Hide table of contents

TL;DR: Many people aren’t sure if it would be more impactful for them to earn to give or to work at an EA aligned org. I suggest a solution to solve this problem quickly: Ask the org.

What to ask?

“Would you prefer to hire me, or to hire your next best candidate and have me donate [as much as you’d donate]?”

My prior on their answer

I think big longtermism/meta orgs will definitely prefer to hire you if you’re their top candidate.

Not sure about other orgs.


I asked Ben West from the Centre for Effective Altruism


  1. I personally previously averaged ~$2M/year EtGing but think my labor at CEA is more valuable.
  2. I can't think of an instance where I thought someone shouldn't have applied to CEA because EtG was so obviously better.
  3. I can think of two instances where I thought applicants should plausibly do EtG despite me wanting to hire them; both were making ~$10M/year.
    1. [I'm still glad they applied though]
  4. I can't think of an instance where I thought that someone referred to me for advice from 80K should EtG if they had a direct work offer (these people are usually making $500k-1M/yr).
  5. If you are making $750k-$20M/yr and think EtG is so obviously better than direct work that it's not worth applying, I'm happy to have a call with you and find an easy way for employers to consider you without taking much of your time.
  6. [Note that I am just recommending that people apply, I'm not guaranteeing that they will be hired. I'm also not saying that EtG is always wrong, just that it's rarely so clearly right that you shouldn't even bother to apply to direct jobs.]

IanDavidMoss from Effective Institutions replied


Jack Lewars from One For The World replied


Would you like to add your own org’s answer?

Comment below or contact me.

Am I saying that people who don’t make $1M/year shouldn’t apply?

No! Totally apply.

This post is meant for people who are making a lot of money (however much that might be) and so assume that working directly is definitely not for them, or that it’s very hard to check.

Did this help?

Let me know, even anonymously.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Could someone explain in more detail, or give examples, what it looks like when direct work at an organisation like CEA is more valuable than donating $2M per year? What factors make someone "$2M in donations"-better than the next best alternative (who isn't switching from e2g to direct work)? What's the analysis behind these claims?

CEA is not funding constrained. I wonder where the EtG/direct work trade-off lies in more funding constrained or less talent constrained cause areas.

I hope one of those orgs will reply here

Effective Institutions Project here. As of now I'd say our number is more like $150-200K, assuming we're talking about an annual commitment. The number is lower because our networks give us access to a large talent pool and I'm fairly optimistic that we can fill openings easily once we have the budget for them.

Hearing this, I wonder if you could maybe close talent gaps in other orgs?

Maybe indirectly? Addressing talent gaps within the EA community isn't a primary focus of ours, but it does seem that our outreach is helping to increase the pool of mid-career and senior people out in the world who take EA seriously.

May I be a capitalist for a moment?

If another EA org would offer you $300,000 for finding them a really good really senior person they'd hire, how would you feel about that?


Haha, well it would depend a lot on the specifics but we'd probably at least be up for having a conversation about it :)

Thank you! I added a link directly here from the post

One For The World replied here (if anyone's subscribed to this comment)

I don’t think it’s so 0/1. Does CEA really have enough funds to fund every project they believe has positive net value?

I think it's more like: CEA projects are limited by other essential resources (like staff, management capacity, onboarding capacity) before they run out of money.

(I agree it's not 0/1 exactly, but it's not as easy as you'd think to just spend more money and get more good stuff.)

Maybe in the longer term it's easier to do so ... scaling up all of the things you mention? Of course a big consideration is 'whether we can use/trust non-EA-aligned people to do good work for a salary'. But I suspect in many/most cases this is doable.

Ben Millwood's summary seems basically right to me.

And yup, the team has tripled over the past year, but scaling the further team is a top priority, hence my interest in getting people to apply :)

For the big-buck EtGers, what sort of donation percentages is this advice assuming? I imagine that if you're making $1M and even considering direct work then you're giving >>10% (>50%?) but I'm not sure.

I was interpreting the question to mean that you would donate $1M (and the amount you are making but not donating is left unspecified).

I was trying not to assume a percentage, but I wrote this post with ~90-100% donations in mind.

Regardless, I think the action that makes sense is to ask the org

And the org could ask itself: if we had that money could we use it to hire someone as productive or better than this person?

Yeah, 100%.

From my point of view, orgs seem to have all sorts of surprising problems with hiring that they don't seem to be able to solve with money right now.

I suspect one of the reasons for this is that very senior people often think that EtG is just definitely more impactful. That's a big reason I wrote this post.

For example, I think many EA orgs are constrained in terms of having money to hire marketing and data science professionals.

Are there any actual rigorous calculations on this? It's hard for me to believe someone making $2M/year and donating $1M/year (to AI Safety or top GW charities) would have less counterfactual impact than someone working at CEA.

Edit: Let's say you are donating $1M/year to AI Safety, that might be about enough to cover the salary for about 9 independent alignment researchers. Though, those 9 researchers might not be yet comparable to top-level researchers who would get funding regardless. So, it would probably end up as additional funding for getting more young people in the field (and give them at least a years worth of funding). And I guess there are some other potentially valuable things like becoming a public figure. In this case, you'd have to estimate that the value you bring to CEA is worth more than that.

The claim isn't that every person is better off doing direct work than donating to every organization. Just the specific claim that I generally prefer the labor of my top candidate to donations.

Even in your example though: if you are (say) an ML engineer senior enough to be donating $1M+/year, I expect that those nine junior researchers might prefer your mentorship to your money. 

(I really want to emphasize Yonatan's point of actually doing the math though. The thing I dislike is when people just assume that their current path is obviously correct, and don't actually bother to find some junior researchers and ask them if they would prefer money versus mentorship.)

Ben, thanks for agreeing with me, I just wanted to say that my point isn't "do the math", it's "ask the org"

Specifically I think "doing the math" is very hard, and even harder when you're not in touch with the relevant stakeholders

How many people are EtG'ing at >$1M/yr? Where are they donating, and are there public records of their donations?

Very few. The 2020 EA survey had only 6 people earning 1m+, which doesn't necessarily equate to donating as much. It's unlikely, I think, that fewer than 5% of such people took the survey given it had 2,000 responses and I doubt think there are more than 10,000 committed EAs, so I think there are likely under 100 such people.


I think it's reasonably likely that people earning $1m / year are systematically less inclined to bother with the survey, so I would be cautious about using the community response rate to extrapolate.

(On the other hand, 2000 is 5% of 40000, not 10000)

That is why I left quite large margins for error, one of which you note, the other being that those 6 were only earning 1m+, not donating.

Also, how many are earning (salaried income), and how many investing (capital gains)? For the latter, they may have enough time to at least do some direct work part time (this is basically what I'm doing), or if they are a start-up founder, exit to direct work (I think this is kind of what Ben West did), and continue to donate if their capital continues to grow (I'm guessing Ben also does this). Although there are also other considerations around haste and use of time. Is it better to aim for $1B in a couple of decades, or spend down ~$10M now? And more time doesn't linearly translate into more money with investing, it's often just about noticing the really good opportunities, and that can be somewhat serendipitous.

I'm trying to advocate for "don't think about this as a theoretical problem and hope to have one formula that works for everyone".

I'd take the considerations of someone specific and try to solve those. After we'd do that 10 times maybe we can write a more generic formula, but not before, I don't think. (I can explain why this is my opinion)

I may be totally off base here because I'm a terrible capitalist in the sense of being a really bad one, but how does this reasoning sound:

It only seems reasonable to ask someone to work for you instead of giving you $1m if they are uniquely the best person for that job.

I am very, very sceptical of any hiring process, including my own, finding a uniquely good candidate.

Assuming no orgs currently pay $1m salaries, surely you should always take the money, add say $100k to the advertised salary, readvertise, hire the best person you get then and keep the change?

I guess another way of framing this is 'how sure do you have to be that you found the best person available to turn down even $250k in cash plus the person you find once you readvertise?'

Outside some technical fields, where you may very genuinely be talking to the best programmer or mathematician in the world, surely you should always take the cash?

  1. I think many orgs won't pay such high salaries (and won't "add $100k to the advertised salary") - regardless of whether the org has the money or believes in the impact. This is because of other reasons
  2. This post is mostly directed at potential candidates - hoping they will apply - and then your job post might indeed get uniquely good people who have hardly applied so far

What do you think?

(Did this even answer your question)

"many orgs won't pay such high salaries (and won't "add $100k to the advertised salary""

Why not create more organizations? (And coordinate between organizations). Charity A attracts certain donors and workers, and Charity B attracts different donors and workers, and the costs of coordinating and additional upkeep are probably at most fifty percent of total cost?

I didn't understand how making more organizations is related to what you quoted, could you say it in other words?

To reply to "Why not create more organizations?" - I think it is a consensus that EA wants to create more organizations. I hope some very senior people (who this post is trying to target) could be the people who'd found those, maybe. I know of a founder who read this post, is going to talk to [a senior EA] about it, and perhaps, who knows, will decide to open a new org? I don't know

I think that if existing organizations have some reason to not pay higher salaries, then a new organization can probably be different. For example, if current organizations have donors and workers who prefer lower salaries (a costly signal of commitment from workers), a new organization could try to use workers who have successfully signalled commitment in other ways and donors who are okay with paying those workers market rate.


  1. Where will you find the people to run these orgs?
  2. Maybe the existing orgs have good reasons for not paying high salaries, I'd talk to the existing org you want to replace before opening a new one, probably

Either the high-earners or the people who want to hire them have management talent, probably at least some of them could be on an org leadership team. Depending on whether the reasons for not paying high salaries are universal or apply to just particular orgs, splintering could make sense.

For particular organizations, maybe the reasons are good, but we probably shouldn't just look at specific orgs. Funding constrained orgs include definitely GiveDirectly and probably Malaria Consortium's non-chemoprevention budget. Therefore, for a person who can earn $1mil but would be paid $250k at a talent-constrained charity, then if I've done the math right (doubtful), their marginal value over the unhired alternative candidate needs to be 3x more impact than the high-earner's donations to global health. So then it comes down to how much more impact can be had at talent-constrained charities and how bad are the alternative candidates, which are hard to debate in generalities and is where I'm probably wrong.

One could calculate 

A="what value over replacement do I have in my earn-to-give job (could be negative) "

plus B="what is the value of my donated money to the best funding-constrained org"

minus C="what is the value of my talent (over replacement) to the talent-constrained org)

(and if the result is negative then direct work makes sense)

These are both true but not quite addressing what I was asking.

I think this is better: 'how sure do you have to be that you found the best person available to turn down the option of having the next best person, plus e.g. $250k in cash?'

I see.

This is a question for orgs hiring, not for me.

I have priors like "getting a person with 10 more years of experience than anyone else on your team could be a really big deal, especially if nobody else like this applied", but I don't have skin in the game.

Would you maybe like to answer for any of the orgs you're involved with?

I agree with your prior - but I would add that I think my chances of getting someone with 10 years more experience than anyone else on my team goes up if my first choice gives me $1m/year!

I'm happy to answer for One for the World that I would take the Earning to Give option and readvertise, unless for some reason I thought I had a uniquely good candidate. Happy for you to link this in your main post as well.

Also, to be clear, I 100% support your main point, which is that people should apply for jobs they think they would be good at. I also want to keep EtG as a serious EA pathway, though, as I think EA is going to need a lot more funding and/or ops funding to achieve what it wants to over time.

At (roughly) what amount would you be undecided between the Earning to Give option and getting the first choice?

Thanks! I linked to this comment in the post

Curious if thoughts on this have changed since August.

November events inspired me to recalculate some estimates of earning to give through entrepreneurship. I haven't gone back to entrepreneurship despite these numbers being fairly high, as one signal of how much my thinking has (not) changed.

I would guess that my willingness to pay for a year of EA labor has fallen by ~2-3x, though I haven't thought about this much (largely because we haven't been hiring) and it depends a lot on the role.

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities