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Adam Potter

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How to Earn to Give

No one wants to waste away at a desk job they hate. We want to make an impact and go to work to make a difference not a paycheck. Effective altruism explains there are many ways make an impact, each is specific to different people. Instead of direct research or fundraising, many chose to earn to give. The philosophy goes that careers such as stock broking and software engineering don’t have as much of a positive impact on others, but with a high salary comes a high potential to give to effective charity. If you’re in a position to pursue a high-salary career you could have more impact than someone working in a non-profit assuming you donate a significant portion of your salary. This condition is where earning to give often falls apart. Unlike a high-impact career where your contribution in structured into your job, earning to give has no one making sure you hand over that check every month and it can be tempting to stop. So what is the best way to earn to give so that you are less likely to stop in a moment of weakness?

I see two good answers to this: taking the donation directly out of your paycheck (common for average individuals), and saving over time be donate all at once (common for the very wealthy). The first is convenient because the difficult decisions are automatic, and you don’t face the stress over handing over your paycheck each month. When companies deduct federal taxes like this, workers don’t notice the action of the government taking their money and workers don’t despise taxes as much. The same applies to donating. You are less likely to get burned out on giving if you don’t feel like you are actively giving. You don’t get the chance to think about all you could have bought with the money and as a result it may not feel like a sacrifice.

The second option has less obvious benefits. One of the main reasons people save instead of give is the feeling of security; having the extra cash in case something goes horribly wrong. If you set aside a portion of your income to a lump sum intended for charity, you might be willing to give a higher percentage knowing you haven’t compromised your security. Although the sum is intended for charity, if something does go wrong you can always tap into it. This sum has the additional advantage of growing over time due to interest so that when you do donate after a certain number of years it’s more than you’ve actually contributed. Also, if the sum is big enough it can make money through interest even after you pass away for a longer lasting impact. On the other hand having access to charity-intended money could increase the chance of you spending it on non-emergency occasions.

Earning to give can be a rewarding experience, but if it isn’t done right you can make a fraction of the impact as you would have otherwise. The trick understanding how to set up yourself for success.