Effective Giving vs. Effective Altruism

Why separate effective giving from Effective Altruism? Isn’t the whole point of EA about effective giving, meaning giving to the most impactful charities to advance human flourishing? Sure, effective giving is the point of EA, but there might be a lot of benefit to drawing a distinct line between the movement of Effective Altruism itself, and the ideas of effective giving that it promotes. That’s something that Kerry Vaughn, the Executive Director of Effective Altruism Outreach, and I, the President of Intentional Insights, discussed in our recent phone call, after having an online discussion on this forum.

**EDIT** To be clear, Kerry Vaughn did not explicitly endorse Intentional Insights’ work in any way, and is not in a position to do so, as you can see from his comment on this post below.

Why draw that line? Because there’s quite a bit of danger in rapid movement growth of attracting people who might dilute the EA movement and impair the building of good infrastructure down the road (see this video and paper). This exemplifies the dangers of simply promoting Effective Altruism indiscriminately, and just trying to grow the movement as fast as possible.

Thus, what we can orient toward is using modern marketing strategies to spread the ideas of effective altruism—what Kerry and I labeled effective giving in our conversations—without necessarily trying to spread the movement. We can spread the notion of giving not simply from the heart, but also using the head. We can talk about fighting the drowning child problem. We can talk about researching charities and using GiveWell, The Life You Can Save, and other evidence-based charity evaluators to guide one’s giving. We can build excitement about giving well, and encourage people to think of themselves as Superdonors or Mega-Lifesavers. We can use effective marketing strategies such as speaking to people’s emotions and using stories, and contributing to meta-charities such as EA Outreach and others that do such work. That’s why we at Intentional Insights focus on spending our resources on spreading the message of effective giving, as we believe that getting ten more people to give effectively is more impactful than us giving of our resources to effective charities ourselves. At the same time, Kerry and I spoke of avoiding heavily promoting effective altruism as a movement or using emotionally engaging narratives to associate positive feelings with it—instead, just associating positive feelings with effective giving, and leaving bread crumbs for people who want to explore Effective Altruism through brief mentions and links.

Let’s go specific and concrete. Here’s an example of what I mean: an article in The Huffington Post that encourages people to give effectively, and only briefly mention Effective Altruism. Doing so balances the benefits of using marketing tactics to channel money to effective charities, while not heavily promoting EA itself to ameliorate the dangers of rapid movement growth.

Check out the sharing buttons on it, and you’ll see it was shared quite widely, over 1K times. As you’ll see from this Facebook comment on my personal page, it helped convince someone to decide to donate to effective charities. Furthermore, this comment is someone who is the leader of a large secular group in Houston, and he thus has an impact on a number of other people. Since people rarely make actual comments, and far from all are fans of my Facebook page, we can estimate that many more made similar decisions but chose not to comment about it.

Another example. Here is a link to the outcome of an Intentional Insights collaboration with The Life You Can Save to spread effective giving to the reason-oriented community through Giving Games. In a Giving Game, participants in a workshop learn about a few pre-selected charities, think about and discuss their relative merits, and choose which charity will get a real donation, $10 per participant. We have launched a pilot program with the Secular Student Alliance to bring Giving Games to over 300 secular student groups throughout the world, with The Life You Can Save dedicating $10,000 to the pilot program, and easily capable of raising more if it works well. As you’ll see from the link, it briefly mentions Effective Altruism, and focuses mainly on education in effective giving itself.

Such articles as the one in The Huffington Post, shared widely in social media, attest to the popularity of effective giving as a notion, separate from Effective Altruism itself. As you saw, it is immediately impactful in getting some people to give to effective charities, and highly likely gets others to think in this direction. I had a conversation with a number of leaders of local EA groups, for example with Alfredo Parra in Munich, excited about the possibility of translating and adapting this article to their local context, and all of you are free to do so as well—I encourage you to cite me/​Intentional Insights in doing so, but if you can’t, it’s fine as well.

That gets to another point that Kerry and I discussed, namely the benefits of having some EAs who specialize in promoting ideas about effective giving, and more broadly integrating promotion of effective giving as something that EAs do in general. Some EAs can do the most good by working hard and devoting 10% of their money to charity. Some can do the most good by thinking hard about the big issues. Some can do the most good by growing the internal capacity and infrastructures of the movement, and getting worthy people on board. Others can do the most good by getting non-EAs to channel their money toward effective charities through effective marketing and persuasion tactics.

Intentional Insights orients toward providing the kind of content that can be easily adapted and shared by these EAs widely. It’s a work in progress, to create and improve this content. We are also working with other EA meta-charities such as The Life You Can Save and others. Another area to work on is not only content creation, but content optimization and testing—I talked with Konrad Seifert from Geneva about testing our content at a university center there. Moreover, we should develop the infrastructure to integrate spreading effective giving into EA activities, something EA Outreach may potentially collaborate with us on, depending on further discussions.

So these are some initial thoughts, which I wanted to bring to the community for discussion. What do you think of this line of work, and what are your ideas for optimization? Thanks!

P.S. This article is part of the EA Marketing Resource Bank project lead by Intentional Insights and the Local Effective Altruism Network, with support from The Life You Can Save.