What skills are effective altruist organisations short of? Results from our survey.

In August 2016, we surveyed 16 organisations in the effective altruism community about their hiring needs, and to what extent they are constrained by talent compared to funding.

What follows is a summary of the results, grouped by question asked. You can see the list of organisations surveyed in the footnotes.1

Note that since the survey was carried out over six months ago, some of the information may no longer be up to date. We intend to repeat the survey in August 2017, and will report back on how the situation has changed.

What types of talent does your organisation need?

Here are the options provided on the survey, along with the number of organisations which stated that they were looking to hire people for these roles:

RoleNumber of organisations Percentage of organisations
Generalist researchers1063%
Web developers744%
Marketing & outreach531%
Administrators/ assistants531%

(Note that this table is not weighted by budget or team size, although we do not expect that this would materially affect the results.)

In open feedback, several respondents also mentioned that the community is most in need of specialist researchers rather than generalist researchers. Some other skill sets which were not included as options, but which were mentioned more than twice in the open feedback include:

  1. Economists, in 3 cases.
  2. Math and AI researchers, in 2 cases.
  3. Policy experts, in 2 cases.
  4. Scientists, especially biologists, in 3 cases.

Also see the longer list of skill sets needed by the community at the end of this summary.

It was frequently noted by the organisations surveyed that they place a lot of emphasis on hiring people who are involved in effective altruism and motivated to do as much good as possible.

There’s further discussion of the shortage of software engineers here.

For the last person you hired, how much in donations would you be willing to receive to be indifferent between hiring and not hiring them?

The average from the 12 responses to this question was $505,000, and the median $307,000 (the distribution was skewed by a few organisations which answered with very high figures).

Assuming that an individual is on the same skill level as the people hired by EA organisations at the margin, this suggests that if they could donate more than $500,000 over the few years they would otherwise work at that organisation, it would be better for them to earn to give than to work for an organisation directly.

Edit on 27/03/2017: Since the question was ambiguous whether the donations are once-off or annual, we think these amounts are likely to be between an average of $126,000 – $505,000 and a median of $77,000 – $307,000. The lower bound is calculated by dividing the original numbers by 4, the average time spent in a job by someone in their late 20s. We’ll reword this question for the next survey.

What proportion of your management team’s time is spent on hiring vs. fundraising?

Average weighted by organisation size10%9%

The organisation with the largest time spent on fundraising was recently established and is trying to raise funds to support its expansion.

Time spent fundraising vs hiring

Overall, how talent vs. funding constrained are you?

This was defined on a scale from 1 to 5: a response of 1 corresponding to being predominantly talent constrained, 3 neutral, and 5 funding constrained. The average response was 2.1, or 1.6 when weighted by organisation size. This suggests that on average, organisations see themselves as more talent than funding constrained.

This finding appears to stand in tension with the answers to the previous question – why do organisations spend a similar amount of time fundraising and hiring if they are (significantly) more talent constrained? It could be that the organisations simply do not think that the right candidates are out there, or it could be that they are underinvesting in hiring. Another explanation could be that they spend a lot of time retaining existing staff – this feels like an activity that aims to resolve a talent constraint, but which is probably isn’t included in the estimates of time spent hiring.

What types of talent do we need more in EA?

Anonymised verbatim responses from the survey:

  • “Marketing, research generally, researchers in poorly represented areas (history, anthropology…)”
  • “Research, philosophy, blogging, general reasoning.”
  • “Self directed, highly competent people.”
  • Management”
  • “Quantitative researchers, AI safety researchers, movement builders, fundraisers, operations staff”
  • “Media & outreach, those with real credentials in movement building and social movement theory (it seems that we like to pseudo-philosophize in these realms and could likely learn from those with real lived experience and expertise).”
  • “Policy has seemed like the biggest gap to me in the last year, both in terms of knowing about it, and actually doing it. AI risk researchers. EA orgs. Expertise in priority problem areas, and new potential problem areas. …”science” being the key area here.”
  • “Policy, experts in relevant areas, communications and web dev/management, management talent, entrepreneurs.”
  • “Management and competent (experienced!) generalists, as opposed to competent, young up-and-comers.”
  • “Experienced people in general, especially in operations, management, experienced generalists, policy folk.”
  • “People with deep experience in areas relevant to EA who can act as an intellectual and social bridge to these – e.g. global development, relevant scientific disciplines for Xrisk (e.g. AI researchers, biologists, biosecurity folk, disaster risk folk, foresight folk), governance and so forth.”
  • “Political messaging / campaigning / PR / communications and everything to do with politics — we lack experience people who shares our values. Science – AI, life sciences, want people in lots of non-focus areas developing expertise and reporting back.”

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Notes and references

  1. List of organisations whose response was included (duplicates or organisations no longer running were excluded):
    • 80,000 Hours
    • AI Impacts
    • Animal Charity Evaluators
    • Centre for Effective Altruism
    • Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
    • Center for Applied Rationality
    • Charity Science Health
    • Effective Altruism Australia
    • Effective Altruism Foundation
    • Founders Pledge
    • Future of Humanity Institute
    • GiveWell
    • Institute for Effective Altruism
    • Machine Intelligence Research Institute
    • Open Philanthropy Project
    • The Life You Can Save