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More Than Most

The longer Jeff Kaufman ’08 thought about it, the less comfortable he was with being more financially secure than people who didn’t happen to be born into opportunity.

Discussing this with Julia Wise—now his wife—he became convinced that they “should be doing something to help.” So the couple put that ethic into action, donating more than half of their income to charity for the past five years.

“We have more than we need, and there are a lot of people who don’t,” says Kaufman, whose Quaker upbringing stressed self-actualization over accumulation. “So we are committed to sharing—to doing—all that we can.”

The couple evaluates charities through the nonprofit GiveWell to maximize their donation’s impact. They focus on world health issues like childhood malaria, seizing “an amazing opportunity” to improve and save lives, he says.

Kaufman is a software engineer, Wise a community liaison for the Centre for Effective Altruism. Living on a small fraction of their income after taxes and savings, with two young daughters—including their elder, Lily (pictured)—in the Boston metro area, the couple does face financial conflicts.

But that would be true regardless, he says, and frugality forces them to zero in on the things and experiences that bring them the most meaning.

After leaving Swarthmore, Kaufman worked in natural language processing and computational advertising before joining Google to write software for loading web pages faster. His earning and donating power spiked, but after four years, Kaufman felt shadowed by a question: “Is there more I could be doing to make other people’s lives better?”

Seeking to make more of a direct impact, Kaufman joined Wave earlier this year to help build a mobile-money system for Ethiopia, based on the humanitarian success of the M-Pesa microfinancing service in Kenya. When he was laid off from the company in June, his and his wife’s philanthropic mindset was tested ... and emboldened.

“Being in a position where we don’t need much money to live on actually gives us many more exciting options than we would have had otherwise,” he says.