Why Give Wisely.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Why do we give?
Why partner with charitable nonprofit organizations and projects?
There are many reasons to be sure. Especially as a humanist. If we really care about the Big-Picture Betterment of a Thriving Humanity, then it’s important that we stand up and put our money where our proverbial mouths are.
Almost all of us can do something more today.
What follows below is a list of 19 charities. Each one is doing work of incredible value around the world. And every group on this list is completely secular.
The Wisdom of Watchdog Tools.
One of the most difficult parts of giving wisely comes in determining how much of your donation is actually used to fund the specific project(s) a particular charity claims to exist for. Far too often, the bulk of our support is spent on overhead and fundraising/marketing costs.
I’ve even seen cases where 65% of the donations that came in were used on marketing to solicit more donations. Sometimes as little as 10 or 15% of your contribution are actually spent on what tugged your little heart to begin with.
Thankfully, we have a few charity watchdogs to help us filter out the less productive groups from our list. BBB Wise Giving Alliance at Give.org is the King of the Watchdogs. Which, com’on, we really shouldn’t be surprised since the “BBB” in its name reminds us of its place under the Better Business Bureau umbrella.
By visiting Give.org and other watchdog sites like Charity Navigator and Charity Watch you can search your favorite local or global charities to see how well they hold together under magnifying glass.
BBB’s Give.org holds up each of these nonprofits and examines them against twenty distinct qualifiers, including details related to board oversight, board compensation, conflict of interest, audit reports, budget planning, truthful materials, donor privacy, and constituent complaints.
To receive the BBB Wise Giving seal of accreditation, charities must spend a minimum of 65% of all donations on charitable missions, spend a maximum of 35% on fundraising, and pass all twenty accreditation standards.
And yes, sometimes even well known and socially beloved groups FAIL MISERABLY when put to the BBB Give.org test. Most likely you know—and love!—Doctors Without Borders. Well get ready for a surprise…
Doctors Without Borders was denied for BBB accreditation, having failed 6 of the 20 standards! Details that DWB provided were unclear on two measurements and flatly below base-level on the other four. The fact that 23% of its 13 board members receive compensation—including the board chair—is a big red flag that your contributions may be at risk of abuse. Doctors Without Borders has even failed to back up the claims they put on their materials, leading to a questionable rating for the Truthful Materials standard. Are you shocked? We’d never have any idea were it not for the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
Doctors Without Borders appears on a lot of online Best Charities lists, but it shouldn’t be. You won’t find it on this one.
But Charity Watch (otherwise known as the American Institute of Philanthropy) is probably my favorite watchdog site. Here they give 501(c)(3)s a letter grade, tell you exactly how much of every hundred dollars goes back into fundraising, and what percentage of your donation actually makes it past the overhead to fund your project. That said, it’s easy to find groups that Charity Watch just hasn’t yet been able to examine yet.
This reminds us that these watchdogs are also charities that rely on our donations to get their missions accomplished. It’s also why Charity Watch IS on our list.
So as you’ll see below, when possible I’ve included information from both Give.org and Charity Watch. Some of the sites I’ve listed still don’t appear on either website. Various factors can be at play here, but usually it’s simply due to how hard it is for the watchdogs to keep up with how many new and rising nonprofits there are. That said, Give.com does have a feature you can use to request a review of your favorite charity. But perhaps most effective would be to put pressure on the nonprofits themselves to seek out accreditation, which they can initiate with each of the patrol groups.
19 Charities for Smarter Giving.
1. The Rotary Foundation (BBB Accredited / A+ rating / $92 of every $100 funds projects)
The Rotary Club. How many time have I heard of them and honestly never knew what they did. Until now. The Rotary Foundation has led the way in wiping out 99.9% of global polio cases, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation now matching an additional $2 for every $1 Rotary commits to polio eradication. Other projects include clean water production and support, peacemaker training, and local economies strengthening.
2. Goodwill Industries International (BBB / A / $89)
Goodwill isn’t your average thrift store chain. Not only does it help a lot of people out by offering second-hand products on the cheap, Goodwill’s mission features a social enterprising approach that also includes job training, career placement services, and other community-based empowerment services. And unlike the Salvation Army—a thrift store chain that’s run by a Christian church denomination with the same name—Goodwill is a completely secular nonprofit that is vocally supportive of the LGBTQ community.
3. American Civil Liberties Union (BBB / A / $86)
The ACLU seeks to use its powerful voice to influence public policy while defending the civil rights of Americans in the courts and empowering local communities throughout the United States.
Comprising the largest membership of non-theists in the world, this educational charity seeks to promote and defend issues of separation of church and state throughout the United States. Armed with a team of lawyers, FFRF regularly makes headlines on local and national cases defending Americans’ freedom of (and from) religion in court of law.
5. UNICEF (BBB / A / $87)
Otherwise known as the United Nations Children’s Fund (originally United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), UNICEF is a member of the UN Development Group and provides humanitarian and developmental assistance focused on children in nearly 200 developing countries and territories around the world. Current projects include such causes as ending child marriage, fighting sexual exploitation, and meeting needs in the Syrian refugee crisis.
6. Plan International (BBB)
Active in 71 countries, Plan International is a humanitarian organization dedicated exclusively to the protection of all children with a particular focus on gender equality for girls. Their current campaign calls for a “revolutionary Girls’ Rights Platform.”
7. Amnesty International (BBB)
With an aggressive platform to end human rights abuses and defend those who have been violated, it’s difficult to imagine a more humanist cause. From the death penalty to freedom of speech, Amnesty will rise at any indication of injustice. Great blog too!
8. Union of Concerned Scientists (BBB / A- / $78)
“Science for a healthy planet and safer world” is their tagline and mission. UCS is an American advocacy group keeping a close eye on the Trump administration. Humanist concern extends to the longterm wellbeing of our ecosystem, and this is a great group to help world leaders keep the big picture in mind.
9. The Conservation Fund (A+ / $97)
An environmental advocacy group, Conservation Fund does much more than write letters. “Working with public, private, and nonprofit partners,” this top-rated group “protects America’s legacy of land & water resources through land acquisition, sustainable community & economic development, and leadership training, emphasizing the integration of economic & environmental goals.” According to Charity Watch, with $97 of every $100 donation going directly to its mission, The Conservative Fund gives you more bang for your buck than any other group on this list!
If you want to help defend the inclusion of evolution and climate change in public school science education, then this is a group you want to support. Also let them know it’s important to you that they respond to BBB’s request for review!
11. PetSmart Charities (BBB / A+ / $93)
If you’d like to find a way for all pets to find a loving home, then this is your charity. PetSmart works to connect such programs and thought leaders to eliminate pet homelessness.
12. Charity: Water (BBB / A / $80)
1 in 10 people lack access to clean water. And Charity: Water believes that this is an absolute humanitarian crisis. Yet they also believe the crisis can be resolved within our lifetimes if we simply work together. Providing clean water and sanitation is accomplished through local communities. In just two years, they’ve raised over $200 million. Check them out.
13. Engineers Without Borders (BBB)
Forget everything that was said in the intro about the group with a similar name. Engineers Without Borders passed all twenty of BBB Give.org’s standards. EWB is a network of local engineers and students all committed to engineering-driven development projects in disadvantaged communities around the world.
14. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (BBB / A- / $76) and Planned Parenthood Global (BBB / A- / $87)
Despite the claims of constant smear and fear campaigns designed to obliterate its funding, Planned Parenthood is a pillar organization playing a necessary and invaluable role in the US and in 12 other countries around the globe. In addition to pregnancy control, Planned Parenthood’s primary work provides critical reproductive health services and sexual education.
15. GLAAD (-)
This advocacy group seeks to use media to shape the narrative used to portray LGBTQ individuals, thereby shaping culture and increasing social acceptance. Previously known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, GLAAD dropped its then-primary name in an effort to more accurately reflect its inclusion of bisexual and transgender work. This group has done incredibly powerful things, but it is under constant attack and continues in need of humanist support.
16. Cancer Research Institute (BBB / A / $87)
Offering grants in collaboration with cancer research partners, CRI’s current focus is on development of immunotherapy-based treatments. There are a lot of competing cancer research charities (Which is great! We need all the research we can acquire!), but Charity Watch ranks this one ABOVE ALL OTHERS.
17. American Humanist Association (BBB)
The largest group of secular humanists in the nation, AHA is an educational 501(c)(3) that promotes, defends, and coordinates to advance the concerns and convictions of the humanist community in the United States. This includes initiatives such as those centering on relief work, social justice, and legal defense. Further, AHA’s The Humanist Society credentials and coordinates a network of national humanist celebrants, legally licensed in all 50 states to officiate weddings, funerals, and other religious/secular community rituals.
18. Foundation Beyond Belief (-)
With the tagline mission, “helping humanists transform their values into compassionate action,” Foundation Beyond Belief seeks to connect non-theists with a regular flow of relief work and other charitable opportunities to both give financially and volunteer in community. This exciting new nonprofit founded by Dale McGowan in 2010 is just getting warmed up, but it’s already gaining a lot of attention in the secular community and is sure to make the most tangible kind of local impact.
19. Charity Watch (-)
And yes, if we want Charity Watch to keep churning out new and dependable reviews, then I suppose they’d be a good 501(c)(3) to support as well!
Now Here’s the Part Where You Actually Challenge Yourself to Give Better.
Sure, you could just click to share this on Facebook. It’s the perfect kind of link for making you look like the a responsible, generous, self-aware, and socially active person. And in all honesty, I suppose it really would have the subsequent effect of encouraging others to start giving better.
But even more important than anything you’d post on social media is this:
So Here’s My Ask.
It’s simple. Three steps, in the form of questions.
1. What’s Your Current Giving?
Both WHAT and WHERE. How much and who you’re giving it to.
You might not be giving anyone anything right now. That’s okay. The idea isn’t to beat yourself up. It’s to take a quick 5 second self-assessment. Just raw probably-know-it-off-the-top-of-your-head data.
2. How Can You Give More Wisely?
Emphasis on wisely here. In other words, whatever you’re giving to, how do they rank? ARE they ranked? Are they BBB accredited at Give.org? If not, why? Do they show up at Charity Watch? What’s their grade? How much of your donation is lost in overhead and marketing?
And are there any organizations that are doing a better job carrying out what you want them to do with your money? Need some ideas? More ideas than the 19 I listed above? Okay, then check out Charity Watch’s list of a few hundred Top-Rated Charities, a mix of secular and religious charities from across the whole spectrum.
But beyond looking at ratings, take some time to really think about what you’re passionate about and about what kind of charities are truly making the biggest difference in the world around you.
I’d recommend maintaining (or striving to set up) a diverse portfolio of charitable projects. That way you can throw some fun ones in as well. Then you can enjoy supporting your local art center while also keeping some of our world’s most important groups like UNICEF and Conservation Fund well monied.
3. Can You Give More Money?
Yep. I just came right out and said it. But listen, no one’s beating you over the head with anything. This is a private conversation between you and a screen—and believe me, this screen has likely witnessed online activity that’s a bit more personal than this.
So here’s what I’m gonna ask of you.
Brace yourself if you want. But I don’t think it’ll be too painful. Not for humanists anyway. You all are cultural warriors.
Here it is. I’m asking you to increase your current giving by 10%. So if you’re donations total $25 a month, I’m asking you to bump it to a total of 27.50. Or if you’re current charitable giving is $250 a month, bump it to $275. That’s it. Easy.
And for those not giving anything right now, start at just $5 per month. If that amount seems so small it’s silly and impotent, I’ll tell you right now I’ve volunteered for nonprofits that were almost entirely fueled by a regular stream of $5 and $10 contributions.
And remember Obama’s 2008 campaign? It was groundbreaking in the bitesized nature of hundreds of thousands of donations.
So start at $5, be confident, and do your part to help a global humanity.
Annnnd… That’s It!
Seriously, there’s a lot of great work going on in the world around us. Let’s partner together to get some amazing stuff accomplished. You know you want to. It just feels good. In addition to saving lives and rescuing the planet.
Til next time— Cheers, mates!