What small things can an EA do?

by Peter_Hurford14th Sep 201418 comments


Get Involved

How can we make the world a better place? Effective altruism encourages people to think deeply about how to prioritize their time to make the most difference. However, frequently doing something and starting somewhere is a lot better than just thinking and ending up not doing anything. So here's a quick list of things that EAs can do.

This is perhaps the most classic option for an effective altruist. Money can go a long way when donated to a top charity -- and GiveWell has spent tens of thousands of hours to find some outstanding charities that are thoroughly vetted and in need of funding in order to make the world a better place!

If you're already donating money to a GiveWell top charity, then great! But, if you're not, then consider whether your existing donations might go further when guided by the highest quality research on how to get the biggest bang for your buck in the charity sector. There are certainly good reasons -- both personal and altruistic -- to not donate to a GiveWell-picked org, but a great way to make the world a better place is to donate some of your money there!


Small Life Boosts

However, you don't just have to donate money. There are other small boosts you can make to increase your charitable contributions at no cost to you.

Join Amazon Smile. Sign up at smile.amazon.com and choose a charity of your choice, and they'll get 0.5% of all future Amazon purchase amounts, as long as you remember to go to smile.amazon.com when you shop. You can type in the charity into the box. Both "GiveWell" (under their non-profit name "Clear Fund") and "GiveDirectly" are available.

Join some mailing lists. Stay informed about what organizations are up to by following The Life You Can Save mailing list, GiveWell mailing list, and Animal Charity Evaluators mailing list.

Set up an altruistic tip jar. If you're feeling weighed down by rejecting nice causes that happen to not be the single best cause in the whole world and/or you feel the urge to donate now but think it more prudent to make one donation at the end of the year, you could make an altruistic tip jar -- throw in a poker chip every time you feel moved to donate, and then count the results at the end of the year when you want to turn that donation into cash. The system also feels more tangible and exciting than donating online. ...Here's more on this idea.

Try Out Advocacy

Also, you don't have to donate your own money -- you could encourage other people to donate, which not only raises money, but spreads the word!

Talk to friends

The easiest way to advocate for top charities is to simply talk to people. When effective altruism comes up in conversation, don't be afraid to talk about it. (Though no need to go out of your way to talk to people about it if you feel shy.) And sometimes it comes up in unexpected ways. For example, if someone mentions that they don't know what they want to do after college, you could suggest they look into 80,000 Hours.

Run a Giving Game

Another way to engage people with the idea of weighing charities is to run a Giving Game. Giving Games are when players are introduced to a few pre-selected charities and are given an opportunity to dialogue about them and ultimately decide which of the charities to make a donation to, with the donation usually being supplied by the person running the Giving Game. Many Giving Games involve a moderated discussion, but other structures could be used. Giving Games could be online, over casual conversation, at a university, or placed on a street corner.

Ben Kuhn and Harvard Effective Altruism found that Giving Games are one of the best ways to engage people with effective altruism. The Life You Can Save runs many Giving Games and has compiled a lot of resources on them.


Run a Fundraiser

A specific way to advocate for top charities is to run a fundraiser. One idea is to run a fundraiser for your birthday -- people tend to be very receptive to this, and it's really easy to do.

You also could run other fundraisers, for Giving Tuesday, or for Christmas. If you make the fundraiser look compelling and promote it heavily -- and don't run too many fundraisers in any given year -- you should come out with a good amount of money moved to good charities and awareness to boot!


Join or Start a Local Meetup Group

Another way to engage people is to join or create a local meetup group. The meetup group could be about effective altruism, but it also could be about something related, like skepticism. You probably could even find traction in vegetarian groups or humanist groups or religious groups. Just try it out! Joining a pre-existing meetup is lower cost and gives you the benefit of connecting with an already existing group, but don't be dissuaded from starting your own -- starting a LessWrong (or any other kind of) meetup is easy!

Resources for Joining a Pre-existing Meetup

  • List of LessWrong Meetups

  • Meetup.com is a great way to find meetups -- for example, search for "skeptic" or "vegetarian". Keep in mind that even if you don't find a good meetup right away, by staying subscribed to email updates, you could still stumble upon something.

  • Ask around.

Resources for Starting Your Own Meetup

Try Vegetarianism (or Veganism!) for a Week

Another easy way to make a difference is to eat less meat. Every day, millions of nonhuman animals suffer in factory farms, and by eating less meat, we can help end this suffering. Going vegan -- or vegetarian, or even simply eating less meat -- may seem hard at first, but it's really not difficult at all, and there are lots of delicious vegetarian options. Give it a try for a week and see how it goes! Consider ordering a vegetarian starter kit!



And, if you have some extra time, a lot of effective altruist organizations need some help. Giving What We Can and Animal Charity Evaluators could both use some help. Additionally, there is an organization .impact and coordinates a lot of volunteer work toward EA, including the creation of this forum.


Lastly, even if you're donating money effectively, you might be able to donate more and increase your impact! If you have a full-time job, chances are you already have more money than you'd ever need to live a happy life. Toby Ord lives a fulfilling life on just £18,000 per year, donating the rest to charity. Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman live a fulfilling life -- with a baby! -- even while donating half their pre-tax income. The secrets to living a frugal life are not hard, and your life will be even more fulfilling than it was before. In fact, scientific research has demonstrated that empowering worthy causes with your money is one of the best ways to become happier!

You certainly don't have to donate half your money to do something. Try starting with 1% and increase from there. One couple, Chris and Madeleine Ball donated 1% of their income on the first year of their marriage and then increased by 1% every year, gradually building up to 8% . They're still going strong.

If you think you're ready to make a sizable and worthwhile commitment, consider joining Giving What We Can, an international society of people pledging 10% of their income. It may seem daunting at first, but 574 people have already joined and many -- including me :) -- would attest it was one of the best decisions they ever made!

If you are undecided about which organization is currently the best to fund (and live in the US), you might consider setting up a Donor Advised Fund, which has the commitment and tax deduction advantages of donating without actually deciding which charity to donate to at the time.  And if you can't donate more than the minimum needed to itemize your taxes (roughly $5,000 a year), you can bunch your donationsby donating every other year or so.



This post was originally written from notes brainstormed by .impact people, and has had additions by various other EAs during it's time on the EA Wiki.  I've thought it fitting to repost here.