“100% of participants in CE’s incubation program are excellent managers.” That’s the impression one could get reviewing surveys on participants’ preferences for the two-month program. Usually, nobody thinks that we should put an emphasis on management in our courses. To be fair, there are many good resources on managing people out there. Moreover, many participants have managed staff before.
Yet management is likely one of these skills for which people overestimate their own abilities.
Not too far off the famous experiment from the 1980s according to which 8 out of 10 drivers consider themselves above average. I definitely don’t fall under the illusion that I am a better driver than average (one friend avoids getting into a car with me after a road trip in Ireland… in my defense, they drive in the left lane). But, heck, I have definitely also overestimated my management skills in the past and still learn on a daily basis.
Here are some of the lessons on management we’ve learned at Charity Entrepreneurship – at times naturally, occasionally the hard way.
Charity entrepreneurship in many ways is a less stable career than a traditional job. Charities in their early days will have limited runways (often under six months). At any point, results could come in showing that an intervention is not worth continuing. On the other hand, value drift is an important consideration. Losing motivation to achieve altruistic impact happens more quickly than one would expect (see Empirical Data on Value Drift and Concrete Ways to Reduce Value Drift). Hence, it is better to donate more to effective causes now than to accumulate a large safety buffer that you might spend ineffectively in the case of value drift. So a question arises: how much personal runway or savings should someone have when becoming a charity entrepreneur?
Charity Entrepreneurship is part of the Effective Altruism movement. If you’re going through our incubation program, it’s likely that your potential donors, employees, partner organizations, and other stakeholders come from the effective altruism community.
While the basic premise of effective altruism seems simple, the set of ideas considered “common knowledge” among people heavily involved in effective altruism can be quite complicated. In some ways, we might conceptualize effective altruism as a field of study - it has a few frequently cited influential thinkers, a set of widely read canonical works, an internal jargon, and several diverging schools of thought. If you’re new to effective altruism, becoming well-versed in this contextual knowledge will help you communicate with other people in the movement more easily.
A “stakeholder” is anyone who has an interest in your non-profit. Some typical stakeholders you might encounter include:
How you interact with stakeholders depends on what type of role they play in your theory of change - in other words, how important they are in achieving your outcome.
Working With Your Co-Founder. How to Excel at Joint Decision-Making, Task Management, and Communications
Now, work can start. You picked a co-founder with shared values and goals, a complementary skill set and compatible psychology (see How to successfully pick a co-founder). Ahead of you are weeks, months, and years of work in scaling your charity from a small startup to an established organization. How you work with your co-founder will be decisive. This article outlines basic lessons for successful collaboration in day-to-day work, while another article sheds light on how to strengthen the relationship with your co-founder at a deeper level (see How to strengthen your co-founder relationship).
“Your co-founder relationship is like a marriage”. This common statement from experienced startup operators might sound like a stretch, yet there are undeniable similarities in these relationships. Like spouses, co-founders spend considerable time with each other, but instead of taking care of children, you are nurturing your upcoming organization which, in the case of charity entrepreneurship, could have a profound impact on the world.
Photo: Haven and Thom, co-founders of Fish Welfare Initiative
No pressure, but picking your co-founder is one of the most important decisions you will ever make as a charity entrepreneur. Only selecting your intervention might be more crucial than deciding who will be your partner in crime.
This article addresses three key questions about your co-founder selection:
In 2019, the Charity Entrepreneurship team graduated 13 alumni, who went on to launch six new charities, five of which implement interventions selected by our research program. How was this outcome accomplished, and how did these charities come into existence?
Mentors, advisors, board members… These types of supporters can add a lot to your charity startup. Yet it is essential to follow a few guidelines in terms of picking, managing and structuring them.
At the highest level, distinguish between two types of organizational structures:
“Why take this risk?” Mentioning at a family gathering that you would like to become a charity entrepreneur might trigger looks of concern and opposition. What about the high failure rate of startups, the low entry salaries, and the need to work around the clock? There are potential personal challenges related to charity entrepreneurship. Neglecting them would be dishonest. Yet often these challenges are either exaggerated or can be dealt with successfully.
Let’s go through them one by one:
Your charity startup just hit the ground running. You are passionate about your cause, you just gave a big talk at a conference, and you've set up a shiny website. All is looking great. Yet your organization might still fail: it might collapse or not have any impact. Here are six ways a charity startup might fail -- and how to prevent this scenario.
Helping hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries with an evidence-based and cost-effective program: that’s your ultimate goal as a charity entrepreneur. It’s not a coincidence that many benefits of becoming a charity entrepreneur are related to impact (see this article on the impact of CE). Yet the advantages of starting your effective non-profit go beyond impact. As a founder, you will grow in various ways.
Here are four advantages of becoming a charity entrepreneur besides impact:
We often get asked for advice about a charity idea somebody has had. Every charity and entrepreneur will need different advice, but in this post we will cover the most cross-applicable advice that virtually everybody could benefit from:
I have a tool for thinking that I call “steelman solitaire”. I have found that it comes to much better conclusions than doing “free-style” thinking, so I thought I should share it with more people. In summary, it consists of arguing with yourself in the program Workflowy, alternating between writing a steelman of an argument, a steelman of a counter-argument, a steelman of a counter-counter-argument, etc. (I will explain steelmanning later in the post; in brief, it is the opposite of a strawman argument, in that steelmanning presents the strongest possible version of an opposing view.) In this blog post I’ll first explain the broad steps, then list the benefits, and finally, go into more depth on how to do it.
Organizational self-confidence is seen as a very positive trait and is often embraced by new start-ups and nonprofits. The concept of self-skepticism is arguably as important but is often neglected. Self-skepticism cautions us to clearly measure our impact before declaring ourselves effective or expanding our organization. We believe that a healthy dose of this applied to the charity sector would make the world a much better place much faster.
Below is an outline of our organizational self-skepticism checklist.
First published at Charityscience.com in 2014
Many charities claim to accept and even enjoy feedback (both positive and critical), but I find that the reality is less straightforward. Most charities have two kinds of set-ups for feedback:
First published at Charityscience.com in 2015
When a charity is created most people think about the altruistic intentions behind its creation. They think that the founder wanted to improve the world or wanted to further a specific cause. While I think that this is true in nearly every case, there are also other strong motivations and sometimes these can interfere with or even supersede the organisation’s stated mission.
It was a tricky decision that Bill had been considering for months. He was an impact-focused EA, and although he thought his job was fairly high-impact he was pretty sure he was very replaceable. In fact, he was unsure he was even needed at the organization, since many of his tasks could have been done by a less experienced employee. And he was one of the five members of the senior team!
Written by: Joey Savoie
Time capping can be defined as fixing the number of hours for a certain task, research project or decision, and keeping our research within those bounds. Most tasks can be completed at different levels of depth and research itself is never-ending - a single topic could be researched in an hour, or could equally be the subject of an entire PhD. The same applies to website design, outreach, polishing or to the many other tasks that an organization engages in. Given tasks that are not time capped, people will generally spend more time doing what they find fun or intriguing, instead of what is best to put hours into in the long run. By setting a time cap on a task, we pre-determine how important that task is relative to other counterfactual tasks. This approach often gets more done, albeit at some cost of depth – often 90% of the value of tasks is captured by the first 10% of the effort.
There are a variety of ways to prepare for founding your own charity. There is, of course, the legal and bureaucratic work, but much more important is getting ready, skill and knowledge-wise. Many charities are founded on a whim or impulse, but the best charities are founded after considerable careful and deliberate thought.
“You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Although perhaps not the most exciting factor to consider, logistical difficulty is crucial. Many charities end up failing or failing to grow due to logistical reasons. So, particularly if you’re new to the field of charity entrepreneurship, it’s worth weighing in this factor when choosing an intervention.
“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”
- Margaret J. Wheatley
What are flow-through effects?
Your charity will have a direct impact, but it will also have many indirect flow-through effects, also known as second-order effects. For example, an organization distributing bednets might cause a reduction in malaria, but its second-order effect might be increased economic growth due to less loss of productivity from disease. One direct effect can set off an infinite chain of second-, third- and fourth-order effects, which might even surpass the direct impact of a charity.
“The difference between a charity that saves two million lives and a million lives is the same as the difference between one that never got started and one that saves a million.”
What is scalability?
In essence, scalability is about calculating the potential for your intervention to grow if given unlimited resources. It is considered very important in the business sector, but often forgotten in the nonprofit sector, with most public charities never surpassing $500,00 in annual expenses.
How often should you re-evaluate whether your charity is worth continuing?
Although it is crucial to do your best to disconfirm your charity’s impact and most people do not do this nearly enough, there is also such a thing as doing it too frequently. There will inevitably be fluctuation in the results of the evaluations, so day-to-day you may have ‘down days’ (or down months), even if the project is worthwhile overall. You might become demotivated if every day bad news comes in, you think you have to start again. Instead, we recommend setting specific re-evaluation points ahead of time e.g. every 6 months or yearly before you make the next year’s plan. That way on a day-to-day basis you can devote your energy and resources to making the plan work, feeling confident in its success, while knowing that you will critically assess your impact periodically and not end up wasting your whole career on a dead end.
“Insofar as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.”
- Karl Popper
Any money spent on an intervention that doesn’t work is money wasted. Money that could have saved lives. This is why evidence is so important - you’ve got to have a high level of confidence that the intervention is having the intended effect.