I’ll Fund You to Give Away ‘Doing Good Better’ - Surprisingly Effective?

This is an ex­panded ver­sion of a post I made to the EA Face­book group in De­cem­ber 2018. Thanks to Aaron Gertler for read­ing a draft of this post, find­ing many ty­pos (I’m sure I’ve added more since), and mak­ing many good sug­ges­tions. Be­sides com­ment­ing here, you can con­tact me about this pro­ject at eabook­give­away [at] gmail [dot] com.

Summary

I got a sur­pris­ing num­ber of re­sponses when I offered to send out free copies of Do­ing Good Bet­ter on so­cial me­dia. It seemed like it could be a scal­able, cost-effec­tive form of out­reach, so I have cre­ated a sur­vey to as­sess im­pact. In the fol­low­ing post, I try to con­vince oth­ers (you!) to make the offer—in or­der to gain a larger sam­ple size. I de­tail what I did. I give some rea­sons why you should con­sider it, and sug­ges­tions how to do it. I es­ti­mate how long it will take to pub­lish mean­ingful re­sults, and I re­quest feed­back.

Sur­pris­ing Response

Some­what im­pul­sively, back in De­cem­ber, I posted to Face­book and In­sta­gram, offer­ing to send a copy of Do­ing Good Bet­ter to any­one who wanted to read it. It seemed like a nice thing to do around the holi­days, but I wasn’t ex­pect­ing much re­sponse—es­pe­cially since I rarely post on Face­book, and of­ten hear crick­ets when I do.

But the al­gorithm gods must have smiled. 21 peo­ple re­sponded to my offer, 3 more to a re­post, and an­other 3 to a friend who was in­spired to make the same offer. In to­tal 28 peo­ple, that I know, of re­ceived the book. It broke down like this:

  • 14 of my FB friends and 2 IG fol­low­ers got phys­i­cal books

  • 4 FB friends got ebooks

  • 1 FB friend com­mented that he’d bought his own book

  • 1 friend told me in-per­son that he’d given one as a gift

  • 3 of my brother’s FB friends got phys­i­cal books when he shared my post

  • 3 of a friend’s FB friends got phys­i­cal books when she made her own offer

Ad­di­tion­ally, I sent ar­ti­cles to 2 peo­ple who ex­pressed in­ter­est in read­ing about EA, but who didn’t want to com­mit to a book.

Other EA Book Giveaways

When I posted about it to the EA Face­book group, peo­ple were in­ter­ested to read sur­vey re­sults, and gen­er­ally pos­i­tive about the idea. I also learned that EA New Zealand has an on­go­ing offer of a free copy of the book, and that EA Lon­don has also handed out books (DGB, as well as Su­per­in­tel­li­gence, Poor Eco­nomics, The Life You Can Save and 80,000 Hours) at their events. They both shared their sur­vey ques­tions.

Cather­ine from EA NZ told me that they have now given away over 900 copies. She said that they are in the midst of an­a­lyz­ing re­cent data, but she has con­cerns it may not be as effec­tive as they ini­tially thought (or per­haps not as effec­tive now as at the be­gin­ning).

Ac­cord­ing to EA Lon­don’s sum­mary, ”...it seemed that hand­ing out books at EA Lon­don events in­creased the amount of en­gage­ment”, though, to my knowl­edge, they didn’t test against any kind of con­trol group (I.E. at­ten­dees who weren’t offered a book). It’s also worth not­ing that their book re­cip­i­ents were at­tend­ing an EA event and, there­fore, had at least some fa­mil­iar­ity with EA.

I was in­ter­ested in how they de­cided when to send the sur­vey, as I was con­cerned that it of­ten takes me a while to get around to read­ing a new book. Cather­ine con­firmed that a lot of peo­ple re­sponded that they hadn’t read it, but that the sur­vey was a re­minder to do so. She said she was plan­ning to change it to in­struct peo­ple NOT to fill out the sur­vey if they haven’t read it, then to send a re­minder to those peo­ple later. This seemed like a re­ally great idea.

Sur­vey­ing Recipients

My goal was to mea­sure, as much as pos­si­ble, the value from re­cip­i­ents read­ing the book vs coun­ter­fac­tual. I found it helpful to break it down in a very ob­vi­ous way:

(A) the value of re­cip­i­ents’ ac­tions af­ter read­ing the book
(minus)
(B) the value of what they would have done any­way
(minus)
(C) the cost

For A, I didn’t want to ask what peo­ple in­tend to do, as I am very un­cer­tain how that cor­re­lates with what they ac­tu­ally do. Rather, I asked what changes re­cip­i­ents have already made. The ob­vi­ous draw­back to this ap­proach is that much of the value of their ac­tions may not yet be re­al­ized, be­cause it doesn’t cap­ture any­thing done af­ter tak­ing the sur­vey.

To rem­edy that, the last ques­tion asks if peo­ple would be will­ing to take a fol­low-up sur­vey af­ter a year (the fol­low-up will then ask for an­other one, etc. etc.). Some may not be will­ing to do this, but the sur­vey is pretty short and unim­pos­ing, and it seems like will­ing­ness to do it would cor­re­late highly with in­ter­est in EA—which, in turn, would cor­re­late highly with ac­tions taken/​value.

This cer­tainly won’t catch ev­ery­thing ev­ery­one does as a re­sult of read­ing the book, but it seems bet­ter than track­ing peo­ple’s in­ten­tions, then try­ing to figure out how to value them. I rec­og­nize that this is a bit of an un­usual way to do it, so I would ap­pre­ci­ate any feed­back.

For B, I was ini­tially think­ing of ask­ing peo­ple if the book was their in­tro­duc­tion to EA, or to some­how gauge their in­volve­ment in EA be­fore and af­ter, but it’s un­clear how that in­for­ma­tion would fit cleanly into the equa­tion—es­pe­cially if they already had some knowl­edge of EA. I de­cided to just ask peo­ple what they have done, that they wouldn’t have oth­er­wise. I do have some con­cerns that peo­ple might mi­s­un­der­stand, or not be able to es­ti­mate this ac­cu­rately. If this in­struc­tion does not seem clear, or you feel you have a bet­ter idea, please com­ment.

C is ob­vi­ously not a part of the sur­vey, but just care­fully track­ing the time and money spent, which I have done.

The Sur­vey can be found here. (I will wait a cou­ple of weeks to send it out, in or­der to in­cor­po­rate any changes from com­mu­nity feed­back.)

Why You Should Con­sider Do­ing It

  • To help me gather more data. It’s un­clear how many of my ~28 re­cip­i­ents will take the sur­vey, but it’s clear that even if they all did, it’s not much of a sam­ple size.

  • Even if it doesn’t turn out to be cost-effec­tive, it’s valuable to find out.

  • It’s one of the least-in­tru­sive ways to “preach” EA ideas I can think of. You post about it. Peo­ple re­spond if they are in­ter­ested, and they just ig­nore it if they aren’t.

  • If you are un­com­fortable, or es­pe­cially bad at (as I am) ex­plain­ing EA in-per­son, you can still do this.

  • Even if you’ve already dis­cussed EA with many of your friends, there are prob­a­bly some with whom you have not, or who might be more re­cep­tive to a book than a per­sonal con­ver­sa­tion.

  • It’s in­ex­pen­sive, at about $12 a book (more on costs be­low). If you can’t af­ford that, I can help you cover the cost.

  • It’s easy, and should only take a cou­ple of hours of your time.

How to Do it

If you’d like to do it, please com­ment on this post, or email me at eabook­give­away [at] gmail [dot] com. I plan to can keep track of who’s do­ing it, so I can fol­low up to see how it went. The fol­low­ing guide is based en­tirely on my in­tu­itions and my own ex­pe­rience do­ing it. It will be valuable to in­te­grate feed­back from other peo­ple who have done it as well.

Writ­ing/​Posting

Here’s what I wrote (posted along with an image of the book cover):

“Con­tent warn­ing: Sincer­ity. For the holi­days this year, I am giv­ing out copies of this book—just mes­sage me your ad­dress and I’ll send you one! Effec­tive Altru­ism is a move­ment I’ve be­come in­creas­ingly ex­cited about over the past cou­ple of years. Be­sides the in­her­ent #warm­fuzzies of helping oth­ers, it’s also an ex­cel­lent an­ti­dote to the #cul­ture­wars and read­ing about #trump #brexit #opi­oide­pidemic or what­ever de­press­ing news item. This book is a great primer. Well writ­ten, more en­ter­tain­ing than you’d think, not too tech­ni­cal and pretty much in­spiring. Se­ri­ously, mes­sage me and I will mail you a copy for Christ­mak­waan­za­kah.”

Here is some of my rea­son­ing and a few other ideas and sug­ges­tions:

  • I re­ally wanted it to sound like a per­sonal offer to my friends, not a copy/​pasted pro­mo­tion or some­thing. I think us­ing your own voice is per­haps the most im­por­tant thing.

  • I tried to keep it fairly short. Essen­tial in­gre­di­ents: 1) the offer, 2) men­tion EA and my feel­ings about it, 3) my brief thoughts about the book. The tongue-in-cheek “con­tent warn­ing” part made sense for me, to differ­en­ti­ate it from the light-hearted stuff I mostly post.

  • I’m only on Face­book and In­sta­gram, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work on Twit­ter, or any­where else. The ma­jor­ity of my re­sponses were from Face­book, but I got a cou­ple from In­sta­gram too—de­spite the fact that that ac­count is pri­vate, with far fewer fol­low­ers.

  • It may have helped that I posted it around the holi­days, but I don’t think that war­rants wait­ing very long to do it. Per­haps it could be tied it to an­other holi­day or a birth­day? IE “For my birth­day I am giv­ing away copies of this book that re­ally means a lot to me.” I know the FB al­gorithm loves show­ing birth­day posts.

  • I think it’s pos­si­ble that post­ing it as an image (the cover of the book) helped it gain trac­tion on FB, but I don’t have any con­crete ev­i­dence of this.

  • After post­ing it, I also com­mented on my own post, to offer to send a cou­ple ar­ti­cles about EA to any­one who didn’t want to com­mit to a book—two peo­ple took me up on that.

  • To get trac­tion on FB, you might con­sider pri­vate mes­sag­ing a cou­ple close/​EA friends soon af­ter post­ing, and ask­ing them to like it and com­ment on it

  • I’d recom­mend mak­ing sure you have the time to re­spond, and or books over the fol­low­ing cou­ple of days. It doesn’t take that long, but prob­a­bly best not to do it right be­fore start­ing a big pro­ject, or go­ing on va­ca­tion or some­thing.

Responding

  • This prob­a­bly goes with­out say­ing, but make sure you check for replies fre­quently for a few days af­ter mak­ing them.

  • Pri­vate mes­sage any­one who re­sponds, and get their mailing ad­dress.

  • Even if you’ve pri­vate mes­saged them already, con­sider re­ply­ing to friends’ com­ments on the post as well. That should help the post get more trac­tion.

Keep­ing Track

Here’s a blank ver­sion of the Google sheet I used to track things. To use it, choose File > Make a Copy, to save it to your own ac­count.

It con­tains fields for:

  • Name and ad­dress for send­ing the book.

  • Method of con­tact (FB/​IG/​TW, etc.), so you re­mem­ber how to send them the sur­vey.

  • Date the book was sent, so you know when to send the sur­vey.

  • Cost of the book/​ship­ping, for calcu­lat­ing cost-effec­tive­ness.

  • Cost of your time spent—This prob­a­bly doesn’t ap­ply to ev­ery­one, but, as a free­lancer, it’s pretty easy for me to put a dol­lar value on my time (IE what I could have earned-to-give in that amount of time). If you can do that, I think it’s good, but I wouldn’t bother if you are do­ing it in your spare time, when you wouldn’t oth­er­wise be work­ing.

Order­ing Books

  • For do­mes­tic US ad­dresses, I used Ama­zon.com. It cost a lit­tle less than $12 per book with Ama­zon Prime free ship­ping.

  • For In­ter­na­tional ad­dresses, I found that Ama­zon lo­gins seem to work uni­ver­sally for all coun­tries’ Ama­zon sites—your con­tact and pay­ment in­for­ma­tion should already be in there. Not ev­ery coun­try has a site, so you may have to shop around to find the best deals for in­ter­na­tional ship­ping. I was able to send books to the UK and Egypt from Ama­zon.co.uk, and to Croa­tia from Ama­zon.de—all for pretty rea­son­able rates.

  • I had Ama­zon Prime already for my US ac­count, but I signed up for a free 30 day trial on Ama­zon UK to get free ship­ping for a lo­cal or­der there—it stays in effect for the full 30 days, even if you can­cel im­me­di­ately, so you don’t have to worry about for­get­ting to do it later. If you don’t already have Prime, this might be a good way to get free ship­ping on all the books you or­der for do­mes­tic re­cip­i­ents.

  • For eBooks, you can buy them to give as a gift to peo­ple who live do­mes­ti­cally (at least on Ama­zon US).

  • Un­for­tu­nately, I did not find any way to buy them for some­one in an­other coun­try. If you buy it from Ama­zon US, they can’t re­deem it, and you can’t buy it from their coun­try’s Ama­zon site if you don’t have a lo­cal billing ad­dress. It may be pos­si­ble for you to buy them a gift card, but you’ll have to it on their coun­try’s Ama­zon site, as they aren’t trans­ferrable. I tried this with Ama­zon Mex­ico and, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, it seemed like they didn’t sell gift cards on­line (this may not be a prob­lem for other coun­tries). If any­one has a bet­ter solu­tion for giv­ing eBooks in­ter­na­tion­ally, please com­ment (googling didn’t turn up much). I feel com­pel­led to note, de­spite it be­ing for the benefit of the EA cause, it is not le­gal to share non-DRM copies of the eBook with­out pay­ing for them, so please don’t do/​sug­gest that.

Send­ing Surveys

  • Here is the link to the sur­vey.

  • Four months will likely have passed by the time I send it out. In­tu­itively, that seems about right—it always takes me a while to get around to read­ing a new book. I think it’s fine if you want to send it sooner or later than that though (es­pe­cially since they will have the op­tion to get a re­minder if they haven’t read it yet).

  • If you’d like a re­minder to send it out af­ter four months, please say so in a com­ment on this post, or email me at eabook­give­away [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • You don’t need some­one’s email ad­dress to send them the sur­vey (it asks for it if they agree to a fol­low up sur­vey, or if they want to be re­minded to take it later), so you can just share the link with them via pri­vate mes­sage or what­ever.

  • You may want to ex­plain in a nice way (again, your own words are prob­a­bly best) how it is very quick (like 5 min­utes) and helps us figure out whether we should recom­mend giv­ing away books to oth­ers.

  • You may also want to link to it in a com­ment on your origi­nal post, as there may be peo­ple who liked the post and bought the book on their own, with­out ever com­ment­ing (one per­son told me they had done this when I saw them a few months later).

And that should do it! Of course, feed­back on all this is very much wel­come—es­pe­cially if you’ve found some­thing else that worked or didn’t. I con­sider this post a work in progress and will up­dated it as needed.

Fi­nan­cial Aid

While I think it’s definitely best if it is seen as a per­sonal gift/​offer, I un­der­stand that this may be difficult for some peo­ple to af­ford. For the mo­ment, I am happy to re­im­burse for the cost of the books, or or­der the copies for those who are un­able to (this will come out of my per­sonal dona­tion bud­get, likely oth­er­wise headed for GiveWell un­re­stricted). Email me at eabook­give­away [at] gmail [dot] com to co­or­di­nate.

Eval­u­at­ing and Pub­lish­ing Results

As­sum­ing the sur­vey ap­proach de­scribed above, there may not be much to re­port ini­tially. I will prob­a­bly wait un­til the first fol­low up sur­veys are com­pleted (Fall 2020?) to write a full re­port—un­less re­sults are par­tic­u­larly re­mark­able be­fore then.

I will pub­lish the re­sults to the EA fo­rum, and, if it turns out to be cost-effec­tive, I will build a web­site (up­dated reg­u­larly) for them as well, where I will also post most of the in­for­ma­tion con­tained herein. (As my day job is web de­vel­oper, this would be cheap/​easy for me to cre­ate and main­tain.)

Feed­back Requested

I would love feed­back/​com­ments on any of the above—but speci­fi­cally:

  • The sur­vey ques­tions/​approach

  • The in­struc­tions—speci­fi­cally clar­ity and, af­ter the fact, things that worked/​didn’t work

  • In­for­ma­tion about how to buy an eBook for some­one in an­other country

  • This post it­self (long­time reader...)