Promoting Effective Giving and Giving What We Can within EA Groups

by lukefreeman13 min read9th Nov 20205 comments

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Org UpdateBuilding effective altruismGiving What We CanCommunityEffective altruism groups
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The EA Hub page about promoting GWWC and effective giving within EA groups has recently been updated. Big thanks to all those who helped develop this resource (in particular Eve McCormick, Catherine Low, Julia Wise, and Jessica McCurdy).

GWWC are currently working to expand our event guides and have recently made major updates to a lot of our core content (e.g. Giving Recommendations, Pledge page, Charity Evaluation Guide, Charity Comparison Examples, Case Studies).

If you have any feedback about how to improve the article please comment on the doc, comment here, or email community@givingwhatwecan.org. Also, if there are any particular resource that would be most helpful to expand or develop please let us and we can prioritise it.

With giving season approaching, now is a great time to think about giving related content, and the new year is a great time to help people plan how they can best make giving a part of their life.

Full text of the guide is below.


About Promoting Giving What We Can (GWWC)

What is Giving What We Can?

Giving What We Can is a community of effective givers. They inspire people to donate significantly and as effectively as possible. Giving What We Can aims to broadly promote effective giving, create a community around giving effectively, and provide pledges to help people to give more, and to give more effectively.

As of November 2020, GWWC has over 5,000 members that have taken The Pledge (10%+ of income over lifetime) and about 550 who have an active Try Giving pledge (1%+ for any period). So far, their members have donated more than $198m and pledged almost $2 billion.

There are three pledge options:

  • Try Giving Pledge: 1%+ of personal income for any chosen period
  • The Pledge: 10%+ of personal income over your lifetime
  • Further Pledge: Giving all income above an inflation-adjusted living allowance over your lifetime (this is less common and we encourage people to take a smaller pledge first)

Specifically, the wording is as follows:

“I recognise that I can use part of my income to do a significant amount of good. Since I can live well enough on a smaller income, I pledge that from now until ______ I shall give ____ to whichever organisations can most effectively use it to improve the lives of others, now and in the years to come. I make this pledge freely, openly, and sincerely.”

There are three main reasons for taking a pledge (instead of just donating without a pledge):

  • Commitment: Making public commitments help us to live up to our most important values and ideals.
  • Community: Joining a community provides us with support, advice and a sense of belonging.
  • Inspiration: Taking a public pledge helps inspire others to follow our lead, and helps shift cultural norms.

Reasons to promote GWWC

Your donations can do an astonishing amount of good. However, the impact can vary wildly depending on where you donate. The best charities can be at least ten times better than a typical charity within the same area, hundreds of times better than poor-performing charities, and the worst charities can do harm.

This very simple idea is still not widely known, nor integrated into people’s lives. Giving more effectively is an incredibly accessible idea. It’s so accessible that many people come to this conclusion themselves and then find various EA brands from this search. Other people are just waiting to hear it, simply sharing this idea more widely is still very neglected.

A pledge is a great commitment device and taking a Giving What We Can pledge can be a very powerful way to make a large positive impact over one’s lifetime.

For example, a donor on a typical American income who donated 10% of their income to an effective global health charity could save roughly 100 lives over their career (e.g. ~45 years, ~$50k USD income, ~$4k USD per life saved donating to a life-saving charity recommended by GiveWell).

There are many organisations working on some of the world’s most pressing problems that could have a similar or even larger expected impact with the same donation.

Aside from purely the donations influenced there are a number of significant potential benefits from promoting GWWC:

  • Tipping point of moral circle expansion: Creating a norm of giving more, and giving more effectively being ‘just the right thing to do’. Particularly if we are also emphasising moral concepts like geographic neutrality, cause neutrality, concern for animals and the concern for the wellbeing of those in the future.
  • Taking significant action: Taking a pledge is a very accessible, legible and concrete activity. It’s also a strong filter for people who are actually altruistic (rather than those who are all talk and no action).
  • EAs image & track record: Clear and salient demonstration that effective altruists (i) are the ‘good guys’; (ii) take meaningful action in the real world and achieve concrete, impressive things (we “walk the walk”).
  • Increased involvement in EA: GWWC has a strong track record of getting people more involved, keeping people involved in EA.
  • Identity: Taking a pledge can help make EA a part of someone’s identity. GWWC holds events which pledge-takers may participate in after they’ve left the locality of their EA group and between times when they’re thinking about their careers, helping EA to stay a part of their lives long term.

Some additional benefits for local groups:

  • Promoting GWWC requires less experience/expertise than advising on a career.
  • It can be a very tangible way to have impact as a group organiser.
  • Pledges are good commitment mechanisms, keeping people engaged with effective giving and effective altruism more broadly.
  • The direct impact of donations are more easily understood as impactful (as compared to career changes).
  • Kelsey Piper details things she finds good about GWWC in this 2017 forum post.

Key misconceptions / clarifications

  • If you have no significant income and you take a pledge, then the recommendation is to donate 1% of your spending money
  • The pledges are in no way legally binding. It is a commitment entered into voluntarily and enforced solely by the pledger’s own conscience. In some circumstances, it may be best to resign from a pledge.
  • It’s in the spirit of the pledges to give regularly but there are no percentage or regularity requirements (e.g. giving more one year and less then next is fine if you are still managing to keep ‘on track’). If you plan to give later, it’s in the spirit of the pledges to use a donor-advised fund (DAF) or some similar mechanism so it is “locked-in”.
  • Giving is one of many ways we can make an impact. It’s not an either/or scenario, nor a ranked list. Everyone is a complex person who can do good in many facets of their life – that should be celebrated, and encouraged.

Check out the Frequently Asked Questions to make sure you understand the fine print and common misconceptions.

Things to be careful of

Taking a pledge can be a big decision, especially for those who do not have much experience making big financial decisions such as undergrads. This may particularly be the case for students who expect to graduate with significant debt. It is important to be respectful, not overly pushy, and emphasise that it is important to seriously think through their commitment. Emphasise that Try Giving might be a better option for some.

  • However, it’s also important to remember that students are adults who are able to make their own decisions (and vote, go to war, drink, decide on their major etc). Respect their autonomy and ability to make an informed decision.

Some people who take a pledge do not annually meet their pledge, and broken commitments are generally not a good standard to set (it’s preferred that people formally resign if they don’t intend to get back on track).

  • While it’s not good to pressure people into making commitments they won’t keep, it’s okay for people to make a commitment that they have every intention of keeping while knowing that there is some chance that extenuating circumstances may change that. If you promise to pick up your niece from school and are hit by a car it’s not terrible for you to break that promise because you’re in the ICU. Knowing that there’s a possibility you might not be able to keep a commitment isn’t really a good reason not to make one.

Some people might be less inclined to do direct work if they take a pledge.

  • It’s important for people to consider this seriously. Only they can know how they will feel. However, many of the most prominent EAs have taken The Pledge (or even the Further Pledge) and are also doing direct work. There are many anecdotes of people being staying involved through GWWC/donations until the right direct work opportunity came up.

Overemphasis on GWWC could result in a distorted image of EA: People thinking EA is only about donating.

  • However, we may have overcorrected. Giving is a way that many people can do a lot of good, emphasising that giving is still an excellent way to do good can help spur people on who might not be able to find the right career opportunity.

Mentioning how much you donate can (if done poorly) come across as overly self-promoting.

Can make EA seem inaccessible for people who would find it hard to take a pledge, for example, those who have low-incomes, high-debt, or significant family responsibilities.

  • However, this can be overcome by celebrating people taking the Try Giving pledge more and by emphasising that taking a pledge is one of many ways to do good – it is an invitation for those interested and able and not an admonition of those who are uninterested or unable.

It could mean that you are able to spend less time and effort promoting career plan changes, which may be more impactful.

  • However, most groups should be able to find plenty of time to promote many ways of doing good and giving is a really simple and accessible way to talk about effective altruism (the core ideas discussed in giving can then extend quite naturally to careers).

Is GWWC promotion suitable for your group?

All groups can talk about GWWC as part of their regular activities:

  • As an example of an action that members of the EA community do to make a difference.
  • When discussing ways of having a high-impact career. Donating is a great way of making an impact in any career (including priority paths). This would be particularly good to discuss when talking about careers with people who may not be in a position to pursue the highest-priority career paths, such as those suggested by 80,000 Hours.
  • GWWC could be mentioned when discussing what charities group members like to support, or when discussing goals for having an impact in the next year.

GWWC promotion may be even more valuable for groups which:

  • Have group organisers who have taken The Pledge themselves and have started their 10% donations so that they can share their experiences.
  • Have members who have an unusually high income (e.g. people in senior corporate roles) or have strong safety net (come from privilege, live in a country with a good safety net, or have great fallback to live with family etc).
  • Have students who haven’t started to earn a salary yet. They won’t get accustomed to having that extra 10%, which may make it easier to keep donating rather than to start donating once you have more income (see Hedonic Treadmill). However, be careful about those who might have significant debt, no runway, or safety net etc.
  • Have members who are primarily concerned by problems in global health, development and animal welfare, where donations may be more relatively impactful compared to other forms of action.
  • Have members who are less likely to make impact-focused career plan changes, such as people who are mid-late career professionals, people who are retired, or people who have significant family responsibilities.
  • Are based in places where high-impact jobs are harder to determine or get.

Tips when talking about GWWC

It is an invitation, not an admonition

Many of us want to do good in the world. Donating effectively and making a pledge to continue to do so significantly is a great way to do this. Giving What We Can invites those interested and able to take a pledge and does not admonish those who are uninterested or unable.

Money can be a sensitive topic

It is important to remember that people come from many different financial backgrounds and have different relationships to donating. While sharing an income distribution graph can be a good way to visually share the immense privilege those of us in developed countries have, some people may feel that it minimizes or discredits the struggles of the poor in developed countries. Additionally, there are certainly inaccuracies in any attempt to convey the true distribution of income.

This Forum post details some of the negative images that might be associated with GWWC and suggests some tips for curbing them.

Being aware of how this is a sensitive topic can allow you to promote GWWC in a more respectful and considerate way.

Depicting poverty

Giving What We Can is cause-neutral, however many groups focus on the impact of effective global health and poverty charities when discussing GWWC. If you are focusing on this cause area, be very careful about how you depict poverty in general. You can find helpful guidelines on depicting poverty in this Forum post.

Resources

Possible Activities

Luke Freeman, the Head of Giving What We Can, is available to assist any groups interested in promoting effective giving and GWWC, through helping to plan events, or speaking at events. Contact Luke at luke.freeman@givingwhatwecan.org.

Pledge Drive

Some groups choose to concentrate their GWWC activities into an annual pledge drive campaign. These are typically held around giving season in lead up to the end of the year. For US groups in particular, it can also be helpful to coordinate this around EA Giving Tuesday (Website, Facebook Page) which coordinates donations during Facebook and Paypal’s yearly donation matching campaign

Pledge drives may be a good way to concentrate your effort, but also require a lot of work and coordination.

It is also important to remember that taking a pledge is a big decision that should not be made rashly. It is more common now for groups to aim not to maximize the number of pledges but rather increase the number of people seriously considering The Pledge, taking a Try Giving pledge, or making a donation to an effective charity.

Resources

Presentations

GWWC can organise for someone give a presentation at your event, or you give your own talk about GWWC or effective giving.

GWWC can easily do a standard “pitch” talk which outlines Giving What We Can and effective giving, or even customise the talk to your audience. You are also welcome to use any of the following materials to give your own talk, or play a video.

Resources

You are welcome to use or adapt GWWC’s standard introduction pitch presentation

You can also play any of these pre-recorded talks:

Giving Games

Giving Games are educational activities designed to introduce participants to effective giving.

During a typical Giving Game, each participant is given $10, introduced to the featured charities, and asked to make an initial choice based on short fundraising pitches. The facilitator then goes into more detail about the work of the non-profits, and how to maximize the potential impact of charitable giving.

In particular, the facilitator explains core concepts like cost-effectiveness, evidence, and how the overhead myth is incorrectly used to assess the performance of nonprofits. At the end of the Giving Game, participants decide where to donate.

Giving What We Can are happy to dial in and help run a Giving Game for you, or help train you to run one yourself.

EA Groups can get funding to run Giving Games either through Giving What We Can (contact community@givingwhatwecan.org), CEA Group Support Funding, or The Life You Can Save .

Resources

Pledge Panel

A pledge panel is a short presentation by some people who have taken the Giving What We Can pledge about their decisions and common questions people might have about the pledge.

Possible formats:

  • The traditional format involves people who have already taken the pledge.
  • More pro and con focused format, with different people presenting reasons they have decided to take the pledge, reasons they don’t expect to take the pledge, or reasons they are waiting.

Members who’ve taken the pledge will often talk about how they came to sign a pledge, and how it fits into their lives, followed by questions and answers. This can be an opportunity for people to talk about their motivations and charity choice in a public way.

Photo Drive

Some groups run photo drives on social media to promote GWWC. Members who have taken a pledge submit pictures and quotes on why they took their pledge. These are then posted incrementally on social media.

Could have different versions of these for

  • GWWC pledge
  • Try Giving pledge
  • Effective giving version (they haven’t pledged but they’re giving)

Resources

Everyday Philanthropist

An Everyday Philanthropist activity invites members to make a real-world donation decision. This activity can happen if you have one or more donors willing to take advice from group members about where they will donate.

Ideally, the donors will provide a dossier with what their intentions are (e.g. “most improve the lives of farmed animals”) and some suggested charities to help guide the discussion. This works best if either the donor or event organising team provide good summary information on each of the charities.

This makes for a great end of year event and has been the most attended event for EA Sydney multiple times.

Resources

Pledge Parties

Pledge parties are a great way to celebrate new pledges or anniversaries .

Celebration is an important part of life. It can be wonderful to take the time to celebrate people making significant commitments to help others can. It helps to affirm our commitments, recognises the significance of the decision, and helps inspire others.

Group Celebrations

If you organise a group which has Giving What We Can members this can easily be done as a part of other events such as your first event for the year, or in conjunction with a Giving What We Can event like a Pledge Panel or Giving Game.

Let your members know you’re running the event and now is a great time to let you know if they pledged or are considering doing so. If you’re not sure who’s pledged you can also check your members’ names against the public members page.

Feel free to get in touch with GWWC on community@givingwhatwecan.org and they can invite other members who live nearby and give you a list of pledge anniversaries for the event.

Individual Celebrations

Just taken a pledge yourself? Consider having a party with your friends or family to celebrate.

Perhaps include this as part of your birthday or anniversary celebrations.

Two members reported that they started with a Try Giving pledge and have been increasing their pledge by 1% every wedding anniversary and celebrating it each year.

Physical Pledge Certificates

A physical pledge is normally mailed to members within the first 2 months, it can be nice to sign these at the event. If you need a paper pledge earlier then contact GWWC on community@givingwhatwecan.org and they can be mailed early, or the template given for you to print yourself.

Take photos holding their pledge forms and share this on social media afterwards, alongside quotes from the members.

Giving Circles

A giving circle is a form of participatory philanthropy where groups of individuals donate their own money or time to a pooled fund, decide together where to give these away to charity or non-profit.

These are similar to giving games but a bit more advanced, and often ongoing (such as a small group of friends who have something in common) or organised around a given topic (e.g. COVID).

We haven’t yet made resources for conducting a giving circle, however, there are some resources by Giving 2.0 here.

Tabling

A tabling event aims to introduce people to the GWWC pledge, by setting up in a high traffic location, engaging with passerbys, and handing out flyers. Tabling is usually conducted by university groups, and is not designed to get people to take their pledge on the spot, but to familiarize them with GWWC and the organizations that surround it, and to encourage them to look further into them. Additionally, by getting the contact information of interested individuals, we can reach out to them in more depth at a later point to discuss GWWC more seriously or EA more broadly.

Many groups have found that tabling is not the most effective way to get many people interested in GWWC. However, running a tabling event can be an encouraging project to engage new committee members of an EA group who might enjoy talking with other people about GWWC.

Resources

One-on-one Chats

One-on-one chats can be an effective way to get someone to seriously consider taking the GWWC or Try Giving Pledge, and to provide tools and information to help them choose an effective charity.

Resources

Local / University Media

Write an editorial, a letter to the editor, or submit a press release – especially around key dates such as a milestone (e.g. 5,000 members) or during a pledge drive. Please get in touch with community@givingwhatwecan.org if you’re going to speak with the media.

Examples:

Member Stories

Have your members who’ve taken a pledge submit their story for the GWWC blog

Fundraisers

Run specific fundraisers for charities or funds, for example, around giving season or key dates.

Guest Speaker Events

Groups can run talks by charities, regranting organisations, philanthropic advisors etc. The EA Resource Hub has a guide on running speaker events, which includes a spreadsheet with possible speakers. You can also contact Luke at luke.freeman@givingwhatwecan.org to be connected to potential speakers.

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5 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:47 AM
New Comment

Hi Luke,

I recommend expanding the discussion in the "Things to be careful of" section. In particular, it seems worthwhile to estimate the impact of people in EA not having as much runway as they could have.

You mentioned that some people took The Pledge and did not follow through. It's important to also consider the downsides in situations where people do follow through despite regretting having taken The Pledge. People in EA are selected for scrupulousness which probably correlates strongly with pledge-keeping. As an aside, maybe it's worth adding to The Pledge (or The Pledge 2.0?) some text such that the obligation is conditional on some things (e.g. no unanticipated developments that would make the person regret taking the pledge).

Thanks Ofer. What do you think about changing this wording on the guide:

"Some people might be less inclined to do direct work if they take a pledge." -> "Some people might be less inclined to do direct work (due to "lock-in" or not having enough runway/financial stability) if they take a pledge."

"It’s important for people to consider this seriously. Only they can know how they will feel." -> "It’s important for people to consider this seriously, understand their financial situation, and under what conditions it is best to resign."

In terms of the wording of the pledge itself, I lean towards keeping it as is while including the FAQ which includes information about resigning from the pledge (we make promises all the time that have implied conditionality, such as the example about picking up your niece from school, and marriages which most people agree should end if that is best, but that's rarely in the vows).

In cases where someone is particularly scrupulous to a point of detriment I would recommend either not pledging or if they did, to take a Try Giving pledge and renewing it on a regular basis.

I'm very open to further discussion on these points.

Regarding the first potential change: It seems to me helpful (consider also "inclined" -> "inclined/able"). Regarding the second one, I was not sure at first that "resign" here means ceasing to follow through after having taken the pledge.

For both changes, consider wording it such that it's clear that we should consider the runway / financial situation factors over a person's entire life (rather than just their current plans and financial situation) and the substantial uncertainties that are involved.

we make promises all the time that have implied conditionality, such as the example about picking up your niece from school, and marriages which most people agree should end if that is best, but that's rarely in the vows

The niece scenario seems quite different from that of the pledge. To recap the scenario:

If you promise to pick up your niece from school and are hit by a car it’s not terrible for you to break that promise because you’re in the ICU. 

If you're in the ICU, it is quite possibly basically impossible for you to pick up your niece! If you're on oxygen support, or have a damaged spine, or many of the other conditions that warrant ICU, attempting to drive to her school might literally kill you, leaving her still unpicked up. If you're on strong painkillers you might still be able to physically operate the car, but your judgement is so impaired that driving would impose an unacceptably large risk on third parties, violating their rights. Or you might just be in a coma and unable to do anything at all. This seems quite dissimilar to the case of people wishing to get out of their pledge commitment. My impression is these people generally much more mundane motivations, closer to "I don't want to" than "I cannot". I think it is reasonable to infer a silent "unless it is impossible" into a promise, but  not a "unless I change my mind" - that would invalidate the entire point of the pledge.

Similarly, I strongly disagree about the marriage example. The classic marriage oath clearly states that it is meant to be until death, explicitly clarifies that a long list of conditions are not sufficient grounds for its end, and brings together a huge group of witnesses.  

To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

It's hard to imagine how people could make much clearer their intentions to enter into a permanently binding contract, as was enshrined in law for much of its history.

Nor do I agree that fidelity to promises is a problem as you imply:

In cases where someone is particularly scrupulous to a point of detriment 

The idea that someone should fulfil their commitments is not a detriment or a problem. On the contrary, being a trustworthy person yields many advantages. Being able to credibly commit yourself can give others the confidence to act in beneficial ways that they might choose not to if they were afraid you would screw them over later. It also allows us to bind ourselves, protecting ourselves from future moments of weakness. 

Hi Larks,

Thanks for the input. I'm sorry I'm not entirely following what you are suggesting here.

I'd be very happy to take input on what you would suggest.

The essence of the pledge is to be a useful commitment device that helps people to stick to a commitment knowing that they've promised it to themselves and also to others (e.g. by taking a public pledge where your name is alongside others).

However, we don't want the commitment to be seen as so high that no one would take it on a slight chance that the best thing for themselves and the world would be that they resign. 

I completely agree that broken commitments are bad (as laid out in the document), but shying away from commitments because there's a chance they might be broken is also bad.

I'm very open to any suggestions you have for how to communicate that.

In regards to the "scrupulous to a point of detriment" I'm referring to cases where scrupulousness is detrimental (i.e. Scrupulosity, OCD). If someone has that propensity it is probably better to not make a more ambitious and narrow commitment that there's a chance they might need to resign from (and instead make a softer commitment or one with very very clear caveats).

Thanks again 😀