In 2020, I will be ramping up to giving 10% of my salary to effective charities, a pledge I will continue for the rest of my life.
Each month this year, I will choose a different charity to give a 1% recurring donation to, explain why I believe the cause is among the most impactful, solvable, and neglected on earth, and encourage my friends and network to join me in donating as well. If you’re reading this, you’re invited along for the ride.
Welcome to 10 Months to 10%.
Starting in early high school, I always wondered if there might be a better way to give to charity. I looked at the causes my classmates and their families supported, mostly local and/or popular ones, and realized charity was simply a fancy social signaling device and people mostly gave to organizations that made them look good among their peers.
Knowing the social unacceptability of criticizing someone for simply wanting to do good, and lacking the funds to do much better than these adults, I mostly kept these thoughts to myself. Little did I know, however, there was a group of thinkers around the world forming around the idea of which I only had a primitive image: what if we could do good… better? They coalesced into a movement called “effective altruism“, a concept that today unites hundreds of affiliated charities, funds, research groups, and other organizations, all solely focused on doing good for the world in the most effective way.
Though I first became aware of the ideas of effective altruism around five years ago, it was only last year, when I deeply examined my morals and what I wanted to do with my life, that I set a goal of becoming more involved.
I made it my first goal to do research: I read as much as I could about effective altruism and attended many effective altruism-focused events here in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I met a number of members of the movement in person. As I learned more through their eyes, I ruminated on what I actually believed about doing good, and how I personally best get involved.
This year of exploration led to the two most important ethical conclusions I’ve made in my life:
- The well-being and or happiness of living things is the most important thing in the world, the most important being humans, and then a sliding scale through the animal kingdom all the way down to insects and bivalves.
- Bringing someone out of extreme pain and suffering to a moderate level of happiness makes way more sense than making someone who is already pretty happy even happier.
At this stage in my life, I’m sufficiently happy. I have a decent job, I’m in good health, I have a community of friends, and I’ve spent the last ten years since graduation from college gaining the experience, knowledge, and the tools such that I feel ready to shift my focus to the outside world.
Thus, I have reached the conclusion that I will and must dedicate the rest of my life to improving well-being for everyone and everything on earth, starting first with reducing pain and suffering for those who are most in need.
With that declarative statement in mind, I then spent the next few months figuring out the best way to start achieving this lifelong goal. As it turns out, there are three main ways to do good:
- Donate your skills (career)
- Donate your time (volunteer)
- Donate your money
When considering these three options, I decided:
- It doesn’t make sense for me to donate my career, at least not at the moment. While not a truly altruistic organization, TopScore does have a positive effect on the world by making it easier for people to get outside and play sports. Plus, I enjoy my work and can’t think of anything I could currently be doing that would make me happier.
- At present, it doesn’t make sense for me to donate substantial amounts of volunteer time. Because I’m a generalist, others with more useful skills (like science, math, research, and medical skills) could be uniquely effective, where I’d just be doing manual labor.
With changing my career and donating my time off the list, that left one clear option: donating money.
The decision to donate 10% is an easy one. For one, it’s a round number, making mental math and accounting much easier. There are also a couple historical precedents: the oldest of which may be the 10% tithe alluded to in the Old Testament, and the more recent Giving What We Can pledge, where pledgers promise to give 10% for the rest of their life to effective charities.
Putting my financial position in perspective also made 10% a no-brainer. Plugging my numbers into Giving What We Can’s “How Rich Am I?” Calculator was the persuasive tipping point:
In 2020, my salary will be $72,000*. This puts me in the richest 1% of the world:
Subtracting 10% ($7,200) from that still puts me in the top 1% of the world:
I found that it made sense to reverse the logic: what if my salary was $64,800, and my company proposed giving me a $7,200 raise? It would be a nice bonus, but probably not something I’d even think about for more than a few days. Yet, when given to charity, $7,200 is a literal life-changing amount of money. Because charities are often active in third-world countries where providing goods and services is very cheap, money goes a long way.
Here are some examples of what $7,200 can do when directed to just one effective charity, according to The Life You Can Save’s Impact Calculator:
- Purchase 3600 bednets, likely saving 2 lives per year from malaria (if donated to the Against Malaria Foundation)
- Restore eyesight for 144 people with curable blindness who cannot afford surgery (if donated to the Fred Hollows Foundation)
- Provide 338 patients with high-quality healthcare in rural Nepal (if donated to Possible)
There’s simply no way I could have this sort of impact by doing charity or volunteer work in my local community. Making the commitment for 10% this year and for the rest of my life ensures that I receive the absolute highest impact for my money.
*While most giving organizations refer to 10% of one’s income, I will be referring to my before-tax salary. In my current position, income is extremely variable: not only do I receive commission income and potential management bonuses, I also have side businesses that bring in variable amounts of income each year. Ignoring all of this and focusing on my set before-tax salary roughly approximates my after-tax income and gives me a nice round number to work with.
Why 10 Months to 10%
While 10% feels like the right number, it is no small commitment. It comes with a psychological cost: for every dollar I earn for the rest of my life, I must factor in another 10% deduction in addition to the taxes I’ll already pay.
When I commit to something this big, I want it to be permanent. That means I want time to do some research and make sure my money’s going to a place where it will do the most good. However, I also recognize the value of starting early and putting some chips on the table.
For this reason, I will be using a stepwise technique this year: instead of starting right out at 10%, I’ll be donating 1% of my salary by January, 2% by February, 3% by March… and so on.
Stepping up in this way also gives me the opportunity to take a portfolio approach to giving: In total, I will spread my donations equally across ten different effective charities.
Each month, I will choose a different charity, evaluate it on three metrics (neglectedness, scale, and solvability) and explain why I think it’s one of the ten most important organizations in the world. Treating this as a donation portfolio not only allows me a greater chance of “doing good” in many different fields, it allows me to take risks with some organizations whose results may not be immediately tangible.
This is where you come in.
Maybe you’re poor. Maybe you’re rich.
Maybe you’re a veteran philanthropist, or maybe, like me, you’ve never done this before.
Whatever your situation, I’d like you to take the plunge with me in the 10 Months to 10% Project.
Each month, I will present a persuasive case of why you should join me in pledging 1% of your income to that month’s charity.
Naturally, you’ll have opinions and limitations of your own, and that’s fine. Your donation doesn’t have to be 1%. It can be 0.1%, $10/month, or whatever you can afford.
My main goal is to use social momentum to break down those hurdles you may have towards donating to charity and have you join me and many others in the 10 Months to 10% project in doing good better — together.
Each month, I’ll be collecting an anonymous survey of who donated, and at the end of the year, I’ll be tallying up the money we raised, so we can see how much we achieved by taking collective action!
If you are at all interested in being involved this year (even if you’re on the fence), or even if you’re not interested, but just want to follow along, sign up here:
This email list will be used to notify about future posts, and I may reach out to you to talk through some ideas of how you can best contribute. There is absolutely no commitment involved in signing up.
Otherwise if you have suggestions about the project, or want to help me reach more people to multiply the effects of our efforts, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me directly.
by Darren Shultz
Great work Liam. I’ve been working on something similar, without the well worded blog post and pretty graphs. I appreciate your contribution to making it accessible and well structured. After co-founding the PHUL Scholarship (https://pittsburgh-ultimate.org/scholarship), I’ve often felt at odds with what we (the Pittsburgh ultimate community) created. It was wonderful to be part of a community, to personally know the people we helped, and those donating, but it felt incomplete (not effective on the $/impact scale), and had some problematic pieces (enabling increased higher education costs, existing in a mainly affluent community). I’m proud of what that community did and continues to do, and I’ll likely donate more in the future, but… the hole it left was what you’re speaking about – effective altruism. I’m very likely to join you in this experiment.