Earning to give is the pursuit of a lucrative career with the purpose of donating a significant portion of the earnings to cost-effective organizations.
The value of earning to give may not be immediately obvious, since people tend to think of ethical jobs as those with a direct positive impact. A useful framing for comparing the social impact of earning to give with that of traditional careers in the nonprofit sector is to consider whether someone pursuing a lucrative career could earn enough to fund at least one nonprofit worker as competent as him- or herself. This will often be the case because there is considerable salary variation across career-types, because money is a fungible resource that can fund many different causes, and because the impact of a charity worker is usually only marginally higher than that of its counterfactual replacement (MacAskill 2014).
Although this approach has sometimes been represented as the highest impact type of career, 80,000 Hours currently believes that it is the best option for only a small proportion of members of the effective altruism community (MacAskill 2015). To a significant extent, this follows from the fact that the most promising causes tend to be talent-constrained rather than funding-constrained (Todd 2015).
The expression earning to save has been suggested for a type of earning to give where earnings are invested for later disbursement rather than donated immediately (Arnold 2018; Todd 2020). A “moderate” version of investing until the end of a person’s career may be contrasted with an “extreme” version of investing for as long as possible (potentially involving many generations, centuries or millennia).
Arnold, Raymond (2018) Earning to save (give 1%, save 10%), Effective Altruism Forum, November 26.
MacAskill, William (2014) Replaceability, career choice, and making a difference, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, vol. 17, pp. 269–283.
MacAskill, William (2015) 80,000 Hours thinks that only a small proportion of people should earn to give long term, 80,000 Hours, July 6.
Todd, Benjamin (2015) Why you should focus more on talent gaps, not funding gaps, 80,000 Hours, November 27.
Todd, Benjamin (2020) An argument for keeping open the option of earning to save, Effective Altruism Forum, August 31.