How to make a difference in any career

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Our main focus is on encouraging people to find and enter those careers with the highest potential for impact. However, there are plenty of times when we don’t have total freedom to choose—because we’ve built up too much capital to change course, or because we’re happy and fulfilled where we are, or because we have other constraints that make keeping our current jobs a priority.

That doesn’t mean you can’t increase your impact! There are simple ways to make a big difference in any career—and we’re not just talking about buying a charity wrist band or volunteering at the local soup kitchen. Here are five ways that anyone can ramp up the amount of good they’re doing in the world:

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 developed-world 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

Compared to learning an entirely new skill set, it’s relatively easy to raise a few hundred pounds for effective charities from your colleagues and friends, either through sponsorship, doing fundraising drives or organizing events. Charity treks hosted on Just Giving made an average of £1,200 in 2010.1 The average returns to fundraising in general are 4:1, so if you have the time and energy to be strategic, you can probably quadruple the amount you might otherwise have donated alone. See here for some ideas. The very best thing to do may be to start a local Giving What We Can group.

By doing this type of fundraising, you not only raise money, but also simultaneously promote effective giving and effective altruism, since you’ll have the opportunity to explain the merits of the charity you’re supporting to everyone involved.

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. If you can’t directly make a difference now, simply focus on becoming the most effective person you can be.


You can see more ideas for small ways anyone can make a difference in this thread on effective-altruism.com.


  1. http://www.justgiving.com/en/fundraising/fundraising-ideas. Accessed: 2014-10-04. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/6T55BCWF5)

    The average amount raised by an active trekking page in 2010 was £1,266 – more than double the average for other pages. 14,865 trekking pages were created in 2010.

  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