A child is drowning in a pond. You could try to save the child, but your clothes will get dirty in the process. Should you do it anyway?
This question comes from a philosophy paper called Famine, Affluence, and Morality by Peter Singer. Most people would probably answer with an enthusiastic yes, deciding that the life of the child outweighs the damage to the clothes. Singer encourages us to think about other, less obvious ways that we can do a lot of good without having to sacrifice much. In particular, philanthropy now allows us to fund solutions to important problems, even when the problems are farther away or more abstract than a drowning child.
Singer’s frame of thinking has stuck with me. It’s hard to ignore the fact that I can contribute towards improving the world without reducing my own standard of living significantly or at all. If I can afford to get a beer with dinner, surely I can afford to donate money towards alleviating poverty, financing clean water projects, or improving access to education.
I was fortunate enough to land a well paying job coming out of college. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, I eventually realized I was making far more money than I needed. I did some research but couldn’t find a platform for getting involved in philanthropy that I was happy with, so I decided to quit my job and start Sublime Fund with the help of some friends. Right now, it’s a website where people can set up recurring donations to all the causes that they want to support, creating a sort of charitable portfolio. We are also organized as a charity ourselves, so we don’t take a cut of the donations.
Our goal is to turn more people into philanthropists. There isn’t one magical solution. People don’t donate or don’t donate as much as they could for a variety of reasons. With Sublime Fund, we want to mitigate as many of these barriers as possible.
People can be reluctant to give out their credit card number.
People might be wary of being spammed with emails and physical mail after donating.
It can be hard to keep track of donations, especially for people who support multiple charities.
We’re optimistic that these incremental improvements will result in more people getting involved with philanthropy. You don’t have to be Bill Gates to make a difference. Every dollar really does matter, and to get involved in any capacity is a great start.
A literal definition of philanthropy is “love of humanity.” There have been plenty of times when I have deeply failed to live up to this principle. I can’t change the past, but at the very least, I can try to do better in the future by raising the bar for what I expect from myself. Using Sublime Fund is one way for me to do that, and I hope others will find it helpful as well. Charities are taking on some of humanity’s hardest, most persistent problems. To achieve a better world, we must respond with even more relentlessness in our support of the solutions.
This post is also on Medium.