I work at Giving What We Can as Director of Community. As part of this, I've been trying to get to know as many of our members (people who have taken the Giving What We Can pledge) as possible, mostly through talking with recently signed up members. I wrote this blog post a little while back talking about a couple of my findings, but it only recently occurred to me that people on here may not have seen it but might be interested.

Below is an adapted version (see original post here). Especially relevant might be the reasons why people take the pledge instead of just giving a chosen % by themselves. For instance, I've found a fair number of people who were already giving, or planning to give, a significant amount, who only recently realised there were still benefits to joining. I imagine there are more out there, and Giving What We Can would love to have you on board!

Why do people pledge?

We’re naturally interested in why people choose to donate a significant amount of their income to others, and our blog has highlighted individual stories in the seriesWhy I give’. One of the most interesting things I’ve been learning about is this: why do members choose to take a pledge, rather than make a private commitment to give 10%? I found that, in nearly all cases, people spontaneously gave one or more of the three following answers:

  • “Taking the pledge acts as a commitment device”: this was the most common explanation I heard. Choosing to give 10% of your lifetime income is a long term commitment, and many people find that it’s easy to forget internal goals as time goes on. By joining Giving What We Can, you make a public commitment, and have more accountability, so you’re more likely to stay on track.

  • “By joining I might inspire others to join”: this was the second most common reason given. By joining you can signal your support - you add your name to our list of members and it makes it easier to explain your giving to others when you are part of an established group who are all doing something similar. Indeed, some of the members I spoke with had already decided to give away 10% or more before they heard of Giving What We Can, but they saw that by joining they could encourage others to do so too.

  • “I like the community aspect”: for a smaller group of members, joining was a way to become more involved in a community and to meet like-minded people. For most of these, community was closely tied to their feelings about commitment, since giving as part of a community can help motivate you to achieve your aims.

Community and chapters

Another of my focuses during conversations is on finding out how well connected members were to other people in the community (both Giving What We Can members and people interested in effective giving more broadly), and to gauge their interest in meeting other members. So far, I’ve found that nearly all of the members I’ve spoken with wished to be connected with other members. Most of these either already knew some people within the community or had a local chapter or meetup group they planned to check out. However, there were a number of people who did not know anybody in the community, and did not have a chapter within travelling distance.

Combine the demand for chapters among current members with the fact that the most common way people hear about Giving What We Can is through word of mouth (and 27 out of 80 members I asked told me they had interacted with a local chapter before joining) - this suggests local chapters and meet up groups are really valuable. Even small and informal meetup groups provide a place to come together with others who care deeply about improving the lives of others.

If you think you may be interested in starting a local chapter or meetup group, you can go here and Jon, our super friendly Director of Outreach, will get in touch (or feel free to email him directly at jonathan.courtney[at]givingwhatwecan.org).





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Is it your impression with Giving What We Can cahpters that them being upfront with the 10% Giving Pledge is a good introduction to effective altruism and taking it on as a lifestyle? Perhaps in being unambiguous about the commitment, people visiting GWWC chapters are more likely to realize whether or not they're really willing to make that commitment, and stick around. This could be contrasted with other word-of-mouth outreach, whether "hard" or "soft" sells, which haven't seemed to have been as succesful.

Hi Evan, I'm afraid I don't know that much about that. I'd imagine it would depend on what types of events they're running, how many people come along to these and how many people within the group have already taken the pledge. I think that EA involves thinking about a lot of different ideas, often quite theoretically, which is great, but for some people it's important to also have some clear call to action/emphasis on things they can do in practice, so talking about the pledge could be valuable.

tl;dr I'm throwing all my thoughts on chapter management/growth and word-of-mouth because I'm helping friends launch a university chapter with great ambition. From what I can tell, the best results come from systematic and coordinated local university/GWWC chapters for hard commitments; fundraisers and awareness which scale well on social media, like Causevox fundraisers and discussion groups, to increase interest and awareness; ongoing online hubs like LW or EA Hub for gradual but consistent winning over.

Yeah, that's the acting hypothesis. I'll also ask Jon Courteny about it, because it interfaces with whole chapters more. Based on his and your reports, GWWC chapters are a system which most reliably generates new members. It's easier to gauge based on number of members which come from each chapter, how much they pledge. Your work at GWWC and talking to as many members as possible isn't a proper outreach experiment, but the aggregation of all that experience does impart unto you lessons about what works.

Second after GWWC chapters, it seems the best new way to build effective altruism are university chapters. I'm impressed with what's been achieved independently in the United States, at UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton. There are fewer hard numbers, but the executives at the Harvard EA club have brought people into effective altruism and onto effective careers who otherwise wouldn't have done so. I suspect this is true for the other clubs. It's a shame I'm not at EA Global this year, because then I could talk to everyone at once. However, I think in the wake of the event, I could coordinate a complete resource list for building and managing effective altruism chapters.

Experiments through .impact, Animal Charity Evaluators, and just word-of-mouth trials effective altruists do themselves haven't made much dint. I'm noticing a pattern where more coordination and a system which minimizes confusion and presents a unified and coherent whole, like at a university or GWWC chapter, faciliates understanding and the choice to embrace effective altruism if one wants. Our experience at the Vancouver effective altruism meetup is it's difficult to get people to stick around. There is no (semi-)formal delineation of responsibility for planning, and when a newcomer arrives, they're bombarded with messages spanning all cause areas and types of action. I suspect this might be the same of other unaffiliated meetups around the world, as outside of ones near Oxford or the Bay Area, I've not encountered reports of wildly successful independent hubs. The one exception seems to be Melbourne.

Other outreach efforts for effective altruism happen online. They're succesful at a slower rate, but robustly scale. One example is LessWrong and the rationalist community; another is the Effective Altruism Hub; a third is how woven Facebook is with effective altruism outreach online. Charity Science also does all types of fundraising, advocacy, and outreach experiments, but there aren't strong results yet for anything outside of birthday/holiday fundraisers.