The Vocation of Earning-to-Give Donor
Religion & Liberty Online

The Vocation of Earning-to-Give Donor

The Washington Post has an interesting story on young people who feel their vocation is “earning to give”—making as much money as possible in order to give away as much as possible to worthy causes. An example is Jason Trigg, an MIT computer science graduate who works as a programmer for a high-frequency trading firm:

Trigg makes money just to give it away. His logic is simple: The more he makes, the more good he can do.

He’s figured out just how to take measure of his contribution. His outlet of choice is the Against Malaria Foundation, considered one of the world’s most effective charities. It estimates that a $2,500 donation can save one life. A quantitative analyst at Trigg’s hedge fund can earn well more than $100,000 a year. By giving away half of a high finance salary, Trigg says, he can save many more lives than he could on an academic’s salary.

In another generation, giving something back might have more commonly led to a missionary stint digging wells in Kenya. This generation, perhaps more comfortable with data than labor, is leveraging its wealth for a better end. Instead of digging wells, it’s paying so that more wells are dug.

“A lot of people, they want to make a difference and end up in the Peace Corps and in the developing world without running water,” Trigg says, “and I can donate some of my time in the office and make more of a difference.”

This approach will seem odd to many American since we are more accustomed to the “rich businessperson” model of philanthropy. We are used to wealthy donors like Bill Gates, who works at a job he loves until he amasses wealth and then gives it away.

Unfortunately, the article gives the impression that the “making a difference” element occurs only in the charitable donations and not in the actual work itself. The idea that working for a high-frequency trading firm may be as worthy a way of serving one’s fellow man as digging wells in Africa remains controversial, even among Christians with a robust view of work and vocation. But it’s true.

Folks like Mr. Trigg should consider themselves bivocational. In addition to the vocation they pursue to make money, they have a vocation as donor, giving the money away. Working to fund one’s philanthropic ventures is certainly noble. But we shouldn’t downplay the value of the income-generating work just because we can’t see as directly how it helps others.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).