Giving now vs. later: a summary
There’s an ongoing debate about whether it’s better to give now or later. A quick summary:
Reasons to give now:
You may get less altruistic as you age, so if you wait you may never actually donate.
Estimates of the returns on investment may be over-optimistic.
Giving to charities that can demonstrate their effectiveness provides an incentive for charities to get better at demonstrating that they’re effective. We can’t just wait for charities to improve — it takes donations to make that happen.
Having an active culture of giving encourages other people to give, too.
Better to eliminate problems as soon as possible. E.g. if we had eliminated smallpox in 1967 instead of 1977, many people would have been spared.
Reasons to give later:
As time passes, we’ll probably have better information about which interventions work best. Even in a few years, we may know a lot more than we do now and be able to give to better causes.
Investing money may yield more money to eventually donate.
When you’re young, you should invest in developing yourself and your career, which will let you help more later.
You can put donations in a donor-advised fund to ensure they will someday be given, even if you haven’t yet figured out where you want them to go.
But it’s a topic that deserves more depth than that summary. Here’s some of what’s been written on the topic, in roughly chronological order:
Patrick Brinich-Langlois: Delayed gratification? - Choosing when to donate
Holden Karnofsky of GiveWell on encouraging charities to get better: Give now or give later?
Giving What We Can with a summary of both sides: Donating vs. Investing
Matt W. on striking while the iron is hot: The haste consideration
Paul Christiano, Giving now vs. later
Scott Alexander, on a discussion between Robin Hanson and Elie Hassenfeld: Investment and inefficient charity
Robin Hanson on investing: More now means less later
Paul Christiano on finding better giving opportunities: The best reason to give later
Peter Hurford on encouraging others to join you in giving: Giving now currently seems to beat giving later
Katja Grace, The value of time as a student
Robin Hanson, Impatient idealism
Benjamin Todd, Should you wait to make a difference?
Owen Cotton-Barratt and Benjamin Todd, Should I help now or later?
80,000 Hours, Should you wait to make a difference?
GiveWell on how they advised a foundation to spread out giving: Good Ventures and giving now vs. later
Rob Wiblin, An underappreciated observation about giving now