As people sometimes still refer to this post and use it as input for their fellowship program, I wanted to share three major updates:
1. Impact Seminar: originally, the fellowship was intended to be for everybody, from people new to Effective Altruism to advanced members. Last year we changed this, as having in-depth discussions with varying levels of familiarity was sometimes challenging. We made the fellowship only for advanced members and added a five-week introduction program, the Impact Seminar.
2. Restricted in time: originally, the fellowship was an ongoing program. However, as we had more and more members who were not very active and after feedback from the fellows, we are now working with a two-month fellowship. After finishing a fellowship, participants can sign-up for the next edition, but continuation is opt-in and if fellows decide to continue we expect them to attend at least 80% of the fellowship evenings.
3. Driven by the fellows: fellows are themselves responsible for the fellowship evenings. I lead the first session, which is focused on getting to know each other and on planning the rest of the fellowship. After the first session, each evening has a fellow who is responsible. The responsible fellow defines the topic of the evening (together with the group), announces, prepares, and leads the evening. I think this is a great way for a fellow to deepen their understanding of a specific topic. The fellowship's content is continuously changing this way. Examples of topics of the current fellowship: replacing guilt, debugging workshop, critiques on longtermism, future and current impact of AI, Alternative proteins, Effective Giving at your company, etc.
Thank you for the feedback, I hadn't included examples indeed because of the potential personal details, but I like the suggestion to make them anonymous.
Anecdotally, I encountered the following example the most often*:
"Alice started to organize the global priorities reading club two months ago. The idea for the reading club started during a conversation at the monthly (online) social, where she chatted about an EA forum posts that argued in favor of more global priorities research. Bob mentioned that EA FictitiousExample should do something related to global priorities research and Alice suggested the reading club. Because her conversation partners, Bob and Denise, were excited about the idea, Alice started organizing the club.
However, two months later, Alice is not that excited anymore. The first meetup of the reading club was a success: 10 people showed up and they had an interesting conversation. However, during the second meetup, only 2 people attended and both Bob and Denise had another commitment. The discussion stalled and one participant dominated the conversation with long, not necessarily related, stories. Last week, they had the third meetup and even though Bob and Denise attended and the discussion was alright, two people showed up late and during the last twenty minutes the group mainly discussed the new card game 'EA against humanity'. At the moment, Alice doesn't have inspiration for suitable articles for the reading club and started to doubt the goal of the meetups. She doesn't have much time to think about it anyway, as her exams are starting in two weeks."
I think that this is a moment when a volunteer often disengages and where certain elements might increase the likelihood of the continuation of Alice's involvement. Three things a volunteer manager could do here:
*This is a fictional example, created from a compilation of conversations I have had.
Thank you for your comment, great to hear that these suggestions seem to be helpful.
And great questions. I don't have a definitive answer (I might miss some things and the situation can differ a lot between organisations) but I can share some thoughts. Your second question is easier to answer, so I will start with that one.
I think that it's a bad idea to work with volunteers if:
Ok, so when do organisations benefit the most from working with volunteers? I think this question is more complex than the former and depends on several factors. In general I think two components are important: 1. the nature of the work and 2. the available volunteers. If the organisation's work is not too specialised and there are enough people who fit with your organisation (and are willing to donate their time), then an organisation can benefit from working with volunteers. Otherwise, I think an organisation will struggle and it can become (very) hard to have an impact while working with volunteers.
1. The nature of the work.
Usually volunteers can be very skilled, but they do not have much time to become specialised. There are of course exceptions, but generally volunteers can not spend too much time on their work, therefore getting to know the specific organisation (and the specific work) less well than a staff member. So if your organisation's work needs a lot of inside knowledge, or is specific, it will be harder to work with volunteers. Of course, volunteers can be trained, but as they tend to spend less time on the job (and the turn-over is sometimes high), it can make the volunteer work so costly that it's not efficient anymore (for these costs, the organisation can better hire 1 person full-time and train him/her/them). Another factor that plays a role is how easily the work can be coordinated and managed, as all these are costs as well.
As a rule of thumb I think for short-term volunteering the work should be easy and straight forward (if you give somebody a description of the work, they must be able to carry it out without further instructions). For tasks that take longer, the work should contribute towards volunteer satisfaction. That is easier if the work can be carried out autonomous, is flexible, the volunteer is responsible for the whole process, and the work is challenging. If the organisation's work does not have any of these characteristics I assume it could be hard to retain your volunteers.
2. The available volunteers.
Your question was about when organisations benefit most from working with volunteers, but I think that this question can not be separated from the volunteers themselves. Partly because volunteers have to fit with your organisation, partly because volunteers who donate their time to one organisation, can not do that for another organisation (what is the best way to distribute this resource in the community?), and partly because if there are no qualified people to volunteer, the organisation can not have their intended impact. And as an organisation usually needs more volunteers to carry out the same work as one paid employee (because of the time availability), and it can be hard to find reliable, high-quality volunteers, an organisation can be easily bottlenecked by a lack of volunteers (some people say that good volunteers are power-law distributed).
Another factor is if the volunteering is the best use of the volunteer's time. Somebody could not only donate their time to another (more effective?) organisation, but also use their time to e.g. skill-up or earn to give. For effective volunteering that means that volunteers often volunteer to learn something, improve a skill, or test out a career option. If your organisation can offer an opportunity for people to do one of these, it could be encouraged (and positive for the community) to create volunteer opportunities. But if the organisation's work provides an opportunity that people are not looking for, it can be really hard to fill your positions.
The post above comes from the personal experiences of Justus and myself, but for the people who prefer a more academic approach, I recommend this literature review on volunteer management.
Naomi from CHERI here. First, thank you for picking up this idea and running the survey!
You write in the post: "The CHERI fellows seem to be both less committed to x-risk careers overall (just about one standard deviation below CERI/SERI fellows), and to see larger changes over the course of the program." And later you discuss a potential reason why (smaller number of applicants).
I think this could be a potential explanation but we also selected a part of our applicants on the basis of being less familiar with x-risks/EA. We believed these might be the high-risk/high-reward applicants, creating more counterfactual impact than when we would have chosen somebody who was already relatively committed and who had a higher chance of being accepted into a similar opportunity.
And a small addition to the post as you write:
"Note that, apart from Facebook advertising, CHERI did use fairly targeted advertising methods, like EA Slacks, personal messages, and the 2022 SERI conference."
Additionally to this, we also used the Swiss university newsletters to advertise the program. We got the majority of applicants that were not familiar with x-risks research through these newsletters. We did not use FB advertising.