Boing Boing Charitable Giving Guide -- the 2008 edition

It's time for another Boing Boing seasonal tradition: our charitable giving guide, a list of charities we personally support and want to give more attention to. And as in previous years, we invite you to add your own favorite charities to the list in the comments section. This is going to be a rough holiday for the charitable sector -- we're all tightening our belts. Don't forget the charities that keep the world fair, free and healthy this holiday season.

US Charities

Electronic Frontier Foundation: Once again, my largest donation for the year goes to EFF. They're suing GW Bush and Gonzo over warrantless wiretapping, seeking DMCA exemptions for video remixing and phone unlocking, working to keep e-voting honest, busting the phone companies and fighting against telecom immunity; overturning crappy patents -- the list goes on an on. Architecture is politics: the structure of the net will determine the structure of the society it underpins. If we lose the net's freedom, we lose everything. I've worked for EFF in the past and I know exactly how far they stretch every dime. It's magic.

Creative Commons: Five years in, and CC is better than ever. Governments around the world are releasing their material under CC; it's become the norm for science, documentation, fan-media, and many kinds of literature, as well as podcasts. The launch of ccLearn for schools was a huge step this year, and the organization keeps on doing fantastic work on a shoestring budget.

Youth Radio: Pesco sez, "Youth Radio is an afterschool program that teaches journalism, media, and audio production skills to underserved young people, mostly high school age You can hear their stories on National Public Radio, local airwaves, and of course online. A lot of the graduates stick around for a while as paid writers, producers, engineers, and teachers."

Xeni sez, "Fundacion Sobrevivientes (In English, "Survivors Foundation") works to end "femicide" in Guatemala. They provide legal aid, psychological care, and protection for rape victims -- including children. They assist women whose children have been snatched from them to be sold illegally into adoption. They provide support for families of female assassination victims. Founder Norma Cruz was featured in the documentary Killer's Paradise. Her work links the murders of thousands of Guatemalan women to the country's 36-year civil war. She, her colleagues, and family are frequently targeted by those who seek to prevent the center's work. Contact: or Tel: (502) 2285-0100 or (502) 2285-0139"

Free Software Foundation/Defective By Design: It's wonderful to see a campaigning group based on fighting DRM. Defective by Design has pulled off a number of audacious and clever actions that have raised public awareness of DRM. The fight starts here.

The Internet Archive: What would we do without it? I use it every day. Its mission: Universal access to all human knowledge. What could be more noble?

The Gutenberg Project: The world's leading access-to-public-domain project. They have truly created a library from nothing, and oh, what a library.

The MetaBrainz Foundation: I'm on the board of this charity, which oversees the MusicBrainz project. MusicBrainz is a free and open alternative to the evil (dis)Gracenote, which took all the metadata about CDs that you and I keyed in and locked it away behind a wall of patents and onerous licensing deals. The org that controls the metadata controls the world -- this needs to be in the public's hands.

Last year: The Participatory Culture Foundation: I'm on the board of this charity, which produces ass-kicking media software in the public interest. The best-known of these is Miro, an Internet TV program that just works -- add feeds based on YouTube keywords, or published feeds from creators, and new video arrive automagically and just play. Because TV is too important to leave up to Microsoft and Apple.

The Clarion Foundation: I'm on the board of this charity, which oversees the world-famous Clarion Writers' Workshop, a bootcamp for sf writers that has produced some of the finest talents in our field, including Octavia Butler, Bruce Sterling, Nalo Hopkinson, Kelly Link, and Lucius Shepard. I'm a graduate myself, and an instructor (I taught in 2005 and 2007) -- I received a substantial scholarship to the workshop in 1992 and it changed my life. I will pay that debt forward every year.

Amnesty International: Just famed for their principled, effective campaigning for justice and fair treatment under the law, Amnesty has its finger in every pie -- freeing Gitmo detainees, defending jailed journalists, fighting torture and human trafficking, and standing up to bullies wherever they find them. They deserve every cent we can give them.

Hospice Net: I make a donation to this charity every year in memory of my dear friend, former Boing Boing guestblogger Pat York. Pat was killed in a car accident, and her family nominated this charity for memorial gifts.

ACLU: For the liberties the EFF doesn't cover, here in sticky meatspace, we have the ACLU. Fearless upholders of the Constitution -- an org that knows that you have to stand up for the rights of people you disagree with, or you aren't in a free society. Unwinding the violence done to fundamental freedoms over the past eight years will take time and money. The number of bad laws and regulations to overturn is staggering.

Public Knowledge: Public Knowledge are the best copyfighters on the Hill, real DC insiders who know the ins and outs of fighting in the halls of administrative agencies like the FCC. We never could have killed the Broadcast Flag without PK, and I'm grateful that someone else is willing to be the person who puts on a suit and explains things in plain language to Congressional staffers. It's a thankless task. This year, PK was instrumental to opening up America's "white space" spectrum -- fallow radio frequencies hoarded by broadcasters -- in order to allow for thousands of times more WiFi-style bandwidth for us all to use.

Child Rights and You: I travelled to Mumbai earlier this year for research and was overwhelmed by the terrible, ubiquitous child poverty -- thousands and thousands of children, barefoot, disfigured, begging. I asked my Indian friends about it and was told that it was endemic to Mumbai and India in general, and that many children are exploited by desperate parents or criminal "pimps" who muscle them out of the majority of their earnings. As a new parent, I couldn't help but wonder again and again how I would feel if it were my child living in those circumstances. I'm no stranger to poverty -- I helped build schools with Nicaraguan refugees in Central America, worked to set up an NGO in sub-Saharan Africa -- but I'd never seen anything to rival this. On advice from my Indian friends, I investigated and made a donation to CRY (we also nominated them as a charity in lieu of presents for people who came to our wedding). CRY works to remedy the root causes of child poverty in India, in cities and the countryside, with a special emphasis on protecting girls from exploitation. The problem is deep and huge, but the solution has to begin somewhere. CRY also maintains a UK site for British donors.

Canadian Charities

Youth Challenge International: YCI sends young Canadians abroad to work on sustainable, community initiated development projects. Challengers work in international teams that include Costa Ricans, Guyanese, and Australians. I'm an alumnus, having done a hitch in a Nicaraguan squatter village in rural Costa Rica when I was 21, and it changed my life forever.

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation: My aunt Heather died of breast cancer when she was only 41. My whole family is now involved with the society. I don't live in Toronto and can't join the annual run for the cure there, but at least I can donate to the cause.

UK Charities

Open Rights Group: Danny O'Brien and I co-founded ORG a couple years ago and I continue to serve on its advisory board. ORG has done stupendous work since its founding -- this year, they helped reverse an EU initiative force ISPs to disconnect their customers on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations of infringement. In 2009, we need them to help us fight off the national ID card, increased Internet surveillance, and a mad proposal to give the major record labels another 45 years' worth of copyright on existing works, despite the unanimous opinion of the government's own experts saying that this will be bad news.

NO2ID: As the UK sleepwalks into a surveillance state, NO2ID stands as the nation's best, last bulwark against an Orwellian nightmare of universal tracking. NO2ID has won substantial victories against the New Labour's compulsive move towards a national ID card, keeping it at bay for years. The government wants to issue me (and other immigrants) one of these when my visa next renews, in two years. If they try to, I'll leave and take my family with me. My grandparents fled the Soviet Union rather than live under a ubiquitous surveillance system -- I'm not going to be enmeshed in one two generations later.

Liberty: Britain's answer to the American Civil Liberties Union. Every single time I read or hear a news-story about incursions on human rights in the UK, there's an articulate, knowledgeable Liberty commentator countering government's flimsy arguments and campaigning for our freedom. In an era where politicians spy on us seemingly through naked instinct, like ants building hills, it's groups like Liberty that present our best bulwark against tyranny.

MySociety: Software in the public interest -- it's a damned good idea. MySociety produces software like Pledgebank ("I will risk arrest by refusing to register for a UK ID card if 100,000 other Britons will also do it") and TheyWorkForYou (every word and deed by every Member of Parliament). It's plumbing for activists and community organizers.


  1. That’s my corporate charities decided for this year. ORG may well have just come into its own in the last week as it pretty much uncovered, promoted and opposed the IWF adding a Wikipedia page to its blocklist, in a related way, NO2ID is becoming more important now that cards are being issued, and MySociety is actually working from the inside to make our increasingly slapdash government more accountable with the tools it provides and the information it releases. Plus, the ORG list had an epic win this week with a rambling thread that ended in the almost inevitable comparison to Nazi Germany, which lead to the repost ‘our corporate lawyer *is* Mike Godwin’.

  2. No2ID is unfortunately not a charity – I tried to give them some money from my CAF account, and they told me that since they are counted as having a political objective, they cannot be classified as a charity. Any money given to them will not be treated a charitable giving for tax purposes.

  3. – Pirates for the Preservation of New Orleans Music
    Raising money to replace school music program instruments destroyed by hurricane Katrina by selling fundraising CDs. A favorite charity of mine.

  4. My preference this year in Canada is Give Something Big from Inter Pares. They don’t have as high a profile as many of the organizations listed above but I really like their philosophy and approach.

  5. I would like to second NO2ID as vitally important, being an active member of the organisation myself.

    You’ve got most of my favourites up there, but I would also add :

    Privacy International (UK)

    Privacy International (PI) is a human rights group formed in 1990 as a watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations. PI is based in London, England, and has an office in Washington, D.C. We have campaigned across the world to protect people against intrusion by governments and corporations that seek to erode this fragile right. We believe that privacy forms part of the bedrock of freedoms, and our goal has always been to use every means to preserve it.

    MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) (US)

    The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is a membership-based non-profit research and educational organization. We assist scientists to design, obtain approval for, fund, conduct and report on research into the healing and spiritual potentials of psychedelics and marijuana.

    With sound research results, psychedelic psychotherapy and medical marijuana research have the potential to help millions of people in alleviating the pain, psychological distress and other symptoms of such illnesses as cancer, AIDS and addiction. Research will also help us to better understand our human potential and bring the tools of science to the study of spirituality, meditation and mental functioning.

    Campaign for Dark Skies (UK)

    The CfDS aims to preserve and restore the beauty of the night sky by campaigning against excessive, inefficient and irresponsible lighting that shines where it is not wanted nor needed.

    We believe that light should only shine where it is needed and wanted, and no-where else. Doing so is both easy and cost-effective – and with significant health and safety benefits.

    Much wasted light shines up into the sky, causing the visual orange “smog” that hangs over towns and cities at night, intruding into the countryside, and destroying our view of a star-lit sky.

    This Light Pollution is a visible and needless waste of resources, which contributes to global warming – hundreds of millions of pounds worth of electricity is wasted each year in the UK alone through poor lighting.

    Because astronomers are the most sensitive to the effect of light pollution, the CfDS is a sub-section of the British Astronomical Association, although our membership is made up of a wide range of people, from lighting engineers to astrophysicists.

  6. This is a great list of extremely worthy non-profit and public-interest organizations to donate to, but I find it entirely misleading and somewhat insulting to call the bulk of them charities.

    Simplest put, the universally accepted definition of charities is orgs that help the needy. The only orgs listed above that do that are Sobrevivientes, CRY, and

  7. Jonathan, that’s a far from universal definition. In the US, “charity” typically means “in possession of a 501(c)3 charitable tax-status.

  8. I only give to organizations that don’t spend my money on raising more money.

    Before the TV show on Discovery, had many of you heard of the Sea Shepherds? They’ve been my group of choice since the early 1990’s. They DO things.

    Efficient? no. Inspiring? HELL YES.

  9. Drug Policy Alliance (US)

    DPA is the nation’s leading organization working to end the war on drugs. We envision new drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights and a just society in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.

    Mission and Vision

    The Drug Policy Alliance envisions a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, in which people are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies but only for crimes committed against others, and in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.

    Our mission is to advance those policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of both drug misuse and drug prohibition, and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies.

  10. Yh, Th CL s grt plc fr thsts t gv n Chrstms!

    ll ths chrts r s mch mr mprtnt thn fdng nd clthng ppl wh r gng t d nywy.

    Thy cn blg bt hw mch t hrts t d f strvtn r t hv ds.

    Gd jb BB~!

  11. Please also consider donating or volunteering with the Distributed Proofreaders Foundation, who have far less in terms of resources than Project Gutenberg, but who volunteer their time to make sure the submissions to PG are proofread and accurate, not just OCR junk like the early “classic” PG archive entries.

    Distributed Proofreaders has provided the majority of files in the Gutenberg archive for several years, and those in turn are used by Librivox and dozens of other open-access and for-profit organizations.

    If you want to actually help the commons grow, think about starting at the bottom of the pyramid, not the top.

  12. Yeah, unlike religious charities like the Salvation Army that deny same-sex spousal benefits to their long-term workers who get sick or die on the job. There’s the spirit of Christmas right there for ya.

    Any charity that gives you soup and a sermon at the same time is more interested in giving you a sermon than in giving you soup. Real charity doesn’t come with strings attached.

  13. You can get a two-fer if you adopt an animal with the World Wildlife Fund. They have an option where you can donate the stuffed animal that comes with the donation to Toys for Tots.

  14. @cory #10

    Look up charity in a dictionary – it refers to helping the needy every time.

    A US 501(c)(3) is not a charity , but a non-profit organization. You can read the full text of the law here—-000-.html

    (3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

  15. So a “charitable trust” is always one that helps the needy? There are dozens of the things around here that take on tasks like maintaining old graveyards or cleaning up the parks.

    We can argue about this all day, but it won’t change the fact that I personally know dozens and dozens of people who use “charity” and “nonprofit” or “public interest group sustained by donations.”

  16. A second call for people to look at

    Microloans can make a real dent in poverty, and can help bootstrap small local economies. makes it so simple to contribute to microloans by loaning just $25, and the default rate is under 2%.

    And because the money stays in the system unless you ask for it back, it’s really easy to keep using that same money to do good: in just a few months, I’ve made $150 worth of loans using only $90.

    My other charities, looking at my history from CharityNavigator:
    – Central Asia Institute (see Kristof’s column in the Times, “It Takes a School, Not Missiles)
    – Doctors Without Borders
    – RARE
    – Feeding America (was Second Harvest)
    – Global Hunger Project
    – Conservation International Foundation
    – Center for Biological Diversity
    – Greater Boston Food Bank (charity starts at home, after all)

  17. #18 – Look up charity in a dictionary – it refers to helping the needy every time.

    Look up pedantry while you’re in there, it refers to the self-flagellation of needy intellectuls.

  18. First result in Google for “define:charity”:

    “a foundation created to promote the public good (not for assistance to any particular individuals)”

  19. Other definitions:

    “This is a nonprofit organization providing a public service as defined by the Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3).”

    “A legally incorporated nonprofit organization that operates for the public benefit and has federally registered charitable status Charitable status allows an organization to issue tax receipts for donations, and involves rules and regulations about governance, advocacy and operations that may …”

    “as a noun, refers to a kind of non-profit organization that solicits and is able to accept donations or gifts from individual and corporate donors. A registered charity is a charity which has successfully applied to the federal government under the Income Tax Act for charitable status. …”

    “an activity or gift that benefits the public at large”

  20. For anyone who lives in Calgary, you can always donate to CJSW (, the local community / University of Calgary FM radio station! They also broadcast over the intarwubs, if you non-Calgarians are interested. Not sure if they’re doing a funding drive right now, but they wouldn’t turn down donations.

    Also, The Canadian Diabetes Association does a year-round program called Clothesline (, where you can donate clothing and household items. They’ll even pick it up from your domicile! Granted, they then give your donation to Value Village, but in exchange they get money for diabetes research, education, service and advocacy.

  21. Like some of the suggestions here. I also like the Salvation Army, but my dough goes to Doctors w/o Borders.

    Friend was once gonna do some writing work for Doctors. Went to their office in NY. They asked him to wait in the conference room. It was kind of messy – used paper cups, plastic forks, paper plates and a half-eaten supermarket cake. When the Doctors’ folks arrived, they apologized for the mess. That morning they’d had a party celebrating their Nobel Prize.

  22. #18 Jonathan V

    Look at your own definition:

    Scientific, literary and educational purposes don’t ‘refer to helping the needy’ (not directly anyways). And plenty of charities on Cory’s list have the main purpose of promoting, furthering literacy and access to information and technology (=science, education).

    More importantly, why are you so offended and pushing this ‘tomato-tomatoe’ argument?

  23. “Any charity that gives you soup and a sermon at the same time is more interested in giving you a sermon than in giving you soup. Real charity doesn’t come with strings attached.”

    You think that’s a “string attached” that negates the fact that they’re giving charity??? If I’m hungry and have nowhere else to go, I can certainly listen to a sermon in exchange for free food.

    In contrast, try getting something as basic and essential as food for free with less hassle out of a government run Department of Social Services.

    Most charities either screen or ask you to hear them out on their worldview.

    In the end, they’re helping people who can’t afford to help themselves, and that’s what is really important.

    BTW, I’m totally with #11 MDH on the issue of only giving to charities that don’t spend too much of the money that comes in on fund raising. That’s one reason I support Southern Baptists and their World Hunger fund. Their fund raising efforts are made using un-designated money that comes into the Southern Baptist coffers. All contributed money that comes in designated to the World Hunger fund is used to feed hungry people. Tell some of those hungry people they aren’t receiving “real” charity, and they’ll rightfully laugh.

  24. Cory! You forgot the most important charity of all… The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund ( I want my funny books protected!

    1. Is it just me, or does the Salvation Army take men who beg outside liquor stores and teach them to beg outside grocery stores? The same guy has been working my grocery store for the eight years that I’ve lived here.

  25. T.R.A.S. trans-himalayan-aid-society-daycare and aid for Tibetan refugees and Tibetans in Tibet(very good all donations go direct to aid projects, you can even specify which)

    SEVA-like, naturally

  26. Pyros:

    I prefer giving cash directly to those who are in need.

    Why? Even if all you want is to feed the homeless, is giving directly to homeless people on the street better that giving to a soup kitchen?

    I’d say certainly not. For one thing, economies of scale are much more efficient, even when you take into account overhead. If I had $30 to give out, I could either hand out enough individually for six people to have one hot meal, or give a soup kitchen enough for at least ten people, or more if their overheads are low (I could make a soup on $25 for at least 20, and have).

  27. Because my financial situation is stable I’m giving more this year, as you know the charities will be getting less. I’m just wondering a couple things.

    One: Why didn’t BoingBoing list Child’s Play?

    Two: While I am very much a fan of the work done by Creative Commons and EFF, do you really put them on the same list as CRY or Amnesty International? I would gladly surrender the battles over copyright and DRM if it meant we could win out on human rights and poverty. Priorities.

  28. people should quit quibbling about definitions and just mention what they think are worthy recipients.

    I like BB for many reasons. The lists here are one of them.

  29. Is it just me, or does the Salvation Army take men who beg outside liquor stores and teach them to beg outside grocery stores?

    You teach guys to beg outside grocery stores?

    heh, sorry.

  30. Thank you so much for posting this, Boingboing. Finally, I have a link to use when my conservative sparring partners argue that religion is a requirement of altruism or morality!

  31. #39 – Good point. I responded to what I viewed as a ridiculous statement above, but what I said could have probably been better expressed on my own blog or in some other forum. This BB article is about giving to charity, and some of the comments, my own included, may have tainted the spirit of the article.

    Here’s a link to the charity I mentioned in my earlier comment:

    Here’s a blurb from the website addressing why the World Hunger fund is the best way to put 100% of your contribution to work for good:
    “Only the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund uses 100% of all contributions to feed hungry people. (Personnel are already in place; thus, administrative and promotional costs are borne out of other budgets.)”

  32. While I am very much a fan of the work done by Creative Commons and EFF, do you really put them on the same list as CRY or Amnesty International?

    I know a fair few people who don’t like humans that much, but love animals. They’re never going to give to AIDS research, but they will give to the SPCA. Some people give all their money to preserve historic architecture or personal freedoms. People have different priorities. It’s good that there are charities for everyone to give to.

  33. by Benetech dramatically increases access to books for the community of visually impaired and otherwise print disabled individuals. This online community enables book scans to be shared, thereby leveraging the collections of thousands of individuals who regularly scan books, eliminating significant duplication of effort. takes advantage of a special exemption in the U.S. copyright law that permits the reproduction of publications into specialized formats for the disabled.

  34. I wonder if you looked at ? CRY in India does good work but does not disclose their cost of fundraising.

    GiveIndia tells you up front that their cost of fundraising is 9.1% which is one of the lowest in the entire industry. And US as well as UK donors get tax benefits.

    Check it out.

  35. I never tire of having this blog at work. My family has been quite insistent about getting me gifts for Christmas, though I do not celebrate. Why it did not occur to me to have them donate is beyond me.

  36. Also not tax-deductible, but a cause I find worthy of my support, is UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).
    “For this specialized United Nations agency, it is not enough to build classrooms in devastated countries or to publish scientific breakthroughs. Education, Social and Natural Science, Culture and Communication are the means to a far more ambitious goal : to build peace in the minds of men.”
    I do not trust my government to support this fabulous organization adequately, and want to give money directly.
    It was surprisingly difficult to find out how to give UNESCO money directly, although some of its projects do have “donate” buttons.
    What I finally figured out to do is send a check directly to:

    UNESCO New York Office
    2 United Nations Plaza
    New York, NY 10017

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