In modern society, our intuitions are often strongly influenced by consumer ethics: when we think about issues like climate change, factory farming, or forced labor, many of us think predominantly about how our own consumption choices contribute to the problem. We think about the “footprints” we leave on the environment, animals, and other humans when we choose to buy one product instead of another. We drive less, go vegetarian or vegan, and buy fair trade. But ethical consumption is not the only way, nor the most effective way, to help. Depending on how much we donate and who we give that funding to, our donations can be substantially more impactful than our consumption choices.
Consuming well vs. donating well
Ethical consumption is helpful, but donating to organizations that encourage even more people to consume ethically is more helpful still. An average Westerner who eats animals is responsible for the slaughter of thousands over the course of their lifetime, so if we successfully motivate just one person to remove animals and animal-based foods from their diet — either through our own outreach, or through donations to outreach efforts — we can expect to spare those thousands.
There are even more effective uses of our donations than consumer outreach, which become neglected when we focus as strongly on creating vegans and vegetarians as the farmed animal advocacy movement currently does. Though it does not feel this way intuitively, there is a lot more at stake when we decide whether and where to give $10 than when we decide whether to eat a chicken, because that $10 could spare over 100 animals in the hands of some of the most cost-effective charities. In other words, if we are able to give $10 to such an impactful intervention and we do not, we are responsible for a great deal more harm than if we had eaten one chicken ourselves. Importantly, the two are not mutually exclusive, and the indirect, social impact of eating a chicken — as well as the impact on our own biases — likely reinforces speciesism and ultimately results in harm to more animals. Note that there are similar difficult-to-quantify social effects in the case of the donation: donating more may encourage others to do the same, and giving only what we hardly notice is a missed opportunity to create such altruistic norms.
Many vegetarians and vegans in high-income nations would gladly spend another $1,000 per year to avoid eating animals if animal-free eating were more expensive. This is not the case, so why not donate another $1,000 to help even more animals than we do as vegetarians? Most people in high-income nations have the capacity to donate $1,000 every year (if not significantly more), which means they can spare hundreds of thousands of animals from factory farms and slaughterhouses over the course of their lifetimes, in addition to those they can spare by adopting an animal-free diet themselves.
Effective vs. ineffective donation
Where we donate can be just as important a consideration as how much we donate, because different charities can vary considerably in how many individuals they help and how much suffering they prevent with the same resources.
We talk more about which strategies we think are the most impactful uses of our resources in our page on “Effective Strategies”, but in short, we are optimistic about political campaigns for antispeciesist initiatives, antispeciesist social change, technological solutions to animal farming, research on effective strategy, and capacity building for these exceptionally impactful efforts.
Organizations that we think are currently doing some of the most promising work in these areas include the Nonhuman Rights Project, Animal Ethics, the Good Food Institute, Animal Charity Evaluators, and, of course, our own team. Some other organizations, such as those recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators and not mentioned here, have more measurable near-term impacts and are still extraordinarily effective giving opportunities, but we believe the longer-term impacts of the charities mentioned above are ultimately of even higher expected value.
What to give
An impactful action most of us can take is to commit 10% of our income to the organizations that will use it most effectively. Median earners in high income nations are among the most wealth-privileged people on the planet, even after donating 10% of their income. Giving 10% results in relatively limited changes to our lifestyles, and especially since psychological studies suggest that giving to others makes us happier than spending money on other things, giving 10% to spare thousands of animals from factory farms and slaughterhouses every year is an excellent idea. Many people are signing pledges to donate 10% of their incomes, and some are giving even more. Others are “earning to give”, pursuing higher paying careers in order to donate more still.
Towards a new culture of giving
Donating more, donating to more effective interventions, and discussing where where we should give and why should become a norm in our society. Helping others cannot stay a matter of personal preference, nor can neglecting to help them when we have the ability to do so.
To encourage each other to give both more in total and more effectively, we should share both where we give, and how much we give, relative to our financial resources. (In the interest of encouraging each other to give as much as we can, someone making $30,000 and giving $3,000 is more commendable than a billionaire giving the same amount, as they can much more easily give far more.) As with encouraging others to stop eating animals, it is important to set a public example here too.
Simply put, the more financial support we can give to the organizations that are most effectively helping others, the more they will be able to help.