The Charity Thread

The holiday season is fast approaching in the western world. Always a good time to think, and reflect on our place in the world. I wanted to start a thread on navigating charitable giving. We can start with where, and how, do you donate, and why. I’ll start.

I give to:

  • St. Judes, because kids shouldn’t get cancer;
  • Fistula Foundation, because women need support;
  • Local SPCA because animals deserve a fair go, too;
  • My college scholarship fund. I sucked down a huge amount of money, and now I will pay it back.

The church gets a bit, $20 into the collection plate when I remember to grab cash, but the Catholic Church is pretty rich. I don’t have a lot of time, so I compensate with money, and struggle with a little bit of guilt.

My amount falls somewhere between 10% of net and gross. It’s been good enough for most societies for generations upon generations, so why recreate the wheel?


I give consistently to:
National Public Radio - because I believe in having serious journalism and a free press (knowledge)
Khan Academy - because I believe in access to education (knowledge)
Wikipedia - again, the knowledge thing

Earlier this year I gave to the Navajo Nation COVID relief fund, and some BLM efforts.

ETA: I do give to political candidates - but I don’t consider that charity.

I also used to have easy access to “adopt-a-child/family” campaigns via ex-employer, but haven’t figured out good targets for this after leaving work.


Currently, it’s:

  • food bank
  • ACLU
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Local PBS, NPR, and affiliated local paper
  • Wikipedia

This comes to like 5%. I’ve occasionally donated to other orgs this year, like bail funds and the NLG during the protests when even legal observers and medics were getting attacked.

But I want to pick one or two causes to support more significantly. I think I’ve been settling on an NGO that supports refugees, but need to do my research.

(Great thread, @PAWG!)


We currently give to our church and NPR consistently, and other groups on a more sporadic basis. Buying things from the kids I coach when they are doing fundraisers for school also gets categorized as charity.

Why we give to our church - We are catholic but our particular church doesn’t send money to the Vatican or contribute to the big umbrella catholic organizations. Our church is up to tithing 5% to our local diocese and after administrative things are paid for the rest is used to support the two major catholic charities in our area, a women’s shelter and a food bank. In addition to our monthly tithing we also help with the extra efforts the church does, like adopting a family for Christmas gifts each year off the wish tree and picking a few children to buy school supplies for each summer.

*I also really like that our pastor is part of a group of priests who have really strict rules about their vow of poverty. For example, his car broke down a few years ago (when we were sitting in on RCIA classes) and he spent a lot of time finding a new one because he wasn’t allowed to own a car worth more than $10,000. Things like this make me more comfortable contributing toward the parish - I would definitely not donate to a church where the pastor drove a flashy car.

Oh ETA - My brother, aunt, cousins, and I usually all get together to adopt a family each year from the Salvation Army for Christmas as well. When I was a child my mom’s house was one of the families that was adopted one year so that is something that is really important to my brother and I, to give back to the organization that gave us so such a memorable Christmas when we were children.


Great thread! This year I mostly gave to Democratic campaigns and some local BLM-related groups and bail funds and such.

I donate when I can to the cat shelter where I got my little monsters. My Amazon Smile is set to go to my community garden org.

Here is a question. How do you all decide how much to give, monthly, annually, whatever? I’d love to hear especially from people who are not meeting their savings goals but give anyway. I don’t have a plan, I tend to throw money at a cause when I am horrified by something going on, panicking over election results, etc.


In our case it isn’t strictly a set amount. The tithing to the church and NPR are set monthly but at really low amounts - I think $10 per month to NPR and $100 per month to the church. However the extra stuff is really sporadic. This year we have donated $1700 to our judo club (501C-3 non-profit) to help them through covid times, we just donated $100 to the group that runs our state’s early intervention program, we spent $30 on things from a friend’s daughter who was selling them for her girl scout troop, and we will likely spend $100-150 on Christmas gifts for our portion of the family we are assigned by the Salvation Army.

Normally the school supplies can come out to around $100-$150 per year too depending on how many kids we buy for and what ages they are, but since we were all virtual they didn’t do that at our church this year.

Overall we feel like we don’t donate enough and it is something we are trying to get better about.

Thanks for starting this thread @PAWG! It’s a good reminder for me to go and tally up my contributions.

I’ve been aspiring to get to 10% giving too, because well, it seems like a good cultural benchmark and it feels big enough to be Significant without being overwhelming. I don’t think I’m close to that yet but it’s a “someday” goal.

This year I mostly gave to voting rights groups, racial justice orgs, the EFF, and Planned Parenthood. I want to find a good climate-focused charity to add to the mix. I’ve avoided international groups so far bc figuring out what effective international giving looks like felt too complicated / scary. :confounded:


I agree but I haven’t quite figured out how to balance that with meeting my savings goals, which I’m falling far short of. I probably just need to do an actual budget at some point and include a line item for charity.


My giving is mostly local, and focused on food, shelter, and jobs. Two food banks, one homeless shelter, and an org that gives jobs to people with disabilities. I’m ramping up to 10% of my total spending, but I’m not there yet. Well, actually, my spending has otherwise been so low this year that I might be there without any increase to my giving, but I’m not yet up to 10% of typical spending. Soon.


I’ve been aspiring to get back to 10% as well but I hover closer to 6-8% of spending

All OMD ad $$ are going to black-led trans-led orgs, one per month. It ends up being $100-$150 a month. A few we’ve donated to since June:

Local stuff, usually I try to donate monthly but there’s been a lot of one-off calls for action given the pandemic and protests this year:
Voz Workers Rights - worker-led group for organizing and aid for day workers
Black Resilience - a project of several of my friends, mutual aid charity for Black Portlanders
The Numberz - also project of my friend, local black radio station + media organization
Community Cycling Center - local poverty-focused and anti-racist bike shop/bike education nonprofit that is delivering food boxes during the pandemic (also my former employer)
Been funding all my teacher friend’s projects during the pandemic, most are coordinating mutual aid for immigrant and refugee families since schools have been closed.

And there’s political donations, which were higher this year with several friends running for office, but I also am part of Business for Better Portland which is a business association that…doesn’t suck!?

I also do about $50 a month towards various patreons, which isn’t charity but I consider it mutual aid.


How do you research local charities regarding their giving:overhead numbers? That is pretty easy on a national level, but I am not sure about locals.

1 Like

I … don’t. And I’m sure their overhead is high, just based on the mailings I get. But they are the ones who do the work in my small city. Giving locally is important to me, so that’s where my money goes.

1 Like

All you have to do is look up their 990, which is their tax document:

What I will recommend is to not focus too much on the “overhead myth” - spending money on paying staff, having health insurance for staff or rent doesn’t make an org a bad charity. in fact, paying staff often is what makes a charity more effective. The amount of lengths small nonprofits have to to go to to save money on printer paper to lower"overhead" is often what cripples their effectiveness. For example, getting free food donated at a food bank is part of their work - but the cost of a truck driver to pick it up - overhead. The cost of a warehouse to hold it? overhead. The cost of a volunteer manager to coordinate the people to hand it out? overhead.

Previously a lot of non-profits had no staff costs because they were privileged women with well-off husbands who could afford to volunteer all their time. Not so much now.

Here’s a website on the overhead myth:

And this:

(We don’t begrudge businesses for spending money on mailing or health insurance for staff, but we do nonprofits)


Yeah, I have several options here, and just want the money to go the the effort as much as possible.

I’m extremely passionate about the overhead myth, as someone who would make penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions because we couldn’t add to overhead, and who rarely had benefits like health care because that would add to overhead.

$2 million dollar executives? yea, gross.

Spending 40% of your $200,000 annual budget on staffing, health insurance, printer paper and rent? Part of the cost of doing business


Actually, I do. If stores would stop sending me glossy catalogs, maybe they could lower their prices. But I agree with the rest of your post.

1 Like

You can ask them to send you no catalog, just the same as you can ask non-profits to put you on a “no mail” list. But annual campaigns - we did two a year - brought in $50 for every $1 I spent on postage and printing. We got the printing at a discount and we got the non-profit bulk mail rate. It’s part of the cost of doing business in giving.

(It’s actually much cheaper and more effective than throwing a gala unless you have really big dollar donors or profile, but a lot of donors prefer to have a gala or block party fundraiser)

(Okay one more ETA: emails are not “free” compared to paper mail, contrary to popular belief. I paid $4000 year for our 25K email list, and we paid about the same to send mailings to 5000 donors, but got a much higher return from the second)


I understand that local organizations will have higher overhead. But having volunteered at a local place where the ED was pushing to get paid, but not really doing much of anything (spending time in the office, but not doing the org’s work for most of that time) - it’s a concern for me. I like to think a good organization will have some transparency around all of this (maybe that is naive).

1 Like

All 501© 3s in the US have open finances! Check the 990 which you can find by searching for at the link I provided above. I usually look for the annual report, too, which should include financials.

I worked my way up to 10% of [[thing]], where [[thing]] is kind of arbitrary. For a while it was net salary, until I hit 5 digit per year, then I switched to net plus whatever it takes to get to a round number.

Next year I think I’m going to try for 10% of gross salary, rounded down to the nearest $1k, because wow fucking balls, that’s close to $15k.

I did spend A Lot of time flailing around with how to ‘do’ both charity and savings. Eventually, I found a path that works for me, and probably won’t work for anyone else. I think it’s just one of those things you have to wrestle with, and develop your own solution.