I recently made the commitment to donate 10% of my pre-tax income to the most effective charities in combating extreme poverty, from now until I retire. It was something I’ve been considering for several years, but it was a big decision and not one I take lightly. Giving What We Can has shaped my opinions on charitable giving, altruism, and effective charities for nearly five years, and I wanted to share a little of my journey to finally Pledging.
When I first heard about Giving What We Can, I was a student, living with some people involved with it. There were Centre of Effective Altruism meetings in my living room, late-night discussions about the latest GiveWell report, debates over the problems with deworming figures. I remember attending a talk by Toby Ord and Peter Singer in the Exam Schools in Oxford, and loving the positive, quantifiable numbers they were quoting about how much has been done and can be done to fight extreme poverty. I am proud to have introduced some family and friends to SCI both as a charity and as a really effective charity, and I’ve been delighted by their responses to my sporadic fundraising efforts.
So why didn’t I sign the Pledge before now? Many of my friends did so as students, but I held back. I was cautious about making a commitment to give money when I didn’t know how much I would have in the future. I was still a student, had never had a proper job, had never had to support myself on its income. I was worried about failing further down the line when I found I had more immediate needs for my money: children, emergencies, end-of-life care, travelling the world. I decided to take another look when I had been in employment for a while, and see how things stood.
Around the start of this year, Giving What We Can had revamped their website and set up Try Giving, a way of tracking your donations without signing the pledge outright. Now in steady employment in Oxford, I gave it a go. It’s nearly the end of the year, so I took stock, and was surprised. I’d been topping up my donations each month to the 10% mark, when I’d got my paycheque and paid my rent, and I hadn’t had to change my behaviour or spending to accommodate it. All that I had was a deep satisfaction each month that my money was winging its way to charities that are making a real, personal difference to people’s lives.
Having been on the periphery of Giving What We Can for ages, I know the great community they’ve fostered. When I started Try Giving, I felt more involved in the Oxford chapter, but still on the outside looking in. I couldn’t feel like a fully paid-up member until I’d pledged. You can’t really say you’re committed to a group like Giving What We Can until you’re committed to giving in accordance with your beliefs. And my experiences with fundraising and learning about effective altruism make me keen to do more or at least see what life on the other side of the fence was like.
So when Ravi Patel in Cambridge created a Facebook event inviting people who were thinking of Pledging this holiday to take a picture of themselves and share it, this felt like the perfect time. I was being invited to join what I knew was a very special community. And there were lots of pictures of people doing the same. So I went for it. I’m delighted to hear that Ravi’s event has been instrumental in getting more pledges in December than any other month – over 40 at least! That’s a serious amount of money earmarked for the most effective charities.
I would definitely recommend anyone thinking of pledging but feeling cautious to check out Try Giving. You may be surprised how much you can give without any negative effects (and lots of positive ones!) And there’s absolutely no pressure to keep going – times are hard for a huge number of people in the UK right now and I don’t feel happy telling anyone what to do with their money. I just want to take responsibility for mine, and join an awesome, welcoming community of people doing the same, all over the world. Thanks for reading.