This is the fifth post in a series on lessons I learned while starting a student group almost from scratch.
Looking to start an EA student group? Please get in touch if you’d like! Starting a student group is a great way to improve the world and you’ll learn a lot doing it. I’m always happy to help new student groups in whatever way I can.
One easy way that HEA achieved suprising or impressive-seeming things is that we reached out to lots of speakers. A second is that we had a ton of support from folks who weren’t in our “core audience” of Harvard students. Both Harvard faculty and other EA-minded people gave us huge amounts of information, technical assistance, introductions, and even offers of funding if we needed it.
An incomplete list of things that we’ve needed non-student help for:
Our amazing faculty adviser Nir gave us a lot of suggestions and introductions to speakers, checked in periodically when we were having organizational problems, gave us advice on hosting speakers, and was generally all-around ridiculously helpful.
HEA was actually required to have a faculty adviser per Harvard’s regulations, but I highly recommend having one even if your school doesn’t require you to—you can invite a sympathetic professor to be your official adviser and then meet with them, ask them advice by email, or whatever works for you.
Other Harvard faculty mentioned our activities in their classes, advertised our speakers, donated to our fundraiser, or had discussions over dinner with our members. These were all immensely helpful. In retrospect I wish we had tried to interact with more faculty, and more closely, than we did—I think many of them would have been happy to help even more.
If you don’t know where to look for faculty, try the professors of philosophy (especially ethics), economics (especially development), public health (especially medical ethics), and psychology (especially moral psychology). Also try emailing me, as I may be able to connect you with other folks nearby.
Jeff and Julia usually give the first talk of every semester, introducing new members to the ideas of effective altruism. Since they’re more relatable to college students than HEA’s typical speakers are (many of whom are professors or nonprofit executives), they’re great at providing a friendly and welcoming introduction to effective altruism.
An (anonymous) local effective altruist sponsored a matching challenge for our first winter fundraiser, which made it much more credible and much more motivating for people to donate. This made the fundraiser way more exciting both to the students running it and to the folks who donated.
Another supporter offered us a substantial amount of money in back-up funds if the Harvard grants that we were applying for didn’t come through. Although we didn’t end up needing the funds last year, it was very helpful to be able to promise speakers with certainty that we’d be able to reimburse their travel and lodging expenses.
Other folks from the local Boston EA group came to our talks, advertised them to their friends, donated to our fundraiser, let us know when interesting speakers were passing through Boston, and generally provided a ton of miscellaneous advice and help.
I can’t speak for other kinds of student groups, but if you’re starting an effective altruism student group in particular, finding people who are willing to help is pretty easy—just post in the Facebook group or email me and I’ll put you in touch with folks who can help!