What is Effective Altruism and Why Does it Matter?

What is Effective Altruism and Why Does it Matter?

Blog > Learn > What is Effective Altruism and Why Does it Matter?

Cory Doucette 5 min

It’s possible you’ve never heard of Effective Altruism. Despite some high-profile champions (Bill Gates and Warren Buffet among them), it remains a relatively obscure topic.

And yet, those who do learn about it often find their lives changed forever. 

The EA movement is all about doing good things, and its adherents (most of whom are not billionaires) make a major impact with their physical and monetary contributions to charities worldwide.

In this article we answer the questions what is effective altruism and why does it matter? 

Effective Altruism

effective altruism

The effective altruism community defines itself pretty clearly:

Effective altruism is a philosophy and community focused on maximizing the good you can do through your career, projects, and donations.” 

Popularized by Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, in books like “Practical Ethics” and “The Life You Can Save” effective altruism is not just about donating to charity but finding ways to maximize the impact of your contributions. 

What Does Effective Altruism Mean?

What does Effective Altruism mean?

Effective altruists essentially try to find ways to do good with everything they do.

This impacts not just the charities they select, but also the career paths they choose.

A person who is completely devoted to the effective altruism movement will deliberately look for careers that maximize their earning potential with the specific purpose of donating more money to high-impact global charities. 

How Does It Work?

Of course, every effective altruist is different. Peter Singer, the philosopher who popularized the movement, donates 30-50% of his income to charity each year.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet (admirers of the movement, if not active participants) have agreed to donate almost all of their money to charity at the time of their deaths.

They’ve also made pacts with dozens of other billionaires who have agreed to do the same. 

Effective altruists with more modest means simply make an effort to select causes that will have the highest impact.

For example, a well-run nutrition-based charity in Africa will usually have a higher impact than your local food bank, in that the African-based charity will save more lives. 

Of course, you can still contribute to your food bank. However, by understanding impact arithmetic, effective altruists are able to be very strategic with their giving. 

What Does It Look Like? 

Effective altruists actively look for charities that have been rated as having a high impact. The website Give Well helps connect people with charities that have been highly vetted. 

Where Did Effective Altruism Come from?

Effective altruism is the convergence of several separate groups and philosophies. Peter Singer popularized the movement in the eighties by framing EA with very simple metaphors.

Would you jump into a lake to save a drowning child? Even if it ruined your one thousand dollar watch and expensive suit?

You can save a child by donating less than that each month. 

How Effective Altruism Relates to You

how effective altruism relates to you

Effective altruism is all about finding ways to refocus the way you see yourself in the world. Seek opportunities to do good and take advantage of them. 

How Can I Practice Effective Altruism

You don’t have to be a billionaire to practice effective altruism. Most people aren’t. Do the best with what you have.

The Life You Can Save website features a donation recommendation calculator that provides suggestions for how much you can comfortably afford to contribute each month. 

Effective Altruism in Your Life 

While the stated purpose of effective altruism is about big, high-impact gestures, most find that it quickly becomes a lifestyle.

Give to charities that are doing the most good. Help a friend in need. Set out each day deliberately, with the purpose of having a positive impact. 

Effective Altruism in Your Career

EA doesn’t have to be about making lots of money. Some people live an effective altruism lifestyle by choosing non-profit careers—jobs where you help important organizations do good things.

Others choose to work for companies that have a great mission

The goal is to find spaces where you are reaching your highest-giving potential. 

Give and Receive

From the outside, EA can seem pious and perhaps challenging. Not so. Effective altruists are happy to live simple, deliberate lives by doing good every chance they can. 

Feel Pride Because You Did A Good Thing

Effective altruism actively encourages a sense of pride.

You should be happy you did good. You should tell your friends and family about it, in fact, so that they can do good too. 

Why It Matters

why effective altruism matters

Ok. Great. EA is charity. Charity= good.

Why should we care?

Effective altruism matters because it is fighting against extreme global poverty in a way that saves thousands of lives—many of them very young lives—every year. 

How Can I Get Involved More in EA? 

There are many online resources that can help you get more involved.

Facebook groups where effective altruists congregate. Websites like Give Well and The Life You Can Save, where you can learn more about high-impact charities. 

Who Benefits?

The recipients will, of course, vary from charity to charity. One thing that doesn’t change: everyone who benefits from EA-approved charities experiences your donation in a life-changing way.

This isn’t like giving to your old university so they can build a new athletic stadium. These are life-saving charities.

Why Should I Care?

There are literally dozens of books filled with philosophical arguments for why you should care.

But let’s keep it short: do good, feel good.

Effective altruists know beyond a doubt that they are making a positive impact in the world, and it makes them happy. 

Where Can I Learn More?

Head over to your local library and check out “Doing Good Better,” by William Macaskill. Or, go to The Life You Can Save and get a free download of the audiobook or eBook by Peter Singer. 

Where Do I Start?

Using the resources provided above, you can find a charity that appeals to you, and set up a recurring donation right away.

You’ll feel good doing it, and you will make an impact.

Is Effective Altruism Important in Business? 

We believe it is.

Businesses don't have to operate like mindless machines working solely for profit. Instead they can be used as a springboard and channel for positive impact. 

As a business owner and leader in your community, you have both the resources and the influence to engage in effective altruism.

Effective altruism in business is even a great way to stand out from all the noise in the market.

More and more companies are choosing to give to various causes, fund their own missions, and make their mark on the world in a socially positive way. Just look at Toms, Patagonia, and Warby Parker. 

We believe you can have a huge impact through your business, too.

And whatever the mission, it's worth talking about.

That's why we actively seek to work with companies that are mission-focused – helping them market and grow their business while positioning their cause at the forefront of all they do. 

Does that sound like you and your business? If so, we definitely want to chat! Schedule a free video call now!


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Impact The World With Your Brand

Here's how a rising eco-friendly brand facilitates the planting of mangrove trees to help stabilize the coastline ecosystem and prevent erosion. Their business growth is now directly tied to their missional cause.
See The Mission Behind This Brand