Atheists, Do Some Good: Join the Foundation Beyond Belief

Over the past year or so, I’ve become increasingly aware that, for the atheist movement to make a difference, speaking out isn’t enough. Speech is a valuable tool, but it isn’t the only tool. Almost as important is our money and our effort – the way we spend it, and the causes we support. To build the world we want to see, we must be willing to act in concrete ways that advance the goal of creating a secular community.

This concern of mine is bolstered by surveys which show that evangelical Christians and other members of religious groups give more – not a lot more, but more – to charitable causes than atheists. This holds true even if you don’t count donations to a believer’s own church. (NB: I have serious concerns with this study’s methodology, especially the way it lumps committed atheists in with infrequent churchgoers as “secularists”. Nevertheless, I think the larger point has validity.)

Obviously, I don’t think that this is because religious people are more generous or more caring than atheists. I think the explanation is much simpler, as I wrote in a post from 2007 which predicted this finding: religious believers give more because they have more opportunities to give.

If you’re a member of a church that passes the collection plate every week, that regularly organizes blood drives, soup kitchens, after-school programs, and that regularly exhorts its members to volunteer and to participate, then of course you’re more likely to give, simply because the possibility is always before your eyes. Atheists have no comparable social organization, and that makes charitable giving take more time and effort. When you do it yourself, you have to do all the legwork: remembering to make your donation, deciding on a cause, compiling a list of suitable charities, researching their background, and selecting criteria to choose a winner. It’s just easier when all this work is done for you, and the only thing you have to do is sign on the dotted line.

The other advantage religious people have over us is that their donations are highly visible. When a theist gives to, say, Catholic Charities or Lutheran World Relief, there’s no doubt about where that organization’s budget is coming from and who’s supporting them. By contrast, atheists often give to non-sectarian groups like Feeding America or Doctors Without Borders – and there’s nothing wrong with that, but because people of all creeds support those groups, there’s nothing to mark our charitable dollars as coming from atheists. This makes our good works invisible, which often leads ignorant religious apologists to claim that atheists have never done anything for our fellow human beings.

What we need is an option to give to charity in a way that does good for others, while also making it clear that atheists and nonbelievers are underwriting the effort. And there are already ways to do this – as I’ve mentioned before, there’s Kiva, the microfinance site whose largest lender community is made up of atheists. But Kiva is a long-term effort, aimed at the eradication of poverty through capitalism, and there’s still a call for groups that answer urgent needs.

Well, now there’s a group that answers all these challenges at once. I’m happy to report on the recent launch of the Foundation Beyond Belief, a meta-charity helping atheists and freethinkers to do good (and I love that logo!). The Foundation was the brainchild of Dale McGowan, the secular parenting author whom I’ve interviewed before. There are some other familiar faces on the board of directors as well, including fellow blogger Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist.

The Foundation is not itself a charity. Rather, it has a list of major issues it seeks to address – environment, poverty, education, child welfare, and so on. Each quarter, it picks an existing charitable group serving each of those issues, one that has a track record of effectiveness and that doesn’t proselytize. Foundation members’ donations are funneled to those charities, divided among them according to the individual member’s choice. You can choose to split your donation equally among all the charities, or give it all to a few or to one.

The Foundation’s business model answers both of the challenges I posed above. As an explicitly secular organization which only supports non-sectarian charities, it makes our donations visible in the same way that religious charities are visible. As Dale McGowan puts it, through the FBB, our donations become “a positive collective expression of our worldview”. And while the Foundation does accept one-time donations, that’s not its preferred means of giving. Instead, it encourages people to sign up as members, committing to donate a fixed amount per month – as low as $5. This helps give atheists that regular reminder that we’ve been lacking until now.

I’m tremendously excited about the potential of this project! I became a member of the Foundation a few days ago, and I’ve started at $50 per month, but that’s just a beginning. If I’m satisfied with how my money is spent, I plan to ramp up my contribution very soon, and I hope to eventually do the majority of my charitable giving through Foundation Beyond Belief. If the goals of this project are ones that you also share, I encourage you to join me there.

And to sweeten the pot a bit, I’m going to make a special offer. If you join the Foundation as the result of reading this post, and if you leave a comment and tell me about it, I’ll do a front-page interview with you about yourself, your blog if you have one, and your reasons for joining. This offer may not remain open forever, so take advantage of it soon!

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    If you’re a member of a church that passes the collection plate every week, that regularly organizes blood drives, soup kitchens, after-school programs, and that regularly exhorts its members to volunteer and to participate, then of course you’re more likely to give, simply because …

    You’re being forced to do it in front of your community and would look like a jerk if you didn’t.

    Ebon, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I signed up straight away. Like you I’ll watch the progress and ramp up donations when I can.

  • keddaw

    You don’t have to be an atheist to be a secularist. Most religious people, if they knew anything about their nation’s history would be all for a secular state.

    The amount people give should not be a basis for determining whether religion is good or bad. The idea that you’re letting the side down by not giving as much as the religious is ludicrous. Atheism should not be a side or a movement, it should simply be a personal decision. Secularism should be a movement, but should not be conflated with atheism in any way as that will alienate any religious people that want religion out of government (they do exist, honestly).

  • Thom Wynn

    FBB has been on my radar for awhile now and it’s just a matter of getting finances in order before I sign up. I decided awhile back that I wanted to be a part of something more; to make a difference, but it wasn’t about to be in the name of some religious organization. It had to be a completely secular venture and I wanted to be able to help many different worthy causes, and FBB accomplishes both quite nicely. There’s already so much religious influence and inappropriate religious co-mingling with pretty much everything, especially where I live (central Georgia) and I just did not want to support that in any way. It’s expected and assumed that you’re a christian and that you’re doing god’s work if you want to be a part of anything worthwhile and that’s just not acceptable in a world where we know better. However, it’s not exactly beneficial to be open with your beliefs (or lack thereof) in a community such as this and there are not any local groups with similiar humanistic views that I am aware of so I will have to do what I can through the avenues available at this time.

    Being younger (early thirties) parents with 5 (yes, 5) daughters and dealing with the constant struggle of raising children in such a heavily religious environment is what drew us to Dale McGowan and the ideas of “parenting beyond belief”. We knew there had to be a better way – we wanted something more; something with substance. Living in a community where the majority of people’s answer to any problem, big or small, is that you need to go to church more and you need to pray more can be quite frustrating and maddening. It was reassuring to know that we were not alone in our ideas of how to be good people and in our aspirations to raise our children without religion. We want our children to grow up to be good people and to care about others – to be happy and to make others so – and we want them to do it for the right reasons, not because the popular delusion of our specific geographic location says so.

    Thanks for bringing attention to a great organization and we will be joining you in the cause as soon as possible. Also, thanks for everything you do as well. I escape to your site on a daily basis and it is truly a breath of fresh air and a much appreciated voice of reason, especially when there are so few in my direct vicinity.

  • http://theperplexedobserver.blogspot.com TPO

    I agree this is an excellent organization. I signed up several weeks ago so I guess I don’t qualify for that front page interview:-)

    I posted some my thoughts on FFB in my Secular Charities & Humanist Philanthropy post.

    For me it’s more about being able to give without having to worry about my money being spent on proselytizing and other conversion techniques that so many religious charities utilize; however, I can see where being more visible in our good works might be beneficial in rebuking those often used claims that we are morally deficient, selfish and without a social consciousness.

  • Staceyjw

    I just joined, order #160 :) This is cool because I would have joined anyway, you just made me run to get my wallet RIGHT NOW with your offer of promotion :)

    Since there’s nothing about me that warrants an interview, I would like to pass this opportunity to another very important blog I read. When I saw the offer, I thought of this blog, since I push it a lot- “No Longer Qivering” http://www.nolongerqivering.com

    If you don’t want to cover it, that’s fine too, as its not an explicitly atheist blog. However, as a feminist atheist, promoting a blog by women that have escaped biblical patriarchy, and all it damage it entails, is important. There is also some interesting writing about the main authors deconversion, thanks in large part to an ATHEIST uncle. There is a lot about the blog that is relevant and fascinating, I hope I have bought it a chance to reach your audience.

    Even just a mention would be great!

    Staceyjw

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    Done! Hopefully my low order number will be left in the dust soon.

    While I’m a regular reader here, I’m not really an active participant. My blog is hard to read, given it is merely a place where I try to actually jot down thoughts for my own reference; its audience is myself, so it does not communicate well to others. Nonetheless, I can be coherent for an interview if you chose to grant one.

    Thanks for passing this along.

  • Claire

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing this with your readers.

  • Peter N

    I signed up. It looks like a really nice organization.

  • Caiphen

    It’s great to see that I can now give to another organisation without having to worry about the consequences of religious indoctrination of persons.

    Hopefully they have an office here in Australia. If not I’ll be earnestly waiting for them to show.

  • bbk

    I have a couple additional ideas. Another reason why charitable giving is skewed may be the age distribution of the demographics. Did the study adjust for it? There are a more young atheists than old. That means lower income and lower savings rate than a normally distributed population.

    Also, atheists are likely to be more educated. That means that not only do they have greater debt when they are younger, but also more likely to end up with more rewarding careers. They may feel less inclined to volunteer their time if they already make a positive impact on the world around them during their day jobs.

  • Alex Weaver

    Unfortunately, I can’t commit to automatically giving any amount per month, since when I’ve done that in the past the net effect has been one donation of $19 to my bank for each such monthly commitment, the very next time a paycheck is delayed. Once I’ve built up enough of a cushion in my account that I can rely on it absorbing such automatic debits without causing overdrafts, I’ll definitely revisit this. That should be within the next month or two. I look forward to joining this endeavor.

    Also:

    Secularism should be a movement, but should not be conflated with atheism in any way as that will alienate any religious people that want religion out of government (they do exist, honestly).

    Considering the track record for the principle of “don’t say things that might upset the religious”…

    …I was just struck by the realization that this is like the charity equivalent of a mutual fund.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    From the comments so far, I think we’ve got four signups: Steve Bowen, Staceyjw, Ergo Ratio and Peter N (and sure, TPO too – why not?). If I missed your name, please let me know, and I’ll be in touch soon to discuss the interviews.

    This is a good start, but I think we can do better. I’m sure there are more of you out there who are considering it, so if you’re still trying to make up your mind, especially if you’ve never given to charity before, let this be the extra nudge you need. The Foundation’s membership plans start at just $60 a year, which is about the price of a nice dinner. If you’ve ever spent that much money on yourself, surely you can justify spending the same amount to help out other people who are truly in need of it. Especially in the beginning, when every nonprofit has to do the most work and spend the most money to get off the ground, your support will go a long way toward ensuring the long-term viability of this project.

  • Nathaniel

    I would sign up… If I wasn’t nineteen and unemployed. This charity will be the first sign up when I get a job. It looks pretty awesome.

    Now, I know this is off topic, but when is the last Liberty University post going to happen? Talk about your cliff hangers!

  • Alex Siyer

    Sadly, I am unable to join. I suffered an 8.8º earthquake the past saturday and need all my money for other things. I will miss internet, but I have to. :(

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    I have $0.02 in my checking account until Friday. But then I will be signing up! It’s everything I ever wanted in a nonprofit, so this works perfectly for me.

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    I will post a link to this post around my regular forum haunts. Hopefully some of the big talkers will come here and put up.

  • Nes

    I’m pretty much in the same boat Alex is in, so I can’t sign up right now, though I will when I can. (I wouldn’t be interested in an interview anyway… I think this guy is my twin, except he’s more talkative.)

    Also, thanks for mentioning Kiva. It’s been several months since I was there and I had racked up enough credit from repayments in that time to do another loan!

  • John

    Looks like a great idea. The website has a enough glitches that I’d probably be uncomfortable signing up, but your recommendation and seeing the involvement of seeing Hemant Mehta helped. I think my number was 176. Don’t have a blog to plug.

  • Demonhype

    I’ve bookmarked this post for later reference/reminder. I’ve been unemployed since 2008, but I have a pretty juicy interview coming up in a few days!

    Even then, I won’t be able to give more than about $5 a month, because I’m still in school, my loans are running out, and I will need to go PT and pay month to month with most of what I’ve got–but it’s nice to see there’s some kind of option and that it doesn’t have to be huge (for now).

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I didn’t mean to tease anyone. :) The fourth and final Liberty University post is up now.

    Just to be clear, I obviously wasn’t suggesting that anyone sign up if they can’t afford it. I realize that times are tough for a lot of people right now. But if you do have a steady income, I urge you to consider it.

    Alex Siyer (#14): I’m so sorry. Is there anything we can do?

  • http://twitter.com/GGlick ANTLink

    I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to comment on this wonderful site, and this seems like as good a chance as any. Count me in as another person who signed up immediately after reading this post (I was order #178, by the way; hopefully that number will start ramping up soon). I’ve been wanting a way to help contribute more good to the world in the name of atheism and free-thinking for a while now, and this seems like a great way to get started.

    Alex – I second Ebon’s thoughts, and hope that you and your friends and family are okay (at least as much as you can be after something like that). If there is anything we can do, please don’t hesitate to ask while you still have Internet access.

  • Petrucio

    I just bought Parenting Beyond Belief last week, my wife just got pregnant!

    I know it doesn’t have much to do with the subject, I just felt like saying it… :)

    And I’m now member 182 of the FDD!

  • Petrucio

    Although I haven’t been able to access the option to distribute donation amounts, and the link to the forum returns “No forums defined”

    :(

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    I haven’t had any problems with the site at all. The contribution distribution facility is great for me. Because I already donate to a few conservation charities it has let me focus on humanitarian causes which previously I have found problematic because of religious involvement

  • Thom Wynn

    Consider me nudged – (order #183). Perhaps, financial stability is an illusion anyway – the more we get the more we want/need, etc. I’ll have to pray on it. Obviously, there are a lot of people out of work and in a lot worse situations than myself so I feel I should do what I can. Anyway, it feels good to have taken that first step and I’m looking forward to being a part of a great organization and making a difference. Thanks again and take care.

  • Peter N

    Petrucio,

    As others have noted above, the FBB website is not easy to navigate, but if you find your “profile” page (after logging in with your new user name and password), you should see a box on the right side of the screen, near the top, labeled “Manage Your Account”. Within that box is a tab labeled “Manage Donation”. That should let you adjust the proportions of your contribution.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Thank you, all! I count five new FBB members since my last comment: D (shortly), John, ANTLink, Petrucio and Thom Wynn. Again, if I missed you, leave a comment and slap me upside the head. Otherwise, I’ll try to send out e-mails to everyone who’s signed up so far by tomorrow night. The interview offer is still open, so don’t let me dissuade you if you’re still considering it!

    I hope I’m not being too pushy about all this. Long-time readers will know that I’ve never run any paid advertising on Daylight Atheism. I find it tacky, and besides, I’m writing for this blog because I want to speak my mind, not because I want to persuade anyone to buy more useless crap. But I do think occasional solicitations for worthy non-profit efforts like this one are worthwhile.

  • Petrucio

    Peter N,

    I’m an ubber geek, I wouldn’t have missed that if it was there, however hard it was to navigate there.
    There was indeed some problem with my account, I’ve contacted them and it’s now fixed.

    But thanks for the effort!

  • Alex Siyer

    I’m ok, thank you.

    My family and friendly are alive. God’s wrath missed my humble atheist home and demolished the church nearby. (He must have been drunk)

    The chuch was empty, But the city is very damaged and the tsunami destroyed complete towns. In my city many people lost their jobs and their homes in just one night. I was extremely lucky.

  • http://twitter.com/GGlick ANTLink

    Alex,
    I’m glad to hear that you and your family are all okay. My heart goes out to the people in your city and country; I can’t imagine what it must be like there now.
    It’s not much, but I’ve made a donation to Chile relief through the Pan American Development Foundation. I hope that it helps the efforts to rebuild your lives, and I wish you and everyone you know the best of luck in making it through this safely and intact.

  • Alex Siyer

    ANTLink,
    Thank you very much, I really appreciate it.
    We are working hard on reconstruction, many for free.(I among them)

  • Lyra

    It always takes me a while to talk myself into parting with a significant sum of money for any reason, but yesterday I finally got it together and signed up, #213.

  • Alex Weaver

    I decided to join after sitting down and thinking about it and realizing that in addition to my debit account I have an actual *credit* card I pay off every month, which I didn’t when my squeamishness about committing to monthly donations “crystallized.” I’m in; Order #219.

  • Alex Weaver

    PS: I additionally forwarded the link to the organizer of the Sacramento Freethinkers, Atheists, and Nonbelievers group for review prior to posting a note promoting it.