Publicising Introductory Programs
This page collates some experiences from different EA groups about how to most effectively market or advertise your intro fellowships and get more applications. Much of the advice and resources are also applicable to advertising other events.
What should my advertising aim to do?
Encourage sympathetic viewers to participate. Once they’re engaged, they can experience a more in-depth explanation of EA ideas.
Avoid creating a bad impression of EA. To do this, avoid controversial statements or images, even if you believe this would generate more interest.
Be welcoming and inclusive, as these are part of the core values of the community.
How much advertising should I do?
Strike a balance between (a) making sure as many people as possible hear about your program and (b) avoiding being perceived as spammy. While it’s important to keep reputation risks in mind, my guess is that most organisers could advertise more on the margin. Consider your context – in some places, persistent advertising of a society/event is more socially acceptable than in others.
Where should I advertise?
My impression is that some of the most broadly effective advertising locations for university groups are club/societies fairs, social media and personal invites. But the best places to advertise vary a lot between groups.
According to an informal organiser survey run by CEA at the end of 2021, the top 5 ways in which people hear about intro fellowships are (in order): Personal contacts (recruited 38% of participants on average), websites or club directories (35%), club/societies fairs (33%), mailing lists (32%), and social media (26%). (Please contact Marie Buhl at email@example.com if you have questions about the survey.)
Ask other similar groups what’s worked for them, e.g. successful societies in your university/ area, nearby EA groups and existing group members.
Experiment with advertising! Try one or two new strategies each time. Ask in the application form how people heard of the program so you can track how well each strategy is working.
How should I advertise?
Make it super easy for people to sign up for your program. Include a link to the application form and the application deadline in all advertising materials. Make Google Calendar and/or Facebook events and send people links to sign up. Send people reminders close to the deadline and on the day of the deadline.
Adapt your materials to your audience; emphasise what you think readers will find most exciting, e.g. career advice, social opportunities, academics associated with EA, relevance to activism and charity...
Should I market the program as highly prestigious?
You can market your program as prestigious through:
The name of the program
“Fellowship” is the most common name used, and this sounds prestigious in many locations. Other names used include “scholars program”, “seminar program” and “discussion group”.
Some groups use “Effective Altruism” in the name, others mention “effective altruism” in the content but choose a different name. The most common alternative name is the “Arete Fellowship”.
Using formal language (e.g. avoiding slang/smileys/multiple exclamation marks)
Clean and simple posters/banners/visuals
Offering completion certificates
Having a more demanding application process (e.g. interviews)
Having policies for attendance and engagement
Getting endorsements from or organising events with high-profile EAs (Harvard once got Peter Singer to film a greeting for participants!)
Is “prestige-signalling” a good idea?
Different groups have had success with varying levels of “prestige-signalling”. Some degree of this has worked well for many groups, but I also know of groups that advertise the program as a relatively casual discussion group and still have a good number of applications and strong attendance.
Once again, think about what you think would work best in your context or try out different strategies and see what works best.
Note that if you advertise your program as prestigious, and require a high level of commitment, participants could be disappointed if you are unable to deliver a high-quality program. I haven’t seen any evidence that this has happened in the past, but it is worth considering.
If you market the program as prestigious, take extra measures to make sure people feel comfortable and not intimidated during the application process, for example by being very friendly in emails and interviews.
Steps to make an advertising plan
This section lists some concrete steps you can take to make a stellar marketing strategy.
If you have a few hours:
Contact an EA group similar to yours and ask if they’re up for a quick chat about what marketing worked for them. You can find group contact details on the EA Forum, or reach out to individuals on the EA Groups Slack. Ask things like:
What advertising method gets you most of your event sign-ups? What did you do when you were just starting out?
What’s the main selling point for your target audience? What’s been your most well-attended event and why?
What’s something you haven’t tried yet that could get loads of sign-ups if successful?
Do you have any thoughts on what might work well in my situation?
If you can’t find an organiser to ask, get together a few members of your own group, set a 5-minute timer and brainstorm advertising strategy, using prompts like:
Where do we get most of our current sign-ups?
Where do we already have leverage or contacts?
What would make you sign up for an event with a society you didn’t know much about?
Skim through the section “Ideas for advertising strategies” below and see if you’ve missed any obvious options.
When you have a big list of options, prioritise.
Estimate how much time you’ll have for advertising.
Choose 2-5 most promising strategies you think you can make within that time. They could be:
(If you can) Low effort, high reward (e.g. writing to people who’ve already expressed interest).
Low effort, low reward (e.g. writing a Facebook post).
High effort, high reward (e.g. finding 10 people to write individually).
Make advertising materials, including standard text and graphics (see the section “Sample materials” below). Share it with other organisers/committee members and encourage them to pass it on to at least 3 people each.
Emphasise how important this will be to the success of the program in order to motivate them to follow through.
Set a time for carrying out each strategy and (if you’re multiple organisers) allocate them between you.
If you want to do more:
Choose 1-2 strategies you really want to optimise. You can use a similar method to brainstorm ways to optimise the individual strategy. You can also set a target for how many sign-ups you want to try and get this way.
Contact other societies at your university and ask what’s been successful for them.
Look through the list below, brainstorm how you could do each of them and choose any that seem promising.
Ideas for advertising strategies
The list below contains most of the advertising strategies we’re aware of that have been tried by EA groups. You shouldn’t necessarily advertise in all these places – that’d be a lot of work and it might be better to choose a few but think hard about how to do them most effectively. Instead, use it as a check-box to see if there are any obvious strategies you’ve missed and to get inspiration for new strategies to try out.
Mailing lists, including university-wide mailing lists and other mailing lists you have access to (you may have to write the admin of the mailing list).
Social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Discord, Slack…
Make sure existing group members press “going” to your events.
Facebook ads are relatively cheap and funding can be requested from the Centre for Effective Altruism. EA Philippines has had success with this.
Events, especially Freshers Fairs/Activities Fairs/Societies Fairs.
Encourage people to sign up to your mailing list at the event so you can send them information about your intro program afterwards.
Personal invites, e.g. to people who’ve been to past events and friends/contacts of existing group members.
Some groups set targets such as “each organiser should invite 3 people”.
Some groups use an anonymous referral form in which people can submit the email address of a friend they think might be interested.
Posters or flyers in dorms, university buildings and other relevant places.
Info sessions where you briefly explain EA and the program and answer questions.
If you have a website, make sure to mention the program. You can also have an “expression of interest” form when applications are not open.
The Centre for Effective Altruism can fund, and help you create, a group website if needed.
Collaborating with other universities/local societies – especially if you know the organisers well, they may be willing to advertise your program or host joint events.
Collaborating with professors, for example by getting them to advertise (or let you advertise) your program in their classes.
You can find in the graphics page various templates you can use to advertise your EA group or fellowship.
In addition to graphics, you will need some text for emails, social media posts, and so on. Some samples of these are available below – feel free to copy, adapt, and use these.
Sample text for social media posts, mailing lists etc.
Referral forms are forms where people can recommend a person they think might be interested in the fellowship. Referral forms aim to use existing networks and personal invitations to increase the number of applications.
Non-anonymous referral form from Yale Effective Altruism (type in anything on the first page to see the second page, but remember not to press “Submit”!)
Some groups host info sessions prior to the application deadline, to give people more information about the fellowship and allow them to ask questions.
Thanks for inputs to this guide by Kuhan Jeyapragasan, Emma Abele, Jessica McCurdy, Marka Ellertson, James Aung, Huw Thomas, Catherine Low, Brian Tan, and Marisa Jurczyk.
Thanks to Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Positive Impact Society Erasmus, Stanford and Yale for generously sharing their advertising materials for the benefit of other groups.