There are tons of altruistic careers that pay very well in order to hire talented staff members who can avoid worrying about how they will support their lives and families.
Impactful careers that pay well
Many highly impactful jobs, especially within the effective-altruism aligned organisations, pay comfortably.
An extremely rough measure: we skimmed the 80,000 Hours list of high impact jobs, and the large majority of them pay >$60,000 per year, which would be enough to put you in the top 1% of income globally (source: calculator, spreadsheet).
Effective altruist roles tend to pay well
For instance, at Open Philanthropy, an organization in the effective altruism (EA) movement, staff can earn over $70,000 right out of college. Lightcone Infrastructure pays software engineers at least $150k. In general, careers in the EA movement tend to pay salaries competitive to industry roles, and there’s funding available for impactful projects.
If you care more about income, there are also higher paying but still highly impactful roles. You could conduct research to ensure AI remains safe and beneficial (which pays tech salaries), take a high paying job (e.g. tech) and donate a portion of your salary (earning to give), work at a foundation, etc.
Note: It’s also true that some charities pay very little, or expect staff to volunteer some of their time (and especially for early career roles). This is particularly true of some causes in effective altruism, such as animal welfare and global health, and some career paths such as academia.
If you really want to be rich while doing good, consider earning to give
Perhaps you’ve reached the end of this article feeling that it doesn’t speak to you. Perhaps, you’ve always wanted a salary that was quite a long way beyond “comfortable”, but you’re still very committed to the idea of having a positive impact on the world. If you feel this way, then there is a career option that might suit you very well- earning to give.
When you earn to give, you develop your skills to allow you to take on abnormally highly paid jobs. You can then donate a large portion of your earnings, and do a lot of good, while still being well off.
Without a doubt the most successful example of this career plan is Sam Bankman-Fried, an Effective Altruist who set out to earn as much as he could in order to donate it, and is now worth around $16.2 Billion. Sam now has the opportunity to do a ridiculous amount of good with that money, if he gives it to the right places.
However, Sam was very lucky. You can never bank on becoming a billionaire. But, even if Sam had had a bit less luck and remained a quantitative trader on wall street, he would have been able to donate millions of dollars over the course of his life. Alex Gordon-Brown set out to do just this: you can listen to him talk about his career on this podcast.
If you don’t see an extremely highly paid career option in your future, you might be reassured to hear that you don’t even have to be a millionaire to donate a million over the course of your life. The Oxford Academic Toby Ord is planning to, on a salary much lower than a quantitative trader’s...
In 2009, when Toby Ord, an academic at Oxford University, was making less than £30k a year, he declared that he would donate 1,000,000 pounds over the course of his life to effective charities which aimed to alleviate global poverty and improve global health.
When he announced this, he got a lot of attention from the media. Mostly sceptical.
But for the past decade, Ord has been sticking it to ‘em by staying on track (he had given £126,128 as of 2020, plus £150,000 from the royalties of his book The Precipice to groups working on behalf of the long-term future of humanity).
He decided to do this because relatively small amounts of money for people in the west can go a surprisingly long way in developing countries.
Medicines for preventable diseases, and the amount of money required to double a family’s annual income in the developing world can be purchased with relatively small donations from people in the west.
This gives us a massive potential to save and improve lives, and perhaps a responsibility as well.
Few people are going to want to give as much as Ord, but many more could live happier lives if they took the Giving What We Can pledge, an agreement to donate 10% of your life’s income to effective charities. This way, you know that no matter what you do, you’ll have left the world far better off than when you found it.
262: Humanity on the precipice (Toby Ord)
Humanity could thrive for millions of years - unless our future is cut short by an existential catastrophe. Oxford philosopher Toby Ord explains the possible existential risks we face, including climate change, pandemics, and artificial intelligence. Toby and Julia discuss what led him to take existential risk more seriously, which risks he considers underrated vs.
Example earning to give careers
This options tend to pay well, but are also good skill-building. This allows you to pivot later to directly working on important problems, which we think is usually higher impact than earning to give.
Browse a list impactful careers
Next in this series
How to explore your personal fit
Imagine that you are testing whether you would suit being a journalist. You might be wondering whether you would be a skilled journalist, and whether you would enjoy the job. Let's make that an actual hypothesis: Hypothesis: I am well suited to being a journalist. I'm good at journalistic writing, and I enjoy it.