Hi, I’m Nick Yeretsian, the VP Outreach for Effective Altruists at McGill University (yes we’re a bureaucracy). Over the last year I’ve helped run a number of “Giving Game Debates” for students, including for fraternities and sororities. The Giving Game Debate is a type of Giving Game we came up with to engage multiple Greek groups (who are frankly a more boisterous crowd) at one event. This post will explain how we do it!
Ever since one fraternity’s philanthropy chair suggested a debate as a way of making Giving Games more engaging, we’ve done five (two with Greek societies, and three at a nonprofit conference). We’re interested in Greek societies because they fundraise. (Also members often go on to make a lot of money personally, from what I hear.) And they’ve each gone well! Here’s the facebook event page for our first one.
Basically, in a debate format, each group makes the case for why a charity of their choice (from lists we provide) would be best to donate to. The format we give them reads, “Please prepare to make a case for this charity on the grounds of its scale, cost-effectiveness, neglectedness, tractability, funding gap, track record, etc.”
After the debate, the attendees vote, and then we donate (with money from TLYCS).
I recommend focusing your energy on groups that don’t already have a charity they support exclusively, or that has been assigned to them by their national chapter. This makes your “end-game ask” more applicable. (We once did a game with a sorority with a prescribed charity, and it ended up simply frustrating the group--and possibly giving EA a bad name in the process--as they could not change the charity their national chapter supports. Though they could always talk to their national chapter about it, or use the knowledge of effective giving in their personal lives.)
In general, we’ve had a much smoother time with groups that chose the charities they support themselves (which we found they did mostly on personal preference or little research--on top of that they tended to choose organizations that do work locally).
Get a contact and arrange a meeting
Get a complete list of the Greek societies at your university. If you know no one in any of the groups, then cold email or facebook message them saying you’d like to speak to the philanthropy chair or the president (worst case, the social chair). If you hit a barrier here (no response), ask whoever you know that might know someone in that group, and ask them to pass on the message. Be persistent.
Once you’ve got your contact, request a brief meetup. Say something like, “I’m with Effective Altruists at McGill, and I’ve got an awesome event we’d like Kappa Zeta Psi to be involved in. (And it doesn’t cost you any money :P ) Can we meet up Friday afternoon for 10 minutes to chat about it?” Even offer a specific time and place to expedite the process.
Meet in person
I met with each group’s contact individually (in a cafe, library, hallway, lounge, etc.). Brief face to face meetings are impactful. And it’s super easy.
“So I’m from Effective Altruists at McGill and we essentially try to do the most good in the world possible” (their eyes widen). “And we do this by using the best evidence and reason available…” then tell them why you’re meeting.
You’re not selling knives or subscriptions to the paper door-to-door. It’s an easy sell, “we have money and we want you to help decide where we donate it.” Then explain the debate. They might ask why this is even happening, so have an idea for an answer to that (it’s fun, educational, etc.).
(I usually cut to the chase, while one of our co-heads likes to explain Effective Altruism and whatnot--I’ve only brought this up if the person asks.) If you’re meeting with a business student, perhaps bring up that EA involves maximizing ROI (return on investment) in the form of humanitarian benefit. If you already have a group or two confirmed, tell the person you’re meeting with which groups have already agreed to partake--this is significantly encouraging!
Start a group chat
After you meet, your contact will go to propose the event to their group at their next meeting, then they’ll get back to you. Once 3-5 groups get back to you expressing interest, start a group chat with all the contacts.
Ask what days the groups have their weekly meetings. Propose a couple free days 2-4 weeks in advance, and away from midterms and finals. Book a spacious room, make the Facebook event, tell them to invite people, and you’re set to put on the event!
3-4 is a great number of groups. For back-up, book 4-5, because 1-2 might flake (in my experience, at least 1 group has dropped out each time at the last minute). BYO-Arguments too, because if you end up with only two groups--or with no one defending a TLYCS charity--one of the moderators can join the debate. (I did this at the last debate… and won... which was hilarious.)
In addition, I recommend making sure you have at least one sorority and one fraternity at each debate. This significantly heightens the dynamic.
Who will come?
The people that do Model United Nations or Debating really tend to eat this up (many of these types of people are in Greek societies). One philanthropy chair made it a mandatory event for any members running for that position for the following year! Others come encouraged by the “for every attendee, $10 will go toward the winning charity.”
Know the Greek letters
Know the names of the Greek societies. Know their Greek letters. One should do this simply out of respect (the letters mean things, and it means a lot to them). But also how are you going to build a relationship if you can’t remember their name is Pi Sigma Kappa Phi.
Make it epic. Say “welcome to the Giving Games!” or “Welcome to the 2017 Greek Giving Game Debate!” Introduce the teams and their charities. One team came in suits once… They won. These debates get fruitfully competitive.
Book a spacious, quiet room. A circle of tables works well. Bring paper for signs with each team’s charity written large. Tell teams to bring at least one laptop on the day for researching rebuttals and whatnot (most of the time, teams find out who they’re up against the day of). We recommend 1-2 moderators. Two is ideal, especially if one needs to enter the debate, but I’ve moderated by myself smoothly.
This is the format, prompt, and charity lists we give to the groups. We’ve found this quite effective (we’ve altered it after learning things each time).
I. Charity choices: We’ve found it delightful to allow the groups to choose which charity they defend from the lists provided by TLYCS, GiveWell, ACE, GWWC, OPP. Just remember to let teams know they should post in the event page what charity they’re going to defend, so that there’s no overlap.
If you’re allowing them to choose, and all the groups are defending charities unsupported by TLYCS (unlikely), then one of the EA moderators can always step in to represent a TLYCS org. You can of course choose to assign charities to groups (we’ve done this for more impromptu debates).
II. Order: for the closing statements, perhaps reverse the order in which the teams did their opening statements (so that one team doesn’t always get the last word in). Also, it can be nice to mandate that a different person from each team speak each round.
III. Voting: the best voting system we’ve come up with so far is to allow attendees to vote--by hand, ballot, or heads down raising hands--for whichever team they choose. I simply say beforehand that they please try to set their team biases aside, and vote for the team they think should receive our donation today.
(We previously made it so that attendees couldn’t vote for their own team’s charity. But we realized critically that this advantaged teams with small numbers and disadvantaged teams who showed up in great numbers--which is something we want to encourage!)
We’ve preferred to do winner takes all. It feeds the competitive, passionate nature these debates have had. (Though a proportional system may reflect our views on charity more accurately.)
In the end, I post the winner in the event page and congratulate everyone. I often speak individually with attendees or send personal messages to them afterward (just my thing). I’ll also send the winners the receipt of the donation TLYCS provides.
IV. End-game ask: we tend to say something like, “You’ll all be fundraising this year and in the future, in your groups or in your personal lives; and when you do we’d just like to ask you to consider the things we discussed today when you’re choosing where to donate. And of course, now you know about four highly effective charities.”
Let them do their thing. I’ve been impressed each time at how prepared, well-spoken, energetic, and passionate the groups are. We really just give them links and a prompt, and they run wild.
Have fun and be lighthearted! (We’ve laughed multiple times in each debate we’ve ran.)
Some of the groups have said they’re up for another debate next year! That, coupled with the fact that they appear to be having fun and showing interest, is incredibly heartwarming!
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