Why we should grow One for the World chapters alongside EA student groups

by sabrinachwalek7 min read3rd Nov 202014 comments

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After attending the EA Student Summit this past weekend, I realized how few EAs are aware of the EA-aligned organization One for the World (OFTW). Therefore, I figured it would be helpful to write a forum post explaining what OFTW is while arguing that EA should focus on growing OFTW chapters alongside EA student groups. 

[For reference, I’m the co-founder and co-president of OFTW Brown. I also help run Brown EA and have been a facilitator for our introductory and in-depth fellowships, so this post is based on my experiences with both clubs.] 

What is One for the World?

One for the World is an international, chapter-based movement of students working to end extreme poverty by encouraging their peers to pledge to donate 1% of their future earnings to effective charities. It seeks to change charitable giving by raising awareness about effective giving and creating a culture of sustained giving. OFTW partners with GiveWell to recommend which charities students should donate to.  

Why might OFTW chapters be highly impactful?

OFTW is less intellectually and personally demanding than Effective Altruism

One for the World offers students who want to make a difference in the world an opportunity to engage with EA—through exposing them to the ideas of effective giving and evidence-based reasoning—in less personally and intellectually demanding ways than EA. From my experience, many college students know which career/ cause-area they’d like to work on early on in their undergraduate degrees. For these undergrads who already have pre-existing plans they don’t want to change, EA becomes less appealing to them. It’s harder for them to commit to being cause-neutral. They might feel pressure to change their career trajectory, and there are two main negative outcomes when this occurs. (Not including if the student changes their career trajectory; I see that as a positive outcome.) First, the student engages in motivated reasoning about why their career-choice is impactful by EA standards but feels less supported by EA. Second, the student chooses to leave the community. OFTW, however, doesn’t explicitly focus on encouraging students to pursue highly impactful careers. Therefore, OFTW is less personally demanding of its members. OFTW also has a low barrier to entry: while students can join an executive board or become a student ambassador, the majority of people involved in OFTW only attend an event or two and take the pledge. 

OFTW is not as intellectually demanding as EA for several reasons. Since it is a cause-specific organization working to alleviate extreme global poverty, that essentially erases EA’s central work of evaluating which causes are the most important. Students don’t have to compare the value of alleviating global poverty against mitigating existential risks, improving animal welfare, or improving institutional decision-making.  Furthermore, OFTW encourages students to give to GiveWell’s recommended top charities. Even within the realm of global health and development, OFTW has already done the work for students in compiling the most impactful interventions. Taking the 1% pledge is significantly easier than comparing interventions across a wide variety of cause areas. 

OFTW can engage students who don’t significantly care about making a difference in the world and offer them the chance to make an impact 

For students who don’t prioritize doing good, OFTW may be their sole interaction with EA concepts. Many students’ career decisions are based on social norms or their desire to make lots of money after college. Essentially, OFTW can tell those students that yes, you can “sell-out” while making an incredible impact and saving lives. Even better, the more money you make, the more you’ll be able to donate and save even more lives! Through taking the pledge, regularly giving to effective charities, and seeing their outsized impact, maybe those students will be more likely to reconsider how they can make a difference with their careers. 

Giving 1% is easier than giving 10% 

Encouraging students to take the 1% pledge is more tractable and marketable than other EA giving pledges. While Giving What We Can is an admirable organization, I can’t imagine many college students would quickly agree to donate 10% of their future earnings. However, we’re able to frame the 1% pledge in a multitude of appealing ways: Did you know, 1% of the average Brown grad’s starting salary is equivalent to the cost of 3-4 cups of coffee per week? What could you do with 99% of your income? The average American gives 2-3% of their earnings to charity, see what giving 1% can do! The financial ask is consequently smaller, though less impactful.

Also, OFTW does not impose any kind of ceiling on people who take the pledge. There are two sets of default pledge amounts on the various chapter “checkout-out” pages: (1%, 2%, 3%) and (1%, 3%, 5%). OFTW is attempting to A/B test which defaults lead to larger pledges. While most do pledge at or below the 1% level, there are many who give well above the 1% level. OFTW intentionally markets the pledge as an “at least 1%” and encourages those who have pledged >1% to share their level of giving regularly. 

[One caveat: Counterfactually, OFTW could be anchoring donors who would’ve given >1% at the 1% level. OFTW is currently working on ways to evaluate this anchoring effect and the organization’s counterfactual impact.]

OFTW may engage more students than EA university groups, significantly contributing to the growth of the effective-giving movement and potentially redirecting more money 

Since OFTW is less intellectually and personally demanding, appeals to a wider range of students, and financially feasible, I believe OFTW can interest more students than EA university groups. Consequently, this could significantly contribute to the growth of the effective-giving movement and redirect more contributions from individuals outside of EA than from people within the community. If you assume that the average EA and non-EA college graduate will make roughly the same income, and that >10x more people are willing to donate 1% of their income than 10%, then non-EAs could contribute more to effective charities than EAs. For reference, it’s estimated that roughly 5% of Americans tithe (give >10% of their income to charity). If this probability distribution is similar among American college students, this implies that almost 20x more American college students would be willing to donate 1% than 10%. Although these are only back of the envelope calculations, it nonetheless shows how OFTW has the potential to redirect more individual contributions than other EA organizations such as Giving What We Can. When scaled, widespread small-scale donations can be more impactful than fewer large-scale donations. 

OFTW can introduce students to EA

One for the World can also serve as an entry-point into EA for universities who have closely aligned chapters. Many people, myself included, were drawn into EA after hearing ideas such as Peter Singer’s TED Talk  and learning how our money goes further overseas. Global health and development—which is OFTW’s focus— is the most popular and marketable portion of the EA community. Especially since OFTW’s speaker series brings in many prominent figures within EA (Will MacAskill, Toby Ord, Peter Singer, etc.) to talk to OFTW chapters, this offers a great chance to help grow the community. 

[I’ll add one caveat to this: OFTW chapter leaders should be knowledgeable about EA and/or direct students to EAs who can offer a stronger introduction to the movement. Given recent discussions regarding the importance of first impressions in EA, OFTW chapters need to be careful about how they portray EA and effective giving. We want to avoid spreading common misconceptions about EA like “EA’s main focus is ending global poverty” or “EA doesn’t care about social justice and systemic change.”]

OFTW is fairly neglected, tractable, and scalable  

On the ITN framework, growing OFTW seems important, tractable, and somewhat neglected. OFTW is very scalable since chapters are easy to start at any university. Each chapter has access to a wealth of resources, advice, and funding from pre-existing chapters and OFTW’s full-time staff. As far as neglectedness, there are only around 75 chapters out of the tens of thousands of colleges, universities, and graduate schools worldwide. Lastly, OFTW has considerable potential for growth: it could redirect tens of millions of dollars. If we could convince just 0.1% of the roughly 4 million new American college graduates each year to pledge to donate 1% of their (~$50,000) annual salaries, that would redirect an additional 2 million dollars each year towards effective charities! OFTW doesn’t even need to expand to a significant number of schools to make this feasible: at Wharton one year, over 15% of the graduating class took the pledge. Additionally, over time as more students graduate and take the pledge, this effect would compound into tens of millions of dollars in annual donations. (For reference, GiveWell processed $54.1 million dollars in donations in 2019.) These estimates don’t even account for the fact that several OFTW chapters already exist in Australia, the UK, and Canada. 

We can save lots of lives!

Lastly, and what I see as most important, OFTW can save a lot of lives! If we use GiveWell’s 2020 cost-effectiveness analysis which estimates that it costs between $3,000 - $5,000 to save a life and assume the average college grad will work 40 years and make around $50,000 on average, this means the average pledge saves at least 4-7 lives. Again, if that same 0.1% of American graduates donated 1%, that could save an additional 16,000-28,000 lives per each graduating class. And then the number of expected lives saved compounds as more students graduate. (If OFTW targets universities or graduate schools where students go on to particularly high earning careers, the effect will be even larger.) 

We need both OFTW chapters & EA student groups

To clarify, I’m not writing this post to argue that OFTW chapters are more impactful than EA student groups or that we should prioritize OFTW over EA student groups. I firmly believe in the Effective Altruism movement and in supporting the growth and development of student groups. EA student groups offer a variety of opportunities and insights that OFTW lacks or offers to a lesser extent: in-depth conversations on how to do the most good, a framework and mental tools for how to view the world, etc. Instead, I hope that college campuses will continue to nurture both OFTW and EA student groups. I believe they can have a symbiotic relationship where EA drives the research methods backing OFTW recommended charities (through GiveWell), OFTW acts as a feeder into EA, and OFTW engages students who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in EA. As Rossa O’Keeffe-O’Donovan wrote in a prior blog post, OFTW is a potential vehicle to expand the reach of Effective Altruism. (A small sample of 32 qualitative interviews conducted by OFTW has already indicated the feeder effect exists: a third of interviewees changed their career plans to be EA-aligned and five took the GWWC pledge.) Many Brown students in our fellowship programs have also expressed frustration that they don’t know where and how to apply EA principles in their day-to-day lives—I believe OFTW is a great place to start! 

Summary: 

  • OFTW is less intellectually and personally demanding than Effective Altruism.
  • OFTW can engage students who don’t significantly care about making a difference in the world and offer them the chance to make an impact. 
  • Giving 1% is easier than giving 10% and can reach more than 10x as many people!
  • Because of the three reasons listed above, OFTW may engage more students than EA university groups, significantly contributing to the growth of the effective-giving movement and potentially redirecting more money. 
  • OFTW can serve as an entry-point to EA.
  • OFTW is fairy neglected, tractable, and scalable.  
  • We can save lots of lives!

Potential Counterarguments & Responses:  

EA student groups are more important and impactful so we should focus on them. 

I don’t have the evidence to answer this question but it would be interesting to compare the impact of OFTW chapters and EA student groups. I’d imagine that EA student-group members’ career/donations will have a larger impact than simply increasing donations to effective charities. However, I see OFTW and EA as having a mutually-beneficial relationship where neither detracts from the other. At some universities, OFTW is even a branch of their EA student group. OFTW and EA appeal to different demographics, therefore it’s useful to have both groups to appeal to a wider audience. 

OFTW isn’t the best organization to introduce students to EA since first impressions are really important 

I agree with this in some respects if OFTW chapter leaders are unknowledgeable about EA, ineffective at explaining the movement, or prone to misrepresenting it. That’s why I added a caveat to my argument above about why OFTW leaders shouldn’t try and introduce club members/pledgers to EA unless they’re knowledgeable about the movement themselves. However, I’d argue that EA student group leaders could face similar challenges in terms of being able to accurately and effectively represent EA and create a welcoming environment. EA is simply hard to introduce regardless of who’s responsible since many ideas in EA are not intuitive. Therefore, some people may be more responsive to EA if they're exposed to effective giving and evidence-based reasoning through OFTW before they learn about longtermism, x-risks, and the broader Effective Altruism movement.  

 

If you’re a student reading this and your college or university doesn’t have a One for the World chapter, I highly recommend starting one! You can find more information here about how to start a chapter: https://www.1fortheworld.org/start-a-chapter

You can also reach out to me at sabrina_chwalek@brown.edu. Starting a OFTW chapter was undoubtedly one of the best decisions of my college experience so far and I’d love to talk to any current or future chapter leaders :) 

[And thank you to Jack Lewars, Evan McVail, Kennan McClung, Abhishek Pandya, Emma Abele, and Ruthie Cohen for all your input and edits!] 

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14 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 7:22 AM
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The average American gives 2-3% of their earnings to charity, see what giving 1% can do!

It seems a bit strange to put a lot of effort into trying to get people to commit to a level of giving that is far lower than the average person would have anyway. With GWWC we were pushing or people to donate significantly more. 

I definitely agree that OFTW should encourage students to give at least as much as the average American (if not more). However, I think from the standpoint of getting college students who don't yet have a substantial income to pledge to donate a significant percentage of their income, asking students to pledge ~3% would be significantly harder. Most people I talk to are already very risk averse to committing to give away even 1% of their income.  (I'd imagine this would be different if OFTW is reaching out to young professionals who already have a salary.)

 I believe OFTW headquarters is also in the process of evaluating the best ways to reach out to existing pledges to encourage them to give more. (I'm also only a chapter leader though so I'm not very knowledgeable about this.) Getting people to pledge to give 1% of their income can be a stepping stone on the way to pledge upwards of 10%. As OFTW's small-scale qualitative interviews showed, 5/32 pledges also took the GWWC pledge. Obviously 32 people isn't a very large sample size to determine causation vs. correlation and draw statistically significant conclusions from, but it does point to  OFTW's potential to make people think more seriously about how much and where they give. Hopefully as OFTW grows older and expands, it'll be able to gather better data on longterm pledges and the organization's ability to increase how much individuals give! 

Hi guys - Jack here (Executive Director at OFTW). Sabrina makes some great points here. I would add as well that we need to be mindful of how much the average American is giving to effective charities. You're right, @Larks, that persuading people to give 1% to effective charities would be odd, if the average person would give 3% to them - but, of course, the average American gives ~0% to effective charities! We have introduced some checkout questions to give us an indication of this 'counterfactual' argument ('how much do you already give (if anything) to GiveWell's charities?') and also have some students at Yale researching typical giving trends for graduates to give us a proxy control group.

Thanks for writing this! I and an EA community builder I know found it interesting and helpful.

I'm pleased you have a 'counterarguments' section, though I think there are some counterarguments missing:

  • OFTW groups may crowd out GWWC groups. You mention the anchoring effect on 1%, but there's also the danger of anchoring on a particular cause area. OFTW is about ending extreme poverty, whereas GWWC is about improving the lives of others (much broader)

  • OFTW groups may crowd out EA groups. If there's a OFTW group at a university, the EA group may have to compete, even if the groups are officially collaborating. In any case, they groups will be competing for attention of the altruistically motivated people at the university

  • Because OFTW isn't cause neutral, it might not be a great introduction to EA. For some people, having lots of exposure to OFTW might even make them less receptive to EA, because of anchoring on a specific cause. As you say "Since it is a cause-specific organization working to alleviate extreme global poverty, that essentially erases EA’s central work of evaluating which causes are the most important." I agree with you that trying to impartially work out which cause is best to work on is core to EA

  • OFTW's direct effects (donations to end extreme poverty) may not be as uncontroversially good as they seem. See this talk by Hilary Greaves from the Student Summit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fySZIYi2goY&ab_channel=CentreforEffectiveAltruism

-OFTW outreach could be so broad and shallow that it doesn't actually select that strongly for future dedicated EAs. In a comment below, Jack says "OFTW on average engages a donor for ~10-60 mins before they pledge (and pre-COVID this was sometimes as little as 2 mins when our volunteers were tabling)". Of course, people who take that pledge will be more likely to become dedicated EAs than the average student, but there are many other ways to select at that level

Hi Alex - these are very good points and largely correct, I think - thanks for contributing them. I've added some thoughts and mitigations below:

  1. Yes, we definitely do anchor around poverty. I think this can be good 'scaffolding' to come into the movement; but sometimes it will anchor people there. It is worth noting, though, that global health and poverty is consistently the most popular cause area in the EA survey, so there are clearly other factors anchoring to this cause area - it's hard to say how much OFTW counterfactually increases this effect (and whether it counterfactually stops people from progressing beyond global health and poverty). In terms of mitigation for competing with GWWC - we are in close touch with them and both sides are working hard to foster collaboration and avoid competition.
  2. On point 2, our experience so far is that OFTW and EA groups actually coexist very well. I think (without any systematic evidence) some of this may because a lot of EA groups don't prioritise donations, preferring to focus on things like career advice, and so OFTW chapters can sort of 'own' the donation space; sometimes, though, they just find a way to work alongside each other. I'm not sure it follows that we have to 'compete for altruistically motivated people' - in fact, I don't really see any reason why someone couldn't take the OFTW pledge and then carry on engaging with EA uninterrupted - but I agree that we could compete on this front. A lot seems to depend on OFTW's approach/message/ask. Maybe a virtue of OFTW is that we really only need people's attention for a short period to get them to take one action - so we aren't competing for their sustained attention, in a way that would crowd out EA programming. Indeed, we can actually be a funnel to get them to pay attention to this content - see for example our recent webinar with Toby Ord on x-risk, which attracted ~200 people, many of whom came from OFTW chapters.
  3. Yes, fair. I'd just bear in mind, though, how many EAs were introduced via global health and poverty (again, see the EA survey for how many people came in via poverty-focussed writing from Peter Singer or Will MacAskill) and did ultimately develop/broaden/change their thinking, so again I'm not sure how much counterfactual anchoring there is from OFTW.
  4. I haven't watched this yet but will shortly - from your brief precis above, this criticism looks like it might apply equally to any pledge/donation org that support health and poverty causes (GWWC, Founder's Pledge, GiveWell, EA Funds etc.).
  5. This is absolutely true - I actually think it's a strength of OFTW, as it happens. The reason I don't worry overly about anchoring people at 1%/distracting from other cause areas is that I actually think most OFTW pledgers were never good candidates to be super engaged with EA in the first place - but those that are end up getting into EA anyway, and we can be a useful first point of contact to make that happen. To be fully transparent, this is basically all from anecdata, but I have met very, very few OFTW pledgers who I (subjectively) think were ever likely to be a GWWC pledger/dedicate their career to AI research. In a perfect world, we would hoover up all the 'well I might give 1% but I really wouldn't give 10%' crowd and not stop any of the 'I might give 10%/change my career' crowd. One project to support this is to give more GWWC and other EA content to our members, so that those who were predisposed to give 10% end up doing it anyway (which has happened for a subset of OFTW members in the past, certainly).

This is a really interesting topic, so thanks for writing this post! Some thoughts: 

  • You've basically identified 2 outcomes of an OFTW group:
    • The direct impact of the donations
    • Helping to grow EA groups
  • I think the first point is not that controversial. I think there's value in OFTW chapters existing where otherwise they wouldn't have, even in the absence of EA groups - for example, if someone is convinced by OFTW argumetns but not EA ones. I think OFTW is independent of the EA movement in a way that mitigates this risk - but I'm pretty uncertain about this, and it would be interesting to see data on it. 
  • I think the second outcome is more difficult to do. You have some discussion of ways to mitigate this risk, namely:  

OFTW chapter leaders should be knowledgeable about EA and/or direct students to EAs who can offer a stronger introduction to the movement. Given recent discussions regarding the importance of first impressions in EA, OFTW chapters need to be careful about how they portray EA and effective giving. We want to avoid spreading common misconceptions about EA like “EA’s main focus is ending global poverty” or “EA doesn’t care about social justice and systemic change.”

  • However, even if the founder of the OFTW chapter are knowledgeable EAs, it may be that their successors are not. I don't see how this process might be controlled in a predictable way. So this means that perhaps a few years after the OFTW chapter is started, the relationship between the EA group & the OFTW one are not as strong.  
  • This could increase the risk of misleading first impressions. For example, the meme that EA is largely focused on ETG is spread more, which appears to have taken a good amount of time to correct, and the meme is still around today. There may be a risk that such memes are brought back which would turn some people off EA. 

Questions that might resolve some of the above: 

  • How many OFTW chapters exist alongside EA groups? What is their relationship like - how closely do they collaborate? 
    • If there are many OFTW chapters without EA groups, we might want to consider what the impression that people at these universities have of EA, and how accurate it is. 
  • What are current OFTW organisers' knowledge of EA and engagement with the EA community?
    • I think it would be preferable to have OFTW organisers who are familiar with EA arguments & frameworks, because they might be more likely to think about the trade-offs between the two groups.

Hey Vaidehi - I hope you're well :-)

Just on the factual questions:

  1. ~12 - this includes some where the EA group explicitly runs the OFTW content, and some where the two just peacefully coexist. Collaboration is broadly positive but not consistent in method or depth.
  2. Hard to say - I would guess that around 1/3 know about nothing except effective giving, 1/3 know a bit about EA but are mainly focussed on effective giving and 1/3 are very knowledgeable about EA/fully committed EAs themselves.

To pick up two of your risks above:

  • OFTW chapters are certainly vulnerable to changes in leadership, but this point would seem to apply just as strongly to EA groups on campuses, I think? So I'm not sure that we should expect leadership turnover to have any more or less of a negative effect on OFTW-EA relations that it does on EA-student relations.
  • In fairness, we don't teach people those memes, or ever reference them in any of our materials or training (at least not in any of the materials or training that I have reviewed/contributed to). OFTW never mentions ETG and in general we don't really make claims about what EA cares about or focusses on. You helped us with this page, I recall, which is probably the best summary of how we talk about EA - and it reads to me as very neutral in its phrasing: https://chapters.1fortheworld.org/info/effective-altruism-thinking/

Thanks for the information Jack! To clarify my points a little:

OFTW chapters are certainly vulnerable to changes in leadership, but this point would seem to apply just as strongly to EA groups on campuses, I think? So I'm not sure that we should expect leadership turnover to have any more or less of a negative effect on OFTW-EA relations that it does on EA-student relations.
 


Agreed that EA student groups (and most student groups) are vulnerable to this. I think my prior here is that EA groups would be more likely to to collaborate/work with the OFTW group because there are more obvious reasons to (the benefits Sabrina mentioned in the most)

However it's very possible (and maybe even fairly likely) that and smaller EA groups perhaps shrinks or stops existing due to leadership handover reasons, while the OFTW group doesn't. I don't think this would be a very bad outcome, as I mentioned above I think 

In fairness, we don't teach people those memes, or ever reference them in any of our materials or training (at least not in any of the materials or training that I have reviewed/contributed to). OFTW never mentions ETG and in general we don't really make claims about what EA cares about or focusses on. 

I think I was unclear earlier, and I should have added more nuance. I don't think this is a direct risk, or that OFTW materials imply this, but rather that these are the associations people will make to EA if that's the only perspective they see or know that most about. I think this is probably more true if OFTW chapters become very prevalent across US universities, much more so than EA chapters. 

Hi, Vaidehi! Thanks for your response :) 

I agree with your point that helping to grow EA is a much more difficult goal of OFTW and that it'll be difficult to maintain the relationship between EA and OFTW at universities.  

In regard to your first point, the strength and success of any student group is highly variable and dependent on the quality of the group's leader. Particularly when there are two groups involved, the likelihood of one of them having a mediocre/poor leader increases. The main way I can see group leaders mitigating this risk is through ensuring that they have a strong successor identified early on and that the successor is actively involved in maintaining the relationship between EA and OFTW (even better if they're involved in both clubs). 

As far as increasing the risk of misleading impressions, I believe this is something OFTW chapters will have to consider on an individual basis. At Brown, I'm not concerned since we have a  great introductory fellowship program I can direct our OFTW club  members towards. I think this is a lot trickier at universities that have a OFTW chapter but not an EA student group, or where the EA student group is poorly-run. Then more of the responsibility falls on the OFTW leader to reduce those risks. My biggest concern is frankly when the EA student group has poor leadership - in that instance, many people may have negative views or misperceptions of EA independent of their involvement with OFTW. 

Lastly, I hope OFTW/EA can answer your questions soon! To my knowledge, I'm not aware of any ongoing efforts to track the relationship between OFTW and EA student groups. (Maybe this is something OFTW headquarters has looked into or it merits independent research?) Since OFTW has essentially doubled its number of chapters over the last year, I'd guess that many colleges that have both an EA and OFTW club don't yet have strong  relationships. I'm not also aware of what percentage of OFTW organizers are knowledgeable about EA, but I agree that it would be beneficial to have OFTW organizers familiar with EA. 

Thanks for writing this! 

Here are some rough thoughts or questions of mine for you or for others in the OFTW team:

  1. Is there any data already for what % of OFTW pledgers follow through on their pledges?
  2. Is One For The World thinking of creating a page like Giving What We Can's that contains the number of pledgers, their names, and the month/year they pledged? I think this could be a good growth hack - people might want the social incentive to pledge and also put their name on the list. The page could also include what chapter each pledger is from.
  3. How can people "resign" from their OFTW pledges if they wanted to? Would they just do it without saying so? I ask this because some people who first make an OFTW pledge might then change their cause prioritization to animal welfare or longtermism (i.e. if they get more engaged in EA), and they may want to stop donating to global health charities.
  4. Is OFTW thinking of expanding to a 1% pledge that is not cause-specific, or one that is for animal welfare or longtermist non-profits in the future? If not, is there anyone interested in creating these types of pledges in the future (whether as a new organization or under GWWC)? Personally I find the GWWC 10% pledge hard to commit to currently, which is why I haven't taken it. I would be more willing to pledge 1% to effective charities that is not cause-specific. If OFTW had a pledge that wasn't cause-specific, I would likely take it!

On 4, GWWC has the Try Giving pledge:

Try Giving

1%+ of income
Any period you choose
Donated to effective charities

Hi Brian - Jack here (ED at OFTW). Thanks for your thoughtful questions and it looks like Sabrina ha answered them really well :-)

Some quick additions:

  • as Sabrina says, activation is moderate (~2/3). However, our models suggest that we would still provide decent ROI at even 50% activation rates. One advantage that we have is that we process all our donations ourselves and so actually know our activation and retention rates, where a lot of pledge orgs have to estimate them. My reading of our data is that most orgs are extremely optimistic in their assumptions around this.
  • definitely open to this and some individual chapters have done it already. It's on the roadmap!
  • this is where processing our donations is so helpful - we see in real time how donors behave, and so know if people stop their donations. We do ask people who cancel if they have changed cause area but we only get the usual response rates to cancellation surveys (~1%)
  • we do not currently plan to expand our cause areas, for few reasons. First, and for transparency, GiveWell is one of our main funders and that influences this decision. Second, our founders were very focussed on global health and poverty and so I would want their input before any change. But third, and most importantly - OFTW on average engages a donor for ~10-60 mins before they pledge (and pre-COVID this was sometimes as little as 2 mins when our volunteers were tabling). When you are recruiting people with this level of engagement, message clarity is essential. Using global health and poverty, which is both the most popular EA cause area and the simplest 'sell' to someone who isn't part of EA yet, makes a lot of sense to me in this context. All that being said, this may well evolve over time!

Hi, Brian! Thanks for your great questions! 

  1. According to OFTW's 2020 annual report, 61% of undergraduates, 68% of MBA grads, and 71% of law students activate their pledges. (Or 64% of overall pledges.) One of OFTW's focus for the upcoming year is to reduce the number of pledges dropping off and increase the percentage that donors give on average. Right now, many students are pledging less than 1%. 
  2. I know OFTW has private dashboards so that chapter leaders like me can track how many people have pledged, how much they're giving, etc, but there's no public equivalent to this. Most OFTW chapters instead try to locally create those social incentives through highlighting who takes the pledge on their social media pages or allowing students to add the pledge to their LinkedIn. 
  3. The pledge is essentially a subscription service, so students can modify, delay, or cancel their pledge anytime through the donational platform we use. The pledge is just a verbal commitment as opposed to a legal one. 
  4. I'm not sure but I can try and find out the answer to this question and get back to you! I'd imagine that OFTW will remain focused on global health & development, but there does seem to be some great opportunities either to create alternative cause-area specific pledges in the animal welfare/longtermist spaces or a general cause-neutral pledge. 

It might be useful context to some of the comments below to highlight this page on our resource for our volunteers, which encapsulates for me how we talk about EA within OFTW (and how we signpost people to find out more): https://chapters.1fortheworld.org/info/effective-altruism-thinking/ (props to Vaidehi for helping us revise this and make it better this summer)