EA Survey 2019 Series: Donation Data

Summary

  • EAs in the sur­vey re­ported to­tal dona­tions of $16.1M USD in 2018.

  • The me­dian an­nual dona­tion in 2018 was $683.92.

  • The me­dian an­nual dona­tion in 2018, ex­clud­ing those who joined EA in 2019 was $990. This is higher than the me­dian an­nual dona­tion in 2017 of $832, ex­clud­ing those who joined EA in 2018.

  • 1.3% of donors ac­counted for 57% of dona­tions.

  • The me­dian per­centage of in­come donated in 2018 was 3.23%.

  • 20% of EAs donated 10% or more of their in­come.

  • The me­dian per­cent of in­come donated by full-time em­ployed non-stu­dent EAs who earn more than $10,000 was 3.38% and 24% of these EAs donated 10% or more of their in­come.

  • Global Poverty char­i­ties con­tinue to at­tract the largest amount of dona­tions (39% of those who re­ported dona­tions to spe­cific char­i­ties).

This post is part of Re­think Char­ity’s se­ries on the EA Sur­vey 2019, which pro­vides an an­nual snap­shot of the EA com­mu­nity. In this re­port, we ex­plore dona­tion in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by EAs in the sur­vey. We have already ex­plored de­mo­graph­ics, cause pri­ori­ti­za­tion, ca­reers and skills, and their ge­o­graphic dis­tri­bu­tion.

Introduction

Ear­lier in this se­ries we have shown that the most pop­u­lar ca­reer paths that effec­tive al­tru­ists in the sur­vey (EAs) plan to fol­low are in earn­ing to give roles (38%) and 55% (960) said one of the top ways in which they are in­ter­ested in be­com­ing more in­volved in the EA com­mu­nity was to give more.[1] While there has been dis­cus­sion in re­cent years about whether earn­ing to give should be the de­fault strat­egy for most EAs or if only a small pro­por­tion of peo­ple should earn to give long term (also see dis­cus­sions here and here), there is a gen­eral con­sen­sus that donat­ing at least some amount is a good path to im­pact for most EAs.

To­tals Donated

As in pre­vi­ous years, there was a very wide range in amounts donated (note the 2019 Sur­vey col­lects re­ports of the amounts donated in 2018). All amounts are in USD ($).[2]

While to­tal dona­tions made in 2018 are down com­pared to dona­tions re­ported for 2017 in the 2018 EA Sur­vey Data, likely due to a smaller sam­ple,[3] it is still a huge step up from what EAs re­ported hav­ing pre­vi­ously donated in 2016 and 2015 in 2017´s sur­vey.

Ex­clud­ing EAs who joined EA in 2019, the me­dian to­tal donated in 2018 was $990. In 2018´s EA Sur­vey, drop­ping those who joined EA in 2018 the me­dian an­nual dona­tion for 2017 was $832.2. There­fore, it may be more ac­cu­rate to de­scribe the pic­ture as one of in­creas­ing dona­tions per EA.

As the graph be­low of the an­nual dona­tion re­ported by each in­di­vi­d­ual donor shows, a very small num­ber of very large dona­tions dwarf the size of most oth­ers.

The fol­low­ing his­togram shows the num­ber of donors of differ­ent an­nual dona­tion amounts in our sam­ple. For illus­tra­tive pur­poses this his­togram only rep­re­sents data from those who donated $1 or more (and is pre­sented with a log scale).

Like last year, we cre­ated a graph show­ing the pro­por­tion of to­tal EA dona­tions that came from donors of cer­tain sizes and re­quested a cu­mu­la­tive dona­tions graph (be­low). Per­haps, even if the largest dona­tions are many times larger than the rest, much of the to­tal might still be com­ing from a very large num­ber of smaller donors?

As the graph above shows, how­ever, a rel­a­tively small por­tion of to­tal dona­tions recorded in our sam­ple comes from those donat­ing smaller amounts. In­di­vi­d­u­als donat­ing $1000 or less in 2018 (55.2% of donors in our sam­ple) ac­counted for $227,578.40 of dona­tions or about 1.4% of the to­tal. Those more in the ‘mid­dle’, donat­ing be­tween $1000 and $10,000 in­clude 34.2% of donors, and the sub­stan­tial sum of $2,257,913, which is large rel­a­tive to most EA pro­jects, while still only be­ing 14% of to­tal dona­tions. Those giv­ing be­tween $10,000 and $100,000 made up 9.4% of donors, giv­ing $4,475,384 in sum (27.8% of dona­tions). Con­versely, donors giv­ing more than $100,000 (1.3% of donors) ac­counted for $9,136,155 ( 57% of dona­tions).

As the figures in the table above show, a dona­tion of $1000 per year (or 5% of a $20,000 salary) would place one in the top half of EA donors (speci­fi­cally, the 55th per­centile), whereas be­ing in the top 10% of donors would re­quire donat­ing >$11,000 and the top 1% >$110,000.

We also asked re­spon­dents how much they planned to donate in 2019. 1,716 EAs re­sponded to this ques­tion, 1,467 of which re­ported plan­ning to donate more than $0 in 2019. The me­dian planned dona­tion for 2019 was $1,074.98 among all EAs, and $3,000 among full-time em­ployed non-stu­dent EAs. This would rep­re­sent an in­crease over the me­dian donated in 2018.

Per­centages of In­come Donated

We also looked at the per­centages of pre-tax in­come that EAs were donat­ing, based on the 1,563 EAs who dis­closed both in­come and dona­tion data. As in pre­vi­ous years, most EAs were donat­ing sig­nifi­cantly less than the 10% Giv­ing What We Can Pledge. How­ever, as the graph be­low shows, there is a marked ‘bump’ in the donors giv­ing at around the 10% figure, per­haps due to the Giv­ing What We Can Pledge tar­get around this amount, or due to the figure’s wider pop­u­lar­ity as a tar­get (e.g. in tithing).

Location

Re­gion of Residence

Di­vid­ing the data of where EAs in the sur­vey live into four broad ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas, as we did in the ge­og­ra­phy post, we see the me­dian amount donated in 2018 is high­est among EAs liv­ing in the USA.

City of Residence

We can see that large metropoli­tan EA hubs New York City and the San Fran­cisco Bay Area have large me­dian dona­tions of around $4,000 com­pared to other large cities like Lon­don, which has a me­dian dona­tion be­low around $770. Smaller hubs like Oxford have lower me­dian dona­tions, but also might be ex­pected to have lower in­comes due to a high stu­dent pop­u­la­tion.

Below we see the me­dian per­centage of in­come donated by Oxford EAs is very similar to that of San Fran­cisco Bay Area EAs (~6.5%), who on av­er­age have higher in­comes. Again we see that Lon­don EAs fall be­hind other metro hubs in terms of % of in­come donated (2.9%).

Self-re­ported En­gage­ment in EA

We see highly en­gaged EAs donate the high­est per­centage of in­come. This is de­spite the fact that less en­gaged EAs tend to have higher me­dian in­comes and more en­gaged EAs tend to more of­ten be stu­dents than less en­gaged EAs. The in­creas­ing trend ap­pears whether one looks at full-time em­ployed non-stu­dents or stu­dents. Highly en­gaged EAs re­port the high­est per­centage of in­come donated but are less likely to be fol­low­ing Earn­ing to Give ca­reer paths (25% among non-stu­dents) com­pared to lesser en­gaged EAs (42% of con­sid­er­ably en­gaged, 48% of mod­er­ately en­gaged EAs, 38% of mildly en­gaged EAs, 22% of non-en­gaged EAs). The me­dian an­nual dona­tion is high­est among the sec­ond most en­gaged group of EAs, with other en­gage­ment lev­els hav­ing similar me­dian amounts to each other (ex­cept no en­gage­ment for which the num­ber of re­spon­dents is very low any­way).[4]

What Ex­plains Low Dona­tions?

In pre­vi­ous years, read­ers have com­mented on the large num­bers of EAs who ap­pear to be donat­ing $0 or close to $0 and at their sur­prise at low dona­tion lev­els over­all. This may be less of a sur­prise to­day com­pared to when earn­ing to give and the Giv­ing What We Can Pledge were em­pha­sised more in the com­mu­nity, but it still ap­pears to us to be worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

Re­spon­dents also offered open com­ments about their dona­tions. Of the 146 who re­ported donat­ing noth­ing and gave a com­ment, ~39% re­ported not donat­ing be­cause they were a stu­dent, ~20% re­ported that their in­come was too low to donate, an­other ~10% re­ported plan­ning to give later, and ~8% re­ported that they were donat­ing-in-kind (such as work­ing at an EA or­ga­ni­za­tion or work­ing in an EA cause area).

Students

Many EAs are stu­dents (of those who re­ported dona­tion in­for­ma­tion, ~31% were stu­dents) and stu­dents are gen­er­ally ex­pected to be donat­ing lower amounts (the GWWC pledge only re­quires stu­dents to donate 1% rather than 10%). True to ex­pec­ta­tions, our data con­firms that stu­dents do donate less in both ab­solute terms and as a per­centage as in­come.

Employment

Similarly, many EAs in our sam­ple, though not stu­dents, may not be em­ployed or fully em­ployed. When we ex­clude both stu­dents and those who are not em­ployed full-time, me­dian dona­tions are, again, sub­stan­tially higher.

De­spite this, the per­centage of in­come donated even among full-time em­ployed non-stu­dents was very low, with a me­dian of 3.4% in­come donated (and 2.9% among “other”). In­deed, only the 76th per­centile of full-time em­ployed non-stu­dents was donat­ing 10% or more with the 90th per­centile donat­ing 14.86%.

Income

The fact that dona­tions are higher among full-time em­ployed non-stu­dents may well be ex­pected to be largely due to higher in­come. In­deed, within the sam­ple as a whole, we found that dona­tions in 2018 were strongly cor­re­lated with in­come ( data in the figure be­low ex­cludes dona­tions and in­come be­low $1).[5]

Restrict­ing our data to only full-time em­ployed non stu­dent EAs earn­ing more than $10K, the me­dian per­centage of in­come donated in 2018 was less than 3.38% for 50% of this group, and their me­dian to­tal donated is $2,000.

Giv­ing What We Can Pledge

The ob­ser­va­tion that so many EAs in our sur­vey were donat­ing much less than 10% of their in­come to char­ity sug­gests the ques­tion: how much are self-re­ported GWWC Pledge tak­ers donat­ing?

In the EA Sur­vey 2019 data, the me­dian per­centage of in­come donated by some­one who had taken the GWWC Pledge was 8.87%, short of the 10% tar­get, though there could be some noise around how re­spon­dents re­ported in­come and dona­tions. Nev­er­the­less, this of course could be in­fluenced by GWWC Pledge tak­ers be­ing stu­dents, not em­ployed or only re­cently hav­ing taken the Pledge. We ad­dressed this ques­tion in more depth last year: GWWC mem­bers donate more than non-GWWC mem­bers, both ab­solutely and as a per­centage of in­come but ~40% of self-re­ported GWWC mem­bers were not re­port­ing dona­tion data that is con­sis­tent with keep­ing their pledge, a trend most likely to be the re­sult of at­tri­tion over time.

Years in EA

Like last year, we see a gen­eral trend of vet­eran EAs donat­ing on av­er­age more than new EAs. Those who have more re­cently heard of EA tend to be younger, more likely to be stu­dents (or may be ear­lier in their ca­reers) and so have a lower in­come. In ad­di­tion, new EAs might also be ex­pected to be less likely to be ex­tremely ded­i­cated or will­ing to donate large sums right away. There may also be some sur­vivor­ship bias, where those EAs who re­port first hear­ing of EA in ear­lier years, and are still tak­ing the sur­vey in 2018, may be more likely to ded­i­cated, highly in­volved (and per­haps higher donat­ing) EAs. It could also be that early adopters of EA were more in­fluenced by more preva­lent com­mu­nity norms at the time of giv­ing more and have kept up this high giv­ing rate even while the fo­cus of the move­ment was broad­ened over time.

Pre­dic­tors of Donation

Based on the re­sults last year, we again ex­am­ined the effect of in­come, stu­dent sta­tus, num­ber of years in­volved with EA, and mem­ber­ship in GWWC as po­ten­tial pre­dic­tors of dona­tions. The re­sults of a re­gres­sion anal­y­sis are again sug­ges­tive of a re­la­tion­ship be­tween these fac­tors and dona­tions, namely that those with higher in­comes and GWWC mem­bers tend to donate more than those with lower in­comes or who are stu­dents. Like last year, we ran a full model with all in­ter­ac­tions, and used back­wards se­lec­tion to se­lect pre­dic­tors. In­di­vi­d­ual in­come was the strongest pre­dic­tor of dona­tion amount, fol­lowed by a pos­i­tive im­pact of mem­ber­ship in GWWC in­ter­act­ing with in­come (link to re­gres­sion table). Be­fore anal­y­sis, one out­lier with large in­fluence was re­moved (in­di­vi­d­ual in­come >$7 mil­lion), and the data were log trans­formed, cen­tered, and scaled to im­prove nor­mal­ity. As pre­vi­ously noted, there was a small nega­tive im­pact of be­ing a stu­dent on dona­tion amount. As seen in the figure be­low which charts dona­tions against in­come with a lowess re­gres­sion line, this effect was slightly miti­gated by be­ing a mem­ber of GWWC. At­tempt­ing to model the like­li­hood of donat­ing any amount ver­sus donat­ing noth­ing did not prove very fruit­ful as mod­els with an even larger set of po­ten­tial pre­dic­tors could only ex­plain ~6% of the var­i­ance.

Which Char­i­ties are EAs Donat­ing to?

We re­ceived in­for­ma­tion about which spe­cific char­i­ties re­spon­dents donated to from 749 EAs, com­pared to 1,745 who re­ported donat­ing any­thing in 2018. Given this, in­for­ma­tion about to­tals of dona­tions to spe­cific char­i­ties should be treated with cau­tion.

As in pre­vi­ous years, GiveWell char­i­ties, led by AMF, re­ceived among the most re­ported dona­tions. GiveWell it­self at­tracted sub­stan­tially more fund­ing and more donors than in 2017, among those who re­ported dona­tions in our 2018 and 2019 sur­veys. The com­bined EA Funds would be the 3rd largest re­cip­i­ent. The Effec­tive Altru­ism Foun­da­tion re­ceived the high­est mean dona­tion. When grouped into cause ar­eas, the largest amount of dona­tions went to Global Poverty, al­though the largest mean dona­tion was for Meta Char­i­ties.

Credits

The an­nual EA Sur­vey is a pro­ject of Re­think Char­ity with anal­y­sis and com­men­tary from re­searchers at Re­think Pri­ori­ties.

This es­say was writ­ten by Neil Dul­laghan. Thanks to David Moss and Peter Hur­ford for com­ments and Kim Cud­ding­ton for data anal­y­sis as­sis­tance.

If you like our work, please con­sider sub­scribing to our newslet­ter. You can see all our work to date here.

Other ar­ti­cles in the EA Sur­vey 2019 Series can be found here



  1. Only 5.5% (97) said a sig­nifi­cant bar­rier to be­com­ing more in­volved in EA was that it is not clear where one should donate. ↩︎

  2. Data re­ported in other cur­ren­cies was calcu­lated into USD us­ing the ex­change rate of 13-Novem­ber-2019. ↩︎

  3. 1,735 re­spon­dents in the 2019 EA Sur­vey re­ported dona­tion in­for­ma­tion, com­pared to 1,891 in the 2018 EA Sur­vey. ↩︎

  4. Although, look­ing at the me­dian an­nual dona­tion of only those EAs who pro­vided both dona­tion and in­come data the pat­tern is differ­ent, and con­sid­er­ably and highly en­gaged EAs donated similar amounts:
    No en­gage­ment:$275.27 Mild: $771.19 Moder­ate: $875.98 Con­sid­er­able: $1284.10 High: $1101.08 ↩︎

  5. Re­mov­ing the out­lier of $70M in in­come and $3M in dona­tions changes the cor­re­la­tion to R^2=0.46, p = 2e-185 ↩︎