Day 81 – Amping Up Your Charitable Giving

Wiki: The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty is a 2009 book by Australian philosopher Peter Singer, in which the author argues that citizens of affluent nations are behaving immorally if they do not act to end the poverty they know to exist in developing nations. Singer presents the following argument in the book:

  • First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad.
  • Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.
  • Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

Singer says that many of his readers enjoy at least one luxury that is less valuable than a child’s life. He says his readers ought to sacrifice such a luxury (e.g. bottled waters) and send proceeds to charity, if they can find a reliable charity. Singer’s central thesis is that, a given individual may be able to point to others doing nothing, but that individual still ought to do as much as they can. The title of the book comes from the fact that Singer addresses readers directly, asking them what they will do about “the life you can save”. 

Life You Can Save is also an organization based on the book. It aims to spread Mr. Singers ideas about why we should be doing much more to improve the lives of people living in extreme poverty, and how we can best do this.

  • Our mission: We make “smart giving simple” by curating a group of nonprofits that save or improve the most lives per dollar. We aim to create a world where everyone has an opportunity to build a better life and where there’s no suffering or death due to extreme poverty.
  • Smart giving is measured by the number of lives saved, or the amount of suffering reduced, per dollar. Some charities provide hundreds, even thousands, of times greater impact per dollar than others.
  • Example: It costs about US$50,000 to train a guide dog that will help a blind person in the United States — a very good cause. For that same cost, an organization like Seva or the Fred Hollows Foundation can restore sight to at least 1,000 people living in extreme poverty through interventions like cataract surgery and trachoma prevention.

You’re short-changing yourself — let alone the people you’re trying to help — if the charity you choose to support isn’t cost-effective, evidence-based, and well-run.

In December 2019, Singer announced the release of a revised tenth anniversary edition, available as a free eBook or audiobook from the website of The Life You Can Save, an organization founded to advance the book’s ideas. For more information check out: Ted Talk. Podcasts. Blog. Best Charities.