Cross-posted from the EA Forum.
We’re often asked what you can do to increase your odds of starting a career as a charity entrepreneur. While each person’s answer will be different given their background and traits, here are the three most common things people can do:
1. Show that you can do things on your own
Most people’s lives neither encourage nor support self-direction. Typical education models always tell you what to do, where to be, and how well you’re doing. Same goes for the usual job, with a manager who will fire you if you don’t do the things they tell you to do, to a certain standard, by a certain date. You may have some flexibility within that framework, but the scope for action is relatively narrow.
Entrepreneurship is entirely different. You are staring at a blank canvas. The only external accountability you have is in the distant future. You might only talk to a donor once a year. And you can’t cram a whole year’s worth of work into a week before you talk to them. It’s not like school where you can get by with cramming if you’re talented enough. You need to do work every day even though nothing bad will happen in the immediate future if you don’t.
What’s more, there’s nobody telling you which things need to be done in the first place. You could work on strategy, hiring, management, M&E, or even moving to Hawaii if you felt it was the best call. You have to pick the direction. Most people have little experience with autonomy. When they’re faced with it, they’re filled with immense discomfort at the uncertainty. That’s why so many people postpone thinking about what to do after their education, often by simply getting another degree.
The good news is that these are all learnable. You just have atrophied initiative muscles due to disuse. All you have to do is practice. Once you do, the discomfort becomes smaller, and can be replaced by an exhilarating feeling of empowerment and freedom.
However, if you’ve never done it before, you may not be good at it. You have to learn how to motivate yourself when nobody else is helping you. You have to learn how to pick a good direction when there’s no existing structure. That’s why we look for people who have experience doing this. It’s more likely that they’ll be able to handle charity entrepreneurship: they’ve done this before and are not jumping into the deep end straight away.
2. Learn and practice good decision-making
Your success in life is determined by the direction you travel in and how efficiently you get there. However, often people focus on the latter, improving their capacity and productivity, while neglecting the former, thus getting nowhere fast. Making good decisions is a key factor in making sure you’re picking the right way to go. This is crucial for charity entrepreneurship since, as mentioned above, you’ll be facing a blank canvas in terms of what to do.
Many people are not very good at decision making, their lives mostly characterized by bumbling around, stumbling upon things that are good enough. When asked why they chose a particular degree or career, they’ll say, “I don’t know. I guess I was good at it and liked it and I was accepted.” Their process was opportunistic rather than deliberate.
Fortunately, decision making is not a personality trait but a skill that can be developed. The broad two steps to follow for this are to:
Learning is relatively straightforward. There are many resources on how to think about decisions. We’ve listed some below. Putting them into practice is harder. The biggest trick is remembering to do them in the first place. Unlike with some habits, usually there’s no obvious trigger, since “make a decision” is hardly a concrete thing. Most of the time, making a decision doesn’t feel like a decision. It just feels like life. However, there are a few situations where you can practise and hone your skills. These include choosing a:
3. Get a degree in effective altruism
At Nonlinear we look for people who think well about how to maximize their impact using reason and science, which in essence means they are effective altruists. Much of this comes down to good decision-making, but a lot of it is also absorbing the lessons and thoughts that have already been discovered or expressed in the community. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
While there’s no way to get a degree in EA yet, you can still think of your knowledge level in EA as being akin to your level of education. Many people have an elementary knowledge of EA, having read a single book or watched a couple talks. Others have a PhD, where they’ve read practically everything there is on the subject and are on the cutting edge of a particular topic in the area. We’re often looking for people who have at least a metaphorical undergraduate or masters. You can come in with a high school diploma if you have other qualities and skills that are sufficiently strong (and this goes for all criteria), but it will be a lot easier if you’ve got this qualification.
What does this look like? There are three different paths, and you’ll ideally follow all three of them.
In summary, there are many things you can do to increase your odds of starting a career in charity entrepreneurship. Even if you don’t get into dedicated program run by The Nonlinear Fund, your life, skills, and impact will in all likelihood be improved by these actions. Hopefully this helps you, and we look forward to seeing your application!
Nonlinear invites those of you who are interested in starting new EA organizations to apply to our EA Hiring Agency Incubation Program. The deadline is February 1st, 2022, 11:59pm EST. You can sign up to our newsletter to be notified of other potential incubation offers in the future.