A Warm Glow

In his book The Most Good You Can Do author Peter Singer explores a recent phenomenon that has been coined effective altruism. Those who follow the philosophy explained by Singer take the title of effective altruists and they are defined as individuals who are focused on having the greatest positive impact on the planet that they possibly can. An effective altruist is concerned about human beings on a global scale, and drives towards making donations that have the greatest impact on the lives of others. They see their goal or mission in life as impacting the most lives possible at a sacrifice to their own lifestyle.


Singer contrasts effective altruists with those who make small donations when a charity tugs at their emotions. He writes, “Those who give small amounts to many charities are not so interested in whether what they are doing helps others — psychologists call them warm glow givers.” Singer includes this passage in his book to make a distinction between effective altruists and those who occasionally make small donations to charities when it is convenient.  The distinction he raises helps us see that effective altruists have shaped their life around doing great things for those who are less fortunate, something not seen in most people who donate to charity.


Throughout his book Singer also makes a distinction between wealthy donors and those who are focused on making meaningful donations to charity and communities.  Few people truly take a moment to research the charities they are making donations to, even when their donations are large and impactful. By not researching where your donation is going you cannot be sure that your money is truly heading toward the cause being promoted by the charity as opposed to being used for additional fundraising or executive salaries. An effective altruist would spend time understanding how a charity uses donations prior to making a donation. Ultimately, the research, the amount of money donated, and the decision of which charity to donate to, for an effective altruist, is not based on generating positive feelings for the donor, but is based on reducing the suffering in the lives of as many people as possible.

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