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: