Atheist Charity Results

So, you may or may not recall that last week, Matt Nisbet posted about a study purporting to show that religious people were more generous in their charitable giving than atheists. One of his commenters opted to go for the "sour grapes" response, claiming that religious charities were all stupid, and asking rhetorically:

How many religious people will back programs for the poor that include sex education, birth control, access to low-cost abortions, health education, job training, home economics, how to eat better when money is tight, and so on?

This annoyed me, so I asked for recommendations of non-religious charities meeting some or all of those criteria, and promised to put up $200 of my own to one or more of those organizations. I got a bunch of responses, and have compiled the most relevant ones here:

First of all, many thanks to Deborah G. for pointing me at Charity Navigator, which made going through this stuff a whole lot easier. You can probably quibble with their methodology, but if nothing else, they provide information about most of these organizations in a consistent format, which is a huge help. Accordingly, the links below will be to the Charity Navigator listings for each group, where available.

Second, some caveats: 1) The request was specifically for anti-poverty charities providing some or all of the services listed above. Accordingly, I'm somewhat arbitrarily restricting this list to charities aimed at fighting poverty specifically, and excluding disaster relief and politically oriented groups. I'll take "job training [and] home economics" to include microcredit organizations, because I can. 2) The request was for non-religious groups, and I'm taking that to exclude both religiously affiliated groups and groups dedicated to opposing religious practices. Thus, no Unitarian Universalists or American Friends Service Committee, and no Freedom From Religion Foundation or Tapestry Against Polygamy. This is not intended to denigrate the work done by any of these groups, it's just meant to keep things manageable on my end. 3) I'm also going to restrict this to national or international organizations, not groups working in a specific location. There are lots of groups doing fine work in specific cities or communities, but this is going up on the Internet, so I'm looking for the most broadly applicable groups I can find.

So, here's the list of recommendations meeting those arbitrary criteria. Descriptions are taken from the Charity Navigator page, but appear to have been written by the groups themselves.

  • Alternative Gifts International: "The global mission of AGI is to send authentic, life-giving gifts to a needy world -- gifts that build a partnership with oppressed people in crisis and that protect and preserve the earth's endangered environment -- to nourish and sustain a more equitable and peaceful global community. In addition, AGI raises funds each year for global gifts in its Alternative Gift Markets and from individual donors to respond to those needs. Designated grants then are sent to the established international projects of several reputable nonprofit agencies for relief and development. Its major foci in selecting projects are the abolition of global poverty and the renewal of the planet's endangered environment." (They describe themselves as an "interfaith agency," which is dodgy under the no-religion criterion, but they don't appear to be religiously affiliated, and they list some good stuff.)
  • America's Second Harvest: "It is the nation's largest charitable hunger-relief organization, with a network of more than 200 Member food banks and food-rescue organizations serving all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. America's Second Harvest supports approximately 50,000 local charitable agencies operating more than 94,000 programs including food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, after-school programs, and Kids Cafes. Last year, the America's Second Harvest Network provided food assistance to more than 25 million low-income hungry people in the United States." (Primarily an agency directly providing food, which doesn't quite fit the original criteria, but they do some education stuff as well.)
  • FINCA International: "FINCA International provides financial services to the world's lowest-income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets and improve their standard of living. FINCA village banking programs provide small loans, a savings program, and technical support for the self-employed poor, helping them to work their own way out of poverty. In 2005, FINCA disbursed over $323 million in loans to more than 375,000 clients worldwide through 22 programs in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Loans averaged $360, with an on-time repayment rate of 97%." (A large scale microcredit organization.)
  • Heifer Project International: "Heifer Project International is a humanitarian assistance organization that works to end world hunger and protect the earth. Through livestock, training and "passing on the gift," Heifer has helped seven million families in more than 125 countries improve their quality of life and move toward greater self-reliance. Heifer helps build strong communities because each project participant agrees to pass on the gift of animal offspring, training, or skills to another family in need." (Basically, microcredit in the form of livestock.)
  • Kiva (not listed on Charity Navigator, so the text is taken from their web site): "Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back." (A novel approach to microcredit, with donors getting the option to either get their money back, or re-loan it out to somebody else.)
  • Mercy Corps: "Mercy Corp has worked to provide relief and long-term development, strengthening civil society and inspiring the individual courage it takes to overcome poverty, injustice and oppression. Since its inception, Mercy Corps has provided $1 billion in assistance to people in 82 nations. Mercy Corps pursues its mission through: emergency relief services that assist people afflicted by conflict or disaster; sustainable economic development that integrates agriculture, health, housing and infrastructure, economic development, education and environment, and local management; and civil society initiatives that promote citizen participation, accountability, conflict management and the rule of law." (A little bit of everything-- disaster relief, and general anti-poverty work, along with some political development work.)
  • Oxfam America: "Oxfam America works on the scene, helping people gain the hope, skills, and direction to create a new future. We are also active in the global arena, addressing social injustice through our advocacy, public education, and emergency assistance programs. While Oxfam employs a variety of strategies to achieve our mission, the goal in all our endeavors is the same: to enable poor people to exercise their right to manage their own lives. The specific issues we work on include making a living, natural resources, peace and security, equality for women, indigenous and minority rights, and global trade." (More political advocacy than most of the others on this list.)
  • Pathfinder International: "Pathfinder International believes that reproductive health is a basic human right. When parents can choose the timing of pregnancies and the size of their families, women's lives are improved and children grow up healthier. Pathfinder International provides women, men, and adolescents throughout the developing world with access to quality family planning and reproductive health information and services. Pathfinder works to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, to provide care to women suffering from the complications of unsafe abortion, and to advocate for sound reproductive health policies in the U.S. and abroad." (Very similar to Planned PArenthood, without actually providing abortions, as far as I can tell.)
  • Partners in Health: "Partners In Health's (PIH) mission is to provide a preferential option for the poor in health care. The work of PIH has three goals: to care for our patients, to alleviate the root causes of disease in their communities, and to share lessons learned around the world. Through long-term partnerships with our sister organizations, we bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need and work to alleviate the crushing economic and social burdens of poverty that exacerbate disease. PIH believes that health is a fundamental right, not a privilege." (Includes an emphasis on health education, which makes it fit the original criteria.)
  • Planned Parenthood: "Planned Parenthood Federation of America believes in the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility, regardless of the individual's income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence. We believe that respect and value for diversity in all aspects of our organization are essential to our well-being. We believe that reproductive self-determination must be voluntary and preserve the individual's right to privacy. We further believe that such self-determination will contribute to an enhancement of the quality of life, strong family relationships, and population stability." (The popular piss-off-the-fundies choice.)
  • TechnoServe: "TechnoServe helps entrepreneurial men and women in poor rural areas of the developing world to build businesses that create income, opportunity and economic growth for their families, their communities and their countries. TechnoServe's strategy for generating economic growth in developing countries is based on a market-driven, business-oriented approach. Our strategic management and marketing services include market research, market linkages, business plan development, financial and commercial linkages, supply-chain management, and operational consulting." (Making the world a better place through the strategic use of business jargon...)

Really, that ought to be enough to sate anybody's need for places to send charitable contributions. And not a Bible-thumper in the bunch.

So, who's getting my money? I'm going to throw $100 each to Mercy Corps and Pathfinder, because they cover most of the range of things I think are important, and are impressively efficient in their work, with around 90% of donations going directly to their programs (One of the nice things about Charity Navigator is that it lets me feel all scientific-like about making these decisions...). Pathfinder offers the extra bonus draw of pissing off hard-core fundamentalists, and I'm not immune to the lure of irritating Jeezmoids.

Really, though, any of these organizations look like they'd be worthy of a donation. So send them some money, already.


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I was that 'sour grapes' poster.

Planned Parenthood is especially deserving of help. The current US administration treats them like a communist conspiracy, and PP has as its number one enemy Big Pharma. You really can gauge their worth by the enemies they've earned.

You mentioned Partners in Health, which, is Dr. Paul Farmer's brainchild. Its a wonderful charity, that I encourage all of you to read about in a book called "Mountains Beyond Mountains". Truly wonderful and remarkable stuff they do.

Great Post

You mentioned Partners in Health, which, is Dr. Paul Farmer's brainchild. Its a wonderful charity, that I encourage all of you to read about in a book called "Mountains Beyond Mountains". Truly wonderful and remarkable stuff they do.

Great Post!

Okay, consider it matched: Same total amount to Kiva, by the end of the month. Kick me by e-mail if I don't mail you by the end of the month, as it is quite possible I will completely forget.

By John Novak (not verified) on 09 Jul 2007 #permalink

Along similar lines to Kiva is _Modest Needs_ which has attracted some of my recent giving. That and Medecins sans Frontieres pretty much cover things for me, although we tend to be suckers for PP also.

I have been wondering whether I should shift at least somewhat towards environmental preservation, though. No matter how bad things are for some folks, it would be nice if we kept the planet in a useful state for a while. Thoughts?

What Leigh said.

"Mountains Behind Mountains" & Paul Farmer's Partners In Health is good.

Hee hee. Some of the churches I've been to used to have special offerings for some of these outfits. Hope that doesn't spoil it for anybody.


Don't forget Doctors Without Borders - although Mercy Corps sounds similar.

Re: #2

I was unaware of a conflict between pharma/biotech and PP.

Please elaborate (with references if possible).

In answer to your question quoted in the post, you should see the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice at There are also a variety of religious charities that provide job training, health education, etc.

I think this is a great service you're providing. Although I'm aware that most atheists will donate to or volunteer for religious charities that do things they believe in, I can understand not wanting to give money if you think it may go to activities with which you disagree. In support, I'm going to post a link to this on my own blog.

In answer to your question quoted in the post, you should see the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice at There are also a variety of religious charities that provide job training, health education, etc.

I think this is a great service you're providing. Although I'm aware that most atheists will donate to or volunteer for religious charities that do things they believe in, I can understand not wanting to give money if you think it may go to activities with which you disagree. In support, I'm going to post a link to this on my own blog.


I give to Kiva. It is so satisfying. (MercyCorps is one of their field partners.) It is great because you give to actual individuals and get emails about their progress. Several people at my office do this now and we share stories about how one's "baker" or "pig farmer" or "rice grower" is doing. I look forward to every second Wednesday when I get paid because that is the night when I invest $25 directly into a person's business in Cambodia or Ecuador or Cameroon or Bulgaria. Please Google News --> Kiva
Thanks for Google Alerts for leading me to your Blog. I will bookmark it.


-- Sean


Nice list and good approach to finding organizations worth a look. With four stars on Charity Navigator, Freedom from Hunger should have come up, as well.

We have been engaged in microfinance since the early 1990s, pioneering the sustainable integration of finance and low-cost, health and business education. At any rate, we'd welcome inquiries about our particular approach. We work with Oxfam and have worked with Partners in Health in the past, both good groups.

Sean Kline

By Sean Kline (not verified) on 09 Jul 2007 #permalink

My family gives semi-reguarly to Hefier International. I think we have gotten my father a flock of birds for gift giving holidays for a few years running now.

By a cornellian (not verified) on 10 Jul 2007 #permalink

I imagine Christians do give more mnoney.

The Catholic Church in America has had to shell out over 1000 million dollars to abuse victims.

That money did not all come from selling lemonade.

By Steven Carr (not verified) on 15 Jul 2007 #permalink

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This is a great annotated list. I've marked on so that I can find it easily, and maybe someone else will run across it :-)

It just really pisses me off when I look at charity navigator and see the compensation given to the administrators of these chharities. Several are given almost $400,000 per year! I will not give to a charity that pays their admins that much- I want my money to go where it's needed, not to some rich man's pocket.