By Finn Whittington, Catherine Low, David Allis firstname.lastname@example.org
The Effective Altruism NZ Charitable Trust initiated a book giveaway programme in September 2016, providing copies of William MacAskill’s book ‘Doing Good Better’ for free, with the intention that the recipient reads and shares the book and its ideas. The underlying idea behind the giveaway is that the spreading of ideas translates into action, through donations to effective charities, changes in career path, or by reducing harm to animals through their purchasing habits.
We gave out 250 books, each with a sticker with EANZ’s contact details, and have so far had 80 people do the follow up survey. Our methodology is not robust enough and these numbers are not large enough to be certain of our conclusions, however the results of the survey suggest that the book giveaway was well worth doing, and may be significantly more effective than donating directly to effective charities at this time. EA NZ are continuing to give away books, and we encourage other groups to do their own giveaway using books they purchase themselves, or books provided by CEA (contact Harri email@example.com to see if CEA is able to give books to your group)..
We put an online form on our website http://effectivealtruism.nz/book-giveaway-good-better/, and advertised the giveaway on facebook (on EA pages, and on the personal pages of EANZ members) and whenever a member of EANZ gave a talk or giving game, or attended a conference with a relevant topic to effective altruism. People also found out about the book through word of mouth, or through finding our website using google after learning of effective altruism through local or international media.
We got the books in bulk from the publisher, so that the average cost of the book is $15 NZ dollars including postage. The books were kindly paid for by an independent charitable trust that is supportive of EANZ.
So far in the programme 250 books have been sent to individuals. About two months after sending of the book an anonymous survey was sent to the recipients with questions designed to assess the efficacy of the giveaway. Questions included asking of their perspectives/knowledge about EA before receiving the book, how much money they gave to charities beforehand and to which charities, if they had read the book and how many times they had shared it or its ideas, and finally whether it has changed their donating, career path, dietary choices and general perspective of the world.
Out of 250 surveys sent out there were 80 (32.0%) valid responses from individuals.
The first sections of the survey assessed the knowledge, beliefs and donations of the participants before they were sent the book. The participants were asked how much they knew about Effective Altruism before applying for the book. With 74 responses, 28 (37.8%) said they didn’t know what EA was, 18 (24.3%) said they had heard of EA but didn’t know much about it, 17 (23.0%) said that have had read/watched/had one article/video/conversation about EA, 14 (18.9%) said that they had read several articles or a book about EA. With 73 responses, 13 (17.8%) said they already considered themselves effective altruists, with 17 (23.3%) saying maybe, and 43 (58.9%) saying they did not.
The participants were asked how much approximately in NZ dollars they donated to charity per year before reading the book. This ranged from $0 (23% of people) to over $5000 (4 people)
The participants were asked to list up to 4 charities that they had supported in the past. Many responses included local charities, religious groups/churches, UNICEF, World Vision, various NZ environmental charities and charities focussed on specific diseases (ie the Cancer Society NZ). However out of 66 responses, 6 individuals (9.1%) mentioned a charity that featured on Givewell’s Top charities list or featured in ‘Doing Good Better’.
The second part of the survey was designed to assess the effectiveness of the book giveaway. 42 out of 78 individuals (53.8%) said that they had finished reading the book, with the further 23 (29.5%) reporting they had read at least part of it. When asked how many people they had lent the book to, the mean was 0.92 people, ranging from 0-5. However, many individuals who stated they had lent it to no one yet expressed great interest in doing so later when they had finished the book.
31 out of 62 (50.0%) respondents considered themselves effective altruist after receiving the book, an increase from 13 before they read the book. 16 out of 65 (24.6%) said that the book had made them reconsider their career path, and 20 out of 65 (30.8%) said that the book had made them reconsider their dietary choices.
The participants were then asked if giveaway had helped them decide which charities to donate to, with 44 out of 65 (67.7%) saying yes, and 16 (24.6%) saying they were unsure, and 5 (7.7%) saying no. When asked again which specific charities they planned to donate to in the future, there were 59 responses with 25 individuals (42.4%) supporting ‘effective charities’ (those that featured on GiveWell’s or Animal Charity Evaluator’s top charities list or featured in ‘Doing Good Better’), with a further 6 individuals (10.2%) stating they would incorporate Effective Altruist thinking and ideas in their new donation choices.
28 individuals out of 63 (44.4%) respondents stated that they would increase the amount that they donated to charity per year. The average increase was $711.80 NZ dollars, with one individual stating that they were considering the 10% income pledge.
Across all 80 survey responses the total stated increase in money going to effective charities was at least $20,000 per year (this is very imprecise as several people were approximate with their numbers, and several people said they would donate more but didn’t say by how much). This number comes from the people who intend to shift their money from less effective to effective charities, and those that are donating more and are donating to effective charities. The largest intended donation was $4000 per year, and 8 people intend to shift $1000 or more to effective charities.
Even with the relatively small number of participants in the survey so far, there was a large difference in the beliefs, ideas and actions of the respondents before and after receiving the book. Some respondents gave a good indication of how the book has affected their life:
‘[The book] has influenced me to try to do a lot more good in my life (with my career, extra time etc.). And I will likely donate a lot more in the future (I'm a student now so I don't have a lot of left over income).’
Perhaps even more useful than the book itself is that the average recipient introduced the idea of EA and its principles to an average of 4.9 other people (range 0-30), with a few other people spreading the ideas on blog posts etc. The spreading of ideas and sharing the book is likely to have some positive impact that cannot be calculated. Still it is very encouraging to see.
Before they read the book, only 6 individuals donated to the recommended ‘top charities’ from Givewell, which increased to 25 individuals after receiving the book. This represents a considerable increase, from only 9.1% of respondents supporting these effective charities to 42.4%. This means that the giveaway was effective at convincing 33.3% of respondents to begin supporting these effective charities. For example one individual stated that they would be ‘Starting new monthly donations to three "effective" charities’.
Since the total stated increase in money going to effective charities was at least $20,000 per year, it appears that this book giveaway is a more effective use of EA NZ members money than donating directly to effective charities. This is $250 per respondent per year, and if we assume that the people that did not fill in the survey are not going to change their donations at all, that gives $80 per book recipient per year, indicating that the book giveaway will pay for itself 5 times over with donations to effective charities, in just one year. Of course, the next 250 books may have very different results.
Some of the people who said they would change or increase their donations may not follow through with their stated intentions, and of course many people who set up regular donations will cancel them in the future. However, we still think this $20,000 additional money to effective charities per year is likely to be an underestimation — at least for the first couple of years after the survey:
There were several people who had responded who had yet to read the book.
Some people who received the book but did not fill in the survey may also change their donations.
It is likely that some of the other people that were lent the book by a recipient would also change their donation habits.
Overall, we believe the book giveaway programme is an effective way for members of EA NZ to spend their money at this time, so EA NZ is continuing to give away books, and we encourage other groups to do the same.
Problems and thoughts about the Giveaway and Survey
When we suggest that “indicating that the book giveaway pays for itself 5 times over with donations to effective charities, in just one year” we make the assumption that the effective charities chosen by the book recipients are just as effective as the effective charities the members of EA NZ would choose. This may well not be the case, depending on your way of measuring effectiveness. We don’t think that issue is significant for us during this giveaway because the money would probably have been donated to AMF if it wasn’t used to buy books, and AMF was one of the most common choices for book recipients to choose.
We specifically chose to make the survey anonymous in the hope that that would increase people’s willingness to do the survey, and to be honest in the survey. We therefore did not track who had completed the survey, so we were unable to send reminders to those who had not done the survey already. If we were to repeat this we’d work out a system so we could give reminders.
It is unknown how many recipients would have read the book or other sources of EA ideas without the giveaway, so some of this effect may have happened anyway.
We didn’t do any selection of who we should or should not give the book to — basically anyone who wanted a book got a book, and our survey didn’t test whether some groups of people were more receptive to the messages than other groups. This information would have been really good to find out so we knew more about how to target advertising for the next giveaway.
We chose to giveaway paper copies - the thought is that this is a tangible “gift” and perhaps people are more likely to read it and are more able to pass it on than an electronic copy. However we didn’t test this.
EA NZ member Catherine has run giving games with groups around the country, and has found giving away the book (and collecting their email) particularly helpful as a way to follow up with interested attendees, and to continue their EA learning. It is a nice way of following up in a non-pushy - instead of them doing a favour to us by adding their details to the sign up sheet we are offering them something that they way. Our suspicion is that the book, read over several hours, days or weeks, may be far more effective than the giving game which is over in an hour or two, however we haven’t tested this hypothesis.
If you would like a copy of the questions or the raw data send a message to Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll share the survey.