The Buffett Family Teach Effective Philanthropy…But Only Score 5/10 Themselves (2)

The Buffett Family Teach Effective Philanthropy…But Only Score 5/10 Themselves (2)

This is the second post in a five-part series. To see the first post, click here.

Myth #2: Giving is mainly about how it makes the donor feel.


Peter Singer writes in the New York Times,

You are thinking of donating to a worthy cause. Good. But to which cause should you give? If you seek help from professional philanthropy advisers, the chances are that they won’t have much to say about this vital question. They will guide you, to be sure, through an array of charitable options.”

Giving With Purpose is no exception. In Class 1, charitable giving is described as a “deeply personal act” and we keep hearing about how the non-profit sector “benefits all of us”. Class 2 asks me, “Are there specific problems or issues you feel compelled to help address, such as education, health, hunger, or the environment?”

I believe (controversial though this may sound) that helping other people is about helping other people. Not myself. Giving usually makes the donor feel happier, to be sure, but that is not the main reason why people should give. Indeed, in Class 1 we are shown a study on people’s most important reasons for giving, and none of the reasons given were about making the donors feel better (except potentially some of the 2.5% who chose “other”). The teacher unfortunately seems to miss this point and instead goes on to talk for ages about how we might “consider what personal benefits individuals receive from giving”.

One of my favourite quotations in the world comes from the Dalai Lama: “True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason.” If you really care about other people, you’ll want to help them as much as possible, and that will often mean going beyond what gives you the warmest fuzzies and instead thinking carefully about where you can have the most impact, based on the evidence and research available to you. In particular, you shouldn’t restrict your giving options to a cause that you happen to feel particularly passionate about; instead, you should be open-minded about charities working in other cause areas having more of a positive impact on the world.

Buffetts, you get 0 out of 2 again. Can you redeem yourselves?


Keep an eye out for next week’s post on Myth #3 in this five-part series…




Share this story:

Related stories:


About the author:

Holly Morgan

Holly Morgan is a former Executive Director at The Life You Can Save and a former Director of Community at Giving What We Can; while a philosophy student in Oxford, she played a key role in getting both of these organizations and the wider Effective Altruism movement off of the ground.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.