My personal story (written in 2012)

I didn’t always give 50% to charity and until about five years ago, I gave nothing. During college, I had the immense fortune of learning about Peter Singer and eventually reading his Famine, Affluence and Morality. His essay left a long-lasting impression on me, I felt he opened my eyes to something that was clearly true – helping others when it is of so little cost to you is the right thing to do.

Giving was not what my family did, so it was foreign to me to give my credit card number to someone for a service I would never see performed. Nevertheless I felt it was right, and continued to learn more about the issue, reading books and going to philosophy lectures. Giving more was a gentle progression, first joining a pledge to give 1%, then, realizing how good it felt, giving larger amounts and giving more often. I started doing “Birthday for Charity” – I would ask my friends who insisted on giving me a present to  donate to a charity of my choice instead; it was slow at first, but it’s become a wonderful tradition.

The turning point came when an acquaintance from the Philosophy Department offered to meet up for lunch. We talked about utilitarianism and other exciting topics; a bit into the conversation he asked if I’ve heard about Giving What We Can (I had) and then said “What do you think about joining?”. At the time, he and our colleagues were starting a Giving What We Can chapter at Rutgers and I eagerly joined in.

What excited me most was that the organizations I was now donating my 10% to were cost effective and transparent. Finally, in December 2011 when I started my first full-time job as a high school math teacher, I realized I could give 50% without decreasing my quality of life one bit. Even after all the donations I was earning more than I was when I was just a math tutor. I’ve never liked wasting money and have always been frugal. Now I simply apply the principle of cost effectiveness not just to my donations, but to my spending. By thinking strategically how to spend money, I get to enjoy a quality of life higher than if I had been spending 100% of my earnings as most people do.. I still get to enjoy restaurants and outings with friends, though we’ve found that movie nights or potluck at home are more fun. I don’t feel I’m missing out; this year my girlfriend and I are going on a road trip across the US.

Giving 50% has been a rewarding experience. The difficulties people said I would face have not materialized. It is astounding to me that I live better than most kings in history: I eat fresher and more varied food, I listen to the world’s best music at a press of a button, I have heating, cooling, and internal plumbing in my apartment, and I don’t need to worry about being assassinated. It brings me a great deal of satisfaction to know that a significant fraction of my time that I spend at work, I work not to better my life, but to tremendously help thousands of others.

My personal story

I can’t stop giving, I now give 50% of my income to the most cost-effective charity I can find.

It wasn’t always like this. My parents never gave to charity, and my first donation was probably mid-college after I read Peter Singer’s seminal essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality. I decided to start giving because I realized I could do so much more good for someone else with my $10 than I could do for myself.

Later, after college, I learned about Giving What We Can, an organization of people who give at least 10% of their income to charities that reduce extreme world poverty. I was astounded to learn that by giving to the most cost-effective charities, instead of the regular ones, my $10 could do as much good as $10,000!

This inspired me to not only give more, but to give more-effectively. After joining Giving What We Can I learned about Bolder Giving, and was inspired by some of their stories.

Having made giving a habit, and thus a more-central part of my life, I decided to join Bolder Giving as well.

I can’t think of anything better to do with my life than to help people in the most effective way I can find. When my $1,000 donation can cure 2,000 people of parasitic worms for a full year, or protect about 360 people from malaria for the next five years, I’m inspired to give more!

Starting to give is easy. For several years now I’ve been having a “Birthday for Charity” – I ask my friends who wish to give me gifts, to make a donation to my favorite charity instead. Last year I managed toraise over $2,000!

Start small, start today. Give, but make sure you do some research, others’ lives depend on it!

Give, because it’s morally right, part 2!

You might not want to hear this, but I think you should. Thomas Pogge, a world renowned philosopher has been writing about extreme world poverty for decades. He argues that we ought to actively try to help the world’s poorest (over a billion people that live on less than $1.25/day); one such way, of course, is charitable giving.

Pogge argues that by supporting our governments (politically and financially), we buttress a regime that imposes an international world order on the developing countries that harms the world’s poorest. Though the responsibility is diffuse, we are not absolved of the crimes the leaders we democratically elect impose against the world’s poorest. Our unequal trade barriers are preventing around $800 billion in revenue for developing nations every year; our nations are more than willing to support corrupt dictators by purchasing natural resources that presumably belong to the people and not the dictators; our nations sell arms to dictators who use them to subjugate uprisings; our banks keep safe the money these dictators stole from the people; and the list goes on.

By not actively working on helping those that are harmed by the system we helped establish and continue to help support, we are doing something seriously wrong. You might disagree, but you ought to readWorld Poverty and Human Rights before dismissing the argument. You might think Thomas Pogge is all-talk and no action academic, but he already gives at least 10% of his income to charities and is actively working to set up systems (http://www.healthimpactfund.org/) that will help the world’s poorest. Will you join him?

Give, because it’s morally right!

You might not want to hear this, but I think you should. Peter Singer, a world renowned philosopher wrote in 1972 a seminal essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality. In it he points out that most of us would not hesitate to rescue a drowning child from a shallow pond, even if our expensive shoes would be ruined. This seems to be an example of a general principle that “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.” It’s a sensible claim, and few would disagree. The punch-line of course is that you ought, rather than buy a bigger TV, donate your money to charity, thereby preventing an immense amount of bad from happening (every $0.50 donated toSchistosomiasis Control Initiative cures a person of parasitic worms for a full year).

You might resist the argument as I summarized it, but you ought to read the original essay before you disagree. As you can see, the decision whether to give or not give matters: for the recipient of your help, it is a year of pain or a year without it; for you, it is just fifty cents. Can two quarters more in your pocket be as important as the absence of pain for someone else?

Give, because you can help someone tremendously for so little!

Some charities use research-proven methods that cost very little to implement. What that means is that if you choose a cost-effective charity you can do so much good with even a small donation.

For example, giving only $0.50 to Schistosomiasis Control Initiative will cure someone of parasitic worms for an entire year! If it’s a child, she will go to school more days out of the year; if it’s an adult, he will be able to earn income for his family instead of writhing in pain at home.

Choosing an effective charity has become simpler. GiveWell has spent over 5 years searching for charities that use research-backed methods, are transparent, and have room for more funding. When GiveWell recommends a charity, you know that it will do a lot of good for every dollar you give.

The ultimate goal of charity should be to help, and it makes sense to help more than fewer. When I know how much good I can do with even a small donation, I am inspired to give what I can.

Give, because you’re richer than you ever imagined!

If you earn an income at the poverty level in America ($11,170), you’re already in the richest 12% of the world’s population! And if you earn the average income in the US ($41,000), you’re earning more than 99% of the world’s population! You are the 1%, like it or not.

How could this be? Simple: the vast majority of people in the world are obscenely poor. There are about three billion people in the world that live on less than $2/day. This figure does not mean “what I can buy in that country for $2 USD”, but instead has already been adjusted for the value of currency.

That means about three billion people live as well in their countries as you would if you had less than $2 living in the United States at your disposal every day.

All this means that even if you choose to give 50% of your income, you will still be in the richest 5% of the world’s population. Even if you give only 10% of your income, as long as you give to the most cost-effective charities, you will be able to do an immense amount of good.

How about curing over 8,000 people of parasitic worms every year that you chose to give 10% of your average-income-in-the-US salary?

Give, because you can do more good by giving than by doing!

If you go to a soup kitchen and donate one hour of your time, you will help some people. But if you work at a job that pays $25/hour, when you donate that money to the soup kitchen, they can hire help for at least 3 hours!

It gets even better if you give to charities that work in developing countries: for $25 you could fully fund a cataract surgery that will restore vision to a blind individual!

It’s counterintuitive to think this way at first, but think it through. If you give even a small fraction of your income, as long as you give to the most cost-effective charities, you can do a serious amount of good in the world! Every $5 protects someone from malaria for about 5 years and every$0.50 cures someone of parasitic worms in their stomach.

Give, because it makes life meaningful!

If you were asked to write the eulogy for yourself to be read at your funeral, you would likely want it to say “she was a generous woman, kind, caring, giving … she helped so many people through her life”. If similar words are what you’d like for someone to read about you once you are no longer alive, you have control over it: start giving!

I can’t think of anything more meaningful in life than helping people. I encourage you to get involved in helping people, but I urge you to do it methodically. For me, helping others isn’t about how good I will look in public, or how good it will make me feel once I am done (though I assure you it’s the most rewarding experience); for me, helping others means helping as many people as I can with the limited resources I have available.

Good intentions are not enough, some charities help people but it costs thousands of dollars to help someone a little, and others (usually unintentionally) even harm those they try to help (read about PlayPumps for example). So do some research and give to cost-effective charities. This way, when you give, you know you’re helping–and not just a bit–you are tremendously helping many people even with a small $10 donation.

Give, because it’s what you would do if you thought about it!

Peter Singer, a world-renowned philosopher wrote, in 1972, a seminal essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality. In it he points out that most of us would not hesitate to rescue a drowning child from a shallow pond, even if our expensive shoes would be ruined. This seems to be an example of a general principle that “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable importance, we should do it.” It’s a sensible claim, and few would disagree.

If you think that claim is sensible, consider this: rather than buying a bigger TV, you could buy a smaller one and donate the money saved to charity, thereby preventing an immense amount of bad from happening (for example, every $0.50 donated to Schistosomiasis Control Initiativecures a person of parasitic worms for a full year). The decision whether to give or not give matters immensely for the recipient of your help: it is a year of pain or a year without it, for you, it is just fifty cents. Can two quarters more in your pocket be as important as the absence of pain for someone else?

You can be more frugal, save money, give to charity and still get the things you want. For example, you can see the same movie in the theaters, but in the afternoon when it’s cheaper; take the money you save, donate it, and cure someone from pain! You can buy a coffee from another retailer for $1 less, donate the savings, and cure two people from pain! There are numerous ways to save and donate without sacrificing anything of value.

Give publicly, to inspire others!

Giving shouldn’t be done in secret. When you give to a cause, it’s hopefully because you want that cause to succeed, and its success matters. Hopefully you’ve done research and think the charity you endorse is awesome. So why not discuss with others what you think really matters? Most people already give to charity, do you wonder if the charity they support does more good than the charity you support? Wouldn’t you want to do more good with every donation you make?

Perhaps more importantly, when you have conversations about giving, you could inspire others to give more! Perhaps you will be inspired to give more, and everyone wins.

I was deeply inspired, and now I give 50% of my income to the most cost-effective charities I can find; and I do it publicly.

Turns out there is a huge number of people who give at least 1% of their income to charity, a large number of people who give at least 10% of their income to charity and there are many who either give 50% of their incomeor wealth.

All those are inspiring to me; if it wasn’t for them, I would have still been giving a miserly fraction of my income, and worse yet – to charities that weren’t as good as those that have the best evidence on their side.