One criticism EA gets all the time is that we're coldhearted borg-like cost benefit-obsessed utility maximizers. Personally, I like that about EA, but I see huge value in being, and being perceived as, warm and fuzzy and hospitable.
Over at LessWrong, jenn just wrote an insightful post about her top four lessons from 5,000 hours working at a non-EA charity: the importance of long-term reputation, cooperation, slack, and hospitality.
Here, I am proposing a modification to the EA norm of a 10%-of-income annual donation to an EA-aligned/effective charity. We should modify that standard to promote donating 8% of income to EA-aligned/effective charities, and 2% to charities that are local, feel-good, or something we're passionate about or identify with on a personal or cultural level.
As an example, if you make $80,000/year, you might consider donating $6,400 to Givewell and $1,600 to the local food bank. If you work as an employee of an EA-aligned organization (so 40 hours of direct work per week), you might consider doing 4-5 hours/week of volunteering to help the homeless.
Here are some reasons why I think this is a good idea:
- The average American donates about 2% of their income to charity. This new standard means that the 8% we'd donate to EA causes is over and on top of the amount most people donate. That means EA is less likely to be perceived as clawing away donors from other charities in a zero-sum charity competition. Instead, it's encouraging people to donate more - growing the pie.
- It makes EA friendlier and more cooperative with value systems that are different from our own.
- It boosts our reputation with people in our social and cultural network.
- It gives participants in EA an outlet to get their need for warm-and-fuzzy feelings met.
- It gives a perception of slack - instead of EA being associated with a sort of stringent "no room for compromise, the stakes are too great" perspective, EA can project the "there is so much good we can do in the world" message that we actually mean, in a way that connects symbolically for the average person who's not an EA.
- It makes it possible to tell a combination of stories about the work we do in the world. Taking action locally for the good of our own community is often easier to see and feel and talk about at the dinner table than giving anonymous-feeling donations to global health institutions or X-risk research groups.
If you prefer, you could simply add 2%-of-income on top of the 10% Giving What We Can pledge, or do whatever combination makes sense for your situation. In fact, I think it's probably best if we treat 2%/8% as a rough anchoring benchmark, while encouraging people to pick the blend that makes sense to them. Encouraging more individual choice and less adherence to a potentially rigid-seeming rule, while still having an anchoring point so the commitment means something, seems good for EA.
If we adopt this standard, I suggest we find additional ways to frame it besides the coldhearted-sounding rules-and-percentages manner I'm describing it here. Rather than "we advocate giving 2% locally and 8% to effective charities, mainly for perceptions reasons," I would suggest explaining this rule with a qualitative and friendly-sounding statement like "we try to mix our donations and efforts to help our local communities while also working on the world's biggest problems."