Toby Ord, the Oxford academic who is capping his salary to give to charity

The philosophy researcher has pledged to give away a million in his lifetime. He talks to Kaye Wiggins

Toby Ord
Toby Ord

If donors are becoming keener than ever before on the idea that charities should spend their money effectively, Toby Ord, an Oxford academic who earns £33,000 a year and has announced he will give £1m to charity in his lifetime, has taken it to extremes.

Ord, a philosophy researcher at Balliol College, Oxford, says his aim is to save as many 'life years' in the world as he can. He will give his money to the charities that he decides can do this in the most cost-effective way.

The 30 year-old predicts his average salary over the course of his life will be £42,000. He has pledged to cap the amount he takes at £20,000 and give the rest to charity.

He has also set up the group Giving What We Can, which encourages others to do the same, although the bar for other members is not set as high as Ord's personal target. It requires them to donate 10 per cent of their income to charities and there is a system in place to make sure they do it. "Once a year, we write to members and ask them to provide bank statements as evidence of their donations," says Ord.

"I know it wouldn't be easy for everyone to give 10 per cent of their income away, but a lot of people would be able to," he says. "The main barrier is that people don't want to."

According to Ord's system, life years can be counted as how long a person lives after being cured of an illness that could have killed them. But it can also include improvements to the quality of a person's life.

"If my donation makes a person's life 10 per cent better every year for 10 years, that will count as one quality-adjusted life year," he says.

He estimates that he will save 500,000 life years by giving to overseas health charities, which he claims will achieve his aim more effectively than other charities. Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, a UK-based charity that tackles neglected tropical diseases in the developing world, and the Stop TB Partnership are his current choices.

Although he demands effectiveness from charities, he doesn't think they should be run on a shoestring. "I don't care whether a charity chief executive earns a lot of money, or if a charity spends a lot on administration," he says. "I care about how many lives that charity saves."



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