Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition, 3.9

While Elyse is away this afternoon administering Tang to the needy, I’ll be hosting today’s Afternoon Inquisition. It’s my first AI, so be gentle.

Lately I’ve been mobilizing skeptics in my local area (glorious Columbus, Ohio) and we’ve been looking for a variety of volunteer opportunities. There’s a ton of faith-based initiatives around, which is great, but I’d like to get out there and help prove that we freethought-type people like to help others out, too. Which made me think about …

What’s your favorite nonprofit organization, and why? Skeptic-based or not, who do you think is fighting the good fight? If you don’t have a favorite, describe your ideal – what kind of organization do you see a need for that doesn’t yet exist?

Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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67 Comments

  1. I actually volunteer for Equality Arizona which is a non-profit fighting for LGBT equality. I love everyone involved, and they get a lot done. They focus on getting people involved in politics — they had a lobby day recently teaching people who to lobby to their representatives — and do a lot of good.

    I am also highly looking forward to PRIDE. We’ll be selling margaritas. It’ll be a blast.

  2. It’s easy to say something like JREF, but the reality is that I can’t really narrow it down. There is a local shelter in Alexandria for the working homeless. A lot of school music programs are funded by donations because of government cutbacks. All the donation drives for various diseases are worthy causes too. I can’t decide.

    I believe Bertrand Russell once said that devotion to all worthy causes is the moral equivalent of total apathy. The key is to pick one or two and do some good…and not get bent out of shape over the fact that other people will make a different choice.

    There is no universal most important issue of our time or any singular Good Fight(tm). It’s a big pile of little fights…as with everything else in life.

  3. Doctors without Borders. Great organization. We donate to them through payroll deductions.

    Also, home health organizations, and hospices. Wonderful people. They made my mother’s dying at home as dignified and peaceful and easy as it could have been.

  4. I would say Planned Parenthood, but that would kind of fuel the fire that atheists are heathens and want to “kill babies.” It really is an excellent organization though, as long as you’re not one of those “teach abstinence only” jerks.

    Aside from that it would be really cool to help out at a soup kitchen, volunteer at an animal shelter or at a battered women and children shelter or simply find an organization who pretties things up in the area by planting trees and flowers. Skeptics saving the world!

    Also, I think that the idea in general is excellent and it inspires me to get the Philly skeptics back into gear for meetings and possibly something like that as well.

  5. I can’t say I’m terribly familiar with the non-profit scene, although I suppose I (theoretically if not monetarily) support anyone dedicated to civil liberties and/or rationalism : Freedom From Religion, Electronic Freedom Foundation, JREF, etc.

    I will say, however, that my opinion on many non-profits has been lowered because I work in an area frequently canvassed by people selling charities on the street. There’s nothing that will ruin my image of you more than bothering me three times a day about whales or children or whatever and NOT LETTING IT GO when I say no thanks.

    I often feel like reenacting the scene in Airplane where Robert Stack beats up all of the various religious panhandlers in the airport.

  6. I’m a big fan of Heifer Project International. The idea is that HPI provides breeding stock (like – I don’t know – a heifer) to a poor family. The family delivers the calf and passes it on, but keeps the heifer to provide milk, manure, and more calves in the future. The family that receives the calf that is passed on is committed to passing on that calf’s first born when the day comes. In addition to providing the livestock (cows, goats, rabbits, bees, chickens, ducks, whatever is culturally and environmentally appropriate), HPI also teaches the family how to care for the animals and checks back regularly to ensure that everything is working.

    I like Heifer Project because it reminds me of the old adage:
    “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll complain for ever and be all ‘Why can’t you just give me the fish? Why do I have to do all the work? You’re just exploiting me cause I’m poor.’ But then if you give in and give the idiot a fish, he’ll just complain more about the lousy quality of the fish you provide and how the rich people always get the better fish. Finally, you’ll snap and kick his ass. Then he’ll be sorry. Bastard.”

  7. I like to suppor the Red Cross (blood donation time again) and local women’s shelters.

    I also tend to give toward AIDS research and am active in a few diff organizations that work for equality for LGBT folks as to stop violence against women.

    Speaking of the last… I am going to be in a WalkAThon next month in SF to help raise money for the SF Women Agaisnt Rape group… anyone out there want to walk with us or donate let me know :)

  8. I work for a local non-profit that’s helped save some historic buildings and maintain them for the last 100 years, this June. This is sort of an oddball one, but I thought I’d add it in case you’re looking for something atypical. I give tours of one of the old homes/museums, and we get to research and use our own approach so long as it covers the basic, facts based history. Which means when you visit the place, if you get me, I’m going to be injecting skepticism in to the tour, and being a small group, odds are good, you’re hearing from me. The only thing that haunts the place is the idea that the place is haunted. So, I’m little by little (ok, with the help of the National Park Service, they own the building now, though I work for the non-profit) dispelling the notion that the place is haunted. Maybe something quirky and local like that might be worth a look.

  9. Another vote for http://www.kiva.org . Helping the world’s working poor make a better life for themselves. And in the process, it does not (usually) cost you anything. Because you are loaning the money and will get it back.

    So go open an account and put some money in it. Then pick out some people you think should get a chance at making their business work and loan them $25. Just remember to check back now and then so you can re-loan that money to someone else when it comes back to you.

    And join the Atheist/non-religious group and help us stay ahead of the Christians in loans given out. Right now we are in first place.

    My loans are here. http://www.kiva.org/lender/devin7957

  10. As for what niches are not being filled, I have yet to find one. I may just lack imagination, but every time that I have looked for a group that addresses a specific need, I’ve found that there’s one in place. In fact, I generally find that there are too many groups.

    I’ve got a couple of friends who “are in development for non-profits” (they are professional fund raisers). They tell me that the big challenge that they face is that there are multiple groups for most issues so their efforts get watered down – you get a lot of small events instead of one big push.

  11. Depending on your definition, I nominate the government. Specifically of Canada, because I live here, but I could be convinced that other governments are better (it wouldn’t be hard in some cases, like Scandinavia). After all, they don’t make a profit and they provide services. :)
    If you rule governments out I really like Kiva, as well as Doctors Without Borders. There’s a lot of other good ones out there too, though… and some really bad ones.

  12. @fatewilleatyou: CU, in my opinion, got too big for its britches.

    I don’t want to go off on too big a rant here, but I used to work for a small, local, consumer-driven non-profit, and I saw some of the internal working of CU and never subscribed or donated ever again.

    I don’t mean to totally shit on them. They have a great mission and good intentions. The problem is that they seem to have become victims of their own success.

    Their sheer size does two things. First, it makes them ponderous and slow to react to change. Their time-honored methodology of testing products is totally ineffective for many products because by the time their articles come out, the product models they tested are already obsolete. This is particularly a problem with consumer electronics. At one point, their advice for buying a car was so painfully outdated that it was a joke. I don’t know if it is any better now. I hope it is.

    Second, sheer size also makes them too comfortable. They would deny this, but they always gave me the impression of having more money than they knew what to do with.

    Having worked in the area, consumer issues are near and dear for me, and as much much as my history with them taught me to be somewhat skeptical of their advice, CU got big for a reason. They earned it, and I have to respect that…but they really don’t need my money.

    On the other hand, I suspect that any non-profit seen up close may be hard to think of the same ever again. As anyone who has worked in the biz will tell you, the non-profit culture has its own unique dysfunctions. I don’t donate to the organization I worked for either, and still respect it a great deal…though I do subscribe to their main publication both as a reference and to see what they are up to.

  13. Some random ones I like that nobody else has mentioned yet (that I saw):

    Union of Concerned Scientists
    Southern Poverty Law Center

    I also signed up for Greenpeace once because of a cute chick with a clipboard. I’m pretty sure this is how they got 90% of their membership. (The other 10% are the cute chicks with the clipboards.)

  14. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the Girl Scouts of America… unlike their Boy counterpart, the GSA allows people to not make any sort of vow to “God” and encourages the girls to vow to whatever they hold holy, or to nothing at all. They also seem to have a pretty forward thinking ideas regarding girls, science, technology, women’s issues (health and such).

    Like I said, pleasantly surprised.

    Makes me feel a whole lot happier about buying the cookies.

  15. @Joshua:

    Yeah, a lot of the ones who accost me are cute chicks with clipboards. Those ones I just smile at and walk away from. If you’re a dude, you’re fair game, and I might get a bit snarky.

    Lately I’ve been wanting to ask when I get to launch chemical bombs at other peoples’ boats, and whether or not I can wear a tricorner hat when I drive the Greenpeace dinghy. One of these days, I will not hold back :-P

  16. ‘Nother vote for Kiva. My first round of lending I got all my cash back, so I lent it out again last month. IIRC the repayment rate is something like 95%, so there’s some risk I guess, but that’s the fun part :)

    Also I give to local independent radio and NPR.

  17. @Joshua & @Expatria : Greenpeace does not have a lock on this tactic. I once got sandbagged by a cute woman with a clipboard. Her organization was ostensibly supporting “keeping the local streams clean” and then I went to the web site afterward and it was loaded with crazy.

    Even if I remembered the organization, I wouldn’t glorify it with a mention here.

  18. @Expatria: Two words. Sea Shepherd.

    Unless you’re aware and just making an oblique reference, in which case I was happy to ruin the joke for you. Although I’m sure there are folks out there who aren’t aware that there is an organisation that does, in fact, throw chemical bombs at whaling ships. And their discipline is lax enough that you could totally away with wearing a tricorner hat.

    Honestly, I’d probably sign up, except that I watched a couple of episodes of Whale Wars and concluded that the head of the organisation is a reckless, egomaniacal dipshit who has no idea how to manage a crew and has no fucking business being in charge of a ship, especially a ship that sails in the fucking Antarctic.

  19. The best charitable donation I’ve ever been solicited for was by a friend’s eleven year old daughter who wanted money to buy yarn to knit suits for Australian penguins caught in oil slicks.

    Right, I know I should think of the children and whatnot, but I feel the ideal organization is one that wants to put animals or birds in wee jumpers.

    Since that doesn’t really exist though, I support the local animal shelter and the NPR affiliate that isn’t associated with the local Catholic university who won’t air Planned Parenthood info-spots.

  20. I give to small local organizations where I know the exact portion of the money I give will be used for direct aid or services. Sadly many national non prophet organizations spend from fifty to eighty percent of all the money they raise to continue their fundraising campaigns. I would encourage everyone to ask hard questions of the organizations you give to and be skeptical about where the money goes and what it’s spent on.

  21. @Joshua:

    It was indeed a reference :) I think Greenpeace usually keeps it to simple harrassment and (officially discouraged) vandalism, not distruction of property and possibly sickening people… unlike SOME organizations :)

    Sea Shepherd strikes me as an organization which fails to realize that not everyone involved in their pet peeve is, in fact, evil. Can’t support a group that probably does more harm than good!

  22. The doctors here at the hospital are threatening to have me arrested if I don’t stop giving all the patients Buzzed Aldrins. WTF, dudes? Lighten up!

    That will be my new non-profit endeavor – to bring vodka and Tang to all the PICU patients.

    Other non-profits I like:

    St. Baldrick’s Foundation – raising money for pediatric cancer
    The NEAD – altruistic organ donation
    Skepchick..org – seriously hot blogger chicks

  23. I volunteer semi-regularly at a nearby wildlife refuge. I chose that over more human-rights type work because spending time outside and physically active, doing manual work leaves me feeling refreshed and healthy and happy, whereas working with people in need leaves me feeling depressed.

    Also once I volunteered with a group that goes to low-income homes and does minor repairs and installed energy-saving stuff like weather stripping and storm windows. That is something I’d like to do again and would make for a great group experience if you can find a way to do it.

  24. Child’s Play

    It was started in ’03 as a response to the negative press video-games always get. The charity simply gives toys to Children hospitals were kids are in for treatments. It started as a little charity for one hospital and has grown large rather quickly. It is run by the guys at Penny-Arcade, a webcomic about video-games.

    I realize it isn’t saving lives, but I am really happy it is out there correcting a lot of misconceptions about people who call themselves “Gamers”. On top of that, you can’t feel bad about giving toys to kids.

  25. I’m giving a lot more now that I get to deduct the total from my income and pay less taxes. Or should that be I’m giving a little more, and so is my government, except what my government “pays” is also out of my taxes so…

    Anyway, I give to Doctors without borders, Save the Children and Amnesty International.

  26. I give to:
    1. Veterans of Foreign Wars because he’s a Korean War Vet and they sell cheap beer.
    2. The Planetary Society because they put my name on Mars and Moon and they educate and inspire kids.
    3. National Rifle Association because they’ve taught 21 million kids gun safety with their Eddie Eagle program.

    Another reason I support all of these is because they represent my interests to Congress. I don’t have time to fly out to DC to let my voice be heard in committee meetings and such, so I pay these groups and other like them to lobby for me.

  27. I’ll second (or third, or whatever) Heifer International and Kiva. Also, of course, the Center for Inquiry, the Secular Coalition of America, the JREF, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the American Cancer Society.
    Plus, local libraries and local volunteer fire departments are important to support.

  28. @James Fox: hahaha, that’s just great! “non prophet organizations”!!! Was that a mistake or did you write it in purpose? It’s really good :-)

    I mean, I suppose “prophet organizations” are “profit” organizations such as the Discovery Institute and the like. They obviously try to make a profit out of ignorance, fooling people.

    Very, very good. Even if not intended, really meaningful :-)

  29. I like to volunteer for organizations that need my unique skills. In my area we have an organization called BART that teaches firefighters, EMTs, and police officers safe handling and restraint of animals they encounter in the line of duty. Since I am a veterinarian, I think I am a lot more useful doing this than I would say, building houses (poorly) for habitat for humanity.

    Ditto James Fox, “I give to small local organizations where I know the exact portion of the money I give will be used for direct aid or services. “

  30. Scholarship program to any university – especially now — education is the silver bullet

    Almost any Humane Society – but I like Dove-Lewis in Portland, Oregon – my brother died in the ICU and before he died they helped arrange to have his dog be with him in his bed —

  31. I give the majority of my support to a local developmental preschool – The Tiny Tim Center. The student body consists of roughly 50% “typical” children, and 50% “special needs” children – including children that are turned away from other programs due to severe medical conditions. The program is completely free of charge for non-typical students.

    Using actual therapy, rather than Jenny McCarthy b.s., they gave me my son. Diagnosed with classic autism at the age of three he was completely non-verbal when he entered Tiny Tim. Later that year he said his first self-initiated sentence “Bye Mommy, I love you.” The whole place erupted in happy tears.

    http://www.tinytimcenter.org/home.html

    The video is a must see. *smiles*

  32. Bankers without Parachutes – this is an organization that prepares investment bankers displaced by the economic collapse to re-enter society as productive members of the community. It works by pairing a displaced investment banker otherwise known as a “useless gringo beotch” with a day laborer from the Latino community.

    The displaced bankers learn such skills as how to repair gas powered leaf blowers and what it is like to work for arrogant non-productive narcissists posing American capitalists (and who resemble Larry Kudlow).

    /BCT

  33. I financially support (in small doses) some of the organizations mentioned.

    Here’s another good one: Co-Op America (though they’ve now changed their name to Green America, I think).

    I regularly volunteer for a couple of local orgs. One is a trap-neuter-return group for cats. We just spayed/neutered about 140 cats over the weekend! I just do grunt work, not skilled labor. Though I am learning how to check incisions.

    The other org offers quite a few services for women and families affected by domestic violence and/or sexual assault. I teach knitting at the shelter and I volunteer as a hospital advocate. The former is fun, and the latter is challenging.

    One of my favorite qu0tes, attributed to Shirley Chisholm (and others): service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.

  34. While I’ve never donated to a non-profit, my heart remains with vetern affairs oranizations. They’ve seen and done things I could not imagine, and I think when they come home, they need better treatment.

    Nothing irks me more than a deserter. They knew going in that they may disagree with what they are told to do. If they couldn’t handle that, they never should have enlisted. While I disagree with iraqi operations, I would never take it out on the troops. They do what they are told. If we have problems with what our sons and daughters are doing, then we take that up with the commander in chief, the guy who makes the decisions.

    With your shield, or on it.

  35. Oxfam has long been my go-to example of a charity which uses donations efficiently and effectively and does objectively good work. (Example: I can’t believe they spent so much money on [frivolous large purchase], when they could have done so much more good by donating to Oxfam.)

    I heard that Heifer International was not such a good idea. It’s nice to have a goat or a cow or whatnot, but owning a cow doesn’t make you instantly qualified to be a dairy farmer. The criticism I heard was that a lot of people don’t know what to do with the animal, and that it causes them additional hardship.

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