People often want to help out, to make the world a better place, but it is a damn tricky thing to figure out what sort of help is best and how much help exactly you need to deliver to feel good about yourself and be justified in putting your feet up and relaxing. If I volunteer at the food bank is it enough, or should I be working a second job to have more money to donate to educating young girls in developing countries? This article has some great thoughts and the beginnings of answers and it got me thinking a lot on this topic.
Simply put there will always be problems and no matter what any individual does everything will not be fixed. That leads to decision paralysis and people giving up because they can never reach the point of feeling like they have done enough - there is no obvious signal to tell you it is time to head to the bar. What we do have though is the knowledge that if everyone gave 10% of their income to effective charities we could wipe out pretty much all of the world issues easily solved with money immediately. So there you go, we have a straightforward, measurable, reasonably achievable objective.
More is needed than that of course because you not only need to help but also avoid doing more damage in the first place. Donating a lot of money to charity is obviously not a licence to go about saying "Dude, that is just so gay!" as an insult while maintaining impeccable moral standing. You need to listen, learn, and adapt your habits to try to do less damage with your passing. Giving charitably is a wonderful thing but no amount of it can remove the need to not be an asshole.
I had a discussion with Pounder awhile ago on this topic and he asked how I felt about the moral implications of someone who makes a lot of money and donates a huge amount of it to charity (Example: $100,000 salary of which $30,000 is donated) when compared to someone like me who spends a lot of time yelling about social justice and puts in a few volunteer hours here and there. I think the clear answer is that the $30,000 trumps my contribution in terms of raw efficacy but that doesn't translate necessarily into the moral high ground - after all, I have much less money to give.
This really reinforces a very important point about trying to improve the world: People will contribute in any number of ways and as long as they are in fact helping we must respect those contributions even when they are not the contributions we would choose ourselves. If you can't figure out if you are helping enough or how you should help that simple benchmark of 10% is a fantastic guide. It isn't as though is it objectively right but it certainly meets the standard of being plenty good enough.