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

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

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




Myth #5: You shouldn’t give loads of your money to charity.

“I already do my bit for charity.” While there are sensible limits to how much you should give to charity, those limits are certainly not at the level of “I sponsored my workmate $10 for his charity marathon three months ago (and most people were giving only $5!)”…and yet I hear words to that effect relatively often. As Peter Singer says in The Life You Can Save, “If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.”

The Buffetts certainly seem to recognize this. I have nothing to say about Giving With Purpose in this section but I couldn’t write an article about the Buffetts and effective philanthropy without acknowledging their massive donations to charity. Because of course, one way to multiply the impact of your giving is simply to give more. Warren Buffett, talking about his decision to give the bulk of his wealth to charity rather than his children, said, “They should not inherit my position in society, based on the womb that they were born from.”

A resounding 2 marks from me.


Fortunately, people are starting to realize these myths for what they are. In particular, I am very pleased to see charity watchdogs and the public at large finally starting to recognize the overhead myth. But there is still a long way to go (just the day before I started this series there was half a page in The Times espousing Myth #3) and I look forward to everyone, myself included, learning more and more about how to help the world as much as possible with the resources we each have. Dispelling the five myths above would be, I think, an excellent start. Let’s replace them instead with GiveWell’s three main indicators of an effective charity: “evidence of impact, cost-effectiveness/bang-for-the-buck, and “room for more funding” (ability to use more donations to accomplish more good)”.

The Buffetts scored 5 out of 10 on their ability to reject these five myths. That’s significantly better than I would expect the typical member of the public to score, but it’s still not very encouraging given that one of them is running a course of effective giving for thousands of people. What do you think? Is that glass half-full or half-empty?


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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.