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.
We have written previously about the expected value of founding an impactful charity in direct terms, considering the largest and most direct impacts such as lives saved. However, these impacts are far from the only ones. Founding a new charity can impact your future ability to do good, your team's ability, and the charitable movement as a whole. We consider this collection of benefits the non-direct impact of charity entrepreneurship as a career. This post is about the impact of charity entrepreneurship on your team's ability to do good.
Founding a new organization has a wide range of effects on the charitable sector as a whole. If a charity is good, it can raise standards in a field, spread or stabilize key concepts, build the EA movement, or encourage the allocation of more resources to an area. There are hundreds of effects that a new charity can have on the sector as a whole, both positive and negative. This post covers a few of the most important positive ones.
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?
A focus on co-founder pairing and usable outputs for your charity (e.g. a fundraising plan)—these are the two tenets Charity Entrepreneurship’s (CE) 2020 incubation program for high-impact NGOs is built on. This allows participants to hit the ground running with their charity startup after only two months.
“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.
We have written previously about the expected value of founding an impactful charity, considering only the largest and most direct impacts. However, these are far from the only benefits. By founding a new charity, you can positively affect your and your team’s future ability to do good, as well as influence the charitable movement you support. We consider this collection of benefits to be the non-direct impact of charity entrepreneurship as a career. This post is about the impact of charity entrepreneurship on your future ability to do good.
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:
We’re often asked what you can do to increase your odds of being accepted into the Charity Entrepreneurship (CE) incubation program. While each person’s answer will be different given their background and traits, here are the three most common things people can do:
In this talk from EA Global 2018: London, Joey Savoie, Charity Entrepreneurship's director, discusses why charity entrepreneurship is one of the highest-impact things you can do. He also explains what we can do to help you start an effective organization.
Below you can find the full video and a transcript crossposted from effectivealtruism.org prepared and lightly edited by The Centre for Effective Altruism (huge thanks for their hard work).
You can share your thoughts about this talk on the EA Forum.
So, we are going to talk about charity entrepreneurship. But first, I'm going to take you to a slum of Lucknow.
Our charity incubation program is designed to teach you all the basics for starting a highly effective charity. For those who decide to start one of our incubated charities, there are many optional benefits after the program finishes. They aim to ease the transition into becoming a fully independent charity entrepreneur. Here are some of the benefits of starting an incubated charity:
In this post I am not going to argue that university is largely about signaling competence; Brian Caplan and many other writers have already provided a fairly in-depth look at that. What I am going to argue is that if your main reason for going to university is to signal competence, there are better ways to do it, particularly for EAs who have a lot of talent and dedication.
The first thing to consider is whether you need a job to prepare yourself for charity entrepreneurship (CE). A number of people have been surprised at the impact they can have relatively early in their career. In fact, we generally think that having the right goals and personality is far more important for CE than specific background experience or degrees.
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.
“I’m convinced that half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
-- Steve Jobs
If you are convinced that charity entrepreneurship might be a high-impact and satisfying career, the next question you might ask yourself is whether charity entrepreneurship is a good personal fit for you.
Starting a charity involves a lot more risk, stress, open-ended tasks, and heavier responsibility than most other jobs. We’ve listed the key personality traits and skills we think are necessary for a successful charity entrepreneur. The good news is, your personality is dynamic. You can cultivate certain traits if you want to, so if you do not have one of these it's not set in stone.
Successful charity entrepreneurs are:
There have been previous posts about the impact of founding a new GiveWell top charity, the impact of charity founding, and some of the results of charities founded by effective altruists. This post, however, focuses on a specific question I get a lot. Namely, why should EAs in particular start charities? This is especially a concern for many EAs who are younger or inexperienced.
Track record and tractability
Historically, some of the highest impact individuals in the EA movement and across the broader world have been people who founded effective charities. The difference between an average charity and the top charities is likely very large. Estimates for how large this difference is range from 10 to 1,000 times more impactful.
“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.