This post discusses something unrelated to my current professional work – but another, ongoing personal commitment to a better world. — Madeleine
Today Chris and I celebrate twelve years of marriage.
Today we commit to giving 12% of our pre-tax income this year to charity.
I write about this because I hope it inspires someone – to stretch, to give more back to the world, and to give deliberately. I’ve written about this before, and I know the topic is discomforting! But there is much good that can be done. So I share anyway, in the hopes that somewhere out there, someone is swayed.
Our tradition is a ratchet. Last year we gave 11%, and 10% the year before. It may feel like a lot now, but we got here with a steady pace. We started many years ago, at 4%. Where it ends, we don’t yet know – but we can say this much: it continues.
We give because it gives us purpose.
Our annual act recognizes our fortune: in family, in friends, in health, and in wealth. And in our continued partnership, and our growth together – over these years – to become better people than we would have been alone.
And in a global sense, we are so enormously fortunate.
Giving yields dividends of purpose. As a celebration it may seem a bit sober. But it has substance. In our darker moments it gives us something to remember: that we have been able to do some good.
I hope others can be inspired to celebrate similarly. Accidental privilege is an unchosen responsibility, but also, I think, an opportunity.
We give because it matters.
There’s no purpose to wasted money. In past years the work of others – most notably that of GiveWell – has dug hard into the evidence for giving. That work gives us the trust that now, more than ever, charity is an act that creates real good.
We each select where our half goes. This year, I’ll give almost all my portion to GiveWell itself, to grant to top charities at its discretion. In recent years I’ve followed their recommendations; this time around I’m happy to trust them directly, and grant them the efficiency of discretion. The funding is most likely to go to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF), GiveWell’s current top recommendation, which they estimate as having an efficiency of roughly $5,500 per death averted.
Chris will give 65% of his half to GiveDirectly – unconditional cash transfers to the extreme poor – and the rest to GiveWell’s discretionary fund. He’s a big fan of GiveDirectly’s approach to experimentation, helping establish a baseline to which other interventions can be compared. Although GiveWell’s analysis estimates this is a quarter as efficient as AMF, there’s something satisfying about the act of income redistribution embodied in a direct cash transfer from one human to another.
If you know me already, you might wonder how our acts of giving contrast to my professional work. I am Executive Director of a nonprofit with its own vision for a better world – Open Humans Foundation. I don’t see these as inconsistent. GiveWell represents the “safe” investment – like an index fund. And my profession is a single bet which could yield enormous value. Besides, Open Humans is a complement of sorts: the donation of data, rather than money.
We give because we can.
Not everyone has the capacity to give. But you might be more capable than you know – or you might have more to give, some day in the future.
There are times we wonder if we’ve gone too far now, by stretching beyond “tithing to the world”. But how much is “too much”? In Jewish tradition, giving away more than a fifth of income is considered irresponsible. But we are far from that.
There are also times we’re convinced we still fall too short. Our savings grow, I know that we could afford to give more. And these are the times I remind myself: next year we can face this challenge anew. To stretch ourselves a little farther, and strive to ever give more.