After writing a lot about giving effectively and creating a culture of giving, I’ve decided I want a chance to get in on the action. So I’ve decided to become a member of the organization GivingWhatWeCan. The upshot of GivingWhatWeCan is agreeing the following pledge:
The Pledge to Give
I recognise that I can use part of my income to do a significant amount of good in the developing world. Since I can live well enough on a smaller income, I pledge that from today until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn to whichever organizations can most effectively use it to fight poverty in developing countries. I make this pledge freely, openly, and without regret.
Being a college student, I don’t make much income, but I still can comfortably afford 10%, which amounts to a donation of $621 so far this year, which I’ll give to Givewell’s top charities. But why?
GivingWhatWeCan is based on three big ideas:
#1: We can give seriously
Extreme poverty means that people are living on less than the equivalent of $1 US dollar a day, and cannot even afford to meet their basic needs. But we can help. The problem, while complicated, is not without solution — we can use our comparative wealth to help them at very little relative cost. According to the UN Millenium Development Goals Assessment (PDF), it costs only $60 billion a year to end extreme poverty. That’s a lot of money, but with a US population of 300 million, it would only be $200 per person per year. By giving 10% of our income, despite what the objections may say, we can help close this gap.
#2: We can give effectively
Experts have tried many different ways to help people, but have failed for decades. However, among all these failures there have been a few successes we can count on to do cost-effective work. Looking to international aid, we can help a person live a dramatically better life for less than $2000, whereas in US the same benefit would cost 10x to 100x as much to help someone. By focusing on finding the right programs, we can maximize our benefit on helping others.
#3: We can give comfortably
Lastly, giving up 10% of our income doesn’t mean we’re doomed to a life of eating only rice and never going to see a movie. By giving up 10%, we will still end up in the top 1% of global wealth, and can still afford to live a good life. In fact, many report that giving up 10% hasn’t been a sacrifice at all, but rather makes them lastingly happier, and happiness research seems to back them up.
The point of this is not to be pretentious, but to point out the seriousness of international problems and show how we can give up just a little bit to help. I understand that other people may have different priorities and don’t think them moral monsters for not donating more, but donating more effectively has considerable bonuses for those in need.
And if 10% sounds too much, don’t be afraid — every little bit helps! You could consider Peter Singer’s much more modest pledge at “The Life You Can Save” — typically closer to 1%. Or you could consider GivingWhatWeCan’s “Give More Later Pledge”. Or, at least, just check them out.
Followed up in: Charity – Should I Talk About It?
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