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 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 analyses of charitable giving that I've seen.

You may also want to read my journal post on charitable giving and my post on effective altruism 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, they do equally valuable work in nearly 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 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.

Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center 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 respected, and as a result its conclusions and statements are taken seriously. It's as much an investigative journalism organization as it is a civil rights litigation organization, but it's used civil litigation 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 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.

Free Software

Software Freedom Conservancy

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

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 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.

Local Area

San Mateo Library Foundation

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 worthwhileand that has essentially no drawbacks.

Second Harvest of Silicon Valley

Similar to always supporting my local library, I think there are strong arguments for always supporting your local food bank. Food banks tend to be highly effective charities since they can buy discounted food in bulk, and if you live in any sort of metropolitan area, there are people near you who are in danger of going hungry.

Last spun 2022-12-12 from thread modified 2022-09-17