Cultivating a Positive Habit: Making a Commitment to GivingMay 22, 2023
By Spencer Kelly & Recha Bergstrom, MD
As with many things in life, the hardest part of philanthropy can often be consistency. Research shows that people tend to give only at certain times of the year: a fifth of annual nonprofit revenue is raised in December, with a substantial portion of that coming on December 30-31 alone. This suggests that people primarily donate at certain times when they feel inspired — like around the holiday season or on Giving Tuesday — rather than making it a habit.
One way of being more consistent with your personal philanthropy is by making a commitment to giving. Numerous organizations offer pledges where you can agree to donate a certain percentage of your income over a certain period of time. While most of these are not legally binding, the act of making a commitment helps create accountability for yourself to donate more and more often.
Here are some of the most popular philanthropic pledges, organized by what types of people may benefit from each of these options.
For students and recent grads: One for the World
As a student or recent graduate with limited savings and a low salary, making a commitment to donating may seem impossible. However, One for the World offers a proposition that makes philanthropy attainable: just donate 1% of your income.
Founded in 2014 by two students at the University of Pennsylvania, One for the World specifically caters to young people who want to make a philanthropic difference but don’t have significant funds with which to do so. They found that setting a goal of donating 1% of your income was something that almost anyone — even broke college students — could manage.
One for the World partners with GiveWell, a leading evidence-based charity evaluator, to facilitate donations. You can choose to allocate your 1% toward one of GiveWell’s four recommended charities: Against Malaria Foundation, New Incentives, Malaria Consortium’s Chemoprevention Program, or Helen Keller International’s Vitamin A Supplementation Program. You can also decide to give to the GiveWell All Grants Fund, which allocates funds on a discretionary basis to opportunities that meet its cost-effectiveness bar, including opportunities outside of the top charities list.
While donating just 1% of a young person’s income may seem insignificant, One for the World has had a sizable impact. Since 2017, it has helped direct $3.62 million to effective charities and averted an estimated 535 deaths.
For those who need guidance and inspiration: The Life You Can Save
Named after a 2009 book by Peter Singer — an effective altruism pioneer who has been advocating for personal philanthropy since the 1970s — The Life You Can Save (TLYCS) is one of the most influential organizations in the effective giving space.
Perhaps the most helpful aspect of TLYCS’s platform is the multitude of resources they have to help aspiring philanthropists who don’t know where to start. TLYCS conducts evidence-based charity reviews and has a list of 25 recommended organizations. They also offer a questionnaire that provides tailored charity picks based on which causes or populations you are passionate about.
If you can’t decide which individual organizations to support, TLYCS also has seven cause funds, where expert philanthropy advisors allocate your donation to the top options in a certain cause area or theme. For instance, the Transform Lives Fund supports charities that alleviate preventable blindness, chronic malnutrition, and physical disability; the Help Women & Girls Fund supports charities that address particular problems for women and girls in extreme poverty; and the Tackle Climate Change Fund supports climate change policy and advocacy charities.
TLYCS offers a flexible and customizable pledge as well. You can choose what percentage of your income to donate over the next year, and TLYCS will send monthly updates on the impact your pledge is making. If you are unsure of how much to give, they have a calculator that suggests an amount based on your pre-tax income.
The Life You Can Save’s website can be accessed here. The pledge and donation calculator are both here. You can also download a free e-book of Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save 10th Anniversary Edition here.
For the ambitious, community-oriented giver: Giving What We Can
Inspired in large part by Peter Singer, Oxford University philosophers Toby Ord and Will MacAskill decided they would donate a significant portion of their incomes to cost-effective charities. To help others do the same, they established Giving What We Can (GWWC) in 2009.
The GWWC pledge is perhaps the most demanding personal philanthropic commitment: it asks that you commit to giving at least 10% of your lifetime income to effective charities. However, for those not ready, willing, or able to give up that amount for now, GWWC offers a “Trial Pledge” where you can choose to give between 1-10% for a certain period of time.
GWWC’s website provides many helpful resources whether or not you choose to take one of its pledges. They have a list of 20 recommended charities based on original research in a variety of cause areas. However, GWWC actually suggests that most people donate to expert-allocated charity funds, because a fund pools the resources of multiple donors more efficiently, and because a fund manager can usually spend more time investigating and supporting organizations than individual donors can.
While its educational resources are helpful, perhaps the biggest strength of GWWC is the community surrounding it. GWWC is the official donation platform of Effective Altruism (EA), a global movement of people trying to find the best ways to make a positive impact on the world.
While EA has experienced some controversy over the past year, it still has a profound impact in the philanthropic space by spreading awareness of effective charities and mobilizing people to donate more.
Despite having a rigorous standard for giving 10% of income, GWWC’s impact has been impressive: 9,227 people have pledged to donate over $3.2 billion over the course of their careers. So far, members have donated more than $220 million to effective charities.
For the social entrepreneur: Founders Pledge
Social entrepreneurs and investors find themselves in an interesting situation with regard to philanthropy. At the moment, they may not have much money at all, but if all goes well with their enterprise, they could have a significant amount of money with which to do good in the future.
To help address the unique position of these people, David Goldberg established Founders Pledge in 2015. Anyone who holds equity in a company (founders or investors) can make a commitment to donate a meaningful percentage of personal proceeds at the point of liquidity. Unlike other pledges, this is structured as a legally binding agreement.
Donations can be made directly to the organizations of your choice, or you can donate through the Founders Pledge donor advised fund.
Like many of the other platforms mentioned above, Founders Pledge conducts its own research on the most effective charities. They also have four thematic charity funds supporting organizations addressing climate change, global health and development, global catastrophic risks, and safeguarding the future of humanity. Both of these resources are helpful and accessible for anyone who does not or cannot take its pledge.
Founders Pledge has raised an incredible $9.32 billion in pledged money from 1,776 members in 39 countries. So far, $891 million worth of commitments have already been fulfilled. Some notable pledgers include Daniel Macklin, founder of SoFi; Kathryn Petralia, co-founder of Kabbage; and Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of Google DeepMind, among many others.
Anyone fitting Founders Pledge’s unique requirements can find information about this opportunity here.
For physicians who want an easy way to amplify their donations: The Physician Philanthropy Impact Fund
For those in the medical profession with limited time but a desire to do good, we established the Physician Philanthropy Impact Fund to make it easy for you to amplify the power of your donations — although anyone is welcome to donate to this donor advised fund.
The fund has a simple six-step process – only 2 of which are steps for the donor. First, you can choose a cause area that you feel passionate about. The current options are Health, Human Rights, Gender & Racial Equity, Food & Water Resources, Children & Education, and Environment. If you do not have a preference or just want to maximize your impact in any way, you can choose to have us direct the portion of your donation to where we believe it will make the most positive impact.
Second, you can donate in a variety of ways: credit or debit card, bank or wire transfer, check, or even donate more complex assets like real estate.
Third, you will automatically get a receipt emailed to you for tax purposes. As a contribution to a donor advised fund, you will not need to pay capital gains tax on donated appreciated assets, increasing your benefits and positive impact.
Fourth, we distribute the funds into impact investments, where the money grows while positively impacting people and the planet in the process.
Fifth, the Physician Advisory Board will find, evaluate, and choose the charitable organizations that will receive grants in each of the cause areas, to be disbursed annually.
Finally, we will follow up on the impact your contributions are making by sending you an annual impact report.
By providing an easy way to donate in a community-oriented manner with fellow physicians, the Physician Philanthropy Impact Fund can be a great option to make a commitment to giving.
For the DIY-er: Recurring donations
If none of the above options fit your particular needs or preferences, or if you just want to handle your donations yourself, setting a recurring donation to a charity or fund is an easy way to make a commitment to giving. Automating your donations to occur on a regular basis helps you stay consistent with philanthropy without having to think about it.
Recurring donations are also better for the recipient organizations. As Giving What We Can notes, recurring donations allows fund managers and charities to more accurately predict future donations so that they know how much money they are likely to have available in the future. Recurring donations also make money available throughout the year so fund managers and charities have more flexibility to respond to opportunities as they become available.
Recurring donations can be set up through any of the platforms noted above, or directly through the charity of your choice.
Ultimately, making a commitment to giving will look different for everyone. The options mentioned above are some of the more structured ways to create accountability by pledging to give a certain amount over a certain period of time. However, the most important thing is simply to be consistent and be generous, and whether you do this with or without a formal commitment is a matter of personal choice.
This blog and newsletter are free resources, and are supported by our paying subscribers. If you've learned something along the way, felt empowered, inspired or more hopeful, consider making a one-time or monthly contribution to keep us going. For businesses looking to do good and do well, consider making an impact with our sponsorship opportunities.
You can be the change you want to see in the world through effective, efficient, and impactful philanthropy. Check out my course, The Physician Philanthropist, for a comprehensive education on and strategy for maximizing the impact of your giving both for you and your causes
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