Registering a University Group
Writing a Constitution
Universities generally require student groups seeking recognition (in order to use the school name, receive funding, etc.) to submit a formal constitution. This is meant to give long-term structure to the group by formally specifying its purpose, leadership, scope, and decision-making process. However, it can be difficult to write a formal constitution if you’re just getting started because you don’t really know how your group will function yet. We recommend when starting out not to worry too much about a constitution that’s good—just submit something that fits the school’s requirements. It’s perfectly valid to come back and change it later.
You’ll need to find your school’s requirements. Most schools publish their own unique list of requirements that submitted constitutions must fulfil. This can generally be found online on the website of the Student Union, or whatever part of the university administers clubs. (The fastest way to find them is generally to Google “[university name] student group constitution”). Rethink Charity's Local Effective Altruism Network (LEAN) has written an example constitution below, which hopefully can be quickly edited to align it with your institution’s requirements.
The requirements list will generally specify some of these three things:
A required format – for example, Article 1: Name, Article 2: Statement of Purpose, etc.
Information that is required to be in these articles. We’ve tried to make our sample articles below fairly inclusive; however, there will inevitably be requirements our example does not cover. Go ahead and write these out yourself.
Required passages – for example, UC Berkeley requires all groups to state that “We will not haze according to California State Law.” Required passages can be copied and pasted from the requirements list onto the constitution in the appropriate place.
If your school doesn’t have any specific requirements for constitutions, that’s great news! You can just copy and paste the sample constitution, provided below, and submit it.
We’ve written a sample constitution as an example of the style and substance many universities desire. This will probably not fulfil your institution’s requirements; but it is a good place to start. This is just an example; if you wish to write your own constitution, go for it!
Image: EA Norway
Here are some examples of constitutions from EA groups: Cambridge (UK), Auckland (New Zealand), Yale (USA). Note, Cambridge and Yale are particularly large groups, and so have more detailed constitutions than a new group would require.
Getting a Faculty Advisor
Some universities require faculty sponsors for clubs. This can be a good opportunity for starting and strengthening your relationships with academics within your group.
Who to reach out to
If you or your co-organisers have a good relationship with an academic, ask them first. Otherwise, try academics of related topics such as philosophy, global development, and economics. If they are moral philosophers, do a quick google beforehand to check that they haven't criticised aspects of EA before.
How to reach out to advisors
Start by emailing them, stating that you’d like to start an effective altruism club (with a brief description of what effective altruism is), and ask for an in-person meeting. At the meeting, make it clear what you want them to do (it might just be to sign some documents). Have a concise explanation of EA prepared and be ready to explain what your group will do, but avoid sounding like you are trying to “sell” EA to the academic. If possible, bring a book about EA or a flyer ready to share with them if they’d like to learn more. If they don’t seem interested then try to gracefully end the conversation - there are plenty of other academics to ask.
If possible, have an organiser who is studying the academic’s subject reach out. Note that academics tend to look unfavourably at people misunderstanding or misusing concepts from their field.
Below is a sample email template you can use to reach out to potential advisors:
Note: If you encounter a professor who is:
Excited about learning more about effective altruism
Proactively and positively sharing effective altruism resources in their class (e.g. mentioning the 80,000 Hours podcast, or recommending EA books or content)
Or is interested in answering research questions that you see frequently discussed with effective altruism
Please email Catherine Low from CEA’s groups team (email@example.com), sharing a brief description of the professor, their background, their level of familiarity / interest in effective altruism. This could be a particularly valuable connection if the professor is at the top of their academic field.
Utilising the Student Union
Get a copy of any booklet that the Student Union produces for clubs.
Find out what resources are available to you, for instance:
Rooms to meet in
Tables and chairs for publicity events
Printing and copying
Permanent email address for your group
See if there are any events and/or awareness-raising weeks organised by Student Affairs, which you might be able to partner with (e.g. One World Week, RAG week). You may be able to get free publicity and resources through these.
Find out if there is a contact list for other groups. Get in touch with like-minded groups and check their meeting and event times. You may want to attend events to meet people and casually recruit members, or you may want to team up with them for certain activities and events.
Check what sources of funding/grants are available for student groups.
Eventually, you may want to check if there are any committees on which it would be useful for your group to have input (e.g. campaigns, student activities, clubs and societies, or any that determine the distribution of funds), and consider encouraging members of your group to run for election to them.
Image: EA UniMelb
Your university’s clubs fair (also called Freshers’ Fair, Activities Fair and Orientation) is probably the best opportunity you’ll have all year to attract members. Some universities have them at the start of each academic year, and some hold them at the start of each intake, often two times a year.
Here is a guide to make the most of clubs fairs and other tabling opportunities.