5 ways to make a big difference in any career



At 80,000 Hours, we’re focused on finding the very best opportunities for you to do good with your career. We’re worried that sometimes this continuous focus can be demoralising. After all, it’s hard to find the best opportunities. Moreover, we’re worried that sometimes our members lose sight of the fact that you can make a big difference in any career.

We don’t mean spending your birthday volunteering at a soup kitchen, giving seniors the ‘gift’ of your art, or buying a charity wristband. We mean you can transform the lives of hundreds of other people, in any career.

So, we decided to write this note explaining how.

1) Donate cost-effectively

If you donate 10% of your income to effective charities, you’ll significantly help hundreds of people less fortunate than yourself, and perhaps save tens of lives. That’s probably more lives than doctors save, which is pretty incredible. Thanks to charity evaluators like GiveWell, finding the best giving opportunities takes little time. And don’t worry about missing the money. The balance of evidence suggests there’s a good chance you’ll end up happier. But if you’re concerned about this, why not try out giving with Giving What We Can?

2) Fundraise for great charities

It seems fairly easy to raise hundreds of pounds from your colleagues and friends for effective charities through sponsorship, doing fundraising drives or organising events. The average participant in Live Below the Line 2013 raised £200.1 Charity treks hosted on Just Giving made an average of £1200. The average returns to fundraising in general are 4:1, so if you’re strategic you can probably raise quite a bit. At the very least, you probably know one or two well off people who might be willing to sponsor you! See here for some ideas.

By doing this type of fundraising, you not only raise money. You can simultaneously promote effective giving and effective altruism, since you can use it as an opportunity to explain the merits of the charity you’re supporting.

3) Advocate for effective causes

We think there are many important and neglected causes. Raising awareness of them has diffuse effects, which makes them hard to measure, but there’s certainly potential to have a big impact. That’s because advocacy can multiply your efforts. Suppose there’s a cause you think is really important. If you can get two of your friends on board with it, then you might more than double your impact in supporting that cause.

More concretely, what can you do?

  • Educate yourself about effective causes and practice talking to your friends about them. Remember to encourage discussion, not defensiveness.
  • Lead by example. In our experience, the way to be most persuasive is to practice what you preach. There’s even some evidence to suggest that publicly changing your behavior can lead to a chain reaction of similar changes in your extended social network.2
  • If you’ve got time, you could consider starting a meet-up, writing about important issues and putting on events. For instance, Giving What We Can’s local groups are volunteer run and have raised tens of thousands of pounds for effective charities.

4) High impact volunteering

Although volunteers are often seen by charities more as a source of funds than effective human capital, some volunteers have a large impact, especially if they use their skills on effective causes. Check out this new group which aims to start new effective altruist projects.

5) Build career capital

Even if you’re not making much difference now, you’re probably learning skills, gaining experience and making connections that will help you make a difference in the future This is what we call career capital. Most jobs involve a core of transferable skills that are highly flexible in how they can be applied. For instance, corporate sales jobs teach you how to sell, which could help you to promote important causes in the future. Almost all jobs involve meeting people, which gives you more connections to promote high impact projects. There are probably seeds of future impact buried in whatever you’re doing now.

You can take this process further by always taking opportunities to learn, expand your experiences and meet new people.


There are high leverage ways to have an impact that are open to everyone fortunate enough to be born in the developed world, no matter which career you pursue. Moreover, it’s important not to neglect the potential of indirect sources of impact, and to evaluate your strategy for doing good as a whole. It would be a mistake to strive towards a ‘high impact’ job if it makes you miserable and demotivated in the process. Don’t forget: you can make a huge difference in any career.

Notes and References:

  1. “In 2013, 5,500 people across the UK helped Live Below the Line raise nearly £1m for anti-poverty projects right across the world – money vital to ending extreme poverty, by making people healthier, more educated and more equal.”

  2. See a summary in Chapter 8 of Change of Heart: What Psychology can teach us about spreading social change, by Nick Cooney, (2010), Lantern Books