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A promising approach to funding valuable projects is to find a high-paying job and give a significant proportion of the earnings to charity. This approach is generally known as “earning to give”.

The value of such an approach may not be immediately obvious, since people tend to think of ethical jobs as those with a direct positive impact. One fruitful way to compare the social impact of earning of give with that of traditional careers in the nonprofit sector is to consider whether someone pursuing a lucrative career could earn enough to fund at least one charity worker as competent as him- or herself. This will often be the case because there is considerable salary variation across career-types, because money is a fungible resource that can fund many different causes, and because the impact of a charity worker is usually only marginally higher than that of its counterfactual replacement (MacAskill 2014).

Although this approach has sometimes been represented as the highest impact type of career, 80,000 Hours currently thinks that it is the best option for only a small proportion of members of the effective altruism community (MacAskill 2015). This is to a significant degree due to the fact that the most promising causes tend to be talent-constrained rather than funding-constrained (Todd 2015).

Further reading

80,000 Hours. 2016. Why the ideas you’ve heard for doing good with your career aren’t the best.
An overview of earning to give as a promising career approach.

MacAskill, William. 2014. Replaceability, career choice, and making a difference.
Ethical theory and moral practice 17(2): 269–283.
An academic article surveying the main considerations in favor of earning to give.

MacAskill, William. 2015. 80,000 Hours thinks that only a small proportion of people should earn to give long term.
A discussion of how 80,000 Hours’ thinking on this question has changed over time.

Todd, Benjamin. 2015. Why you should focus more on talent gaps, not funding gaps.
A discussion of why earning to give might not be the highest-impact career for many people.

Stafforini, Pablo. 2016. Earning to give: an annotated bibliography.
A comprehensive list of articles on earning to give.