Give it away. Now!
This Tuesday is Giving Tuesday — a coordinated day of giving to nonprofit organizations. It’s a response to the manic consumerism of the holiday season, and an opportunity to support some truly noble efforts that are already underway. Given the dark and terrifying turn in the national political landscape, it’s more important than ever for those who have the means to donate do so, to stave off environmental disaster, to protect immigrant rights, to prevent the dismantling of our social safety net, to defend our privacy, and to combat racism, sexism and homophobia.
As a member of the tech community, I strongly believe that all of us in tech need to step it up with philanthropic giving. We cannot just leave it to the Zuckerbergs and Benioffs to support worthy causes. Let’s be real, sometimes those of us who spend our time solving new problems with technology have a tendency to overlook effective, traditional solutions to longstanding societal challenges in favor of flashier, technical ones. Realistically, if the homeless shelter down the street doesn’t have enough blankets, we should rush to buy them more blankets, not build them a better website.
While it may seem unintuitive, giving away a substantive amount of money to charity each year is a hard thing to do. Even with the best intentions, it’s easy to end up donating far less than anticipated. My husband and I keep track of all of our charitable contributions in a spreadsheet. Every year right around this time, we open the spreadsheet and realize that we’re woefully short of our targets for the year. Fortunately for us, Giving Tuesday provides the perfect opportunity to self-correct before the end of the year. With the right amount of planning and willpower, we can have an enormous impact.
At the end of this post I’ve provided a list of organizations that I recommend supporting, which might save you some time when figuring out where to donate. But I also encourage you to look into the organizations working on the causes you care about most. Think about becoming a monthly donor to a few groups you like. Volunteer for them. Get to know their staff. Attend a fundraiser. Develop a personal relationship with the folks who have dedicated their lives to making the world a better place. I have, and this personal connection keeps me motivated to give and lets me see the benefits of my giving.
How much to give
How much you can afford to give of course depends on your individual financial situation, but think about what it would mean to give deep. If you regularly spend $50 on nice dinners, think about giving away 50 times that much, not 5 times. Making a $2500 donation might feel pretty hefty at first, but it could be well within your capacity to give. Try to maximize employer matching programs: Microsoft matches charitable contributions up to $15,000 per employee per year — you’d have to donate more than $250 every week to take full advantage of that.
You should also look at your charitable contributions as a percentage of your take home pay. When I first started tracking my own donations, I felt like I was giving away a lot of money, but came to realize that I was only giving about 1% of my salary annually. If you’re a well-compensated tech employee, the difference between 1% and 5% can have a huge impact on the operating budget of the nonprofits to which you donate, but might not break your budget. And if 5% feels like a stretch, consider the fact that tithing, a common practice for many religious people, is typically 10% or higher.
Don’t worry if this feels like a daunting goal. It’s OK to start small, but you should start now with Giving Tuesday.
Organizations to support
I’ve put together a list of nonprofits that I encourage you to consider when making donations on Giving Tuesday. Usually for Giving Tuesday I pick one or two issues that seem particularly dire, and donate to organizations that are already doing great work on those issues. This year, however, the slate of issues feels immense. I’ve chosen to focus on organizations that are really fighting — and unfortunately right now that often means legal action — for the issues and people that are most under attack. For each category I’ve tried to list a national organization as well as a state or local option, all of which need your support.
If you’re looking for even more donation options, I also recommend this list. If you have organizations that you’d like to recommend, please add them in response below. Remember, Giving Tuesday is tomorrow, just in time to up your charitable giving game.