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Being a humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.Kurt Vonnegut

I don’t give as much as I’d like to the causes I care about. I consider myself a pretty generous guy, and when I give, I give generously. But I get to the end of each year and realize that I just haven’t given as much as I wish I had. Again.

Another thing: When religious folks give through religious charities and churches, it registers as an expression of their worldview. I want that too. I want my contributions to “count” as a visible expression of my secular humanism.

Then there’s this: Multiple solid surveys by philanthropic research organizations like Independent Sector and the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey1 show that churchgoers give a much greater percentage of their income to charitable causes than non-churchgoers like me. Arthur C. Brooks (author of Who Really Cares) is pretty sure he’s got my number: he says it’s “evidence of a gap in everyday virtue” (p. 40) between the religious and nonreligious.

I think he’s missing something obvious. If people in Group A are asked to pass a plate full of the generous donations of their friends and neighbors and either add to it or not, 52 times a year, while people in Group B have no such regular and public nudge — I’d say something other than virtue is in play.

offer5400I think the difference has much more to do with whether or not you have systematic opportunities for giving than some “gap in virtue.” I speak at Unitarian fellowships and Ethical Societies all the time, places brimming with friendly atheists. And when that offering plate passes by, I give, and so do they, knowing that these places will use it to do some good.

The offering plate is also passing through a million mainstream church pews every Sunday, giving the religious an easy and regular way to give and to combine their giving with others as a positive collective expression of their worldview.

I don’t agree with those who insist religious people give primarily out of fear or guilt. That may be in the mix, but most I know give because they are challenged and encouraged to do so, because generosity feels wonderful, and because the habit of giving turns giving into a habit.

I want to do better. It’s time for those of us who are otherwise engaged on Sunday mornings to have our own easy and regular means of giving, one that focuses and encourages humanistic generosity and demonstrates it to the world.

Welcome to Foundation Beyond Belief.

> what it is

FBBlogoFoundation Beyond Belief is a new charitable and educational foundation created (1) to focus, encourage and demonstrate humanistic generosity, and (2) to support a nationwide nonreligious parent education program.

The Foundation will highlight ten charitable organizations per quarter–one in each of ten areas (health, poverty, environment, education, human rights, and more). Members join the Foundation by signing up for a monthly automatic donation in the amount of their choice, then set up personal profiles to indicate how they would like their contribution distributed among the ten categories. Maybe you’d like to give 25 percent each to human rights, poverty, education, and the environment. We’ll distribute it accordingly. By year’s end, you will have helped support a dozen organizations in the areas you care most about.

The centerpiece of the Foundation will be a lively online community. Active members can join a social network and discussion forums centered on the ten categories of giving, upload videos, recruit new members, advocate for causes and help us choose the new beneficiaries each quarter. We’ll also create and host a multi-author blog of world-class contributors focused on the cause areas, as well as humanism, philanthropy, and the intersection of the two.

Carefully selected for impact and efficiency, the beneficiaries may be founded on any worldview so long as they do not engage in proselytizing. At the end of each quarter, 100 percent of the donations will be forwarded and a new slate of beneficiaries selected.

On the educational side, the Foundation will build the next stage in nonreligious parent education—a nationwide training program for parenting seminar leaders. We plan to have 30-40 people teaching nonreligious parenting seminars in cities across the country within a year.

We’ve begun assembling a stellar cast to guide the Foundation through its infancy. The Board of Directors includes Hemant Mehta (author, Friendly Atheist blogger, Secular Student Alliance board chair), Dr. Wayne Huey (ethicist, educator, author, former Georgia and U.S. High School Counselor of the Year), Trish Hotze Cowan (Sunday School Director, Ethical Society of St. Louis), and executive director Dale McGowan. (That’s me.)

The Foundation will launch in two stages. On October 1 we’ll unveil the pre-launch website, where members can begin setting up profiles and basic donations. On January 1, 2010, we will launch the full site, including the ten featured causes, all profile options, blog, social networking, and the means for members to select and change their preferred distributions.

We’re making no little plans here, and there’s the potential to do something pretty earthshaking. But this is a community thing, or it’s nothing. We’ll need your help.

> what you can do now

There are two ways to stay in the loop as we work toward the Foundation’s partial launch in October and full launch in January:

Facebook users: Click here to join the Foundation Beyond Belief group on Facebook Causes. No donation required — just keeping yourself in the loop.

Non-Facebookers: Click here to put your email on our mailing list.

Either way, sign up and we’ll keep you informed as it takes shape.

1And the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census…the list goes on. The facts themselves are not in doubt.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.