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: