EA Survey 2017 Series: Qualitative Comments Summary

The annual EA Survey is a volunteer-led project of Rethink Charity that has become a benchmark for better understanding the EA community. This is the sixth article in our multi-part EA Survey 2017 Series. You can find supporting documents at the bottom of this post, including prior EA surveys, and an up-to-date list of articles in the EA Survey 2017 Series. Get notified of the latest posts in this series by signing up here.

Could you, however loosely, be described as an “Effective Altruist”?

Several respondents support the underlying principles of the EA movement, but many suggested that they did not consider themselves part of the community because of their disagreement with some of the ideas, or their lack of donations to effective charities (often due to financial difficulties or perceived lack of commitment). Various respondents also seemed to view EA as a lofty, principle-based lifestyle that they had not yet attained and were therefore hesitant to label themselves “effective altruists.” A few comments suggested that the term “effective altruist” implied an underlying pretentiousness that respondents were unwilling to associate with.

If there was a local group near your home, would you attend?

For this question, people tended to respond in one of two ways: respondents in the first group tended to be active participants and/or leaders in their local EA group. Those that did not live in an area with a local EA group expressed interest in starting such a community. Respondents in the second group showed interest in attending occasional meetings. At the same time, these respondents also expressed some ambivalence about attending meetings. Distance and scheduling were common concerns; people also wanted to know how effective and structured the group meetings would be in reaching practical outcomes.

How welcoming do you find the EA community?

Responses varied widely based on the region and the particular forum being referenced. People generally commented that the online community feels off-putting to new members as the topics discussed are very specialized and members tend to be very well-informed. As a typical response went: “Sometimes the jargon and in depth conversations can be a bit alienating to someone without a philosophy or economics background.” Relating to this concern, a few respondents commented that it would be best to create a separate, more open space dedicated to bringing new members up to speed on EA ideas.

Another common theme was that the EA community tends to attract members with similar ethnic, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds. Respondents noted that the lack of diversity often made it difficult for those outside the demographic to feel comfortable in the EA community.

Do insecurities about not being ‘EA enough’ sometimes prevent you from taking action or participating more in the EA community?

Many respondents expressed a certain degree of guilt for not having “done enough” as an effective altruist, especially when compared to more dedicated members of the EA community. This insecurity seems to largely be the result of internal sentiments (e.g. feeling that they do not have anything worthwhile to contribute), and at least partly attributable to a dynamic inside EA groups that does not fully accommodate new members.

Others expressed satisfaction with their current level of giving and the extent to which they had embraced EA ideas in their daily life.

How can we improve the EA survey?

In this question, respondents highlighted four critical areas of improvement for the survey content. First, they were concerned that so many of the questions asked about donations and participants’ income. According to responses, these questions were tedious and reflected poorly on the nature of EA. Second, several respondents raised serious concerns that the multiple choice questions did not account for all possible answers; for instance, one person noted that the careers list did not include a “retail” option but did have a “business” and “manual labor” option, appearing to exclude individuals of lower income classes. These respondents suggested that more multiple choice questions include an option for “other.” Furthermore, responses noted that many of the questions did not distinguish between EA as a set of principles for doing good and the EA community. Finally, respondents consistently noted that the survey was much longer than advertised and actually took 30-45 min.

Respondents also had specific complaints about the formatting of the survey. First, several voiced frustration that the positioning and color coding of the “Exit & Clear survey” caused them to mistake it for the “next” button and accidentally delete their responses. Others noted that it would be very convenient, both for the respondents and the writers of the survey, to sync individuals’ data from the GWWC My Giving website, eliminating the need for all the questions about donations and income. The survey also caused some problems for active participants of the EA movement. For questions that gauged respondents’ interest in setting up an EAHub profile or subscribing to a newsletter, there was no option for those who had already completed these items.

How did you hear about this survey?

The vast majority of respondents heard about the survey via the Slate Star Codex blog and open threads. Respondents frequently recalled accessing the survey via Facebook group pages such as the GWWC Community page, the Effective Animal Advocacy Discussion page, local EA group pages, and the Dank EA Memes page. A significant number heard about the survey directly from EA-affiliated organizations, including 80000 Hours, Rethink Charity (formerly known as Dot Impact), Students for High-Impact Charity, and Giving What We Can; leaders of these organizations either sent out email newsletters with the survey link or directly contacted individuals with information about the survey.


Post written by June Lee, with edits from Tee Barnett and analysis from Peter Hurford.

A special thanks to Ellen McGeoch, Peter Hurford, and Tom Ash for leading and coordinating the 2017 EA Survey. Additional acknowledgements include: Michael Sadowsky and Gina Stuessy for their contribution to the construction and distribution of the survey, Peter Hurford and Michael Sadowsky for conducting the data analysis, and our volunteers who assisted with beta testing and reporting: Heather Adams, Mario Beraha, Jackie Burhans, and Nick Yeretsian.

Thanks once again to Ellen McGeoch for her presentation of the 2017 EA Survey results at EA Global San Francisco.

We would also like to express our appreciation to the Centre for Effective Altruism, Scott Alexander via SlateStarCodex, 80,000 Hours, EA London, and Animal Charity Evaluators for their assistance in distributing the survey. Thanks also to everyone who took and shared the survey.

Supporting Documents

EA Survey 2017 Series Articles

I - Distribution and Analysis Methodology

II - Community Demographics & Beliefs

III - Cause Area Preferences

IV - Donation Data

V -  Demographics II

VI - Qualitative Comments Summary

VII - Have EA Priorities Changed Over Time?


Please note: this section will be continually updated as new posts are published. All 2017 EA Survey posts will be compiled into a single report at the end of this publishing cycle

Prior EA Surveys conducted by Rethink Charity (formerly .impact)

The 2015 Survey of Effective Altruists: Results and Analysis

The 2014 Survey of Effective Altruists: Results and Analysis


Comments (4)

Comment author: Denkenberger 24 September 2017 01:33:07AM 1 point [-]

Was there any discussion about effective volunteering?

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 26 September 2017 02:48:44AM 2 points [-]

Not any qualitative data, but we did ask people whether they volunteer. 390 people said yes, 1025 people said no, 187 people did not answer, and 237 people were not asked this question.

Comment author: zdgroff 25 September 2017 10:19:26PM 0 points [-]

The first question here got me thinking: "Various respondents also seemed to view EA as a lofty, principle-based lifestyle that they had not yet attained and were therefore hesitant to label themselves 'effective altruists.'"

Surely part of this is helping people to feel comfortable labeling themselves as EAs, but how can we get the vastly larger number of people with EA-ish ideas (atheists/skeptics/rationalists, economics and philosophy students, religious people focused on charity) to behave in a way that meets lofty standards?

Comment author: aspencer 26 September 2017 03:17:34PM 1 point [-]

I see the benefit of cultivating a strong standards within the community, but how does this weigh against the benefits of having a more open community?

Perhaps we can focus on suggesting alternative ways of involvement that work to incorporate individuals who are low income or less consistent in their involvement. It is a balance between doing so and not diluting the community, though.