Donation Day Came Late This Year
[Cross-posted on my Substack — follow me there]
It’s January 2nd, 2023 and I just donated 10% of last year’s income to GiveWell’s Top Charities Fund.
I’ve been donating 10% of my income every year for the past 5 years since taking the Giving What We Can pledge in 2017, and Donation Day is usually my favorite day of the year. This year, though, I felt a tremendous amount of fear and guilt. Fear because I went through a tumultuous financial year in 2022 — spending a lot of money out of pocket to set up my hedge fund, Open Heart Capital, fundraising millions of dollars, then losing 90% of my life savings due to the FTX fraud. Guilt because I usually donate in December, and I kept on dragging my feet and telling myself that I wasn’t in a financial position to donate this year. I know that the fear of scarcity is what kept me from donating, but ultimately, I am so, so wealthy compared to the world’s poorest people that giving 10% of the money I earned this year is hardly a sacrifice. I entered my salary into the How Rich Am I calculator from Giving What We Can, and this is what I saw:
You can enter your salary here and see how you compare: https://howrichami.givingwhatwecan.org/how-rich-am-i
I have a friend who once told me that when she makes her donations, she feels a felicity so overpowering that she cries. Today, when I made my donation and saw the “Thank you for your donation — we are so grateful for your generosity!” message from GiveWell, I cried too, but not from the unbridled joy that I usually feel. I cried because I immediately felt a relief from the stinginess and scarcity that I had been holding onto for the whole month of December.
I didn’t donate on Giving Tuesday, which is when the bulk of the EA community usually donates (with the aim of increasing their impact through donation matching), and instead I kept on telling myself that I should hold onto my money, since I didn’t know whether the fund would perform well next year, or whether I’d have stable income, or whether the startup costs of moving to my new home in SF would be higher than expected. Today, I was able to recognize all of these excuses for what they truly are: manifestations of my own worst inclinations. I was deluding myself into believing that I wouldn’t somehow be alright if I donated 10% of my income, even though I know that I could always find a job or move in with my parents if I really had to. I was feeling an absence of faith in myself, not trusting that I would be able to take care of my needs in the new year. I was naively believing that my loss and my suffering were somehow justifications for hoarding the good fortune that I did experience this year, to the extent that holding onto to that money would be better than donating it.
Feeling what I’m feeling now, I see just how misguided I was.
Now, after I’ve given my 10%, I realize it was the scarcity mindset that was holding me back, not the lack of funds. It’s not that I don’t have (more than) enough, it’s that I believed I didn’t have enough, and that fear was paralyzing me from making the decision to donate, even though I know that donating is the right thing to do.
I’m usually very vocal about donating because I’m one of the happiest people I know, and I genuinely think it’s the practice of donating that makes me feel happier than anything else. I donate because I believe that we have moral responsibilities, yes, but I also donate because it just feels so fucking good. I recommend that all my friends in similar income brackets try donating, even something small, because the feeling of donating is simply phenomenal. If you’re donating to a charity that you know is going to be stretching your dollars to the max (which is exactly what GiveWell does so that you don’t have to spend thousands of hours researching it yourself), then you can rest comfortably knowing that you are making a real and significant difference to the people around the world living in dire need.
Remember, if everyone donated 10% of their incomes, we would have an annual pool of $7 trillion dollars, with which we could push everyone above the poverty line, eradicate most preventable diseases, fund a massive renaissance in the arts, make a serious dent in climate change, and invest in basic science that could pay huge downstream dividends. By donating my 10%, I’m doing my part in building that dream for the world and its inhabitants. I know that if more people joined me and donated, we could do such a tremendous amount of good in the world. It really, really is that simple. 🎵 You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. 🎵
I’m hopeful that 2022 will be the last year in which I drag my feet and convince myself that not donating will somehow be better for me. It wasn’t, and I can’t see how hoarding wealth, a scarcity mindset, and faithlessness in my own ability to provide for myself could be anything other than harmful to my own integrity. I know that donating is the right thing to do, and today, I feel the deep sense of alignment with my own values that I should have felt all of last month. I’m sorry that I let myself get sucked into the narrative that not donating was the better path for me, and now that I’ve written this, I feel the joyous relief of reconciling my actions with the beliefs in myself that I know to be true: I am immensely fortunate, I can make a difference, I will do what I can to make the world a better place, I love the way it makes me feel.
I hope you feel it too.