GLOSSARY OF TERMS
GLOSSARY FOR IMPACT-FOCUSED CAREER STRATEGY
This page briefly defines some key terms that we use to think about how you can help animals over the course of your career and provides some suggested further reading.
THE ANIMAL ADVOCACY MOVEMENT OR ANIMAL ADVOCACY COMMUNITY
We use these terms in a broad sense to refer to any and everybody working intentionally to help animals, directly or indirectly. We’re usually focusing mostly on those working to help farmed animals. This includes activists, donors, researchers, and entrepreneurs. We include the promotion of animal-free foods and cultivated meat — meat grown from animal cells, without requiring the slaughter of animals — in this community too.
Effective altruism is the idea of using evidence and rational thinking to try to do the most good that you can do. People interested in effective altruism are often interested in causes ranging from addressing global poverty and health issues through to reducing the risk that humanity goes extinct. A lot of people in the effective altruism community are interested in ending factory farming or helping wild animals.
Sometimes, we might refer to the “effective animal advocacy community,” meaning the overlap of the effective altruism and animal advocacy communities.
IMPACT, EFFECTIVENESS, AND BEING IMPACT-FOCUSED
By “impact,” we mean the positive effects of our actions. We’re usually talking about positive impact for farmed animals (and sometimes wild animals), such as improving the conditions that animals experience or sparing animals from being born into horrendous conditions. When we refer to something as “effective,” “impactful,” or “high-impact,” we’re talking about it having lots of these positive effects.
If we talk about “impact-focused animal advocates,” or something similar, we’re referring to those animal advocates who think seriously and carefully about how they can increase or maximise their positive impact for animals, i.e. the effective animal advocacy community.
For something to be cost-effective, it means that it has positive effects and doesn’t cost too much in terms of money, time, or other resources. This is very important, because animal advocates do not have unlimited amounts of time or money — in fact they have far less of these things than we would like! So striving to focus on cost-effective actions and tactics (rather than, say, effective but expensive tactics or cheap but ineffective tactics) means that we can help animals better.
We use “career strategy” to refer to the ideas and planning that goes into making sure that animal advocates and aspiring effective altruists can have a high impact over the course of their careers. So it’s a catch-all term for the various terms and ideas discussed on this page.
EARNING TO GIVE
This refers to the idea of focusing your career on earning as much money as you can so that you can donate it to effective nonprofits. This could involve shifting career paths entirely, rather than just seeking a promotion. For example, some people have gone into quantitative trading or investment banking, enabling them to donate tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
FACTORS THAT AFFECT HOW USEFUL A PARTICULAR JOB OR CAREER PATH COULD BE
How much impact could you have in the job or career path? This is affected by the cause that you’re focusing on (e.g. animal advocacy or global poverty), the particular animal issues that you’re working on (e.g. companion animals or farmed animals), and the particular way that you contribute to these issues (e.g. fundraising or lobbying). This is perhaps the most important factor in determining how useful a particular job or career path could be. Some roles have a much bigger impact potential than others, so we need to resist the temptation to think of anything that could be good for animals as equally good.
Imagine an investment banker who quits their job to take on a new role cleaning out dog kennels. That banker could have done a lot more good if they had stayed in their job and donated half of their salary to effective nonprofits. They might help a few dogs at the shelter, but their donations might well have helped thousands or even millions* of animals each year. Even if they donated to dog shelters, they might be able to pay for several kennel cleaners.
*We’re not exaggerating! See this example estimate, if you’re interested.
REPLACEABILITY AND COUNTERFACTUALS
If you didn’t take the job or career path, what would happen otherwise? This isn’t really a separate factor to “impact potential” — it’s an idea that affects the impact you have in roles.
Imagine that, while working at a dog shelter for a year, our ex-banker friend manages to help keep 100 dog kennels clean. That’s amazing! But their true, counterfactual impact — i.e. what they manage to add, compared to if they hadn’t applied for the kennel cleaning role — isn’t really to help 100 dogs. If they hadn’t been offered that job, someone else would probably have been offered it instead. They might not have been quite as good as the ex-banker — they might have only kept 90 dog kennels clean that year — so, a quick look at this suggests that the ex-banker’s true, counterfactual impact is to help 10 more dogs that year than would have otherwise been helped.
In reality, though, there are other positive indirect effects of taking jobs like this, so the effect would be greater than helping 10 dogs. For example, the person who didn't get the job might still take another job that helps animals, so by applying themselves, the banker has increased the number of high-quality applicants for looking for roles that help animals.
How well-suited are you to the role or path, and how good would you be at doing it? How would you compare to the person who would do that role if you didn’t do it? Your “personal fit” can multiply the impact that you have, for better or for worse.
Imagine our investment-banker-turned-kennel-cleaner; it matters a lot whether they can clean out one kennel per hour, or ten, and whether they can earn enough as a banker to donate $500 per year, or $50,000. This sort of difference might also affect whether or not you get promoted, hone your skills, or achieve impressive things. So your personal fit affects your career progression, too.
Would you enjoy the role or path? This is important in its own right, but it also affects whether you can sustainably work in a particular role or path without burning out.
Imagine if our investment-banker-turned-kennel-cleaner didn’t even like dogs, but really loved investment banking!
Would you hone your skills in the role or path? Would you build up a network of helpful people? Would you achieve impressive things and build up credentials? “Career capital” refers to all of these things, and anything else that would help you secure or excel in other roles later.
An investment banker might gain useful mathematical skills, build friendships with influential people, and work at a company with a strong international reputation; they would lose out on these things if they quit their job to clean dog kennels.
What backup options does the role or path leave you with? What would you do if you realised after a while that you didn’t have good personal fit? How relevant is the career capital that you would gain to the other options you are considering?
Imagine someone torn between investment banking, cleaning dog kennels, or doing a PhD in economics. It might be possible to switch from the PhD to investment banking or vice versa, but they might find it harder to get hired if they spent a few years cleaning dog kennels.
What would you learn about your skills, abilities, and preferences by taking this role or path? Is there a chance that this role or path would be unusually promising for you?
The person torn between investment banking and cleaning dog kennels might already know that they would be good at cleaning dog kennels but not know how good they would be at investment banking. Given that the impact potential of working in investment banking and donating lots could be very high, it seems worth putting effort into learning whether they would be able to do this or not; the value of information is high.
Which job or path would have the highest impact, once you take into account the possibility of coordinating with others in the animal advocacy and effective altruism communities? If we care about overall impact for animals, we shouldn’t focus too narrowly on our own needs and abilities — we should think about how we can help animals most effectively together.
Imagine if our investment banker and their best friend — a lifelong dog handler who was a few years from retirement — were both considering applying for the kennel cleaning role at the dog shelter. The banker would have more to gain from an economics PhD than their friend would; this seems like a better option, even if the banker would be better at cleaning kennels than their friend would.
How will the path or role affect the knowledge, influence, or reputation of the animal advocacy and effective altruism communities?
Our investment banker might get some praise for helping animals by cleaning out dog kennels, which could have a very small positive effect on the reputation of the animal advocacy movement. But gaining an economics PhD would probably have a larger effect on its reputation by making it seem more professional and credible, and would probably bring influence and knowledge in other ways too.
The point of this example isn’t to diminish the impact of cleaning dog kennels. We are grateful for the work that kennel cleaners do and recognise that it has value in improving animals’ lives. The point is that, if we all think about our career plans carefully, we can have a lot more impact for animals than we otherwise would.
You might get a better sense of how to apply these concepts by reading through our skills profiles or applying for our online course and workshop. We might be able to help talk through some of these ideas with you if you apply for a one-to-one careers advice call with us.
None of these ideas are original to Animal Advocacy Careers. The definitions that we use are mostly based on discussions in the effective altruism community, especially the content provided by 80,000 Hours.
If you’d like to read more about these terms and their implications, we recommend:
80,000 Hours’ article on “How to make tough career decisions”
80,000 Hours’ article about comparative advantage (this concept is especially tough!)
80,000 Hours on “Why and how to earn to give”
The Centre for Effective Altruism’s “Map of Effective Altruism Concepts”