Starting a local group is really easy to do, a lot of fun and you meet some amazing people. And of course you can have a huge huge impact on the world by encouraging people to do good and to think more carefully about how they do good.
I started organising regular Giving What We Can social events in London in the summer of 2013. I had for a while been helping organise irregular events, then, one day, I thought why not try something a little different. I arranged an evening at a pub with a friend, created a Giving What We Can social Facebook event and invited anyone who I thought might be interested. It went well and I have been creating infrequent social events ever since.
I recently came to the rather surprising realisation that the Giving What We Can London group was growing quite fast. This was particularly curious because for quite a while I had been putting in less than 30 minutes a month. Essentially the only organising I had been doing was taking the responsibility to choose a time and place for a social event and posting this on Meetup.com and Facebook about once a month.
Now perhaps it is just chance that the group has grown of late, some twist of fate or flimsy whim of the gods. But either way it was suggested that I write my tips down on paper (well screen). The recipe below describes how I have organised things in London. Everywhere is different but I hope some of this is useful to someone.
The rest of the article from hereon in has been cross-posted to the EA Wikipedia so that others can add their advice. So to see the most up-to-date version go here.
How to run a local Giving What We Can chapter in a minimal amount of time
Starting a local group is very high value and very easy. This page is aimed at non-students living in a city that does not already have a Giving What We Can group, who may not have much time to put into growing a group but who will be in the same city for a prolonged period of time. This post does not set out the ideal way to run a local group but sets out how to run and grow a group if optimising for investing a minimal amount of time.
Building a group – first event
Create a Facebook event for a social event and invite friends of yours who you think might be interested. Have at least one friend who can definitely come, so if your event is not popular you are not sitting alone for an evening. Choose a time (e.g. evening/weekend) and place (e.g. pub/bar/café/arts centre/etc) that people should be able to make.
Turn up and have a pleasant evening.
Well done - you have started a local group!! It should take about 20 minutes to organise a first event. Once this is done you can use Facebook to create future events and automatically invite all the same people by going to the first event on Facebook and clicking " ••• " then clicking "copy event".
Create a Meetup.com group and/or create a Facebook group and/or start and email list and/or find other places online to post events. It is useful to have an online platform which can gradually grow in membership and from which events can be publicised. A good online platform (I highly recommend Meetup.com) will help your group grow without you having to do extra work or publicity. Posting about each event in more places will help your group grow faster but will take some a little bit of extra time on a regular basis to copy and paste across the event details. Giving What We Can London posts all events on Meetup and on Facebook. See below for more advice on different online platforms.
Host more social events. See below for advice on running events. Make sure events are posted on all the sites that you are using (Facebook/Meetup/etc).
Once you have an online platform that people can join and be invited to events, then you can start publicising it. Below are some very simple quick easy ways of publicising your group:
Spread through word of mouth. Encouraging people who turn up to bring friends and to add people to the online groups is crucial.
Let the Effective Altruism community know that you exist. Post about your new group in the EA Facebook page. List your group on the EA Hub. Maybe even add the occasional post on to the EA Forum meta page.
Let other groups know you exist. Tell the people who run other groups whose members might be interested about your group. Ideally tell them about a specific relevant upcoming event. People to tell would be local groups for: Less Wrong, students, philosophy, charity, atheist and humanists, religions, RESULTS, etc.
Building a group – try things
Trying something slightly different every few months is low cost and will allow you to gradually work out what works best in your city. You can experiment with:
Frequent / infrequent events.
Regular times / ad hoc times.
Evenings / weekends.
East side of town / west side of town.
Different ways of describing the event. Etc.
Building a group – final words
And that is it – SUCCESS – you should now have a growing thriving local group. And none of the steps above should have taken you very long to do.
Remember, you can spread this work out over as much time as needed. In London this whole process was spread out over about a year and took a small amount of time each month. Alternatively you can take a single evening to kickstart the process and do all of the above steps at once.
Below is more advice to make sure that events run smoothly and that the group does not fail.
Additional tips – Choosing online platforms
Meetup.com has a cost but it has really helped the EA London group grow. It may not work for your city but it is likely to be worth trying. Keep the description snappy, make sure you add lots of popular “labels” so that your event will be found.
A Facebook group (not a Facebook page) lets people add their friends to the group and events turn up on people’s Facebook newsfeed. If you create a Facebook group add anyone who you think would be interested and then when you create future events create them from the Facebook group so people in the group are automatically invited.
Other platforms. Consider looking for other websites where events are posted. For example Eventbrite or Time Out or Yelp. Try googling “how to meet new people in [city]” or “finding interesting events in [city]” and seeing what websites appear prominent.
Effective Altruism and Giving What We Can London Facebook group (click About to see the description. Feel free to copy and paste this)
Additional tips – Preparing for an event
If trying to run a group with minimal time and effort a simple social event is the easiest to organise. People turn up when they want and discuss whatever takes their fancy, often including effective altruism.
Choose a time. In London we tend to meet at 7pm on a weekday evenings. Increase the regularity of events as the group grows. In London we started off with events every few months, then every other month, then every month, and now a few times a month. As the group grows having a fixed time for events (Eg. 1st Tuesday of each month) can help people plan around them.
Choose a place. In London we tend to meet in a centrally located pub. The ideal location will be somewhere cheap, without background music, with some vegetarian/vegan foodstuffs where space can be pre-booked.
Theme. People are more likely to attend events and enjoy events more if each event has a specific theme. It helps give people something to discuss and a reason to talk about Effective Altruism topics as well as educating people about the key questions that underpin the EA movement. Put a list of interesting questions in the event description. (Optionally print of some articles that are connected to the theme. This can help spark interest and conversation but can also be a sizeable time sink.)
Event description. Remember that your target audience for the description is not people who turn up every week but the people most likely to be persuaded to turn up with a good event description (i.e. new people or people who have only attended once). Be welcoming. Describe something about effective altruism. Add a phone number so people can find you. Make it clear that people can turn up at any time.
Print signs. Have signs so people can find you. Example.
Have leaflets. The main benefit here is for people who have been brought along by a friend or by word of mouth and are keen to sign up on Facebook / Meetup / etc. A small piece of paper with a short explanation of effective altruism and a link to any Facebook / Meetup / etc groups would suffice.
Be welcoming, friendly, hospitable, nice and so on. Talk to the new people. Explain effective altruism. Smile.
Ask for feedback from attendees as to how they found the event.
Suggest people move around. Feedback has suggested that it is useful to walk about at the half way point of an event and say: “Hi everyone. Sometimes at events like this people end up talking to the same person or group of people the whole evening and wish they had met more of the wonderful people here. So I want to suggest that you move about, now or in a few minutes. Just saying this to prompt you or to give you an excuse to get up and move around and meet more people”.
Zero-tolerance to any offensive or off-putting behaviour.
At first you do have to turn up to your own events – although once you have a few regulars this is a relatively easy task to pass on to someone else if you need to.
Additional tips – Avoiding failure
Do not get disheartened. Most EA groups that have fizzled out have done so because the leaders have had limited success at growing the group, have felt disheartened and given up. To avoid this:
Aim low and you will not be disappointed.
Be aware of the huge potential benefit of EA outreach. Read haste consideration and do a back of the envelope calculation.
Have fun. Make sure you enjoy the events. Do not get stressed organising things - organise things at your convenience. Finding a co-organiser may help.
Put less time into running the group (see below).
Problem: Feeling like this is a sub-optimal use of time. Put less time in but keep events going. Eg have events every 2 months. Copy and paste the same event description for each event. Organise them at your convenience (oh I am meetup up with a friend that evening anyway so I can make it an EA event and invite others). If people ask for more events then suggest they organise them. If necessary try to hand over (see below).
Handovers can be difficult (without significant effort). If you think there is a high chance that you will leave a town in less than a year then maybe don’t start a group like this. Ask lots of people and pressure them into helping. Write a very detailed handover note with everything you can think of.
Problem: Group does not grow at all. Bigger groups grow faster – if the group is not growing you could try some of the additional things to do with extra time that are listed below. If you can or find someone to organise one big event – such as a famous talker that may be all the group needs.
Additional tips – Things to do with extra time
Speaker events. A single big well publicised event can help group the group significantly. In London we had Peter Singer come and talk to a crowd of 400 and this helped the group take off (event).
Responding to emails and communication. As the group leader your main time sink after creating (and attending) the event each month or so will be responding to emails form people who are interested in Giving What We Can. The easy thing to do is to ignore these or send a standard message to people. Being polite and responding to individual emails is likely to be a useful way to spend extra time.
Keep trying things. With more time your experiments into how best to run the group can be bigger and more rigorous. You can trial different kinds of events or having a to do list with tasks that anyone can take on or sending a personal message to new members and so on.