed versions of the guide to 121 organisations at 5 universities, most by approaching them at student fairs we attended in the fall of 2022. A digital version of the guide was also sent to the organisations via email a few days after the printed booklet was distributed.

The direct results or impact from the giving guide have been almost non-existent. I believe most of the impact comes later from having exposed people to the idea of effective giving, making them more receptive to EA later on.

My original reason for writing this post was to offer other EA groups an opportunity to replicate the project, but now I am not so sure that it is worth it. Instead, I would love to get feedback on the impact assessment, the project, and hear if others have tried something similar. I hope the spelled-out project implementation and analysis can help other community builders who might think about starting similar projects. I also wrote this as a report for future community builders in Finland.

Tip: Skip to the measuring the impact-section if you aren’t interested in the details about the content and implementation of the project.

Content of the giving guide

Below is the structure of the guide. (In parentheses the length of the text in A5 pages.) You can also find an auto translation on the content excluding the donation recommendations or download the Finnish guide on our website: https://www.altruismi.fi/lahjoitusopas  

Title: A giving guide for student organisations. How to achieve more impact with the same amount of money. 

  1. Summary (1)
  2. Most help per euro (1)
  3. Donating in practice
    1. Inspirations from other associations (1)
    2. The association act is flexible (⅓)
  4. How to choose a target
    1. Comparing cause areas (1)
    2. Using research by evaluation organisations (⅓)
  5. Effective donation targets (summary ⅓)
    1. Global health and development (4)
      1. Givewell
      2. Maximum impact fund
      3. Preventing Malaria
      4. Vitamin A deficiency
      5. Vaccination coverage
      6. Deworming
      7. Direct cash transfers
    2. Climate change (2)
      1. The Founders Pledge Climate Change Fund
      2. Clean Air Task Force
      3. Carbon180
    3. Animal welfare (3.5)
      1. Animal Charity Evaluators 
      2. Animal Charity Evaluatorsin Recommended Charity Fund
      3. The Humane League
      4. Faunalytics 
      5. Wild Animal Initiative
    4. Securing the future (2)
      1. Johns Hopkins Center of Health Security
      2. ALLFED
      3. Nuclear Threat Initiative Biosecurity Program
  6. Background (½)
    1. Effective Altruism (½)
  7. Links (1)
  8. Put impact forward (essentially a call to action box) (1)
  9. References (2)

Back cover (1)

Language and approach of the guide

We aimed for the giving guide to be

  • Encouraging. The tone is hopeful and inviting, focusing on the opportunity of changing the world for the better together.
  • Actionable. The guide includes simple legal advice on donating, inspiration from other student organisations on how to incorporate donations into the organisation’s activities, and recommended charities with links. 
  • Trustworthy. We explain why effective giving matters, how we have chosen the recommended cause areas and charities, provide references for further reading, and include a one-page about EA Helsinki.
  • Easy to read.

Project background

The student organisation landscape and donating

In Finland, it is common for students to be members of multiple student organisations and associations. E.g. all degree programs have their own student association, and there are faculty organisations, hobby groups, and student nations. 

The organisations receive funding e.g. from the student union, membership fees, sponsors and partners, and event tickets. The primary purpose for these organisations is to serve their members, which effective giving is not intuitively a part of

However, they are non-profit organisations, so donating a portion of their revenue by the end of the year can be a way for them to give forward. Especially during the pandemic, when we started the giving guide project, many organisations seemed to struggle with spending money, so they might have been more willing to think more carefully about donations, but unfortunately we missed that window. 

Donating can also be integrated into the activities of the organisations and there are many ways student organisations already donate money to charity

  • Donating can be a part of the student organisation’s identity to improve the world. 
  • Others want to do something collective to improve the group feeling like participating in a fundraising together.
  • Most student associations have an annual dinner party to which they invite representatives of other groups. These then give a gift (usually alcohol + something) and we suggest in the guide that they could give a donation to an effective charity as an immaterial gift.
  • Some give awards like “the lecturer of the year” where the prize can be a donation. 
  • A share of the income of a commodity the organisation is selling could be donated.

We don’t have comprehensive data on who gives and how much. Based on our preliminary survey (n=6), two organisations did not donate at all and three gave around 100€ annually. 

Reasons for project initiation

  • One year some organisers in EA Helsinki successfully lobbied the computer science association to change their annual donation from the Red Cross to the Against Malaria Foundation. 
  • We knew that some student organisations donate money and a small survey about student associations’ donations behaviour that we conducted confirmed that. 
  • We believe awareness about EA is low at the University of Helsinki. 
  • We had just conducted the first introductory fellowship and had more human resources on hand than before. The project also helped the team learn more about effective giving.

Project implementation

The project was most active during March to August 2021. The guide was finished a year later, in June-July 2022 and distributed around August-September 2022. In March 2023 we sent a feedback survey to the student organisations to evaluate the impact of the project.  

From idea to print

A vague project team was formed and we started writing the guide. I think we met weekly for the first few months. Three of the members had previous experience in publishing or writing similar material. We also had a graphic design student who planned and did all the layout for us. These were all a huge help.  

A few months after the start of this project, an overlapping team (with a more experienced project manager) started the donations platform project (www.lahjoittaminen.fi). Copying them helped me set up better systems for team work. The projects mutually benefited from cooperation, e.g. by discussions on deciding which charities and cause areas to recommend and translations. 

A few people dropped out after the first summer. The next summer, mainly motivated by sunk cost fallacy, we finished the guide. In August 2022 I ordered 150 guides to be printed. Because some pictures were blurry we got an additional 150 guides for free. I also created a landing page for the giving guide.

Distribution

In September 2022 we started the actual marketing and distribution. We brought the guides to some clubrooms and marketed it on the student unions mailing list. Most of the guides were given away at student fairs in which we also participated representing local EA groups. At the same time we collected the email addresses of the organisations we gave the guide to. We then sent them a reminder a few days later (in case the representative at the fair forgot to forward the guide to their board) with a link to the online guide and an invitation to a webinar for the guide. 

We distributed the guide to 121 organisations at 5 universities. 52 of those guides went to the University of Helsinki, 36 to the University of Tampere and 25 to the University of Turku. 

Unfortunately nobody joined the webinar, but I had a 1-1 as a result of this outreach which later led to a project that could have become one of the most cost effective projects of EA Helsinki had it not been for its funding to have been withdrawn by the end of 2022.

Measuring the impact

Objectives

As stated earlier, the primary goal is to increase awareness about EA among students by providing them information about impactful donating. The theory of change is that students discuss effective giving with her friends at the student group and later change their own donation habits or get interested in EA and change their career paths.

The secondary goal was to redirect the organisations’ donations. Here the breakdown for achieving some impact is more simple, and the best case scenario could be that a student organisation organises a successful fundraising event for one of the recommended charities.

Quantitative targets

In hindsight, it would’ve been good to explicitly set quantitative impact targets, calculate the expected value of the project and cost effectiveness in advance. I made sure to set up some systems in advance to evaluate the success later on but didn’t set any targets. 

I think my targets before starting the project would have been to get at least 6 people to join some of our community’s activities within a year for every 100 giving guides distributed as well as to change the donations of 4 organisations. Based on data discussed next, we fell short of these targets.

Impact indicators and preliminary results

We set up multiple checkpoints to measure the impact of the giving guide.

IndicatorResults
Number of organisations to which we have given a guide121
Number of people joining a Telegram chat for discussing effective giving. QR code to be found inside the guide and link on the website. 0
Number of people joining a related webinar 1-3 weeks after distribution. Invitation directly to boards and in a student union newsletter. 0
Word of mouth about people who join our events by the giving guide or organisations who have changed their donations. 0 (I have seen some organisations donate to the same old charities as in previous years.)
Feedback survey sent 6 months laterExpanded below (n=17)


 

Feedback survey

We got 17 responses to the survey which was sent to 121 emails. 47% of the respondents remembered having received the guide and 23,5% were unsure about it. 38% were already familiar with EA from another context. 29% (or 5 orgs) had or are planning on donating money to charity during the academic year. No organisation had donated to the charities recommended in the guide. On a positive note 5 respondents have been thinking about changing or have changed their personal donation behaviour as a result of reading the guide.

Cost of the project

It is hard to estimate how much time we actually spent on creating the guide but I think it is between 250 and 750 hours[1]. The printing costs were 240€ for 300 guides. Say the value of the volunteers' time is 20€/hour[2]. With these numbers the total cost of producing the giving guide is somewhere between 5 240€ and 15 240€. 

Cost effectiveness

We don’t know anyone who has gotten involved in the EA community because of the giving guide or any Finnish student organisations that would have increased or changed their donations to effective charities during this year. Dividing the cost by 0 to calculate the cost-effectiveness is impossible…

In the survey 5 people (or 29%) stated they have changed or thought about changing their donation habits as a result of having read the guide. I would assume that the total number is higher although it is more likely people who have been impacted by the guide also respond to the survey, so it is not directly possible to extrapolate from the ~150 guides given. There is a big difference between thinking about and actually doing something and the size of the action also greatly matters so it is not said any of the 5 stated changes are meaningful. However, the minimum 5 possible changes cost 1048-3048€ each. 

For comparison, on average 16 man hours of tabling at a university fair + 25€ spending on fliers and snacks has resulted in 1 EA intro fellowship application[3] in the fall semester. (16hrs*20€+25€=) 345€ per intro fellowship application.

Additional remarks

  • The total impact of the giving guide is harder to quantify. I assume that many of the giving guides lie on tables in club rooms where bored students sometimes find and flip through it, exposing them to new ideas about donating which might make them more receptive to effective altruism later. Having a concrete project to show new people might also be valuable in raising the profile of EA groups in Finland and can be used as a conversation starter in tabling. Has this then been worth the cost of producing the giving guide? It naturally depends on the alternatives of what we could have done instead, and I believe there are much lower hanging fruits available in community building.
  • Some of the value also came to the project team. I learned valuable lessons about planning and executing projects and leading teams. It was also a fun project most of the time. As it was completely volunteer based, I assume that the others also found it meaningful to work on.
  • I definitely underestimated the effort of producing the guide at initiation. Because of increased ambition and perfectionism, it spun out of the original plan. The extension of the project also led to us having to update the original recommendations as e.g. ACE had changed their recommendations and our understanding of effective climate change giving had changed.
  • When thinking of future projects related to the guide, e.g. printing more of the existing guide or accommodating it to fit for-profit organisations or individual donors, the marginal cost is likely lower than for this first version, but still high. Translation or other context-adaptation would likely be a project of minimum 100 hours work and the printing costs are around 2-3€ per booklet, so I would instead try other forms of outreach.

Conclusion from results: do not replicate

My initial reason for writing this report and sharing it on the forum was that other groups could try it elsewhere now that the hardest work has been done. I thought that if there were enough groups interested, the cost might go low enough for it to be worth translating to English. However, with the short-term results on hand, I wouldn’t support this without new evidence or a clearly more promising strategy.

What next?

I think a more effective strategy opposed to just giving away as many guides as possible with no or a very brief introduction, could have been to have more focused 1-1s with board members of large umbrella student associations. If they agree that effective giving in student organisations is a good idea, it would give the ideas some legitimacy, and other student groups and organisers might more easily get on board as well. We still have about 140 printed guides left, so this could be something worth trying the next fall term. The biggest challenge, I believe, is to do it without being pushy. One of the recipients of the guide reported in the feedback survey that they felt pressured to take the guide at the student fair when I came to their stand even though they weren’t interested in it, and they found the interaction very awkward which led to them getting a negative image of us. I’m grateful we got this feedback as it is something I did not think of myself. It made me update towards this approach not being as good as it first seemed to me, but I’m not sure if the net benefit is positive or negative.

Lessons learned

  1. It can be hard to do good effectively. (This should not come as a surprise) 
  2. Set targets and estimate the cost of the project in advance, before starting the project and write them down


 

  1. ^

    At one point there were 9 people involved in writing and even more people have provided feedback. However I’d say 75-90% of the work has been by the 4 most active members. I guess 3 members have used 50+ hrs each. I might have used over 100.

  2. ^

    I don’t know how to best estimate the cost of volunteer time, but this number is in the same range as EA Finland’s employee salaries, and as one of the employees who did the giving guide in volunteer capacity I guess it is a somewhat truthful estimate.

  3. ^

    It is also good to remember that the path from participating in activities of the community like the intro program to actually having a much bigger contrafactual impact on the world is unclear. Maybe 1 in 20 intro program participants actually end up having >2x bigger impact than they would otherwise have.

43

0
0

Reactions

0
0

More posts like this

Comments2
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:44 PM

Thank you for writing and posting this, Karla. I think this impact assessment is 1) really well-written and well-explained and 2) a really valuable addition to the forum. 

I don't feel like I see lots of impact assessments on projects that don't go the way we might expect or want them to and it would be good to see more so that we, as a community, can update and others won't end up trying something too similar in future without considering these results first. 

It also seems important that the project team got value out of doing this which itself shouldn't be understated; the lessons you've learned and the thoughts you share in the 'What next?' section seem right to me and I think it's a really solid example of someone in the community updating in response to evidence. 

Looking forward to seeing what you go on to do next!

Thank you for your kind words! 

It would indeed be interesting to see impact assessments across groups and projects to get a rough idea of the expected value of different projects and improve intuitions on community building.

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities