How to Pitch your Project to Effective Altruists

Yesterday, an animal rights activist asked me how to pitch his project to effective altruists. My considered suggestion is:

  1. Engage EAs on their terms - state your values and jointly plan a strategy
  2. Get help measuring impact
  3. Share your expertise and experience with the EA movement
  4. Make your project transparent

1. Engage EAs on their terms

It is very uncommon for EAs to quickly come to support your plan. Rather, EAs will usually support you by offering unsolicited advice about how you might change your plan. This is because:

  1. EAs are not just looking for a good project, they are looking for the best project to support
  2. EAs are frequently pitched charities that are ineffective or have little scientific evidence of effectiveness.
  3. Most EAs have a short list of charities that they believe to be the most worth supporting, and change their mind mostly on the basis of expert evaluation.

This is because EAs think in terms of values and strategies. To talk to EAs, think of a goal - a way that you want the world to be. EAs will want to know why you're doing, and to poke and prod it to make sure that it's the best thing, compared to available alternatives.

If your reasons are good, then you will be proud to say if my plan is best, then you will join mine, and if not, I will join yours. Conversely, if you cannot make a persuasive case that your project is important, then EAs will not support you.

2. Get help measuring impact

Effective altruists know a lot about data science, biases and consequentialism. You can flatter EAs by consulting them about how to measure your project against its goals.

3. Share your expertise and experience

EAs do not know everything. They are resourceful and strategically-minded, and so they will often make provisional evaluations of projects that are quite far from their areas of expertise. This can often give the impression that EAs think they know everything. But they know they don't know everything, they just believe in the importance of an informed estimation. Many EAs also suffer the inferiority complex of an armchair philosopher who lacks concrete domain knowledge - one can have all the expertise in the world about transparency and measurement, and it does little good without the implicit knowledge that comes from experience in nonprofit organisations. Experts in poverty, animal welfare, advocacy, campaigning, lobbying, marketing and numerous other areas greatly inform EA discussion, and those that can talk in the EA concepts of measurement and transparency are worth their weight in gold.

Dan Dennett

4. Make your project transparent

Most of all, the transparency of your organisation will make or break its relationship with the EA movement. To the EA movement, it matters that your project is effective, and likely to succeed, but less than you might think. Even if your project fails, so long as it can do so in a cheap, transparent and informative way, then EAs stand to learn from the interaction. If your progress reports are transparent, they may help EAs to better design their own projects, and better evaluate and support projects like your own.

To an activist looking to link in with EAs, there are no preconditions or guidelines for collaboration with EAs, but to get the most out of the interaction: engage on their terms, get help measuring impact, share your expertise and experience and make your project transparent.