Donating money

2021 December 25

There’s a lot of opportunity for well-off, altruistic people to make the world a better place by redistributing their money. Donating $4,500 to global health interventions via GiveWell will save a life. It’s terrible that people are dying of cheaply preventable causes, but the flip side is that if you have extra money, you can play a role in negating those causes. And if you believe that you can do even more good by donating elsewhere, that means that if your beliefs are correct, you’re saving or improving lives at even lower cost. To me, this is empowering: I don’t have to feel helpless in the face of all the bad things in the world, and I don’t have to first wait for systemic change or ask for permission to start giving money. In a 2015 poll, 1 in 6 Americans making over $80,000 a year considered their jobs to be meaningless. But the $4,500 statistic suggests that if they can afford it, they could make their jobs meaningful by donating a portion of their income to save a few lives every year.

I’ve pledged to donate 10% of my income. Of course, how much you can give is constrained by your financial situation. If you have high-interest debts or don’t have much excess money after covering basic expenses and budgeting for future plans, then you should focus on paying your bills. And of course, donating money is not the only or even primary way to contribute to the world. I’m lucky to be financially comfortable and just think that committing a portion of my money to charity is the right choice for me and is something many other people might be interested in doing.

It’s also reasonable to wait to donate money until later in life or to leave money to charity in your will, though this Vox article has good arguments for donating now rather than later. For now, I’m donating 10% of my income, and I will likely donate much more later since I work in a high-paying industry.

Why am I writing about donating money when plenty of information is available elsewhere? Knowing about other people’s donations has encouraged me to donate more, so I likewise want to share my thoughts on donating. (I recognize that being public about one’s donations is somewhat frowned upon—for example, the Bible encourages people to be discreet in their giving so that they’re not motivated by impressing others. But if we’re channeling people’s desire to impress to push them donate money to good causes, then that sounds like a good outcome to me.)

For more information in the same vein of thought about why and where to donate, Giving What We Can’s website is a good starting point.