Introductory fellowship: guide to running and planning

Introductory fellowship: guide to running and planning

Last updated: 4th October, 2023. We plan to update this page further in the coming months.

1. What is an introduction fellowship?

An EA Introduction fellowship is an 8-week program that aims to introduce people who are not familiar with effective altruism core principles and ideas. It often consists of (i) 1-1.5hr readings that participants will complete in their own time, and (ii) weekly discussion groups of 4-8 people that are moderated by someone who is more experienced.

2. Should you run a fellowship?

Fellowships take a significant amount of time to run, and poorly-run fellowships run the risk of putting off people who might otherwise be interested in EA, so we encourage you to think carefully about whether your group is well-suited to run one. However, they are ran by the majority of groups from all over the world and are often cited as the most successful part of a group.

A fellowship is often more successful if you have some of the following characteristics, however, we would usually still recommend you run them if you don’t fit the bullet points below. If you feel unsure, we recommend reaching out to to chat.

  • Feel prepared to engage with public speaking and facilitating discussions
  • Have sufficient time to plan and execute the fellowship (minimum 4 hours per week)
  • Have good organisational skills
  • Are very familiar with EA

If you are unsure about whether you are able to/should be running an introduction fellowship with your group, we encourage you to reach out to other members of the EA community. See key contacts for who to message, though is a safe bet too! If you'd like your group members to be able to attend a fellowship, but you don't want to run one right now, you can recommend you sign up for EA Virtual Programs with the other interested people. Even if you already know EA in some detail, we think it’s often beneficial for people in the same university/potential group to participate together - you can request to be put in the same cohort. Additionally, you and your group members could still meet up to discuss the program in-person even if you’re doing the program virtually!

3. Pre-fellowship preparation

a. Format

Different groups use different formats. Here are three options:

  1. The most common option: Accept many applicants from a pool and split them into groups of 2-5 fellows. Assign a facilitator to each group. Ensure you have thoroughly reviewed the facilitation techniques and managing group conversations page. The groups can meet at different times of the week for weekly discussions; we recommend using the useful online tools page for assistance with this. Groups using this model often have social events for all their fellows. Some groups have found it useful to put participants who seem equally engaged together.
  2. Invite approximately 15 people from a pool of applicants to attend weekly discussions. During the discussions, participants split out into smaller breakout groups, each with a facilitator (but the groups and the facilitators can change every week). It can be useful to take attendance here and build 1:1 relationships.
  3. Run the fellowship through a series of regular one-on-one meetings (or one-on-two meetings). The facilitator’s time commitment is greater with this model, but some groups report that 1-1 dynamics feel more warm and supportive than large group discussions. Additionally, facilitators can tailor the programme to the individuals involved. Some groups also use a combination of 1:1 meetings and group meetings; some also have meetings are over an hour.

b. Recruiting people to run sessions (‘facilitators’)

If you don’t already, you need to make sure you have enough people to run the discussion sessions. This is much less commitment than your role of organising the program. The time commitment for these people is ~24 hours over ~10 weeks : (i) 3 hour onboarding before the program; (ii) 8 weeks x (1 hours prep + 1 hours session + 30 minute misc); (iii) 1 hour feedback after the program.

You should ask people who have the following characteristics (i) Friendly and nice - essential; (ii) understanding of the fundamentals of EA - essential; (iii) deeper understanding of EA - highly desirable; (iv) Reliable - highly desirable; (v) someone you’d be very happy to introduce someone new to EA to - highly desirable.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a lot of facilitators. But it is often better to err on the side of having fewer excellent facilitators than inviting extra people on the margin who might not meet all the criteria above. Email them well ahead of time, politely asking if they’d like to help out, pointing out some of the benefits of doing so. Be clear about what it will involve.

When you’ve recruited the facilitators, you should onboard them. Send the facilitators the curriculum and guide to running sessions. After they’ve had some time to read those documents, meet them, emphasise the most important points again to them, encourage them, and answer any questions they have. Make it clear that you’re always happy to hear from them. Let them know how you’ll be communicating with them - will you use Slack, will you have a weekly meeting with them, etc.

Ideally, facilitators would be meeting up with each other and other core organizers every week to discuss how things are going. This could include conversations about what they need to do in prep of next week, what discussions came up or are likely to come up & what feels important to address etc. We understand that this is not always possible, but we encourage you to try and set up this kind of system if you can.

c. Advertising

  • We recommend looking at our social media strategy page for information about how to market online. If you’re at a university, we recommend:
  • Activities fair: see our tabling guide and club fairs guide.
  • Emailing professors at departments that may be related to EA with personalised messages asking them to share information about the introductory fellowship in their lectures.
  • Contacting other societies about potential collaborations and perhaps offering to share information about their society with your members in exchange for them doing the same.
  • Recommending the fellowship to friends and people you know who you think might be interested.
  • Putting up flyers in coffee shops and shared spaces around your university to advertise. See Canva and social media templates for some pre-made flyers. However, we don’t recommend spending too much time on this: just print some flyers and put them up!

d. Selection Process

Most groups have an application process for their fellowship. Having a lengthier application process can filter out people who may not be as interested upfront, which may or may not be the outcome you want. Some groups report that participants are more committed and have better attendance after going through a more demanding application process. Groups with a lower number of more-invested fellows often do better than larger-but-flakey groups. People not doing the readings, or not showing up, can significantly reduce interest/excitement in other fellows.

Groups vary in how selective they are with their candidates. This raises similar trade-offs as having a lengthier application process. Yale switched from a more selective process to a less selective one because they found out their assessment of applicants was not predictive of future engagement. However, LSE has a slightly different experience.

See here for a template application form Yale EA used.

See here for template fellowship acceptance/rejection emails by Arete Fellowship.

e. Encouraging Diverse Applications

Yale EA has had some successes encouraging a more diverse group of people to apply by adding to their information:

"We are committed to building a diverse cohort of Fellows. There is some evidence suggesting that underprivileged individuals tend to underestimate their abilities. We do not want the application process to dissuade potential candidates and we strongly encourage interested students to apply regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, physical ability, etc. We also encourage both undergraduate, graduate and professional students, as well as individuals from all intellectual backgrounds and majors to apply."

4. Running the fellowship

a. Socials

We strongly recommend aiming to have your discussion groups at the same time and on the same day where possible. If you manage this, you can then have a social after your meeting, which allows for participants from different groups to meet each other and for people to get to know each other in a less formal setting. The choice of location and social activity is up to you; check out our social event ideas.

Some groups have found arranging socials after discussion program meet-ups or weekly organiser meetings to be particularly effective, especially when providing food. See the applying for funding for you and your group page for information on how to get funding for this. It’s also worth that noting that because the participants have already gone ‘out of the their way’ to get to the discussion group, it’s very little additional effort to then attend a social; on the other hand, if they are having to go specifically to a social, they may be less likely to attend. We think it can be particularly good to find a way to have food that feels less artificial than ordering, e.g. dining halls, common place students eat, or cooking food for or together with people.

b. Reminders

Some groups have had issues with attendance at their meet-ups for the introduction fellowship. However, sending reminders the day before and the day of on whatever platform you are using to communicate with your members has proven effective for mitigating this. We recommend trying to stay away from emails where you can: people are more on their phones than their computers!

5. Post-fellowship considerations

We’ve updated and are now publicizing more widely our post-introductory fellowship survey! Groups can use this to evaluate their fellowship and share the data easily with CEA. The survey includes an exit quiz to help us figure out how well the fellowship allows for the retention of key concepts. Responses to this form are sent to CEA, and organizers will get responses from their fellowship sent to them. We recommend (but don’t require) groups to use this form, especially if your group is supported by CEA (e.g. via group support funding).

If your group intends to use this survey and your group is not currently part of UGAP, please email unigroups@centreforeffectivealtruism that you’ll do so, and over what time period you plan to collect survey responses. This lets us know when to compile and send you your responses.

Based on the experiences of previous organizers, we recommend that you have your fellows fill out the survey during the last session of the fellowship! Doing it during your last session can dramatically increase the number of responses you will receive. We also think that it is especially important to follow-up with people after the fellowship has finished. Most likely, this will be in the form of 1:1 meetings; click here for our page on 1:1s. If you’re able to, we think it can be very helpful to start following up before the end of the fellowship.