Giving What We Can members have pledged to donate at least 10% of what they earn to help others as best they can, but this is broader than it was originally. The pledge was specific to global poverty, and only became cause-neutral in late 2014 after a lot of discussion. I think that discussion is interesting to review now that we can see how it worked out, and is probably more interesting than continuing with this post below where I look at minor wording changes.

But, if you want to stick around for my looking through the Internet Archive for minor wording changes, here are the five versions it captured on the site.

The first one is 2011-07-26, with:

I recognise that I can use part of my income to do a significant amount of good in the developing world. Since I can live well enough on a smaller income, I pledge that from today until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn to whichever organizations can most effectively use it to fight poverty in developing countries. I make this pledge freely, openly, and without regret.

Sometime between 2014-02-08 and 2014-06-03 the pledge was changed to:

I recognise that I can use part of my income to do a significant amount of good in the developing world. Since I can live well enough on a smaller income, I pledge that for the rest of my life or until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn to whichever organisations can most effectively use it to help people in developing countries, now and in the years to come. I make this pledge freely, openly, and sincerely.

This expansion brought in things like interventions that save lives without necessarily making people less poor, interventions that take a while to pay off, and even reducing existential risk (provided that you think it's still worth it when only including the benefit to people in developing counties). I can't find any discussion of this at the time, but if there was please point me to it!

The big change was a few months later, sometime between 2014-11-27 and 2015-01-07, when they changed it to:

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 for the rest of my life or until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn 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.

Expanding the pledge to be cause netural was very controversial: people were worried it would dilute what GWWC stood for, and hurt its credibility. On the other hand, there's a lot of value in having a pledge we can all stand behind, plus encouraging people to make a lifetime committment to a specific cause is contrary to a lot of what EA stands for.

Changes since then have been pretty minor. Between 2020-09-07 and 2020-09-19 it gained some blanks for expiration and amount:

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.

Asking GWWC, they said this was to allow one version of the main text to cover what had previously required other variants.

Later, between 2022-02-08 and 2022-02-13 it gained one last blank, for the start date:

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 __ 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.

Asking GWWC again, this was to cover both cases where someone was intending to start on a future date, and also cases where people wanted to pick a date in the past so the pledge would cover earlier income.


Disclosure: my wife used to be President of GWWC, but I haven't run this post by her and I don't know her views here. I sent a draft of this post to GWWC.

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5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:34 AM

The pledge seems to have moved from more specific and concrete, to more general and flexible . The reasons for this you've outlined make sense, but it does now have a more "watered down", generic feel since the originals. I'm not sure there's any easy remedy to this though.

The one that feels t have the best balance to me is the middle one (copy pastad below) which doesn't have any blanks. There's strength and sense of comradery in everyone signing up t exactly the same pledge. I remember the pride in taking the hippocratic oath as a doctor. This retains the "10%" and "for the rest of my life or until the day I retire" rather than blanks to fill in.

"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 for the rest of my life or until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn 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."

Jeff just answered this and I agree it's a good line now :)
My only tiny question to add is why do you need the "now and in the years to come" at the end of the second to last sentence. It seems redundant and doesn't add much flourish.  

But this is mostly my instinct and vibe, I can understand the reasons for moving in the direction you have!

I think without the "now and in the years to com" part people might think that it's only about improving the lives of others who currently exist?

Interesting — that’s not how I would have read that language.  I would have instead said that this phrase clarifies that the person pledging will repeatedly identify the most effective organizations, rather than just identifying the best organization(s) once at the time of the pledge and then donating to those entities throughout their life.

For what it's worth, I'm on the 1 year "try giving" pledge atm. Even though I currently donate to "EA approved" orgs, I would never make the life-long commitment if I thought it meant giving up the right to use my own discretion when deciding which causes/organisations to give to.

Love it nice one Xavier! I completely agree with you, and I don't see the pledge as even having to have a direct relationship to EA. I think anyone could legitimately sign the pledge outside of any direct EA framework, giving money to whatever was in your opinion was an effective organsation.