I want to extend a MASSIVE, heartfelt thank you to the abundant resources put together by the EA community and the wonderful EAs who are so generous with their knowledge and time (even when talking to a complete newbie like me).
Because of you, I went from being laid off in June and knowing nothing about EA in July, to being offered a nonprofit co-founder position in early September, to finishing some initial groundwork of setting up a charity (productivity system, Founder’s agreement, funding proposal draft, etc) in late September.
The initial groundwork implemented thus far were all influenced by the action steps found in How to Launch a High-Impact Nonprofit. Thus, this aims to be a post sequence dedicated to putting the book’s concepts to work and showing some actual work examples.
Hopefully with more of your support and feedback, the StakeOut.AI charity startup can keep a good steady pace and accomplish more crucial milestones in Oct and onwards.
As this post is the intro of the sequence, it details more specifically my journey (learning and doing applications) - including important tips for other applicants (apply early, handling rejections) and some feedback for EA organizations taking applications (setup to process many applications, send responders a copy of their responses, informing those who didn’t make the cut).
I hope this brings value to the EA community as this is perspective from someone very green in EA, eager to take action quickly even though I came from a totally different world before.
I would like to give a special thank you to Dr. Peter S. Park for editing this post and for all our future collaborations! There is also a I’m so grateful for everyone who has been a part of the journey thus far section later in this post.
Hi, my name is Harry, it’s nice to meet all of you. This post, my first ever post on the EA forum, is inspired by Three lessons I've learnt from starting a small EA org and Why and how to start a pilot project in EA - so thank you Ben Williamson.
The purpose of this post is to  document my journey publicly (hopefully to inspire others who are thinking they want to start a side project, or apply to CE, or go down the path of charity entrepreneurship),  maximize feedback as per Ben’s post (both directly through the post (in the comments) and indirectly (people who reach out privately with additional suggestions/ advice)), and  share key lessons & milestones to hopefully contribute to the forum via actual work examples.
The hope is that it is going to be a follow along post sequence, as my co-founder Dr. Peter S. Park and I get our nonprofit startup up and running.
Though the journey with EA has only been 2 months, I already have so many people to thank who have answered questions, provided feedback and pointed me in the right direction. I am forever grateful for you :)
The Catalyst: The Layoff that Sparked My Journey
I first found out about Effective Altruism from my Google search about impactful tithing. As a Christian, I have been tithing 10% of my income for many years, but because I was laid off from shortage of work in my previous marketing role, I was interested in finding more impactful ways to give due to our now lowered family income.
This is when I stumbled upon GivingMultiplier.org and was introduced to the idea of super-effective charities. I was intrigued by their approach where you can still give from the heart (your favorite charity), but at the same time incentivizes you to give more to super-effective charities by matching your donations (the higher % you give to super-effective charities, the higher the matching rate). The concept of super-effective charities was so intriguing, I read through all eight “websites we recommend” (most notably EA and 80k).
With the gift of time of no longer being at a full-time job, this began my deep dive into EA. I was ecstatic when I found out about the CharityEntrepreneurship.com (CE) incubator program within the first week on the EA forum, as I have always had the dream of starting a non-profit to help in bettering the world. The dream of doing high-impact work was born 19+ years ago since co-leading fundraisers in my high school years. My eyes were opened to how first world dollars can have a major positive impact in the developing world, when what seemed like a small amount of funds raised actually built new schools in Tibet.
After about a week, I knew I had found a group of likeminded people who care about doing good in the world while effectively using our limited resources. My job lay off was a blessing before finding EA because I was able to spend more time with my kids. Then after learning about EA, the lay off turned out to be an opportunistic time to shift my career to doing high-impact work, changing my dormant dream into a (hopefully) reality.
The Effective Altruism Influence
Throughout the last two months, the first material I read through was the 80000 Hours Career Guide. Then, because I found out about CE so soon in my EA journey and I knew I wanted to apply to the incubator, the rest of the 200+ hours towards my metaphorical undergraduate degree in Effective Altruism (suggested here) was trying to get through as many resources as I can highlighted below (I broke the 3 lists into to-do items to systemize the process):
Between all the reading/watching/listening, another important influence was talking with other like-minded people. Please see below I’m so grateful for everyone who has been a part of the journey thus far for more details.
Lastly, for anyone who has been a part of EA for even a small amount of time knows, you will come to love Google Forms. Like others, I have applied to many EA official programs, volunteering roles, paid jobs, career advising opportunities, incubator programs etc… and to my surprise these have also affected me in a profound way I had not anticipated before. Particularly, answering all these Google Form questions and doing the test tasks have clarified my thinking to put things on paper (well, digitally paper), that previously had been unorganized and swirling in my head.
The Challenges: What I've Faced So Far
Getting started quickly in EA
There are a lot of resources, and I guess that can be a double-edged sword. Within a week of skimming, I knew EA was in alignment for me. So, as someone who wanted to hit the ground running, it was like trying to drink from a firehose sorting through the different topics and information initially. However, I’m very lucky I was inspired to go down the co-founding path early on, and so I stuck mostly to a semi structured way to devour resources based on the 3 lists as per above.
Other than that, as suggested by many people, the most valuable way to learn the ideas of Effective Altruism isn’t by merely reading (e.g. the EA handbook, forum, books etc), but by conversing, exchanging ideas and learning from other like-minded people. The official way to do that is via the monthly EA Virtual Intro Program and this is a great experience as I’m going through it right now.
However, for someone who wants to get moving ASAP, that is waiting in most cases an entire month between applying, hearing back and starting the eight week EA Virtual Intro Program. This waiting period, if not properly handled, could have been a semi hindrance.
That’s why for me, I’m very grateful for the EA Anywhere group where professional and affinity groups were consolidated into one space. I was able to get connected to multiple events/groups to learn and get feedback (it’s so easy to find events compared to hunting down different interest groups on their respective websites). Additionally, there is the #study-buddy chat room (that's joint with the EA Virtual Programs Slack) that you can find others to who are reading through resources that might be of interest to you. See here for other promising ways to connect to others online.
So while waiting to hear back from EA VP, I kept busy with the 80k Career Guide (I gave feedback here to help improve this amazing guide - consider doing this too if you recently read it), 80k podcast with transcripts for easy note taking, other CE recommended resources and attending group meetings found in EA Anywhere. To be honest, I didn’t even know there was an official handbook until a few weeks in. It is only now because I’m going through the intro fellowship that I am realizing my “organic discovery” of EA had already led me to read a number of the required readings (like Introduction to Effective Altruism, Four Ideas You Already Agree With and Scope insensitivity: failing to appreciate the numbers of those who need our help).
Aside: From what I was told, EA Anywhere group wasn’t meant to intake total newbies like I was (and hence not heavily advertised). But, I really am glad I found it somehow during my second week in EA, because it skyrocketed my learning and helped me prioritize where to drill deeper inside of EA.
Another challenge I had was similar to others described in the post After one year of applying for EA jobs: It is really, really hard to get hired by an EA organization, where basically both post author and commenters echo in saying that EA community jobs are extremely competitive.
In fact, I think incubator programs and even official programs, volunteering or career advising opportunities are just as difficult to get into.
Because of my recent lay off, I had the luxury of full-time hours diving into EA and applying to multiple opportunities (Application Breakdown & Handling Rejections below if interested) since July. However, the difference is that I went into the applications having the expectation that getting accepted into anything will be difficult.
Particularly, I remember this paragraph from How to Launch a High-Impact Nonprofit on page 375:
Why is there so much interest from such talented people? It’s because the big idea of “effective altruism” is appealing to many smart individuals, and they want to devote their careers to having an impact and helping others.
Even with this mentality, being someone who is mid-career and has 14+ years of work experience looking to deploy my career capital, I really didn’t expect to
- Get rejected by 80000 Hours’ career advising
- Get complete radio silence from a career advising application (not even an acknowledgement of application received)
- Get again radio silence from multiple volunteering opportunities where I thought I was very qualified for and could do easily
Having said this, all the closed doors didn’t really bug me or get to me. Maybe because in my career I have faced much worse objections, failures, losses and valleys and have learned to fail forward. In fact, each closed door was listed as a gratitude item in my prayer journal. As a Christian, I gave thanks for every opportunity that was shut down as I know I did my best with those applications and left the rest to God. I found comfort in the verses:
'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. ' — Jeremiah 29:11.
The Triumphs: Small Wins and Big Milestones
I was taught to celebrate successes big and small during my entrepreneurial days. And I’m glad others in the EA feel the same way about celebration and gratitude.
The small wins along the way are detailed below at I’m so grateful for everyone who has been a part of the journey thus far. I love this EA community because from most of my encounters so far, most people are genuinely willing and wanting to help. There is no hidden agenda compared to the typical for-profit world, because EAs generally are driven by the impact they can have (less monetary motivations). Which means, even if it’s something they have spent hours and hours working on, I found many are still willing to share. Whether they are actively thinking about maximizing their indirect impact, or just trying to help because they are paying it forward, the EA environment has been one of the most collaborative, energizing and helpful ones I’ve found after 14+ years of networking and being in the business world.
And because of all you wonderful people lending a help, contributing and sharing your knowledge/wisdom, in short after two months, I thankfully I made it through and was accepted to 4 of the 19 applications (two career advising calls, one official CEA program - EA Virtual Intro, and one co-founder opportunity) - more details in the Application Breakdown & Handling Rejections section.
Yes, I was encouraged each time I got a yes. And yes, I was overjoyed I was offered the co-founder position!!!
Tip for Future EA Applicants: Apply early
One tip I learned that has become apparent after the multiple applications (breakdown of applications below if interested) is that you should err on the side of applying early (aka within the week the application is first posted), rather than waiting to submit just before the deadline.
My previous strategy for applications which has worked well outside of EA is to do my best preparing for the application, so that I can put my best foot forward during the 1st impression stage (initial application form, cover letter, etc). This is why even though I found out about the 2024 CE incubator program back in July, I scheduled the CE application as a to-do for the last week of Sep (I’m extremely excited about this as I will be applying this week to the incubation program with our own intervention idea: the StakeOut.AI’s mission and intervention).
From the top of my head, here are two examples to demonstrate why it’s better to apply early:
Fill out this short application form (10-20 mins) to apply. The deadline is 23:59 UTC October 1st. Be aware: applying earlier may give you an advantage vs applying very near the deadline.
2. Even though I felt I was very qualified for this particular job as I have 14+ years direct hands-on and managerial experience for the exact role description (caveat is my time in EA is very short), I got this response from the application:
This was a very difficult process on our side; we received a huge number (>150) of applications for this position and we were only able to progress with a small number of candidates.
Feedback for EA Organizations Taking Applications
Reference CE’s application round for easier applicants processing
From what I gathered after the multiple applications (whether it’s a job ad, volunteering role, career advising or incubator programs) is that there might be a slight bottleneck when it comes to processing applications. This is because many EA organizations are smaller in size compared to typical for profit companies with dedicated HR departments. Thus, handling the sheer volume of applications coming through (again because “so much interest from such talented people” as per How to Launch a High-Impact Nonprofit), is hard to process without a systemized setup from the beginning to filter through applicants.
How to Launch a High-Impact Nonprofit wrote in-depth about the hiring process and this is definitely something our organization will implement in the future when we reach the point we need to hire staff. In particular:
- Page 310 talks about “The project job ad”
- Page 312 talks about “Designing an application form” and gives a Google Form template for you to follow. This is what I think can help many EA organizations address the bottleneck of large numbers of applicants and I explained in more detail below.
- Page 314 talks about “Structured interviews” and also gives you an “interview rubric template” to help you score interviews quickly while remaining more neutral
- Page 318 has CE’s hiring template, combining all the stages of the application process into an “Overall” score
Designing the application form to ask the right questions and also “[c]onnecting a spreadsheet to the form will help you systematically rate applicants to keep things consistent” seem to allow the CE team to “rule out at least 50% of the applications'' when combined with the CV. I might be wrong because auto scoring wasn’t fully explained in How to Launch a High-Impact Nonprofit… However, after analyzing the application and doing a little reverse engineering:
- 13 are admin, logistics, legal, feedback, optional questions
- 15 required multiple choice questions
- 2-3 required questions are short form questions (3rd question only if you are applying with your own idea)
- 41 required rating scale pages (fit assessment statements)
This shows 94.9% of the required questions ((15+41)/(15+3+41)=94.9%) asked in CE’s application form are multiple choice or rating scale questions, while only 2-3 questions ((3)/(15+3+41)=5.1%) are short form questions that require manual processing. Which means, the setup of the connected spreadsheet plays a crucial role and does a lot of the heavy lifting sorting through thousands of applicants. With the right formulas set up, scores can easily be calculated to get a general gist of how well the applicant fits, even before a team member manually looks through the short answer questions.
Thus, whether you have a big or small team, processing hundreds and thousands of applicants from one stage to the next (whether it’s the “interview” or “test task” stage) can be relatively quick. This is compared to if someone designed their entire application form with only short answer questions - which is the majority of the applications I filled out.
Since CE is used to taking on thousands of applications (KarolinaSarek said “we start with ~3000 applications and only accept a small number”), I think other EA organizations can learn from CE’s robust system to eliminate the bottleneck of processing applications. At the very least, it is worth taking a look and having a conversation. Again, I might be wrong and please let me know if this is the case. However, if I’m right, I’m very well versed with spreadsheets in general and happy to help put together a template if there is interest. Of course, I’m just deducing the exact process CE has here, it would be better to get the template example from the original source.
Send responders a copy of their response
On the topic of Google Forms (while I have come to love because this is the method of application in EA), I personal dislike seeing the below message after I poured time (sometimes hours) into the application form and hitting submit:
At the very least, please enable the setting "Send responders a copy of their response" for your applicants so they can see their hours of hard work (probably also an emotional endeavor as your application might be the 10th or 15th application the applicant has done in the last few weeks/months) indeed has gone through:
Can we at least get a response?
Lastly, there are still a few applications I’m still waiting to hear back from. As an applicant, I think if you asked for my email on the application form, then it would be nice (and courteous) to at least get a response back if I didn’t make the cut - even if it’s followed by “At this stage we don't have the capacity to offer individual feedback on your application.”
It might be the norm to not hear back if you didn’t make it through the 1st stage when applying to a “normal” job via Linkedin, or through a job posting by sending a resume and cover letter to a specified email address.
But for whatever reason, when I was applying through Google Forms, I had an expectation of a response. Maybe because I assumed the responses are captured by a spreadsheet and hence sorting through candidates who didn’t make it would be easier. I’m not sure if this is shared by other applicants, or maybe it's just me being misguided.
Anyway, that’s why I’m very appreciative of all the rejection responses I got. Because at the very least I know where I stand - versus the applications that were met with radio silence (makes me suspicious too if my application even went through in the first place).
Of course, even better if an EA organization can implement the potential solutions to help keep up the morale within EA, as described in The Cost of Rejection.
The Application Breakdown & Handling Rejections
Here is a rough look at the applications (including ones I’ve applied to and still looking to apply to like the CE incubator program this week, EAGxVirtual 2023 that just started accepting applications):
- 4 official CEA programs (1 accepted, 1 rejected, 2 to apply next week)
- 5 career advising (2 accepted, 2 rejected, 1 radio silence)
- 4 co-founder opportunities/incubators (1 accepted, 1 rejected after 3rd of 3 steps with internal CE applicant getting the position, 1 radio silence, 1 to apply this week)
- 2 paid jobs/contractors (1 waiting, 1 rejected)
- 4 volunteering opportunities (1 waiting, 3 radio silence)
In total, that’s 19 applications in roughly a two month timeframe.
I found out many of the opportunities I applied to from EA Anywhere, and the occasional ones from the EA Opportunities Board, "other EA opportunity collections" like 80000 Hours and Probably Good job board).
To the point of embracing the rejections. Here is a perspective that might help if you have applied for a bunch of things and still haven’t haven’t gotten an offer in EA. This is something I learned from a passionate, upright and caring role model of mine Dr. Jim Burns: we have to “to say no to good things, so that we can say yes to the most important things.” When I looked it up just now to find the original quote, it seems like there are variations of this out there but the point is consistent:
Learn to say 'no' to the good so you can say 'yes' to the best. - John C. Maxwell
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things. - Steve Jobs
What’s the perspective? I’m very grateful for all the no’s because these no’s to good things (regardless of you saying ‘no’, or they saying ‘no’), will eventually lead you to saying ‘yes’ to the best things, or most important things.
Maybe I’m being optimistic, or maybe it’s because I have a faith that stabilizes me (like I mentioned above with Jeremiah 29:11). Regardless, I think this perspective could help. Especially if you resonate with the EA applicant:
At least for me, handling multiple rejections was mentally challenging. Additionally, the process may foster resentment towards the EA community. I am aware the following statement is super in-accurate and no one is literally saying that, but sometimes this is the message I felt I was getting from the EA community:
“Hey you! You know, all these ideas that you had about making the world a better place, like working for Doctors without Borders? They probably aren’t that great. The long-term future is what matters. And that is not funding constrained, so earning to give is kind of off the table as well. But the good news is, we really, really need people working on these things. We are so talent constraint… (20 applications later) … Yeah, when we said that we need people, we meant capable people. Not you. You suck.”
Here is another forum post about celebrating rejection.
A Heartfelt Thank You to the Effective Altruism Community
It has been a whirlwind of 2 months and I thank you for all the written/videos/podcasts resources this community has made available for anyone who is interested in doing more good.
Above all, thank you to the people who have taken the time out of their busy schedules to meet and help, listed in chronological order (skipped secondary meetings to keep it shorter). I’m so grateful for everyone who has been a part of the journey thus far:
Jul 25th, 2023: Subscribed to the EA Newsletter, subscribed to 80,000 Hours
Jul 27th, 2023: Joined and started reading the EA forum
Aug 3rd, 2023:
- My first virtual 1-on-1 meeting with an EA Sasha Berezhnoi (Community Director for EA Anywhere). Thank you for meeting with me when I was a super newbie and baring with my many many many questions
- Joined EA Anywhere Slack. Again, I’m very grateful for the EA Anywhere group where professional and affinity groups are consolidated into one space, making it so much easier to find events (compared to hunting different interest groups on their respective websites)
Aug 4th, 2023: My first virtual group event
- Virtual EA Entrepreneurs Monthly Mastermind led by EA Simon Newstead, discovered because of EA Anywhere announcements and calendar
- Thank you Simon, for your wisdom and very welcoming environment
Aug 14th, 2023: Virtual 1-on-1 with Samie Dorgham who offers coaching and mentoring practice for EAs, connected because of EA Anywhere introductions
- Thank you for providing me with insights from your six years of management consulting experience at Deloitte, and for asking me probing and revealing questions while I was thinking through my career options! And thank you for connecting me with Federico and EA for Christians!
Aug 16th, 2023: Virtual 1-on-1 with Federico Speziali (Co-Founder at High Impact Professionals). Thank you for your insights into CE and recommendations for increasing my chances of getting in! I also thank you for speaking your mind regarding my career options and further encouragement to get involved in the community via volunteering and official EA programs.
Aug 17th, 2023: Virtual 1-on-1 with JD Bauman (first of multiple). Thank you for leading the Christian group within EA, creating an amazing environment for sharing, and always being willing to help! I look forward to attending the EA for Christians weekly group - it is so refreshing and rejuvenating to me. Like I mentioned so many times, I think looking at EA from a Christian lens has so many benefits (less stress, more rest, more peace) and it’s truly a blessing to fellowship with everyone weekly.
Aug 20th, 2023: Virtual group meet with EA for Christians (first of multiple)
Aug 22nd, 2023: Virtual group meet with Creatives and Communicators, discovered again because of EA Anywhere announcements and calendar
Aug 28th, 2023: Virtual 1-on-1 with Dr. Peter S. Park (first of multiple), connected again because of EA Anywhere. Words cannot describe how grateful I’m for you! You are amazing and I’m so honored we get to embark on this wonderful journey working shoulder to shoulder with you :)
Aug 29th, 2023: Virtual presentation by CharityEntrepreneurship.com (first of two)
Sep 1st, 2023: Virtual 1-on-1 with Yelnats T.J. (first of multiple). Thank you for your insights into CE and your generosity of time. I have learned so much from you and from going through the co-founder application for tobacco taxation!
Sep 4th, 2023: Offered Co-founder position at StakeOut.AI!!!
Sept 12th, 2023: My first in-person group event. It was the first university club meeting of the year at University of British Columbia. Thank you John for leading us in an engaging presentation and discussion :)
Sept 18th, 2023: My first official program with the Centre for Effective Altruism: Virtual Introductory EA Program with facilitator Carlos M. Suarez Tavernier. Thank you for pushing us on the ideas Carlos! The first couple meetings were very thought provoking, I look forward to our continued conversation in the group to reiterate essential EA concepts and ideas. I just read EA VP programs have attrition rates of around 30% (estimated Feb 9th, 2022) - I hope we will be the exception where the majority of our group stays on :)
Sept 23rd, 2023: Attended the first ever EA Talkmasters (yet another friendly and supportive group) to practice public speaking. Thank you again to Simon Newstead (a Toastmasters veteran) for this initiative.
In the next posts of this series, we plan to talk about the steps implemented thus far following How to Launch a High-Impact Nonprofit action steps. This includes sharing a little about the productivity system, the Founder’s Agreement, the funding proposal draft and future steps.
We are currently working on getting our fiscal sponsorship and figuring out the best fundraising strategy, as we have not yet received any funding. Any tips you have regarding these two areas would be much appreciated!
Additionally, we also plan to do an “introducing” post like Introducing LEEP: Lead Exposure Elimination Project and Introducing Animal Policy International to formally present our nonprofit and get your feedback on our project.
Once again, I’m so thankful I stumbled upon the EA community, as it’s truly been a life-changing experience thus far.
As mentioned in the beginning, I hope this post will inspire others who might be thinking about starting a nonprofit, or apply to CE, or begin on a side project to go for it. There will be many obstacles in the way, but the learning both for yourself and the community is worth the effort.
If you are looking for ideas, consider Impactful (Side-)Projects and Organizations to Start (curated ‘list of lists’) for some inspiration.
Once you embark on your journey, consider writing and posting on the EA forum, as I’m sure others would love to read about it! I’m always encouraged to read about other people’s perspectives and their experiences, as I often pick up nuggets that can be applied to my own journey and life. As my experience grows with EA, I hope to offer valuable advice from my learning and experience too for those starting out.
Lastly, what SofiaBalderson said in Writing about my job: Co-founder of a new charity (early stage) about increasing the chances of success of a nonprofit startup rings true to me:
It’s impossible to know everything needed to lead a charity effectively. Thankfully, you can access these skills and knowledge through other people. A good network helps a lot. This could be an entrepreneurship hub, a mentor, other charity founders, or industry experts that support your organization’s mission.
My co-founder and I are always looking to connect to other like-minded people, other co-founders and experienced folks who are willing to advise us.
Please, please, please reach out as we’d love to connect with you!