5

Improving the Effectiveness of Effective Altruism Outreach

Introduction

As an Effective Altruist who is skilled at marketing, education, and outreach, I think we can do a lot of good if we improve the effectiveness of Effective Altruism outreach. This is an issue that was touched on in a couple of recent forum posts (1, 2), and I wanted to devote a separate piece to discussing it. I am not talking about EA pitches in particular, although these are of course valuable in the right time and place, but more broadly issues of strategy. I am talking about making Effective Altruism outreach effective through relying on research-based strategies of effective outreach.

 

To be clear, I should say that I have been putting my money/efforts where my mouth is, and devoting a lot of my time and energy to a project, Intentional Insights, of spreading rational thinking and effective altruism to a broad audience, as I think I can do the most good through convincing others to do the most good, through their giving and through rational thinking. Over the last year, I devoted approximately 2400 hours and $33000 to this project. Here's what I found helpful in my own outreach efforts to non-EAs.

 

Telling Stories


I found it quite helpful to focus much more on speaking to people's emotions rather than their cognition. Now, this was not intuitive to me. I'm much more motivated by data than the typical person, and I bet you are too. But I think we need to remember that we suffer from a typical mind fallacy, in that most EAs are much more data-driven than the typical person. Moreover, after we got into the EA movement, we forget how weird it looks from the outside - we suffer from the curse of knowledge.

 

Non-EAs usually give because of the pull of their heartstrings, not because of raw data on QALYs. Telling people emotional stories is a research-based strategy to pull at heartstrings. So I practice doing so, about the children saved from malaria, of the benefits people gained from GiveDirectly, and other benefits. Then, the non-analytically inclined people become open to the numbers and metrics. However, the story is what opens people up to the numbers and metrics. This story helps address the drowning child problem and similar challenges.

 

However, this is not sufficient if we want to get people into EA. Once they are open to the numbers and metrics through the story about a concrete and emotional example, it's very important to tell the story of Effective Altruism, to get people to engage with the movement. After leading with a story about children saved or something like that, I talk about how great it would be to save the most children most effectively. I paint a verbal and emotion-laden picture of how regrettable it is that the nonprofits that are best able to tell stories get the most money, not the nonprofits that are most effective. I talk about how people tend to give to nonprofits with the best marketing, not the ones that get the work done. This is meant to appeal to arouse negative emotions in people and put them before the essence of the problem that EA is trying to solve.

 

Once they are in a state of negative emotional arousal about other charities, this is the best time to sell them on EA, I find. I talk to them about how EA offers a solution to their problem. It offers a way to evaluate charities based on their outcome, not on their marketing. They can trust EA sources as rigorous and data-driven. They can be confident in their decision-making based on GiveWell and other EA-vetted sources. Even if they don't understand the data-based analytical methodology, an issue I address below, they should still trust the outcomes. I'm currently drafting an article for a broad media forum, such as Huffington Post or something like that, which uses some of these strategies, and would be glad for feedback: link here.

 

Presenting Data


A big issue that many non-EAs have when presented with Effective Altruism is the barrier to entry to understanding data. For example, let's go to back to the example of saving children through malaria nets that I used earlier. What happens when I direct people to the major EA evaluation of Against Malaria Foundation, GiveWell's write-up on it? They get hit with a research paper, essentially. So many people who I directed there just get overwhelmed, as they do not have the skills to process it.

 

I'd suggest developing more user-friendly ways of presenting data. We know that our minds process visual information much quicker and more effectively than text. So what about having infographics, charts, and other visual methods of presenting EA analyses? These can accompany the complex research-based analyses and give their results in an easy-to-digest visual format.

 

Social Affiliation


Research shows that people desire social affiliation with people they like. This is part of the reason why as part of Intentional Insights, we are focusing on secular people as our first target audience.

 

First, the vast majority of EAs are secular. This fact creates positive social signaling to secular people who are not currently EAs. Moreover, it is clear evidence that Effective Altruism appeals to them most. Second, network effects cause it to be more likely for people who already became Effective Altruists to cause others in their contact networks to become EAs. Therefore, it pays well and is highly effective in terms of resource investment to focus on secular people, as they can get others in their social circles to become EAs. Third, the presence of prominent notables who are EAs allows good promotion through a desire to be socially affiliated with prominent secular notables. Here's an example of how I did it in a blog post for Intentional Insights.

 

There are so many secular people and if we can get more of them into the EA movement, it would be great! To be clear, this is not an argument against reaching out to religious EAs, which is a worthwhile project in and of itself. This is just a point about effectiveness and where to spend resources for outreach.

 

Meta-Comments About Outreach


These are just some specific strategies. I think we need to be much more intentional about our communication to non-EAs. We need to develop guidelines for how to communicate to people who are not intuitively rational about their donations. 

 

To do so, I think we need to focus much more efforts - time and money - on developing Effective Altruist outreach and communication (this is why I am trying to fill the gap here with my own project). We haven't done nearly enough research or experimentation on how to grow the movement most effectively through communicating effectively to outsiders. Investing resources in this area would be a very low-hanging fruit with very high returns, I think. If anyone is interested in learning more about my experience here, or wants to talk about collaborating, or just has some thoughts to share better suited for one-on-one than for discussion comments, my email is gleb@intentionalinsights.org and Skype is gleb.tsipursky

 

In conclusion, I strongly believe we can do much better at our outreach if we apply research-based strategies of effective outreach. I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

 

P.S. This article is part of the EA Marketing Resource Bank project lead by Intentional Insights and the Local Effective Altruism Network, with support from The Life You Can Save.

Comments (22)

Comment author: mackgrenfell 01 December 2017 04:11:26PM 2 points [-]

Research shows that people desire social affiliation with people they like. This is part of the reason why as part of Intentional Insights, we are focusing on secular people as our first target audience.

This is a great point, thanks for sharing

Comment author: lauragreen 18 October 2015 05:54:32PM *  2 points [-]

Hi Gleb! Thought your blog post was really interesting, thanks! :) A few comments:

1) It maybe needs more precise/concrete advice. As someone trying to build up EA movements where it is practically inexistent, I found your points interesting but lacking specific ideas of what I should do to improve.

2) On a related note, jclifton333's 3rd point relating to how to invest in our advocacy abilities really needs to be explored more. If you feel that your backgroud in "marketing, education and outreach" gave you experience and ideas on how to develop these "soft" skills, I would be interested in hearing about it :)

3) I also disagree a little on the secular preference (i.e. spending time/money resources on appealing to a secular audience). I think the focus is different but not less important in one case or the other. For instance, maybe insisting on (a) the "altruism" aspect for those rationality-inclined, and (b) the "effective" aspect for those who, through religion or personal inclination, already get the "moral obligation to be an altruist", could yield better results than just concentrating on (a).

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 18 October 2015 09:19:55PM -1 points [-]

Laura, thanks for that feedback, really helpful!

For point 1, telling stories, this is why I included a link to my post as a way of illustrating a concrete example of how to tell stories.

For point 2, regarding developing soft skills, I'd suggest looking into Motivational Interviewing as an effective, research-based way of engaging with people in a soft form while still pursuing advocacy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivational_interviewing

For point 3, I hear what you're saying and I think I'm speaking more in terms of the most return on investment if we are investing resources into outreach. Doesn't mean that outreach to religious people should not be done, of course, it's just less likely to yield such high returns.

Comment author: jclifton333 18 October 2015 04:44:01AM *  2 points [-]

A few ideas-

-Consider getting people to think about improving the effectiveness of a cause they already care about first, rather than leading with cause prioritization.

-I see the point about the effectiveness of targeting secular people, but I worry about EA being excluded from mainstream thought in the long run due to this kind of strategy. Just something to think about more carefully.

-Perhaps there needs to be more discussion of effective advocacy as an individual. What is importance of charisma and other "soft" attributes that are difficult to quantify? How can we best invest in our own advocacy abilities? Do we need to spend more time developing interests and social skills that allow us to persuade people outside of rationalist-type circles?

-On a related note...unless you know your audience really well...for Christ's sake, don't lead with killer robots

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 18 October 2015 03:20:56PM 0 points [-]

Nice ideas!

1) On cause prioritization, I think there are already a number of ways that people can improve the effectiveness of their causes, and this is not the unique value proposition that the EA movement offers. I think what we offer that is unique is cause prioritization and data-driven evaluation, not improvement of other causes. I think we should stick to where we provide the most value.

2) I hear your point about the long run in targeting non-religious people, but I think we all see that developing countries - where the vast majority of donors are located - are turning more secular over time. Moreover, the kind of appeal that the EA movement has is most impactful for people who already value truth and reason. This is not to say we should not orient toward attracting religious people as well, just making an argument for effectiveness of outreach. If we want to be most effective in our outreach, I'd say targeting non-religious people is most impactful.

3) Yup, agreed.

4) Yup, agreed.

Comment author: Dale 20 October 2015 11:36:45PM *  0 points [-]

developing countries ... are turning more secular over time.

Right but that effect is very gradual. It's been going on for hundreds of year; over the time horizon of any EA marketing campaign it will have been only a de minimis impact.

Comment author: Julia_Wise  (EA Profile) 20 October 2015 06:12:39PM 0 points [-]

2) Did you mean to say "developing" or "developed"?

I'd actually like to see more variety of both religious and non-religious people in this movement. Among the large number of people whose faith emphasizes helping the poor, GiveWell-type research could be quite interesting. I agree that religiosity is declining in developing coutnries, but in the US 60% of people identify religion being important to them and are nowhere near proportionately represented in this movement.

It's certainly true that our current demographics are skewed in various ways, but I don't see that alone as a good reason to seek to perpetuate the skew.

Comment author: Dale 20 October 2015 11:37:58PM 0 points [-]

It's certainly true that our current demographics are skewed in various ways, but I don't see that alone as a good reason to seek to perpetuate the skew.

Well, you might think that they're skewed because it is cheaper/easier to attract atheists than theists, so we should collect the low-hanging fruit focus on atheists.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 20 November 2015 12:45:20AM 1 point [-]

Cross-posted from another thread of yours, but I think it's relevant here

Depending on the specification of the tactics you plan to use, I think this could be quite a bad idea.

When I first started working at Effective Altruism Outreach, my initial sense was that the best thing to do was spread the EA ideas as widely as possible. Over time, I began to wonder how exactly the EA community generates value. It now seems to me that what we do well is generate interesting intellectual content and that this content attracts a community of early adopters keen to use the ideas in the real world. It may be that these ideas are sufficiently well-developed that the only thing we need to do is spread them more, but I doubt it.

Spreading the ideas more widely has some probability of generating much more money for effective charities. But, it has a significant probability of causing the EA community to become a very different thing that it is now. It may cause EA to become a community focused on spreading itself and less focused on ensuring that we continue to develop ideas worth spreading. I think we will be faced with many situations where we can either build a better epistemic community or we can build a larger community. Choosing the larger community seems to misunderstand how EA generates value and misunderstands the long-term potential that this movement has.

My talk at EA Global: Melbourne touches on many of these ideas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKx0ithQdHQ

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 20 November 2015 12:54:37AM 0 points [-]

Also, there is a ton of research on this topic. For most "emotionally-driven donors" the evidence suggests that we cannot shift their donation decisions at all. http://www.hopeconsulting.us/moneyforgood

Comment author: joshjacobson  (EA Profile) 06 December 2015 12:29:24AM *  0 points [-]

This seems like quite an oversimplification / misinterpretation of the Money for Good segmentations. I'm glad that you've looked at them though.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 15 December 2015 12:30:56AM 1 point [-]

We should talk about this sometime as I think the conclusion I suggested is reasonably accurate. I think we should consider donors that do no research as unreachable by us. The number that do no research is quite large.

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 20 November 2015 05:48:32AM -1 points [-]

To be clear, I am not talking about donors who are fully emotionally driven. I am talking about reaching beyond the currently head-oriented marketing of EA, and going father along the spectrum to the heart-oriented donors. I think it's a matter of experimenting and figuring out what works.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 24 November 2015 02:24:18AM 1 point [-]

The evidence suggests that the majority of donors experience no difficulties with the current evidence available to them about the charities they donate to and will not be receptive to changing their donation practices. This is what the Money for Good study was about.

It might be possible to shift broad societal norms about giving, but this seems to require a different set of tools than just testing what works or using the traditional marketing toolkit. Given the evidence, the strategy that seems to make the most sense is the startup style approach that EAs are currently engaged in: spread the ideas to a niche group of early adopters, dominate in the initial niche, then spread to serve additional markets. I think we're still very much in the early adopter phase and we still have a lot of work to do before attempting to spread more widely.

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 25 November 2015 03:32:11AM -1 points [-]

I'm curious about what would be the problem with experimenting with spreading ideas about effective giving to a broad audience? We can see through experimenting whether it works or not, rather than simply building models.

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 20 November 2015 05:53:31AM *  0 points [-]

Thanks for pointing out the challenges here. I agree that there is a significant danger if we aim to change the EA community itself.

However, I'm not sure I see the danger of spreading EA ideas. What is dangerous about suggesting that people figure out their values and goals for giving, and then give in accord to their actual values and goals? What is the danger in highlighting thinking errors in giving, and encouraging people to avoid these thinking errors? What is dangerous about suggesting that people should research charities before giving? What is dangerous about suggesting that they attend to GiveWell as a valuable source of evaluating charities?

Happy to update my beliefs about that.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 24 November 2015 02:18:36AM 1 point [-]

As I mentioned, it depends on the tactics used. I think we can divide spreading EA into spreading EA as a set of ideas and spreading EA as a community. If you just spread a set of ideas with no engagement with your audience (as traditional marketers do) that is unlikely to have much of a downside.

However, if you think that your audience will be engaged in shaping the ideas, in being on the front lines of spreading the ideas, and in creating a community around those ideas (as is true in EA today), then who you target with the ideas matters a great deal. My intuition is that EA is at a very early stage of development, and the people we attract now are likely to have a powerful influence on what the movement looks like in 5 or 10 years. We should expect that the ideas discussed in EA will be a product of the people in the community and that not all ideas are equally valuable. So, adding people to the movement without thinking seriously about whether this will influence the movement's trajectory in a positive way seems pretty dangerous to me.

Perhaps you've already thought about the downsides of growing the EA community. If so, I'd be interested to hear your ideas.

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 13 December 2015 11:26:38PM 1 point [-]

Kerry, I missed your comments here until now, my apologies.

To respond, we at Intentional Insights focus on spending our resources on spreading the message of effective giving, as we believe that getting ten more people to give effectively is more impactful than us giving of our resources to effective charities ourselves. This does not necessarily mean getting people to join the EA movement, as I fully acknowledge there are dangers to rapid movement growth.

Let's go specific and concrete. Here's an example of what I mean: an article in The Huffington Post that encourages people to give effectively, and only briefly mention Effective Altruism. Doing so balances the benefits of using marketing tactics to channel money to effective charities, while not heavily promoting EA itself to ameliorate the dangers of rapid movement growth.

Check out the sharing buttons on it, and you'll see it was shared quite widely. As you'll see from this Facebook comment on my personal page, it helped convince someone to decide to donate to effective charities. Furthermore, this comment is someone who is the leader of a large secular group in Houston, and he thus has an impact on a number of other people. Since people rarely make actual comments, and far from all are fans of my Facebook page, we can estimate that many more made similar decisions but chose not to comment about it.

We are also working to spread effective giving ideas to the secular and skeptic community, as we have strong ties with organizations in these communities. For example, here is a link to the outcome of an Intentional Insights collaboration with The Life You Can Save to spread effective giving to the secular community through Giving Games. We have launched a pilot program with the Secular Student Alliance to bring Giving Games to over 300 secular student groups throughout the world, with The Life You Can Save dedicating $10,000 to the pilot program, and easily capable of raising more if it works well.

Neither the Giving Games nor the article promote Effective Altruism as a movement heavily. They only briefly mention EA for those curious enough to follow the breadcrumbs, but do not use emotional engagement techniques to promote EA explicitly.

What are your thoughts on these concrete InIn activities?

Comment author: EconCow 21 October 2015 11:20:46AM 1 point [-]

I think social media and YouTube videos are the best way to mass communicate these days.

Self-promotion: New YouTube video on effective altruism. Please take a look and share if you think it is any good. "The Price of Saving a Life ... is $3,340." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tAaO5KmRFQ&index=2&list=PL0FfKwFuQb2T5tGSKh254JleBGyydQDUR

Comment author: arrowind 20 October 2015 03:48:55PM 1 point [-]

How specifically would you try to reach secular people? Eg would you recommend EA's try to get articles into major secular websites and magazines?

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 20 October 2015 04:36:42PM 0 points [-]

Yup, and as I said, I'm putting my efforts and money where my mouth is. I had an article published in American Atheist magazine and Secular World recently, for example, and have appeared in podcasts for The Humanist Hour, Unbelievers Radio, and others. For a fuller list, see here. If you are interested in strategies for how to get into secular websites and magazines, I'd be glad to share what I know, email me at gleb@intentionalinsights.org