At Giving What We Can, we're hoping to speak to people who are interested in taking the Giving What We Can Pledge at some point, but haven't yet.

We're conducting 45 min calls to understand your journey a bit more, and we'll donate $50 to a charity of your choice on our platform in exchange for you time.

[Edit: we've filled up the spots for these user interviews for now! Thanks so all who have participated]




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Hi. I don't think my explanation would take 45 minutes to explore, but I can share the basics of my thought process: I'd feel pretty dumb if I donate a few thousand dollars, and then a year later I don't have enough money to pay for basic necessities. I've never had both A) a feeling of financial stability, and B) the confidence that such stability would continue in the future. Thus, I've wanted to build up a 'nest egg' for myself so that I won't starve or be homeless.

A is pretty easy to explain and understand. That covers times when I've been employed on short-term contracts, or when life has been in flux because I was moving from one place to another, or simply when I earned money that wasn't enough to cover both my basics and my financial goals. B is simply times when I've had a good job, I've known it wouldn't last forever, and I've known that I would eventually need my savings to pay for food, clothing, and shelter. One doesn't know how long it will take to find new employment. If it takes two weeks that isn't a big issue, but if it takes months and months that is something I want to be financially prepared for.

If I had a skillset that was highly in-demand in the job market or if I had tenure at a famous university, then I wouldn't be as concerned about income and supporting myself financially. As much as I admire the Oxford professors who donate a large chunk of their income each year, being tenured means more-or-less guaranteed income, making the decision to donate relatively low risk. If I had a big chunk of guaranteed income, I would certainly donate. Or if I had a life more like some of the earn to give folks I've read about, then I would do the same (attending a well-known and well-reputed school, studying a field that gives good career prospects, meeting a life partner relatively early in life and sharing expenses, living near a supportive family, earning a strong salary for many years, having family and network in a place with plenty of professional opportunities, living in the same city for the whole career and thus building a long-lasting network of professional contacts, working for well-known and well-reputed companies, etc.). But through a combination of circumstances external to me (such as where I grew up and what fields I was introduced to early on) and of my own choices (such as being drawn to fields that tend to not earn much or be highly respected), I don't have those resources and that stability.

EDIT: My current perspective feels a bit extreme or outrageous, but I'd like to save up and have enough money so that I am financially stable/secure/independent, and then donate. But if I had some kind of foreknowledge that I would always be able to secure employment within a month and the employment would always be at least moderately enjoyable and pay me at decently good amounts, then I would probably be comfortable to start donating now.

I hearted this!

At the risk of self-psychoanalysis & navel gazing, I could tell a vaguely similiar story but more about childhood experiences (e.g., worrying about food security, watching my parents struggle to make ends meet). I think those experiences probably make me (and maybe others similarly situated) more hesitant to lock in financial commitments of this sort for 20-40 years than hypothetical me without those experiences.

This remains true even though I rationally should give my childhood experiences little weight -- I've been a practicing lawyer for over 15 years, have well-above-average job security, a wife with a good job, and we've consistently donated 10-20% to charity throughout our marriage without any real financial discomfort. The base rate of top-three US law school grads experiencing food insecurity is probably low.

My current "fix" re GWWC is a series of escalating trial pledges to raise my comfort level re: formally/publicly pledging to continue doing something I've already been doing. That "fix" may be helpful for others, depending on their personal situations, but not others.

Anyway, I think it's really valuable for people who have past or present life experiences that are probably much less common in EA than in the general population to share how those experiences shape their experience of EA. I appreciate Joseph having done so.

Hi Jason,

I think this perspective around how upbringing and financial insecurity is really common, and can absolutely understand why it generates hesitancy to make a lifelong financial commitment!

I also think your "fix" of taking trial pledges is also common for people with a similar perspective.

Agreed that it's really valuable for us to understand diverse perspectives here! This is really helpful for us in order to think through in order to help achieve our mission.

Thanks to both you and Joseph for sharing!

Hey Joseph, 

I am exactly in the same boat, very specialized path and lack of financial visibility. I also work for an EA org, which means that I chose a pay cut (and the role is time-constrained in terms of funding) compared to other jobs that could be safer (consulting, etc). 

But recently, I've been thinking about the fact that donating is a bit like starting a new sport class or any new habit; if you don't start, you'll never start (except under ideal conditions but that rarely happens!). Accepting a bit of risk to accomplish something that you care a lot about makes sense for me, which is why I will start giving soon. There will never be a threshold of financial safety where I'll feel completely safe, so waiting will not do good to me. 

Also, inflation means that all my careful savings are losing value right now, so I'm realizing that I would be better off spending a part of it now rather than wait and see their value slowly disappearing. 

This is only my choice; I just wanted to comment since I am a bit in the same case but came to think differently about it recently. Also just want to empathize with your situation. Sometimes I feel bad when I see that some of my colleagues have been giving for ten years, but again, we clearly were not given the same set of circumstances at birth. 

But recently, I've been thinking about the fact that donating is a bit like starting a new sport class or any new habit; if you don't start, you'll never start (except under ideal conditions but that rarely happens!).


And moreover, since 10% is a ~arbitrary figure anyway, it is possible to inculcate this habit at a 1% or even 0.1% level. To the extent that one is creating a habit, the amount shouldn't matter much as long as it is meaningful to the giver.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joseph! Really appreciate you taking the time!

I think your feelings here are shared by many! And I do think that taking a significant pledge without a sense of financial stability might not be a good idea. I personally decided to take a pledge once I felt I was in a position to be able to cover expenses if I needed to stop working for a period of time.

The pledges we offer at GWWC don't require you to donate in the case of being unemployed, but this doesn't solve the issue of having enough runway to cover living expenses in the meantime. 

Some of our members have also taken The Further Pledge, where they choose to donate everything above $X annually, where X is set by them. This might be a way for people who are concerned about financial stability and ensuring a nest egg is built up or maintained to give in a way that might address that concern a bit! 

Not suggesting you do this, just thinking about how GWWC can support people in a number of circumstances with our current pledges.

Not sure if this is the place to post but I'll share. 

I took the pledge about 6 years ago but I hesitated for years. I think my reasons then were:

(1) Legalism
Pledges risk falling into "legalism" i.e. a habit of relying on specific commitments and stated duties at the expense of a broader, all-encompassing spirit of generosity. 

(2) Low Anchor
Related to (1), 10% sounded great but not so radical. Why set a lower bar for myself than I could handle? Speaking for myself, I thought then (and still do now) that I ought to be giving more than 10%. Plus, devout evangelical Christians in the US (one social group I encounter very frequently) already have a weak expectation that people give 10%. All that considered, I think the pledge was communicated that made it sound less radical and less exciting for 19-year-old me (I hadn't heard of the giving further pledge). 

(3) Religious Reasons Against Sharing
I was worried about "sounding the trumpet" and the possible social and spiritual negative effects of that. Quoting here a section of the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus' most famous sermons: Matt 6:1-4 "Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Although this contrasts with Matt 5:16 ("Let your light shine before others"). On the whole, I think contemporary American Christian protestants are less disposed to speak openly about their giving or make public pledges.

(4) Little Social Reinforcement/Encouragement/Support
I wasn't sure what the benefit was of pledging on paper to an online community (unfair, but that's how GWWC seemed to me 8 years ago. Fortunately, I've since met tons of GWWC people by way of 1-on-1 calls and EA conferences.)  

Why I took the pledge:

For reference, I mostly give to GiveWell-recommended global health and poverty charities. I think my pledge saves (in expectation) several lives a year, or accomplishes some roughly equivalent amount of a good thing. Basically, I started to feel guilty that if I didn't take the pledge or talk about giving, fewer people would give to GiveWell and fewer lives would be saved. That cost seemed far greater than my moral scruples about protecting my motivations. 

I also just met a bunch more pledgetakers who were giving over 10%. It became more socially normal and the low anchor point started to matter to me less. 

Thanks, JD! I think this is really useful!

One thing I always find so interesting is the contrast between people who are in a culture where giving 10% seems normal (and maybe therefore unnecessary or less valuable to take a pledge) and people who are in a culture where it seems extreme! 

The comment about community is also really interesting - hopefully we're addressing this over time and making it easier to connect with this global community!

I know Grace has seen this already, but in case others reading this thread are interested: I've shared some thoughts on not taking the pledge (yet) here.[1]

Adding to the post: part of the value of pledges like this comes from their role as a commitment mechanism to prevent yourself from drifting away from values and behaviors that you endorse. I'm not currently worried about drifting in this way, partly because I work for CEA and have lots of social connections to extremely altruistic people. If I started working somewhere that isn't explicitly EA-oriented and/or lost my connections to the EA community, I think I'd worry a lot more about drift and the usefulness of the pledge would jump for me. (I plan on thinking about taking some kind of pledge if/when that happens.)

I'll also note that I've recently seen multiple people ~dunking on folks in EA who haven't taken the pledge (or making fun of arguments against taking the pledge), and I think this is pretty unhelpful. I'm really grateful to the GWWC Pledge community, but I really don't think the pledge is right for everyone (and neither does GWWC). Even if you think almost all the people who aren't pledging are wrong and/or biased, dunking is probably a bad way to argue. Additionally, it disincentivizes people from coming out and answering Grace's question, since they might worry that they'll (indirectly) get ridiculed for it. So if you see someone you know ~dunking, consider asking them to avoid doing that (especially if you already know them and/or have been sharing arguments for taking the pledge).

  1. ^

    To be clear: I totally believe my conclusion could be wrong, and I'm happy to see (more) arguments about why that could be. (Having said that, I should flag that I don't plan on spending time on this decision right now because I think I have more pressing decisions at the moment, but it's something I want to think more about in the future. So e.g. I might not respond to comments.)

I think it's pretty unacceptable to be rude or unkind to anyone who hasn't take a pledge with GWWC. Everyone is on their own journey and should do what is right for them. I would be disappointed to hear of pledgers who are acting in a manner that's unkind to non-pledgers.

I second Liza's request here to ask people who are being uncharitable or unkind about the decisions of others around taking a pledge to refrain from doing so. 

I think it's acceptable to politely ask people if they'd welcome a discussion about reasons they should consider taking a pledge, but if there's no interest, to let the conversation go.

One of the reasons I love the GWWC Community, is that people tend to be very kind and welcoming, and I would hate to see that change.

(also thanks Liza for sharing your previous post here, too!)

Oh I thought I responded to this already!

I'd like to say that people often have very good reasons for not pledging, that are sometimes visible to us, and other times not - and no one should feel bad for making the right choice for themselves! 

I do of course think many more people in our community could take the GWWC Pledge, but I wouldn't want people to do that at the expense of them feeling comfortable with making that commitment.

We should respect other people's journeys, lifestyles and values in our pursuits to do good.

And thanks Lizka for sharing your previous post in this thread too! Appreciate you sharing your perspective!

I work in an EA-funded non-profit. It seems inefficient to donate my income instead of taking a salary cut.

Many of our members who currently work at EA non-profits choose to sacrifice salary as part of their pledge! If you were working somewhere else outside of EA, would you consider donating to effective charities or projects?

If taking a salary cut is considered as honest fulfilment of the GWWC pledge, I'm willing to take the pledge.

Here's an explanation from Luke about how taking a voluntary salary sacrifice could count towards the pledge (as long as you still think it's one of the most effective organisations improving the lives of others):

Let me know what you think!

It seemed suboptimal ([x] marks things I've done, [ ] marks things I should have done but have not gotten around to).

  • [x] Saving donations for years of increased need seems like a better strategy than donating a fixed amount each year
  • [ ] Investing donations and then donating with interest seems plausibly a better option
  • [x] Having a large amount of personal savings allows me to direct my efforts more effectively by choosing not to take suboptimal opportunities for money. Having "slack", freedom of action, seems very useful.
  • [x] My time funges with money, and I will not always want to donate one instead of the other.
  • [x] Generally, constraining my future self seems kind of iffy, since my future self will have more information and better models, including information about my own values. I see the appeal of argument in the other direction about screening off becoming more altruistic, though.

Thanks for sharing, Nuno!

We do have members who don't donate strictly on a yearly basis, and choose to donate every couple of years when there's something quite promising to donate to. Also donating every second (or more depending on how much you donate) year can make sense for some Americans given the tax benefits. 

I think that deciding when to donate (i.e. investing or donating now) is a difficult one, and depends a lot on your worldviews etc. My take is that if you're interested in improving the lives of people now, it's generally good to donate sooner rather than later (although maybe there's a case for waiting for a specific breakthrough where you have some special knowledge about the case for impact) but outside of global health and wellbeing, I find it much harder to know.

This seems against the wording of "Give 10% of your income each year"

Why are you under the impression that you have to give each year? I tried to google your quoted string but could not find an exact match.

As I interpret the GWWC pledge formulation, there is no condition when you have to donate, just how much.

You are right, the page does contain the phrase "Give 10% of your income each year".(Somehow google has not picked it up so I did not find it). I think GWWC has made a mistake here. The text of the actual pledge does not have this constraint.

Maybe @graceadams or someone else from GWWC can clarify things and fix the formulation on their website?

We'll update this! We do encourage people to give annually to keep in the habit but you're also right that it's not actually in the pledge text. I think this is a major point for a lot of people so we'll update the page! Thanks for pointing that out!

I donate 5% of my income and I'm gradually escalating (only two years out of college). I don't plan to pledge because I don't see the need for a commitment device. I don't like the commitment framing - I think it takes a cudgel to an altruistic motivation that to me feels natural right now. Put differently:

I ran a different version of the [drowning child] thought experiment without language around obligation: “Imagine that – somehow – the universe has deemed me unalterably Good regardless of whether I help. Do I still want to rescue the child?”


After rewording Singer’s thought experiment, it dawned on me that I’d been using the frame of an “obligation” as a psychological whip to get myself to do what I already wanted to do. Weird.

When I went looking for the force or deity outside of myself that held the whip, there was nothing there. I was the one holding the whip. This was a revelation. The thing underlying my moral “obligation” came from me, my own mind. This underlying thing was actually a type of desire. It turned out that I wanted to help suffering people. I wanted to be in service of a beautiful world. Hm.

Suddenly the words of my moral vocabulary took on new meanings. Was I obligated to save the drowning child? Did I have a responsibility or moral duty? Was it something that one should or ought do? This language seemed misleading. These words seemed to replace my natural impulse to help with an artificial demand imposed by…nothing and no one.

The natural concern is that I'm naively assuming that my future self will share these values. That is correct.

Thanks for sharing your perspective, Karthik! 

The email address doesn’t seem to work.

Ah thanks Ian! You can reach me at and I'll update the post!

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