START A GROUP

What is Involved in Running a Group? (Uni Groups)

Published 18th September 2019

Image: EA NTNU

Contents

Goals for Uni Groups

There are a number of different types of uni groups. To work out what type of group is suitable for your university, consider:

  • The goals you have for your group
  • The amount of time and energy you have available
  • The number of people already interested in effective altruism

Possible goals your group could have include:

  • Introducing new people to the ideas of effective altruism
  • Giving existing EAs the advice and resources they need to become more effective
  • Creating a warm, tight-knit community to support members in their efforts to do good

If there are quite a few people at your university who are already interested in EA, it might be better to focus on supporting these people. If effective altruism is relatively unknown, it might be more important to focus on outreach to new people.

Different groups have very different goals, but the most common goals of EA groups are assisting EAs to adopt effective career paths, recruiting new people to EA, and fostering a welcoming community (from the Local Group Survey 2019), as shown below.

If you happen to gather members whose priorities substantially differ from yours, you may need to re-evaluate.

Types of Uni Groups

Formal groups

Being recognised as a student organisation gives you certain privileges, which may include:

  • Having a stall at the clubs fair, a day where groups recruit new members from the student population
  • Applying for funding
  • Booking rooms
  • Using the university logo in advertising (check with your university before doing this)
  • Being featured in student papers
  • Appearing in the university’s directory of clubs/societies

Formal groups put on a variety of events, often including discussions, workshops, social events, and talks. They usually engage in outreach to people new to EA and help club members fulfil their effective altruism goals and gain more familiarity with the movement.

Most EA uni groups are formal groups.

Casual groups

If you already know EAs at your university, you can meet up with them every now and then without worrying about outreach or complex programming. Members of casual groups hang out, discuss the movement, and support each other’s career plans. You may not even have to register as an official club with your university, though you should be careful not to violate any regulations. This is a good option if you’re very pressed for time, and it can turn into something more ambitious if your organising capacity increases later.

UC San Diego runs a casual group.

Fellowships

Multi-session courses run for a small group of admitted participants, usually advertised as fellowships, can be an excellent way to kickstart recruitment and quickly educate people who are new to EA. Some organisers begin their groups as only a fellowship and afterwards develop additional club activities with the help of the most committed fellows.

Fellowships may have more consistent attendance than regular clubs, but they require enough initial advertisement to reach enough applicants.

A fellowship might be a good way of starting a group if your group organisers:

  • Are confident at public speaking and facilitating discussions
  • Have plenty of time before and during the semester to plan and execute the fellowship
  • Have good organisational skills
  • Are very familiar with effective altruism concepts

Fellowships are usually advertised as prestigious and selective, and often require a high level of commitment from participants. Therefore, it is important that you only commit to running a fellowship if you are confident you can organise it reliably and meet participants’ expectations throughout its duration.

See also our guide to running an EA fellowship.

EA University of Houston successfully started their group with a fellowship.

City-uni partnership

Some groups hold events that are open to both students and EAs from the surrounding community.

The simplest form of a city-uni partnership is advertising events of a pre-existing city group to local university students, or advertising events of a pre-existing university group to local non-students. If you are a student at a university near an active city group, talk to the organisers of the city group to see if they would support you advertising their events to your fellow students. Some city groups have difficulty finding suitable venues for their events; if you can host events open to the general public in university spaces, this can be a valuable resource for your local city group.

Note that students and non-students often have different preferences for the style, location, and time of events, so a city-uni partnership needs to carefully balance these adequately. Particularly, some people may initially be reluctant to attend events at which they would be one of very few non-students.

In areas with distinct city and university groups, it is often healthy for the groups to host some events collaboratively even if they have separate leadership and do not usually have much overlap in attendees. These events can be especially helpful to students who are able to network with more experienced EAs. As well, they can increase the likelihood that students will attend the city group if they remain in the area after graduation or during a summer in which their university group is not meeting.

EA Wellington formed their group as a city-uni partnership.

EA Cambridge is based at the university, but tries to make most of their events accessible to non-students and also runs a lot of events specifically for non-students.

EA ANU used to act as a city-uni partnership but later chose to split the non-students off into a separate EA Canberra group.

Who Should Start a Group?

Starting a uni group is a good idea if you:

  • Are knowledgeable and passionate about EA
  • Are friendly and enthusiastic about helping others to learn about effective altruism and be involved in your club and the movement
  • Have enough time available to reliably organise group activities
  • Have enough time available to recruit new members, so that the group can grow and continue after you graduate
  • Have another co-organiser to help run the group
  • Are not about to graduate
  • Are resilient in the face of challenges!

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t start a group if the above don’t all apply to you—you just might face more difficulties in getting the group off the ground. Some successful groups have been started by people in their senior year, and many groups start with just one organiser. In most cases, there’s no harm done if you try to start a group and it doesn’t take off, yet there could be a large impact if you succeed.

Tasks Involved

The time commitment for running a group depends on what you’re planning to do with it. Some groups just meet casually every now and then socially and for discussions, while others run extensive outreach campaigns, retreats, or large events. Remember that starting a group isn’t all-or-nothing: if you can’t currently run anything fancy, you can still introduce new people to the movement and support other EAs in your community in whatever ways you have time for. Along the way, you may find new members who want to help you plan more things!

At bare minimum, your group’s leadership needs the capacity to:

  • Handle paperwork, including the official registration of the club if you are a formal group
  • Handle receipts and other financial matters, such as requesting funding, if your activities involve purchases of food or other items
  • Understand and comply with university policies
  • Take care of any other logistics involved in the activities you deem most important (this might involve advertising events, booking meeting spaces, or buying food)
  • Advertise your group at clubs fairs (also called Freshers Fair, Activities Fair or Orientation) if you are a formal group

Before you start a club, make sure you and your fellow organisers can handle the workload involved on top of your classes, jobs, internships, and other activities. Remember that people usually underestimate how long it takes to do tasks (the planning fallacy)! This shouldn’t be a problem if there are several of you, you’re not trying anything overly ambitious, and you remain flexible. While some university clubs hold many large events, it is also very valuable to have a small uni group that simply acts as a place for interested people to discuss ideas.

If you’re founding a club by yourself, you may find yourself overwhelmed. Don’t feel bad if you decide you’re too busy to start a group or realise after doing so that you can’t manage the workload. You’re likely to go on to bigger, better, higher-impact things after you graduate. If you burn out now, you might be unable to take advantage of future opportunities.

After the club’s basic functions are taken care of, spare capacity can be used to:

  • Expand advertising efforts
  • Manage a web presence and social media
  • Plan special events such as retreats, career workshops, and speakers
  • Run special campaigns and programs such as fellowships, pledge drives, and fundraisers

If you’re having trouble managing the workload, delegate where you can and reach out for support. Notice where you are being unnecessarily meticulous and where you can drop some responsibilities. Focus on the club’s core activities by making your plans less ambitious and by letting go of less crucial programming.

Co-organisers

Working with a co-organiser lets you share the tasks of starting and running a group, and also can be good for your motivation. If you don’t have co-organisers, you may still want to talk through your plans with friends or group organisers from other universities before implementing them, just to get another perspective.

You can find potential co-organisers by checking for existing EAs in your area, which might involve some of the following tasks.

  • Ask your friends who are interested in effective altruism and would be open to helping you out to get the ball rolling
  • Ask existing EA connections if they know anyone else in your area
  • Check if any members of a local city group are staff or students at your university. Find groups here.
  • Search for individual profiles on the EA Hub.
  • Put up posters around the university which say “Have you heard of Effective Altruism? If so, contact us!” (with an official looking email address). The first EA NTNU organiser found co-organisers this way during the term before they started the group
  • If you have the capacity to run a clubs fair by yourself, look for people who already know about effective altruism that might be good candidates. Schedule one-on-one chats with them to talk more about their interest in effective altruism and whether they’d be interested in helping to organise

If none of these options work out and you have the capacity, you could host a few smaller events yourself and get people with little or no prior knowledge of effective altruism involved.

To officially register a group with your university, you will probably need several people to be members of the group and to take positions on the committee. If you don’t have sufficient numbers you can ask friends to put their name down, just make sure you are upfront about what they will need to do, and what the procedure is for updating the committee member names when you do have more members.

It is a good idea to ask a friend or two to come to the first event with you for moral support and to make the group seem larger if few people show up. Remember that your group will introduce new people to EA, so you might wind up with interested co-organisers after you create it!

However, it is best not to ask people who are not particularly committed to effective altruism to become co-organisers or for help with important tasks because they’re more likely to flake, cut corners, make decisions that don’t align with your goals, and hurt the club’s reputation by appearing unenthusiastic, no matter how good their intentions may be. A prudent idea is to make a list of all the requirements you want your co-organiser(s) to have. This could include weekly time commitments, level of knowledge of EA, how often you want them to stay in communication with you, etc. It is sometimes better to complete tasks yourself than to delegate to people who aren’t going to do a quality job.

When you do have a group of organisers, it is worth investing time into ensuring the team works well together.

Once you’ve decided to run a group (with or without co-organisers), it is a good idea for your outward-facing communication to be confident—present as though your group already exists, rather than be too tentative. For instance, if you post on social media or send out emails saying “We are trying to start this new group”, people might not be excited to join; so, instead state what the group is about or what events are coming up.

Your Final Year of University

About 40% of groups believe that their group is more likely than not to stop running after the current organisers leave (2019 Local Group Survey). This indicates that recruiting new organisers is a common problem for groups.

Some groups take several years before they are firmly established. You should consider whether you’ll be around for long enough to guide your group to maturity and whether you have a competent successor who can take things over when you leave. It’s very common for groups to go defunct when skilled organisers graduate, so if you will be graduating soon, focus on recruiting younger students and pick out and train future organisers as early as you can. This could even be your most important task as a group organiser.

Learn more about preparing to hand over leadership.


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