Effective Giving vs. Effective Altruism

Why separate effective giving from Effective Altruism? Isn't the whole point of EA about effective giving, meaning giving to the most impactful charities to advance human flourishing? Sure, effective giving is the point of EA, but there might be a lot of benefit to drawing a distinct line between the movement of Effective Altruism itself, and the ideas of effective giving that it promotes. That's something that Kerry Vaughn, the Executive Director of Effective Altruism Outreach, and I, the President of Intentional Insights, discussed in our recent phone call, after having an online discussion on this forum.


**EDIT** To be clear, Kerry Vaughn did not explicitly endorse Intentional Insights' work in any way, and is not in a position to do so, as you can see from his comment on this post below.


Why draw that line? Because there's quite a bit of danger in rapid movement growth of attracting people who might dilute the EA movement and impair the building of good infrastructure down the road (see this video and paper). This exemplifies the dangers of simply promoting Effective Altruism indiscriminately, and just trying to grow the movement as fast as possible.


Thus, what we can orient toward is using modern marketing strategies to spread the ideas of effective altruism - what Kerry and I labeled effective giving in our conversations - without necessarily trying to spread the movement. We can spread the notion of giving not simply from the heart, but also using the head. We can talk about fighting the drowning child problem. We can talk about researching charities and using GiveWell, The Life You Can Save, and other evidence-based charity evaluators to guide one's giving. We can build excitement about giving well, and encourage people to think of themselves as Superdonors or Mega-Lifesavers. We can use effective marketing strategies such as speaking to people's emotions and using stories, and contributing to meta-charities such as EA Outreach and others that do such work.  That's why 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. At the same time, Kerry and I spoke of avoiding heavily promoting effective altruism as a movement or using emotionally engaging narratives to associate positive feelings with it - instead, just associating positive feelings with effective giving, and leaving bread crumbs for people who want to explore Effective Altruism through brief mentions and links.



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, over 1K times. 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.


Another 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 reason-oriented community through Giving Games. In a Giving Game, participants in a workshop learn about a few pre-selected charities, think about and discuss their relative merits, and choose which charity will get a real donation, $10 per participant. 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. As you'll see from the link, it briefly mentions Effective Altruism, and focuses mainly on education in effective giving itself.


Such articles as the one in The Huffington Post, shared widely in social media, attest to the popularity of effective giving as a notion, separate from Effective Altruism itself. As you saw, it is immediately impactful in getting some people to give to effective charities, and highly likely gets others to think in this direction. I had a conversation with a number of leaders of local EA groups, for example with Alfredo Parra in Munich, excited about the possibility of translating and adapting this article to their local context, and all of you are free to do so as well - I encourage you to cite me/Intentional Insights in doing so, but if you can't, it's fine as well.


That gets to another point that Kerry and I discussed, namely the benefits of having some EAs who specialize in promoting ideas about effective giving, and more broadly integrating promotion of effective giving as something that EAs do in general. Some EAs can do the most good by working hard and devoting 10% of their money to charity. Some can do the most good by thinking hard about the big issues. Some can do the most good by growing the internal capacity and infrastructures of the movement, and getting worthy people on board. Others can do the most good by getting non-EAs to channel their money toward effective charities through effective marketing and persuasion tactics.


Intentional Insights orients toward providing the kind of content that can be easily adapted and shared by these EAs widely. It's a work in progress, to create and improve this content. We are also working with other EA meta-charities such as The Life You Can Save and others. Another area to work on is not only content creation, but content optimization and testing - I talked with Konrad Seifert from Geneva about testing our content at a university center there. Moreover, we should develop the infrastructure to integrate spreading effective giving into EA activities, something EA Outreach may potentially collaborate with us on, depending on further discussions.


So these are some initial thoughts, which I wanted to bring to the community for discussion. What do you think of this line of work, and what are your ideas for optimization? Thanks!


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 (12)

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 15 December 2015 01:23:11AM 20 points [-]


I enjoyed talking to you today. It was great that we had a chance to connect.

As you know, you did not seek permission to post the notes from our 30 minute Skype conversation on the EA forum. Since you did not set any expectation that our private conversation would be public, I consider this post to be a clear violation of trust. Given that the post is already up, I am fine with leaving it here, but I would recommend that in the future you get explicit permission before posting the details of a private conversation.

Furthermore, this post reads to me as extremely self-promoting, which continues a general theme I’ve noticed in your posts. You mention the name of your organization approximately every other paragraph and you seem to be trying hard to make it seem as though I endorse the work of Intentional Insights.

To be clear, I am not in a position to endorse Intentional Insights’ work. Let me know if you would like to discuss this in more detail.

The conversation we had stemmed from three general propositions: -Given the choice, I think you should promote Effective Giving as an idea instead of promoting Effective Altruism. I don’t think the tactics I’ve seen you use are appropriate for spreading EA at this time. -I argued that Effective Giving as an idea might be more easily spread than Effective Altruism because the call to action is more obvious. -I argued for a distinction between EA as a community and EA as a set of ideas. I argued that spreading ideas widely is likely to be fine but spreading communities widely is more uncertain.

Those three claims are the only claims I am willing to endorse right now. I made no claims about the effectiveness of your work. If this post commits me to anything that does not stem from one of the positions above please do not assume that I hold this position.

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 15 December 2015 04:02:46AM *  9 points [-]

Kerry, I see that I made a mistake in making this post without asking you, and that it violated your trust of a private conversation. My apologies.

Not to justify, but to explain: I was excited by the ideas we discussed, and wanted to share them broadly to get feedback from the EA community. I'm very interested in getting as much feedback as possible, as that is something that gives an opportunity to improve the ideas and flesh them out. I also wanted to give due credit to you for what I perceived as your part in creating these ideas.

For example, I appreciated the feedback given by ClaireZabel below, as that's not something I thought about much, and it's good to have that point in mind going forward.

However, looking back, I do recognize that I should have asked you first before sharing this in a public forum. Duly noted and updated.

Thanks for clarifying what your positions are, and I hope that nowhere in my original post did I state that you endorse Intentional Insights' work. I can see that I should have made that clear in the post, and will put an edit in the post to reflect that.

Regarding the self-promotional element: I include what we do specifically to illustrate the points that I am referring to. I tend to be strongly committed to doing what I said I would do, and it is natural to illustrate my intentions with the specifics of my actions. I hear that it might come off as self-promotional, and will work on tweaking the wording and content of my writing. Thanks for highlighting this failure mode in my writing, appreciate it!

Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt 15 December 2015 08:37:32AM 7 points [-]

Could you put a disclaimer at the top rather than the bottom? When reading it I over updated my model of "what Kerry thinks", then corrected all at once at the end. Sometimes surprise is useful rhetorically, but I don't think that's what's going on here. :)

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 15 December 2015 11:45:21AM 1 point [-]

Sure, I can do that - I moved the Edit up after the first paragraph, immediately after talking about the phone call.

Comment author: Tom_Ash  (EA Profile) 15 December 2015 07:42:48AM 4 points [-]

Excellent response Gleb. :)

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 15 December 2015 11:44:28AM 1 point [-]

Tom, thank you, I try to address my mistakes and update as quickly as possible :-)

Comment author: impala 15 December 2015 02:09:52PM 1 point [-]

What evidence would you (or the other involved in outreach via mass readership articles) cite for it working, besides the Facebook comment you mentioned?

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 15 December 2015 04:56:57PM 0 points [-]

Good question, and that's one of the things that has to be studied.

One of the things that can be cited is how widely it was read and shared on social media. That can be counted through the number of readers who visited the website and the number of times it was shared on social media, if those numbers are available. The social media shares is most relevant, as this indicates people are willing to put their personal social capital into sharing the article for their Facebook friends, Twitter followers, StumbleUpon followers etc. to read and evaluate them by.

Another is the case study approach of looking at the Facebook comment and other similar feedback.

This is the kind of initial evaluation that can be done most easily with existing mechanisms.

More resource-intensive evaluations would involve actual studies. I mentioned in the post how I talked with Konrad Seifert from Geneva about testing the impactfulness of effective giving messages at a university center there. If others are interested, this would be a quite valuable area of work to test the impactfulness of the content. I'd love to see RCT studies on this stuff, for example. There's fascinating studies that can be done, and I have some background in research as a tenure-track professor myself. If you know of anyone who can help out with this, suggestions would be welcomed :-)

Comment author: ClaireZabel 15 December 2015 12:16:16AM 1 point [-]

[x-posted from facebook] Seems somewhat misleading if we think only a small proportion of people should be earning to give, or focused on donating at all (e.g. https://80000hours.org/2015/07/80000-hours-thinks-that-only-a-small-proportion-of-people-should-earn-to-give-long-term/)

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 15 December 2015 12:21:04AM *  2 points [-]

Claire, good point about EAs earning to give, and I agree! This is why in the post, regarding EAs in particular, I state:

"That gets to another point that Kerry and I discussed, namely the benefits of having some EAs who specialize in promoting ideas about effective giving, and more broadly integrating promotion of effective giving as something that EAs do in general. Some EAs can do the most good by working hard and devoting 10% of their money to charity. Some can do the most good by thinking hard about the big issues. Some can do the most good by growing the internal capacity and infrastructures of the movement, and getting worthy people on board. Others can do the most good by getting non-EAs to channel their money toward effective charities through effective marketing and persuasion tactics."

Thus, the point of promoting effective giving is getting non-EA people who are already interested in giving to give to effective charities, not getting them to earn to give.

Thanks for catching that point of confusion, and we will work to make sure the messaging of "effective giving" does not imply "earning to give" as a necessary part of effective giving.

EDIT For those curious, the conversation continued on the Facebook group

Comment author: MalcolmOcean 16 December 2015 04:53:51AM 0 points [-]

I like the ideas here. I see a lot of potential value in having a core group of EAs who are focused on the movement itself and on cause prioritization, crucial considerations, etc... and then also trying to shift the mindset of the wider population of people-who-donate-to-things so that they tend to look at GiveWell's recommendations and so on... without trying to get those people to join the movement as a movement or whatever.

I will second the sentiment that this post seems super overmentiony of Intentional Insights. For a non-profit, it feels awfully self-interested. I'm not sure what I'd recommend instead exactly, but maybe if you're following the "do things + tell people" approach, shift your focus a bit more towards doing things.

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 16 December 2015 04:33:24PM 0 points [-]

Glad you support the ideas! I know we talked about chatting over Skype in early January, would be glad to chat about this as well.

Good point about shifting towards doing things and less about telling people! Will do :-)