Operations Officer at Rethink Charity & incoming Master of Public Policy student at Georgetown University.
I started to write a more thorough response to this but realized I was essentially copying Rethink Priorities' post on Ballot Initiatives, which covers a lot of EA causes with high leverage at the local/state level.
Two popular EA causes that I think are missing:
I had similar concerns about our Operations AMA recently. It wasn't wildly popular, but we got 7 questions and I still felt like it was a good use of my time. Several people in the group said they really enjoyed it and would be interested in doing another one, and I liked it enough that I'm planning to do another AMA for one of my other projects as well.
I'll also mention that it's a (relatively) low-effort way to create content (and get karma, if you care). I often feel like I should post to the Forum more but either don't feel like I have anything worth posting, or don't have the time to write anything out, but the nice thing about AMAs is that you don't have to come up with a novel topic that fits neatly into a typical EA Forum post, and the standard for quality as far as formatting/organization/etc. is lower.
The only downsides of posting that I see is time spent on creating the post (I estimate we collectively spent about an hour on this, though I think you could do a less detailed one in 15 minutes), and I suppose the possible embarrassment of not getting asked any questions, but I think this is unlikely (I don't think it's ever happened on the Forum), and you can always delete the post if you're really concerned about that.
FWIW I think you'd be well-suited to do an AMA :)
How can experienced EA groups best provide organizational support for new/small ones?
I consider myself a new organizer so I don’t have much to add here other than a) one-on-ones, and b) sharing systems etc. that work for you (e.g. for tracking attendance, advertising, workshops). I think every new group is going to have different questions and different needs so I suspect there’s not a one-size-fits-all formula, which is why I think one-on-ones with organizers can be especially helpful, since you can gauge their bottlenecks and help brainstorm solutions.
What relatively low-cost things can leadership do, if any, that go far in improving new team members’ (especially volunteers’) morale/engagement/commitment/initiative?
A few things come to mind:
1) Be an understanding, compassionate human. It sounds easy but I (and I think many others) actually suck at this once you bring important projects with deadlines into the mix. If someone doesn’t do things on time, it’s easy for me to get frustrated with them, but as a student leader I wish I would have reached out to people who were dropping balls and actually tried to work with them to see where they were at and how I could help rather than assuming they were lazy or disorganized. This sounds higher-cost but I think it actually saves time in the long-run if you can set up your team members to run things themselves without management having to pick up all the dropped balls.
2) Provide channels for feedback (and actually act on it). Whether that’s a time during your meetings, a channel in Slack, or an anonymous suggestion box (physical or virtual), I think one of the biggest morale killers is built up resentment about a thing being done less-than-optimally when no one seems interested in fixing that thing.
I think it’s worth noting that from my experiences in volunteer management, I expect to have a certain number of people who join and then drop-off/ghost after a while. (For me it’s almost exactly 10% within the first month or so each time, and then the number goes towards 25-50% over a year depending on the situation.) This is completely normal, especially in university as people go on to explore other clubs or take on internships or get hit with heavier coursework. Don’t stress over these people: it’s better for them to be honest with you about their commitments than to push them to take on more responsibility than they have time for.
How can EA groups grow their teams and activities while maintaining good team coordination and management?
Short answer: Asana. Long answer: Clearly define everyone’s roles and responsibilities and delegate wherever you can. As you get bigger you’ll probably want to have something like a traditional management structure, where e.g. the President oversees four committees, and each committee is run by one person, rather than one giant executive board. That way the President doesn’t have to keep track of every little thing that’s happening. This works best if you have a lot of people who are interested in helping out and are actually responsible.
Also: be realistic about what you can accomplish. If you don’t have enough people/capacity to do a thing well, it’s not worth trying to do the thing mediocre-ly.
Fellow group organizer here! (and former uni club leader, though not for an EA group) Honestly I don't think there were that many specific skills I learned from operations that helped me in group organizing, but rather it was the general operations mindset, which to me involves: a) noticing when things aren't running smoothly as they can be (for me this is feels like a special kind of stress, and if I'm not careful, my brain directs the blame towards other people involved in the system rather than the system itself), and b) trying things, whether that be new management structures, different software tools, etc. In particular I've found that familiarity with tools like Airtable, Slack, and Asana has been helpful for group organizing but you can probably find resources for that on the EA Hub.
I'll answer the rest of your questions separately.
how difficult is it to get a position doing operations work for an EA org, especially if you have some but not tonnes of operations experience?
For a long time I would discourage people from going into operations unless I (or they) had reason to think they're an especially good fit because I thought it was difficult to get in (mostly based on reading this post, and my assumption that operations roles have looser requirements than other roles, so more people tend to apply).
However, at recent EA conferences I've talked to a lot of people interested in operations, and over a six month time frame, I tend to find that almost all of them that continue to actively look for work in operations find it.
Like Martin and Amrit said, a lot of these positions go unadvertised. Of our current staff at RC, none of us formally applied for our roles. Two of us are former volunteers, one is a former contractor, and two are people our staff/former staff knew from working together at other organizations who were asked if they wanted to be on our team, without a formal hiring round. It's not impossible to get a job by applying directly - in fact, if you have demonstrated interest in EA, I think you have a good chance at at least making it through the first round of applications - but you'll likely have more luck by being proactive with a few organizations that you're especially interested in working at.
is there currently a need for more operations people in EA orgs?
I've heard differing opinions on this from different organizations, and I think this is in large part because different organizations have different standards for operations hires.
For example, an organization that thinks that having an EA-aligned hire is important and is looking for someone with significant nonprofit/operations experience will have a more difficult time filling a role than an organization that's just looking for someone with certain soft skills (e.g. problem solving, learning quickly, etc.). I think EA organizations tend to lean towards being more relaxed about their requirements, especially for junior roles, which is why it isn't as hard for them to find operations hires.
That said, I think that having less strict hiring standards can lead to less-than-optimal hires, so even if there isn't as much need per se for operations people, you can still have a big impact here if you're an especially good fit. I've heard of some complaints about high turnover in operations roles (senior roles can be very stressful since you're juggling quite a big, while junior roles can be boring since you'll end up doing a good deal of admin work), so if you're reasonably confident that you have the personality to stick with operations for a long time, you can have more impact by acquiring more skills and preventing your organization from having to do another costly hire a few years down the road. Similarly, people who have special skills (e.g. technical knowledge for automation, bookkeeping, HR, knack for organization, etc.) could have a higher counterfactual impact in an operations role.
So tl;dr, yeah, we probably technically don't need more operations people, but that doesn't mean you can't have an impact working in operations.
Thanks! I absolutely agree. I don't think that EAs should surround themselves with only EAs in the name of preventing value drift (this seems borderline cult-like to me), but I think having people in one's social circle who care about doing good, regardless of whether in the EA sense or not, seems like a good idea, for the reason you mentioned, and because I think there are things EAs can learn from non-EAs about doing good in the world.
(Also, non-EAs can make good friends regardless of their ability to contribute to your impact or not. :) )
Agree with these. I'll also throw in Carnegie Mellon's Public Policy and Data Analytics program.
McCourt, Harris, and Heinz (at CMU) are essentially the top three schools offering this track from what I can tell.