Earning to give

This page was last updated in 2012 and no-longer fully reflects our views. We intend to release an updated version.

This video uses the term ‘professional philanthropy’, which is what we used to call earning-to-give.

Some people are just pretty good at earning money. Other people have already put a lot of effort into getting a high-earning job, but want to find a way to make the world a better place. Both groups might consider giving up on their high-earning job in order to do something that directly makes the world a better place.

But you might be better off continuing in a high-earning job and making a deliberate commitment to give a large portion of what you earn away. This can be an extremely effective and often neglected way to do good.

Why can this activity be high impact?

For all of the reasons that donating can be extremely effective, earning to give is too. The opportunities to make the world better through donations are enormous. If we take the salary earned by a fairly typical UK banker over their life-times, and assume they choose to give half of it away (leaving them still very well off) they end up able to distribute more than 600,000 malaria nets. That saves about 1000 lives.

But there are also reasons to think your indirect impact can be higher through donations than if you worked on the project you care about most directly.

Money is flexible

Suppose you look at all our research and decide that the most important cause is developing world health. You decide to devote your career to that cause directly. So what happens if, ten years down the line, it turns out developing world health is no longer the most effective cause to act on. It isn’t particularly implausible that a growing interest in effectiveness and evidence-based interventions alongside the momentum generated by the Gates Foundation might be able to pick a lot of the low hanging fruit.

Now you might decide to turn your attention to developing world education. Depending on your job, your skills might transfer to one degree or another. But the only thing you can guarantee will be completely transferable is funding. That’s why Earning to Give can be the most flexible approach out there.

Earning to Give is irreplaceable

In many jobs you’re fairly replaceable. That means that if you didn’t take the job it’s quite likely that someone else would have. So the effect of your decision to take the job is smaller than what you’d initially think.

Earning to Give is irreplaceable. That means that, in the current job environment, the person who would take your job would almost certainly not donate significantly. The average person donates about 0.7% of their spending to charities. You’re going to be giving much more than they would. Not only that, but there’s a good chance your charity will be hundreds of times more effective. So your decision to take a job makes a big difference.

Earning to Give lets you specialise

It’s worth being modest about your abilities. It may be that you’re fantastic at getting high-earning jobs. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be great at campaigning, organising communities, or at whatever activity you think is most important. Just because you care about the fact that the campaigning gets done doesn’t mean you have to be the one to do it. If you Earn to Give, you can hire someone much better than you to do the campaigning while you get on with what you’re good at.

Do you have questions?

We’ve got an FAQ about Earning to Give, which addresses most of the common questions.

Who might it suit?

Earning to Give suits people already in high-earning careers. It suits people interested in entrepreneurial work. It suits people with the skills it takes to get a high-earning job. It suits people who don’t mind that the difference they make to the world won’t be done directly by them.

What are the best opportunities in this activity?

What are the top earning jobs?

If you are entrepreneurially minded, starting a business can be a very effective way to Earn to Give.

If you have a graduate degree, or intend to get one, the following careers can be particularly high-earning:

  • Accountancy
  • Actuarial work
  • Architecture
  • Business (e.g. management and marketing)
  • Engineering
  • Investment Banking
  • Asset Management
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Software Development
  • Quantitative Finance

Of these, we currently believe Medicine (particularly in the US) has the highest expected life-time earnings for the average applicant. That is under revision, and might change.

For the highly skilled, the highest earning paths are likely to lie on Wall Street, with entrepreneurial activity close behind.

There are some good choices available for those who want to earn a lot but aren’t interested in the options above. The following jobs don’t require a graduate degree, although in some cases they can help.

  • Air Traffic Control
  • Business and Sales roles
  • Train Driving
  • Trade jobs (e.g. carpentry, gas, electricity and plumbing)
  • Air Pilot

None of the jobs above are trivial to get. As a rule, people get highly paid because they have a rare and valuable skill or because their working conditions have drawbacks. For example, Air Traffic Control and Quantitative Finance both require some pretty impressive mental capacities. Being a pilot and being an investment banker both require long and sometimes unsocial hours.


Example High Impact People

If you’d like to hear our latest findings and apply them to your own situation, book an advice session.

See our FAQ on Earning to Give.

For more resources, see our archive