This document is the second in the LEAN Impact Assessment Series, briefly summarising relevant data from our qualitative interviews with 31 EA group organisers. Click here to read the previous report from the series . The third and penultimate report will synthesise data from qualitative and quantitative reports in order to derive general conclusions.
Table of Contents
Organiser Experiences and Wider Issues
Specific Services and Resources
The EA Hub
The report is divided into two sections. The first section presents crucial themes from the interviews relating to common experiences, needs, or concerns experienced by group organisers.The second section presents data on existing forms of support offered by LEAN and other EA organisations supporting groups. In both sections, general observations are made followed by demonstrative quotes from the interview transcripts .
Organiser Experiences and Wider Issues
Appetite for Assessment and Evidence Based Guidance
There is a high level of demand among organisers for formal research into outreach and group management strategy. Organisers also want to be able to effectively monitor their own progress and impact, and they look for certainty and empirical backing to inform aspects of group leadership.
“I would really appreciate help with planning ahead and deciding on useful metrics to measure, so that we can assess how much impact we’re having.”
“Sort of like a roadmap too… like based on other groups and what they’ve experienced. Like first they have 1-2 years doing x, y, z and then they reach n members, etc…”
“Measuring impact for groups is so difficult, it takes so much time to plan. It would be helpful to have a vehicle through which to do this. So LEAN tracking metrics across groups would be very valuable.”
“What would be good is some plans. Like how should you organise a small group, a large group etc. How big are other groups? What is the average size?”
“The things you are doing, like the survey, it’s really something super important. We were thinking of iterating that here on a local scale, but then the person in charge of that concluded that this survey you did was good enough… it’s just something that we needed, and this is giving us more insight that we can chew upon.”
“I would be really interested in what you’re looking at, how you ask people… how you set up evaluation and surveys after events you’re holding, and stuff like that.”
“The most important is research on how to advertise…for example Facebook advertisements. What kind of keywords to write, and is it worth it? How many people do you get that way? How well it responds to persistence and all these things…”
Legitimacy and Reputation Concerns
In some contexts, organisers feel that there is a functional need for public legitimacy for their groups.
“It would be the idea of us drafting guidelines and having the government department of charitable giving sort of rubber stamping them. With something like that I feel… if there’s access to more prominent people in this field, we could send them Singer’s talk. But I don’t know if there’s any additional way of getting legitimacy.”
“We had more funds by using The Life You Can Save funds for giving games, and also more credibility.”
“I know I needed a lot of tech support setting up the eahub.org email address, but people respond to that better than something that has gmail at the end of it. We’ve noticed we have higher response rates.”
“[LEAN] made us a club website which looks very professional. And that went a long way to showing people that we’re not some fringe thing that’s only locally run.”
The Significance of Context
A crucial insight from the interviews is the degree to which group-specific context shapes and determines the success and opportunities available to organisers. There is variety in the demographic that organisers are able to attract, the culture and attitudes prevalent in specific countries and regions, the proximity of groups to other EA organisations and communities, or to otherwise like-minded collectives, to name but a few distinctions.
For this category, summarised examples are a more concise means to demonstrate this than verbatim quotes.
- A group that raised a significantly high sum through group fundraisers benefitted from a proactive student body, generous state support, and an unusually high national culture of altruism and charitable giving.
- A group in a large, spread out city found regular attendance hard to secure due to the travel times required.
- One group has a strategy of targeting corporations in order to take advantage of a state requirement for corporate charitable giving.
- The Pledge is less appropriate for groups in poor countries.
- Several groups are benefitted by residing in cities with unusual concentrations of academics or experts. For example, policy experts in Washington D.C., Geneva, Brussels or London. Researchers in Oxford, Cambridge and Ivy League institutions and so on.
- A group in the Middle East has to operate in the face of state limitations on charitable giving, and is looking for ways to partner with mosques and existing religious traditions surrounding philanthropy.
- Several Asian groups are partnering on translation and reframing core EA ideas to target local attitudes.
- Groups in some countries, like Germany, have to be more sensitive about association with utilitarianism or Peter Singer due to public hostility.
- 80,000 Hours recommended careers are significantly less accessible in some countries than in others.
While tangibly gauging impact is a widespread challenge for organisers, some respondents mentioned concrete instances where a person either became actively involved in EA as a result of being introduced to EA in a group, or cases where getting involved in group management led to individuals engaging more strongly with EA.
“I got into EA through my local group at [University], which explains my interest in it. It’s changed a lot of my values, and I wanted to create that opportunity for other people.”
“It’s definitely helped me grow more, just taking those actions. [Member name] taught me as well, as it was because I got him into EA that he then became very involved.”
“Because I am organising, I do think the possibility is high that [nearby regional EA Group] is where I can do a lot. And so I certainly consider that in my career path right now… I plan on going to [regional EA Group] and working there in the future. So you can see, EA has changed my life a lot.”
“I think that they [group members who took on leadership after the respondent moved on from organising the group] became more engaged, but I don’t know if they would have done that some other way instead. Like maybe going up to [EA Capital City], or more conversations online, or skypes with people. Certainly a couple of people like [Name] and [Name] are much more involved than they were before and they took the Pledge while we were there. And we had a lot of conversations about these things…”
“The most useful feedback I received was locally, from the people who actually came to events. Seeing them be happy also made me happy because we’d spent time talking about all sorts of brilliant stuff that we couldn’t talk about with anybody else. Or actually convincing the first person to actually donate money, or work for an effective cause, or convincing someone in an argument that other people were thinking about or actually acting upon… this sort of feedback was still the best thing I received. And I think the best thing about my job right now is that I’m seeing this. So every time I organise an event I’m getting more and more people into this, and this is making me feel amazing.”
Some of our respondents experienced insecurity in their role as group organisers, especially those who had recently started up. For example, we encountered abstention from interview participation arising from discomfort in answering questions about group progress. A few participants also expressed concern prior to interview over whether or not their groups were large, active or successful enough to ‘count’. In conversation, respondents occasionally unfavourably contrasted their situation to an ideal, with the counterfactual typically being a larger, more active or more professional group.
“I feel a lot better about undertaking this with a team, but I don’t think…I don’t know that any of us have done like formal outreach or community growth in this sort of way before.”
“It’s basically me and a very small team, and we are still learning and none of us are really researchers in one of the EA organisations.”
Not only were insecurities indirectly apparent in how organisers spoke about their groups at times, but there were also some direct reports of specific anxieties and doubts, often related to respondents’ concerns over their own personal EA credentials, or the fidelity of their approaches.
“I hope that [University] group gets going, but I also just feel like an old guy trying to make stuff work.”
“Some EAs are vocally saying we shouldn’t be doing much outreach… we don’t want to dumb down the message. I worry… I think we are doing the right thing, but there are mixed messages out there about what we should be doing. I don’t know what people think about us and what we should be doing. I feel lacking in confidence. I kind of want a seal of approval that makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing.”
“There’s just so much literature, Jesus! I started reading about, you know, Peter Singer, and now I’m into professional finance… and I just can’t keep up! I had it in my mind that maybe I could get a position in some EA organisation. It’s a bit intimidating, though, seeing the positions and the people working in them, like ‘what the fuck? How did they do that? They raised $2 million?” Some of these people seem so alien…so far out from normal people.”
Personal Connection and Motivation
Personal interaction with other EAs is highly significant and sometimes critical for the motivation of group organisers.
“If I’d been without personal interaction, I’d never have gotten that much involved with EA.”
“I always seem to be inspired after I touch base. Because it can be kind of challenging when you’re not really immersed in a culture where people have these kind of ideas. So I always find it very uplifting to chat to people who are involved in the overall EA community.”
“I don’t even know why, but meeting all those people in there [EAG] and getting all this awesome advice that I really needed and feeling the sense of the international community rather than a local thing that’s generally myself and a couple of guys I’ll see each Thursday. I think this really helped me go and invest more, basically.”
“When it comes to feedback from the wider community, I still have this fuel from the 2015 conference. I’m still fueled by that experience. And I’m going back to London – I just bought a ticket today – I decided I’ll just go there and do it again. So in terms of that feedback, there would be no initiative from my side if not for that feedback.”
“After last year I felt a bit not connected. I felt alone here… yeh I told you how this guy just disappeared. But last year when I had the retreat, I met these wonderful EAs…”
While some of the organisers we spoke to were independent ‘self-starters’, most success stories referred back to critical connections, such as meeting people at a conference or retreat, or finding an equally committed co-organizer. Conversely, isolation from the wider EA community and a lack of equally motivated partners was one of the most frequently named challenges facing organisers.
Desire for Integration with the Global Community
In addition to the personal needs of organisers, respondents widely expressed a desire for better avenues to connect their members to the wider community.
“I’m kind of the only EA that has met the others outside of [country]. I kind of want members to have the chance to skype with other EAs.”
“I really want to see the club get more directly involved and engaged with the local [city] EA community. So, if you’re like a club member at EA [university] you pretty much automatically know most of the EAs in [city]. I kind of want that to be an automatic, organic thing.”
“I’d just like us to be more connected to the greater EA community.”
“Things that really help to implement would be to make sure that we can send more people to EA Global…that would be something we’d give out like candy if possible.”
In particular, some organisers found themselves at a loss for where to direct their members in order to integrate them more fully into the movement. Several expressed dissatisfaction with existing channels such as EA Facebook groups and the EA Forum with respect to bridging the gap between seasoned or professional EAs and newcomers.
“The EA Forum doesn’t seem like something that can be used at all by people who aren’t running an EA org or researching full time or whatever. It doesn’t seem like a terribly nice platform to recommend people to go look at.”
A related but distinct concern from respondents was the need for direct action opportunities in order to improve member retention. In some cases, EA groups appear to thrive on discussion alone. But in many cases, people need something more tangible.
“Around the world there is a common problem, that after people get involved in EA there’s not many things to do or keep them interested…generally I want to let people know that joining EA isn’t just about talking, but actually getting involved in things and improving yourself gradually.”
“People will say ‘well great, this sounds like a good idea, but what is there to actually do?’ It’s just a small community of people that are interested, and I think what’s tricky is that people don’t really see what they get from joining. And it’s like ‘ok, great. I like this idea. I’ll read all the materials, but why do I need to come?’ Kind of thing…”
“We’re getting better at spreading EA as information and making people interested in it, but we get many messages from people wanting to be involved in the club and actually do stuff. But then, you know, the stuff we do is more host meetups, talk about stuff, get speakers, or we talk about donations.”
“We got a lot of students and young professionals who liked the ideas, but because we don’t have anything concrete for them to engage in this…I can’t just say ‘Hey! Job opportunity at ACE! Apply for this!”
“We still look for ways of generating appeal. I think the prioritization project and influence over a certain number of dollars was useful for that. But since we’re largely focused around meeting weekly and talking about philosophical issues it’s not always as prestigious as joining another society that potentially has more to offer.”
“There are people that want to talk about weird stuff and ethical paradoxes, and then there are people saying ‘lets do something tangible as a group’. And so I’ve been trying to figure out how to make everyone happy…It would be cool to be involved in something that ties us to the community and helps people stay invested.”
Overall, discussion and social interaction are often insufficient to persuade members to regularly engage and commit to an EA group. Organisers on the lookout for group actions that offer tangible impact, as opposed to traditional mainstay group targets like career changes or pledges. Respondents also felt that activities need to offer goals which new EAs could not reach equally well by going it alone, if groups are to retain these individuals.
Productivity and Accountability
In many cases where organisers succeed in attracting a core group of regular attendees, they still struggle to find effective strategies for motivating their members to adhere to commitments and to take timely action on group goals. This is compounded by the fact that groups are organised voluntarily, which makes organisers reluctant to put pressure on their teams.
“Getting organisers who have enough time. I do organising, but I’m really busy. I want others to step up, but I don’t want to pressurise them. Others don’t care as much as me. Sometimes people offer but then bail, or don’t deliver.”
“There’s a challenge of commitment. When we have administrative talks we’ll say ‘right let’s do x, y and z’ but then one week, two weeks later, nothing has been done… And something else that’s important is to have accountability partners, accountability checks. We have this kind of…everybody’s a volunteer, so nobody takes a stand, you know? We talk and talk but the action gets blurry. Who does what and when?”
“It’s hard to say ‘alright, here’s the thing we need you to do. We won’t pay you for it, we just want you to do it in a specific way…can you do that consistently for a semester and then train someone else to do it?’”
“If me and, say, one other person were to go, I don’t think there would be a lot of willpower to really push to get things done.”
“I think it’s not that hard to find people who are interested in Effective Altruism a little bit, but those who want to be really involved, those are hard to find.”
“Entropy, as I would call it, was one of the biggest challenges. There was really a significant cost to getting people together and making them into a group. You know, an actual group… an organised group, a sort of quasi-organised group. So whenever I put these people together to work on a task they would quickly dissemble, they would lose focus, lose direction. I would lose direction myself, I would have to change my goals. So managing myself and managing the group, you know, without financial incentive, without the traditional ways of making people work together – as in a company or an actual organisation – that would be difficult.”
Not only do organisers struggle in finding committed members and soliciting productive output, but many also found it challenging to find time and motivation for their own goals and ambitions.
“I only hit a homerun once, and it was when the coach yelled at me and I felt it was unjust. So I had a lot of passion. And if you’d be willing to periodically say critical things to me, like ‘[name]! You’re not doing good enough!’ that would be really helpful.”
“Having consistent events at the same time and place would be helpful. I mean this is largely because I’m a bit… I’m not the most conscientious person, so I’ve just been doing events every few weeks.”
Across the board, organisers mentioned the challenges of balancing group administration alongside busy course loads and careers.
Specific Services and Resources
Written Guides and Resources
Respondents widely viewed written guides and resources to be highly valuable. Resources of this kind were often marked out as especially useful or valuable in helping organisers get their groups started, and in reducing labour; particularly reading and discussion plans and presentations. Respondents were enthusiastic about any resources which provided additional ideas for group activities, and for content creation services such as scripts to use for introducing EA to outsiders, and for content to share on social media. Unsurprisingly, the general EA Newsletter is valued by group organisers for this reason.
“I’ve gotten a lot of help via content from organisations. Any content on EA and GiveWell, and you guys [LEAN] also. The EA Forum is a great source of information. That has given me a lot of inspiration for meetups and stuff… It was very helpful.”
“Nowadays you can get everything, but two years ago a lot of stuff was not there. Now everything is much more organised, I think. Two years ago we had to do everything ourselves. There weren’t materials in German. I didn’t know all the presentations that were there.”
“I tried to put as much effort as possible into the meetings, but when I have resources to make that easier, that’s really, really helpful. So I think the meetings would have been a lot less polished and more casual without those resources, which is why I’m putting a lot of stock into those resources. I think I was able to get the core group really excited because of having like the reading list, for example. Just having that and being able to print that out…”
“One of the really important resources was the list of articles and things that Harri sent me that has been used for an EA curriculum in the past. We’ve modified that a little bit, but we’ve used that essentially to guide our discussions.”
However, this was also the area most frequently mentioned in reference to ways that group support could be improved. In particular, respondents felt that sufficient quality resources were available, but that organisation, coordination and presentation undermined the accessibility and use value of these resources substantially. Some respondents also expressed concern regarding the confusion caused by the existence of multiple organisations (e.g. TLYCS, LEAN, CEA, EAF, 80,000 Hours) involved in providing content and support.
“It’s really bitty and confusing, which people can do what… One obvious starting point would be: if someone wants to start a group… I don’t know how easy that is, but there’s a bunch of things to read and people to talk to, and it’s really confusing who’s going to be doing what. Clarifying this for new organisers… a tried and tested simple pathway…”
“Too much duplication… too much content in different places.”
“It’s clear from talking to [EA organisers in the country] that they would like a central point of of contact that coordinates with all the resources that exist in general.”
“I really get confused with all the things that have popped up connected to local groups.”
“I [organiser of a well known University EA Group] get a lot of emails from groups that want to start up but are lost and don’t know what to do. And I know there are some resources online for how to start your group and what to do, but there seem to be issues with finding that information, and navigating it, and making it useful. So I think informational resources could be made more accessible…”
“At the moment, what’s confusing to people starting a group is that they don’t know whether to correspond with CEA, EAF or LEAN. And I think that gives the impression that the community is not organised. Or that it’s a lot of fractured groups rather than a coherent… sometimes people post saying “I want to start a group, what can I do?” and they get about ten different comments from different places, and I think it would be good to focus on just one.”
In mid-2017, LEAN introduced a comprehensive spreadsheet, listing all known online guides and resources with support from CEA and EAF. Feedback on this resource map has been enthusiastically supportive, which reinforces the finding that improved presentation and organisation is sought after in this area.
“I think the most useful thing has been the resource map. If I could think of something that would be useful… it’s just there, which is really nice! I posted it on the conference event recently because I was like “This is amazing! Everyone needs to see it!”.”
“Whoah! This is great!”
It should be noted that, while the consensus stresses that better use of existing resources is a priority, respondents were not against the provision of fresh material in the future.
In addition, respondents had several recommendations for new resources or improvements to existing ones. There was a lot of interest in tools that would enable them to gauge impact. Additional content for use on social media was a recurring wish, as was the need for better support in finding speakers and locations. Finally, we received a recommendation to create a map that enables organisers to explain to the general public how EA organisations relate to one another and to local groups, and a resource that gives organisers concrete examples of how different kinds of support had been put to use by other groups.
“I’m also not sure if there is basic text for a group? Like basic text you can copy into a Facebook event and just slightly change. So basic drafts…”
“To have, like, things to post on the general Facebook page because inspiration runs out after a while of course. And sometimes you see, like “Oh shit, there was this World Malaria day, and it was yesterday… I could have had a post about it.” But if someone who is doing it professionally has like a calendar, and warns you about that in the future… Maybe you can post about that and suggest people do this, or whatever… because I notice that it actually works out really well.”
“It would be cool to have some kind of slide or something to show people the overarching organisations, who they’re in touch with, how they’re funded… which are recommended charities… which are charity navigators etc. We could make one ourselves, but if one existed already, that would be cool.”
“Something like a list of all those things and then a link to examples of how other clubs have used it.”
Finally, interest was expressed in the conversion of existing materials into different formats, such as video or audio.
“People have different preferences for consuming information. So maybe if you took the stuff that’s been… like I really love to read things but I know that some people love podcasts and audio. I love video as well. I probably like video better. So maybe you could refocus stuff that people really enjoy into other mediums.”
Websites and Tech Support
In reflecting on their experience of tech resources and support, respondents referred to group websites, paid Meetup.com subscriptions and the EA Hub. We did not receive any feedback about the EA groups platform launched by CEA.
There is some variety in respondents’ attitudes towards websites. A vocal minority rated website provision highly helpful and impactful. Some respondents had not yet started using a website, and were keen to arrange one in the future.
“We did have a seperate website, but it was terrible. I was like ‘Oh dear God…’; we were extremely grateful. Super helpful! We could have done it ourselves but it would have been ugly and awful and gross.”
“A few months ago I wanted to create a website and LEAN offered to help. In the end I didn’t have time to do so, and now I’m wondering if there’s something that is already ready to set up, where I just have to put the text in.”
“We asked [LEAN] for a domain and [LEAN] brought up a webpage for us, which was really great. I think that a new group that is growing – maybe not on the first day or first month of activity – at some point all group should have websites, and if we can do that at a low cost then that’s great. We use that, and especially the little stuff that is concerned, like email aliases so that I can send an email as someone who is behind an organisation, not just a gmail address. And I think that really does make an impression – especially for organisations you might come into cooperation with.”
Among respondents who seemed lukewarm about their websites, most framed the problem in terms of a lack of time or technical skill with which to customise their sites and exploit them to the full.
“I guess it would be nice to revamp our website, which isn’t very high quality. So one thing would be having a web developer who could help us with that – that’s great. Emails would be good, and webhosting would be really nice because we don’t have anyone who maintains our website actively. So it’s very bare bones, and isn’t that nice right now.”
“I’ve been meaning to do a website, mailing list, post on social media etc. but I don’t have time.”
“A good website would be nice. We have a lot of knowledge I guess, but we’re not good at website. So yeh… the website is the biggest help.”
However, one respondent was explicitly negative about the value of websites for groups.
“I think many Universities operate through mailing lists and the University pages, and though the website… a few people have used it, I find we’re not making use of it. So they have been useful but I think you’d have diminishing returns if you invest in those because I don’t find many groups using them.”
Meetup.com is a social media platform tailored to event scheduling and group promotion and management. Group members can access the site and join groups for free, but creating and administering a group on Meetup.com requires a paid subscription. Currently, LEAN covers Meetup.com subscription for group organisers on a case-by-case basis.
A similar pattern was true of Meetup.com to that which emerged from the website feedback. Namely, a minority of organisers find the platform enormously useful, while others find it modestly useful. We did not receive any negative feedback about Meetup.com at interview. The majority of EA groups do not have a Meetup.com group.
“Given my goal, which is meeting other Effective Altruists, I think Meetup.com has been pretty successful. Like we’ve got a very decent showing every week, and new people I didn’t know of before. So that’s been good. Good but not amazing.”
“…in Germany a lot of people don’t use Facebook, because privacy is something people really value here. So it’s sort of tricky to reach people who don’t have Facebook.”
As illustrated in these examples, there are concrete cases of counterfactual membership gains as a result of using Meetup.com, including one group which is solely maintained through Meetup.com. Organisers also value the platform for enabling them to reach individuals who do not use Facebook.
The EA Hub
www.eahub.org is a website created by Rethink Charity (formerly known as .impact) as a community resource. The EA Hub was initially put together using submissions from the first EA Survey. The site offers a donations registry which encourages EAs to publicly list donations in order to motivate others. It also offers a list of personal EA profiles where EAs share basic personal information such as preferred cause areas, career plans, and so forth. LEAN has created public profiles for EA Groups on the Hub since its’ inception. The site offers a map of EAs and a map of EA groups designed to help people to access a quick visual of nearby like-minded groups or individuals. Finally, LEAN uses the domain @eahub.org to provide group organisers with official email aliases in instances where a group does not have a website. (Where groups do have a website, we provide group specific domains which are then for their email aliases).
While not many organisers mentioned the EA Hub, one organiser found it to be instrumentally influential in the formation of his initial committee. Another found the map useful, and the third felt that the Hub had once offered potential, but had become outdated and redundant over time.
“My EA Hub profile is how the first two [group members] found me.”
“I really like the map [of EAs]. Looking at the map and seeing where groups are is really cool.”
“I really like your efforts. I like the EA Hub!”
“The EA Hub was a great initiative that sort of feels redundant now. It’s not really working, to be honest. It doesn’t meet people’s expectations of how software should work in 2017 – I’ve received that feedback on a couple of occasions. And some of the functionality is broken.”
Connecting and Introducing
While there is no explicit service for introducing specific organisers to one another, LEAN has historically helped many organisers on a case-by-case basis, introducing them to other EAs with compatible needs or interests, or similar locations . Respondents raised this as an example of external support that was valuable and impactful.
“If it weren’t for LEAN and Rethink Charity, I would be even further behind when it comes to actually finding EAs on the ground in [Country]. People who self identify as EA in [Country] are very, very rare. I can pick out less than ten right now… the people who self-identify as Effective Altruists, as far as I know of… that I’ve engaged with on a one-to-one basis. I would be starting with nothing, basically, if it weren’t for you guys. I think that’s something, maybe hard to systematise and predict, but… those early introductions that help you build critical mass… you’ve been really helpful with that.”
“Making sure that other group and project email addresses are up to date is so helpful.”
“Rationalist groups are easy to find, but something harder to search for is if there are EA corporations or non-profits in [City]. I was surprised to learn that [EA Organisation] was based here.”
“[LEAN] has been a great support for me. Almost from when we met there was a consistent line of communication, and I would get a lot of advice and he would always connect me to the right people, which really worked out.”
“You know I hadn’t even thought of trying [to contact other organisers], so after this conversation one of the things I’m definitely going to do is just reach out to the guys in [a place LEAN recommended the organiser contact] and see what exactly they’re doing regarding such a challenging regulatory environment.”
“‘I had help from [LEAN] in the beginning when she connected me to some people… So far [she] has been super helpful, because if I didn’t have [her] I wouldn’t have two members who are already in EA, and they’ve put a lot of work into it. So I guess that’s…very precious stuff.”
This section refers to input and feedback that organisers receive from LEAN and other organisations. In the case of LEAN this involves personal discussion between an organiser and a member of the LEAN staff, but it may also involve participation in the mentoring programme.
Respondents who mentioned having drawn on one-to-one support found it useful. Furthermore, although many respondents had not formally drawn on this support from LEAN or any other EA organisation, many mentioned positive interactions with independent EAs or other organisers. Respondents were widely enthusiastic about the value in continuing to make such opportunities available.
“I chatted with [LEAN] and, that was actually a really good chat – I still have the notes from that – uh, this was still in the mode when I was the only real organiser, and I just wasn’t able to act on a lot of that stuff because I didn’t have the motivation, I didn’t have the bandwidth to be like, to feel like I was the only person pushing the group along.”
“More frequent conversations and more networking would be highly helpful, like keeping in touch and finding out what other groups are doing, and picking their brains… picking their information. That would be very helpful, I think. So right now it doesn’t seem like I have any of that.”
Nevertheless, some respondents hadn’t been aware that support was on offer from LEAN, or they had started up before it was available.
“The part that was the most frustrating was when we started we had nothing. People only start offering help after the first year. But if we had people advising us as soon as we started, it would have cleared things a lot. So I really think it’s very important that as soon as you hear that an EA club anywhere in the world has started. Like… very fast… run to them and offer support. That was probably the number one thing. ‘Cos things are so much easier now, and they could have been at the start if we had that support at the start…”
Other respondents felt that their needs were too specific or unique for general support to be helpful. For example, one organiser was most in need of input from an Islamic religious expert, while another stressed the significance of cultural and language barriers.
“A lot of these things is like…I mentioned before that there is this language barrier and cultural difference. I think these are not an easy thing to get bridged.”
One or two organisers mentioned that they had considered asking for support but had found themselves too busy to get around to it.
The most frequently mentioned need among organisers was for improved financial support. Funding was also the category of external support that groups found most helpful when asked to reflect on their development.
“I would say the hardest part was, uh, not having constant funding. We were pretty limited in what kind of events, or what have you, we’d be able to put up. I mean I sunk something like $200 into like the initial advertising of the club that was never made back. I don’t expect it to ever be made back. But of course it wasn’t just me… everyone kind of helped contribute to it.”
“…he called the group to give me some money. So we decided to print some posters, some leaflets… to invest in Facebook advertising – as I remember. And we got thirty people attending. It was like… that was a nice push right there, because these guys were really into Effective Altruism. They were really interested, they knew what they came for. And out of those guys, I think two of those guys are still with us and are key people for the organisation. Or even more…like three to five out of thirty. And that was three years ago!”
“Getting the Meetup group set up was helpful mainly from a monetary perspective, honestly. I personally don’t have much money so that was the main thing.”
Funding is especially crucial for groups that want to level up their operations, for example transitioning from a local to a regional group, or transforming into a foundation or charity.
“How to have enough resources to focus on this stuff. We are students, we work, we do all kinds of stuff, so how can we also do Effective Altruism [Country]? And this has been a huge challenge with regards to money, with regards to time, with regards to all kinds of resources.”
“If we really want this club to shine, we will need someone to work on it that isn’t also a student. I’m not sure exactly how this would work, or what bureaucratic limitations that person would have, but we need a more dedicated team than we currently have.”
“I no longer think of us as a local chapter because we are becoming an organisation. And that makes it so that you need to, you know, grow… to meet the challenges that we are now facing.”
“There are all these small NGOs that get money to go and talk in schools about recycling or racism, and all of these small organisations found money for this to happen, so it should be possible for Effective Altruism to do so.”
In most of these cases, the need for financial resources is connected to the need to hire paid, dedicated staff in order to realise the opportunities and goals that groups have.
Another frequent challenge for organisers lies in securing appropriate locations for regular meetings. In some cities, the challenge lies in finding places that are conveniently accessible to members from different, far flung locations. Others know of suitable locations but can’t afford the booking fees, or have been struggling in crowded and noisy restaurants, cafes or bars.
“What are good venues to do meetups? Here we have a problem because venues are bad somehow. Like we have to pay or something else, you know?”
“Currently we have a bit of a problem with a place we’re doing the meetups because we began in a restaurant, but it was too small. When it’s loud, you can’t really talk. Especially for social meetups. Because we don’t have student union membership, we can’t book a University room. We have another room, but it’s quite expensive.”
“The organisation I’m at right now, they’ve helped us by just offering workspace. We can organise events here at cost price and have our meetings handled, and things like that.”
“The main challenges have been booking rooms and working out what events we could run.”
Organisers also frequently mention access to EA speakers as a significant resource. Either groups struggle to find speakers, or they are based in cities or Universities with a good concentration of speakers and reflect on this as having been instrumental to their success.
“Another thing I’d love to be able to do is find guest speakers from around the world and help pay for them to get here, so they could give guest lectures.”
“For the launch event we really didn’t want to do it ourselves. We really wanted an external speaker who could attract a few more people because if we just do it, it’s going to be our friends there. And so we asked them (a regional EA organisation) if any of them could come and give a talk and they said ‘no we don’t have any time in those months’.”
“I guess maybe for prominent EA speakers. People like Peter Singer and whoever.
“Also just knowing which EAs are where. Like when EAs are visiting a city… I can imagine a really awesome EA coming to town and you just not knowing about it.”
“Is there any information on what speakers are around in what areas? It’s hard to keep tabs on certain people, and if they’re coming through to [City] it would be good to say ‘Hey! While you’re here, come to our group!’”
A few organisers mentioned group calls as having been inspiring and helpful. Some organisers had participated in calls organised by LEAN or CEA, while others had arranged these calls independently.
“In general I think that being able to have skype conversations, and using online tools has helped a lot. I can imagine that it multiplies.”
“I think it’s very valuable to know the broader EA landscape. So I think that like… both CEA and LEAN – you’ve been cooperating on that. The talks, the phone calls or the Skype calls… they’re really valuable. Just talking to other people, that’s not easy to do just as a stand-alone EA group.”
“I haven’t had much direct contact. I would love to be active in any group calls if you share that with me.”
The reasons for valuing these calls were similar to those for valuing personal connection with the wider EA community. Although feedback for the calls was mostly positive, two organisers mentioned the fact that group calls had limited value for their needs given significant differences between the opportunities and challenges they were facing and those that the majority of call participants were discussing.
“They were kind of useful but there were so many different kinds of groups. How to help your group at the stage it’s in? Sometimes I’d have a chat and they were like “Oh we’re doing all these things” and I was like “We can’t do those things… we’re not a University, we’re just little”…It was difficult.”
“I’m also aware that with a lot of groups… with student groups and younger people, less experienced… I understand that that’s a priority. Um so no, I think it’s clear for us that ‘No, that’s not for us. That’s more for student groups, but that’s ok’.”
Having summarised all of the empirical data from our quantitative and qualitative research, the penultimate report will synthesise both sources in order to develop a thorough interpretation of these findings and their significance for the LEAN project, and for EA movement building generally.
This report was written by Richenda Herzig with editorial contributions by David Moss and Tee Barnett. Interview recruitment was overseen by David Vatousios. The interview sample was divided evenly between the interviewers (Richenda Herzig and David Vatousios). Interview recordings were transcribed by Richenda Herzig, David Vatousios, Brooke Jackson, Avi Iyer, Kaitlin Alcantara, Sharmin Tuli, Leticia Pena and Ashley Francis.
We are highly grateful to Greg Lewis for his input as an external advisor.
We’d like to offer our deep gratitude to each EA organiser that agreed to participate in the interviews, both for the trust and generosity in sharing your thoughts and experiences, and the time sacrificed.
To briefly recap, we selected a large sample of EA groups based on length of time running, and a desire to include a mix of different nationalities, different group types (University and local), and different affiliations (e.g. groups mostly served by CEA, LEAN, EAF or TLYCS). Of this sample, we interviewed each organiser that was willing to participate, which whittled our selection down to 31 organisers (from around 70).
Our interviews were conducted over skype with the exception of one which took place face to face in Vancouver. An audio recording of interviews was taken on our mobile phones in the early stages. Eventually we invested in commercial Skype recording software, which produced full video recordings. The first two interviews were jointly conducted by David Vatousios and Richenda Herzig for training and calibration purposes. Thereafter the interviews were loosely split between each interviewer for convenience (interviews took place across a range of different time zones, which meant that personal scheduling determined which interviewer was available for any given interview) and in order to improve our objectivity.
Recordings were transcribed by Richenda Herzig, David Vatousios and a team of four remote LEAN volunteers (who each signed non disclosure agreements).
In summarising findings from this data set, we paid attention to the frequency that a theme would be mentioned by respondents, the weighting respondents gave to these themes as expressed by length of time and volume of detail used in discussing the theme, as well as their explicit evaluative comments. Pragmatic and clarity considerations also affected which extracts could be used. For example, there was considerable overlap in terms of the themes that would be covered in data units as small as one or two sentences. This meant that the number of quotes where an issue was clearly isolated was small. For less isolated quotes, much larger extracts would have been necessary to include in order to render the extract clear. Finally, inconsistency in the quality of transcription meant that some data could not be appropriately formatted and included within our time frame.