Giving now vs. later: a summary

by Julia_Wise23rd Jul 20137 comments


Earning to GivePersonal FinanceEA FundingPatient Altruism

There's an ongoing debate about whether it's better to give now or later.  A quick summary:

Reasons to give now:

  • You may get less altruistic as you age, so if you wait you may never actually donate.
  • Estimates of the returns on investment may be over-optimistic.
  • Giving to charities that can demonstrate their effectiveness provides an incentive for charities to get better at demonstrating that they're effective.  We can't just wait for charities to improve — it takes donations to make that happen.
  • Having an active culture of giving encourages other people to give, too.
  • Better to eliminate problems as soon as possible. E.g. if we had eliminated smallpox in 1967 instead of 1977, many people would have been spared.

Reasons to give later:

  • As time passes, we'll probably have better information about which interventions work best.  Even in a few years, we may know a lot more than we do now and be able to give to better causes.
  • Investing money may yield more money to eventually donate.
  • When you're young, you should invest in developing yourself and your career, which will let you help more later.
  • You can put donations in a donor-advised fund to ensure they will someday be given, even if you haven't yet figured out where you want them to go.

But it’s a topic that deserves more depth than that summary.  Here's some of what's been written on the topic, in roughly chronological order: