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I have some sad news to report. In 2007 (seven years ago!), I wrote about the philanthropy of Robert Wilson, an atheist and retired hedge-fund tycoon who vowed to donate his entire $800 million fortune to charity before he died.

Well, he kept that promise, donating his last $100 million to the Environmental Defense Fund last month. Shortly thereafter, he committed suicide at the age of 87. From the evidence, this wasn’t the result of depression but a rational decision to end his life before he suffered the worst ravages of illness and infirmity:

According to the New York Police Department, he left a note at the scene. He had suffered from a stroke just a few months before.

“He always said he didn’t want to suffer and when the time came, he would be ready,” close friend Stephen Viscusi told the New York Post. (source)

And another account:

Police had read Schneidman Wilson’s suicide note, which said that he “had a great life” and his decision to die was “nothing to be ashamed of,” according to an interview the accountant gave to The New York Times. (source)

Although his death is a sad occasion, I can’t help but admire someone who did so much good in the world and lived a life so unapologetically in accordance with humanist principles. And that admiration makes me want to do more to follow his example.

I made a New Year’s resolution to donate more money to charity. I try to increase the total amount I give away by a little each year. And I’m always looking for worthwhile nonprofits to support. Large, established groups like the ACLU, Doctors Without Borders, and the Sierra Club are on my list every year, but there are also some smaller nonprofits that I donate to regularly. Some are advocacy organizations, some are purely humanitarian, and some do a little of both. These are eight of the ones that I like the best:

  • Foundation Beyond Belief: One of the best ideas out there for secular giving, the FBB is an atheist meta-charity that chooses reputable charities with good track records each quarter in the areas of poverty and health, environmental protection, education, human rights, and interfaith work. Members sign up for a recurring monthly donation, which they can distribute however they choose among FBB’s beneficiaries. They also run volunteer initiatives, small-grant programs for worthy projects and coordinate relief giving for major disasters.
  • Kiva: I’ve written several times about Kiva, a microlending organization that connects donors to entrepreneurs in developing countries, and how Kiva’s atheist lending team is one of the largest and most generous on the site, now approaching $14 million in total donations. They still deserve your support!
  • Global Giving: Along the same lines as Kiva, Global Giving is an eclectic site that connects donors to charitable projects all over the world: school building, tree planting, drilling wells, rural electrification through distributed solar, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. You can scroll through their extensive wish-lists and pick a project that appeals to you.
  • Responsible Charity: Responsible Charity and its founder Hemley Gonzalez are doing the work Mother Teresa never did, running a real charity that provides tangible help to the poor of India’s slums – education, nutrition, medical care, contraception – as opposed to platitudes and proselytizing.
  • Developments in Literacy: DIL builds modern schools, especially girls’ schools, in rural areas of Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai’s example shows how much religious fundamentalists fear and detest education, and with good reason. There’s no better way to fight superstition and ignorance than by helping children learn and giving them options other than religious schools that exist only for indoctrination.
  • FFRF: The Freedom from Religion Foundation, in my humble opinion, is the best atheist organization out there in terms of bang for your buck. They combine strong advocacy, effective litigation, and public outreach with a respectfully understated fundraising approach (as opposed to many charities, even charities I like, that blitz their supporters with endless overwrought appeals for money).
  • Secular Student Alliance: If the FFRF is my favorite atheist group, the SSA is a strong second. They’ve been wildly successful at establishing atheist student groups in colleges and even high schools all across the country, providing a vital source of support and community for young nonbelievers in the Bible Belt and building critical infrastructure for the next generation of secular leaders. And when bigoted school administrators try to stop students from organizing, the SSA has their back.
  • National Network of Abortion Funds: I give money regularly to Planned Parenthood, but with right-wing state legislatures at a fever pitch of malice and hostility toward women’s choice, I’ve been finding it more and more important to go right to the root of the problem. No woman who wants an abortion should be prevented from obtaining one because she’s unable to afford it, and NNAF helps poor women all across the country surmount that economic obstacle.

These are some of my favorites, but I’m always looking to find new opportunities to do good. So, what are your favorite charities and nonprofits? What do they do and why do you find them worthy of your support?

Image: Fundamentalists’ worst nightmare: children in school. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...