A Change for Foundation Beyond Belief

Last month, the board of directors of the Foundation Beyond Belief (including me) met in Chicago to discuss the future of the organization, both immediate and long-term.

One of the major issues we talked about was the number of charities we supported each quarter (10, including FBB) and how much money we were donating to them:

We’ve heard that it’s often hard for members to get familiar with our slate of ten charities each quarter before a new quarter is upon us. It’s also been hard for us to effectively tell the stories of so many great organizations in a three-month span. That makes deep engagement a real challenge.

We’ve also heard a desire to have a greater financial impact on each charity. Though we’ve increased our average grants from $1,200 to $3,300 since launch, we’d like to make an even bigger difference in the work of our beneficiaries.

So how do we fix those problems?

This is what we came up with:

Instead of 10 categories, we should merge certain ones together, condensing them into a total of 5. That allows for a better opportunity for members to get to know them. It also means we can double our impact financially.

Here’s the new breakdown starting next quarter:

Beginning Jan 1, 2012, our charitable giving program will feature five categories:

  • THE NATURAL WORLDorganizations working to protect and preserve the environment, ecosystems, and the diversity of life on Earth;
  • POVERTY and HEALTHorganizations improving the conditions of human life for those living on the margins;
  • EDUCATIONorganizations dedicated to improving access for all to the best of human knowledge;
  • HUMAN RIGHTSorganizations working for a more equitable and just world;
  • CHALLENGE THE GAPnon-proselytizing, progressive religious charities working for the common good.

We hope the new category change makes members happy. It’s not too late to join, donate, or give gift memberships! We’ve already raised over $217,000 for charity with your help — and now, those contributions will make an even stronger impact. As always, if you think some categories (and charities) are more deserving than others, you have the freedom to disperse your donations as you see fit.

I think the roster of charities we’re about to announce will excite a lot of people… so sign up now!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Trace

    Challenge the gap. Why?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Because (shocking, I know) there are some religious groups out there that do purely secular work and some atheists want to support the things they’re doing.

      And if you don’t want to support it, you’re welcome to spread your donation among the other groups instead. (That’s what I do.)

      • Trace

        Thanks Hemant.

        I personally have no problem supporting religious charities, “progressive” or otherwise.

        What surprised me was to see an increase in prominence (or at least visibility) of the interfaith collaboration category after this recategorization.

        But perhaps that is not the case, and in any instance, I guess it all goes to a good cause in the end so…. keep up the good work  :)  

      • Mike Williams

        Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that a foundation that is ‘beyond belief’ is supporting charities run by believers?  I’m sure there are wonderful religious charities that do completely secular work, but I doubt there are any that are doing work that cannot also being done by completely secular charities.

        Making a point to support religious charities seems unnecessary and smacks of misguided accommodationism.

        I fail to see how this move will be beneficial.  The charity work could be accomplished by secular groups.  No one is going to alter their view of atheists because we’re working with a religious charity; if they were inclined to do so, simply seeing us doing charity work would likely sway them just as much.  It gives fodder to the religious nuts who claim that all recognize god exists even if we don’t want to admit it.

        Please sell me on why this is a good idea.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

          Not at all. One of the things FBB wants to show is that we support good, secular work done by anyone. If a religious group does good work without proselytizing, great. If there’s a specific organization we’ve chosen that you think was undeserving, let me know.

          I don’t see how it’s accommodation. We don’t accept their religious beliefs. We can criticize them. But we’re more interested in their actions. And since every member has the option of supporting them or not, we’re leaving it up to them. For what it’s worth, we’ve surveyed our membership about this and they are overwhelmingly supportive of this option.
          Again, let me know your specific problems with the groups we’ve chosen and I’d be happy to rebut them :)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

          Not at all. One of the things FBB wants to show is that we support good, secular work done by anyone. If a religious group does good work without proselytizing, great. If there’s a specific organization we’ve chosen that you think was undeserving, let me know.

          I don’t see how it’s accommodation. We don’t accept their religious beliefs. We can criticize them. But we’re more interested in their actions. And since every member has the option of supporting them or not, we’re leaving it up to them. For what it’s worth, we’ve surveyed our membership about this and they are overwhelmingly supportive of this option.
          Again, let me know your specific problems with the groups we’ve chosen and I’d be happy to rebut them :)

        • Rieux

          I fail to see how this move will be beneficial.

          Your arguments are entirely sound, but your verb tense isn’t.

          FBB has been overtly funding religious organizations for many months (more than a year, I think) now. Several of us have been making the same points that you are ever since the Foundation leadership first announced that it would be giving atheist dollars to various religious charities. The FBB leadership is clearly dead-set on its current course, which is sad.

          I know there are a large number of atheists who would like to donate money to a deserving atheist charity; FBB’s insistence on tainting itself, and making a mockery of its own title, by bankrolling religion prevents us from giving our charitable donations to FBB.

          Oh, well—more money for the atheist Kiva lending team, I guess. 

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

            We’ve indeed been open about our intentions. We came to the conclusion that if certain atheists were unhappy with FBB giving members the *option* of giving money to a religious group doing purely secular work, those were atheists we could do without. If the atheists who wanted to complain about Challenge the Gap channeled their frustration and donations to another good group, I’d be thrilled. Unfortunately, many of them just like to complain and do nothing.

            By the way, I give to Kiva, too. Great group :)

            • Rieux

              Yes, FBB has been entirely open about this. But I wish you (plural) would cut it out with the “giving members the *option*” nonsense. Nonbelievers have always had the “option” of giving money to religious organizations; ergo FBB hasn’t “given” its members (or anyone else) any such thing.

              I would like the option to donate to a charitable organization that is fundamentally separate from religion. It’s continually discouraging that even a “Foundation Beyond Belief” can’t provide that.

              [I]f certain atheists were unhappy with FBB giving members the *option* of giving money to a religious group doing purely secular work, those were atheists we could do without.

              Well, that self-righteousness is costing FBB several hundred dollars a year from me, and presumably one or two orders of magnitude more from other atheists like me who simply desire a secular FBB.

              And cui bono—who benefits? Religion does. Which makes your priorities more than a little bizarre.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

                Yeah, we lose some money from you, but get more from members who think we have a lot more to gain by working together with theists toward common goals. It’s an easy decision.

        • Rieux

          I fail to see how this move will be beneficial.

          Your arguments are entirely sound, but your verb tense isn’t.

          FBB has been overtly funding religious organizations for many months (more than a year, I think) now. Several of us have been making the same points that you are ever since the Foundation leadership first announced that it would be giving atheist dollars to various religious charities. The FBB leadership is clearly dead-set on its current course, which is sad.

          I know there are a large number of atheists who would like to donate money to a deserving atheist charity; FBB’s insistence on tainting itself, and making a mockery of its own title, by bankrolling religion prevents us from giving our charitable donations to FBB.

          Oh, well—more money for the atheist Kiva lending team, I guess. 

      • Rieux

        Because (shocking, I know) there are some religious groups out there that do purely secular work and some atheists want to support the things they’re doing.

        A desire that no atheist needs, or ever has needed, a Foundation Beyond Belief in order to satisfy. We have always been capable of donating money to religious organizations, which makes the continuing reliance on that empty justification most puzzling.

        And if you don’t want to support it, you’re welcome to spread your donation among the other groups instead.

        Unfortunately, many of us cannot in good conscience support charities that bankroll religion—charities like FBB.

        (It’s not entirely clear from this post, but it appears very possible that the development you’re announcing here will result in more FBB money going to fund religion. Which is ugly.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      It gets debated pretty heatedly… but since the Foundation lets you specify how your donation is to be used so you can chose not to send any to that group.

      That’s what I’d do.

      • Trace

        True.

  • Anonymous

    Is there a list of what non proselytizing, progressive religious groups are included?

  • Wick

    Hemant, a while back, a reader asked if one could donate to FBB via The United Way’s automatic workplace deductions.  You said you’d get back to her, but I never saw an answer.

    I currently don’t donate to any charity at work through UW (I have a nagging feeling that some portion of the donated money is held back for UW’s ‘administrative’ costs), but if FBB is a possibility, I’d strongly consider it.

    Any news on this?  I can’t get straight answers at from the overlords at my job.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Wick — As far as I could tell, the United Way thing worked by specifying a 501(c)(3), which FBB is… so I think you just have to send them a check directed at us and your employer would match it. I don’t think there was anything we had to do on our end. If there is, please let me know!

      • Wick

        Unfortunately there’s no matching – I work in government.  I’ll ask further questions the next time the form comes around, but to be honest, my employer has an axe to grind: they compete with different departments for the highest number of donors.  So they’ll tell me whatever they think I want to hear to get me to contribute something to UW.  :(

        Thanks for the reply.

  • Anonymous

    Another option could have been rotating the categories, so different ones came up in each cycle, though I suppose this is simpler. It’s unfortunate that Health and Poverty are in one single category, since they are each such huge problems in their own right, but they are tightly wound up with one another, so I suppose it makes sense.

    I’m guessing people are still going to grumble about Challege The Gap, because having a secular organization give it’s members the option to give money to a religious group doing secular work if they want to apparently means you’re a sell-out, but some people will never be happy, I suppose.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      We considered rotating the categories, but that led to other complications. Combining categories was the better option for us

  • Elizabeth

    I have a simple problem with contributing to FBB – which I have been – the website is really hard to use. My donation subscription (if you want to call it that) expired but there is no way to just say “keep on going”…the mechanics of donating are really weird and strange…maybe you guys could work on that for the new year too!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I’ll let our web people know!

  • Sulris Campbell

    awwwwwww

    not to be a hater but that was one of my favorite things about FBB is that it spread my money between 10 different charites.  i felt like it was the one stop shop for all my charity needs.  and i loved that fact that if i didnt like one of the charities i could easily re-distribute.    i also loved the fact that I could trust someone else to do the research to make sure the charities were worthwhile, so that i could save the time.   I also really like how there is a subscription option as well as a lump sum option, i perfer the constant donation machanism so that i can match it to my WoW account.  it gives me the feeling of “one for you one for me”

    for all those reasons i will still donate via FBB but i just wanted you to know that i prefered splittibng my money over the 10 charities instead of only the 5.  but i can imagine how that increases your reasearch costs so i understand the change.  still i hope it goes back to 10 someday.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I understand the feeling. On the upside, though, your donations will have a greater impact and I think that might offset the feeling of having fewer charities to choose from!

  • Sulris Campbell

    awwwwwww

    not to be a hater but that was one of my favorite things about FBB is that it spread my money between 10 different charites.  i felt like it was the one stop shop for all my charity needs.  and i loved that fact that if i didnt like one of the charities i could easily re-distribute.    i also loved the fact that I could trust someone else to do the research to make sure the charities were worthwhile, so that i could save the time.   I also really like how there is a subscription option as well as a lump sum option, i perfer the constant donation machanism so that i can match it to my WoW account.  it gives me the feeling of “one for you one for me”

    for all those reasons i will still donate via FBB but i just wanted you to know that i prefered splittibng my money over the 10 charities instead of only the 5.  but i can imagine how that increases your reasearch costs so i understand the change.  still i hope it goes back to 10 someday.


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