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Giving what you can to charity

Stephen Beard Dec 23, 2010

Giving what you can to charity

Stephen Beard Dec 23, 2010


KAI RYSSDAL: There’s a trend among some of the richest people in the world you might have heard about: They’re giving their money away. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have all promised to give away most of what they have during their lifetimes.

So too has Toby Ord. ‘Course, he’s got substantially less money to get rid of. Toby’s a university researcher in Oxford, England. He earns just a bit more than the average wage in Britain. Still, he figures he can give away more than a $1.5 million in his lifetime. And he wants others to think about doing the same.

From Oxford, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: Toby Ord and his wife live in a modest, sparsely-furnished, one bedroom, rented apartment. Except for a laptop and an iPhone, the couple enjoy few luxuries. But that’s because they’re planning to give most of what they earn to charity.

TOBY ORD: In percentage terms, I’m going to be giving around about two-thirds, or 67 percent, of my income over my life.

Toby, who’s 31 years old, reckons that as an academic he’ll probably earn a total of $2.25 million during his career. He’s pledged to give around $1.5 million of that to the developing world, to the most-cost effective cause he could find.

ORD: I could save about 2,200 lives over the course of my life if I donated the money to the most effective ways to fight tuberculosis in developing countries.

After his donations, Toby is currently living on around $27,000 a year. And he insists that buys him everything he wants. His wife, Bernadette, a junior hospital doctor, is also donating a similar chunk of her income and also says she doesn’t feel in anyway deprived.

BERNADETTE: Not having particularly fabulous clothes, designer labels and things, not driving a fancy car, none of that to me, is a big sacrifice.

BEARD: What about expensive vacations? Surely once or twice in your life you’d like to really let rip and go somewhere… exotic?

BERNADETTE: Honestly, no.

The couple launched a website to spread the word. GivingWhatWeCan.org urges people to sign a promise to donate at least 10 percent of their income for the rest of their lives.

Twenty-three-year-old Will Crouch, another Oxford academic, was an early recruit.

WILL CROUCH: We just have more money than we know what to do with. This means we could spend it on ourselves in a way that I don’t think makes us particularly happy, or we could spend it on others.

Will is hardly rich. He currently earns an extremely modest $25,000 a year, but he’s donating a third of that. He does admit the odd twinge when he passes through Oxford’s opulent shopping center.

CROUCH: I mean, in the same way that I’m a vegetarian. And very occasionally I pass McDonalds and have some sort of compulsion to stuff myself with a Big Mac. But it’s really quite a weak voice in my head.

BEARD: The moment passes quite quickly?

CROUCH: Yeah, the moment passes very quickly.

One niggling doubt about the donors: Wouldn’t it be better if they performed their philanthropy on the quiet?

Toby Ord.

ORD: I don’t enjoy the publicity. On the other hand, I think it is very useful for trying to get people thinking seriously about whether they could use some of their income to dramatically transform other people’s lives.

If this caught on, it could dramatically transform Britain’s consumer economy. But the U.K.’s retail sector is safe, for now. So far the total number of donors Toby Ord has enlisted is just 63.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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