Notes on not taking the GWWC pledge (yet)

This is a belated (and rough/​short!) post for Effective Giving Spotlight week. The post isn’t meant to be a criticism of GWWC or of people who have taken the pledge[1] — just me sharing my thoughts in the hope that they’re useful to others or that I’ll get useful suggestions. Also, since I drafted this, there’s been a related discussion here.

I donate, and I’ve sometimes thought about taking a GWWC pledge, but haven’t taken one yet and don’t currently think I should. The TL;DR is that I’m worried about (1) runway and (2) my life changing in the future, such that donating more would be unsustainable or would trade off in bad-from-the-POV-of-my-EA-values with direct work.

Longer notes/​thoughts

I’m currently prioritizing “direct work”. That doesn’t mean that I can’t donate (and in fact I do and enjoy doing it when I do), but I’m worried about committing to donating in a way that would lead me to make poor tradeoffs in the future. Signing the pledge seems like a serious commitment.

In particular, I’m thinking about:

1. Having enough runway[2]

  • Runway seems important (and has been discussed a fair bit before, see e.g. here and more recently).

    • … for potentially starting something on my own, or taking a poorly paid (or unpaid) opportunity to upskill

      • E.g. going into a Master’s program, taking a sabbatical to see if I can build up a new idea, etc.

    • … for epistemics & independence

      • E.g. if I was worried about EV/​CEA/​the usefulness of my work, I can imagine leaving without another opportunity lined up, so I’m relatively free to consider what’s wrong at EV/​CEA (otherwise this would be really stressful to think about). If I had no runway at all, I’d have a much harder time thinking about leaving. [Edit: see an elaboration on this point in this comment.]

  • To the extent that donations trade off building runway, I should factor that in.

    • I.e. if the alternative to donations right now is saving money, and I’m below where I should be for having enough runway, that means donations are in some sense more costly. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t donate in any situation until I’ve hit my runway target, just that the bar is probably higher for me right now.

  • How much runway someone should have (i.e. the shape of the “usefulness of runway” curve[3]) is confusing to me — I’d be interested in hearing what others think.

2. My life changing in the future, such that donating more would be unsustainable or would trade off in bad-from-the-POV-of-my-EA-values with direct work

  • I have a family that I may need to support in some circumstances. I’ve thought about (not-too-unlikely) scenarios in the coming years where I might face a choice between having drastically less time for my work, spending significant amounts of money, or not fulfilling my family obligations in a way that I think is bad. (Being there for my family is one of my core values/​goals.)

  • And I probably want kids. If I have a child (or multiple children), I think there are many worlds where it would be better for me to be able to do something like hire a part-time nanny or pay for other services that would allow me to work more. (See this recent post!)

  • Not committing to donating a certain amount every year might mean I can make better tradeoffs in situations like these.

3. Some worries about my thinking

  • My reasoning might be motivated: I might be fooling myself into thinking that I shouldn’t take the pledge because that would be less stressful for me.

  • Value drift: I’m worried that my future self might not donate for reasons that I don’t endorse. But I’m not too worried about that right now.

Credit: DALL-E 3
  1. ^

    I’m really grateful to (and impressed by) the folks who’ve taken a donation pledge and who donate a lot.

  2. ^

    Runway is less specifically related to the question of whether to take a pledge, vs. just the choice of whether I should donate at any given point, but it’s something I’m thinking about as I think about whether I should take a pledge.

  3. ^

    Here’s a sketch of what I mean:

    I’m also not sure I’m even tracking the considerations that might be most important for determining this curve for myself or in general.