This post discusses multiple issues relating to the way the EA movement is perceived (ranging from common misconceptions to unjustified strong opinions against EA) and suggests alternatives to the ways we describe EA. 

Since I don’t have the resources to quantify this problem, I rely on my personal experience as a community builder and that of many other community builders and explain the rationale behind my suggestions.


Around 2013, a couple of mass media articles about EA (1,2,3) - specifically about Earning To Give - were published. These articles clearly missed most of the nuances behind the idea of Earning To Give, and heavily misrepresented the idea. 

In light of such events, the EA movement at that time faced a critical question: 
Should we stay away from mass media?
The answer the EA community arrived at was yes, and CEA formalized this as a part of its strategy:

Historically, spreading EA via the mass media was a key focus of CEA. Over time it became clear that the mass media is not particularly well suited to spreading ideas with high fidelity. Therefore, we have pivoted away from this focus and towards higher-fidelity methods like books and podcasts.

I think this was a good decision, but I think the movement should have asked itself another critical question to prevent future broad misunderstandings of EA:
Are we explaining what EA is well enough?

From my experience, the answer is no, even today. EA Israel used and experimented with the common pitches and explanations from several EA pitch guides (1,2,3), but we’ve kept noticing how almost every new member needs additional explanations on the basics of EA. We’ve kept encountering newcomers who are highly excited about EA while thinking it’s something else (e.g. it’s about making people more altruistic, or specifically making charities more efficient), and then lose excitement through the onboarding process. We also find ourselves struggling with common misconceptions, as does the rest of the community (1,2).

If individuals who look into EA perceive it as something that is not sufficiently close to its meaning, we both attract individuals who are not a good fit for EA, and miss individuals who could have been a good fit.

Clarifying our explanation of EA is also a great way to recognize disagreements among the community about what EA is. For instance, does EA call individuals to spend more resources on doing good, or to do more good with the same amount of resources? 

What is a good explanation? 

For the purposes of this post, let’s make a distinction between three approaches to describing a concept, each with a different focus:

  • A definition: Should be as accurate as possible.
  • An explanation:  Should be as clear as possible.
  • A pitch: Should be as convincing as possible.

While not true in all contexts, a pitch in our case should include a clear explanation of EA: Regardless of how convincing our pitch is, we still want newcomers to have a good understanding of what EA is, so they can later make better decisions. Therefore, crafting better explanations of EA is beneficial both for pitching and for explanations

The EA community discussed the definition of EA many times before (1,2,3), and has many convincing and clever pitches (linked above). But I haven’t seen as many discussions on explanations, and accordingly, I think what’s most missing for newcomers is clarity

Sidenote: It can be challenging to discuss what “convincing” is. I find it useful using the theory of motivational salience, and I’ll try to explain how certain phrases create reasons for being involved with EA (incentive salience) versus creating reasons against being involved in EA (aversive salience). For the purpose of this post, this mostly means that we want to emphasize the value gained from being involved, and reduce the perceived effort of becoming involved.

What is not a good explanation?

To better explain what I see as a good explanation, and to exemplify the problem, let’s take a look at what was until very recently the explanation of EA at effectivealtruism.org, just before it was updated in August 2021 (I’ll discuss the new version later in this post):

Source (note that this website snapshot might have been affected by A/B testing of some sort)

The main issues I see in the explanation above are:

  • This description tells us what EA is about, but not what it is. Is it a movement? A community? A set of ideas?
  • Describing EA as about utilization of resources is indeed accurate, but it is not clear.
    • What do resources mean in the context of helping others? Saying time and money later in the explanation doesn’t quite resolve the obscurity when reading this line.
    • It is also off-putting for people without an analytical background - who are underrepresented in EA and are important for skill diversity.
  • The sentence “to find the very best causes to work on” implies that EA is mainly about cause prioritization, while most of the individuals in the movement don’t work directly on cause prioritization.
  • Saying “the best causes to work on” here means something like “the causes that would help others the most”. This can be inferred from the text by understanding the relationship between the first and second sentences. I suspect, and probably only some readers would make this connection, especially because they don’t linger on the text and only skim through it. If we want readers to understand something, we need it to be prominent.

Common misconceptions we wish to avoid

Before discussing better ways to describe EA, it’s helpful to keep in mind common misconceptions that our explanation would need to address:

  • EA doesn’t only take into account measurable or ‘proven’ interventions, and it also takes into account uncertainty and systematic change (1,2,3,4)
  • EA is not only about donations, but also about doing good in additional contexts, such as developing an impact-oriented career or volunteering (1,2,3)
  • EA isn’t only for utilitarians (1,2)
  • EA isn’t about a single cause area (e.g. global poverty) (1)

What is the basic concept of EA?

As a starting point for a standard explanation of EA, let’s use the current explanation on effectivealtruism.org:

While this description is much clearer than the previous one, it relies on a few traditional ways for describing EA that I suggest we should change. I’ll address those along with general guidelines that I think would lead to better explanations and pitches of EA:

Suggested Guidelines

Below are a few guidelines that I suggest using when explaining or pitching EA. These are merely suggestions and probably not optimal, but I share them with the hope of starting a discussion on clearer explanations of EA. 

#1: Helping others (versus doing good)

I suggest using mostly “helping others”, rather than “doing good” (e.g. helping others the most instead of doing the most good):

  • It’s much more concrete and much easier to imagine what “helping others” means rather than “doing more good”.
  • “Helping others” has a stronger emotional connotation than “doing good”.
  • “Do good” has multiple meanings, not all of them refer to altruistic actions, and that probably decreases clarity.

This is not a guideline against using “doing good”, but only a guideline for using it less than a better alternative. If you’ve already used “helping others”, alternating between them is useful.

Another interchangeable term to use occasionally is “social impact” or just “impact”. This alternative shares the first concretization benefit mentioned above, and also connects EA to the increasingly popular “Impact” buzzword, which is important to attract organizations and individuals who relate with this buzzword (think of Impact Investing, Social Impact Bonds, philanthropic grants, and so on - fields where it’s very rare to find the mindset of impact maximization).

Caveat: Depending on the philosophical stance of individuals, in edge cases, “Doing good” would be more accurate if their definition of good doesn’t refer to helping others. 

#2: Prioritization, in order to help the most

This section touches on how to present the most central idea of EA, which would probably make it the most important and yet controversial suggestion in this post. I would highly appreciate your feedback on this point.

The very core idea of EA is something like “getting the most good out of an investment of resources”, or “making decisions based on maximizing good”. Both the resources (as explained above) and the maximization approaches can be off-putting to individuals who didn’t study analytical fields.

In EA Israel, we’ve invested a lot in exploring how to convey this idea with enough clarity. From our experience, just saying “helping others the most” doesn’t convey the core idea of EA with enough emphasis, and many individuals don’t recall this specific idea afterward, even though it’s the most important point about EA.

We’ve found it works better to focus our explanations on prioritization - EA is about the prioritization of opportunities to help others, in order to help the most. 
The word “opportunities” in this sentence is interchangeable with “efforts” or “ways”.

The concept of prioritization introduces many important nuances; it provides better intuition and framing for the use of analytical methods to make decisions, and avoids the impression that we care only about evidence and ‘proven’ interventions. 
Thinking of EA research as offering a toolkit for prioritizing opportunities makes it much clearer what sort of information and methodologies we offer, what’s the purpose of measuring cost-effectiveness (not for its own sake, but for comparisons in order to be able to prioritize), and so on.

Prioritization also conveys the point that EA is not necessarily about doing more; it’s about achieving more with the same resources. 
The confusion between these two ideas is a common misconception when using explanations like “EA is about doing the most good” or “Effective altruism is about helping others as much as you can.”

Sidenote: The phrase “Doing good better” is occasionally used for marketing purposes (e.g. as a motto or short headline), but it isn’t as good as an explanation. If we don’t even give a hint of why we think our proposed paths to doing good are better than others, it’s unclear what we’re advocating for, and it can come off as a condescending statement - especially when pitching to individuals who are highly invested in other ways of doing good.

#3: Give concrete examples of the contexts in which we do good

My epistemic status for this guideline is extremely confident, as this point is rooted in the most agreed-upon guidelines of user experience and marketing.

Without being concrete about the contexts in which we try to help others - such as donation, career decisions, choosing research topics, and more - it’s not clear to what areas of life we’re alluding to, and it doesn’t connect to any specific needs of newcomers (who might just be, for instance, in a career crossroad or seeking donation advice). If it’s clear that this pitch offers value on something concrete that the reader seeks advice on, they’d probably read more. Without concrete examples, the value we’re providing is unclear.

This is a great place for adjusting the explanation or pitch to the audience. The major options for contexts, in an order that I think is beneficial for clarity and motivation:

  • Donations
  • Volunteering
    • Why this is included as one of the major contexts: We offer very little guidance on effective volunteering compared to donations and career (yet*), but: 
      • This is a basic context of doing good, that increases the overall clarity of this point.
      • Mentioning volunteering might match the needs of many newcomers; for specific individuals (who are interested in volunteering) this can be the entry point that would attract them to learn more about EA  - whether we eventually help them with prioritizing volunteer opportunities or with career/donation decisions.
  • Career decisions
    • Why last on the list: Although this is pretty obvious for EAs, the connection between doing good and career is not clear to newcomers. Sometimes in spoken pitches, I use this as the last example and add “and even career decisions”). 

Additional contexts:

  • Choosing research topics
  • Policy
  • Social entrepreneurship

*I personally believe that attracting individuals to EA using the lens of effective volunteering is an extremely overlooked outreach strategy, and EA Israel is currently working on a pilot of an effective volunteering website (led by Yael Vardi) that will be launched soon (for feedback on the forum).

Edit note: I originally had stronger opinions on the order of the list, but I now left here only my thoughts on the order of 'career choices'.

#4: We’re a movement and a community

This stands in contrast to many other ways to explain what we are, that are accurate or appealing but quite unclear. Saying that EA is a question is a great way to describe epistemic modesty, but it’s really confusing to a newcomer that has never encountered people organizing so well together around… a question? The same problem arises when describing EA as an “intellectual project”.
Just to clarify - I’m not saying we shouldn’t send the EA is a question post to newcomers as a part of a reading list (I even strongly recommend that) - I’m saying it’s an unclear way to describe what EA is for the first time.

There is a very strong clarity benefit of describing us as a movement; it provides a strong context of taking action, and of us trying to advocate for something. 

Guideline #6 discusses whether we should explain EA as a philosophy.

#5: Time and money

People don’t intuitively link resources to time and money. Some link it just to money, which is misleading.

Caveat: Less accurate. Individuals with other dominant resources, such as skills and connections, wouldn’t have those resources pop into their minds. But hey, saying “resources'' doesn't pop these into their heads anyway. That said, if you’re pitching to people who are highly connected, saying “time” and “money” explicitly might make them feel like they have something unique to give (which would feel more meaningful → increase motivation).

#6 What we do and how you benefit from being involved

After pitching EA, I’m often asked about what happens in the movement, or what people actually do. 

There are many answers to this question, and as another best practice in user experience and marketing, I suggest that we choose the answers that emphasize what the readers would receive from being involved (or how they can help):

  • The movement develops and promotes practical tools and advice about prioritization of social action.
  • It’s a thriving community where we collaborate and consult with one another about how we can help others the most.

A few notes about these sentences:

  • Saying both developing and promoting is important. Many descriptions of EA only mentioned the developing part (e.g. describing EA as a “research field”), but it’s obvious that the movement is also investing a tremendous amount of effort in spreading EA mindsets to individuals and within different sectors.
  • The framing of practical tools is not currently common in EA, but is beneficial to neutralize the impression that being involved in EA is mostly talking. This is also the weakness of describing EA as a philosophy (in addition to that “adopting a philosophy” sounds quite demanding and even frightening).
  • In certain situations, especially when speaking with individuals who already run a project, it can be beneficial to add “...advice about measurement and prioritization”, to give a better sense of the tools relevant to the later phases of their project.

What these guidelines don’t convey and you might want to include in a longer explanation 

Bonus #1: Evidence and reason

Talking about evidence and reason is very important, and I suggest this to be the very first thing to say when you get an opportunity to explain EA in length. Nevertheless, given the guidelines of prioritization and practical tools, I don’t think this needs to be a part of the basic pitch:

  • We only care about evidence and reason instrumentally - using evidence and reason is not the goal of EA. We don’t want to “dilute” the movement with individuals with bad epistemology, but the importance of thinking thoroughly about doing good is conveyed when we talk about prioritization and about practical tools for prioritization and measurement.
  • We need to attract individuals who are excited about doing good, not individuals who are excited about evidence and reason. We do want to convince anyone who wants to do good to use evidence and reasons, but the other way around is:
    • (1) not the focus of EA, as we’re not about finding how research or data-driven tools can do good, we’re about how to do the most good
    • (2) might be dangerous if we end up being biased towards cause areas that are more intellectually stimulating and exciting for research.
  • The expression “using evidence and reason” is also not strong in clarity; it means a lot for individuals who understand the importance of evidence and reason, but individuals without scientific mindsets (e.g. aren’t familiar with concepts such as counterfactuals, control groups, expected value) probably don’t understand what evidence even means in the context of doing good.

Bonus #2: Give a concrete example of a tool

The most nontrivial, and yet easiest to explain, are:

  • Neglectedness: one of the most overlooked but most important considerations.
  • Counterfactual thinking: I’ve found that calling it “What-would-have-happened-if” is clearer (and less non-condescending) than saying “counterfactuals”.  
    (it’s also useful to mention the 2019 Nobel prize in Economic Sciences, which inspired Givewell’s work)
  • Marginal Impact: A good anecdote for explaining this is donating to Wikipedia now compared to its early days.

Bonus #3: Give a concrete example of an effective donation or career opportunity

For instance, AMF is a very clear and concrete example, which is also very nontrivial - most people are surprised that a low-tech intervention such as distributing bed nets is so effective, but it's easy for them to understand why it's the case once the logic is explained. 

It is important to emphasize that this is just an example and that the question of “what’s more effective” is way more complex (both in a moral and epistemological sense).

Sensitivity to context

Many explanations of EA (such as that on EA.org and that of Will MacAskill) put extreme emphasis on “taking action”. Will discusses this in the context of misconceptions within academia, which makes sense, as concepts are often discussed in academia without the context of taking action. On the other hand, outside academic contexts, this point is probably redundant.

Sensitivity to chosen explanation

Moreover, explanations might also be sensitive to whether certain chosen guidelines. To continue the example above, if we describe EA as an “intellectual project” or a “research field” instead of explicitly describing it as a social movement, we increase the need to add an emphasis on “taking action”.

An example of a 1-minute spoken pitch

This text is based on EA Israel’s upcoming intro video (in Hebrew). The first three paragraphs serve as an intro for the video (and their goal is to emphasize the prioritization point), but are optional for a full pitch.

The highlighted paragraphs (with larger font) are my suggested explanation. After that, I added the first “bonus” about evidence and reason.
 

How do people buy a car? They do a lot of research online about different models, consult with others, go for test drives, and make lists of pros and cons...

This mindset - where we consider many alternatives to choose the best option - is a prioritization mindset. This is our natural thinking when we take care of ourselves.

But our natural mindset when we help others is actually often a “checkbox” mindset.  Think of the expression “it’s the thought that counts” - we checkmark the intention of helping, without regarding how much we’ve helped. But try to imagine a couple that’s about to buy a car, and one of them says “but this car doesn't have air conditioning!” and the second responds “that’s OK, at least we intended to find a good car”.

We are Effective Altruism: a social movement that calls us to prioritize our efforts to help others, in order to help the most. We aim that when individuals are about to invest time or money in helping others, they will examine their options, and choose the one with the highest impact - whether they are looking to help through donations, volunteering, career decisions, social entrepreneurship, or any other means.

The movement develops and promotes practical tools and advice about prioritization of social action, and is also a thriving community where we consult with one another about how we can help others the most.

In order to help others the most, we can’t just guess what would help more - we need to measure our impact, meaning to measure things like: How many people does this project get out of poverty? How many lives does it save? How much animal suffering does it avert? How much CO2 emissions does it spare? 

The movement promotes tools for this type of measurement, in addition to tools for situations where measuring is impractical, as some problems are too complex for direct measurement (like global warming), and because we can’t always foresee the results of our decisions (such as when we’re choosing a career path).

{At the end of the pitch, I recommend mentioning concrete action item - specifically, you can invite them to learn more, ask for advice, volunteer, and stay up to date through social media or an EA newsletter}

Examples of short pitches

Each of these examples is made of two sentences; the first one communicates the core idea of EA (guideline #2), and the second is conveying an important nuance (either guideline #3 of concrete examples or guideline #6 of what we actually do).

Using a prioritization framing (with both options for the second sentence):

  • We are Effective Altruism: A social movement that calls us to prioritize our efforts to help others, in order to help others the most - whether this help is through volunteering, donations, or career decisions.
  • We are Effective Altruism: A social movement that calls us to prioritize our efforts to help others, in order to help others the most - we promote practical tools and advice about prioritization of opportunities to help others.

An alternative for the first sentence, using a maximization framing:

  • Effective Altruism is a social movement assisting people in maximizing their social impact.

An alternative for the first sentence, using the resources framing, but in a way that might be able to convey the “prioritization” concept:

  • Effective Altruism is a community of people thinking separately and together about how the investment of our time or money can help others the most.

Next steps & testing

While self-experimenting with different ways to pitch EA is probably beneficial, I believe there’s a need for strong leadership regarding this matter. If after conducting market testing we find some ways to explain EA’s core ideas that are extremely effective, the movement’s leadership would have to invest substantial effort to get this messaging used across the movement. Such findings might also lead to harder decisions on the branding of the movements, e.g. changing its name at some point in the future.

One particular question I’d be happy to get a better answer on is how severe is this problem of misunderstanding EA - I’ve tried to explain my intuition on why I see this as the biggest bottleneck to building EA, but the extent of investment in this topic should depend on the delta of improvement in clarity we can make with different explanations and anecdotes.

Personally, I think that the scale of this problem and the testing of different alternatives (that could include metrics such as “how many nuances of EA are understood from this pitch”) is a very important topic for projects like the EA Market Testing
That said, I think that the process of creating a good pitch (that is later to be tested) is best when it’s done with personal experimentation and quick feedback loops, so I recommend that individuals who work in out-facing roles in meta-EA orgs, and community builders, would experiment and be attentive to responses to different explanations.


 

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I like this framing a lot. I particularly like the idea of replacing the phrase "doing good" with "helping others" and "maximization" with "prioritization."

I understand the impulse to mention volunteering before donations and careers because people naturally connect it with doing good. But I think it would be misleading for the following reasons:

  • As you said, there is currently very little emphasis on volunteering in EA
  • In most cases, individuals can do much more good by changing their career path or donating

I  think we should be as accurate as we can when communicating EA. Being inaccurate might give people the wrong idea and make the movement seem dishonest. 

I help a run a university group and in that context mentioning careers first is probably best choice, because

  • American undergrads often want to have an impactful career, so "helping others with your career" isn't a strange concept to them
  • It's probably the most important thing for individuals to focus on
  • It's what our club focuses on the most

But things might be different if you aren't talking to undergrads. 

Yup, this also lines up with how (American) undergrads empirically seem to get most enthusiastic about career-centered content (maybe because they're starved for good career guidance/direction).

And a nitpick:

In most cases, individuals can do much more good by changing their career path or donating

I initially nodded along as I read this, but then I realized that intuition came partly from comparing effective donations with ineffective volunteering, which might not be comparing apples to apples. Do effective donations actually beat effective volunteering? I suspect many people can have more impact through highly effective volunteering, e.g.:

  • Volunteering in movement-building/fundraising/recruitment
  • High-skill volunteering for orgs focused on having positive long-term impacts, or potentially for animal advocacy orgs (since these seem especially skill-constrained)
  • Volunteering with a mainstream policy org to later land an impactful job there (although this one's iffy as an example since it's kind of about careers)

(Still agree that emphasizing volunteering wouldn't be very representative of what the movement focuses on.)

Fair enough. I would guess you can usually have a higher impact through your career since you are doing something you've specialized in. But the first two examples you bring up seem valid.

Agreed! So maybe differences in feasible impact are: career >> (high-skill / well-located) volunteering > donations >> other stuff

Controversial opinion, but I think most volunteers are probably fairly ineffective, enough to round down to zero. 

However, it's super easy to be an effective volunteer. Simply: A) Be autonomous/self-motivated B) Put in some significant amount of effort per week C) Be consistent over a long period of time (long enough to climb up the skill curve for the tasks at hand) 

Controversial opinion, but I think most volunteers are probably fairly ineffective, enough to round down to zero. 

I agree with you. See Volunteering Isn't Free as one example of elucidation for why taking on volunteers is hard, often net negative. 

That said, I do not think this is a controversial opinion, whether within EA or overall. :)

Fair enough, perhaps it just feels a little risky for me to say "out-loud"

Seems right; maybe this was implied, but I'd add (D) pick a cause & intervention that scores very well under scale/neglectedness/tractability/personal fit considerations

Thank you for this feedback lukasberglund and Maricio, I think I underestimated the misrepresentation argument, so I highly appreciate this. 

About your second argument on the impact of volunteer guidance, and the discussion with Mauricio: I entirely agree with your opinion on the impact of volunteering, but I think that the main case for including volunteering in the pitch (and in general, investing in guidance for effective volunteering) is that it for specific individuals, who are interested in volunteering, this can be the entry point that would attract them to learn more about EA - whether we eventually help them with prioritizing volunteer opportunities or with career/donation decisions.

For this reason (and because specific volunteering opportunities can be highly impactful, as you both discussed), I still think it's beneficial to include volunteering on EA pitches. I believe that the argument about misrepresentation makes a good case for not mentioning volunteering as the first on the list, but I don't think that the order is of high significance. 

I'll soon make some updates to the post about that. Thank you both again for your feedback!

This was very helpful for me. I am half way through an 8 week intro session and this article was a well needed correction to the drift I was caught up in.

[This is my first real Forum post; please have pity, folks, 'specially if I spend time on something self-evident. :-)  ]

This is such an important post, and timely as new charities arising from EA turn ever more outwards to engage the public. Gidon, it’s like you’ve been IN MY BRAIN, because I have been pondering a number of these issues for months, as some of my EA contacts can attest. I appreciate how clearly you have explained the issues and your conclusions.

In a conversation to today with Jack Lewars at One for the World, I concurred with his observation of the abundance of long, detailed explanations of EA that are available, and the lack of more accessible resources. Someone orienting to EA may well find this daunting: Plenty of six-hour podcasts, or articles that begin with the note that they are a 30-plus-minute read, or much longer, like when they include 95 pages of thoughtful comments. (Jack said something to the effect of, “I’ve had good night’s sleeps that were shorter than reading some of these articles.) Not to mention dozens of specialized Forums and Slacks devoted to intricate discussion of abstract ideas.

So you are so right. We need good, targeted pitches and definitions that are carefully crafted to characterize the movement as effectively as possible for the person who may be unfamiliar with or have the wrong impression about EA…and then to take action and use these religiously in presentations, videos and so on. (The “concise” quality of these messages is also key to engaging the listener in that carefully phrased message.)

A few thoughts:

First, in regards to #1, in my months of describing EA to others I find I rely often on pinning down the ultimate goal of EA a little more specifically than merely “doing good” or “helping others”, for example, “supporting life and health and reducing suffering,” or “saving lives, reducing suffering, and helping others live the fullest lives they can, free of poverty.” Might such a phrase be part of a fuller explanation or pitch on EA? It makes the helping more specific and immediate, providing a hook for the emotions.

Second, in regards to Bonus #1 on evidence and reason, to me these are important to mention in explaining that  decisions of effectiveness generally deemphasize emotion, proximity, and prominence in the news of the day. My thinking about altruism has changed since encountering EA in part as I now see how causes “close to my heart” loomed large in my past giving. So, as another motivation for mentioning evidence and reasoning, should this be more explicitly mentioned in longer pitches? 

And one suggestion: As an example of a concrete example of effective altruism, Deworm the World might rate a mention (Bonus #3). It brings with it a great narrative about schools and books and teachers, while forcing the listener to consider that the most effective charities may not be the ones that are the most intuitive or best publicized.

 

As I have learned more about EA, I started to create a table to help me get a broad picture of its many parts and to phrase it ways of thinking effectively. I have showed this to a few people and they thought it *might* be something that could be turned into a resource of some sort. Alternatively, maybe it will be seen as simply rehashing all the introductory materials on EA and therefore not worth much.

So I will link to the diagram here (edit access!) and invite people to make comments on it and/or hack away at it, especially to improve it in light of the considerations in this article. (I will also post it in the Editing and Review Forum.) It’s here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ZUcoJ5yP1448TtKZnFD1tRIk7f2Og6qYI7nhNprY494/edit?usp=sharing  

Thanks!

I run the social media pages for Effective Altruism Medicine so have had to grapple with the challenging task of explaining EA within a very small number of characters! 

I've been iterating, but currently I'm on:

"A community of healthcare workers aiming to use evidence and careful reasoning to make career decisions that maximise our social impact".

I think for the reasons you touched on, I prefer 'social impact' to 'helping others' and 'doing good'.

For the purposes of our group and for a social media bio, I think focusing on careers rather than volunteering, because as lukasberglund has said in his comment, EA has more developed advice on careers than volunteering. With effective giving, I think that's more relevant when there's more words available to describe the movement, since I think fewer people are already interested in donations, but more people are already interested in impactful careers.

I've also gone for 'career decisions' rather than 'career' to convey that you can improve your impact without switching career paths entirely, but I think this consideration is more specific for our group since we're catering to a profession.

With point 4, I  prefer the framing of "social movement and research field" because I think it's more accurate than just "social movement", and I think the benefits of accuracy here outweigh the costs of having a slightly weaker call to action.

I strongly agree with your points 5 and 6.

I think I consider "evidence and reason" as very central to EA, since I think they're important in setting the community apart from others, and convey how we're prioritising between causes.

I agree with your point of "career decisions" - I'm replacing "career choices" in my post with "career decisions", thank you!

Regarding evidence and reason - I think that the idea of prioritizing social action is already unique and doesn't require differentiation, and I think that individuals would assume that by prioritizing  we mean to apply some serious thinking into this process (but I think this argument requires some testing, and would be easy to test)

Hi Gidon,

Thanks for this, a really interesting way to think about the problem!

I think one rule of thumb that can help people simplify the framing problem is to know who your audience is. I am not sure that there is a universal framing that can be applied to all situations, and trying to abstract explanations to the points of having a framework of explanations might lead to some over-efficient explanations. 

I think your criticism of the website is right fair, but I believe it has more to do with writing to the wrong audience rather than giving a poor explanation. You mention this when you say that the wording might not appeal to someone who does not tend to think very analytically in daily life, but I do not think that the problem is not that it is not clear enough. The problem is that the text  does not capture the reader.

 I do not think that the point of a lot of our introductory pitches should to transfer the most bits of information, but rather to get people on the right track, interested and attracted to the idea. 

I might argue this is more of a copywriting issue than a clarity issue. 

I dont think that there is a 1st degree understanding of EA, and then further degrees of complexity that you understand as you go along. To be able to parse your explanations in this forum post to the degree that you do already requires a high degree of EA expertise. If someone understands all of the information you are trying to transmit in your explanation here, then they are already long past the point of requiring an introduction to EA. 

Thank you Charlie! 

 I don't think that the point of a lot of our introductory pitches should to transfer the most bits of information, but rather to get people on the right track, interested and attracted to the idea. 

I totally agree with this! Let me clarify my opinion:

  • I distinguish between a pitch and an explanation.
  • I think that pitches should maximize attraction, but also need to satisfy some level of explanations for the concept discussed.
  • I think that the common EA pitches are quite good at attracting people, but I believe we’re pretty bad at explaining what EA is (I’d love to hear if you’re not sharing this belief!)
  • I hope that being able to explain EA better:
    • will also improve our pitches by improving the explanation component of our pitches.
    • will help onboarding individuals once they were initially attracted by a good pitch. 

I think one rule of thumb that can help people simplify the framing problem is to know who your audience is. 

I think it's great to frame the quality of a pitch by its fit to its audience. Yet what I'm missing in this framing is the size of the audience in question:

  • Many of my criticisms in this post can be thought of as "this articulation aims for a too narrow audience", for instance, to an audience that tends to think very analytically. 
  • Many of my suggestions in this post are trying to broaden the audience so it can be clearer and more convincing to a wider audience, without relying on their background or prior knowledge.
  • In addition, many of my suggestions are about explicitly and simplification (e.g. saying “time and money” instead of “resources”, or explicitly saying “donating, volunteering, and career choices”) and I think are relevant regardless to the audience we’re aiming to attract.

In general, I think that pitches should change drastically according to the audience in hand, while explanations should be (a bit) more audience-neutral.

Hi Gidon! Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

Sorry if I got lost in the difference between a pitch and an explanation in your post. When we talk about one minute or equally short explanations of EA, I tend to think of them as pitches. In the EA world, I tend to think of long form education and discussion such as a fellowship program as an explanation.  I like the distinction, but I would also suggest the line between the two isn't clear cut.  I think this is also indicated when your suggested guidelines are directed to both pitches and explanations. 

My interpretation of what you wrote was that you felt that EA pitches were  neither very good at attracting people nor explaining EA very well to them either, so its interesting to hear you think the pitches are good. 

I like you suggestions, and I love the example of buying a car in your one minute pitch. Its a wonderful illumination of the idea that it's "the thought that counts" in being kind, but in little else.  

If I was to take a step back, though, I would also argue that knowing your audience is very important for even when explaining EA, as not every person looking to learn about EA is interested in all aspects of EA. Lots of people want to do more with their donations, but dont care about epistemics or consequentialism. 

Lots of students want to figure out how to use their time and energy best, but dont worry about earning to give just yet.

Others are completely preoccupied by the philosophy of the far future, and couldnt care less about giving what we can. 

Some people only care about the fact that EA is so strong on factory farming, but think AI is a fantasy. 

There are not that many people who are concerned with knowing the whole of EA and being able to chart it. Most of those people participate in this forum. Knowing the true state of EA is a meta question more than anything to me, and not always useful to the average supporter. (I can talk about this more, but it would take some sapce.)

What the people who need an explanation to EA probably need most an explanation of how EA is relevant to what they care about. We need to frame EA for the audience we are addressing, and until they become fully engaged in EA, a true complete charting of EA for them is probably unnecessary, and for many I suspect overwhelming. 

So for me, it goes back to knowing your audience. How can EA help them be better at what they want to do? How can they help us be a better movement? That is a key to building greater engagement, in my opinion.

 

Also, does anyone have an up-to-date mapping of EA right now?

Hey, would you share more raw information from the user interviews, if you have it? Even from memory?

I wish I had some organized interviews written down, and I hope to see more serious market testing work like that within the movement - unfortunately, I didn't have the time to document my interactions explaining about EA. 

Generally speaking, I tried out different pitches whenever I had the chance to speak about EA, tried to be attentive to responses, asked what do they think about the concept (which is important, because most of the time people would just be supportive or say "wow" while clearly not understanding what EA is about), and shared these experiences with other community builders in Israel and abroad. 

The vast majority of the responses I received was either very basic questions that show confusion about the concept ("so what does the movement actually do?", "what do people in the movement do?"), responses that show very little understanding, or responses that was kind of OK but then later I realized didn't account for much comprehension (as happened a lot with volunteers - I found myself often explaining critical nuances of EA to people who were involved for quite a while, even if they had actually read our list of intro materials).

In addition, I quite often expected people I (even slightly) know to be more excited about EA, and their lack of excitement showed me that our pitches are far from optimal. Once we've developed the current pitch and placed it on our website, I found that:

  • Volunteers and individuals who seek career advice approached us with far better understanding of EA (far from perfect, but it feels like going from 20% of understanding to 60%)
  • Within a minute of explanation I get the feeling the person I speak with actually has a general understanding of what I'm talking about
  • Informal conversations I have about EA make people much more excited

That said - much more research is needed, I don't think this is the most optimal pitch we can come up with, and I can't really quantify these experiences as much as I'd hope to.

Thanks!

Just saying, from my point of view, that it's useful to also hear specific ways in which people misunderstand EA. Every time you give an example of that kind, like "what do people in the movement do?", I feel like my brain is updating and will pay attention to this failure mode next time I have such a conversation.

I'm differentiating (1) "concrete examples of misunderstandings" from (2) sentences like "20% of understanding" or "explaining critical nuances of EA": The latter isn't actionable for me personally. (Though I understand why you said it and I'm excited for this improvement that you're able to get, and I'm happy that someone like you is focusing on this project).

I totally agree. Though it's not concrete examples, these two resources (1,2) are helpful. 

Just thinking out loud: Diving deeper into each misconception and providing concrete examples (or even "simulations" for practice) might be a good idea for an EA pitching workshop

Thanks for this—I have often wished I had a better elevator pitch for EA.

One thing I might add is some mention of just how wide the disparity can be amongst possible interventions, since this seems to be one of the most overlooked key ideas.

Thanks Gidon - I really like this post. A few reactions:

  • I think "helping others" sounds like it's exclusively about humans. I agree "doing good" is hard to picture, but part of this is out of genuine uncertainty on the human/animal trade-offs
  • What made prioritization really click for me was an example, I agree with you that this is the most central idea, and as a result, I think in an intro it is worth giving an example of two interventions intended to help the same target population, where one is way more effective (for me it was comparing two health interventions that both naively sounded like "good" things to do)

Thanks Oldman! I totally agree with your point on examples.

Regarding 'helping others' and animals - I think it's a great question whether individuals who are interested in animal welfare and hear about EA for the first time would be put off by this expression. 
If it's not the case, then I think the benefits of using 'helping others' are still relevant, and it's not that 'doing good' would signal to these individuals that the movement also cares about animals. Nevertheless, in some contexts, I think it can be beneficial to say explicitly 'helping other people and animals' even though it makes this sentence a bit longer.

Anyhow, in terms of accuracy, I think that 'others' can refer to animals as well (though I'm not sure of that).

Great post, I totally agree that we need more work in this area. Also agree with other commenters that volunteering isn’t a main focus of EA advice, but it probably should be – given the points Mauricio made.

Nitpicky, but it would have been nice to have a summary at the start of the post.

I want to second Bonus #2, I think EA is significantly about a toolkit for helping others effectively, and using examples of tools seems helpful for an engaging pitch. Is anybody familiar with a post or article listing the main EA tools? One of my side-projects is developing a workshop on these, because I think it could be a really good first introduction to EA for newcomers; even if they don’t want to get further involved, they’ve learned something (we’ve added value to their life) and therefore (hopefully) have a positive attitude toward EA.

The phrasing “helping others” will turn off some progressives. I’m not sure how to deal with this, but it is worth being aware of. This might help explain why (tho I only skimmed it): https://sojo.net/articles/mutual-aid-changing-way-we-help-each-other

Can you (or someone) write a TLDR of why "helping others" would turn off "progressives"?

If you end up with a list of tools, you could add 'em to the chart I link to in the comment above. It's meant to collect just about everything important. If you'd like.