How much should I donate?

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much you should donate, but that doesn't mean it's not exciting to think about.

As an inspiration, I would like to share a few examples of how different people, institutions and religions have approached the topic, and at the end I will also reveal how I personally feel about it.

First up is the German government, which promised in 1972 to spend 0,7% of its economic output for development aid . This promise has only been kept once since then, but why not use it as a benchmark for your own generosity? In Germany, it should be relatively easy for most people to give less than 1% of their income. And if everyone did that, the annual amount donated in Germany would be three times what it is now. With this 24 billion euros, we could free all the world's children from parasitic worms, virtually eradicate malaria, and still have enough money to lift nearly 20 million of the world's neediest households out of extreme poverty.

Another approach, which some of you have probably heard before, is to use the church tax as a starting point of orientation. This corresponds, depending on the federal state, to 8% - 9% of the income tax liability and therefore cannot be broken down to a universally valid figure. For the 30-year-old, single, childless teacher in Berlin, for example, the figure is just under 1.7% of gross income (for very high earners it is over 4%). This would still be well below the traditional church tithe, but well above the German average which can of course also be used as a guide. Of course, there is also a tradition in other religions of supporting those in need. For example, one of the five pillars of Islam, the Zakāt, states that believers should donate 2.5% of their own wealth each year.

Many supporters of Effective altruismpublicly promise to donate at least 10% of their gross income to effective charities as part of the Giving Pledge. On their website, they offer the "How rich am I?" calculator. This shows not only what could be achieved with this money, but also that most people from industrialized countries would still be among the world's richest 5% of the world's population even if they donated 10% of their income. One of the pioneers of effective altruism, William MacAskill, goes one step further and has repeatedly pledged to donate all of his annual net income in excess of £25,000. As an Oxford professor and successful book author, he is likely to raise a substantial sum each year, well in excess of the 10% mentioned above.

If that is not enough for you, you will find more information in the essay "Famine, Affluence and Morality" by Australian philosopher Peter Singer takes the culture of giving to its logical conclusion. He writes: “If it is within our power to prevent something very bad without sacrificing something of comparable moral significance, then, morally speaking, we should do so.” What he means by this is that we should give until we would be putting ourselves at greater risk by making a further donation than we could help a starving person in Bangladesh, for example.

This would inevitably mean a life below the German poverty line for the donor. Singer is not prepared to accept this and donates "only" a third of his income.

As far as I am personally concerned, my wife and I have decided to donate 10% of our income. For us personally, this feels like a good compromise. On the one hand, it represents a significant portion of our income and gives us the feeling that we are really serious about tackling the world's problems. On the other hand, it still allows us to enjoy the seemingly mundane things in life. The following thought experiment helped me put this seemingly huge sacrifice into perspective:

When was the last time the average German had to make do with 10% less than today? On average, 6 years ago, because since then, real economic output per capita has risen by around 10%. I'm not saying that there hasn't been any real progress since 2013, but how stressful was it really to have to unlock your phone with your fingerprint instead of facial recognition (Face ID only came in 2017), or to do without Netflix in 4K resolution (only introduced in 2014)?

On the other hand, it sounds almost unreal to imagine what the world would look like if many more people followed the example of Effective Altruists. At the beginning of this text, I showed what would be possible if everyone in Germany donated an average of just 0.7% of their income, but when you imagine what would happen if everyone in wealthy countries increased their annual donations to 10%, you quickly have to resort to superlatives.

No one would go hungry, no children would die of diseases long since cured, factory farming would be a thing of the past, climate change could be stopped, and there would still be more than enough money to finance a second Renaissance of art and culture.

But I also understand that it is not an easy decision to make such a commitment. For us, too, it was a process that took several years. So let me close with a suggestion that has at least helped my wife and I become more generous people. Instead of giving away 10% or more of your income right away, you can start with a smaller amount, but plan to give away a significant portion of your future raises, bonuses, or even an eventual inheritance. Science and intuition agree: it is easier to give up future money than it is to give up money that is already in your account. However, despite a generous donation, any increase in income would still be accompanied by an increase in discretionary funds.

Regardless of how much you are prepared to give, it always makes sense to donate to the world's most effective charities in the areas of fighting povertyimproving animal welfare and climate action . This way you can ensure that your donation helps as many people as possible in the best possible way. If you want to get started right away, you can create a monthly donation here..

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Sebastian Schwiecker Avatar

Founder & Managing Director

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