CE: Who underrates their likelihood of success. Why applying is worthwhile.
TL;DR: If we don’t find more potential founders we may not be able to launch charities in Tobacco Taxation and Fish Welfare. We’ve extended the deadline to November 10 to our incubation program starting early 2023.
Below we set out why applying is worthwhile.
In our recent ‘Ask Charity Entrepreneurship anything’ post, the question was asked: “What kind of applicant do you think underrates their likelihood of success?” With so many upvotes, we’ve decided to give our response its own post.
“You get so many applicants, it’s not worth applying”
Yes, our application process is competitive and it is true that we get a lot of applicants (~3 thousand). But, and it’s a big but, ~80% of the applications are speculative, from people outside the EA community and don’t even really understand what we do. Of the 300 relevant candidates we receive, maybe 20 or so will make it onto the program. So for the purposes of those reading the EA Forum, (who one would imagine are somewhat or very involved in EA) the likelihood of getting into the later rounds of the application process are actually pretty good.
“The charities you are launching will get started whether I apply or not”
Nope. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. In recent years we have had more charity ideas than we have been able to find founders for. We have been trying to launch a Postpartum charity for a number of years, and ideas such as Exploratory Altruism have rolled over from one cohort to the next. The truth is that for every year a charity doesn’t get founded, that’s a year of its impact gone.
Many EAs don’t realize that they are exactly who we are looking for. Right now we are particularly interested in finding founders who could potentially focus on Tobacco Taxation and Fish Welfare, as it may well be the case that these interventions won’t get off the ground if we don’t find suitable co-founders very soon.
To help mitigate this, we have just extended our application deadline to November 10 and we are appealing to readers here, to think once more about applying, and to spread the word.
“But it pays too little”
It is true that, historically, some CE founders made the decision to take meager salaries but it’s worth clarifying that the charities we launch set their own salaries (CE doesn’t dictate anything). Moreover, in recent years we’ve seen steep improvements in the speed, ease and quantity of funding achieved by our incubatees, so the choice of salaries taken, ranges greatly. Don’t expect to match corporate salaries, but our founders are living fully and comfortably.
(When it comes to financial support during the program, we don’t want financial limitations to stop anyone from starting an organization, so we offer extended stipends to cover living costs, childcare, etc.. Personal financial limitations should never be a reason to not start a charity that could save thousands, if not millions, of lives.)
“But I don’t have the right skills and experience”
Doctors think they lack the commercial skills, business students think they lack the research skills and researchers think they lack the interpersonal skills. The truth is that nobody comes onto the program ready. That’s what the program is for!
Even after the program, the first year of running the new charity is spent learning- piloting and testing, becoming a skillful and capable expert in your chosen intervention.
The Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program is far more than just a way to get a new intervention funded. We are not looking to find ready made charity entrepreneurs, we are looking for people with great potential to, overtime, become great founders—we literally wrote the handbook on this!
“I’m not good enough”
Your doubt may be unfounded: At least half of the people who’ve made it through the program all the way to launching and getting funded never thought they would even be accepted, and yet they went on to launch tremendously high-impact charities who have improved the lives of millions of humans and non-human animals.
“I don’t know if I’m a good fit”
It’s really hard to know if you’d be good at something you’ve never done. But after four years of launching high-impact charities, CE is really, really good at knowing what it takes. We know who has the potential to become a founder. Our vetting process has been specifically designed for this, so the best way to explore your fit is to just apply! Even for round one, we provide feedback on your answers (our aim is for the process itself to be useful for all, even if you don’t proceed to the later rounds).
“Shouldn’t I get more experience first? I’m still learning about EA”
Our data shows that a founder who starts now and runs a charity for three years will outperform (at running a charity) someone who does two years work experience in a consultancy and then starts running a charity for a year. In short, start early and learn the most applicable things as you go along. Every year you delay is a year’s worth of impact removed from the world. Because of how neglected the areas that we recommend interventions in are, it is often unlikely that anybody could possibly have relevant experience anyway. How many people do you know who have previous experience in lead elimination, bait fish advocacy work, or how to run educational radio ads in Africa?
We provide very intensive training and sometimes a part of it is unlearning ineffective work habits people have previously picked up in less impact-focused roles.
And for those of you who still consider yourself to be a new EA who couldn’t possibly be ready- if you regularly engage with EA content and are part of the community in any way at all, you could have absolutely incredible potential for impact and we wholeheartedly urge you to apply now, rather than waiting another year or two. Don’t deprive the world of your untapped impact just because you don’t have all the answers yet.
Other factors that don’t have any bearing on your potential as a founder: age, introversion vs extroversion, gender, or location. We build charities in historically marginalized and underserved regions and we favor local applicants. 33% of our program participants are from low or middle income countries (and increasing). Our own team is also diverse: 66% are female, nonbinary or from sexual orientation minorities.
And finally, if you were unsuccessful in the past, we strongly encourage you to do so again. We’ve had numerous participants who didn’t get in on their first application. One tried four times before being successful!
APPLY NOW—Application deadline (extended), November 10.
- EA & LW Forums Weekly Summary (31st Oct − 6th Nov 22′) by 8 Nov 2022 3:58 UTC; 39 points) (
- EA & LW Forums Weekly Summary (31st Oct − 6th Nov 22′) by 8 Nov 2022 3:58 UTC; 12 points) (LessWrong;
- 9 Nov 2022 23:24 UTC; 5 points)'s comment on EA orgs should accept Summer 2023 interns by January by (
I’d be super interested in seeing the detailed data here if possible!
Yes I’d love to read about this too.
If I had to guess I’d say this is right and the case is even stronger when you consider the foregone impact during the extended training process when someone isn’t directly doing any good.
But I’d expect people who start a charity earlier rather than seeking additional training first to be systematically different — to start with they’re evidently more confident about their prospects, and that may be an indicator of higher underlying competence or enthusiasm. That makes direct comparison between the groups difficult.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the data compiled yet in a format that is easy to share, but I will put that on our list of things to publish in the future. But a couple of specific indicators:
There is no significant correlation between age of the participant/experience and charity success.
When we surveyed incubatees who had prior experience to establish how much they apply/use their prior knowledge vs how much they apply what they learned during the program or during running their charity, they say much more often that they regularly apply the charity-specific learning.
We also found that “experts”—people with significant experience and credentials in a given cause area/charity idea, do not systematically outperform people who are new to the field but have other traits (e.g., being entrepreneurial or super impact-focused in the EA sense).
And there is also a practical element to it—often EA-type charities are very, very specific (because of how the impact of charity ideas is distributed) and therefore there is no experience/background you can get that will be as relevant to your organization as actually running the organization, e.g., there is no degree in shrimp welfare in Vietnamese or Indian farming systems :P If you are curious about that case in particular, Andres, Co-founder of Shrimp Welfare Project recently interviewed with Rob and talked about his experience.
I agree with Rob that forgone impact is also an additional (very important) benefit of starting the organization earlier.
Yes, I think that’s plausible, but we haven’t found a significant correlation between confidence and charity success either. So even though higher confidence could contribute to the decision to start earlier, it will not necessarily show in charity outcomes. That being said, I also expect there to be a difference between people who start a charity without any support vs. the applicant to the CE program who knows that they will receive training, mentorship etc., and therefore, smoothing out the distribution of confidence in our sample, so the applicant-traits effect may be stronger in independent founders.
I reached out to one CE incubated charity founder on their experience to inform my decision on whether to apply. They were critical of their experience with CE and I haven’t seen negative feedback about the program from past founders shared anywhere which is not the standard I expect from explicit EA organisation. I would like to see more reporting on the distribution of outcomes for those accepted into the program, from funding received to their perception of the program itself.
Because of the above, and that it requires a 2 month initial commitment with no guaranteed future, for which the opportunity cost for someone building career capital or in full time employment is high, I have not applied.
Finally, the application process is rather rigid and does not seem open to outliers, neurodiverse applicants (relative to those who apply) who might not fit your mold but might otherwise be good founders.
Interested in your thoughts.
Fwiw this doesn’t line up with my experience at all as someone who previously participated.
(n = 1 but I’d be very surprised to hear that the sentiment you describe above was commonplace among people who previously participated)
I have no particular dog in this fight, but I’m not surprised about the lack of feedback. I come from a digital market/advocacy background, and most EAs strike me as very self-censoring by nature. Point is valid, though.
For the commitment part, I’d say it depends. I do think “career capital” means very different things in this context. If you’re optimising for climbing the career ladder, I’d say CE is of marginal value. I would not advise someone trying to find a full-time role in an EA org do this versus spend time upskilling+taking an EA-adjacent role. CE itself isn’t super well-known, so no strong benefit if you want to work in FAANG/Big Law/consulting. But for the founders CE is looking for, I think it’s super valuable. A lot of founder work is essentially the same thing: making forms, recruiting+HR, spreadsheets, filling out legal documents. Even if you’re not super interested in the cause areas, the skills are valuable to learn.
Finally, as someone who is both neurodiverse and from an underrepresented region, I do not strongly relate to your final point. Sure, the repeated assurances that “you should take this weird assessment bc we really know how to spot good founders” is weird, but I didn’t get an “excluded” vibe while applying. If anything, I’d say that relative to other EA applications I’ve experienced, I felt like I wasn’t disadvantaged outright just because I’m not from an EA hub/a prestigious uni EA club.
This is subject to change, but that’s my take.
To add context, the significance of the point on career capital, is that building broad career capital was the hand wavy advice the community ala 80,000 hours would give people. Not sure if they do now
Hahaha yeah I think they still do. I mean … saying that is non-controversial, likely to be some net positive and unlikely to be a net negative. Factor in the randomness of job apps+the early career uncertainty common in young people and it kind of is the lowest common denominator advice.
In that sense I’d agree. CE is not obvious career capital to most employers. However, I would also add that as experience starting successful advocacy orgs/nonprofits is underrated by employers/HR who underrate the resilience, problem solving and adaptability required for founding stuff. Because you’re essentially responsible for multiple roles at first, and then successfully teaching/coordinating people to take over those roles. So really, if being a founder is underrated by employers, then a good incubator to be a founder would also be underrated.
Anyway, my main point is that CE and entrepreneurship in general is low-EV if you’re simply optimising for effort-vs-career-capital. However, that doesn’t say much about whether CE achieves its goals (incubating highly effective charities and creating effective founders).
Whether CE achieves its goals doesn’t matter to me—whether a) CE is a more cost effective donation opportunity than others or b) they’re the most impactful career step in expected value—those are the decision centric questions that matter
Hi! Thanks for the feedback and for sharing your concerns. I agree that it is a good idea to get a sense of the program from past incubatees. Our incubatees often attend EAGs, so that is a good opportunity and we always encourage that. That being said, I’m surprised by what you say. To explain why, I copied results from a survey conducted after the most recent program in 2022:
Charity Incubation Program:
As you can see, people are generally very positive about the experience. When we analyze the reasons why someone applied, one of the most common answers is because they talked with a CE incubatee and they gave a glowing review. In fact, we have had people who decided to participate in the program twice, and people who didn’t get in the first time, so they upskilled, applied again, got in and started a great charity.
When we look at the data from earlier years, there was one person who scored it 3⁄7, so maybe you came across that person. As they explained in the survey, the reason for that was that very early in the program they decided to not start a charity and therefore the rest of the program wasn’t a good fit. We of course would love to know why the incubatee was critical. If you would like to pass that feedback on to us, you can either DM me on the forum or email me at email@example.com and the program and application team will have a look at that.
In general, we improve the program and the application each year (e.g., we now offer financial stipends during and after the program, and adjust content based on feedback from participants), and we are always open to suggestions.
I think it is a cool idea to publish various quantitative data from post-program surveys, thanks for the idea!
We try to help participants as much as possible—we offer a financial stipend not only during the program, but also a bit before and after, so it is not a financial burden for them. The majority of people start a charity and receive seed funding after the program. In the most recent program, all but one person started a charity and received generous seed grants. The one person who didn’t was offered a job at CE and will join the next program again. In previous years, the participants found that they have many more EA job opportunities and better career prospects after the program than before—often, they have multiple job offers from EA-aligned organizations that they didn’t have before. I think it is different if someone wants to come back to the corporate world or work in a non-EA institution, where I think something like participation in the CE IP will be a weaker signal. If you have further suggestions on how we can support people post program, let us know.
I agree that our application process is rather rigid, we have been optimizing it over the years. When it comes to neurodivergent candidates, a couple of members of the CE team are neurodivergent, including staff in leadership positions and in the program vetting team. We have had a couple of participants in the program who were non-neurotypical as well. I would be extremely surprised if the process systematically filtered out people based on their neurodiversity. However, if there are any adjustments we can make to the process to accommodate individual applicant needs that emerge from their neurotype, we are happy to do it. In that case, just email Judith, our vetting specialist and she will discuss accommodating the process, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for the reply. Needless to say, when you’re surveying 7 people they have reason to be concerned that they’ll be identifiable from their responses. I will be abstaining from providing details shared with me from the past charity starter including their main concerns because I’m not in a position to judge if they’d be identifiable from that, but would encourage you to collect such feedback. I think it’s safe enough to say that they weren’t from the most recent cohort
Re non discriminatory hiring, I don’t think the ‘we have neurodivergent staff’ angle is the way to go (ala ‘my best friend is black’ response) - you might just be selecting for neurodivergence in the same direction. I think the fact your hiring process specifically seeks out peoples ability on your selection tests is the problem, because that gauges skills without the broader context of a persons life, where they may be able to adapt to disability and other circumstances. For that reason, there is merit in say deferring to a resume and work experience which can illustrate that sometimes. Other times, selecting people more generously then ensuring you have good enough training systems to develop them up to do a good job is what you should focus on—suddenly apparent talent bottlenecks looks like a training capability skills gap.
That makes sense—if you could encourage them to reach out to me we would be extremely interested in their feedback. I agree that such feedback is very valuable. We collect feedback throughout and immediately after the program from everyone who participated. This is the main way we improve the program for future years. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but we are always trying to get better.
Sorry if I wasn’t clear…. what I was trying to say is that if we have a fairly neurodiverse staff and groups of participants, both of whom had to go through the hiring process, that is evidence that the process doesn’t systematically filter them out.
We do put some weight in CVs and work experience and we also think it’s important to look for additional data. We feel that deferring solely to resumes or work experience could bias against some candidates. For example, younger or candidates who have had fewer opportunities in life may otherwise have very good predispositions. As we often say, we look for potential. We think that if we judged based primarily on CVs, that would filter out a lot of people who could do amazing work in the future, but just haven’t had the chance to prove themselves yet.
Ultimately we want to find great people and help them do great things. We’re definitely not perfect and both the individuals in our team and our processes can, and we hope, will, continue to improve. We’re always open to updating and if there are evidence-based practices out there, that we can learn from or adopt, we’re all ears. Again please send them to email@example.com
Great points well made
I am very curious about the feedback! Even after round 2⁄3 (not sure which one—asynchronous video round it was) I did not get much feedback. So, I am not sure if reapplying would make great sense! Also, I was under the impression that applications made just in the prior year might also be reconsidered this year? Good luck and thank you for the post!
Hi Maith! We implemented a new system that gives every applicant automated feedback in the form of a short report. That happens after the first round of application. This feedback will be automatically generated based on the responses you gave in the assessment. We are still figuring out how we can give feedback to applicants at the later stages of the application, but basically this system ensures that everyone who applies gets some info on how they scored on each trait, what that means, and occasionally gives some guidance on how to improve those as well.
Thank you for the quick reply, Karolina! I am glad to hear that going forward everyone who applies gets some feedback. I do wish that was the case earlier when I applied. If there’s any easy way to cull that automated feedback from round 1 for past applicants which can be shared, I would be very interested in receiving that! I am happy to send an email/note if that would help process that. Because rounds 2 and 3 entailed significant time commitments, sharing honest/quick feedback after those stages of the application process is even more important than the first rounds in my opinion. I would encourage your team to continue engaging with this as you proceed. Good luck!
Unfortunately, it is not possible to apply that to past applicants as it relays on filling out the assessment that we only created and implemented now. However, If you are interested, you can apply to the program now (the deadline is on the 10th of November), fill out the R1 test and just make a note that you want to get feedback. We wouldn’t like people to do it massively as it really makes our job harder to know who is actually applying vs who is there just for the assessment but in a couple of cases, it should be fine. :) Another thing that we do is compile reasons why someone got far and yet hasn’t been selected and then make a post about it—it is not individualized but aggregates the most common reasons and we’ve heard many people found it helpful. Here and here are the posts if you’re interested. We will keep exploring other options as well. Thanks!
Thanks for running the AMA and making this post (and for everything else you do)!
Related: Don’t think, just apply! (usually)
Out of interest—do you folks tend to hire outside the EA community? And how much does EA involved-ness affect your evaluation of applications?
I ask as I know some really smart and talented people working on development outside of EA who could be great founders, and I’d like to know if it’s worth encouraging them to apply.
We have had founders from outside the EA community. “EA-ness” isn’t something we explicitly filter for, rather we look for traits such as being impact-focused, ambitiously altruistic, having strong epistemics etc. Those traits are, on average, more common in EA candidates, but if someone who is not part of the EA movement has those traits they will do well in our process. The only exception was when we had a year on EA meta charities, then being involved and knowledgeable about EA was necessary.
The people that Steve refers to in the quoted sentence are more “spammy” people- those who just seem to apply to every job, or who obviously don’t know what we do, eg., they think we are a grantmaker and they want to get funding for their very non-effective project.
So in your example of people from the international development community, if they have all the traits that matter but are just not a part of the EA community, I think they would make great candidates.
Might an idea (if you are not doing it already) be to go through last years’ applicant lists and look for candidates that did pretty well but that you felt had room for improvement or where you might have made a misjudgment and reach out to them proactively? I see this group as potentially attractive to CE and also that might have been discouraged to apply again given their rejection. Maybe you have data on how often people who get rejected apply again and if you have not done so already, this data might help decide if what I am proposing seems worthwhile (if the percentage of people applying twice is low, I think the above suggestion looks more attractive).