The Value of Starting a Giving What We Can/EA Chapter

I think most of us in the EA movement have a sense that EA chapters are valuable, but its often hard to tell how valuable they are.  Well, in this blog post, I am going to argue that they are incredibly valuable.  So much so, that starting a Giving What We Can/EA chapter could be one of the most effective things you can do with your time.  Some rough calculations show that establishing even a relatively small chapter at a university could result in producing 100,000 USD for effective charities.  Similar calculations lead me to think that time starting a community based chapter can be worth 110 USD/hour of work.  These are both incredible results, and I hope they inspire many of you to start up a new chapter!  

The Importance of Chapters

Chapters are important because they represent a natural way for Giving What We Can and EA to grow.  Given our experiences with chapters so far, we think it is reasonable to expect a new Giving What We Can Chapter to produce 3-5 new members in their first year. This represents an absolutely incredible amount of money moved to the most effective charities. Even by conservative estimate, we should value this at $60,000-$100,000 USD moved to the most effective charities. (We have settled on valuing the pledge at $20,000USD to accommodate counterfactual giving and possible attrition rates.  This is a very conservative figure, as the median earning individual in the US will give away over $150,000USD  over the course of their career through the pledge.  That said, valuing the pledge quite conservatively at $20,000USD only helps to strengthen the conclusions of this post- if anything we might expect the real value of money moved to the most effective charities to be much higher than the numbers considered here)  

Even if we assume that running a chapter is quite time intensive, requiring say 40 hours a month, this means that you will still be producing 120-200 dollars of value per hour of work- an incredible result!   The most successful chapters do much better than this. During Cambridge’s exceptionally successful event this December, over 100 individuals, took the pledge representing over $2 million USD going to cost-effective charities.  This is an absolutely amazing result for students to be able to have, and it really shows the potential of chapters.  

If you are an EA, I argue that one of the most impactful things you can do with your time is to start a chapter.

If we turn our attention from University chapters, to community chapters, the same incredible returns still seem to apply. Most community chapters focus their time on social events.  Recently, Sam Hilton, head of the London chapter, explained that he runs their successful chapter on only 30 minutes a month, which is quite an achievement!  But even if we assume that organising a community chapter will take much more time than this, it turns out to be an incredibly valuable activity. If over the course of a year your social events lead to just one person in the group taking the pledge, that represents $20,000 USD for the most cost effective charities.  Lets say it takes 15 hours a month to organise these activities (30x more time than Sam’s figure). That is 180 hours of work over the course of the year producing $20,000 USD. That means you earn roughly 110 dollars/hour for the most effective charities.  Just to put that in perspective, this represents the same value added, per hour, as someone earning $440,000 USD a year pursuing earning to give at 50% of their income.  

Sufficed to say this is an incredible fact.  It clearly paints a picture of how unbelievably effective working on EA Movement growth is, insofar as this movement growth translates into people taking the pledge.  

Start a chapter today!

I hope this post has inspired you to start a chapter at your city or at your university!  As I mentioned, by starting a chapter at your university or in your city, you could potentially move tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to the most effective charities.  

In my next post, I will be addressing some of the concerns that often prevent people from starting up a chapter.  One concern people often express is that they don't know how to properly start up a chapter, and feel intimated by the potential difficulty of it.  Luckily, Giving What We Can has shifted our outreach strategy, in part, to try and address this concern. Our outreach strategy will now be much more Chapter focused, I will be spending most of my time communicating with current chapters, and supporting people starting out new chapters.

If you are interested in starting a chapter, please email me and/or fill out this form. I will be happy to work with you- sharing best practices, directing you to other EAs in your area, and otherwise doing all that I can to help make your chapter a success!


2015 is going to be a big year for EA- let’s make it even bigger by pursuing big wins like starting up successful chapters!

Comments (8)

Comment author: imben 08 March 2015 05:15:00PM 6 points [-]

I'm a big fan of starting new chapters as I've discussed with Jon.

Just thought I'd flag that this seemed over optimistic:

"we think it is reasonable to expect a new Giving What We Can Chapter to produce 3-5 new members in their first year"

In my experience of working with GWWC chapters the median chapter produced 0 members a year because it's hard to get things off the ground. Even the chapters who are putting a lot of effort in do well to get 1 or 2 people to pledge.

I don't say this to undermine the article - I think the points can still apply if you get one person to pledge. I just want to make clear that if you start a chapter and one person pledges in a year that's awesome and you've probably done a v good job.

Comment author: jonathancourtney 10 March 2015 04:59:26PM *  2 points [-]

A good point! The 3-5 number averages over a number of chapters, many of whom have been running for several years and are well established, and so is likely on the optimistic side.

I absolutely agree with your point that if your chapter produces 1 pledge, that is an amazing achievement that should be congratulated! That said, I don't think it is right to say that the median chapter produces 0 pledges a year- most chapters which start up and run a successful first year on average result in at least one or two pledges. I should also note that my analysis ignores any flow-through effects of those people at the university who become interested in EA from the chapter's activity- these are likely also quite large although harder to calculate!

All that being said- the important common ground here is that chapters are awesome, and any chapters which get even a single pledge are doing a very good job!

Comment author: imben 11 March 2015 10:06:40AM 2 points [-]

Maybe I was being too negative in counting the chapters that make a go of trying and then end up fizzling out. If you manage to run a year of events with consistent effort then perhaps getting one or two pledges is fair.

3-5 is higher than when I was working with chapters, but great that it's that high now.

Yep, completely agree with the overarching point. Keep up the top work.

Comment author: John_Salvatier 18 February 2015 09:23:45PM *  4 points [-]

A counter force is that at least some of those people would have found EA anyway or found GiveWell and donated to effective charities.

However, for lots of people (for example, me) the in person connection is going to make them a lot more excited than just finding out about the movement in the abstract. In my case, that's made me donate substantially more than I would otherwise.

Comment author: AGB 19 February 2015 09:21:00PM 6 points [-]

One person I introduced to the EA London group framed this as 'it's not that I wouldn't have found this and been interested in it anyway, eventually, but you probably sped up that process by 6 months to a year'. That doesn't strike me as a crazy estimate, and such reasoning leads to similar practical conclusions I think.

Comment author: jonathancourtney 19 February 2015 11:32:00AM *  3 points [-]

Agreed- part of valuing the pledge at $20,000US (rather than the $150,000US that the median earner would donate over their life time) is an attempt to capture this sort of counter-factual concern.

I also totally agree about your point about personal connections- I think many people find that they do a lot to motivate them to do more for EA- just another way that chapters are awesome!

Comment author: John_Sturm 01 April 2015 01:49:31AM 2 points [-]

Hi all! I'm John. I was co-president of the Harvard EA group for the last 2 years.

I agree strongly that starting a chapter is an incredibly valuable thing to do.

I just want to add that much of the impact of a chapter--and at universities, arguably, most of the impact--can come from influencing the career choices that members will make (whether or not they become GWWC members) and the choices that they will make later on, in whatever careers they choose. This article might make a reader think that chapters' only impact is through donations.

I think it's important to account for the importance of having people who will actually do object level things or who can think critically about what decisions are the right ones, especially if we believe that EA will grow rapidly in the coming years. This is even more relevant if we are worried that EA will become more herd-like as it spreads.

Comment author: weeatquince  (EA Profile) 20 February 2015 05:42:15PM 1 point [-]

I think one of the biggest impacts of starting a chapter (in a city) is the small probability of outreaching to someone with a very large opportunity to do a lot of good - whether they are indepently wealth, in politics, work for a philanthropic fund, etc.