Effective Altruism: A New Approach to Charitable Giving

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15 November 2023

By Amy

Effective altruism, both a philosophy and a movement, was developed in the 2000s and given the name in 2011 by William MacAskill and Toby Ord, two Oxford professors who wanted to maximise the impact of charitable giving. They believed that if people were going to be charitable and donate their money, they should do it most effectively by finding out which charities are the most effective with their donations and which have the greatest impact on people’s lives.

To do this, MacAskill and Ord co-founded Giving What We Can, which is not only a website which gives people advice on what charities do the best based on empirical evidence, but also a community of over 8,000 members who have pledged to donate over £2.7 billion throughout their careers through payroll giving (donating as you earn without paying tax) and have already donated £276 million. Similarly, GiveWell, a non-profit, is dedicated to analysing the effectiveness of charities and presenting the ones that save or improve lives the most per dollar to help people decide where to donate their money.

Now, you may be thinking that the EA movement is made up of the wealthy, but this is not the case. MacAskill began donating 10% from the age of 22 as an Oxford graduate and now donates everything above £26,000 after tax, which is well below the UK’s average yearly salary of £39,000 a year.

Many EAs are also millennials who have high-paying jobs, such as doctors or accountants, which allow them to ‘earn to give. ’ This shows that people are willing to settle for a comfortable lifestyle, rather than aim for luxury, because they know that if they can help others with their surplus income while still adequately looking after their wants and needs, then they should. Therefore you do not need to be in the upper tax bracket to support charities regularly. If someone earns over £49,000 in the UK, they are in the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest, and if you find that hard to believe, just remember that half of the world’s population lives on less than £5.65 a day.

To find out how rich you are compared to the rest of the world, you can enter your income and the number of people in your household into Giving What We Can’s wealth calculator. It shows that if a single adult earns £20,000 a year, they are in the top 5% richest of the global population. Even if this person donated 10% of their income a year (£2,000), they would still be in the top 6% and their donations could fund the distribution of 557 insecticide-treated bed nets. This really puts into perspective the vast differences in how wealth is distributed across the globe and should hopefully make us a little more altruistic and a little more frugal in the way we live.



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