Models of movement building

Models of movement building

Last updated: 4th October, 2023

1. The Funnel Model

CEA sometimes refers to the funnel model, which is similar to the Sales Funnel often discussed in business. While the effective altruism movement differs from businesses in many ways, we think this model is useful for understanding how people become more deeply engaged in our community.


The six parts of the funnel are as follows:

  1. The audience have not yet engaged with effective altruism, but might be partial to it.
  2. Followers understand some of the core ideas of effective altruism, and may find the ideas plausible, but don’t act to help. They have generally spent a couple of hours engaging with effective altruism, perhaps by joining the EA newsletter, engaging with EA content, or attending one or two local events.
  3. Participants understand the core ideas of effective altruism well, are motivated to act on those ideas, and have generally spent a couple of days engaging with effective altruism, or made another significant commitment to effective altruism, for instance by taking the Try Giving pledge, using research from the EA community to inform their giving decisions, or attending EA Global X conferences.
  4. Contributors have a detailed understanding of core ideas, and an understanding of more in-depth ideas. They are willing to make significant sacrifices to act on those ideas, and have spent weeks or months engaging with effective altruism, for instance by doing the above and taking the Giving What We Can pledgeattending EA Global, interning at aligned organizations, or running significant independent projects like a local group or a research project.
  5. The core have an understanding of most ideas in effective altruism, normally with an expert-level understanding in some of the ideas. They have devoted most of their resources to acting on those ideas and have dedicated their career to doing the most good in line with effective altruist principles, for instance by working directly for an aligned organization or project or earning to give while continuing to participate in the community’s ideas.
  6. Leaders (not pictured) have an understanding and devotion similar to the core, but they are also leaders of major effective altruist organizations, or are leaders of the intellectual development of the community.

Effective Altruism groups generally want to either retain people in the funnel or, ideally, move people further along in the funnel. Small EA groups may decide to focus on just one part of the funnel, while larger groups may focus on all or most parts. This article describes ways that groups can use the funnel model to inform their groups activities. EA Foundation also suggests stages similar to the funnel model as well as ideas about ways to move people through the funnel.

For a different perspective, Vaidehi Agarwalla & Arjun Khandelwal have written a critique and alternative to the funnel model which focuses more on individual contributions.

2. Three-Factor Model of Community-Building

The three-factor model of community-building describes the amount of good someone can be expected to do as being the product of three factors (in a mathematical sense):

  1. Resources: The scale of the resources (money, skills, etc.) they have to offer;
  2. Dedication: The proportion of those resources that they devote to helping;
  3. Realization: How efficiently those resources devoted to helping are actually used.

Effective altruism groups can work on one, two, or all three factors in their work:

  • A group can increase its members' resources through workshops, and connecting members with internship and funding opportunities in the community.
  • A group can increase its members' dedication by promoting Giving What We Can, or encouraging people to pursue a high-impact career
  • A group can increase its members' realization by promoting charity evaluators or helping individuals find roles that match their skills

3. The Fidelity Model

The fidelity model suggests that we can put mechanisms for spreading a message on a continuum between mechanisms that retain almost nothing of the original message and those that retain almost everything of the original message. Those that retain most of the original message are very high fidelity and those that retain little of the original message are very low fidelity.

We can analyze the fidelity of a particular mechanism for spreading EA by looking at four components:

  • Breadth: How many ideas can you explore?
  • Depth: How much nuance can you add to the ideas?
  • Environment: Will the audience be in an environment that is conducive to updating their opinions?
  • Feedback: Can you adapt your message over time to improve its fidelity?

In general, we want to avoid spreading EA ideas through low-fidelity channels, like political arguments on Twitter, and instead use high-fidelity environments, like one-on-one conversations.

4. The Awareness-Inclination Model

The Awareness/Inclination Model considers two factors relevant to movement building: how aware people are of a movement's ideas, and how favorably they feel, or would feel, towards the ideas. It may be more important to focus on increasing awareness than improving inclination, if:

  • the movement has a natural maximum size that we cannot change; or
  • essentially everyone will join the movement after they know enough about it; or
  • direct work earlier is much more important than direct work; or
  • it is very hard to change inclination relative to awareness.

Otherwise, focusing on improving inclination is more important. We can increase inclination by being considerate towards others, avoiding needless controversy, and getting involved with direct work.