Solving the world's most important problems naturally requires a lot of skills, talent, and experience. Often better than immediately donating or volunteering, one of the best ways for someone new to effective altruism to become involved is by becoming better educated about its theory and practice. The do-the-most-good aspiration takes more than just good intentions; there’s a lot of evidence and reason needed to successfully maximize your impact.
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New to EA and figuring out where to start? Long-timer EA trying to find new things to do? Here’s our guide to figuring out what to do as an effective altruist and then doing it.
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If you’re excited about effective altruism and want to meet others who are excited about it, too, consider applying to attend an EAGx or local group event in your region. These events are run by local group organizers to help you get acquainted with the basics and get a glimpse into the global effective altruism community.
Improving the world in ambitious ways takes a lot of skill and mental acuity, so personal capacity-building may be one of the best ways to help the world in the long-run. The Center for Applied Rationality offers regular workshops to help those most dedicated to improving the world build a personal improvement toolset. They "care about the long-term future, and ... suspect thinking skills, dialogue skills, and the social fabric to support them may be key to making that pivot a good one."
Much of the research that effective altruists focus on and generate is new and minimally conducted, if it has been at all. To promote quality research and good epistemic standards, individuals and organizations provide one another with feedback on their thinking and work. This includes vetting things that an EA organization wants to write, especially outreach and educational things, such as if their lessons made sense and what counter-arguments they missed. This sort of work frequently requires personal relationship with the individuals and/or organizations, and a firm grasp on EA or the specific field.
Effective altruism has become relatively well-versed in a few domains — global health interventions, factory farm reform, a general understanding of the risks of advanced AI — but could use a lot of brainpower on many other high-promise areas. Since each EA organization has needed to narrow its focus to specialize at its function, many would-be priorities are neglected relative to their plausible scale and tractability. We need people who are willing to go off the beaten path to investigate areas that typically lie outside the remits of existing organizations, and let the rest of us know if there are things we should pivot to prioritize.
Some questions, if answered, could drastically change our beliefs about what is best to focus on. Orienting one’s research towards these so-called crucial considerations could have profound leverage relative to other research agendas one might pursue. Questions of this nature are definitionally important, and their lack of answers often result from the difficult, interdisciplinary, and/or uncertain nature of the problems they require addressing. Tackling one of these is perfect for the ambitious researcher particularly keen to make a difference.
A great way to both provide value to others and train your own skills is by writing and publishing blog posts. Given the field’s current small size, individual contributors have the ability to make strides on important areas or otherwise contribute novel content. While we encourage everyone to think critically about EA topics, this is probably best suited to people who well acquainted with effective altruism and/or one of its specific subdomains.
Working on a piece in moral philosophy for the EA Forum? Want eyes on your petition to the US Congress? Drafting the framework for a new project and could use a second set of eyes? There’s a group for that.
Some organizations that explicitly affiliate themselves with effective altruism take remote volunteers or interns. Even if you don’t live in proximity of an EA organization’s headquarters, you can often contribute to their goals. What’s better, volunteering is one of the most common means by which current EA organization employees got their feet in the door; it’s a great way for you and the organization to get to know one another. Not all EA organizations take volunteers or interns; if an organization you’re interested in isn’t listed below, reach out to them directly. (The below are listed alphabetically.)
Effective altruism is unique in that much of the work we do is a step or more removed from the ultimate beneficiaries of our actions. This leaves little room for the ordinary kinds of volunteer work you might engage in in many other parts of the nonprofit space. This also means that some of the best ways to help are by improving or scaling the efforts of projects that have high leverage to make the world better.
Rethink Charity runs the annual survey of the effective altruism community. This reaches and establishes contact with as many people as possible, provides a large amount of useful data that people and organisations across the community have used, often affecting fundamental strategy, and enables applications like EA Profiles and the EA Donation Registry.
Dozens of videos now exist of presentations on effective altruism as a general topic or in one of its subdomains, but almost none of them have transcriptions. This seems like a problem, as most of the early developments in the community’s idea base came in long-form textual posts and forum discussions. To allow for people to delve deep into parts of a long talk, it is nearly essential that a talk have a textual format. Transcription software can get the basics, but a lot of the terminology and references in EA talks cannot be parsed by existing software.
Most content about effective altruism is in English. While English reaches an increasingly large audience, we are likely failing to attract some great allies who wouldn’t naturally find or turn to English-language sources.
Events often like having "swag" to hand out to their participants, but it can become costly for the event organizers to provide it. Luckily, the Centre for Effective Altruism have found that giving away free copies of Doing Good Better is an effective way of encouraging people to the Giving What We Can pledge.
One skills that have proven useful in many EA pursuits is mathematics. From technical research to earning to give, that skill gives people the leverage to do things unique to that skill set and ability.
Effective Altruism Global is the annual conference of the EA community. Many people cite it as being one of their favorite or more exciting means of engaging with EAs face-to-face and learning about new things in the EA sphere. As a volunteer you get augment the experience for others while enjoying the atmosphere yourself.
One of the most straightforward ways of making a difference is donating money to the causes you think are going to have the most charitable bang for your buck. This is certainly easier said than done — identifying the best charities is complicated work — but we’re here to help.
By donating to the most effective charities, the amount of good you can do is immense. Charity Science provides a free service that make the otherwise intimidating process of securing your legacy as easy as possible. Their services will help you create a basic document that will honor commitments to GiveWell’s top charities if the unexpected happens, and you’ll always have the option to update.
"Precommitment isn’t just for those who want to quit smoking or want to exercise more. Indeed, precommitment can work for those who recognize they can donate a portion of their income and benefit the world significantly, yet have trouble getting around to actually donating." If you’re serious about doing as much good as you can, consider taking the Giving What We Can pledge, a commitment to give a generous fraction of your lifetime income to the most cost-effective charities you can find.
Startup founders often want to make the world better, but are pinching pennies while getting their companies up and running. A great way to maintain your personal commitment to give and share it with others is to take the Founders Pledge. Pledgers commit to give a percentage of their future exit or liquidity event earnings to the high-impact charities of their choice.
Poker, stock trading, professional gaming, and daily fantasy sports offer a talented few a unique opportunities to strike it rich. If you’ve made good money in one of those fields and care about helping people as effectively as you can, take the Raising for Effective Giving pledge in your industry. This will help you keep your commitment to doing good while encouraging others in that field to follow in your footsteps.
You’re a student or early-stage professional who thinks effective altruism is plausibly a promising way to improve the world, and are committed to dedicating your time and energy to what’s best for the world. If you’re serious about your values, take it to the next level and go for a full-time occupation doing EA work. Your time is arguably one of your best resources for making a difference and you will spend a lot of your time at work, but figuring out how to spend it best can be really hard.
You’re a professional who’s sold on EA, and are committed to dedicating your time and energy to what’s best for the world. If you’re serious about your values, take it to the next level and go for a full-time occupation doing EA work.
Do you have a high-impact startup you want to run but little money to back it? Is there research you’d like to pursue but can’t yet afford to commit the time? If so, you’re a great candidate for an EA Grant, a new initiative of the Centre for Effective Altruism to support enterprising EAs in their high-expected-value pursuits. The grant program is open to anyone 18+, and offers up to £100,000 in funding, one-on-one career advice from career advisor 80,000 Hours, and the prestige and support you’re otherwise unlikely to get doing an individual project.
Have an idea for something that would be valuable to do? Have some time to spare and an entrepreneurial flare? If you’re really familiar with the EA space and think your project needs doing, write up a project proposal to share with domain experts or in the relevant EA Facebook groups. Then, throw some elbow grease behind the project and try to get it off the ground! There are many ideas EAs have generated for projects one could run; you’re well off drawing inspiration from one of those.
A huge, untapped potential donor base is one’s colleagues. People are usually looking for ways to make the world a better place and simply don’t know where to start; you can be the link that puts their desires into practice. Not only that, but companies generally have donation-matching programs which can up to triple the amount of money that goes to charity when you give.
Effective altruism is a young community; it didn’t even acquire its name until 2012. We’ve made lots of inroads since then, but there’s so much more that we could do. If you’re coming to effective altruism from a field underrepresented in the community (i.e. most things besides academic philosophy and computer science) we probably haven’t figured out a good way to make good use of your discipline — or even know that your discipline could be useful to EA pursuits at all.
Much of the work that effective altruists do is augmented by ties to the industries to which they relate. Global poverty researchers can often further their impact when associated with relevant university departments, think tanks, or government agencies. Animal welfare advocates have a whole network outside the one in the EA community, whose knowledge and expertise can be a great stepping stone for further work. Advocates for greater thoughtfulness and generosity in giving can appeal to religious and secular groups alike, particularly those who are likely to take to EA concepts. Existential risk mitigators could benefit from having their thumb on activities in the defense, intelligence, and artificial intelligence spheres.
If you’re a university professor, high school teacher, or student at a university that permits student-run courses, consider teaching a course on effective altruism. EA classes have historically resided in philosophy and economics departments, but would also be good fits for STEM, business, statistics, and social work.
Although there are many nonprofits working in the international development space, few meet the impact and transparency criteria charity evaluator GiveWell seeks in a high-effective program. They "wish [they] had more top charities ... there will need to be more recommended charities in order to productively use all the donations that GiveWell-influenced donors are making. One of [their] major activities is trying to expand [their] top charities list, both by investigating charities that already exist, and by supporting activities — from new nonprofits to studies — that could eventually result in a larger set of evidence-backed programs and a larger set of top charities."
Effective Altruism Global is the annual conference of the effective altruism community, run by the Centre for Effective Altruism. There are 1-3 events every years, focusing on pushing the frontier of our understanding in relevant domains and helping those excited about EA to forward their connections and pursuits.
Sometimes the best way to get people into effective altruism is simply to learn more about their interests and skills and talk through effective altruism with them face-to-face. If you’re looking for an activity that members of your local EA group can do or something you can do in a region lacking a local group, consider arranging social meetings with people in your local community who might be interested in EA. These can be students at a university, people at your job, conference speakers in town for the weekend, or anyone else who crosses your radar who might take to the ideas.
One of the most common ways in which people become involved with effective altruism is through personal connections. Local groups -- sometimes referred to as "chapters" -- are a good way to facilitate more of those happening, creating a landing space for people who have or may become interested in the ideas. Local groups take a variety of shapes depending on the region and types of participants, from intimate discussion and social groups to large professional networks hosting regular events. Some of the earlier local groups have "80,000 Hours" or "Giving What We Can" in their names, while most groups now use "Effective Altruism" instead.
If you’re involved in a well-established local group in a fairly large city, consider running an EAGx conference. These are locally organized, full-day or weekend-long events, with audiences of 50-400 attendees. They focus on integrating relevant interest groups, exposing local members to the global EA community, and scaling up the skills and involvement of the group’s members.
If you’re involved in a less-established local group in a medium or large city, consider running a local EA event. These are locally organized, half-day events, with a range of event structures. Depending on your goals, we recommend having some combination of an introductory speaker, a regionally famous keynote speaker, and a career or rationality workshop. Usually the workshop will need to be self-organized — see the careers planning group guide — but occasionally 80,000 Hours or the Center for Applied Rationality have capacity to run one regionally.
If you’re part of a student or professional group and trying to extend the reach of your local group, consider running a large speaker event. Local groups often use large speaker events to springboard future engagement, following them with, for instance, a more intimate introduction to EA discussion group. This is a particularly good event to advertise at a student activities fair.
Psychology literature shows that making public commitments helps to increase one’s follow-through on goals. This makes giving pledges particularly valuable for getting EAs to become and stay engaged.
If you already have a steady local group or multiple dedicated EAs in the area, a discussion group can help get everyone on the same page and further one another’s understanding. For instance, a group that has a range of levels of familiarity and backgrounds can unite around common terminology and shared concepts. Similarly, if your group has predominantly selected from one cause area, a discussion group might focus on extending the members’ knowledge into other domains. This works best with a small-to-medium-sized group of at least semi-regular members. (Note that this might also work as a means of increasing the regularity of meetup attendance.)
If you’re a student or remote employee, consider gathering the EAs in your region together for a joint work session. Individuals have found this to be an easy way to create a local presence where little exists, and local groups have used this for group bonding in a productivity-promoting way. If you have large things to work through — deciding which charity(ies) to donate to, career decision-making, or just a work backlog — consider structuring it as an all-day personal hackathon. If you can’t gather together a group in person, you can join the EA online coworking space instead.
If you’re a university student looking to build or grow a local campus group, tabling is a good means of doing so. Most universities have a student activities fair where students advertise their activities, often called something like a Freshers Fair or Activities Expo. This is great for students early in the academic term and who have at least one other student willing to pitch effective altruism to new people.
"Time commitment" refers to the fraction of the activity’s duration the activity takes up. “Hours” is roughly 10 hours or fewer per week; “part-time” is 10-20 hours; and “full-time” is 20 hours or more. ↩
"Duration" refers to the period of time in which one actively participates in some way. “Short-term” is roughly a month or less in duration; “medium-term” is 1-6 months; and “long-term” is 6 months to a lifetime. ↩
"Familiarity with EA" speaks to one’s understanding of the self-described “effective altruism” community, rather than practices that are effectively altruistic. This means that e.g. a student with extensive EA knowledge might be considered a “regular,” while a professional in an EA-adjacent domain may be considered “new.” ↩