Want to run an outreach event?  Here’s what we learned from researching the best models

Want to run an outreach event? Here’s what we learned from researching the best models

More and more outreach groups and individuals around the world are looking for ways to spread awareness about effective giving. We wanted to find out which forms of outreach have the most impact for the lowest costs? So we did some research.

Over the last year, The Life You Can Save and Giving What We Can (GWWC) have collaborated on a study to help shed light on this question. We collected data from 25 outreach events conducted by GWWC chapters during the 2014-15 academic year. Of these events, 16 were lecture events and 9 involved Giving Games.  Here’s what the results tell us:

Main Findings

  • Giving Games and lecture-focused events received roughly similar—and generally positive—feedback from attendees in response to questions about whether participants found the event enjoyable, persuasive, and likely to change their future giving habits.
  • Four of the lectures featured charity CEOs. These CEO-led events significantly outperformed both Giving Games and lectures featuring lower profile speakers—such as non-executive charity employees, GWWC officers, and research fellows.
  • Giving Games had a higher average (15%) and median (46%) attendance than speaker events. If we exclude CEO-led events, the average performance for Giving Games is 42%.
  • Overall, our findings suggest that CEO-led events and Giving Games are the most valuable outreach models for chapters to pursue. Of these two models, most chapters will likely find Giving Games to be the more viable and scalable model.


Events featuring charity CEOs attracted the largest audiences. Giving Games modestly outperformed lecture-style events overall, while they outperformed lower profile speaker events by a wide margin.

To help address the issue of low sample size, this analysis includes attendance data for 12 “out of sample” Giving Games run by GWWC chapters prior to the start of this study. Including these events significantly increases our sample size without materially impacting the results of the analysis. (Unfortunately we do not have engagement survey data for the out of sample Giving Games.)

Raw data for our comparison of Giving Games (GG), Speaker Events (SE), high-profile speaker events (VIP), and lower-profile speaker events (LIP).

The chart below gives a visual illustration of these results, showing the attendance for each event.

There’s a simple and intuitive hypothesis to explain these results: if you want to attract a crowd, it helps to have a hook. Having a CEO of a prominent charity speak clearly seems to work in that regard. Giving Games also have a hook since they offer the opportunity to donate without any cost to the participants themselves. This attraction appears to make a difference in terms of getting people “in the door.”[i]


All outreach events scored positively on the dimensions we surveyed, particularly in terms of audience enjoyment and persuasiveness.

CEO-led lectures were again the clear best performer in audience feedback about whether the event was likely to change future giving habits. In this caregory, Giving Games were rated similarly to lower profile lectures, though Giving Games modestly outperformed in the area of changes to giving habits.[ii]

Once again, these results aren’t particularly surprising: charity CEOs do compelling work, have lots of experience talking about it, and generally have access to polished presentation materials. So we’d expect their talks to be well-received.


Giving Games and lecture-style events have very different cost structures. 

For a lecture event, the costs are primarily opportunity costs. There are no financial costs unless the speaker requires an honorarium or travel expenses (we don’t believe these were significant, but have requested clarification from the chapters.)  But speakers do need to put in time to plan, travel to, and attend events. And to put it simply, if someone is valuable enough to be a speaker, they could presumably be doing something else worthwhile if they weren’t speaking.

For the CEO speakers themselves, this cost is relatively steep. If a charity CEO is giving a talk, that’s time they can’t spend on other efforts to lead their charity. The opportunity cost for lower profile speakers is still significant, yet less severe. 

Since GWWC chapters are responsible for leading Giving Games themselves, they bear the opportunity cost internally. But this cost diminishes over time: a chapter can run a Giving Game and then use the same materials (together with an improving set of online resources) to run a Giving Game with another group, building their outreach skills in the process.

In a Giving Game, the primary cost is a financial one in the form of funding for the donation. Our study involved 310 participants in Giving Games, which required seed donations totaling £3,159—a modest cost of about £10 per participant. Of course, this isn’t a traditional cost, as the money will go to charity. As such, someone who already intends to donate can use that same money to sponsor a Giving Game with essentially no cost.[iii]

From the perspective of a chapter considering running an event, the difference in cost structures is stark. The lecture-style event format is a net drain on charitable resources outside the chapter while the Giving Game format contributes resources in the form of the donations that flow to charity. 


The numbers clearly suggest that rather than simply comparing Giving Games with lecture-style events, it’s critical to further distinguish between lectures featuring charity CEOs and lower profile lecture events.

CEO-led events have a lot going for them. They’re very well attended and receive great feedback. And while there’s a significant opportunity cost, the practical implications of that cost are unclear: if a chapter wants to arrange a talk for a CEO, the CEO wants to do it, and as our results suggest, people will love it, it’d be hard to argue against the event.

More problematically, high-profile speaker events aren’t scalable. There’s a finite number of CEOs of effective charities, a limited number of speaking events they can lead, and a limited number of places they can speak without incurring significant time and travel costs.

This means that for most chapters, and especially chapters starting in new locations, outreach activities will primarily take the form of Giving Games or lower profile lecture events. Comparing these two formats, Giving Games have considerable advantages.

Our survey data suggests that Giving Games are slightly better received than non-CEO lecture events. Giving Games also attract considerably more attendees than traditional lecture-style outreach events, so even if there were no difference in effectiveness, the Giving Game model would be preferable.

Final Thoughts

We’re happy to share these findings and hope they will be helpful to others trying to spread the word about effective giving. But we do need to caution that our results were based on only 25 events (in sample, 37 overall). If you run a Giving Game or a host a lecture event, please collect and share data on your experience to help us build a deeper understanding about the best ways to conduct outreach.

[i] Some Giving Games explicitly tie the donation to attendance, giving people an additional incentive: if they attend, more money goes to charity.

[ii] These results apply to the event attendees who opted to answer the survey (535 respondents out of 798 participants). 

[iii] Depending on the charities presented, Giving Game funders do face the risk that the participants will give to a “suboptimal” charity.  In this study, 74% of the money went to GiveWell-recommended charities. The other 26% of the money went to Amnesty International, Freedom from Torture, and Girl Effect.

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About the author:

Jon Behar

As COO, Jon helps coordinate The Life You Can Save’s various projects and set the organization’s overall strategic direction. He founded and continues to run our Giving Game project, a global philanthropy education initiative that teaches people skills to give more effectively and makes these lessons tangible by providing workshop participants with real money to donate to the charities of their choice.

Prior to joining The Life You Can Save, Jon spent ten years at a prominent hedge fund, working primarily in the areas of risk management, portfolio optimization, and algorithm development. He has also served on the board of directors for GiveWell, a widely-respected charity evaluator.

Jon now lives on Bainbridge Island, WA with his wife Meghann Riepenhoff (an acclaimed artist) and their dog Oso.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.