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What About Non-Work Time?

October 17th, 2011
giving  [html]
In response to yesterday's post, a friend brought up the case where you have some spare time outside of work that you want to do good with. They argued that because you can't just turn time into money to donate, local action may be the option that does the most good (for others, not just for feeling good yourself).

I think this is probably not the case. A person with a full time salaryied position doesn't have the option to work more for more money directly at their job. But there are other options:

Unpaid Overtime

If you think that working more will make you look better and get you a raise, extra hours may translate directly into more money. Similarly, some people have significant stock options at small companies, and if working more is likely to make the difference between success and failure, unpaid overtime may again make sense.

Part Time Flexible Employment

There may be people who want someone with your skills occasionally and for small things. You may be able to find them through craigslist, odesk, or one of the many sites advertising part time work.

Increase Your Earnings Capacity

Becoming better at what you do can take some time, but it can also increase what sort of salary you can get. By taking night classes, online classes, or working on side projects you can make yourself more marketable.

Spend Time Thinking of Potential Startup Ideas

A startup could be quite lucrative. Spending some time brainstorming ideas is very flexible. Some places to start might be the ycombinator request for startups, thinking about things that annoy you about how the world works, and thinking about things that we could now be doing much more effectively with new technology

Volunteer for a Metacharity or a Giving Promotion Site

Spending time improving givewell, high impact careers, or giving what we can could influence the giving of many people towards much more effective methods of doing good.

Review Charity Research

Read givewell's review of village reach. Of their other top charities. Find flaws. Talk to givewell about the flaws. Look at other measures of charity effectiveness. Consider systematic errors and biases.

Convince Others to Give

If you can convince five other (similar to you) people to start giving 10% of their money to effective charities, that's similar to donating half your income. And it's probably easier. (Though doing both would make even more sense. But don't let fear of how hard it is to be perfect keep you from doing things that are 'just' better.) You could also try and convince organizations; you see a lot of fundraisers for charities, but not for ones that are very effective. So convincing people picking the charity for an employee fundraising drive to consider the impact could be very helpful. Convincing companies to match donations, or add givewell's recomendations to their list of charities they match donations to could also be good. And then there's discussing all this on the internet and in person. Potentially presenting to your religous organization's adult education group. Talking to friends.

Some of these may even have high enough payoffs that they beat the "work to earn money, give it away" strategy.

(You should still keep some time and money for enjoying yourself and having fun. Don't make yourself miserable with the goal of making others happy.)

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