What Are Your Favorite Charities?

I have some sad news to report. In 2007 (seven years ago!), I wrote about the philanthropy of Robert Wilson, an atheist and retired hedge-fund tycoon who vowed to donate his entire $800 million fortune to charity before he died.

Well, he kept that promise, donating his last $100 million to the Environmental Defense Fund last month. Shortly thereafter, he committed suicide at the age of 87. From the evidence, this wasn’t the result of depression but a rational decision to end his life before he suffered the worst ravages of illness and infirmity:

According to the New York Police Department, he left a note at the scene. He had suffered from a stroke just a few months before.

“He always said he didn’t want to suffer and when the time came, he would be ready,” close friend Stephen Viscusi told the New York Post. (source)

And another account:

Police had read Schneidman Wilson’s suicide note, which said that he “had a great life” and his decision to die was “nothing to be ashamed of,” according to an interview the accountant gave to The New York Times. (source)

Although his death is a sad occasion, I can’t help but admire someone who did so much good in the world and lived a life so unapologetically in accordance with humanist principles. And that admiration makes me want to do more to follow his example.

I made a New Year’s resolution to donate more money to charity. I try to increase the total amount I give away by a little each year. And I’m always looking for worthwhile nonprofits to support. Large, established groups like the ACLU, Doctors Without Borders, and the Sierra Club are on my list every year, but there are also some smaller nonprofits that I donate to regularly. Some are advocacy organizations, some are purely humanitarian, and some do a little of both. These are eight of the ones that I like the best:

  • Foundation Beyond Belief: One of the best ideas out there for secular giving, the FBB is an atheist meta-charity that chooses reputable charities with good track records each quarter in the areas of poverty and health, environmental protection, education, human rights, and interfaith work. Members sign up for a recurring monthly donation, which they can distribute however they choose among FBB’s beneficiaries. They also run volunteer initiatives, small-grant programs for worthy projects and coordinate relief giving for major disasters.
  • Kiva: I’ve written several times about Kiva, a microlending organization that connects donors to entrepreneurs in developing countries, and how Kiva’s atheist lending team is one of the largest and most generous on the site, now approaching $14 million in total donations. They still deserve your support!
  • Global Giving: Along the same lines as Kiva, Global Giving is an eclectic site that connects donors to charitable projects all over the world: school building, tree planting, drilling wells, rural electrification through distributed solar, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. You can scroll through their extensive wish-lists and pick a project that appeals to you.
  • Responsible Charity: Responsible Charity and its founder Hemley Gonzalez are doing the work Mother Teresa never did, running a real charity that provides tangible help to the poor of India’s slums – education, nutrition, medical care, contraception – as opposed to platitudes and proselytizing.
  • Developments in Literacy: DIL builds modern schools, especially girls’ schools, in rural areas of Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai’s example shows how much religious fundamentalists fear and detest education, and with good reason. There’s no better way to fight superstition and ignorance than by helping children learn and giving them options other than religious schools that exist only for indoctrination.
  • FFRF: The Freedom from Religion Foundation, in my humble opinion, is the best atheist organization out there in terms of bang for your buck. They combine strong advocacy, effective litigation, and public outreach with a respectfully understated fundraising approach (as opposed to many charities, even charities I like, that blitz their supporters with endless overwrought appeals for money).
  • Secular Student Alliance: If the FFRF is my favorite atheist group, the SSA is a strong second. They’ve been wildly successful at establishing atheist student groups in colleges and even high schools all across the country, providing a vital source of support and community for young nonbelievers in the Bible Belt and building critical infrastructure for the next generation of secular leaders. And when bigoted school administrators try to stop students from organizing, the SSA has their back.
  • National Network of Abortion Funds: I give money regularly to Planned Parenthood, but with right-wing state legislatures at a fever pitch of malice and hostility toward women’s choice, I’ve been finding it more and more important to go right to the root of the problem. No woman who wants an abortion should be prevented from obtaining one because she’s unable to afford it, and NNAF helps poor women all across the country surmount that economic obstacle.

These are some of my favorites, but I’m always looking to find new opportunities to do good. So, what are your favorite charities and nonprofits? What do they do and why do you find them worthy of your support?

Image: Fundamentalists’ worst nightmare: children in school. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Greenriver

    This is an awesome secular charity – it’s particularly meaningful since their events happen on Sundays. http://www.sundayfriends.org/index.html

  • David Simon

    I’m a member of GWWC, which means I signed a pledge to give a percentage of my income to effective charity. It’s been a great help to me; having a written promise makes it easier for me to avoid procrastinating.

    For the last couple years I’ve been donating to the Against Malaria Foundation, though it seems at the moment they’re actually having trouble buying and sending out enough bednets to keep up with the rate of cash donations coming in! So for now, possibly only until AMF kicks up their distribution rate, I’m switching to GiveDirectly.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

    I second these recommendations strongly. I also recommend Give Well as a source of charity recommendations (they’re one of the people that’s strongly promoted AMF and they currently recommend GiveDirectly along with a couple others.)

  • R Vogel

    Hope it’s OK to go local. Women Against Abuse, womenagainstabuse.org, a Philadelphia area charity providing a spectrum of services to those escaping domestic violence, from a 24-hr DA hotline, to emergency shelters, transitional housing and support and legal services. A vital service for some of the most vulnerable.

  • Plutosdad

    I work at http://FeedingAmerica.org, and really like them, and they have good ratings from the charity rating organizations. People can donate there or through their site you can also find local charities that help feed people in your area (you can find Foodbanks in our network, each of which covers a number of counties. Then on those Foodbank sites you can find local agencies and food pantries). It has been eye opening working here and seeing how much of a problem hunger is even in the middle class in America. Needless to say it’s my favorite charity :)

    But if you do choose to donate to a hunger related charity, not many people know it’s often better to give dollars than cans of food. Most charities, especially the larger ones, can turn one dollar into 8 meals, and ensure they are buying food that is needed.

  • http://mountincompetence.wordpress.com/ Nolan

    I agree with Chris and David. AMF and GiveDirectly seem to be good bets based on the support from GiveWell and GWWC.

  • Tova Rischi

    I’m young and dumb enough that I don’t have a whole lot to give, and when I do I’m normally boring and go with MSF, but something I was loosely involved with through other hobbies was the Prevent Cancer Foundation ( http://preventcancer.org/ ). I’m not sure I’d recommend them over, say, MSF or UNICEF but I’ve generally heard good things about them, from personal research and friends, although charatynavigator gives them something like a 50/70 rating… (4 stars accountability/transparency-wise, 2 stars financially).

    What they do mostly is fund peer-reviewed research into understanding different varieties of cancers. Second to that they put their money into raising awareness, educating the public on research-supported ways of reducing risk. Apparently they were also instumental in establishing a “framework for health care professionals to
    collaborate on colorectal cancer screening and prevention which was
    evidently missing beforehand, and they have had extensive influence politically particularly in their efforts to pass colorectal cancer screening legislation.” So take that as you may.

    In January video games raised over a million dollars for em. That is SpeedDemosArchive and SpeedRunsLive (hobby/entertainment sites revolving around beating games as fast as possible, exploiting glitches if necessary) hosted “AwesomeGamesDoneQuick”. Which is my only real connection…

  • UWIR

    “Large, established groups like the ACLU, Doctors Without Borders, and the Sierra Club are on my list every year, but there are also some smaller nonprofits that I donate to regularly.”

    So, you reject the argument tat it is more rational to give all of your charity money to one charity?

    “I give money regularly to Planned Parenthood, but with right-wing state legislatures at a fever pitch of malice and hostility toward women’s choice, I’ve been finding it more and more important to go right to the root of the problem.”

    I’m rather mystified as to what that is supposed to mean.