Last updated: 4th October, 2023
1. Why have a contact person?
The purpose is to make group members aware who they can talk to with problems like:
- Something that is making it difficult for them to participate in the group
- A conflict they’re having with another group member
- Personal or mental health struggles
- Concerns they have about another group member
See more about the benefits of a contact person in this post (Julia Wise and Catherine Low).
By default, in a small group the contact person will be whoever the visible organizer(s) are. As groups develop more, they may want to assign one or more contact people who aren’t necessarily also organizing events.
This role might have overlap with “thinking about how to generally make the group better and more welcoming,” but isn’t necessarily the same thing, and we’d like welcomingness to be seen as something that everyone has a part in, even if there are designated contact people.
2. Characteristics of a good contact person:
- Good listener
- Warm and empathetic
- Able to keep calm in stressful situations
- Willing to help where they can, but able to identify when a situation is too much for them and set boundaries or get outside help
- Good judgement around maintaining people’s privacy
- Has been around the group long enough that many group members are familiar with them
- Has some flexibility in their schedule to talk with people when things come up
- Background in mental health work or social services may be helpful
- If having more than one person, best to have a mix of genders
- Members may be more comfortable talking to someone of their own gender
- In a situation of sexual harassment, it can be helpful to have someone of the same gender confront the problem (a man talk to a man or a woman to a woman)
You will probably not find anyone who perfectly meets all the characteristics you might want in a contact person! Having someone who wants to do a good job and meets most of these characteristics is probably better than not having a contact person.
3. Making people aware
See Notes on codes of conduct by Julia Wise for ideas on simple, friendly ways to make group members aware of who they can talk to.
We encourage you to let your community members know CEA's Community Health team exists.
4. Other notes
- If group members recognize a problem, you don’t necessarily have to be the one to take action. There may be someone else who’s better-placed to have a difficult conversation, provide support, etc. Sometimes you may serve as a coordinator rather than the person taking direct action. One common thing is that group members notice a concern about another member but aren’t sure what to do to help them. Sometimes the best thing you can do is get in touch with someone who knows them better to say, “I noticed X seemed to be having a hard time / said something that worried me / isn’t acting like herself, but I don’t know her well — would you be comfortable talking to her to check in on how she’s doing?"
- If you don’t feel equipped or able to deal with the issue (e.g. if that particular topic is triggering for you), ask if you can put the person in touch with someone else in your group, or with me
- You will not always be able to help with a given problem. Sometimes the best you can do is listen, explain what you are able and unable to do, and try to provide ideas for where the person might go for further help.
- Respect any requests for confidentiality. You might need to clarify with the person who you can talk to about the issue, and what details you can share.
5. Getting additional help
a. CEA's community health team
Have a low bar to reach out to CEA's community health team
- they may be able to advise you on how to deal with the issue, or can brainstorm solutions with you
- you can suggest your group members talk to the community health team if appropriate
Catherine Low and Charlotte Darnell are the main people that are available to help group organisers and group members deal with issues.
Catherine has more experience with city, national, and professional groups and can be contacted by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), on the EA Groups slack, or anonymously through this form.
You can also fill in this form to reach all the Community Liaisons (this form can also be filled in anonymously).
b. External help
If the situation involves mental health issues, you may want to suggest they seek professional help (and you may wish to help them access that support, for example, helping them work out what their insurance covers or helping them make an appointment),
If the situation may have involved a crime, you may want to suggest they reach out to
- Legal help. Many countries have free hotlines that can help people navigate the legal and justice systems (e.g. sexual violence hotline in US, this list of legal hotlines in the UK)
- The Police
University groups may be able to contact their Campus Police or Student Services.
- The Mediator’s Handbook - I haven’t ended up doing mediation per se, but I found this book helpful for getting a sense for what kind of things mediators do and thinking about helping people who are in conflict.
- Helping someone who is having a panic attack - by BetterHelp
- Reducing risk from alcohol at events - by Julia Wise
- When a friend is feeling suicidal - by Nancy Schimelpfening - more about people you already know well
- What to do to help someone who may be suicidal - more about people you don’t know well
- Resource for communities after the death of a member - by Julia Wise
- Things that sometimes help if you have depression - by Scott Alexander, a psychiatrist and EA
- Things that sometimes help if you have anxiety - also by Scott Alexander
- EA Mental Health Navigators - can help match you to mental health services, provides an overview of mental health providers recommended by EAs, lists therapists and coaches in the EA community, and has a databank of mental health resources around the world.