Making Community Building a more attractive career path
The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) wants to explore how to make Community Building a more attractive career path to pursue long term, especially with regards to the role of CEA community building grantee (CBG). I’m interested in this question, and have done some initial analysis on it. So far I have looked at previous work on this topic, conducted exit interviews with former community builders, done a survey with current community builders and written a short report. (Note that my analysis mainly builds on input from organizers in city and national groups, not university groups.)
In this post I highlight some of the key findings, hoping to induce discussion and get input for further work on the topic.
There is good reason to believe that community building can be impactful, that differences in impact between community builders are large and that one becomes a better community builder with time. Therefore it’s a problem that few think of working as a community builder as an attractive long-term career, which is indicated by how little time many have stayed in the program to date (>90% leave in <3 years) and the forecasts of current community builders for how long they plan to stay in in the program (~75% don’t know and ~15% plan to stay three years or more).
Most of those who we conducted exit interviews with left because they thought they were better suited to do something else allowing them to have even more impact, not because they thought the community builder role/program was bad. Many seemed to have thought of the role as transitory from the beginning, using it to learn more about EA and explore other careers. The triggering factor for many was a more interesting job opportunity arising. And no one seems to think more support from CEA, including higher pay, would have made them stay, at least not for long. This suggests that simply considering how well suited and motivated someone is to do CB long term run could help retention.
Both previous and current community builders express lack of opportunities for training and development, not building provable career capital (especially for careers outside the EA movement) and funding/hiring conditions as the most important factors for not being attracted to community building as a long-term career. The most asked for additions to current training and development are:
Systematic and professional training and development for tasks that are common to community builders, e.g. impact assessments, management and leadership skills and various ops things, etc.
Mentorship or coaching.
Though I think it would be preferred, I do not think such activities have to be carried out by CEA or another EA org. Alternatives would be to help community builders receive said support from other actors, e.g. by providing a list of recommended courses/workshops and an incentive to engage in them and/or forming collaborations with some organization doing (executive) coaching/mentoring. Any attempts to provide training and development should aim at building provable career capital.
With regards to funding/hiring conditions, some express that they think their current pay and benefits are unfair (though it should be noted that CEA is in the process of raising salaries). But low pay does not seem to be the decisive problem. Rather, most express concerns with insecure employment and not seeing a pay growth trajectory. Also, many mention not being able to hire co-workers. Thus, the most important considerations for those financing community builders seem to be:
Considering a “policy” for increasing wages for community builders over time and/or dependent on age and previous experience (by the end of April 2022, there will be a new CEA policy of increasing the grant with experience). Many community builders express concerns that they don’t see how the current system could help them sustain a nice living standard with (increasing) costs of e.g. buying an apartment or forming a family.
Less uncertainty through longer grant periods and/or longer exit grants. (CEA recently issued the first two-year grant – however, survey respondents did know about the possibility of two-year grants and still responded the way they did, so perhaps this is insufficient.)
Striving to award grants to teams.
Other things expressed as important to make community building, particularly within CEAs programs, more attractive were:
Improved onboarding/introduction for new community builders.
(More) check-ins with CEA.
Better systematization of “best practices” and data, especially regarding evaluation.
Further, my impression is that making community building higher status in general would be highly beneficial. This could be done by putting forward good work from community builders; i.e., doing (more) talks about and including community builders on EAG(x)/podcast, including more opportunities for building high prestige career capital, rewarding higher pay (on par with other positions in the core EA community) and giving (continued) appraisal in the community.
I am currently a Community Building Grantee (CBG) in the CBG-program at the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA). CEA wants to explore how to make Community Building a more attractive career path to pursue long term, especially with regards to the role of CBG recipients. Since I’m interested in this question myself, I have helped by doing some initial analysis.
So far I have:
Looked at previous similar surveys/investigations
Conducted exit interviews with former community builders
No particular focus/selection criteria but most where city or national group organizers
10 respondents, from 12 people asked
Conducted a survey with current community builders
Sent to all current participants in CEAs CBG-program (note that this does not include university groups)
12 respondents, from ~30 people who were sent the survey
Written a short report, including my findings and some recommendations
This post will highlight some key takeaways from my analysis (note that my analysis mainly builds on input from organizers in city and national groups, not university groups). Everything said is from me personally and does not reflect CEA’s views. The hope and aim is to:
Share some info that might be relevant to others in the community
Create a wider discussion on the topic
Get input relevant to if/how to make community building into a more attractive long-term career path.
This post is directed to EA as a community, and I am happy for all input. But I think it is especially relevant for those directly involved in community building. Further, it is obviously most relevant for CEA’s community building efforts and again I want to stress that input mainly comes from city and national group organizers. But I think much of what is said applies to community building within EA more generally.
Below you will find:
Context for this analysis being done
Findings from the interviews and survey
Conclusions and recommendations on how to make career building into a more attractive long-term career path
In the section “Findings” I have done my best to represent the opinions expressed in the interviews/survey objectively. In the sections “Context” and “Conclusions and Recommendations” I also present my own thoughts, which are based on the interviews/survey, previous work on this topic, and some other data. Throughout the post I try to make it clear when I present my own impressions and thoughts.
In bulleted lists, the ordering does not imply importance/prioritization. In numbered lists, the ordering indicates level of importance/prioritization as based on how often and strongly respondents expressed a certain point (starting with most important (1)).
I have put a fair amount of work into the underlying analysis and preparing this post (~35 hours), but it should very much be seen as work in progress and I am very open to push- and feedback, so please add (critcal) comments! Also, I want to explore this topic further, so if you think it is an important topic, please let me know as it will help me decide on how I should prioritize it.
Community building is important
There is wide consensus in the international EA community that movement building is an important cause area. And community building through groups coordinated by local community builders seems to be an effective way of building the EA-movement.
Being a great Community Builder is important
There is reason to believe that the success of groups will vary a lot depending on how capable different community builders are. In general, the impact between people within a career varies greatly depending on personal fit. Further data suggests this is the case in EA-community building. E.g.
A grant given to EA Stanford grew the small executive team to 13 people, allowing them to organize introductory and cause research fellowships. The introductory fellowship attracted 195 participants, and the research fellowship accepted 20 of 250 applicants.
A grant given to EA Brown University allowed their community builder to build the group from having no “highly engaged” members one year to having 37 the next.
And current community builders seem to think there are large differences.
(Alternatives were: ~100 X, ~10 X, ~3 X, Less than 1.5 X, No differences and Other (specify))
Few stay long in their community builder role
To date most people who have been in CEA’s community building programs leave their positions quickly. A short glance comparing the list of the 32 CBGs appointed in 2020 to CBGs active in February 2022 in the same groups indicates that more than 55% have left their positions. Note that I don’t know to what extent those who left still carry out community building work outside the CBG-program, but I do not think many are.
Those who we conducted exit interviews with stayed in the position:
Average ~2,5 years
Median: ~2 years
None of them are still doing community building.
Those who answered the survey have been in the position:
Average ~1 year
Median: ~0,4 years
All these are still in the CBG-program, but they do not seem to be planning to stay long in the position.
It seems important to make community building into a more attractive long-term career path
It’s tautological to say, but if the community building role became more attractive it might attract more talented people! In addition, it might make people stay longer in the role. And there is reason to believe that people who have been in the role longer are more effective. Firstly it seems to be that case in general. From 80,000 Hours: Most people reach the peak of their impact in middle age. Income usually peaks in the 40s, suggesting that it takes around 20 years for most people to reach their peak productivity. Similarly, experts only reach their peak abilities between age 30 to 60, and if anything, this age is increasing over time. Research indicates that expert-level performance in established fields requires 10-30 years of focused practice. K. Anders Ericsson, the leader of this field of research — who himself has been working on it for over 30 years! — said “I have never found a convincing case for anyone developing extraordinary abilities without intense, extended practice.”.
Further this is the experience from community builders.
That being said, it seems worth noting that in many contexts, e.g. at university groups, a 45 year old community builder would probably not be the most effective. And as universities are one of the key community building contexts for EA and I think community building can be a very good way of building career capital for other careers, it seems to me that we want to have many young people doing community building for a few years in their early to mid twenties, who then go of to do other things.
To avoid repeating things and keeping this post shorter I will treat answers from exit interviews and surveys simultaneously in this section. To a large extent they concurred with each other, but you can see them separately in the whole report.
The community builder role
Best part of the job
Interacting with a lot of interesting people in the EA community
Learning a lot, both about EA and community building
Worst part of the job
Lack of mentoring/guidance from someone experienced
Funding issues—short notice and short grants (which can have practical implications like not being able to get a mortgage)
Working too much
Though it should be noted that this to a large extent is at community builders’ own volition—“The workload can be what you make it, there is flexibility to do more or less, although that might lead to internal pressure to feel bad about not doing more”, represents comments from many.
Lack of a team and having to do everything, including things one doesn’t like/feel qualified to do
Lack of metrics/evaluation methods and not knowing if one is doing a good job
Reason for leaving (from exit interview only)
Most people left because they thought they were better suited to do something else allowing them to have even more impact (not because they thought the CBG role was bad). Many seemed to have thought of the role as transitory from the beginning, using it to explore other careers and build career capital.
“I didn’t necessarily want to leave, it was more that the new role seemed more interesting and of higher impact” represents comments from many.
I think most people were correct in their assessment that they were better suited to do something else.
One important factor seems to be lack of prestige and provable career capital. Those interested in careers outside the EA movement all mention this.
There was no particular bad experience involved in anyone’s decision to start looking for other jobs or to leave.
The triggering factor for many was a more interesting job opportunity arising.
The CBG Program
This section is mostly relevant for CEA’s CBG-program. But after having spoken to other community builders, e.g. people doing community building on an infrastructure grant, it seems their situation with regards to pay and training and development is similar.
Payment and benefits
For context, CEA used to pay $70,000 annually to community builders in San Francisco, with lower salaries in areas with lower costs of living. There has so far been little to no differentiation between groups or people based on other factors. And grants have been given on an annual basis. Now CEA have updated their payment policy, with salaries baselined to $90,000 in San Francisco, with a cost of living adjustment for other locations, and an annual increase to recognise experience. ~$60,000 annually will be at the lower end, for locations with lower costs of living. Also, CEA recently issued their first two-year grant. I think the answers below more respond to the earlier circumstances, but the respondents did know about the updates and still responded the way they did, so perhaps they feel the updates are insufficient.
There are mixed feelings but most are satisfied with the level of pay at the moment.
Respondents who have worked previously (in other sectors/roles) and respondents in areas with higher costs of living seem less satisfied.
I think it is worth noting that many do community building as a first job or very early in their career.
I think it is plausible that people who would not be satisfied with the current levels of pay and benefits simply do not apply for being CBGs making this data less relevant.
A large majority have concerns with the employment form and job insecurity.
A large majority would be more attracted to being a CBG as a long-term career path if they had higher pay.
In comments, many explicitly mention increasing salaries with time and experience as an important factor for considering being a CBG long term. A yearly increase leveling off at ~USD 6,500/month before taxes is an average ask.
My impression is that many are concerned with not seeing a career trajectory including higher pay in community building.
Training and development opportunities
Those who were CBGs early on were dissatisfied with training and development whereas almost all current CBGs are neutral or satisfied, indicating improvements in this regard.
A large majority would be more attracted to being a CBG as a long-term career path, if they had more training and development. Suggestions for improvement from respondents:
Workshops or the like from “experts” on topics relevant for community builders.
Mentoring or coaching
An Introductory course/fellowship for new CBGs (CEA just did a first intro course)
My impression is that CGBs, especially those interested in careers in non-EA organizations, are concerned by not building provable career capital in the role.
Where the program performs well
Getting non-earmarked money to do community building.
How respondents would change the program
The grant system (longer grants, longer exit grants, funding teams/organizations).
More opportunities for training and development (See above)
(More) continuous support from CEA. Many think the program should simply include more continuous support, nothing very complicated or particular, just some mechanism for input and to help one feel less alone. My impression is that it is some kind of connection to CEA or another senior/expert actor that is most in demand.
More systemization of knowledge and best practices, esp. regarding impact evaluation.
More competitive pay.
Overall satisfaction and intangibles
NPS = 25
My impression is that CBGs, like other community builders, are concerned with prestige/status. And I think that such concerns play a bigger part in EA’s career plans than we’d care to admit. I know that is the case for myself. (Being honest with this, both as individuals and as a community, and talking about it seems important. More on this later.)
Conclusions and Recommendations
Again, this will mostly be relevant for community building done through CEA. But I have tried to make it useful for thinking about how we can make EA community building more attractive in a general sense.
Funding and Pay
Work to give community builders more job security. How to do this would obviously depend on the situation at hand, but in cases where community builders are on grants one could consider longer grant periods, longer exit grants and/or support and incentives for people to start legal entities which then employ them as community builders.
Those funding community builders should consider creating “policies” regarding (increasing) wages for community builders over time and/or dependent on age and previous experience for community builders.
I don’t think higher pay will have large effects on the short-term output of community builders but it seems important to consider some kind of “policy” for increasing wages over the long term.
Such a policy could:
Help people see that this is a viable career path, where one will be able to sustain a nice living standard with increasing costs of e.g. buying an apartment or forming a family.
Help attract and retain people who have previous work experience, where they have become accustomed to higher pay.
Better demonstrate the value of the role, rightly positioning it more in line with other (prestigious) positions in the EA community.
Simply incentivize people to stay in the community builder role.
Increase wages for community builders, to be (roughly) equal to people in similar EA orgs (like CEA, 80k, etc) with similar experience. This is not asked for by most community builders but I think it would increase the status of the program. If top candidates for community building also get job offers from similar EA orgs with a significantly higher salary, that might bias their decision towards taking the job that pays more rather than the one that has more impact.
Incentivise getting funding elsewhere. This is not explicitly asked for by former/current community builders, but I think it could help lower stress/uncertainty with not getting renewals and I think it is beneficial for EA organizations/people in general to be less dependent on a sole financier.
Work to make sure community builders, especially those who are working alone, have easy access to someone more experienced to talk to on a regular basis. Again this will depend on context, but suggestions include:
That community builders financed by CEA can reach out to CEA for calls when desired, and for CEA to ensure this still happens even if community builders don’t reach out (e.g. some might feel awkward about asking for regular calls even when they have things they’d like to ask).
Providing mentorship or coaching. I think this could be done through many different schemes:
A cooperation with Magnify Mentoring
A cooperation with a prestigious and effective org for (executive) coaching
Regularly ask in the Community Building Slack and other foras whether people think they would benefit from mentorship and offer help finding a good mentor
Work to make sure all community builders can attend some form of retreat. Apart from retreats organized by CEA I think experienced community builders should (continue) to arrange regional retreats for community builders. There should be available funding and support for such endeavors.
Create an onboarding process for community builders, considering the journey people have into the role. In the best of worlds all (new) community builders should be invited to a fellowship or introductory course for community builders.
Provide opportunities for more systematic and professional training and development for tasks that are common to community builders, e.g. impact assessments, management and leadership skills, various ops things, etc.
I do not think activities have to be carried out by CEA, and one alternative could be to construct a list of recommended courses/workshops and provide funding and encouragement to take them.
I think increased attempts to provide training and development should aim at building provable career capital.
Continue creating space for peer support.
Better guidance/a clearer system for measuring impact and comparing performance, e.g. continued work with the HEA concept, performance reviews, and concrete OKR setting
This could be complemented with more data on overall community builder impact, ideally quantified as much as possible and (at least partially) shareable with future potential community builders and other EA community builders.
Make further investigation into:
Differences in impact between community builders
To what extent community builders become more impactful over time
Characteristics of effective long-term community builders
Provide channels/incentives for community builders to give feedback/report their experiences. This should be for both regular feedback and for one-off topics like length of grants and similar hot topics. Conduct exit interviews with community builders.
Create a public list of projects/activities that CEA/community builders think would improve the program and incentivize community builders to (help) carry them out.
Work to make community building more prestigious/high status.
Put forward good work from community builders (Needs to be done well—could cause harm if the things that are put forward don’t seem that impressive to a general audience, or if it feels like some individuals and groups are arbitrarily put forward while others are ignored)
Share community builder impact assessment (if there’s anything shareable?)
Do (more) talks about and including community builders on EAG(x).
Get CEA (together with a community builder) on EA(-adjacent) podcasts.
Please give feedback!
As said I hope to do further analysis of this question and would love your input! Please provide any feedback. I am especially keen on thoughts regarding these questions:
Do you agree we should work to make EA community building a more attractive long-term career path, in relation to other EA careers? Why or why not?
How big do you think differences in impact between community builders are? Do you have data on this? Or ideas on how to answer this question?
How do you think we could make community building into a more attractive career path?
Who do you think would be an effective community builder over the long term?
Survey and report from Harri Bersceli former CBG-program lead at CEA, Feedback on the community builder-program from Eirin Evjen former CBG.
See sources in footnotes throughout the document.
https://rethinkpriorities.org/publications/eas2020-how-people-get-involved-in-ea; https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/blog/ceas-2020-annual-review#community-building-grants; Statements from Community Organizers I have talked to
https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/blog/ceas-2020-annual-review#community-building-grants (I am not certain of the exact number of people who have left the position as I have not been able to assess exactly who is still on the program but I am confident this gives a good idea of the number.)
The exact formula is: Base personal expenses x (0.6 ((N + X)/2) + 0.4) x FTE/Year x Grant length x 1.03^Years on CBG. The “base personal expenses” is updated to $90,000. N and X are cost-of-living factors (San Francisco is a “1” for both variables; other locations have those variables set based on how their cost-of-living compares to that of San Francisco).
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In my experience talking to and working with community builders (on and off CB grants) over the past 3 years, it seems the mentorship part is really important. Some ideas:
Create a culture / expectation that senior CB’s have formal mentorship with junior CB’s (with the extra work comepnsated—it a part of their paid role / paying in addition to their hours). I think it helps for really specific nitty-gritty stuff to have someone who’s been in your shoes. (Whereas, other mentors could be useful for more high level things)
Creating small peer groups with 1 mentor could offload some of this work. I think it’s also valuable for junior CB’s to learn from their peers experience.
In my experience it was pretty easy to find senior CB’s who were willing to be career 1-1 mentors on a few months basis when i ran a career 1-1 training workshop for group organizers in 2020 (happy to share the results from that if it would be valuable)
It could be the senior CB or CEA staff I think it can be valuable to check in even when there aren’t specific questions—to keep the junior CB accountable to their goals and plans, and let them be reflective. This is more of a general management need. If CEA staff were to do this meeting, it might be worth specifying how this would or would not affect the CB’s future evaluations.
Thank you for the input!
I agree mentorship seems really important and I know it has benefited me alot. The idea of creating a culture / expectation that senior CB’s have formal mentorships with junior CB’s sounds good, largely becuse I think characteristics that make for a good CB make for a good mentor. However, I think it is really important that the senior CB mentors feel excited about it, as that seems necessesary for a fruitful mentorship. Also, I think it would benefit from some kind of coordination / scaffolding / guidance. It would also be relevant to check in with CB’s on this, as I think quite a few feel like they are in somewhat of a CB bubble only interacting with peers and not getting enough high level input / recognition. Furhter, I think it is important not to forget about senior CB’s as I think mentorship can be beneficial for a long time.
Having regular check ins, even when there aren’t specific questions also seems like a good idea. It actually came up alot during interviews. And there seems to be demand for getting an oppurtunity to reflect and being held accountable, but also to vent and get recognition. Very good point about specifying how this would or would not affect the CB’s future evaluations!
I’d love to input from the career 1-1 training workshops you ran! I’ll reach out for a meeting.
Thank you for posting this, this seems really interesting and valuable. I’d love to see (and fund) more analyses like this.
One quick point – you say:
Does that mean that ‘community builder’ does not include people running university groups throughout your entire post/report? Or did, e.g., the exit interviews and previous surveys you looked at include people from university groups?
Especially if all of your report is only based on non-uni community building, this might be worth highlighting more clearly and earlier since my sense is that a significant of the total community building that is happening is happening within university groups [?], and so this is the context many people will be most familiar with. (And the name ‘community building grants’ doesn’t make it obvious to readers that it excludes uni groups.)
Thank you for the comment!
The survey was only sent out to community builders in city and national groups. Also the exit interviews where with people from city and national groups, but three of them had been university organizers. And you are right, the name ‘community building grants’ doesn’t make it obvious that it excludes uni groups. I should make this clearer in the post—will edit!
However, previous work included input from uni group leaders and before posting this post I shared it with uni group leaders, to see if they had differing views. I could sense there was some systematic differences, but the main points seem to be shared.
As said in the post I plan to do further work on this and one of the most important thing to do I think is getting input from other community builders (uni group organizers / cause area group organizers / unpaid group organizers) both to get a more robust picture and see if there are important differences. One thing I feel a little hesitant about though is how to translate findings related to other community builders into actions, given that many of them don’t really have a clear “home”, who might be able to adress issues. I would love input on this.
Thanks for this work!
I am very excited by this! I think that community building has historically been massively promoted as important by EA communicators and key institutions, but then implicitly undervalued by the actual prestige, funding and support offered to existing or aspiring community builders.
I have done a lot of movement building, and I sometimes think about reconsidering it as a career, or at least making it a major part of my time allocation.
Happy to share some of my experiences in private, if you’d like, so feel free to message if you would to chat!
Quick thoughts now
It might be worth exploring if titles (e.g., community builder and strategy/research/analytics) make a difference. For instance, they may make some candidates feel like they will get more transferrable career capital from having the title.
Getting testimonials from former participants was helpful for me in terms of reducing uncertainty and fear of any bad experiences, so getting and sharing more of those would help.
What about increasing motivation to apply with advance market commitments for movement builders in certain areas (e.g., people with x will be likely to be funded to x value), or awareness with talent scouting (e.g., reaching out to someone doing a good job to request they apply and will be in with a reasonable chance of x outcomes if they do) would probably bring more people into the funnel which might lead to more long term participants.
Maybe support part-time roles better? These may be easier to sell, I think, and they can often have synergies that seem underappreciated. Much of the output value from movement building comes from the networks that the movement builder has access to. An EA might therefore be a much better movement builder if they it part-time alongside academia than if they go full-time because they can reach more smart people in their work and connect them to new collaborators or get them to come for talks and so on.
Yeah I agree a lot with this point about titles. I’m pretty hesitant to go into community building because it seems like it would be seen as a neutral or negative thing on the cv for most other roles. Maybe if you want to work in event organizing or something it would be seen as a plus but I feel like most other sectors and jobs would view it as worse than most other roles I could get. If we could figure out how to make the role more legible (with better job titles and so on) that could go a long way to make it a better career prospect. Even if we make the role more prestigious within EA that still means that community builders cut themselves off from most of the job market, which seems like something that will scare off a lot of potential community builders.
I also think this is a very good point and that we should consider titles. However, I think one often pretty easily can spin community building as being something more legit / impressive outside EA. I call myself “Executive Director” of EA Sweden, and I do think that sounds pretty good on a CV. Also, with the new funding situation in EA and the many talented people in the movement I actually think strating / running an EA group can be a good opportonity to build an impressive organization.
Indeed. Given that the payment is a grant and you’re working for [name of your local org], what’s stopping you from using an appropriate title? Be it CEO, director, strategy, program director, etc. Most nationwide EA groups do so and also a handful of local groups.
This is my impression too. For university groups, CEA was trying to fix this with the Campus Specialist program, which was then discontinued. I’m curious why an org isn’t hiring people on 2-year contracts / longer-term roles to lead promising city and national groups, since only being able to do the job on a grant already seems lower-prestige. (Someone might think: if people cared about community building enough, they would hire me to do it in a more stable way.)
The Campus Specialist program was discontinued? The one announced ~4 months ago?
This seemed like an important thing.
(It seems like there are other ways to ask about this. I am biased to making a public comment, because it seems like good practice ).
The alternative is to ping people or get on a zoom call. But this is demanding of others time, especially since sometimes these contacts are not seen as entirely asynchronous.
You would might need to ping multiple people, or otherwise babysit this issue by successively contacting people, and that isn’t worth it for many people.
When programs are cancelled like this, it’s often for complicated reasons. While getting a personal account is useful (but costly), it’s harder to share this with others. It seems better to create norms to encourage this announcement on the EA Forum.
There is a good chance the parent comment is wrong/noise and this public comment should fix that.
Yes, it was discontinued shortly after being launched. I am not sure why, but would be very curious to learn why.
I am also curious why there aren’t set up orgs in central locations that can employ people. And I am hoping to get some input on from CEA / similar actors.
To be fair though, many city/national groups (e.g. EA Sweden that I run) are set up as non-profits and CEA are happy to fund those organizations, that in turn employs group organizers.
This is an intersting idea! I can see som practical / legal issues with having a organization with a few hired people in many different countries. But it should defintely work for the US and UK, where many community builders are based. Also it should work with “regional hubs” in other locations. And even though one might not be able to be technically hired, having a joint back office for many things just seems robustly good. Maybe EA Nordics can lead the way with some experiments here!
As a really quick thought, I was just chatting with an aspiring community builder and we thought that (executive) director of community (strategy) or something similar sounding could be worth considering. It might be worth looking at the tech community or similar to see their norms.
Or test titles on an appropriate audience. For example, come up with 20 different titles, then pay 100 professional recruiters 20 dollars each to vote on which one sounds most impressive. Actually, maybe something like that could be done on an even larger scale to find out how this “career capital issue” can be improved for many EA job roles.
I like this!
Thank you for the comment and encouragement!
I agree that community building has been promoted as important, but then implicitly undervalued by the actual prestige, funding and support offered to existing or aspiring community builders. And I think this is detrimental to EA. However, I want to stress that I am very encouraged about the efforts CEA are putting into making community building more attractive. I also think it is encouraging to see 80k giving more and better coverage on community building now and Openphil highlighting it in their new grantmaking.
Really appreciate your thoughts, and would love to discuss this further in private—I’ll send a message.
Target people passionate about it?
Another approach to making community building a more attractive career path—is to find people who are intrinsically very passionate about community building. I have a specific friend in mind who set up and managed our “group house” for years, it’s the biggest one I know of in Israel. Perhaps you’d like to interview him. (I got him to apply to the EA Israel community building position, he was rejected, I don’t know why though, and I think it’s unfortunate)
Career capital problem
If I’d hear that one of my friends is going to be a community builder for 10 years, I would worry what they’d work at after that.
I’d expect that EA is one of the orgs that would pay the most in the world to community builders (EA really thinks it’s important + EA has money). So if even EA doesn’t pay “well” (however the person defines it), this is discouraging.
Community building as an exercise in founding a startup
I am guessing (not that I know) that community building involves a lot of “talking to users and understanding their needs” --> “getting product market fit” --> “scaling”
I think it wouldn’t be crazy to let potential founders do this for sometime, practice these skills that nobody learns from books (even though all the books mention them), and aim for these potential founders to talk to enough EAs to learn about real pain points and as a result open some “startup” that will solve the pain point.
As a real example from EA Israel: Developers keep asking us what they should work at, and we don’t have good answers. So I opened something like a local tech job board (this is overly simplified but you get the idea). I think this is much healthier than sitting at home and trying to come up with an idea
Exiting to have more impact?
This sounds like a too-nice story to me, I’d suspect that they weren’t being honest with you. This is just a speculation of course.
Providing mentorship / support (by someone senior)
I would assume that like most jobs, weekly 1-on-1s would be good? (I don’t actually know)
I am surprised your findings didn’t contain anything about “friends”. But there are hints that community builders, the people who are trying to help us feel together, feel alone. :(
I’d totally do EA Community Building for EA Community Building!
I mean—the community builders have got to have the best most amazing meetups!
Organized each time by a different community builder maybe? Managed by a meta community builder? I don’t know, but this alone seems to me like it could be so crazy fun that everyone would want to join and nobody will want to leave.
Ok this seems like a good place to end my Meta Meta Community Building comment, I hope something here was useful!
Wow—thank you for the many great comments! Will shoot you a PM. Quick thoughts:
I agree—I think we should target passaionate people and I think this should be something that CEA and CB-orgs consider when recruiting people. To some extent though, I think it is important to also proactively make people more passionate about it!
Career capital problem
If I’d hear that one of my friends is going to be a community builder for 10 years, I would worry what they’d work at after that.
I’d expect that EA is one of the orgs that would pay the most in the world to community builders (EA really thinks it’s important + EA has money). So if even EA doesn’t pay “well” (however the person defines it), this is discouraging.
I don’t agree with it being a problem that someone would be a community builder long term. But I think it could be becuase I have a different definition of community builder. I think it is a broad term that could include things like the Global Priorities Project, CEA and ambitious local groups with multiple employees.
I very much agree that community building can be a good excerise in founding a startup! Thank you for the case.
I do think the people I talked to were honest with thinking their new job being more important. I also think many (thought not all) were correct. I also want to stress some people did not mention this.
I agreee weekly 1-on-1s would be good, but that they should be optional.
Many people did mention peer support as one of the best parts of the job. I am sorry if this post gave another impression!
Haha—I love it “EA Community Building for EA Community Building”. There is obvious metameta issued here but I do think it would be valueable. And to some extent this is what CEA is doing.
Thank again! Please hit me up if you would like to talk more about this!
Hello. Ex-community builder here sharing my two cents. Some ideas you might want to consider are:
Supporting people leaving the filed to stay on as mentors/advisers/trustees. I stopped full time community building in London in 2017 but have stayed on in an advisory/Trustee capacity for EA London ever since. Boosting the status of this and making it easy and fun for people to do or expecting this of people would then help future community builders have someone to talk to on a regular basis who knows their region/community and can offer support.
Try hiring people mid-career. I have noticed a trend of mid-career-ites who have got board of their jobs or made their money/prestige points who want to move onto something else. They are often keen for very interesting work and/or more impact, and I think might be willing to stick around for longer – there is less pressure to try out other things at that stage, you’ve already done it. The one mid-career community builder I know (David at EA London) has stayed in the role for about 5 years now and is still going strong (♥).
Support with the boring tasks. Each person will have different boring tasks but whether it is fixing a website or doing taxes support would be nice.
Good luck with this. Looks like you have many things to try!!
Thank you for the input!
I really like the mentoring idea. My intuition is that many would be up for this, if it was easier.
Hiring mid-career CBs also seems like a good idea, both because they are likely to stick around longer and have more life experience / career capital and might be able to give more relevant guidance, contacts etc. Though I think it is good to have young people in many contexts.
Support with boring tasks would be beneficial and I do think it could be done “centralized”, like Markus Amalthea Magnuson is doing with altruistic.agency.
Thank you for writing this up! Some thoughts:
The biggest differences between the impact of CBs might also depend on :
the area they are in and the potential of their member base (Bay Area vs regular city group vs small city group)
How quickly CBs learn what worked for other CBs (I would double down on peer support)
Community builder roles might not be perceived to be as prestigious as other roles as they might not get as many applications as other roles. The national/city/university context might lead to local citizens being more interested/qualified.
Thanks for the comment!
I agree the area is probably the most important factor for potential impact of a group. Thus, it seems especially important that you have capable CBs in those areas. (Though I am not sure it is most important to have really good people in e.g. The Bay as there already is a community in the Bay and it seems easier to do comunity building there. And also less low hanging fruit.)
It seems imoprtant with quick knowledge transfer, but I don’t think it replaces the need of having people in the role longer. I don’t think it will help us getting to the next level. Also, I do not think peer support is enough. And rather than “doubling down” on something we are already doing good I think additional resources should be aimed and other forms of support.
I don’t really understand you comment:
Community builder roles might not be perceived to be as prestigious as other roles as they might not get as many applications as other roles.
It seems to me more that community builder roles don’t enough applications, because they are not percieved as prestigous?
I agree the national/city/university context might lead to local citizens being more interested/qualified!
I wonder if this could be, more or less, a single organisation with the main purpose of providing stability for every single community builder at once. A rather small operations team could probably streamline things like contracts, payroll etc. As you mention, for things like mortgages, having what banks consider “normal employment” can be quite important. But the mental relief of not having to think about a bunch of things is a nice perk too, that employees at “normal” organisations take for granted.
As said I think this is an intersting idea, but I can see practical / legal issues with having a organization in one country having workers in multiple different countries. But regional orgs in places like the US and UK might be good. Also, even though one might not be able to be technically hired, having a joint back office for many things just seems good.
Yeah I might be missing some important considerations here but if community organizers leave the role because being a contractor is unstable and hard to get a mortgage with then it seems like a good idea to give them the option to instead be hired as employees of a new or existing organization.
I think all have the option, but that it might be hard. So providing support to do this might be relevant.
This is an excellent writeup Vilhelm, and it’s very evident you’ve put a lot of time and thought into this analysis. I’ve built communities and studied community building for a long time now, and community building is a very difficult thing to get right (and people that are good at it are extremely valuable). I have way too many thoughts to express here, but I’ve listed a few highlights below. I am new to EA so I apologize in advance if anything I’m saying is off-base because of my ignorance.
Are you committed to the program as is? - Much of the feedback and suggestions for improvement are related to the fact that community builders seem to be engaged in solitary work. Training and mentorship are extremely valuable, but what’s more valuable is other people that are on the journey with you and can support you day to day. If the program itself was changeable at all, the first thing that I would look at is how to make community building a less solitary pursuit.
Are your goals ultimately about community builders or about the communities they’re building? - You’re asking a lot of excellent questions, but the questions are centered around community builders and the community building program. If the goal is to create a thriving and growing EA community, then it really might not be a problem that community building is a relatively low-status and transient role. I don’t necessarily think this is the case, and in fact I think that community builders should have much higher status, but I would just make sure to focus on the actual goal I wanted to achieve and work backwards from there. (if you can, I don’t know what your constraints are).
If you want to attract people with the talent to lead, provide them an opportunity to grow into - Some community builders will have the talent and drive to build something special. In order to get the most out of these leaders, you want to provide them with a path (like additional funding and support) to reach their potential and realize their vision. Otherwise they’ll simply outgrow the role and move on. However, if there was a pathway for high-potential community builders, you would likely be able to attract much higher caliber talent to the role.
Again, I’m brand new to EA and am more an observer right now. However, I’m extremely interested in community building and would love to chat with you if you’re interested. I think your writeup and analysis is excellent.
Thank you very much for this input Peter. I would love to chatt and will reach out in a private message.
Thanks for the update and the concise summary. I enjoyed the bullet point format and sharing the insights of this survey publicly. Great job!
During which period was this the practice?
Also, now the update is:
That’s starting when?
I think this was from the last grant period (2021-2022) and that it was slightly less before that.
This is starting this grant period (from 2022).
Broadly speaking, I am sceptical that this is tractable or desirable.
Whilst I A) belive city and national groups will be absolutely vitally important B) impact from community building can be significantly reduced by an early departure. I also believe i) this is unlikely to change, increasing salaries won’t help ii) long term employees may stagnate and prevent future growth.
One reason to think ii) is because “churn” in economics is seen as largely healthy (IIRC) - this may be something to do with stagnation, which can occur both to employees and organisations. We should expect a competitive and dynamic labour market, just like a competitive and dynamic industry, to have lots of movement, as different people flourish, stagnate and decline at different times.
Second reason for ii) if groups will gain funding or impact, then personal fit for employees (and talent pool that could work at the organisation) will change. A good example for this would be myself, its plausible that I was the best person for my CB job, because nobody else wanted the role (to my knowledge). But if the organisation gains significant funding and multiple employees, this could change. Having me seat-sitting, demanding a larger salary whilst having a poor grasp of the native language seems suboptimal. It’s also possible that my competive advantages involve running or founding smaller organisations.
Some reasons I believe i) demographic EAs are academic, and likely to have families who value academic roles. I think there is tremendous pressure to get a job that your personal network will respect. I see this a lot with why people study to become medical doctors or PhDs . If your a CB, you’ll mostly be doing: communications and event planning, 1-1 career guidance, ops, ect., And none of this seems likely to hit the “academic” spot that a lot of people are after. Put shortly, money won’t help because it’s more important that people think your earning a lot of money, rather than actually earning a lot of money.
Some notes on how to improve the role: 1) more secure funding would certainly make me happier 2) having a representative from the CBG grant, or the “wider ea world” to make themselves present to my team (as you do Ville) can be extremely helpful, because its possible for less experienced voices to be (relatively) overrepresented when it comes to key strategy decisions. 3) job titles matter, as suggested by Peter. We should probably immediately stop using the “community builder” job title.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard churn in a positive context, but I agree that economists believe that it’s good that people change job roles a decent amount. Though I think they see a big difference between role changes and leaving an industry entirely. If people quit their jobs because they get advance and get a better job in the sector that’s great. If they leave the sector because they don’t see a future in it that’s a very bad sign for the sector.
Really appreciate the pushback! Would be keen to hear more about your thoughts and I’ll set up a meeting.