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Gregory_Lewis comments on Why Groups Should Consider Direct Work - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 28 May 2018 07:41:42PM 8 points [-]

I'd be hesitant to recommend direct efforts for the purpose of membership retention, and I don't think considerations on these lines should play a role in whether a group should 'do' direct work projects. My understanding is many charities use unskilled volunteering opportunities principally as a means to secure subsequent donations, rather than the object level value of the work being done. If so, this strikes me as unpleasantly disingenuous.

I think similar sentiments would apply if groups offered 'direct work opportunities' to their membership in the knowledge they are ineffective but for their impact on recruitment and retention (or at least, if they are going to do so, they should be transparent about the motivation). If (say) it just is the case the prototypical EA undergraduate is better served reallocating their time from (e.g.) birthday fundraisers to 'inward looking' efforts to improve their human capital, we should be candid about this. I don't think we should regret cases where able and morally laudable people are 'put off' EA because they resiliently disagree with things we think are actually true - if anything, this seems better for both parties.

Whether the 'standard view' expressed in the introduction is true (i.e. "undergrads generally are cash- and expertise- poor compared to professionals, and so their main focus should be on self-development rather than direct work") is open to question. There are definitely exceptions for individuals: I can think of a few undergraduates in my 'field' who are making extremely helpful contributions.

Yet this depends on a particular background or skill set which would not be in common among a local group. Perhaps the forthcoming post will persuade me otherwise, but it seems to me that the 'bar' for making useful direct contributions is almost always higher than the 'bar' for joining an EA student group, and thus opportunities for corporate direct work which are better than standard view 'indirect' (e.g. recruitment) and 'bide your time' (e.g. train up in particular skills important to your comparative advantage) will be necessarily rare.

Directly: if a group like EA Oxford could fund-raise together to produce $100 000 for effective charities (double the donations reported across all groups in the LEAN survey), or they could work independently on their own development such that one of their members becomes a research analyst at a place at Open Phil in the future, I'd emphatically prefer they take the latter approach.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 29 May 2018 01:15:51AM 9 points [-]

the 'bar' for making useful direct contributions is almost always higher than the 'bar' for joining an EA student group

I agree with this in principle, but to me it excludes something important. I'd suggest that a good path to making useful direct contributions is to start off by trying to make useful direct contributions and failing. I'd think a good amount of undergrads would be suited for this and would learn something important from the process (even if they learn that they're not suited for it). I'd love to see local groups encourage this more.