Issue 102 is out now
Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

30th November 2013

Christmas is a time for giving. Not just giving presents, but sharing the season's goodwill on a global scale. And yet, when we've spent a whole heap of money on gifts for all the family, it can feel like there's not much left to share around. Especially if we don't want the bank manager breathing down our necks come January. The organisation Giving What We Can sees things differently. As citizens of the richest countries in the world, they believe we can to do our bit to end world poverty by pledging to donate 10% of our income, now until retirement. So giving is for life, not just for Christmas.

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

30th November 2013

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

30th November 2013

Giving What We Can was set up by moral philosopher Toby Ord after he realised he could make a real difference to the problems facing the world’s most vulnerable people. The idea of Giving What We Can is to encourage volunteers to donate 10% of their income to the most effective charities tackling world poverty. Ord believes that the power to end world poverty lies in our hands. Far from feeling powerless to make a change, we each could save hundreds if not thousands of lives in our own lifetime. Most of us in the western world fall within the richest 20% of people on the planet. That leaves us capable of making a huge difference to the rest of the world, where millions of people die from treatable diseases, starvation and lack of clean drinking water every day.

HOW RICH AM I?
What’s particularly interesting is the How Rich Am I? calculator on the Give What You Can website. The 2011/12 median net family income for families with dependent children in the UK was estimated at £27,006 per year. Using the calculator and putting in two adults and three dependant children on this income still puts the average UK family in the richest 14.6% of the world’s population. The calculator goes further – by entering your predicted annual income and retirement age, the organisation works out how many lives you could save, and how many years of healthy life you could save during your working life. It is surprising just how much of a difference one person can make. Even if you consider yourself poor in UK terms, you can still save lives. Put an annual salary of £5,000 in to the How Rich Am I? calculator and it estimates that someone on this salary tithing their 10% will save 12 lives during 30 years of working life. That seems like a bland number until we actually try to put faces to those 12 lives – then it becomes more real. The website describes it like this:

“In a single week we can perform something like a miracle: saving a life, or restoring sight to the blind. Over our lives, we can each perform thousands of these ‘miracles’, leaving behind a remarkable legacy. Moreover, we can do all of this without leaving our countries, without leaving our preferred jobs, and without even giving up any parts of our lives that are truly important to us.”

PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE
Now four years old, Giving What We Can has 379 members and has raised $150,392,677 in pledges since its foundation in 2009. You can read about the people who have pledged on the website, ordinary people from all walks of life. A civil servant single mother, a student, a professor father with a young family…all of these people have made the choice to tithe 10% of their income because they feel that giving the money away doesn’t negatively impact their enjoyment of life, but is literally saving lives elsewhere. Part of the requirement of making the pledge to Giving What You Can includes being listed on their website, as the organisation feels this is the best way to inspire others to do the same. Some of the volunteers have written about the small sacrifices they have made, such as forgoing a daily mocha, and how insignificant this feels in the long term when they have the satisfaction of having saved lives.

The organisation is strict about what charities a volunteer should donate to. Through rigorous research, they have discovered which charities are most effective – incredibly in some cases up to 1000 times more effective then their counterparts – in tackling world poverty. And the organisation is not without its detractors; many people feel that 10% is too much, the recommended charities are too limiting, or that it is a government’s role to tackle these problems through international aid. Others would prefer to have more autonomy over their charitable donations: for instance, Giving What We Can does not condone animal charities and has turned volunteers down on this basis.

GIVING MAKES YOU HAPPIER
People’s primary concern when making a commitment on this scale is normally how it will impact their own and their family’s lives. There is an array of psychological research that helps clarify this question. The conclusions, in brief, are that we are likely to overestimate the negative consequences of donating a percentage of our income, and furthermore income doesn’t have as strong an effect on happiness as we think. There is evidence which suggests that giving might overall improve your happiness.

For those toying with the idea of Giving What We Can, there is the chance to try it out http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/getting-involved/joining-us/trying-out-giving before making a commitment. You get to choose how much you donate, and for how long, and at the end of this period you can then decide if you’d like to pledge further. Giving What We Can are also looking for volunteers to carry out research so this is another way you can get involved.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Tithing is not a new idea. Throughout history, adherents to religions have tithed 10% of their incomes to religious institutions or to charity as part of their philosophy, this can be seen in Christianity, Islam and Judaism as well as other religions. Some would argue that our taxes are a form of tithing to the sick, elderly and poor, though the amount that the government spends on the military means we’re largely donating to causes our hearts aren’t behind. Whatever your feelings about Giving What We Can, it certainly is food for thought. Imagine if every UK and US citizen made the pledge and how we could immediately eradicate world poverty. One person could save hundreds of lives, together we could save the world. If anything, it made me want to examine my finances more closely, and see where I spend money without really thinking about it, and how that money could change lives.

To find out more, visit Giving What We Can.

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