Boing Boing Charitable Giving Guide, the 2009 edition

Once again, I'm delighted to return to a Boing Boing seasonal tradition: a 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. As with last year, this is a rough holiday for the charitable sector -- between Madoff collapses and econopocalypse, it's hard out there for everyone. But please, don't forget the charities that keep the world fair, free and healthy this holiday season.

US Charities

Electronic Frontier Foundation: As with every year, EFF gets the largest donation from me this year. Though I rooted for Obama, I harbored no illusions that his inauguration would usher in a golden era of civil liberties. Between secrecy -- suppressing publication of the torture tapes and the text of the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement -- and the Dems' traditional coziness with Hollywood (the DMCA was a Cliniton creation), it's more important than ever to have principled, effective civil liberties watchdogs on the scene. I've seen first hand how smart EFF spends, how much they do with just a little, and I know that every penny I can spare makes a difference.

Creative Commons: Now six years old, CC continues to grow in relevance and reach. More governments, schools, artists and corporations are finding freedom in the Creative Commons licenses. I make my living with CC, and so much of the media I love -- the media that changes and challenges me -- is released under CC licenses.

Mark sez, Sova Community Food and Resource Program operates three food pantries in Los Angeles to supply very low income families in Los Angeles with groceries. "Nobody is ever turned away without food."

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: The Free Software Foundation's principled litigation, license creation and campaigning is fierce, uncompromising and has changed the world. You interact with code that they made possible a million times a day, and they never stop working to make sure that the code stays free.

The Internet Archive: A free repository for all of human knowledge, a bottomless source of bandwidth and storage, the Internet's collective memory, the reinvention of the library right before our eyes. I don't know what I'd do without it.

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 proud to serve on PCF's board as a volunteer, and I love the totally wonderful free media player they produce, Miro, an Internet TV program that just works . Because TV is too important to leave up to Microsoft and Apple.

The Clarion Foundation: I'm also a volunteer on Clarion's board, helping to oversee 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.

Child Rights and You: I travelled to Mumbai last 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). 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

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: As Britain's slide into the surveillance society continues, as unelected officials present insane proposals to dismantle privacy and due process to catch pirates, ORG just gets more and more relevant. Membership is up 25% since the Digital Economy Bill was introduced and it continues to grow. Your £5/month pays to keep the lights on for a group of activists working to keep DRM off the BBC, working to ensure that you won't lose your Internet connection because someone in your house was accused of infringement.

NO2ID: 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. Don’t forget “Child’s Play”, the charity run by Penny Arcade to donate games to children in hospitals.

  2. For the tech radicals in the crowd, I find that always deserves a donation. They provide free hosting services for political groups that might be targeted by government repression, and they also do some great R&D for creating secure and truly free communications and organizing for political activists.


    The purpose of this charity (which is just starting to get off the ground) is to improve the health of women and children in the remote provinces of Afghanistan. The site has tons of info about the plight and difficulty of women’s healthcare in that country. Currently they are trying to raise enough money to provide training for midwives.

  4. Let’s Bring ’em Home ( is a great charity dedicated to paying for lower enlisted soldiers to fly home for the holidays.

  5. I like all of the pro-freedom groups Cory endorses, and I would add two: The Cato Institute,, an ally on many issues Boing Boing cares about, and the Libertarian Futurist Society (, which this year gave its Prometheus Award to Cory’s novel, “Little Brother.”

    But please, in a time when many people are struggling to get by in the worse recession in decades, let’s remember there are charities worth supporting besides copyright reform. I like Kiva, which provides interest-free microloans to help proof working people around the world ( and the Second Harvest food bank,, which helps hard-pressed food distribution centers across the U.S.

    1. I also support Kiva, but I should point out that the loans are not interest free. You, the lender, are not paid any interest, but the lendees do pay interest. This goes to the “local partners.”

  6. Speaking up for the four-footed – Cat House on the Kings in California is a great no-kill no-cage shelter that can always use help. There are many ways listed on their contribution page, another way here:, and you can donate in honor of a hard-to-buy-for cat lover and have a “plaque” posted on CH’s website.

  7. If what you see here on BB doesn’t cover the stuff you care about, head over to one (or more) of these sites to find highly rated charities that support the cause of your choice without waste and sketchy bookkeeping.

    The American Institute of Philanthropy’s Charity Watch has a list of top-rated charities organized by cause:

    The Charity Navigator has lots of great lists and commentary:

    The Charities Review Council is Minnesota-centric:

    The Better Business Bureau has a quarterly Wise Giving Guide:

  8. My favorite charity is Clean Water for Haiti, of which I am the director. We are a small, volunteer run NGO that sells Biosand water filters at a subsidized price. Our budget is only about $200,000 per year but virtually all of it goes to help the Haitian people find access to drinking water. If you want a more intimate picture of what we do in Haiti you can look at my wife’s blog.

  9. is the longstanding life raft for knowledge of the complex relationship between humans and psychoactive plants and chemicals. I’m guessing many people reading this have leaned on it as a resource at one time or another. Donors get their excellent Extracts newsletter and other good stuff.

  10. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

    Our mandate concerns emergency relief, and the principles we honour while carrying out our work are contained in the MSF Charter. We launch our operations in areas where there is no medical infrastructure or where the existing one cannot withstand the pressure to which it is subjected. In most cases, relief programs change to rehabilitation projects that may run for several years after the most urgent needs have been met.

    For doing work that I wholly support but would never be able to do.

  11. Coney Island USA ( is a nonprofit arts center based in Brooklyn’s Amusement zone and they definitely need some help this season. Their programs include the Mermaid Parade(the largest art parade in the US), as well as Sideshows by the Seashore, Burlesque at the Beach, The Coney Island Film festival, the Coney Island Museum and more.

    Alternatively, between now and Dec. 11th Facebook users can vote for them in the Chase Bank Community giving program. ( )

  12. A vote for the Office of Letters and Light, the group behind National Novel Writing Month, Script Frenzy, and the corresponding Young Writers Programs. They’re working towards creative expression, literacy, and literary appreciation – and they’re the people who keep us going every November and April. :)

  13. Just wanted to say thanks very much for including Amnesty in your list. We really appreciate all the support you and Boing Boing have shown us this year, it’s really helped make some of our campaigns a success, so thanks again!

    Online Communities Editor, Amnesty UK

  14. I’ve always found particular inspiration from Partners In Health ( They do comprehensive medical care in the most extreme poverty areas, such as the upper plateau of Hati, Malawi, Peru, and more. PIH is very highly rated in efficiency and success rates. I’m a little biased, because it was established in part by Paul Farmer, my idol.

    Part of what has made them so successful in providing healthcare is that they take a holistic view of healthcare, reforming and educating the way people think about health, improving hygiene and access to clean water, employing locals to do a tremendous amount of follow up work, etc. I can’t recommend them enough

  15. Another resource for finding strong charities is Philanthropedia ( We use experts to identify top nonprofits so you can trust your donations are helping really great organizations. And, we create a mutual fund from the organizations so you can support an entire social cause you care about–it’s a different way to give, but a smarter strategy because no one organization will have the solution to the sector’s problems.

  16. Wanted to toss in a good word for a couple of my favorites, as well.

    Harlem Children’s Zone is an innovative non-profit that seems to be developing a new, actually effective model for improving the lives of underprivileged children over the long haul and breaking the cycle of poverty. You can read more about them in this Washington Post article:
    Their Web site is here:

    Scholarship America strives to make post-secondary education available to all:

    Big Brothers/ Big Sisters, you know what they do. I’m a Big and this is a great program:

    National Alliance to End Homelessness is just what it sounds like and their mission is particularly important today, when homelessness rates are at a recent high:

    The Salk Institute is doing the basic lab research necessary to find cures for a whole host of human diseases:

    The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria does important work getting preventative treatment and affordable medications to all parts of the world.

  17. I’d ask any Torontonians interested in helping a worthy cause at the most mind-blowing Holiday party ever to check out – our Twitter-powered giant Seasonal love-in for the geek, creative and marketing crowd in the GTA.

    Last year’s event (recap: raised $25K for the Daily Bread Food Bank. Food bank use is up 18% this year – they desperately need our help. Tickets are dirt cheap and the party is just phenomenal. Trying to raise $40K this year. Help the world suck a little less and party your ya-yas off while you’re at it.

  18. There’s also Wikileaks, which most people from around these parts are familiar with. They now have a paypal setup for donating, so it’s way easy.

  19. I’d like to toss Project DoD into the hat as well.

    To quote them:

    Project DoD is a nonprofit collective organized to research and develop tools, technologies, and infrastructure that promote community, solidarity, and autonomy.

    One of their specialties is in hosting sites that have been kicked off other hosts due to DMCA abuses (and helping those sites resist further DMCA takedown abuses) though I believe that all are welcome to use them as a web host. They’ve been very good to a friend of mine who runs a blog highlighting child abuse and murder by a network of sketch-ass ‘therapists’.

  20. You and others have mentioned many worthy causes, but they seem to be very local. I feel we should help make life livable for people far away from us, people whose lives have been destroyed by our protectionism, greed and disregard for the environment. I am not a religious person at all, but I think World Vision Canada is doing a tremendous job helping people around the world overcome poverty, malnutrition and injustice.

  21. Vote up for Amnesty. Without the freedoms they safeguard, many other advocacy groups couldn’t function.

    Same same with ACLU, EFF and others.

  22. A cry for help. I used to like to give the younger kids on my gift list things like soccer balls or school supplies donated to kids in developing countries in their name through Samaritan’s Purse. I’ve since found out that Samaritan’s Purse owns a private aircraft, and has been flying Sarah Palin around in it. Frankly, I’m sick of giving money to Christian charities, only to have them turn around and use it to proclaim values that I’m completely against.

    Is there a good, reputable organisation that does the same thing and doesn’t have ridiculous overheads, fly affluent preachers around for prayer dates, or support vile hatemongers? The kids have loved these gifts in the past, and one young cousin actually asks for them (hooray!)

  23. GAH, for the second year in a row you haven’t listed the MSF. Doctors Without Borders is THE best humanitarian/medical agency around. They don’t pay humongous executive salaries or have incredibly high overhead like The Red Cross. And even better: they go places that The Red Cross won’t. Giving money to the MSF means someone’s life will be measurably improved (they’ll be fed, or get critical medical care) and that a VERY HIGH percentage of your donation will actually go towards providing those services.

  24. Another good one is blood:water mission, they do HIV/AIDS work and water development in Africa. Right now they are fund raising for biosand filters.

  25. you need to be very careful about how a non-profits raises and spends its funding….check overhead, administrative and fundraising costs carefully….after all, you want as much of your donation to go to help and not for salaries and pension plans…

    carefully selected non-profits in the USA, Israel and around the world that meet the ‘efficient and effective’ criteria of using funding….

  26. I’d like to suggest Coffee Kids. A nonprofit dedicated to helping impoverished coffee-farming families improve their quality of life. The organization supports locally-managed programs in microcredit and economic diversification, education and training, health awareness, and food security. Coffee-farming families reduce their dependence on the annual crop and create alternatives for more consistent income.

    Check out

  27. NextAid’s mission is to improve the lives of youth in Africa by implementing and advancing sustainable solutions. They have several great charitable giving options for the holidays this year …
    – “Funk Aid for Africa” CD with 100% of the proceeds of this awesome compilation going to NextAid’s environmental community center in South Africa.
    – MUD Cares Palette of Eyeshadows where 100% of the proceeds go towards building homes for children in Africa who have been orphaned by AIDS
    – “Send a Child to School” program for a $75 donation


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