2013 Charitable Giving

I’ve got an amazing job. I get paid lots of money to do challenging work that I feel good about.  Its a great life!

The downside, for me, of programming and of the high tech world in general, is that it is so easy to get sucked into the marvels of it all, and spend all of my time immersed in code. So at this time of year, I try to force myself to look away from the beautiful devices and apps I work on and remember that most people do not live in the same shiny world that I do, and that for many of them, the world can actually be pretty sucky.

This year, I’m reminding myself of this out loud in case anyone else needs or wants the same reminder: those of us blessed enough to be in a position to help others ought to at least make the time to write some checks.

It is only in recent years that I’ve started being even semi-serious about charitable giving.  It never really occurred to me to give very much before. I guess I thought that giving was something for people who owned tuxedos and went to benefit galas and operas and stuff. I’ve learned, though, that donating a day’s salary to a local charity will put me on their list of big ticket donors and get me a personal thank you note from the executive director. Its not much to me, but it makes a huge difference to these organizations and the people tey serve.  And I don’t have to buy a tuxedo!

This year, about 2/3rds of my giving is to to be in my home town, divided between the food bank, an organization that is part of the Waterkeeper Alliance and is fighting against a proposed coal export terminal and two smaller non-profits that work with the victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

I’ve picked national and international charities for the remaining third. This year’s picks:

  • Feeding America: Hunger is one of my pet peeves, so this donation goes along with my donation to my local food bank.  Feeding America is a national clearinghouse for food donations that are then distributed to a national network of local food banks.  If you look Feeding America up on Charity Navigator you’ll see that they have a huge budget with very low overhead and an insanely high percentage going to program services.  I suspect this is because so much of their income is in the form of food donations from corporate food manufacturers.  They send me way too many solicitations (though this year’s donation form has an opt out check box, which is nice). And their executive director is paid $400k a year, which seems excessive.  But they serve a unique niche and if they were not around, I suspect that hunger would be a much bigger problem than it already is in communities all around the country.
  • 350.org: This organization was founded by Bill McKibben who started sounding the climate change alarm a long time ago with the publication of his book The End of Nature. The “350″ in the name refers to their goal of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million. The seem to be doing really innovative work and are spearheading fossil fuel divestment campaigns on university campuses, in churches, and even in local governments.  This is the first time I’ve given to 350.org and I don’t know what has taken me so long. The fossil fuel divestment movement reminds me my own university activism for South African divestment, so maybe it is Nelson Mandela’s death that has spurred me to donate.
  • Heifer International: this is a great organization that combats malnutrition and poverty in the developing world by giving livestock (like Heifers and dairy goats) to needy families, and backing the gifts up with appropriate training in caring for the animals.  The bonus here is that kids love it. We’re going to let our kids choose what kind of animal to give with their share of the donation.

There are so many good causes out there. I wish I was also giving for civil liberties, peace, reforestation, disaster relief and more.

Comments welcome. Feel free to share links to your favorite charities!

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