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All of our members are dedicated to eradicating poverty in the developing world, yet they come from numerous and diverse backgrounds and professions. Below are some insights into their reasons for taking the Pledge to Give and the impact it has had on their lives.
See the full list of members here.
If you'd like to get in contact with one of our members to talk one to one about what life is like having taken the GWWC pledge then send us an email and we will be happy to get back in touch with you.
Catriona Mackay is a civil servant, living in London, UK, with her husband and her cat.
‘Since my early teens I've been excited about how much more good you can do by choosing the right charities, but it was only when I discovered Giving What We Can in my mid-thirties that I started giving a substantial proportion of my income.
I'm a civil servant for four days a week, and try to cram far too much into the rest of my time; writing fiction, volunteering for Giving What We Can, learning new things (Hindi, psychology and statistics at the time of writing), reading Shakespeare plays aloud with my friends, playing Bridge, good food, good wine. At first I was concerned that giving 10% would get in the way of some of these things, but I've found that it's easy to have a comfortable and even luxurious lifestyle on 90% of my part-time, public sector salary.
I'm a Christian, albeit a slightly confused and atypical one. Like most or all religious traditions, mine has quite a bit to say in favour of giving. I love the parable of the widow's mite: "As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others’ ..."
Whatever the original meaning of this story, the message of Giving What We Can makes it true in a literal way. A small donation to a cost effective charity really can make a bigger difference than a huge donation to an average charity.’
Lee Bishop is an administrative assistant at an office in Edinburgh, he is originally from Runcorn.
I started giving to charity when I was still in school. I've always felt a need to help others and charity was my way to do that. I donated some of my Christmas and Birthday money and I gave 10% of any money I earned. At the time, I gave to and fundraised for charities supporting the homeless. When I read an article on Giving What We Can it was a real eye-opener into the effectiveness of donations. I was amazed at the differences between charities. It’s something I had never been told or really thought about. I took the pledge to give and began giving to the most cost-effective charities. I was always going to give, but after reading about Giving What We Can I felt it was also my responsibility to give effectively. I do still donate to less cost-effective charities, but in much smaller quantities and only in addition to my pledge.
There is an illusion that to give significantly to charity you have to make a massive personal sacrifice. I really don't think that's true. My Grandad once told me "It doesn't matter how much money you earn, whether that is 10k a year or 50k a year, you will always have more or less nothing at the end of the month". By donating 10% of my income I can save lives with money I would have squandered on things I don't need. In fact, I don't think there is anything I could spend my pledge money on that would give me the sense of satisfaction or wellbeing that I experience through giving to charity.
Giving a proportion of my income has got me into work on Monday mornings when the prospect of stacking shelves, painting railings or typing letters didn't quite ignite the same passion as saving lives. My income is less than the UK Average, and I donate at least 10% of it, yet I still do all the things I love. I go on nights out with my friends, and I travel down to as many Liverpool matches at Anfield as I possibly can. I'm not a professional philanthropist, though I admire those who are. I could give more than I do, I could cut back more, but I've found a level of giving that I am at peace with. My hope is that Giving What We Can will continue to help people realise that regular cost-effective giving can make a phenomenal difference to those who need it without requiring a complete lifestyle change.
Becky Cotton-Barratt is a research student in the field of complexity science, studying at Warwick University.
‘Although I don't know what I want to do in the future, it's good to know that I'm doing what I can within my current means to help people.
As a young person and then a student, you get by on little to no income and so making this pledge now, at this stage in my life states very clearly and firmly in my mind that giving is, and will continue to be, a fundamental part of my life. I found living on a student income to be well within my means, so I don't think I'll particularly feel any monetary regret or envy. After all you can't miss what you haven't had!
I was very surprised, and quite shocked, by the difference in efficiency between charities. As part of my research I deal with huge orders of magnitude, but to actually be confronted with such numbers when considering charity efficiency is astounding. I feel very strongly that the work Giving What We Can is doing should be broadcast from every rooftop. People should be able to make easy, informed choices about where they donate money, and Giving What We Can is doing an excellent job in facilitating these decisions.’
Tom Greenway is the owner of a small publishing company in Worcester, UK, specializing in art books and magazines.
‘I feel that I am at a great stage in life – with a successful and established company – and was looking for a way to start giving something back. When I read about Toby’s ideas and Giving What We Can in a newspaper article it just made perfect sense, especially when it comes to giving as efficiently as possible.
In setting up a business, ensuring that it runs as efficiently as possible is one of the major keys to success, and so a charity organization that runs on similar principles really appealed to me. Everyone just loves to get the maximum ‘bang for their buck’ and in this instance it’s getting the most good work done for your money, which for me gives twice the satisfaction of giving.
I would also like to donate some of my time in the future to help with marketing and spreading the word. I’m sure there are many more people out there just like me who would also love to be part of such a fantastic project that will in turn affect the lives of so many others.’
Though it might sound naive or selfish, I don’t think it really occurred to me that the plight of the global poor might be my problem before I studied ethics at university. As I thought more about morality, I couldn't escape the conclusion that I ought to do more. Encountering Giving What We Can introduced me to people who struggled with the same issues, who shared similar values, and had a clear idea of how to approach this seemingly intractable problem. It seems to me that the distribution of wealth in the world today involves a double tragedy. On the one hand, the very poorest lack the resources to meet their basic human needs, in terms of food, shelter, medical care and the like. On the other, many of those in the rich world fritter away the money that could improve this situation on things that fail to bring them happiness or fulfilment. GWWC is a movement that draws attention to this situation, and shows us an alternative way. For now, I have resolved to give away 10% of my income as a strategy consultant to the most effective charities, as evaluated by GWWC. In the future I am open to increasing this share and/or entering careers which more directly help the less fortunate.
Judith is a GP living in Reading.
My husband Jeremy and I joined Giving What We Can in 2010 because we want the world to be a fairer better place for the poorest and most vulnerable people in it. We have rich lives with work, children, family and friends, interests and music and would like everyone to share in those possibilities. However we think it is unacceptable that there is so much unnecessary unfairness in the world, and we wanted to do something practical and direct to address that.
I enjoy my work as a half-time as a GP in Reading. Jeremy is a history lecturer at the University of Reading. We have two children aged 5 and 9 who attend the local primary school, and have been giving since before our children were born so they don't notice any change in our standard of living. We chose to live in a smaller house than we could have afforded, which means we have lower outgoings and gives us more flexibility, making it easier for us to do things like participate in Giving What We Can.
Mark Lee is a non-profit director based in New York, US.
‘Three years ago in undergrad, I wanted (and still want) more than anything to help the world as much as possible, but I didn't know how. I studied ethics, looked for others with similar aims, and scoured the internet. One day I found Toby Ord's academic website and read his thesis. We corresponded over email about high impact careers and he mentioned he would be launching Giving What We Can soon! It was right up my alley, having read Peter Singer's work on global poverty, and I took the pledge (and then the Further Pledge).
What drew me to Giving What We Can is its emphasis on high-quality evidence and cost-effectiveness. I'm always thinking about how I can increase my positive impact - it can be challenging to donate 100x more, but relatively effortless to donate 100x more effectively, which comes out to the same thing. The bottom line is how much we help others, not how much of a sacrifice we have to make. Giving cost-effectively is a clear win.
I also like the idea of giving now rather than later. As my career progresses, my income will increase. If I wait to give, I may keep adjusting to higher and higher standards of living (without getting much happier, evidence suggests) and it may be hard to take a huge hit. If I give now, my income will still increase, it'll just increase less quickly. It's all uphill from here!’
Jenny works at Harrogate Borough Council and lives with her two sons.
I live in Harrogate with my older job-seeking son and (when he’s home from university) my younger student son. I work four days a week for the local authority, and have a part-time second job.
Although I’ve always given to charity and done a bit of volunteering in the past, it was only recently that I felt impelled to try to make a difference in the world. For years I’d felt a dissatisfaction with the way the country was being run, and I didn’t think there was much I personally could do about it. Then I read “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, went to a conference addressed by Marcus Borg, and started thinking about what I COULD do, as I was getting tired of my own constant whinging! I joined The Equality Trust and the Green Party and then I read an interview with Toby Ord in the Guardian and knew that joining Giving What We Can had to be the next step.
What I love about Giving What We Can is that, through the various resources I found on the website, it shows you that ordinary people in ordinary jobs – like me! - can actually make that difference and can maximise the value of donating by giving to the most cost-effective charities out there. That’s important to me, as I earn an average salary, so I’m not in the same league as the Bill Gates and Warren Buffetts of this world. I want to do the most good I can for the money I have available.
I joined Giving What We Can in January 2012 and it’s become second nature now, not something I think about all the time, although the first couple of donations felt momentous. Mostly I’ve supported AMF, and also SCI; I’ve also taken advantage of “The Big Give” which multiplies my impact by matching my donations.
I haven’t told lots of people what I’m doing, but one friend has challenged me about the way we make our names public. He’s a Christian and thinks that when you donate, it should be in secret – "your right hand shouldn’t know what your left hand is doing" (Matthew 6 vv 3-4). But I’m not giving for personal reward; I’m giving to have a positive effect on the lives of others. If everyone can see that it’s possible to have an ordinary job and an ordinary salary and still be able to donate 10% of it, they might think about doing the same and doing that amount of good themselves. So there’s a good reason for publicity.
Since joining Giving What We, instead of saving a larger amount in a building society, I’m now saving a much smaller amount as an additional pension contribution. I don’t eat out as much or buy as much stuff. On the whole I’ve not had to make major changes to my lifestyle, and in fact, joining has in fact been extremely beneficial for me: I feel empowered now when I didn't before. I know I am making a difference. We don’t need to wait for someone else to sort out the inequalities of the world and set it to rights – each one of us can get cracking and start making a difference right now.
Alcino is a professor of Moral Philosophy living with his wife and three children in Uberlândia, Brazil.
If I imagine myself in the shoes of someone suffering from absolute poverty, especially of sick children at high risk of dying, I really can not equate their urgent needs with my mere preferences. Perhaps, morally, I should donate most of my income to alleviate such suffering, but surely I ougth to give some significant portion of my income. So I decided to be part of Giving What We Can. I and my family are happy with this, and I try to spread the word and similar ideas, such as The Life You Can Save. Today, to be part of the fight against absolute poverty is a component of an ethical life.
Neil is an assistant professor at National University of Singapore.
As a child, I went to India several times to visit my relatives. I was astonished by the poverty I saw, both in the cities and in the countryside. There was also a more pleasant surprise -- the enormous buying power of Western money. By contributing to the most cost-effective solutions to global poverty, I can use the latter tool to solve the former problem.
If my father had scored 1% less on an exam at the end of high school, he wouldn't have received the first of many scholarships that took him to America, giving me all the opportunities that come with being born in a wealthy nation. I know what good fortune this is. Thanks to Giving What We Can, I can use the fruits of my good fortune to help others in truly spectacular ways.
Julia is a social worker living with her husband in Medford, Massachusets.
I've thought a lot about charitable giving since I was a kid. When I met my husband, Jeff, the Giving What We Can pledge was a new idea to him. I worried it would scare him off, but soon it was important to both of us. Over the years we've spurred each other to think more critically about it and be more effective than we probably would have been alone. I love that we're both thinking and working on this.
I think it was a lot easier for us to donate a high percentage because we started young. We were thinking about this from the time we were students, so we just never developed expensive tastes. The research shows that what most affects people's happiness is their personalities and their social connections, so we prioritize spending time with family and friends. Quality time with them gives us a lot of satisfaction.
My grandmother always gave 10% of her income to charity, which she considered a religious duty. It wasn't a big deal to her – it was just a normal part of her life. I think once giving becomes a habit, it stops being stressful and starts being fun. At this point, I just don't spend the money and then at the end of the year I get to decide where to give it, which is pretty exciting.
Jeff and I will donate about 45% of our income this year. I decide where to donate my earnings, and he decides where to donate his. We usually end up choosing the same organizations, but sometimes in different proportions. This year I'll probably donate mostly to Against Malaria Foundation. I also plan to donate to some effective altruism outreach organizations, because I think getting the word out there is really important. I'd love to see more people thinking carefully about where and how much they give.
I used to focus mostly on how little I could spend and how much I could give. Now I focus more on effectiveness – what's the most helpful thing I can be doing with my money? How can I use my time to further great ideas?
A few years ago at a party, someone told me that the lives of people who donate a lot must be “very dreary.” I have to laugh when I think of that now! We don't have some of the material things our friends do (cars, big apartments, daily mochas) but we have enough for the things that really matter to us. And through Giving What We Can and similar organizations, I've met some of the most interesting people I know.
Boris is a maths teacher, living with his girlfriend in Old Bridge, New Jersey.
I was convinced that giving should be a part of my life by Peter Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" but started giving slowly after auditing a philosophy course at Rutgers taught by Larry Temkin. Nick Beckstead, a fellow Giving What We Can member encouraged me to join Giving What We Can over lunch one day, over three years ago. By then I was giving charitably, and it made sense to increase the amount. I want to make the world a better place, and there's nothing I can buy for myself for $5 that's of equivalent value to an anti-malaria bednet to a family that needs it. Currently, I'm the Online Community Officer for Giving What We Can; I respond to all the firstname.lastname@example.org e-mails, keep the chapter websites updated, and sometimes help creating posters for Giving What We Can events. I am also the president of the Rutgers chapter of Giving What We Can.
I think cost-effectiveness is the most important factor when choosing a charity. Furthermore, it's a specific application of a more general perspective that seems to be the most rational approach to problem solving. Because of this, I try to encourage more people to give charitably, and to give more cost-effectively. I am giving 50% of my income to Against Malaria Foundation. I additionally give small amounts to Vegan Outreach and The Humane League. I discovered that I can very comfortably live on 50% of my income: the best things in life are free (a loving relationship, friends, family) or cheap (books, internet readings, Netflix movies). Knowing there is a community of others who are doing the same motivates me to keep giving, and it feels magnificent.
There are people who think I'm giving too much. People think I should "help myself first". But I'm already investing about 10% of my income (at 13% return rate). Even after all my giving and saving, I'm still richer than 95% of the world's population, I think that's plenty enough. I choose to live frugally - it's just the extension of the same cost-effectiveness principle: spend money on things that are most needed/bring the most satisfaction. An apartment rent that is twice as costly won't double my enjoyment, and I can buy significantly more pleasure with the money I save. I'm not into perfection - I'm into satisfaction. My life, in my opinion, after the 50% donation, 10% savings, paying taxes, paying rent, buying food, is still more luxurious than any past king's: I have better and more varied food, I have better music and literature, and can see more of the world. Ultimately, I wish more people took the Giving What We Can pledge.
Clare Morris is a Masters student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, originally from Lancashire.
‘It was a trip to Zambia/Zimbabwe when I was 18 that really got me interested in the developing world. Since then, I’ve continued to travel extensively. Last year I joined a team of twenty medics on the Sahara Health Initiative. We were in Algeria working in refugee camps, helping children with Trachoma infections. Trachoma is an eye infection that affects the children in that region, and one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases. The initiative covered all aspects of healthcare including endemic disease, immunisation, increasing the number of medically trained professionals in the camps and public health policy. It was heart breaking seeing people who were already having to contend with dire poverty, heat and drought suffering under this added burden. Knowing how easily cured Trachoma is with the right medication, I realised I wanted to do whatever I could to get those tablets into the mouths of the children who need them – whether that meant encouraging companies to donate the medication, or donating to the charities who distribute it.
After working at Oxfam in the health policy team I joined Giving What We Can last year because I firmly believe that every pound raised for charity should be spent in the most effective way. Treatments for Neglected Tropical Diseases are the best health buys available, and it’s important to make sure more people know about them! I’m glad that by giving 10% of my income I can save lives and massively benefit the health of those who aren’t as fortunate as me.’
Stephen Walker runs a consultancy business in Canberra, Australia, and lives with his wife and two sons.
‘I was drawn to the idea of giving after I re-evaluated my career and life trajectory. I was a senior executive leading 600 staff but it wasn’t fulfilling. So I abandoned 24 years as a civil servant and started my own consultancy business. I wanted more time for me, more time for my family and more time to contribute to my community. I used this “me-change” as the trigger to start giving 10% of the gross income from my business to help fight global poverty. Not only that, but as a family, we also decided to start giving 10% of the gross income from my wife’s consultancy business too.
This was a decision we took as a family, because we fundamentally believe it is the morally right thing to do. As a family we’d previously lived for three-years in Thailand where I had managed aspects of the Australian aid program in South East Asia. My youngest son was born in Thailand and we have travelled the region extensively. From a young age, my sons have seen poverty for themselves. Now, at 11 and 14 years of age, they understand the disparity that exists in the world. As such, we do what we can as a family. We make decisions on where we give as a family. For us it’s important but it’s also achievable. These days my sons have even chosen to contribute themselves.’
Joey is a psychology student living in Vancouver.
I have always wanted to help people, which expressed itself as being heavily involved in anti-bullying in primary school. When I was older I watched documentaries on global poverty and problems in the developing world. This prompted me to expand my concerns and become a global activist. I feel deep empathy for those who suffer regardless of what country they're from. I have been a member of the effective altruism community for six months and in that time have learned a lot of ways to improve my effectiveness and help even more people. I plan on studying social psychology to help me understand people’s motivations and try to use this to make the idea of effective altruism and earning-to-give spread to a wider audience.
I do a lot of Giving What We Can-related activities. I ran the an 80k meetup, helped start up THINK, and am currently working on setting up a Giving What We Can chapter in Vancouver. I also eat vegan because of ethical considerations. I plan on using my career to do as much good as I can, mostly based around inspiring people to consider effectiveness when deciding how they can help people. My career will also involve donating anything I make over 25,000 and 10% or more of everything I make under that. I primarily donate to Giving What We Can’s and Givewell’s top recommended charities, but also donate to animal rights causes.
It is easy to keep my pledge because I have a community and friends and family that both support and donate themselves. I live with three other roommates who also help on most of the same projects. I have found donating to be a surprisingly easy way to really help the world. Even working at minimum wage I could donate 10% and still live in the top 5% of the world population. I took the future pledge because helping people is very important to me and I realized that money does not buy happiness. In fact studies show one of the best things to increase your happiness is to help others.
When I donate I can vividly imagine where my donations are going. I can imagine impoverished people getting their life improved or a deadly mosquito being kept from a young child. The thought of how easy it is to prevent such pain and suffering (sometimes for cheaper than eating out) it seems like a clear choice.
When I talk to people about the life choice I have made with donating, I am very positive and proud. Many have moved in the same direction themselves. I would say my life, if anything, has improved since donating more and working on effective altruism activities.
Giving What We Can has provided a strong community of like-minded people who also want to help others. The effective altruism community as a whole has connected me to more new friends, new ideas, and ways of helping more people than I thought was possible.
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