Seven charities changing the world for women and open tech/culture

Why is December the biggest month of the year for giving to charities? No matter how many times it plays on TV, "A Christmas Carol" can't explain everything. Donations to some charities are tax-exempt in the U.S., but only the most Scrooge-like folks donate just because their accountant recommended it. 'Tis the season – but why?

We decided to interview two Ada Initiative advisors about end-of-year giving and how they decide which charities to support year-round. Lukas Blakk is a release engineer for a popular open source company, and Kellie Brownell is a professional fundraiser for a prominent open technology non-profit.

But first, here are seven of our favorite open tech/culture and/or pro-women charities (yes, we included ourselves – we're biased).

  • Black Girls Code: Giving girls and young women of color the opportunity to learn programming and STEM skills
  • Hollaback: Fighting street harassment around the world
  • Python Software Foundation: Supporting the growth and diversity of the Python open source community (and leading the way on welcoming women)
  • Wikimedia Foundation: Bringing the sum of human knowledge to the world for free – including women's knowledge
  • Scarleteen: Creating sex-positive online sex education for teenagers
  • Creative Commons: Enabling the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge
  • Ada Initiative: Supporting women in open technology and culture (that's us!)

Now to our interview with Kellie and Lukas:

Q: What's the general idea of end-of-year giving? Why do people do it?

Kellie: According to nonprofits that took part in a survey by Charity Navigator, they receive on average over 40% of contributions between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. Non-profits tend to go all out during this time. We'll send more appeals to more people in one month than we will have during the rest of the year. To a certain extent non-profits condition all of us to give during the holiday season.

Here are some of the reasons why people prefer to give now:

  • My family makes our philanthropic decisions when we are all together during the holidays
  • I love to procrastinate and December 31 is the final deadline for making tax deductible donations for the year
  • I receive my bonus in December
  • It's a better time for me to assess my financial situation
  • I think about what I can do to make the world a better place around the end of the year

Combined, these reasons make year end giving a pretty important time for the non-profit sector. As a fundraiser, it's obviously my favorite time of the year because I get to meet and thank some people with great generosity of spirit and hope for our success defending the rights of technology users.

Q: What's your strategy for donating to organizations?

Lukas: I have a few monthly giving amounts set up for organizations because I know that having a steady, reliable source of income makes a big difference for small organizations trying to do big things. These are organizations whose missions I feel closest to. Then I also donate to some organizations at one-offs like yearly fundraisers. Finally there are several annual memberships that I renew every year.

Q: What are some ways to increase the impact of the money you donate?

Kellie: This is a really important question for anyone who gives to the non-profit sector. It has one common answer and one uncommon answer. More often than not you would probably be told to support one out of two charities that more efficiently fulfills its mission. For example, if you want to support animal shelters, your donation will have a greater impact in the hands of a shelter that places more kittens in homes per dollar spent. That's the common answer and companies like Guidestar and Charity Navigator are there to help you assess things like financial management (which is different than mission fulfillment, but in the absence of better metrics, many donors use financial management as a proxy).

Photograph of Sumana Harihareswara

Sumana Harihareswara, Ada Initiative matching donor (Tobias Schumann CC BY-SA)

But talking about your donation will increase the community of support for a cause you value. I have thought back many times to the extraordinary gift Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson gave the Ada Initative in October. Their commitment to a future in which women are supported and thrive in open source communities inspired a great deal of generosity in other people. Sumana and Leonard's pledge to match up to $10,000 was fulfilled within 24 hours. If supporting a good cause adds meaning to your life or brings you joy in any way, share that with people who you think might also care. It can be a tweet, it can be a blog, it can be a conversation over coffee. One of the most powerful forces I see at play in civic society is someone simply saying: I believe in this and have staked by time or money to see it happen, won't you join me?

Q: What do you get out of donating to these organizations?

Lukas: Many things. In the organizations I donate monthly to, I just am glad to know they exist and continue to do the hard work that I alone cannot put the appropriate focus on doing. The amplified impact of those organizations isn't necessarily something I benefit from in my daily life but I never have doubts that the areas they touch are greatly impacted and I love being a silent patron to those shifts and improvements in our society. For one-off fundraising I will sometimes get art or other physical items that have been donated to the org, so it's more tangible benefit in terms of having something to 'show' for my contribution. Then with yearly memberships to organizations I get member privileges as well as knowing I've helped support an organization in a sustainable, dependable way. I enjoy getting membership benefits at these places – like discounted admissions, member-only events, and feeling like I'm part of the organization's fiber.

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