Earning To Give is the name of a career strategy of pursuing a high-earning career (or higher-earning than one would otherwise pursue) with the deliberate goal of donating a substantial portion of one’s earned income.
Higher income for higher donations
Earning To Give (sometimes referred to by the shorthand “E2G”) includes a wide range of career plans that focus on earning higher income, and donating significant portions of it to charities. Since the world’s most effective charities are incredibly efficient at using money to save lives (or help in other ways), earning to give can have a larger impact than many careers that help others directly.
For example, the average annual income of a person living in the United States is about $36,000. By donating 10% of their income to effective charities such as the Against Malaria Foundation, the average American could save dozens of lives over the course of their career. Those with especially high earning potential could do much more – saving many hundreds of lives, or supporting even more ambitious goals. In simple terms, if you have a lot of money you can do a lot of important stuff.
There are other considerations that make earning to give an impactful career path worth considering. It’s an approach that is relevant to a wide range of people with vastly different skill sets. Its value is not likely to meaningfully drop as more people pursue it, since a lot of different effective organizations need more funding, and this approach gives you the flexibility to give to any cause. It is also easy to know your contributions make a real counterfactual difference since it is unlikely that the next best candidate for the job would have donated large portions of their income to effective charities. In some cases it also makes it easier to estimate your impact, at least in fields like global health where impact is more measurable.
While earning to give can allow for flexibility and high counterfactual impact, it’s imperative that, even as one aims to generate considerable wealth for altruistic endeavors, one doesn’t inadvertently cause serious harm through their chosen vocation. Thankfully, many lucrative careers either have a neutral footprint or even create a net positive societal impact. However, generating vast financial resources often entails managing large organizations or overseeing substantial financial capital, which comes with the potential for both significant influence and unintended negative consequences.
One consideration against earning to give is the risk of value drift – no longer being interested in donating once you get used to your non-altruistic environment. Another common concern is missing out on the joy and increased motivation that comes from helping others more directly.
Finally, in cause areas that are more talent-constrained than funding-constrained (such as AI risk and possibly climate change), earning to give may have a significantly smaller impact relative to direct work in the field. There are several organizations and communities that help those who want to donate significant portions of their income. For example, Giving What We Can supports a community of those who pledged to donate 10% of their salaries, and Founders Pledge supports founders who wish to donate a significant portion of their profits in an IPO or exit. We plan on producing more content on career paths relevant to earning to give in the future.