Announcing Effective Altruism Community Building Grants

An­nounc­ing Effec­tive Altru­ism Com­mu­nity Build­ing Grants

I’m an­nounc­ing a new pro­ject from the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism: Effec­tive Altru­ism Com­mu­nity Build­ing Grants. This pro­gram will provide grants of be­tween $5,000 and $100,000 to in­di­vi­d­u­als and groups do­ing lo­cal effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity build­ing work. We ex­pect to have a par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on fund­ing groups aiming to tran­si­tion from be­ing run by vol­un­teers to be­ing run by full-time, paid or­ga­niz­ers. We are cur­rently in talks with LEAN about how we will col­lab­o­rate on ad­minis­ter­ing/​im­ple­ment­ing grants.

The aim of this pro­ject is to build the ca­pac­ity of the effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity to pro­duce value, by strength­en­ing a small num­ber of high-po­ten­tial effec­tive al­tru­ism groups. We be­lieve that com­mu­nity build­ing grants will help achieve this aim for the fol­low­ing rea­sons:

  • Pro­vid­ing these grants will en­able the peo­ple with the most ex­per­tise and per­sonal fit for lo­cal com­mu­nity build­ing to sig­nifi­cantly in­crease the time they can ded­i­cate to build­ing the high­est po­ten­tial effec­tive al­tru­ism groups.

  • In­creas­ing the groups’ or­ga­ni­za­tional ca­pac­ity in this way will sig­nifi­cantly in­crease the num­ber of highly tal­ented peo­ple ded­i­cated to work­ing on the most im­por­tant prob­lems, as a re­sult of un­der­stand­ing the ideas and method­ol­ogy of effec­tive al­tru­ism (fur­ther­ing CEAs char­i­ta­ble ob­ject No. 2).

Pro­vid­ing grants for effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity builders promises to be a scal­able way of us­ing fund­ing to in­crease the tal­ent pool available to the effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity. Upon com­plet­ing the first round of effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity build­ing grants, we ex­pect to fur­ther in­crease our un­der­stand­ing of both the spe­cific con­tri­bu­tion that effec­tive al­tru­ism groups can make to the aims of the com­mu­nity, and the role that ad­di­tional fund­ing can play in strength­en­ing effec­tive al­tru­ism groups.

Though we ex­pect the typ­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion to be for a grant to cover full-time or part-time work or­ga­niz­ing an effec­tive al­tru­ism group, we are open to grant ap­pli­ca­tions which are out­side of this scope but are fo­cused on the aim of cre­at­ing suc­cess­ful lo­cal effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­ni­ties.

Cur­rent Landscape

CEA’s mis­sion is to im­prove hu­man­ity’s long-term tra­jec­tory by build­ing a com­mu­nity that can work to­gether to solve hu­man­ity’s biggest prob­lems. Right now, there are three main mechanisms by which in­di­vi­d­ual EAs can come to­gether as a com­mu­nity: on­line (e.g. EA Fo­rum, Face­book), yearly con­fer­ences (e.g. EA Global) and lo­cal groups (e.g. uni­ver­sity groups like Har­vard EA and com­mu­nity groups like EA Lon­don).

Lo­cal groups provide the only op­tion for reg­u­lar, in-per­son in­ter­ac­tion within the EA com­mu­nity. We think this is likely to be es­sen­tial to a thriv­ing EA com­mu­nity for at least three rea­sons:

  • Reg­u­lar in-per­son in­ter­ac­tions are es­sen­tial to es­tab­lish­ing in­for­mal in­for­ma­tion net­works, which are par­tic­u­larly use­ful as a way to learn things you didn’t know you needed to know.

  • Reg­u­lar in-per­son in­ter­ac­tions fa­cil­i­tate strong con­nec­tions within com­mu­nity, and these con­nec­tions are likely to be es­sen­tial to helping many peo­ple re­main sta­bly mo­ti­vated to work on im­prov­ing the world.

  • Reg­u­lar in-per­son in­ter­ac­tion is a good method for in­tro­duc­ing new peo­ple to the com­mu­nity.

The im­pact of lo­cal groups ap­pears to fol­low a heavy-tailed dis­tri­bu­tion, with some of the larger, more es­tab­lished groups pro­duc­ing sub­stan­tially more value than the av­er­age lo­cal group. His­tor­i­cally, much of the lo­cal group sup­port pro­vided by CEA, Re­think Char­ity, EAF and oth­ers has fo­cused on ei­ther seed­ing lo­cal groups or pro­vid­ing a small amount of sup­port to a large num­ber of differ­ent groups. EA Com­mu­nity Build­ing Grants are an ex­per­i­ment in shift­ing our fo­cus to­wards mak­ing some of the most promis­ing lo­cal groups even bet­ter.

In the past, CEA has con­sid­ered similar plans, but ul­ti­mately de­cided not to push for­ward for three rea­sons:

  • EA com­mu­nity size

    • The effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity used to be much smaller than it is now, both in terms of the num­ber of peo­ple who iden­ti­fied with the aims of the com­mu­nity, and the reach of the ideas of effec­tive al­tru­ism.

    • Lo­cal groups need to be able to reach a crit­i­cal mass of reg­u­lar at­ten­dees to suc­ceed. As the num­ber of peo­ple in the com­mu­nity has grown, reach­ing crit­i­cal mass has be­come eas­ier, re­sult­ing in more groups gain­ing sig­nifi­cant trac­tion.

  • High op­por­tu­nity cost for group leaders

    • The best way for group lead­ers to at­tract ex­cel­lent peo­ple to their group is for them to be per­son­ally ex­cel­lent them­selves.

    • How­ever, this means that the best group lead­ers are also likely to have the high­est op­por­tu­nity costs. We weren’t sure that we knew enough about the over­all value of lo­cal groups to know when a group leader should fo­cus on their lo­cal group full time in­stead of pur­su­ing other op­tions.

  • Entrenchment

    • When a sta­ble lo­cal group forms, it’s typ­i­cally the case that no one else at­tempts to form a com­pet­ing lo­cal group. This is gen­er­ally quite pos­i­tive and rep­re­sents good norms of co­op­er­a­tion rather than defec­tion.

    • How­ever, this cre­ates a lock-in effect whereby the first sta­ble lo­cal group crowds out the pos­si­bil­ity of differ­ent groups form­ing in the fu­ture. Fund­ing full-time or­ga­niz­ers ex­ac­er­bates this effect.

    • As the EA com­mu­nity grows, the im­por­tance of lo­cal groups will grow as will the qual­ity of the lo­cal or­ga­nizer tal­ent pool.

    • This means that fund­ing a lo­cal group to­day could mean that we can’t fund a bet­ter in­stan­ti­a­tion of that group in the fu­ture.

A few things have changed such that we think now is a good time to provide fund­ing for lo­cal groups that want to pro­fes­sion­al­ize.

First, the size of the EA com­mu­nity has grown. Lo­cal groups serve as an early con­tact point for peo­ple who learn about EA. There­fore as the reach of the ideas of effec­tive al­tru­ism grows larger, more peo­ple are learn­ing about EA and the more valuable it is for lo­cal groups to serve as a first point of con­tact with the com­mu­nity.

Se­cond, we’ve been in­creas­ingly im­pressed with the pro­duc­tive out­put of some of the lo­cal groups we’ve talked to. This makes it more likely that run­ning a lo­cal group is bet­ter than the al­ter­na­tive.

Third, we’ve gained a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what con­sti­tutes a promis­ing lo­cal group and how lo­cal groups can pro­duce value. For ex­am­ple, we’ve come to be­lieve that a ma­jor com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage of effec­tive al­tru­ism groups is in sup­port­ing group mem­bers to de­velop high-value fu­ture plans, and that groups can achieve this aim more effec­tively by build­ing strong (rather than sim­ply large) com­mu­ni­ties.

Fourth, the available fund­ing in the EA com­mu­nity has in­creased whereas im­por­tant tal­ent gaps re­main. This pro­ject may be able to turn money into tal­ent which makes it es­pe­cially promis­ing.

Fi­nally, we think we can set clear ex­pec­ta­tions with the groups that we fund such that the pro­ject is viewed as an ex­per­i­ment and that part of the goal of the ex­per­i­ment is to de­ter­mine whether the lo­cal group lead­ers should con­tinue work­ing on com­mu­nity-build­ing full time.

The Ideal Candidate

In mak­ing fund­ing de­ci­sions, we’re look­ing for two main things: ex­cep­tional or­ga­niz­ers, and high-po­ten­tial groups.

The Organizers

In the sim­plest terms, the heuris­tic for eval­u­at­ing or­ga­niz­ers is “Would we be ex­cited to repli­cate these peo­ple 10x or 100x in the EA com­mu­nity?” This heuris­tic is in­spired by YC’s ad­vice on hiring and cul­ture, and we think it en­cap­su­lates the im­por­tance of lo­cal com­mu­nity builders in set­ting the cul­ture and tra­jec­tory of the EA com­mu­nity.

More speci­fi­cally, we ex­pect the or­ga­niz­ers to have the fol­low­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics:

  • EA expertise

    • If you want to spread EA you should first be an ex­pert on EA.

    • This doesn’t mean that you need to be a cut­ting edge re­searcher. It does mean that you should have a thor­ough, nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of the core EA ideas, and that you should be able to map out the con­sid­er­a­tions sur­round­ing ques­tions like what cause area to sup­port, or what ca­reers to con­sider.

  • Ad­her­ence to the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of effec­tive altruism

    • We want to fund or­ga­niz­ers who ad­here to the core prin­ci­ples of com­mit­ment to oth­ers, sci­en­tific mind­set, open­ness, in­tegrity and col­lab­o­ra­tive spirit.

  • Judgment

    • We aim to take a rel­a­tively hands-off ap­proach to the groups we fund. This means that we will tend to pre­fer or­ga­niz­ers who we trust will tend to make rea­son­able, well-con­sid­ered de­ci­sions and who dis­play ap­pro­pri­ate cau­tion about difficult or risky de­ci­sions.

  • Skill at EA com­mu­nity building

    • We’ll also look for ev­i­dence that or­ga­niz­ers pos­sess skill at EA com­mu­nity build­ing. The core heuris­tic for as­sess­ing this is “Will this per­son be able to at­tract tal­ented, ded­i­cated peo­ple to make ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions on the most im­por­tant prob­lems?”

    • There are many differ­ent ways of meet­ing this heuris­tic, but we ex­pect to eval­u­ate ar­eas like so­cial skill, ex­e­cu­tional com­pe­tence, en­thu­si­asm, and thought­ful­ness, among oth­ers.

  • Un­der­stand­ing of EA com­mu­nity building

    • EA com­mu­nity build­ing has the po­ten­tial for be­ing both highly valuable, but also harm­ful if done poorly. Or­ga­niz­ers should have a very strong un­der­stand­ing of the rele­vant con­sid­er­a­tions de­ter­min­ing the value of EA com­mu­nity build­ing.

The Group

We’re look­ing for groups that are likely to have a strong po­ten­tial to flour­ish given a sig­nifi­cant in­crease in their re­sources.

Build­ing on our ex­pe­rience at Y Com­bi­na­tor and their em­pha­sis on build­ing ser­vices for your 100 most ded­i­cated users, we think one of the most im­por­tant qual­ities of high-po­ten­tial groups is the depth of en­gage­ment and un­der­stand­ing of the groups’ core mem­bers. This is in­tended to be a de­par­ture from as­sess­ing groups based on met­rics re­lated to size, such as event at­ten­dance or num­ber of mem­bers.

We are look­ing for groups with the po­ten­tial to fa­cil­i­tate the de­vel­op­ment of peo­ple who con­tribute valuable work to high-pri­or­ity ar­eas, Speci­fi­cally, the fea­tures that we ex­pect to see are:

  • An in­ner core of well-co­or­di­nated organizers

    • Suc­cess­ful lo­cal groups need to be able to at­tract a small in­ner core of peo­ple who can help make the group suc­ceed. The in­ner core typ­i­cally con­sists of peo­ple who aren’t work­ing on the group full time, but at­tend events reg­u­larly, are will­ing to pitch in to help when needed and who the lead­ers can turn to for sup­port and ad­vice.

  • Stable, highly-en­gaged group members

    • This is a group of peo­ple who at­tend fairly reg­u­larly, don’t gen­er­ally help with or­ga­niz­ing events, but who are oth­er­wise highly en­gaged and de­rive sig­nifi­cant value from the group.

  • A goal-ori­ented ac­tivity portfolio

    • This will con­sist of ac­tivi­ties and pro­jects which have been cho­sen on the ba­sis of a de­vel­op­ing un­der­stand­ing of the goals of the effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity, and how they will con­tribute to achiev­ing these goals.

  • A record of past suc­cess in at­tract­ing tal­ented, ded­i­cated peo­ple to make ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions to the most im­por­tant prob­lems.

    • This in­cludes look­ing at whether peo­ple cur­rently in the group seem like they could make such a con­tri­bu­tion in the fu­ture.

The Grants

The grant pe­riod lasts for be­tween three months and a year, and ap­pli­cants may choose to de­lay the start of the grant pe­riod un­til the start of Septem­ber 1st, 2018. By de­fault, grants will be paid out on a quar­terly ba­sis, al­though there is flex­i­bil­ity in the pay­ment sched­ule to ac­com­mo­date the needs of grantees. Grant re­cip­i­ents will be re­quired to write a brief quar­terly re­port, in­clud­ing an item­ized list of ex­pen­di­tures, as well as pe­ri­od­i­cally check­ing in with CEA. Groups will also be re­quired to write a full re­port at the end of the grant pe­riod.

For ap­pli­ca­tions for a grant to cover full-time work or­ga­niz­ing an effec­tive al­tru­ism group, the de­fault grant will be $35,000 to cover the liv­ing costs of one or­ga­nizer over the course of a year, in ad­di­tional to $10,000 for gen­eral ex­penses re­lated to the group it­self. For ap­pli­ca­tions for fund­ing be­low $5,000, see the effec­tive al­tru­ism groups fund­ing guide in­stead. In­di­vi­d­ual or joint ap­pli­ca­tions may be sub­mit­ted.

CEA will only be able to make grants which fur­ther some of its char­i­ta­ble ob­jects, which are stated within the ap­pli­ca­tion form. CEA is not an em­ployer of those to whom it awards grants, and re­serves the right to ter­mi­nate pay­ment of the grants should they de­vi­ate from the agreed-upon terms.

Applications

Ap­pli­ca­tions will open on Fe­bru­ary 21st and close on March 21st 2018. Ap­pli­cants will be asked to in­clude their CV, an overview of their group (where rele­vant), and a pro­posal for their pro­ject or group. Ap­pli­cants will re­ceive a con­fir­ma­tion of sub­mis­sion email, and will be con­tacted within two weeks let­ting them know whether they will be in­vited to in­ter­view, which will take place within three fur­ther weeks. In­ter­vie­wees will re­ceive no­tifi­ca­tion of the sta­tus of their ap­pli­ca­tion within three weeks of in­ter­view, and suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants will re­ceive a grant offer spec­i­fy­ing the terms and ex­pec­ta­tions of the grant.

If an ap­pli­ca­tion is par­tic­u­larly ur­gent, or you have any queries, please con­tact groups@effec­tivealtru­ism.org

We’re happy to an­swer ques­tions from po­ten­tial ap­pli­cants about the pro­cess, ei­ther via email or in a call.

Ap­ply here

Edits:

1) ‘We are cur­rently in talks with LEAN about how we will col­lab­o­rate on ad­minis­ter­ing/​im­ple­ment­ing grants’ added to para­graph 1.
2) ‘We’re happy to an­swer ques­tions from po­ten­tial ap­pli­cants about the pro­cess, ei­ther via email or in a call.’ Added to the fi­nal paragraph