Jeffrey Kursonis

351 karmaJoined Working (15+ years)



Jeffrey Kursonis built and co-built quite a number of non-profits in New York City, including The Haven, an arts and altruism collective with 300 people gathering weekly for ten years in Manhattan. A multicultural and altruistic faith community in Harlem, still going today. The New York City New Sanctuary Movement, one of two main hubs of the national network of faith communities giving sanctuary protection to undocumented families being pursued by Federal Immigration Law Enforcement. It’s a long list. 

After my work in NYC, a nascent national organization, Emergent Village, tapped me to lead their early growing network of local cohorts seeking to organize progressive religious leaders. I formed a team and we built it up to over 100 US cities, as well as many regional gatherings and other movement training and organizing (extremely similar to CEA). This “emerging church” movement changed the face of American religion by directly moving thousands of religious leaders and their congregations to the left, spawned a whole publishing genre, helped elect Obama, helped influence our Federal same sex marriage legal structure and sadly became a focal point of the conservative backlash unleashed by Trumpism. As a side note, Jeffrey is no longer religious but still deeply appreciates the proven training ground religion provides. Here is a video we produced about the national cohort network, note my name as producer in the end credits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-oaU29Z4dg

Jeffrey has been an active EA’er for over a year now, doing the Intro and Advanced Fellowships and working as a Meta-Moderator for Virtual Program trainings for new facilitators and actively posting on the forum. I recently applied to be on the CEA Virtual Programs new Advisory Board.  

How others can help me

I have a long career in the religious world, and now I'm no longer religious so I'm rebuilding in the regular world, it's a challenge. Religion is very good at movement building and at persuading people to change their views two things EA is trying to do...in the internet boom of the 90's the term "evangelist" became popular for basically marketing pro's communicating their vision. Many EA's might be surprised to learn that the word charity simply means love...in older English versions of the bible, like the King James, verses that we now use the word love for would then use the word charity. To give with no expectation of return benefit, the very core of EA, is essentially the act of charity which equals an act of love.  These less scientific and more artful human kind of expressions are more my style. Because I agree with the core EA notion of bringing scientific method into charity work, I want to see that happen, but implementing it can still be a very human and social and creative thing. I need help evangelizing this message. :) 

How I can help others

If you are a young EA and have any anxiety in your work and life, I am a lifelong coach and mentor to young activists, and from the culture of my long experience it has a pastoral quality...definitely not for everyone, but very good for some. 


Yeah those are both really good initiatives...now they need more creative media to win the broader public to their vision. 

It's a great idea, glad you tried. Here's a few thoughts from a 60 year old with many years overseas and 3 years in Washington, DC.  Maybe they can help (given from a USA perspective). 

The feeling many activists who really care get after spending any time adjacent to the DC development-industrial-complex is that so much of it is a big political scam...DC is not trying to help the world, they're deploying taxpayers money to increase USA power and influence to the ends of benefiting USA (same for all wealthy countries). That's the DC side, then living overseas for almost a decade of my life I saw the actual aid workers in the field and it's like the newbies are actually there for good idealistic reasons, then as they age and go up the ladder you see them just realizing it's all a scam but it's my job so I just play along or they are just expat types who love living overseas and with a USA salary in a poor country you can live like a king. 

All of that is going on, while your holding meetings with individual politicians who may care, but they don't even see the whole big picture themselves because for example State Department priorities and strategies may be opaque to congress members.

The other issue that occurs to me. You are applying to aid what EA applied to charity so successfully...the idea of scientific method for evidence based impact...but the audience who responded so powerfully to EA's charity changing idea was donors deciding what to do with money they control directly...individuals and foundations. But your audience was politicians who are seeking to get votes by doing what voters want, and by needing to follow their leadership. So even though they may be moved by "effective impact" as an idea, the audience they serve - their leaders and voters - are far removed from your efforts and don't hear your ideas, ie. your energies spent at the wrong spot...the solution would be to not only influence politicians but influence the voting public by creative media campaigns in film, tv, youtube and substack and change the zeitgeist, and get the voters to demand a change in how our governments do aid, and start doing it this smarter evidence based way. Now your energies are hitting directly.

But of course, this is not a methodology EA really understands since they don't invite creative media people to the table. They should and more of us are on the peripheries stating the importance of creative media to everything EA does and pointing out EA's blindspot on this. Nobody in lobbying or advocacy would ever imagine effecting a change without creative media to influence the public as a significant part of it...you gotta hit 'em on both sides...inside lobbying, outside changing of minds/votes. 

Perhaps another attempt with a combination of more experienced development lobbyists paired with a creative media team also would have a better chance...but of course it would require a much bigger budget.

EA needs to learn from Tech...Tech is a bunch of STEM people like EA...but Tech has a backroom of STEM talent making stuff, and a frontroom of arts & humanities creatives communicating that stuff to the world. EA on the other hand only has a backroom of STEM people and no frontroom at all, leaving massive value on a non-table that never gets communicated to the world it was for. Philanthropic funding artificially enables EA to perpetuate this misunderstanding of how the world works, Tech lives in the real world.

In the USA anybody with center leaning tendencies thinks of "socialism" as all the bad things that happened under communism, but democratic socialism is more palatable since it has private property and voting. I understand this is partly a problem of the right using those words to instill fear based on remaining cold war feelings, but still the challenge here is to educate to show how democratic socialists governments are not Soviet style communists. I personally prefer the hybrid of democratic and some capitalistic aspects being mixed in. I don't think communism can ever work based on the massive experiment we've already had with it that failed. If China is doing well it's clearly because of the capitalism mixed in. 

If I were to evangelize for socialism within EA I would definitely stay on using "democratic socialist" language, or it'll get slammed harder. And I'd educate on the private property and voting aspects. 

I'd personally like to see EA be less Utilitarian and be able to meet more in the middle with social movement interventions rather than just individuals...that might help democratic socialism to more accept EA also, and for EA to accept it. 

Oh and for the poster, there is a group called "All in Awe" that helps place graphic artists with EA org's...maybe they could place you in some jobs.

Yes they are mostly in EA Anywhere under #role-artists and #role-film-and-tv. There is also an in real life gathering of marketers and creatives in EA NYC. Artists of Impact is an early stage org drawing professional artists toward effective giving similar to how others have done that with athletes.

This is fantastic, a perfect example of how the arts amplify EA ideas making them more palatable and available to non experts. That’s why we have EA Artists & Creatives group, as well as EA Creatives & Communicators and Artists of Impact and more.

I think this is a great perspective on the future of EA and as SBF’s trial is about to explode across world media and bring a new wave of negative mentions of EA, people I know who are building effective giving org’s while considering themselves within EA are also choosing to use the term Effective Giving more broadly in their communications because the term EA is facing an extended bad press cycle. I deeply regret this reality but it’s the nature of how things work these days.

The other thing this presentation touches on and I will discuss it with my own twist is that we’ve somewhat abandoned our fundraising core…and I think many EA’s have failed to grasp how big fundraising is to our core essence and place in the world. Early EA full of STEM people did the remarkable job of pushing evidence based impact to the fore of the whole philanthropic world. If you read outside of EA in other philanthropic circles all you hear about is effective impact. It’s a classic success story of a small movement changing the bigger narrative in its field. And one of the proofs of this is how so many people decided to rely upon EA charity evaluators for their donations and we built up a massive amount of funds spread over 50+ fundraising organizations.

One of the things that always amazes me about EA is how many take this massive success for granted. It is almost without precedent that a small group of philosophy and STEM activists build up billions of dollars of funds. That just doesn’t happen. Most movements struggle for years. Having 25-50 million dollars is considered a hugely successful movement. Many EA’ers making 100K plus as altruists have no clue that is not how altruists in the past got paid…a career in altruism meant you made very little money, it was like you were choosing to donate the huge portion you weren’t getting paid as your sacrifice for doing good.

This isn’t just a case of an older generation perspective being jealous of a younger generations success…this lack of awareness of the actual core accomplishment of EA in the world leads to mistakes because when you are not operating in reality you are guaranteed to make choices that won’t work.

When you have billions of dollars under your management in todays world it gives you a weight in public forums that is not based in your philosophical work, but based in your clout. This allowed the philosophers who did great things in building EA to go back to their roots and spin out new esoteric concepts totally shifting EA in its second wave toward Longtermism and X-risk and away from charity and fundraising. This was a mistake because it was built on clout and not a long career building the philosophical foundations. Which lead to problems.

I believe the third wave of EA should be to now build upon its true foundation of fundraising leadership and to take it out to a bigger and broader audience. The new EA cannot continue as a mostly STEM elite group. That doesn’t fit the mission. A broader more mature effective giving movement reaching all the millions of wealthy donors has to have a culture that is more welcoming to those donors.

I have been in movements that have had to change from their early core culture to a broader more mature culture as they’ve grown and it’s a painful thing for many who bemoan the loss of the little tight knit community they loved. And I’m sympathetic, but it’s the same sympathy you feel for a sad teenager having to leave their friends and school because their parents got an important new job far away. It’s a painful loss but it’s just life.

As a non STEM person I will tell you this forum is not a welcoming place. This is not new information, I’ve read here and spoken to people who all know it. It’s time to open EA up to more arts and humanities people, to more mid and later career people and as I’ve argued elsewhere to probably guffaws from EA readers, to more average people that are not elite. This is the kind of balance that will change the culture and make EA more welcoming to all the people it needs to draw in to go where it needs to go.

We will surely always need a STEM core to do charity evaluations and to continue a healthy subsection of philosophical thinking about X-risk and Longtermism or whatever it evolves into. I love and value that work, but it’s not what EA actually is in the world.

What EA actually is, is the network of local groups CEA supports, the charity evaluation work and the many funds relying on their work, the various think tank research org’s, the efforts to help people work in effective impact jobs and both the charities EA supports and the new ones it starts. That’s what EA is and we now need to get a whole bunch of new people involved in and supporting all that…and to get those people we have to do some new things like more creative marketing, make documentary films and other creative media to spread the vision and inspire imaginations, and change the culture to make it more welcoming to non-STEM people. To do all that we need more artists and creatives and more average people and more mid and senior career people.

Wow, you guys are doing so great. I'm curious how you do the creative content? How do you find the people and manage the process using local writers and actors? I would also love to see any information on why you do radio instead of say TikTok?

This post is why EA is so great. The broader take home is that human life and social systems are infinitely complex and all of EA needs to continue to trend humble regarding our ability to figure things out in the specific window/perspective we have. And since our funding advice goes to the wealthiest and most willing to give humans on earth, we hold a significant sway on which interventions get funded, so if we are off or wrong, we do harm. Thanks for continuing to iterate humbly. 

This is fantastic. Those of us who believe EA needs more art come from virtually an identical motivation - it communicates and amplifies all the great stuff that EA has spent so much time and sweat and money creating...why leave so much impact on the table when you can amplify it to a waiting world?  There's more of course with art, but that's a big part of it. 

As another commenter said, this should stand as an EA Marketing reference for all of us...and with so much data, James proves he knows how to speak to his audience! Now we also have to speak to those other audiences that don't want data but want emotion and intellectual inspiration, people just waiting to send in a donation or join a local EA group or move overseas with one of our charities. 

And speaking of inspiration, wait until you see what we've got in store for the "ea-X-hibition" art exhibit at EAGx Berlin in September...the piece we are putting up will blow everyone away and other conferences are already asking for it. Tell your friends in Europe. 

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