Unsurprisingly, given my bleeding heart tendencies, I’m quite taken with the idea of Giving What We Can, a movement that encourages people to make a public pledge to donate at 10% of their income from now until the day that they retire, in order to fight extreme poverty in the developing world. 10% may sound like quite a lot, but I’m certain that I could do it without missing it (although it would mean fewer magazines and items of clothing, neither of which would materially reduce my quality of living).
I like that the focus is squarely on the developing world, and not just charitable support in general. As the website explains:
Giving What We Can focuses exclusively upon the world’s poorest nations because that is where a donation can do the most good. For example, suppose we want to help those who are blind. We can help blind people in a developed country like the United States by paying to train a guide dog. This is more expensive than most people realize and costs around $50,000 to train a dog and teach its recipient how to make best use of it. In contrast, there are millions of people in developing countries who remain blind for lack of a cheap and safe eye operation. For the same amount of money as training a single guide dog, we could completely cure enough people of Trachoma-induced blindness to prevent a total of 2,600 years of blindness. If you look at the charity comparisons section of this website, you will see many more examples like this about how a given donation can achieve vastly more in developing countries than it ever could in developed countries. There is thus a very strong argument in favour of giving to those living abroad.
Moreover, waiting until we fix our own problems may mean waiting forever. Compared to other parts of the world, we have been experiencing unrivalled prosperity for a very long time. If we can’t help those far less fortunate than ourselves now, when will we?
Although I’m still working my way through the website, it looks to be very well thought-out (and, reassuringly, well-written). The idea is that it’s an honour system, pretty much: you make the pledge, your name is published, and each year you send the founders of GWWC confirmation of your income and the amount that you’ve given to relevant charities. And that’s it. And really, it’s the oldest philanthropic idea in the book, isn’t it? The concept of tithing lasted for centuries and there’s no reason why it couldn’t be made relevant to the modern world.
Anyway, I obviously don’t know whether this is something that I will do (living, as I do, in Joint Finances Land), but it’s good food for thought.