Atheists: Make a Donation This Holiday Season December 3, 2010

Atheists: Make a Donation This Holiday Season

Susan Jacoby has a wonderful explanation of why the religious give more to charity than the non-religious — and how we can change that:

The real giving difference between secularists and regular churchgoers comes from the fact that going to church establishes the habit of giving — not only because of moral exhortations from the pulpit, but also because of social reinforcement from peers .

It does take conscious personal effort to make giving a habit rather than an undependable, occasional act. But all I have to say to other secularists is: Try it, you’ll like it. And since the proportion of secularists and the religiously unaffiliated is growing steadily in this country, the real point is that our fellow citizens, as well as people around the world, need our help.

Speaking from experience, she’s absolutely right.

I thought giving $5/month was a lot of money when I was in college… but once I started doing it, it just became a regular habit.

Now, I give more than that, to more than one organization, and it’s so easy to do. And I feel great doing it. I just had to get over the hump of giving the first time.

If you’re looking for a place to start, please consider giving money to a variety of charities via Foundation Beyond Belief. It was created with non-theists like us in mind.

(via The Daily Dish)

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  • Jim

    I give regularly to FBB and just joined Kiva a couple days ago. Feels good to do this kind of thing no matter what season or day it happens to be.

  • Arallyn

    I don’t have much money, but I’m thankful that my parents instilled in me the knowledge that even in our poorest days, there are those that have it worse.

    I can’t afford $5 a month, but I always take my canned food that’s sat around for more than 6 weeks to the (non-church-affiliated) local pantry, and give to organizations I trust whenever I can.

    Another way that’s great to give around this season is to ask people to give to a certain charity instead of buy you a gift if they were planning to. Last year I had a few Camfed donations in my name and my dad purchased a llama through Heifer International for me. My friend from school even got me a chicken basket from Heifer even though she’s just as poor as I am! To be honest, those gifts meant so much to me.
    Sometimes people think they come across as cheesy or stupid, but I only find that to be the case if they, say, gave to a church foundation to spread something you don’t believe in. I think I’d have to cut a bitch if that happened.

  • Cathy Fiorello

    I have several donations set up to be taken automatically every month–makes it easier to remember! FBB, the AHA foundation, and Doctors without Borders. All secular and doing good work!

  • Liberty

    I’m almost sixteen, and an agnostic atheist (though the Flying Spaghetti Monster looks pretty tasty…). After the earthquake in Haiti, I decided that I would take four bucks from my twenty-dollar allowance every and donate it. Somewhere, I wasn’t quite sure where. It didn’t quite work out to donating once a month, but I have donated several times in larger amounts this year. It’s quite liberating, and I plan to do it again and more regularly this coming year.

    I never understood why non-religious folks might not donate. I always was curious why people who didn’t believe God would support those in need wouldn’t step up to support those same people.

  • Kerrie

    As much as I feel I should give to secular charities that benefit humans, I always find myself donating my time, money, and resources to animal rescues (rabbits are my main cause). Animals are the most innocent and trusting (and therefore most abused) and need as much help as possible. It doesn’t take long working in animal rescue to entirely lose “faith” in people, unfortunately.

  • Iain

    I think that atheists have a twofold issue with charitable giving.

    First, how do we know which charities seek converts, preach to the needy, or otherwise incorporate some sort of “faith requirement” in their programs. Some soup kitchens require clients to attend a church service or pray before they receive help.

    The second is that so many religious groups are registered as “non-profit” so that by giving to Exodus International (an organization that seeks to “cure” gay people through religious activity) it counts towards a charitable donation. Are these groups doing something unconditionally selfless, or are they pushing their own faith driven agenda?

  • Arallyn

    Iain- I also have a lot of issue with religious groups being “non-profit”. Often you can see on a charity’s website whether or not it has a “faith requirement” element to it- even if it’s not plastered on the front page, it’s almost always in their mission statement or some such.

    If you’re still skeptical, or if you suspect that it might be disreputable in other ways, Charity Navigator is usually pretty good about listing any caveats about the charity, such as faith requirements, even if it’s not exactly obvious on the charity’s site. There are other fairly decent charity reviews out there that give a purportedly unbiased (I couldn’t find anything to suggest that most weren’t unbiased) look at many of the most common recipients of donations.

    If the charity is local, it never hurts just to stop in and inquire! Don’t approach them stating that you’re an atheist or non-deist; just go in and ask if they have any religion-based practices or any religious/faith requirements. Almost anywhere that does is proud to say so.

    In the end, the only places I 100% trust to not have to do with religion are those approved by the FBF, and even then I still check them out myself. I’ve found quite a few larger non-faith-based organizations that FBF doesn’t work with due to size such as Heifer Int. (they have a “spiritual” component in their community outreach if it’s appropriate, but it rarely comes up, and for large part the only use they have for churches is getting money from them…I’ve done work at the Heifer ranch in Arkansas and have seen how they work for myself). Also the vast majority of animal welfare charities are non-faith-based, though some are questionable in other ways.

    In the end, it’s a pain to try and search through the missions and financial reports and subtleties of every place you think might deserve your money, but in the end it’s worth it. Giving back, especially when a place knows you appreciate their non-use of religious dogma, is something that really helps a person who gives as much as the charity receiving.

  • Zhuge

    The atheists on Kiva just reached 3 million dollars in loans! (They’re the largest group there)

  • Arallyn

    Sorry that was ridiculously long…charitable work/giving and supporting non-theist foundations have been huge to me the past couple of months, so I’ve been doing a lot of independent investigating of charities.

    I should also probably say that even though Heifer is great, they’re not the very best in their field. There’s a lot of expenditure on fund raising efforts and a couple other flaws. But it’s very good at what it does, and I sort of have a personal attachment to it. As always, support what you love and question everything first!

  • Beijingrrl

    I donate to NPR on an automatic debit. I couldn’t deny their point that I was even listening during the pledge drives.

    If I make muffins for breakfast, my kids hand out the leftovers to the homeless in our community.

    If I’m not too busy, I’ll always stop and buy food for someone who tells me they’re hungry, but I won’t just give out money.

    I always pick more names than I can afford off those wish list trees at Christmas. Which reminds me, I need to find out if they do that here in Montreal.

    I support the kids in my community when they come knocking on my door selling raffle tickets or cookies.

    I am somewhat reluctant to donate to organized charities. I guess I’d rather my charitable giving be more personal and I like knowing that my money is all going towards its intended purpose.

    I’m planning on teaching a personal finance course for a group of homeschool kids next year and one of the things I’d like to do is have them do some microfinancing.

  • Julien

    Zhuge beat me too it, but I second Kiva, which is a microloan site – you give loans to folks in third world countries, they use those loans to buy equipment or supplies to try and lift themselves out of poverty, and they pay the loans back to you, so you can then give to someone else.

    The great thing about the atheist group on Kiva (besides us kicking the butts of the Christians) is that they have a list of groups with a faith component (i.e. ministry), so it’s easy to weed out groups with an ulterior motives.

    However, a word of caution: while Kiva vets its partners, there are some organizations that give loans without including any sort of social element, which I personally have issues with. You’re taking people that have little real business experience and giving them a huge financial obligation, and there are many cases of these people getting into cycles of debt and becoming dependent on the loans. Before you loan, check out the affiliate managing it, and see if they mention things like enforcing savings or providing financial training.

    Kiva giving is easy, and the best thing is that it costs almost nothing: I’ve been giving for years and have yet to lose money on a loan.

    All that being said, check ’em out:

  • littlejohn

    I suppose I’m bitter, but stop asking me to donate to the poor. I am the poor, and no one has donated to me. I have to assume that charities are fake.
    I’m a very experienced newspaper editor. I haven’t had a job since 2002. Newspapers are dying.
    My wife and I live on a schoolteacher’s salary. I would take a low-paying retail or clerical job, except that I have arthritis in my back that prevents me from standing.
    I’m well-educated, experienced, an ex-member of Mensa who graduated with honors. But I have no worthwhile skills in the rust belt.
    My wife is bipolar and works at a ghetto school where her students tell her to “fuck off” and walk out of class. If she loses her temper, she loses her job.
    If she loses her job, we lose our insurance. Her medical bills (did I mention she also has a brain tumor?) are about $1,000 a month.
    If she can’t stand her job (or goes crazy beause of it) we will have no choice but to commit suicide.
    Yet I am constantly asked to give to charity. If anyone deserves to receive charity, it is I. Where are my donations?
    When you beg us to give money to the poor, at least say “if you can.” If you really mean it, give my name and address.
    Thank you.

  • Ash

    Another reason why the religious give to charity is because many see it as a ticket to Heaven because they are fulfilling some kind of divine mandate. They probably don’t see it in those cynical terms, but that is basically the idea. Atheists lack that kind of motivation.

  • sarah

    I do not give money but i do give my time. I volunteered at the Anti Cruelty Society and now for the holidays I am volunteering at Toys for Tots.

  • Lamar

    Unfortunately, some who claim to be religious might give to charity in the hope that the generosity might get them to heaven; however, that is not a legitimate Christian worldview. Christians give from a motivation of love for God and concern for individuals who are in need of assistance. The motivation is to demonstrate the love of God. Because of the umerited favor of God, the children of God are commanded and desire to have compassion toward others.

  • mkb

    Littlejohn, I am so sorry for your troubles.

  • Greetings, Hemant, it’s me again!

    Aside from thanking you for a near constant supply of awesome for our (UAF) Facebook Page, I wanted to let you know that I am very excited that my coalition, the United Atheist Front, is now a Proud Partner of the Foundation Beyond Belief. The UAF has a membership of over 60,000 and I am hoping that the generosity of some of our members comes shining through as an example of the generosity of non-sectarian homosapiens.

    Great Work, my friend!

    Al Stefanelli, Founder,
    The United Atheist Front (Since 2005)

  • the religious give more to charity than the non-religious

    Bull. I’ve always given to charity until I recently retired and cut my income to slightly less than half. I don’t have it. I’m sacrificing from my food budget to hang on to my internet access because this keeps me sane and gives me a sort of social life because I don’t get out much due to disability and lack of funds.

    I hate pleads for charity too. Have to join littlejohn in that. When you’re hurting for money yourself and along comes the plea for money accompanied by not only a guilt trip but an coercement to look good because the Christians do it (bull to that too, every Atheist I’ve ever known who can has, hell, until it hurts and only a portion of the Christians I’ve known do, there’s just more of them so that portion combining their funds into something like the Salvation Army or Catholic Chartities makes them look damned good and most Christians I know even the nice ones who give won’t give a dime they can’t deduct on their taxes), it just disgusts me. Nothing pisses me off more than some rich celebrity begging me to give ’til it hurts when I know that they could give what I’ve had in funds I’ve had over an entire lifetime and not blink an eye at it, wouldn’t even feel the hurt of losing it.

    Don’t ask us to give (or do anything else for that matter) to look better or as “good” as Christians. That shouldn’t be the reason to do it.

    I can remember being a busted mother sitting on a bus stop bench with my young daughter and filling in when Christian charity failed. Before picking up my daughter from the babysitter, I had spent our last few dollars to buy food to get us through to pay day a week away (I got paid monthly which sucked big time). A ragged woman with a little boy who had holes in his shoes came along. Kid was crying and Mom obviously trying not looked scared to bits. She asked me if I knew when the Catholic mission nearby was open because she had found it locked and she didn’t know what she was going to do. They hadn’t eaten in over a day. I had no cash left except a couple of coins which I gave her and, in part, my daughter and I were going to be getting by on grilled cheese sandwiches (with, of course, that cheap American cheese). I counted out how much bread and cheese we needed until I got paid, put them in my daughter’s and my lunch packs (I brown-bagged to work because I couldn’t afford to do otherwise) and gave this woman and child the rest. If I could have spared a can of pork and beans, I’d have given them that too but the bread and cheese were all I could. She thanked me profusly and I suggested a couple of other places she might try and gave her directions.

    Never saw her again and there was no reward for me in that except knowing that I helped mother to mother. I hope she got helped out of homelessness without losing her little boy but I never saw her again. I helped them survive for a day because that was all I could do. With no notion of reward down the road. No tally points with god. I didn’t tell her I was Atheist because the woman really didn’t need my inner thought of it figures towards the damned Catholic mission that was always advertising for donations with the claim that it was there for people like her 24/7. She needed immediate help. Cost me nothing to give it really except a grilled cheese sandwich or two. And I got to know that little boy at least had some bread and cheese to eat that night. God or no god really doesn’t come into it when the concern is just helping one another survive. You know, as opposed to earning brownie points to heaven.

  • We already give money regularly to charity. It is English money so it is worth about twice as much as American dollars (or is that half as much?) but £10 a month each to three charities is about our limit.

    @LittleJohn, have you considered retraining? After 7 years unemployment I can guarantee two things: Your skills are out of date; your confidence is shot to bits. Retraining will give you new skills and fresh confidence to use them. There may even be state, charity or central government funding available.

  • Carlie

    I donate to Modest Needs, which is a secular charity founded by a former college professor who realized that micro-funding is what can keep people productive rather than spiraling into bankruptcy and worse. Interestingly, he started it using the tithe idea (donating 10% of his salary to the cause) and it has since grown to an organization that helps hundreds of people a year.

  • Thanks, Carlie. I googled and added that to my charities file in favorites.

    If anyone’s interested, it’s:

    Looks pretty worthwhile.

  • Really?  You donate to NPR?  Is that a registered charity?  You give muffin “leftovers” to the poor?  Like the crumbs?  Perfect example of atheist lack of giving.

    You can say what you want about Christian charity, and all of you are quite misguided, but atheists are known, per individual, not  collectively, as the worst as regards donations.  It’s been studied. 

    For the record, I am a practicing Catholic, and I tithe 10% of my salary — half to my Catholic alma mater, and half to my parish.  Not because I’m buying my way to Heaven, not because I don’t give my time and talents as well, and certainly not for a tax-write off, or as a habit.  The “rise” of atheism in society has steeled my resolve, and I feel more than ever that I need to support the message of the Church, and help ensure it’s legacy.  So, thanks for that, atheists, I guess.


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