Foundation Beyond Belief Launched!

How much money do you give away?

I am a due-paying member of several atheist (or atheist-friendly) groups. And in the case of a couple that mean a lot to me (the Secular Student Alliance and the Secular Coalition for America), I give more than that.

But I’ll admit I don’t give very much to other causes — important causes — like poverty, the environment, child welfare, animal rights, etc… Maybe because I think the issues are too big for any of my donations to matter.

One thing I’ve felt churches do amazingly well is providing a means for people to give money to deal with the “Big Issues.” Yes, you give (or are guilt-tripped into giving) your tithes to pay staff and build the church and send people on mission trips… but besides that, Christians seem to feel that donating their money is a natural thing to do. Giving is a habit for them. It doesn’t matter what their personal finances are like — they always seem to give away a certain percentage of their income. Not only that, they lead the way when it comes to doing good works. One recent example: putting shoes on the feet of children who don’t have any.

Why aren’t atheists doing things like that? Why aren’t we giving away as much of our money as Christians do? Bill Gates and Warren Buffett-types notwithstanding, can’t we do better at this on the whole?

Dale McGowan, the author of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, has a theory about this:

It’s not that atheists don’t want to give money to these (non-atheism-related) causes or that we’re unable to. It’s that we don’t have an effective means for giving. There’s no systemized way of helping all these causes we Humanists care so much about.

Imagine if we had an easy and regular way to donate money to all these causes. Imagine if we had a way to encourage generosity that is specifically not based in religion.

A solution is coming.

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I’m thrilled to help my friend Dale launch Foundation Beyond Belief. This is his brainchild and I’m proud to be supporting it as a board member.

Foundation Beyond Belief is a new charitable and educational foundation created (1) to focus, encourage and demonstrate humanistic generosity, and (2) to support a nationwide nonreligious parent education program.

The Foundation will highlight one carefully-selected charity per quarter in each of ten categories — health, hunger/poverty, environment, peace/nonviolence, child welfare, education, human rights/free expression, animal welfare, a featured small charity, and nonreligious parent education. Members can join the Foundation by signing up for a monthly automatic donation in the amount of their choice, then set up personal profiles to indicate how they would like their contribution distributed among the ten categories.

Our featured charities will not be limited to explicitly humanist organizations but to those that fulfill of the central value of humanism — caring for each other, for this life and this world. Carefully selected for impact and efficiency, they may be founded on any worldview so long as they do not engage in proselytizing. At the end of each quarter, 100 percent of the donations will be forwarded to the featured organizations and a new slate of featured charities selected.

And since Foundation Beyond Belief will be a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, all donations made will be tax-deductible.

I’m only mentioning the organization now. In October, a basic website will be launched; In January, the full website.

What can you do until then?

Join the FBB Facebook Cause group. If you’re not on Facebook, just pass along your email address here so we can keep you updated.

And if you can’t wait to donate (and don’t care about the tax-deductions), you can send a donation of any amount via PayPal.

More information is at Dale’s website.

  • http://doubtingeventhomas.blogspot.com/ Doubting Foo

    Great! Now I know who my Darwin Donation will go to next year.

  • llewelly

    People often write about how charitable contributions (including volunteerism) are desirable, or how they are a way to feel like part of a community. But charitable contributions are also a result of feeling like one is part of a community.
    Many religious people do things (both intentionally and non-intentionally) that make non-believers feel unwanted. This shunning effect works both ways. Even if we do not consciously realize it, I strongly suspect many non-believers do not donate (or donate less) precisely because we feel our help is not wanted.

  • Sarah

    Is there anything we can do to help get things off the ground? in my case, I have some marketing and research experience, and have served on a nonprofit board…

  • SarahH

    How awesome! Thanks, Hemant, for being a part of this. If we have jobs in our household by the time it launches (hopefully!) I’m going to sign up for the monthly automatic donation as soon as it goes up.

    Additionally: @llewelly: I’m going to quote you on the FA forums, because I think you raise a valid and interesting point that I’ve never heard before regarding non-believers and charity.

  • JD

    I’m sorry to go off topic, but did anyone else get the DIANETICS.ORG banner ad on the top of the page today?

  • Tom

    Cool.

    Notice how this is a humanistic group. Under no stretch of the definition does atheist connote philanthropy or altruism.

    Atheists not only include academic and rationally thinking types, but people like Leveyan satanists who frown upon altruism

  • Larry Huffman

    Tom said:

    Atheists not only include academic and rationally thinking types, but people like Leveyan satanists who frown upon altruism

    Absolutely untrue. Satanists, of all kinds, are not athiests. If they believe in the satan of the bible, they then must also believe in (just not worship) the god of the bible. If they believe Satan to be any other kind of evil force to be worshipped or appeased or even noted as a directing factor, they fall into their own form of deism. Not atheists, however.

    Satanists just do not fit into what you are trying to say. However…Athiests do include many who believe in superstition and pseudoscience…and all forms of irrationality. So, your root point is correct…but the satanist example is wrong.

  • Karma Jingpa

    I’d love to partake in this thing once it goes up….however, I’m based in Canada – will this be an international endeavour?

  • Twewi

    LaVeyan Satanists just uses Satan as a sort of symbol; they don’t actually believe in his existence.

  • http://www.cvaas.org R.C. Moore

    This is a canard I am rapidly growing weary of.

    Atheism is what makes this world function, through science, and a science education is an extremely expensive endeavor, with, on average, little financial reward. Every scientific advance begins with the acknowledgment that no God is going to solve the problem. And this is the atheists “systematized way” — the only one ever shown to work.

    The religious community, for all its giving, is donating only the what can be pried out of its tax hating hands to fund science and technology research — the only thing that is going to matter in the long run.

    I pay my taxes without a 10% deduction for tithing, I shell out several hundred thousand dollars so my children can obtain advance science degrees, I vote to raise my taxes to fund even more, and I am labeled a “non-giver”.

    In the Middle Ages, all contributions went the Church and their appointed King. Similar systems exists around the world today. Everyone is a disaster of human suffering, compared to the secular countries.

    If it makes you feel good to donate to a particular charity, that is fine. But the general statement that atheists do not contribute based on a false premise.

  • http://www.diggingthroughthedirt.blogspot.com Tracy H.

    Hemant, just by not eating animal flesh, you’re doing a lot of good for animals.

  • http://www.childrenintherapy.org Linda Rosa

    I hope this new foundation will consider it a priority to help end corporal punishment (CP) in schools.

    CP is a practice that has only religious rationalizations. Many countries have banned this physical assault from homes as well as schools. Research show that CP is correlated with many bad outcomes and is opposed by the American Academy of Pediatricians. Adding insult to injury, Black children are some ten times more likely to be beaten at school than other children.

  • Brian

    I have often wondered how generous religious people would appear if their donations to religious organizations were eliminated, or reduced to the extent that the religious organizations use the funds for religious activities. That’s a very difficult bit of data to obtain.

    Besides the characteristic noted by others, that atheism in and of itself is not a set of principles and thus does not direct people to be charitable (or to do anything else), it is likely the case that atheists as a group are more liberal than theists as a group, and liberals tend to look to the government to do certain things that are expected by theists to be done through charitable (particularly religious) organizations. I am a liberal, I pay my taxes with that expectation, and I am less inclined to fund organizations that are doing what I think the government is supposed to do.

    I remember answering a phone survey asking me about my faith. I said I was an atheist, although I was somewhat likely to say “Jewish” in response to such questions at the time. Many of the questions asked me if my faith directed me to do various things. Uh, no, my faith doesn’t direct me to do anything. I bet my responses contributed to a conclusion in the survey about what terribly selfish people atheists are.

    There is a conflation of faith per se with the social and community structure built up around that faith. Atheism is more related to belief in god than to the act of worship or the participation in the community of the church.

  • Anne

    That’s great to hear. I’ve been wishing for something like this for a long time. I’d really like to see atheists/humanists do something like Habitat for Humanity.

    In addition to supporting atheist and humanist groups, my charitable dollars go to Planned Parenthood, Room to Read, UNICEF, and CARE. These seem like good secular groups to support.

  • K

    I give no money away. Ever. I worked hard for it and my family is more important than strangers.
    Besides, I grew up poor. No one ever gave me anything. I told myself all the time that once I was grown and had a choice, I’d never let myself live in squalor, filth, or hunger again.
    Giving does not equal generosity to me. It means foolishness and being a patsy. People shouldn’t learn to demand hand-outs, they should learn to do for themselves.

  • Charon

    Brian: Exactly my thought on reading this, but I have heard data. I believe it was in Society Without God that he quotes a study saying that religious people do not give more money than secular people when explicitly religious contributions are excluded (e.g., building a new church would be excluded, running a food bank at your church would not).

    So, Hemant, while this new foundation might be great, the premise is bullshit.

  • http://www.cvaas.org R.C. Moore

    Reading Dale McGowan’s blog on this, I am concerned about this organization on several fronts:

    On the educational side, the Foundation will build the next stage in nonreligious parent education—a nationwide training program for parenting seminar leaders. We plan to have 30-40 people teaching nonreligious parenting seminars in cities across the country within a year.

    WTF? Suddenly this is a promotion of McGowan’s parenting ideas?

    The centerpiece of the Foundation will be a lively online community. Active members can join a social network and discussion forums centered on the ten categories of giving, upload videos, recruit new members, advocate for causes and help us choose the new beneficiaries each quarter. We’ll also create and host a multi-author blog of world-class contributors focused on the cause areas, as well as humanism, philanthropy, and the intersection of the two.

    What does any of this have to do with raising and administering funds for charities? And what makes it any better that just giving all your money to one cause you have investigated and like?

    Carefully selected for impact and efficiency, the beneficiaries may be founded on any worldview so long as they do not engage in proselytizing. At the end of each quarter, 100 percent of the donations will be forwarded and a new slate of beneficiaries selected.

    If 100% goes to the charities, who pays for all the investigation, and administration of the funds?

    Ok, ok, I am foremost a skeptic, and I don’t like solving problems that don’t exist when real problems do. Take this as a hint the idea needs a better PR person.

  • Janice

    As a former PR person, and an atheist parent, I’m not confident that the idea of a parenting seminar will appeal to many nonbelieving parents. It seems to go against the grain of the concept of “freethought.”

    I did like the idea of coordinated charitable giving before I learned that it was also being used to create this parenting seminar speaker panel.

    Organizing atheists to do anything is already a hard sell. Adding an entirely separate endeavor to the mix isn’t going to broaden its appeal.

  • http://www.parentingbeyondbelief.com Dale McGowan

    @R.C. Valid questions:

    Suddenly this is a promotion of McGowan’s parenting ideas?

    No more than any other featured beneficiary. Members choose how their donation is distributed among ten beneficiaries, including the foundation itself with its parent program. A member can choose whether or not to send a percentage to that program. This is a common nonprofit model.

    What does any of this have to do with raising and administering funds for charities?

    Many early commenters have specifically mentioned the active engagement and discussion beyond mere giving as one of the particular strengths of the idea.

    And what makes it any better that just giving all your money to one cause you have investigated and like?

    Part of the intention is to demonstrate collective giving as an expression of worldview, something the nonreligious have not had as readily up to this point.

    If 100% goes to the charities, who pays for all the investigation, and administration of the funds?

    Grants and designation donations to the Foundation itself — similar to programs like Causecast.

    @Janice:

    I’m not confident that the idea of a parenting seminar will appeal to many nonbelieving parents. It seems to go against the grain of the concept of “freethought.”

    This seminar program has already been in operation for 16 months, traveling to 19 cities across the U.S. We are moving to this training structure precisely because it has been so successful.

  • http://www.parentingbeyondbelief.com Dale McGowan

    @Brian and Charon:

    I have often wondered how generous religious people would appear if their donations to religious organizations were eliminated, or reduced to the extent that the religious organizations use the funds for religious activities. That’s a very difficult bit of data to obtain.

    It’s actually not difficult to obtain at all, and you are right: 74-78% of money donated by religious people goes to the care and feeding of religious institutions. That doesn’t change the fact that religious people give more — it simply shows that their generosity is largely wasted. We can do better. That’s one reason the 100% forwarded donation is important.

    These questions and comments are welcome at the Foundation’s Facebook Causes page. Join the discussion and help us get this thing right.

  • Ana

    When I was living in the U.S. I used to donate to Oxfam America, because they never talked about religion in their letters and they didn’t use “guilt tactics” to get you to donate some money. More important is that I believe ending poverty supersedes everything else, because poverty makes it hard to fight against ignorance and develop critical thinkers. You cannot teach someone with an empty stomach.

  • http://www.secularcenterusa.org Noelle

    The SECULAR Center is very similar to Foundation Beyond Belief and has been in operation for almost a year. We organize volunteer activities for people free of supernatural beliefs and hope that it will change the negative view of atheists in our community. Check the website out at http://www.secularcenterusa.org to view our past activities or to sign up for our newsletter.


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