We get asked a lot of questions about what we do. Here are answers to some of the most common ones.
Contents Frequently Asked Questions
- 1. Questions about us
- 2. Questions about giving
- 2.1. But giving doesn’t really work, does it?
- 2.2. What about climate change and the environment? Aren't they important too?
- 2.3. But don't we have to do more than just throw money at the problem?
- 2.4. Why give now, rather than later in life or in my will?
- 2.5. What if everyone did this? Would there be some kind of economic collapse?
- 2.6. What is the Giving What We Can Trust?
- 3. Questions about membership
- 3.1. What would I gain from becoming a member?
- 3.2. How do I become a member?
- 3.3. Why are the members' names public?
- 3.4. Could I become a member and not have my name published?
- 3.5. How can I find out more?
- 3.6. I'm not sure about becoming a member yet, but would like to help. What can I do?
- 3.7. How do you keep track of whether I follow through on my commitment?
- 3.8. What should I think about before pledging?
- 4. Questions about the pledge
- 4.1. What is the Pledge?
- 4.2. How does it work? Is it legally binding?
- 4.3. Why 10%?
- 4.4. What do you mean by income?
- 4.5. What about students / the unemployed / the retired?
- 4.6. Which organisations are the most effective?
- 4.7. Can I donate to organisations working in areas other than poverty relief?
- 4.8. What is the Further Pledge?
- 4.9. What is the Founders Pledge for Entrepreneurs?
Our goal is to play our part in making the world a better place. We nurture our community of members who have pledged to give 10% of their income to the most effective organisations in the world.
When we say “most effective”, we mean the charities which do as much good as possible with our donations. Some charities are as much as 1,000 times more effective than others, and we use in-depth research in order to recommend the charities which will do the most good with your donations. This has the additional benefit of putting pressure on aid organisations themselves to become more effective in order to attract our donations.
We provide support and a sense of community for those who are serious about giving, we challenge each other to give more, and we challenge governments by showing that people really do want more action on this serious issue.
No, we aren’t. We are asking you to commit to giving to other organisations which you believe will do the most good in the world. We are not competing with charities or other NGOs, but are playing a complementary role.
No. Giving What We Can is an alliance of people both religious and non-religious, united in the belief that where we can relieve suffering without having to make serious sacrifices, we should do so. It is a belief supported by many traditions and ethics, both religious and otherwise. An informal discussion group for religious Giving What We Can members exists — more information can be found here.
Actually, giving to the right charities can do an incredible amount of good. Have a look at our page on Myths About Aid for answers to the following questions:
- Do we already spend enough on foreign aid, and does it do any good?
- Is the problem too big for us to have any impact?
- Should we focus on our own countries rather than the developing world?
- Is aid useless due to corruption?
- Does aid make the problems worse by encouraging dependence and overpopulation?
- Should we be focussed on political action instead?
Environmental issues like climate change are undeniably important. Climate change seems set to cause severe suffering in the world, and this burden will fall disproportionately upon the world's poorest people.
Fighting climate change is therefore one way of preventing suffering. However research and experience has shown that it is very expensive to make any headway in the fight against climate change and its effects, and so it does not appear to us to be among the most effective ways to do good. If however you sincerely believe that it is, then you could spend your pledged money fighting climate change.
For more information, our conclusions are set out in depth on this page: Climate change
Yes, absolutely. Giving What We Can emphasises that we must do more than just give: we must give effectively. We need to look at the data and donate our money carefully. It can be the difference between saving a life and saving 1,000 lives.
Interventions need to be sustainable, and care needs to be taken to ensure that aid gets to those who need it. That is why our top charities are carefully assessed to ensure that they are effective and do long-term good.
We are not saying that donating is all that can be done. Political change could have an incredible effect, but it will take a long time to shift attitudes, meaning that change will take a while to come. In the meantime, there are lives that can be saved and diseases that can be cured.
There are a number of reasons to give while you earn, rather than leaving it until later:
- It is all too easy to put off giving and never quite get around to doing so. Giving while you earn is a way to seize the bull by the horns.
- If you give while you are still earning, your gifts are tax deductible. This means that the government effectively gives more to the same cause. This is not applicable if you wait until you have finished earning.
- The money you give has long term benefits to the communities which receive it. Curing someone of disease today means that they will be able to contribute much more to their society and its economy from now on, increasing the effectiveness of your donation. In effect, donating earlier does more good more quickly than donating later.
- If you give as you earn and join Giving What We Can, you can contribute to a larger movement towards the elimination of poverty. This will help foster a culture of giving, and send a message to our governments that we care about poverty in the developing world.
We sometimes get asked whether decreased consumption due to charitable giving might lead to an economic collapse in the developed world and thus make us less able to help others or ourselves.
The fact is that this just isn’t going to happen. We give 10% (or more) because so many in the developed world give nothing or very little. If everyone in the developed world were to start giving, we would each only need to give about 1% of our income in order to eliminate extreme poverty! If ever we get close to that situation, we will happily revise the proportion required by the Pledge.
The Giving What We Can Trust is a fund primarily set up to make it easier and more efficient to support our recommended charities. It allows UK donors to donate tax efficiently, including when supporting organisations based outside of the UK, such as Project Healthy Children. You do not have to be a member of Giving What We Can to donate through the Trust. For more information, see our Trust FAQs.
As a charitable movement, Giving What We Can is focussed on helping those in the most need, rather than benefiting ourselves.
However, taking the pledge can help to make giving easier and more rewarding: Many members find that setting the size of their year's donations in advance makes it easier to give, and feel encouraged by the knowledge that their donations are going to the most effective charities in the world. And by joining us, you can be part of the movement for change in the world.
In order to do this you need to take the Pledge. For more information, please go to our joining page.
Giving What We Can is unusual among charities in maintaining a public list of members. We do this because we see it as an effective way of publicising the cause, like a petition or public demonstration. By publicly showing our commitment to give we hope to challenge others to join us, and to help create a culture where giving is a normal and expected part of everyone’s life.
Being open about our giving also helps us to stick to our commitments and to forge a sense of community. We are certainly not interested in boasting about giving, but we believe that the benefits of modesty are outweighed by the benefits of making a public stand.
We feel that it is important that membership be public for the reasons set out above. Our list of members only displays name and occupation, and no contact details or private information.
However if this really is a barrier preventing you from joining us, please contact us and we should be able to accommodate you in keeping your details private.
Most of the information should be available on this website. For more about the Pledge, see our joining page. For more information about our recommended charities, see How We Assess Charities and Top Charities. Also please check out our blog for news of our ongoing work. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
If you’re not prepared to commit to giving 10%, why not sign up with us to Try Giving? This allows you to set a percentage of your income to give, and how long you want to give it for.
Each year, Giving What We Can carries out a review of our members' donations and requests that they record their donations, recipients and donation dates, as well as their annual income, using My Giving.
This review is optional, although the information it provides is very useful for the following reasons:
- It allows us to track the proportion of members who follow through on their pledge, showing us whether the commitment we encourage is realistic and is working.
- It allows us to quantify the impact that we have had on the charities we recommend, by comparing the amount people have donated with the amount they would have donated had they not joined Giving What We Can.
If for any reason you would prefer not to provide this information, please let us know, with a confirmation of whether you have kept to your pledge.
We believe the Pledge is a good choice for most people reading this, given how comparatively well off those of us in the rich world are - for example, someone earning $25,000 a year is in the richest 5.3% of the world’s population. We also think anyone considering the Pledge should carefully consider how it will interact with other situations in their lives.
Using money to free up time
- If you can do something very beneficial with your time, it may be better to spend money to save yourself time (by buying a dishwasher instead of hand-washing dishes, taking cabs instead of public transit, etc.) rather than donating it.
- Consider whether your likely budget would allow you to spend a reasonable amount of time on the things you consider most valuable.
Temporary financial constraints
- Someone who’s interested in starting a business may need to save up money to cover expenses in the early stages. In this case, the Founders Pledge may be a better fit (because the donation would happen upon a successful exit, rather than year by year).
- Someone who is currently a student (and thus only committing to donate 1% of their spending money if they pledge) should consider whether they will soon be paying off student loans. Depending on repayment policies in their country, people may find money is tighter after finishing their studies, and it may be a challenging time to give 10%.
People with health situations that require resources, time away from work, uncertainty about future expenses, etc. may not find that a consistent pledge works well for them. Perhaps it makes sense to make a conditional plan: an intention to donate a given percent in years when one’s medical situation is better, and to give less or not at all in harder times.
Investing in future ability to help
In some cases, spending now will let you help more later by increasing your eventual skills or earnings.
- Saving money in order to afford further study, unpaid internships, and the like may decrease your ability to pledge now but increase your long-run career capital.
- In addition to the value of your physical and mental health for its own sake, prioritising your health now may also allow you to do more good in the future.
While there are situations like these in which a full Pledge might not be suitable, people from many walks of life have also found it to be a good way to commit to building the kind of world they want to see. Many of us, when realizing how rich we are compared to the world average, have welcomed the Pledge as a tool for giving back and for encouraging others to do the same.
If you find that the full Pledge isn’t a good fit for you at this time, you might consider Try Giving as a more flexible option.
The Pledge is a public commitment to give 10% of your income the most effective charities in the world.
For more information: Join Us.
The Pledge is not a contract and is not legally binding. It is, however, a public declaration of lasting commitment to the cause. It is a promise, or oath, to be made seriously and with every expectation of keeping it. All those who want to become a member of Giving What We Can must make the Pledge and report their income and donations each year.
If someone decides that they can no longer keep the Pledge (for instance due to serious unforeseen circumstances), then they can simply contact us and cease to be a member. They can of course rejoin later if they renew their commitment. Obviously taking the Pledge is something to be considered seriously, but we understand if a member can no longer keep it.
We chose 10% because it strikes a good balance. It is a significant proportion of one's income, in recognition of the importance of the problem and the need to take real action. But it is also within reach of most people in the developed world.
There is also a strong historical connection to the idea of tithing, a tradition in Judaism and Christianity of giving 10% of your income to charity or the Church. Islam has a similar practice (zakat) in which those who are able give between 2.5 and 20% to the poor and needy.
The pledge is of course just a minimum. Some members decide to go further than this and pledge to give a higher percentage, such as 20% or even 50%.
By income, we mean your gross salary or wages, prior to income tax being deducted. This does not include money gained through other activities, such as investment income. However, if you wish to donate a proportion of this in addition to 10% of your salary then you are of course welcome to.
So if you earn $30,000 a year before tax, you would be required to give at least $3,000. Depending on your country and choice of charity, your donation may be tax deductible, making the real cost of giving 10% less than it first appears.
Many students, unemployed people and full-time parents have little or no income, but are largely supported by money from family members, the government or a student loan.
The Pledge does not require you to donate any of this additional funding (although it does commit you regarding any future income). However, in the interests of all of our members giving what they can, we feel that the spirit of the Pledge requires them to donate at least 1% of their spending money.
We define spending money as money received for the purpose of spending on items such as food, rent, travel, children, or personal items. It does not include spending on tuition fees. If a couple with shared finances both wish to join, then they can simply donate 10% of their combined earnings and not worry about spending money.
People who have retired or partially retired (which we roughly define as having started to draw a pension) can join Giving What We Can and remain members for as long as they continue to donate at least 10% of their spending money (as defined above).
The Pledge commits you to donate to the organisation or organisations that you believe can best use it to improve the lives of others. Some charities aim to do this directly, for example through medical aid or public health projects. Some do so indirectly, for example by researching the best charities to give to, or helping students find more effective careers. Some do so at an even higher level by lobbying for nuclear weapons safety or corporate farming reforms.
You are free to support organisations operating at any level, so long as you sincerely believe that they offer the most effective way to improve the lives of others. By focusing our attention on organisations that have proven themselves most effective, we can achieve much more with our donations and encourage charities to become more effective to receive our donations.
We have specific recommendations about the charities we believe to be the most effective: Top Charities.
Although Giving What We Can’s research is focussed on poverty relief in the developing world, the Pledge does not restrict you to give to charities working in this area: The only requirement is that you give to the organisations which you believe to be the most effective. See our page on effectiveness in other areas for more information, and for links to organisations which focus on the effectiveness of other types of intervention.
Some of our members wish to go beyond the standard Pledge of 10%. They therefore choose to make the Further Pledge, nominating an annual amount they believe can provide for them and pledging to give everything above that to charities they believe will do the most good. This is in addition to the standard Pledge, and is entirely voluntary. We do not attempt to push our members into taking the Further Pledge: It is simply another way to give that some people prefer.
If you're an entrepreneur - consider taking the Founders Pledge in addition to the Giving What We Can pledge. Through the Founders Pledge, entrepreneurs commit to donate 2% of their personal proceeds to a social cause of their choice, following an exit.