There are some people who believe that the right amount to give is nothing, ever. They might believe that charity doesn’t help people, that it’s not their responsibility, or they’re not excited by the incredible opportunity most of us have to use our money to help others. Others believe that they should give nothing, yet. This might be suitable for you either if (a) your material circumstances are very dire; or (b) you are a patient philanthropist who is putting away money now in order to give to charity later (and have taken measures to make sure you’ll actually follow through).

The other far extreme of giving is to give everything humanly possible right up until your circumstances are equal to those whose welfare you are concerned about. This is clearly not a healthy path to follow, and is ultimately going to be self-defeating (leading to less good for everyone involved, not more).

So, when we look down the barrel of these two extremes and see that neither of them are right for us, we may ask ourselves this this begs the question: “What is the right amount for us to give to charity?”

Let’s look at some standard approaches to giving.

Give what you don’t need

If you feel a strong moral obligation to help others, you might decide to give what you don’t need. This idea has been formalised by an Oxford philosopher, Toby Ord who was inspired by ethicists such as Peter Singer.

In 2009, Toby felt that he had a true moral obligation to give what he didn’t need. He knew that a significant portion of his income could be so much more valuable to others than it would be to himself.

To put this into practice, he set himself a living allowance and then gave everything that he earned above that level away.

Give generously

You might be more motivated to have a steady increase in your standard of living as your income rises, but still want to give a meaningful amount that is more generous than what most people give. If you are earning above average income in Singapore, it’s likely that you can give more generously than an average person can give. 

Give at an average level

If you care about helping others but don’t want to give more than average, you could aim to give what an average person gives.

Give what you won’t miss

At the very least you could give what you wouldn’t miss. Very few people would notice a difference if they were to live off only 99% of their income, rather than 100% of it. Almost everyone would take a job that paid 1% less if it brought them more meaning in life.