EA Survey 2017 Series: Donation Data

By Huw Thomas

The an­nual EA Sur­vey is a vol­un­teer-led pro­ject of Re­think Char­ity that has be­come a bench­mark for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing the EA com­mu­nity. This post is the fourth in a multi-part se­ries in­tended to provide the sur­vey re­sults in a more di­gestible and en­gag­ing for­mat. You can find key sup­port­ing doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing prior EA sur­veys and an up-to-date list of ar­ti­cles in the EA Sur­vey 2017 Series, at the bot­tom of this post. Get no­tified of the lat­est posts in this se­ries by sign­ing up here.

Our ear­lier post pre­sented de­clared prefer­ences among re­spon­dents, and dona­tion re­port­ing al­lows us to fur­ther con­tex­tu­al­ize be­hav­ioral trends within the EA com­mu­nity. The most re­cent sur­vey of 1019 in­di­vi­d­u­als col­lected dona­tion data on both 2015 and 2016 dona­tions. The sur­vey was not dis­tributed in 2016.

This post aims to com­pare dona­tion data of the EA com­mu­nity, and within a cou­ple spe­cific sub­pop­u­la­tions. You can find dona­tion data ac­cord­ing to cause area and or­ga­ni­za­tion prefer­ence in our “Cause Area Prefer­ences” post.

Points of Interest

  • Self­-de­scribed EAs in our sur­vey re­ported more than $6.6M in to­tal dona­tions to effec­tive char­i­ties for 2015, and more than $9.8M in 2016.

  • Aver­age dona­tion amounts be­tween 2015 and 2016 were heav­ily skewed up­ward by ma­jor donors, but the me­dian dona­tion amount rose $118.68.

  • Lon­gi­tu­di­nal sur­vey data re­vealed con­sis­tent year-on-year dona­tion growth.

  • Donors part­ing with $655.17 or more fall within the top 50% of EA donors. Gifts to­tal­ling $12,500 or more are among the top 10%.

  • 405 peo­ple who iden­tify their ca­reer plan as “Earn­ing to give” (ETG). In 2015, these peo­ple ac­counted for 63.0% of to­tal re­ported dona­tions. In 2016, ETG dona­tions con­sti­tuted 57.3% of to­tal re­ported dona­tions.

How Much are EAs Donat­ing?

Rel­a­tively high av­er­age dona­tion rates seem to be com­monly as­so­ci­ated with effec­tive al­tru­ists. So how much are EAs donat­ing?

Self­-de­scribed EAs in our sur­vey re­ported more than $6.6m in to­tal dona­tions to effec­tive char­i­ties for 2015, and more than $9.8m in 2016. We stan­dard­ized all the dona­tions into US dol­lars and found that the av­er­age 2015 dona­tion was $6,498 among re­spon­dents, while the av­er­age dona­tion in 2016 was $9,510. Th­ese seem­ingly im­pres­sive are se­ri­ously skewed up­ward by a few ma­jor donors.

The more in­for­ma­tive met­ric, the me­dian dona­tion, was $250 in 2015, and $655 in 2016. This in­crease was prob­a­bly due, in part, to the fact that the sur­vey was re­leased in 2017, and so re­spon­dents were prob­a­bly more in­volved with the move­ment in 2016 than in 2015 on av­er­age. We see ev­i­dence of this when com­par­ing dona­tion ac­tivity be­tween years. The sur­vey re­veals that 150 re­spon­dents donated in 2016, but not in 2015. Only 29 donated in 2015, but not 2016. A to­tal of 999 peo­ple pro­vided data for both 2015 and 2016 dona­tions.

Although per­sonal dona­tion amounts fluc­tu­ated be­tween 2015 and 2016, the mean dona­tion amount per per­son in­creased by $3,663.68. This ob­vi­ously in­cludes a huge var­i­ance, how­ever, the me­dian dona­tion amount also in­creased by $118.68[1].

To help vi­su­al­ize the dis­tri­bu­tion of dona­tion amounts, let’s look at it in terms of deciles. In other words, how much you would have to donate to be in the top X% of donors based on the re­ports that we have from the 2016 data.

In or­der to top the high­est dona­tion in our reg­istry, you would have to donate over $1,934,550.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, EA dona­tions are highly skewed to­ward a hand­ful of ma­jor donors. Many in­di­vi­d­u­als could make it into the top 50% of EA donors by donat­ing a small per­centage of their in­come, but only a dis­tinct minor­ity are ca­pa­ble of mak­ing it into the top 1%.

Dona­tions are clearly af­fected by stu­dent sta­tus. In 2016, the me­dian dona­tion of non-­stu­dents was $1,538, com­pared to the me­dian dona­tion of stu­dents at $154. The 258 stu­dents who donated gave $252,339.60 in to­tal, while the 482 non-stu­dents who donated gave $7,242,580.64.

Th­ese dona­tions may be over­re­ported, given that who donate less might be less in­clined to share that in­for­ma­tion. We found, how­ever, a rel­a­tively more forth­com­ing sam­ple than ex­pected. Among those who re­ported on dona­tions, 29% in 2015 and 16.4% in 2016 re­ported donat­ing $0.

If you made dona­tions not re­ported in the sur­vey, please re­port them via the EA Dona­tion Registry, which al­lows you to anony­mously con­tribute to the pub­lic to­tal for the EA com­mu­nity—you can ­also share your own dona­tions to in­spire oth­ers.

Per­centage of In­come Donated

The mean per­centage of in­come donated was 7.98% of in 2016[2], but again this is skewed. The me­dian is 4.28%. While this may seem low when bench­marked against the 10% com­mit­ment of the Giv­ing What We Can pledge, it is higher than the United States na­tional av­er­age of around 2% of GDP[3]. To bet­ter illus­trate the point, let’s look at how many peo­ple donate at or above a cer­tain amount of in­come. Since many ne­glected to re­veal their in­come, or made less than $10,000, this is based on a sam­ple of 597 EAs.

It is also pos­si­ble that peo­ple com­pen­sate for 2016 dona­tion defic­its by donat­ing more at differ­ent times. Note also that this find­ing also doesn’t cap­ture the EAs that are sav­ing now while wait­ing for bet­ter causes to donate to later.

Dona­tions Among Earn­ing to Give

Per­haps one of the more pre­scient ques­tions in the com­mu­nity is how much ETG in­di­vi­d­u­als are donat­ing. This ques­tion in­cludes all in­di­vi­d­u­als who plan to pur­sue, or are already in­volved in ETG ca­reers. In 2015, dona­tions among the 405 ETG in­di­vi­d­u­als in our sur­vey to­taled $4,210,633.29. In 2016, dona­tions to­taled $5,672,334.74.

The me­dian dona­tion amount in 2015 for 255 ETG non-stu­dents is $237.65. For 2016, the me­dian amount is $798.57, which is ac­tu­ally less than the me­dian dona­tion for non-stu­dents gen­er­ally. This sug­gests that many ETG in­di­vi­d­u­als are aiming to give later, and per­haps build­ing ca­reer cap­i­tal in the mean­time.

We can break this down fur­ther by an­a­lyz­ing how EAs re­sponded to “Do you be­lieve that—for you at the mo­ment—it is bet­ter to act now or in­vest to act bet­ter later?”. Among the 148 ETG non-stu­dents who an­swered “Act now”, the me­dian dona­tion was $4,510. Among the 51 non-stu­dents who an­swered “Act later”, the me­dian dona­tion was $712.08. This sug­gests that the low me­dian dona­tion for earn­ing to give is due to peo­ple in­vest­ing to give later.

Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Anal­y­sis

To look at how dona­tion be­hav­ior changes be­tween a sub­set of in­di­vi­d­u­als, rather than among EA as a whole, we were able to fol­low a spe­cific group of EAs who took both the 2015 and 2017 EA Sur­veys[4].

The table above re­flects con­sis­tent year-on-year growth in dona­tions among 184 in­di­vi­d­u­als we tracked across the last three EA sur­veys. It’s worth not­ing, how­ever, there is sur­vivor­ship bias in this group, as EAs who cease donat­ing might also be less likely to take the 2017 EA Sur­vey.


[1]: The me­dian in­crease is smaller than the differ­ence be­tween the me­di­ans for each year, be­cause it only in­cludes peo­ple who donated in both years.

[2]: Per­cent in­come per­centages were performed only for peo­ple with in­come greater than $10K, as dona­tions as a per­centage of in­come be­came quite ab­surd with low in­comes, in­clud­ing many peo­ple donat­ing with­out any in­come at all. This was cho­sen prior to any anal­y­sis. In­come here refers to self-re­ported in­di­vi­d­ual in­come, as op­posed to house­hold in­come.

[3]: https://​​www.philan­thropy.com/​​ar­ti­cle/​​The-Stub­born-2-Giv­ing-Rate/​​154691

[4]: The 2014 and 2015 EA sur­veys cov­ered dona­tion data of the prior year, while the 2017 EA sur­vey cov­ered 2015 and 2016 dona­tion data. For ev­ery­one in the 2015 EA Sur­vey and 2017 EA Sur­vey who pro­vided an email ad­dress, we hashed their email ad­dress us­ing the MD5 hash­ing func­tion and matched up email ad­dresses be­tween sur­vey data while still en­sur­ing anonymity. This vari­able is available as `ea_id` in all the pub­lic datasets. 180 peo­ple could be matched up be­tween 2015 and 2017 sur­veys and 18 peo­ple could be matched up be­tween all three sur­veys (2014, 2015, and 2017).


Post writ­ten by Huw Thomas, with ed­its from Tee Bar­nett and anal­y­sis from Peter Hur­ford.

A spe­cial thanks to Ellen McGeoch, Peter Hur­ford, and Tom Ash for lead­ing and co­or­di­nat­ing the 2017 EA Sur­vey. Ad­di­tional ac­knowl­edge­ments in­clude: Michael Sad­owsky and Gina Stuessy for their con­tri­bu­tion to the con­struc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of the sur­vey, Peter Hur­ford and Michael Sad­owsky for con­duct­ing the data anal­y­sis, and our vol­un­teers who as­sisted with beta test­ing and re­port­ing: Heather Adams, Mario Ber­aha, Jackie Burhans, and Nick Yeretsian.

Thanks once again to Ellen McGeoch for her pre­sen­ta­tion of the 2017 EA Sur­vey re­sults at EA Global San Fran­cisco.

We would also like to ex­press our ap­pre­ci­a­tion to the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism, Scott Alexan­der via SlateS­tarCodex, 80,000 Hours, EA Lon­don, and An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors for their as­sis­tance in dis­tribut­ing the sur­vey. Thanks also to ev­ery­one who took and shared the sur­vey.

Sup­port­ing Documents

EA Sur­vey 2017 Series Articles

I Distri­bu­tion and Anal­y­sis Method­ol­ogy

II Com­mu­nity De­mo­graph­ics & Beliefs

III Cause Area Prefer­ences

IV—Dona­tion Data

V—De­mo­graph­ics II

VI—Qual­i­ta­tive Com­ments Summary

VII—Have EA Pri­ori­ties Changed Over Time?

VIII—How do Peo­ple Get Into EA?

Please note: this sec­tion will be con­tinu­ally up­dated as new posts are pub­lished. All 2017 EA Sur­vey posts will be com­piled into a sin­gle re­port at the end of this pub­lish­ing cycle

Prior EA Sur­veys con­ducted by Re­think Char­ity (formerly .im­pact)

The 2015 Sur­vey of Effec­tive Altru­ists: Re­sults and Analysis

The 2014 Sur­vey of Effec­tive Altru­ists: Re­sults and Analysis