A Guide to Early Stage EA Group-Building at Liberal Arts Colleges

post by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2019-07-02T12:53:23.752Z · EA · GW · 5 comments


  The Case
    a College EA group?
    a Liberal Arts EA group?
  Goals for LAC EA Groups
  The Challenge
    Minimal Prior Interest
    Campus Culture
  Successful Activities
    Giving Games
    (or 2-on-1) Coffees
    one-off speaker events
  Failed Activities
    EA pitch to philosophy classes [Oberlin EA]
    publicized events [Haverford EA]
  Proposed Activities
    EA TED talks event [Haverford EA]
  Building out the community
    High-Impact Career Fellowship [Haverford EA]
  Keeping the Community Engaged
    with college alumni [Haverford EA]
    discussion meetings*
    Talks [EA Wooster]
  Club Structure
    two organizers
    let the fire die out
  Funding and other resources
    Career Advising Center
    in the college or academic departments
    EA Groups
    EA resources
    Organizer Resources
  Questions & Feedback

For the most recent version of this guide, please visit this live google doc where organizers can contribute advice, new activities, and resources.


This guide aims to address two issues: 1) the challenges of early-stage community-building and 2) the challenges that small colleges like Liberal Arts Colleges (LACs) face. You can refer back to this post at different stages of initial community-building for activities tailored for groups with limited organizing capacity and/or membership. I hope this guide will be useful for small, new and LAC groups. I envision this as a resource group organizers can use in addition to resources like the Chapter Starter Pack and those found in the Resource Map.

The guide makes the case for EA college and LAC groups, suggested goals groups should have and the challenges that LAC and other small groups face. It then covers the initial stages of community-building: Recruiting, Building out the community (creating a core of actively engaged organizers and members) and finally, keeping that core engaged with the movement. Each section contains descriptions of successful and failed activities that various LAC EA groups have tried. At the end of each section additional resources are listed.

Most of the ideas of this post come from mine and previous organizers experiences at Haverford EA, with significant input from Haven at EA Oberlin and Pedro at EA Wooster. Events marked with an asterisk (*) either require more planning capacity, or are more likely to succeed with a more established group.

Thank you to Haven, Arjun, Pedro, Rebecca, James and Kevin for invaluable comments and suggestions!

The Case

Why a College EA group?

College and University EA groups help the EA movement grow by getting people at a pivotal stage in their career to move into high-impact career paths, volunteering and donating to effective charities. College EA groups can help transition passive EA supporters or sympathizers into more active and committed members. Colleges students have time and interest to invest in learning about EA, and are easy to recruit from due to the concentration effects of a college campus.

Why a Liberal Arts EA group?

Liberal Arts Colleges (LACs) are well-suited to find effective altruists for two reasons. First, many LACs have social/mission-driven goals and attract people who want to make a difference with their lives. Second, LACs tend to offer a diverse range of subjects to all students, giving them the opportunity to experiment and potentially change or alter their career path more easily than those at larger universities. However, Liberal Arts Colleges face some unique challenges that make it harder for groups to start, and, once started, to continue to exist.

Goals for LAC EA Groups


Group-Building Goals

The Challenge

1. Minimal Prior Interest

Smaller student population means fewer people who already know about EA, making it harder to kickstart the club. Running a club with a few members can be difficult. Most of the activities/events discussed in this guide are fairly low-energy events.

2. Oversaturation

LACs are often oversaturated with clubs, activities, sports and other commitments. You are competing for people’s time and energy. By getting first- and second years who have the time and energy to invest, you can maximize the chances of getting committed members who will be actively involved with the club. This guide suggests some of these activities in “Building Out the Community”.

3. Campus Culture

Currently, many LACs have a leftist culture where students prioritize domestic over international issues in their everyday activism and academic research, which makes it harder to get them on board with EA ideas. Leftist cultures sometimes have a negative view of EA’s ideas and methods as well. Bad first impressions last (at least until everyone in one generation has graduated), especially in smaller LACs (<3000 students)

Resources on 3: On the intersection of the two, SJ + EA: Extreme Poverty as a Social Justice Priority, Privilege + Earning to Give, An embarrassment of riches


Addresses Challenge #1 Minimal Prior Interest

[Not including your own social circles and friends - which some groups have been successful at, like EA Oberlin]

Successful Activities

Lightning Giving Games

(Images from EA Oberlin’s [top] and EA Wooster’s [boottom] Lightning Giving Games)

1-on-1 (or 2-on-1) Coffees

Resource: Guide to 1-on-1s [EA · GW]


Small, one-off speaker events

Failed Activities

5-min EA pitch to philosophy classes [Oberlin EA]

Highly publicized events [Haverford EA]

Based on past experience we would be extremely careful about hosting speakers that could be controversial.

Proposed Activities

Introductory EA TED talks event [Haverford EA]

We were planning on having an event where we watch a couple EA TED Talks and discuss them as a group (with snacks!). This might be a good event to do right after the activities fair and coffee 1-on-1’s.


Building out the community

Addresses Challenge #1 Minimal Prior Interest & #2 Oversaturation (and a little bit of #3 - Leftist Culture)

6-Week High-Impact Career Fellowship [Haverford EA]

Why do a fellowship?

Logistics and Content of the Haverford Fellowship


Keeping the Community Engaged

Addresses Challenge #2 Oversaturation

Attending EAGx/EAGs

Interacting with college alumni [Haverford EA]

Weekly discussion meetings*

These can be very valuable. There are plenty of resources available to help plan them out, and they are a staple EA club activity.

Low attendance [Haverford EA]

Good attendance [EA Wooster]

Lightning Talks [EA Wooster]

The email:

We strongly encourage you to pick an article from one of our recommended resources, as one of the main goals of this activity is to get you to be familiar with the resources in Effective Altruism.

Here is the list of recommended resources:


Club Structure

There are many models for club structure. Oxford EA’s 3 Tiers Model is a useful starting point as it illustrates how to prioritize tasks according to group size. This section will not delve too deeply into any one model, but rather point out some important points for any club.

Have two organizers

Don’t let the fire die out

Be realistic

Get feedback

Keep records


Funding and other resources

Addresses Challenge #1 Minimal Prior Interest and #2 Oversaturation

CEA offers funding for groups but there are plenty of funding opportunities within your college as well. Getting these resources frees up CEA money for groups who wouldn’t be able to get funding otherwise. There will also be many non-monetary resources, like social capital and access to mailing lists to help with outreach.

The Career Advising Center

Haverford EA runs our High Impact Career Fellowship in collaboration with Haverford's Career Advising Center

Co-Hosting Activities

Co-host events with others if your organizing team is small to increase your reach and reduce the workload of organizing. Events that are good to co-host are: socials, speakers and discussion meetings,

Tips for Co-Hosting

Centers in the college or academic departments

Local EA Groups


General EA resources

Student Organizer Resources

Questions & Feedback

In the spirit of feedback, if you found this post helpful (or not) please let me know! I would be interested in which sections or activities people found most valuable. If you have any questions, comments or concerns feel free to reach out to me (Vaidehi) on messenger, the forum, the google doc or email (vaidehiagarwalla@gmail.com).


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by KathrynMecrow · 2019-07-03T18:28:04.763Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi there! This document is excellent. May I share it on our Giving Games Page and potentially cross post it on the Giving Games Blog? Assembling use-cases is really great for our other facilitators to learn from. Kathryn (Project Lead on Giving Games).

Replies from: vaidehi_agarwalla
comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2019-07-03T19:26:37.848Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Kathryn - thank you! And yes, definitely! Let me know if you or anyone you share it with has any questions!

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-07-04T02:34:04.968Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the detailed writeup!

You mentioned some difficulty in getting people from the "periphery" to the "middle" with discussion groups and other activities. This is a common feature of EA groups (certainly the two that I've run).

Some things I've found to be helpful:

  • More meetups with students outside your college. Even if there isn't an EAGx in your area, there might be another college EA group a reasonable distance away, such that you could take a day trip to their school (or vice/versa), or meet at a location in the middle. Examples:
    • The Yale group visited the Harvard group the night before the 2014 Yale/Harvard football game (a time when lots of students travel from one school to the other).
    • The Madison (WI) and Chicago groups had a meetup at a vegan restaurant between the two cities.
  • Encouraging group members to follow EA resources outside the local group -- for example, inviting them to the main EA Facebook group, sending a list of EA Twitter accounts (e.g. Rob Wiblin, Kelsey Piper), recommending the 80,000 Hours podcast, or signing them up for the EA Newsletter [? · GW] (with their permission).

What both of these have in common: I suspect that identifying as a member of the EA community is much easier when you see it as a community, rather than a personal philosophy. It's tough to adapt an unusual, self-sacrificing set of moral principles held by only a few other people you know; it's easier to do so in a context where you see something EA-related pop up in your life every few days, even during your summer break, and EA becomes just "a normal thing in the world" for you.

(This seems likely to be true for almost any other activity; someone who only ever plays the violin for ~4 hours/week in a casual college string quartet probably won't play as much after college as someone who also follows lots of fun violin YouTube channels and listens to violin-centric playlists while they study. I don't have empirical evidence for these assumptions, though.)

Replies from: vaidehi_agarwalla
comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2019-07-04T03:23:51.830Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Aaron, Thanks for your comment - I think feeling like a member of the community is really key, and it's something that was definitely in the back of my mind as I wrote this (I even mentioned co-hosting events aand reaching out to nearby EA groups) but never explicitly mentioned, and it seems valuable to do so. Could I add this point and your examples to the google doc?

Replies from: aarongertler
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-07-04T09:58:44.923Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sure! Anything I write on the Forum can be used elsewhere.