Blog post

Member Profile: Heather McLaughlin

4 min read
30 Jul 2020

This profile is part of the "People of Giving What We Can" series.


Tell us about yourself. What keeps you busy? What makes you tick?

I am a retired teacher. Because I still really enjoy it, I volunteer in several local primary schools, taking music groups (marimbas and percussion, recorders, choirs, ukulele playing). These days I swim for fitness in the sea and enjoy playing the violin and other instruments in various local groups.

I've always felt very fortunate to have been born when and where I was, and into a family that was interested in learning, traveling and meeting people from around the world.

Tell us about your effective giving journey.

When I first began working, I sponsored children through World Vision and PLAN International. I continued to do that for 30 years. In my last years of teaching, I supported Oxfam by firstly participating in and then organising large schools concerts which would raise around $25,000 each year. My personal donations were aimed at reducing poverty and improving health options.

In September 2012, I took the Giving When We Can pledge and have been supporting some of GiveWell’s top recommended charities, such as AMF, Evidence Action, and GiveDirectly.

What motivates you to give?

I'm motivated to give because of the simple fact that purely by luck, I have had health, modest wealth, and opportunity, while many others don't.

Why did you take the Giving What We Can pledge?

Giving What We Can provides a clear way to structure my donations and keep track of what I do. I also really appreciate being part of a large worldwide group of people who share many of my concerns.

What are the issues in the world that you care most deeply about?

Poverty alleviation. Health and hunger amelioration. Contraception availability. I also care about climate change and the environment.

Which organisations do you give to?

Against Malaria Foundation, Evidence Action, Give Directly, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Living Goods, Fred Hollows, Oxfam, UNICEF, UNHCR.

Do you ever find it difficult to give?

I noted 'until retirement' in the Pledge, but so far, 5 years after finishing paid work, I find I have been able to keep on giving. Many years I have managed 14% - so no, I guess I don't find it difficult to give.

Do you try to effect change in any other way?

I have run a 'Giving Game' (and hope to do more), given talks on Effective Altruism and microcredit, organised local fundraising concerts, and have been involved with lots of online activity (such as petitions).

Lending and re-lending each month through (microcredit) is another big part of my life, which complements for me actual donations through GWWC. Choosing $25 loans each day and connecting with others around the world through lender teams is a great pleasure: I am co-captain of 'Paying it Forward', and also the 40,000-member Atheist+ team. Stories and updates of borrowers give human faces to my personal 'doing good, better' activity."

It is also important to me to have my financial affairs doing good rather than harm in the world, e.g. superannuation in ethical funds (I'm very happy with Australian Ethical for different investments).

What effective giving tips would you like to share?

I try to mention 'getting the best bang for your buck' if people start talking about donations. I then encourage anyone at all interested in the concept to consider donating to effective organisations. Sometimes I try to suggest pledging even 1% of income through Try Giving.

What suggestions do you have for other people considering The Pledge?

Just do it! Try whatever seems feasible to get into the habit.

What are your visions for the future?

I would love to get other older people involved in the concept of donating a specified percentage of income to effective organisations. I would love to meet others who have taken the Pledge. I would love to see a broad-based group of people committed to effective giving.

Have any books, documentaries, articles, or studies significantly changed the way you see giving?


I recommend these books:

  • Jeffrey Sachs: "The End of Poverty"
  • Peter Singer: "The Life You Can Save" and "The Most Good You Can Do"
  • Bill Clinton: "Giving"
  • Will MacAskill: "Doing Good Better"
  • Muhammad Yunus: "A World of Three Zeros".

I also recommend the video by Hans Rosling "200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes" that shows the vast improvements which have been made.

Have you found anything to be helpful in talking to people about effective giving?

Having leaflets and support information on hand; telling positive stories that show THERE IS HOPE.

Are there any other concrete ways that Giving What We Can has helped you?

I have really appreciated articles by Julia Wise on her personal life and thoughts.

This interview is part of the “People of Giving What We Can" series which profiles a selection of the Giving What We Can community. The Giving What We Can is a community of people from all walks of life, with different perspectives and motivations for giving – all united by their desire to make a significant commitment to use their income to effectively helping others. Read more member stories. Share your effective giving story to help inspire others to give more, and more effectively.

For more information about Giving What We Can we recommend you check out our frequently asked questions, our effective giving recommendations, our giving pledges, and our homepage.