Charities and Non-Profits

There's no point in even talking about people's perceptions. I'm always amazed at what people think about me, just a dumb singer in a rock band, let alone some important topic. People are really involved, and rightfully so, in their own lives. You can't say anything negative about people not being informed, because they don't have time to be informed. It's a hard world to get a break in.

— John Mellencamp, "Ain't That America?", Salon, 2003-06-30

First, before reading this page, I highly recommend going to GiveWell and reading their analysis. With the caveat that they care primarily about efficiency, which isn't always the most important metric, they have the most in-depth and scientific analysis of charitable giving that I've seen.

You may also want to read my journal post on charitable giving for my decision-making process.

To be included in the following list, I must have contributed to the charity or non-profit organization and be planning on doing so again. This is not a comprehensive list, but is a list of organizations that I recommend others support as well. Some of these are local to me.

Civil and Human Rights

American Civil Liberties Union

On almost every issue in US politics where I've been shocked by discovering what my government has been doing, I've found that the ACLU has already been fighting in that area and trying to draw attention to the problem. Their work on separation of church and state draws a disproportionate amount of media attention; while I largely agree with it, it's an unfortunate smoke screen that hides the excellent work that they do in just about every area of civil rights in the United States. Even people on the opposite end of the political spectrum from myself in terms of religion and overall economic policy often agree with me on supporting the ACLU.

Unlike most of the charities listed here, contributions to the ACLU are not tax-deductible since they take direct legal action in support of civil rights and do political lobbying. They're also not a very efficient organization and have fund-raising practices that bother me. But I don't think any other organization does what they do.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

The EFF is the best-known and most influential organization devoted to on-line free speech, electronic intellectual property issues, and related matters. They've led the charge against such things as the Communication Decency Act and the completely pointless US cryptography export restrictions. You can think of them as the ACLU for on-line issues; they have a similar problem with having gotten rather large and less personal, but they also have the funding base to be really effective.

Southern Poverty Law Center

I consider the Southern Poverty Law Center to be one of the most effective human rights charity in the United States. It doesn't have a general focus the way that the ACLU does; rather, it's specifically focused on equality and tolerance. But it is careful, detailed, and highly respected, and as a result its conclusions and statements are taken very seriously across the political spectrum. It's as much an investigative journalism organization as it is a civil rights litigation organization, but it's used civil litigation very successfully to shut down organized hate groups in the United States. It doesn't get the highest ratings for efficiency (it spends quite a bit of money on fundraising), but I've been very impressed by its results.


Yuba College Foundation

I am a very strong believer in community colleges. Having attended one myself before transferring to Stanford, I've seen first-hand the wide range of people they serve, handling everything from patching up deficient high school educations, retraining people who have to change careers, helping single mothers find a career that will let them get off welfare, and providing a local college with a solid introductory education for people who aren't ready to go away to a four-year school. They tend to often be chronically underfunded, and they also often have scholarship programs for low-income students or for students transferring to four-year schools that can use donations.

I support Yuba College in particular because I'm an alumnus. They can use your support, of course, but you may want to look for a community college near you and support it instead if you're not near Yuba.


Environmental Defense

Environmental Defense is one of the quiet, effective good guys of the environmental movement. They specialize in practical solutions, industry partnerships, and compromise and cooperation. They work with organizations and large companies that other environmental organizations only protest and manage to convince them to change practices. There is certainly a place for more strident environmental organizations to raise public concern, but I think Environmental Defense's method is one of the most effective.

Union of Concerned Scientists

I'm a little hesitant to split my environmental giving between two different organizations, but giving to the Union of Concerned Scientists is a bit of an experiment. My impression from media coverage is that they tend to be more confrontational and to do more speaking truth to power, whereas Environmental Defense seeks compromise behind the scenes. It feels like there's room for both approaches.

Free Software

Ada Initiative

One of the biggest problems in the free software community is its lack of inclusiveness, particularly around gender. The Ada Initiative is an attempt to address that in a systemic way, starting with helping free software conferences create policies that make them friendlier spaces for women. It's still very young as an organization, but I hope it will have a positive effect. It's trying to tackle a difficult problem that no one has yet tackled that successfully, so metrics for success are tricky.

Free Software Foundation

Whatever you think of Richard Stallman's way of presenting his ideas, the Free Software Foundation is one of the most effective advocates of free software both in terms of mindshare and in terms of producing good software that works and that people use. I tend to be somewhat ambivalent about the GPL and am willing to use closed-source software when it's the best available alternative, but I've never regretted supporting the FSF. Even if they're idealists, and they are, they're idealists that we need, and the money goes partly to support the infrastructure behind quite a bit of free software that I use.

Software Freedom Conservancy

The Software Freedom Conservancy is another infrastrucure organization that tries to quietly handle the legal and organizational needs of projects so that developers can concentrate on code and documentation. They're very quiet, which makes them hard to evaluate but which I suspect also makes them efficient.

Software in the Public Interest

This is the non-profit umbrella organization for Debian in the United States. I've never found it horribly well-organized, but I know from personal experience that donations to it go to fund useful work on Debian, such as mini-conferences, bug squashing parties, and hardware replacement for our infrastructure. I give to it primarily because Debian is my community and I want to support it.

Humanitarian Aid

Against Malaria Foundation

The Against Malaria Foundation is a small, targeted charity that provides mosquito netting to countries with a high risk of malaria. It's spectacularly efficient, doesn't advertise, and is able to buy netting in bulk at prices that would be impossible in the local area (thus satisfying one of the basic questions about any aid charity: why bring resources in from outside instead of building the local economy and knowledge?). It was recommended by GiveWell.

Doctors without Borders

Médecins Sans Frontières, also known in English as Doctors without Borders, is one of the most respected and most trustworthy international aid organizations in existence. They send medical personnel into disaster areas, epidemics, and even open warfare. They're in the middle of the AIDS crisis, were active in Afghanistan immediately after the fall of the Taliban, and are directly fighting universal human problems of disease without regard to borders, sides, or political affiliation. They are highly respected by just about everyone, of every political persuasion.


All aid charities run a serious risk of having a colonialist bent, where rich countries come into poor countries and build things or tell them how to do things following the priorities of the rich countries. (This is one of the reasons why I prefer medical charities, since they're less susceptible to this.) GiveDirectly identifies the poorest people in a region (using a very transparent process) and transfers money to them directly using the M-Pesa cell system to spend however they choose, with no strings attached other than some due diligence to protect against fraud. This is refreshingly non-paternalistic and makes me far more comfortable than typical aid projects. It was recommended by GiveWell and is my favorite charity, although it's still somewhat experimental.


Kiva is an unusual charity in that one's money isn't consumed and then gone (except for whatever amount one gives Kiva itself for maintaining their infrastructure). They're a microlender support organization that routes funds members deposit with them to microcredit institutions all over the world. Repayments go back to the lenders, who can then reinvest the money in other loans. I've been doing this for some years now, and I like the feeling of having the same amount of money continuing to circulate and do work.

Microlending is not without its problems, and it's becoming increasingly unclear whether supporting microfinance institutions through something like Kiva is a good idea. Kiva is partly on probation with me, and I may stop adding new money to my account there and redirect that money to other aid charities that seem more clearly effective.

Schistosomiasis Control Initiative

This is another tiny, targeted medical charity that focuses on treating parasitic worms. The medication is extremely inexpensive and has a profound quality of life impact. It was recommended by GiveWell.

Local Area

Friends of the Palo Alto Library

I believe in always supporting my local library. I practically grew up in libraries and spent much of my childhood reading voraciously through the children and then adult fiction sections of my local library, and I want libraries to always be there for others to do the same. Libraries are an excellent example of a non-profit charity that everyone feels is worthwhile, that's often chronically underfunded, and that has essentially no drawbacks. If you have any money free for charity, please give some of it to your local library system.

KQED Public Television

You simply can't go wrong supporting public television in the United States as far as I'm concerned. I personally support it largely for Bill Moyers's Journal and Frontline, which are my two favorite news programs, but others watch the nature programming, educational science programming, or even the childrens shows. I'm personally not a fan of the entertainment programming on public television, but their news programs are unparalleled in the United States for delivering real, less-biased news.

I support KQED as one of the several local stations near me. You will likely want to support whatever station is local to you.

Oregon State Parks Foundation

The Oregon State Parks Trust is a private non-profit that helps maintain and improve the Oregon state parks, including the 804 trail in Yachats, Oregon, which I walk daily during our yearly family vacation to the Oregon coast. Many states have similar organizations that help fill in the gaps left by public funding for state parks.

Last spun 2021-09-25 from thread modified 2020-08-09