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?
- 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. I'm not sure about becoming a member yet, but would like to help. What can I do?
- 3.6. How do you keep track of whether I follow through on my commitment?
- 3.7. 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. How often should members donate?
- 4.7. Should everyone pledge?
- 4.8. Which organisations are the most effective?
- 4.9. What causes can I donate to?
- 4.10. Do donations have to be to registered charities?
- 4.11. What about other options for pledging?
- 4.12. How can I find out more?
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 organisations that 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 the best research in the literature 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 is vital work to be done.
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 started 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 fixing the world's problems, we will happily revise the proportion required by the Pledge.
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.
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, but 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 faster modes of 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
- If you're interested in starting a business, you may need to save up money to cover expenses during 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). But see also one entrepreneur's experience with taking the Pledge and then founding a startup.
- If you're currently a student (and thus only committing to donate 1% of your spending money if you pledge), consider whether you will soon be paying off student loans. Depending on repayment policies in your country, you may find money is tighter after finishing your studies, and it may be a challenging time to give 10%.
- Because there is some flexibility in the timing of donations (for example you could donate less than 10% for a few years and make it up afterwards), you may find that you’re able to make the Pledge work even when your income fluctuates.
If your health situation requires resources, time away from work, uncertainty about future expenses, etc., you may find that a consistent pledge doesn't work well. 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: The Pledge.
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 we ask them to 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. If you need to withdraw you can do so here.
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%.
The goal here is to help members stick to their plan of taking significant action to benefit others. All guidelines about how to calculate income should be thought of as serving that goal.
In general, we define income as your gross salary or wages. For most people, this yields a good approximation of what they would consider their income. In cases where it yields something strange (for example, if your primary income is from contracting and so counting only salary and wages makes it look as if you have no income), a sensible alternative is to use whatever your government counts as your income for tax purposes.
While we have defined income as pre-tax in the past, after speaking with members in a variety of situations we believe there should be some flexibility here.
- If you expect to receive a tax deduction for your donation, we recommend basing your giving on your pre-tax income.
- If you expect to get little or no tax deduction, for example because your country does not offer tax deductions on donations, you may choose to donate based on post-tax income.
Again, we recognize that a simple rule won’t work perfectly for all possible situations, so we encourage members to consider the spirit of the Pledge: using a significant portion of one’s income to benefit others. We are always happy to help think through these decisions if you’d like to contact us.
Some circumstances change the amount of your pledge.
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 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.
Of course, people who earn some income but depend on other help for their living expenses may choose to donate 10% of their earnings if they want to go above and beyond.
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).
Couples who both want to take the Pledge can pledge 10% of their joint income if they wish. Please let us know and we can set up your My Giving accordingly and can list you together on the list of members if you’d like.
However, some other circumstances do not change your pledge:
People taking the Pledge should consider whether they will be able to donate 10% even while handling debt such as student loans or a mortgage. Debt does not change the commitment to donate 10% of income as long as you have a regular income.
While we think direct work can be extremely valuable, the pledge percentage does not change depending on workplace. Those of us who work for nonprofits, even if we left higher-paying jobs to do so, still donate at least 10% if we take the Pledge.
The spirit of the Pledge is to donate on an ongoing basis, rather than letting “donation debt” build up over many years. We check in with members every year and encourage them to log their donations. However, you don’t have to donate on a strictly annual basis. Members who consolidate donations into certain years (for example for tax advantages, or in case of temporary financial hardship) are welcome to do so.
If a member becomes unable to keep their pledged donation percentage for more than a few years, it would be appropriate for them to withdraw from the Pledge. We have made a form where people can officially do this. Former members are welcome to rejoin if they wish.
While we believe the Pledge is a good fit for most of the people reading this, clearly it will not be the right choice for everyone.
Some reasons it may not make sense to take the full Pledge at this point:
- You have are undertaking something very resource-intensive like founding a startup or nonprofit.
- Your employment or health situation is unstable.
- You expect your student debt to be particularly heavy, so that the years after graduation will be especially financially tight.
- You have family obligations that require much of your money.
Taking the Pledge is not necessary to be part of the effective altruism community, and no one should feel pressured to join simply to feel that they are in good standing. We recognize the richness of ways that people contribute to this community and to the world, and that the Pledge represents only one of the many ways of taking significant personal action to benefit others.
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.
The Pledge does not restrict you to give to charities working in a particular cause area. The only requirement is that you give to the organisations which you believe to be the most effective at improving the lives of others.
The commitment is to donate to “the most effective organisations". These organizations could be charities, but could also be entities not officially registered as tax-deductible charities (for example a charity in the early stages of getting registered, or an advocacy or lobbying group that is not a charity.)
Try Giving is a scaled-down version of the Pledge. You still commit to giving a percentage of your income, but you can choose how much, and how long you want to give for.
You’ll be able to use the My Giving dashboard to record your giving and to see how close you are to meeting your target. When it comes to an end, you can:
- extend your Try Giving period,
- increase the amount you give, or
- take the Pledge if you are ready
If you’ve always wanted to give more to charities that do incredible things, Try Giving is an excellent way to keep yourself on-track and motivated, and will give you a feel for what it's like to take the full 10% Pledge.
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.
Please feel free to contact us.