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Q&A Series:

What’s the Best Way to Encourage Others to Give Effectively?

Gandhi was once asked to help a little boy stop eating sugar so he would be less disruptive to his family (by the way, current research does not appear to support the idea that eating sugar makes children more disruptive, but it isn’t essential to the story). Gandhi had the parents visit him many times with the child before he applied his “magical” cure: “Stop eating sugar!” he told the boy, as he shook him rather hard. The parents asked Gandhi why such a simple “cure” had required so many visits. He responded quite simply, “First I had to stop eating sugar.”

Many of our subscribers often ask, “What’s the best way to encourage others to give more and to give more effectively?” Or even more simply: “How do I even start a conversation about giving with others?” 

These are very tricky questions for many reasons. But this anecdote about Gandhi reminds us that often the first step is to make sure we “practice what we preach.”

Even if you don’t quite yet “practice what you preach” — or give as much or as effectively as you would like — why not use this to your advantage to introduce others to the world of effective giving? Share your aspirations with your family and friends and ask if they would like to start giving, or begin giving more effectively, with you. 

If you do already practice what you preach, you are in a great position to share what first inspired you to start giving or how giving more effectively has enriched your life. It’s not always easy to know where to start or how to find the right words. If you’re looking for ideas about how to tell your own story about effective giving, for instance, check out our Supporter Stories, where many have shared the reasons they give, and the joy giving has brought.

Personal stories like these can have a profound impact. However, if you prefer a more philosophical approach, consider sharing Peter Singer’s iconic thought experiment of the drowning child. Here’s a short version that might work well for friendly dinner conversation: 

You are walking past a small pond and see a young child flailing about in the shallows. She is unable to keep her head above water for more than a few seconds at a time. If you don’t wade in and pull her out, she will almost certainly drown. The pond is shallow and wading in poses no risk to you, but you will ruin your expensive shoes, your clothes will get covered with mud and you don’t have time to go home and get changed before going to work. Do you save the child?

If you are like most people, the answer is obvious.

But why then does our sense of moral obligation to the drowning child often not extend to the millions of children who die every year from preventable or treatable causes? 

Of course, this is the very question at the center of Professor Singer’s book The Life You Can Save. If you are a member of a book club or discussion group, you might suggest including it in your readings. You can download a free ebook or celebrity-read audiobook on our website.

Free Book - Download Now

If you think videos might be more accessible and effective than the written word, you can find links to several on our homepage — including our “Smart Giving Simplified” introductory video, Professor Singer’s TED Talk, the dazzling short film “The Girl in the Pond,” and my personal reflection on being “brave.” 

However you choose to introduce others to the world of effective giving, our website is designed to provide the tools and resources you need. Here are just a few web page links you can use to help encourage others to both give more and give more effectively:

  • Our “Best Charities” page provides detailed information about the high-impact, cost-effective organizations we support
  • Our Impact Calculator helps you visualize the impact of your donation in real, concrete terms
  • Our Pledge Calculator uses your annual salary to recommend a annual donation amount that is impactful yet affordable

If you know someone interested in making a substantial donation, you may want to refer them to myself or Rickard Vikstrom, our new Executive Director,, or Marty Fleisher, our volunteer head of development, If they are interested in a stock donation or a bequest in their will best to refer them to Angela Kalayjian,

It is not easy to get people to jump into the pond and save the drowning girl when she is not in front of them. But research and our own experience suggests doing so makes us happier, and inspiring others — whether it’s your family, friends and colleagues at work — to help save lives, reduce unnecessary suffering and empower livelihoods in a cost-effective way is a great thing to try.

Do Good. Feel Good.

Charlie Bresler

Board Member of The Life You Can Save

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