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Frequently Asked Questions
- 1. What do you hope to achieve?
- 2. Are you asking for us to donate money to Giving What We Can?
- 3. How does your pledge work? Is it legally binding?
- 4. But don't we have to do more than just throw money at the problem?
- 5. What would I gain from joining?
- 6. Why 10%?
- 7. What is the Further Pledge?
- 8. What about climate change and the environment? Aren't they important too?
- 9. Shouldn't we fix our own country's problems first?
- 10. Can I donate to charities working in other areas?
- 11. Why give now, rather than later in life or in my will?
- 12. What if everyone did this? Would there be some kind of economic collapse?
- 13. Do you have a religious affiliation?
- 14. Why are the members' names public?
- 15. Could I join and not have my name published?
- 16. How can I find out more?
- 17. How can I join and make the Pledge to Give?
- 18. I'm not sure about joining yet, but would like to help. What can I do?
We hope to play a significant part in eliminating poverty in the developing world. Our members all back up this lofty goal with large personal contributions to charity. Over their lifetime, a typical member might be able to distribute insecticide-treated bednets to 21,300 people (saving 66 lives), or treat 213,000 people for neglected tropical diseases.1 These amazing tasks can be achieved without any need to change jobs, or move to developing countries. Most people in the developed world could achieve these goals simply by foregoing a few luxuries.
The median personal income in the US is $35,500 (US Census 2008). Ten percent of this is $3,550, and over 30 years this makes $106,500.
We each can do a great deal to eliminate poverty. However, we can do even more together. We are pooling our resources to investigate which charities are really the most efficient at different tasks and to find out which tasks most improve the lives of the poor. The importance of this information on efficiency can't be overstated. By giving to the most efficient groups, it is quite possible to double the effect of your donations, or in some cases to have more than one hundred times the benefit.2 As an additional advantage, our focus on efficiency puts additional pressure on the aid organizations themselves to become more efficient in order to attract our donations.
There are many other benefits of standing together to fight poverty. 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 the governments by showing that people really do want more action on this serious issue.
No. We are not asking for you to give us any money. Instead, we ask that you commit to giving a substantial amount of money to those charities that you think will do the most good for the world's poor. Thus we are not competing with charities or other NGOs, but are playing a complementary role.
The Pledge to Give commits you to giving at least 10% of your income to where you think it will do the most to eliminate poverty. It begins at the moment it is made and lasts until you retire. All the members of Giving What We Can have made this commitment and some have chosen to give even more. We think it is a good way to encourage people to make fighting poverty a serious part of their life, even if they never have to do any more than signing a cheque or starting a direct debit. It is also a way of showing that we are prepared to back up our words with action.
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 join Giving What We Can must officially make the Pledge to Give and show evidence each year that they have kept it. This auditing is rather painless: you simply send in copies of your charity receipts along with a signed declaration of how much income you received. If someone decides that they can no longer keep the pledge (for instance due to serious unforeseen circumstances), then they simply cease to be a member. They can of course rejoin later if they renew their commitment to the pledge. Obviously taking the pledge is something to be considered seriously, but we understand if a member can no longer keep it.
Yes, we do. That is why Giving What We Can emphasizes that we must do more than just give: we must give effectively. In a recent report by the World Bank, there was a survey on the estimated effectiveness of a number of health programs operating in Africa. The range of efficiencies was shocking. Some of the programs looked to be achieving significant gains, but others achieved ten times the benefit from the same expenditure. Other programs achieved ten times that new level of efficiency, and others ten times that. In the end, some programs achieved 1,000 times as much benefit as other ones, for the same amount of money.3
It is thus critically important that we don't 'just throw money at the problem', but instead look at the data and spend our money very carefully. This will greatly magnify the effectiveness of our giving, and encourage organizations to be even more efficient in the future in order to win the funding of more discerning givers. Efficiency sounds boring, but it is the difference between saving a life and saving 1,000 lives — the difference between saving a life just once and saving a life every single day throughout your career.
While effective giving is essential, it must also be backed up with a range of other strategies. For instance the richer countries must treat the poorer ones fairly in trade and in other political negotiations. Giving What We Can wholeheartedly supports such action and many of our members are involved in lobbying to achieve it. Even lobbying for governmental change costs money and you could donate your 10% to support effective policy change.
The big winners from your joining will be the world's poorest people, and this must surely be the ultimate reason for anyone to join. However, it is not a thankless task. By joining Giving What We Can, you would be part of a new kind of movement for change in the world and could be sure that your individual contributions are being magnified into something larger. We can always do more, but giving a large fraction of your income puts you in a healthy starting position, making you think more about what great things you could do, rather than what you're not doing.
Many members find that setting the size of their year's donations in advance makes it easier to give. Where previously they might have agonized over whether each small luxury could be justified, now they can simply live within their (slightly reduced) means and then spend a few hours at the end of the year working out where to donate their saved 10%. Alternatively, some members like to give as they earn or to spend a lot of time thinking about where to give, which keeps them closely involved in the process.
There is nothing magical about the threshold of 10%, but there are a number of reasons why we chose it. Firstly, we chose to set the threshold as a proportion of money to give, rather than as an absolute amount, in order to make it accessible to everyone, and to recognize that those who have more are in a position to give more. We chose 10% because it is large enough to be a significant proportion of one's income, while still being achievable for almost everyone in the developed world (a fact that can be seen by considering how many people live on less than 90% of your income). While it is true that very few people currently give this much, we think that a significant number of people who really want to do what they can for the developing world will rise to this challenge and make giving a real part of their lives. In doing so, they will set an impressive standard and challenge others to follow suit.
There is also a strong historical connection. Christianity and Judaism both have traditions of tithing: giving 10% of one's income to the Church or to charity. In Islam, zakat is a practice of giving between 2.5 and 20 percent to the poor and needy by those who are able. There is thus a long history of people giving 10% of their income to support what they see as worthy causes.
If you are concerned that 10% is too low, then remember that you can always give more than you have pledged. The pledge is just a minimum, which you can exceed in any year by however much you wish. Some members want to go further than this and pledge to give a higher minimum percentage of their income, such as 20% or even 50%. You could also renew an existing pledge to raise the previous minimum if you have adapted to that amount and realize that you can give even more.
Some of our members wish to give more than 10% of their income, feeling that they only need a small amount of income in order to live a vibrant, fulfilled life. They thus choose to make the Further Pledge, nominating an amount of income that they can happily live on and pledging to give everything above that to wherever they think it could do the most good. This pledge is taken in addition to the Pledge to Give, and is entirely voluntary: it doesn't give any additional benefits to the giver, it is simply another way to give, one that some people find quite fitting.
Some environmental issues, like climate change, are of undeniable importance. One of the main reasons that climate change is so worrying is that it looks set to cause significant suffering in the world, and this burden will fall disproportionately upon the world's poorest people. Fighting climate change is thus one way of preventing suffering in the developing world. It is not clear that it is the most effective way because it is very expensive to make any significant difference, but if you sincerely believe that it is, then you could spend your pledged money fighting climate change.
Giving What We Can focuses exclusively upon the world's poorest nations because that is where a donation can do the most good. For example, suppose we want to help those who are blind. We can help blind people in a developed country like the United States by paying to train a guide dog. This is more expensive than most people realize and costs around $50,000 to train a dog and teach its recipient how to make best use of it.4 In contrast, there are millions of people in developing countries who remain blind for lack of a cheap and safe eye operation. For the same amount of money as training a single guide dog, we could completely cure enough people of Trachoma-induced blindness to prevent a total of 2,600 years of blindness.5 If you look at the charity comparisons section of this website, you will see many more examples like this about how a given donation can achieve vastly more in developing countries than it ever could in developed countries. There is thus a very strong argument in favour of giving to those living abroad.
Moreover, waiting until we fix our own problems may mean waiting forever. Compared to other parts of the world, we have been experiencing unrivalled prosperity for a very long time. If we can't help those far less fortunate than ourselves now, when will we?
Giving What We Can is about fostering a culture of giving in order to relieve the extreme poverty that exists in the developing world. As such, by joining us and making the pledge, you are committing to give at least 10% of your income to those organizations that you think will do the most to alleviate this poverty and related suffering. Of course you can give additional money to charities working in other areas, it is just that you cannot count this towards the 10%.
There are at least four reasons to give while you earn, rather than leaving it until later:
- By giving while you earn, your gifts are tax deductible. In effect, this means that you can make the government give to the same cause, but only if you are donating whilst you are still earning.
- The money you give has long term benefits to the community who receives it. For example, if you cure someone of blindness today, then they can contribute much more to their society and its economy. In effect, donations can earn 'interest' in terms of the good they produce: donating earlier does more good than donating later.
- It is very easy to proceed with good intentions of donating a lot later and yet never quite get around to doing so. You can remove this very real possibility by giving as you earn.
- If you give as you earn and join Giving What We Can, you can contribute to a larger movement towards the elimination of poverty. By joining in this public stand, you will motivate others to do the same and put pressure on governments of the richer countries to listen to their citizens and pull their weight in international aid and fairer trade practices.
Surprisingly many people ask this question, wondering if the 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 question of 'what if everyone did it?' is not relevant here. We give more than our fair share towards ending extreme poverty only because so many in the developed world give so little, and extreme poverty persists. If everyone started giving (a happy, but very unlikely possibility), we would only need to give about 1% of our incomes in order to eliminate extreme poverty and so that would be all the pledge requires of us. This would certainly not cause an economic collapse, but it would end one of the world's greatest problems.
No. Giving What We Can is an alliance of people both religious and non-religious. We have come together because we all believe that it would be wrong not to relieve suffering when we could easily do so. This is hardly a controversial claim, and there are many reasons to believe it, both religious and otherwise.
Unlike many organizations and charities, Giving What We Can provides a public list of its members. We do so for a number of reasons. Chiefly, we see Giving What We Can as a group of people who are making a public stand to point out the moral imperative to help eliminate world poverty and are then publicly showing their personal commitment by giving a significant amount of their income. As with a petition or other public declaration, we think that this gains in power by having its supporters go on the public record.
We also think that there are many other benefits of being open about making such a significant contribution: it provides a sense of community, gives a friendly challenge for others to join us, helps us to stick to our commitments and shows the world what kinds of people would do such a thing. While there may be virtue in modestly declining to mention your giving, we feel that going public increases the impact that we will each have on actually reducing poverty and is thus for the best when all things are considered.
The current answer to this is No. If you would otherwise join, but are concerned about doing so publicly, then contact us. If enough people feel strongly about doing so, then we may change our policy, but for the moment, we feel that this would erode the benefits listed above.
There is a lot to find on this website. We have many resources, including development news, official reports, essays, comparisons and more. If your question is not answered, then ask us directly. If it is a common enough question, we'll add it here.
Just go to our page on joining us, and we will send you a membership form, along with all the information you need.
We have tried to make givingwhatwecan.org a great resource for anyone who takes these issues seriously whether or not they want to become members. Our section on getting involved includes ideas for many other ways you can contribute.
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