80,000 Hours thinks that only a small proportion of people should earn to give long term

Norman Borlaug didn’t make millions, his research just saved millions of lives.

One of the most common misconceptions that we’ve encountered about 80,000 Hours is that we’re exclusively or predominantly focused on earning to give. This blog post is to say definitively that this is not the case. Moreover, the proportion of people for whom we think earning to give is the best option has gone down over time.

To get a sense of this, I surveyed the 80,000 Hours team on the following question: “At this point in time, and on the margin, what portion of altruistically motivated graduates from a good university, who are open to pursuing any career path, should aim to earn to give in the long term?” (Please note that this is just a straw poll used as a way of addressing the misconception stated; it doesn’t represent a definitive answer to this question).

Will: 15%
Ben: 20%
Rob: 10%
Roman: 15%

Instead, we think that most people should be doing things like politics, policy, high-value research, for-profit and non-profit entrepreneurship, and direct work for highly socially valuable organizations.

The misconception persists for a few reasons: when 80,000 Hours first launched, we led with the idea of earning to give very heavily as a marketing strategy; it was true that we used to believe that at least a large proportion of people should aim to earn to give long-term;

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How to double your donations with no extra effort

80,000 hours is all about making a difference in an effective way and one of the most effective things you can do is donate to a cost effective charity. There has been some talk of matching donations and how it might not always increase how much money is ultimately donated. But there is a type of matching that can be very powerful.

Some companies offer large matching contributions and sometimes offer more than a dollar per every dollar donated. Some companies also offer grant money for volunteer hours or matching donations for participating in walks/runs/events for charity, and also match gifts made by retirees and/or spouses. If you’re pursuing an Earning to Give career, then a good matching scheme could be even more important than what industry you enter. In many cases it’s probably easier to find an employer who matches than to earn a much bigger salary.


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