Offering my money to people, places, and organizations I believe in is one of my great joys, and is something of a year-round activity. But as this solstice season brings our year to a close, I know many of us are looking for what we might have missed. I offer here 12 suggestions that would be great homes for your end-of-year generosity and love. Please also check out Katha Pollitt's annual column in The Nation dedicated to wonderful causes -- I always look forward to it -- in which the clarion call is: "This year, be more generous than ever." And don't forget that in Choose Books: A Gift Guide for People Who Care About Stories, I profile several outstanding places for your gift donations, all with a distinctly bookish bent. And of course, if you value Isak, I'd be unbelievably grateful for your support for my work on this site: see the "Support Isak" box on the right.
But here are others.
National Center for Science Education
One of my all-time favorites. This nonprofit provides tools, resources, and advocacy to ensure that evolution and climate change are taught well in public school classrooms. It was founded in 1981 to provide support for legal and political challenges against science education, to educate the public through media outreach and journalist training, and to support educators who want to do their work well. NCSE states that, "Our 4500 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious and political affiliations." NCSE's good work resonates with me because it is both about the teaching of scientific fact (how our world works) and scientific process (how to make an evidence-based search for truth). Subscribe to the free "Education and Climate Education Update" newsletter here. Donate here.
Medical Students for Choice
I love these folks. After years and years of hostile politics, and violence targeting abortion providers, you might not be surprised to learn that fewer medical students are choosing to go into abortion care ... or even learning how the procedure works, given that many schools are ignoring it in the curriculum. This translates into a scary dearth of people with skills to provide needed health care. (More of the story here.) MSFC, based in Philadelphia, is dedicated to creating tomorrow's abortion providers and pro-choice physicians. It is an effective and whole-hearted intervention, shaped in a participatory way by chapter organizations at medical schools in the U.S. and Canada. Here, there are resources to donate, shop online in a way that supports MSFC, and throw a house party to benefit MSFC.
Okay, I'm biased. I used to live and work here. But I'll tell you from the inside that this Boston-based nonprofit and live-in community is worth your time and love. It is home to a soup kitchen that works in a radical community-based model, a food pantry (I used to run it! Say hi to Demetrius, one of the regulars, for me if you stop by), affordable housing, and a bakery that provides employment for people who have recently left incarceration or rehabilitation programs. Haley House extends its "food with purpose" model to providing cooking classes to community members and schools.
I've read that, despite their urgency, direct services are a distant third behind other, sexier, charitable giving to education and media/arts initiatives. Please don't forget people who need practical things like food and warmth. Donate here.
Picking up on the thread of providing for basic human needs: Forgotten Harvest is both food-rescue and hunger-fighting nonprofit based in Detroit. Since 1990, it has saved prepared and perishable food from waste, and distributed it, via 250 food banks and pantries, to people in need across the metropolitan region (2,000 square miles). Surplus food is culled from "grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, dairies, farmers, wholesale food distributors, and other Health Department-approved sources." Over 93% of funds go toward food programs. If you're local, here is how you can give food. Donate (the traditional way) here.
THAW (The Heat and Warmth) Fund
I know of several deadly fires caused by space heaters and other patchy solutions used by families who have had their heat cut off in the chilled Michigan winters. THAW provides emergency energy assistance to people who need warmth. Most of these people are elderly, unemployed, underemployed and/or disabled. Since its founding in 1985, THAW has 1985 distributed more than $110 million in assistance to more than 160,000 Michigan households. Donate here.
Women, Action, & the Media
This is gender justice in the media. This is about shifting the dynamics of whose stories get listened to, and how well those stories are told. WAM has been a crucial part of my journalism life: the community at WAM events and on its vibrant listserv effectively mentored me from the newbie who submitted print-letter queries addressed "to whom it may concern" into a person who can actually make a living from freelance writing. I like it so much, I carried it with me to Nairobi. Detroit, too. You can become a WAM member and get all sorts of discounts and services. Or donate straight-up here.
"Because the earth needs a good lawyer." That's the tagline for Earthjustice, and it's a good one. This nonprofit has provided free legal representation for more than 1000 clients, ranging from big nonprofits like the National Resources Defense Council to small community groups. Headquartered in San Francisco, it builds hundreds of cases each year, defending laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Earthjustice helps "safeguard public lands, national forests, parks, and wilderness areas; reduce air and water pollution; prevent toxic contamination; preserve endangered species and wildlife habitat; fight the causes and effects of climate change; and defend the right of all people to a healthy environment." Donate here.
Natural Resources Defense Council
Considered one of the most effective environmental nonprofits in the country, particularly in fighting climate change, NRDC is a potent force. Besides sustainable energy (on a broad scale), NRDC is also focused on ocean revival, defending endangered animals and plants, ensuring a safe and abundant supply of water, and sustainable urban development. NRDC is a policy advocate and movement-builder: here are the successes it counts for 2012. Donate here.
Union of Concerned Scientists
Scientists and citizens unite here under the belief that rigorous scientific analysis, rather than political and corporate hype, "should guide our efforts to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices." UCS is also considered one of the most effective organizations in combating climate change. Its policy work and advocacy also prioritizes scientific integrity, clean vehicles, clean energy, and food and agriculture, among others. Donate here.
This is a temporary home in Detroit for survivors of violence and persecution from around the world who are seeking asylum in the United States and Canada. In thirty years, it has never turned anyone away who needed shelter here: men, women, and children are regularly living here, where they have access to food, shelter, legal support, social services, education, job training, and support in finding transitional housing. Freedom House also works to educate the public on refugees and the human impact of international political crises. Learn ways to volunteer or partner with Freedom House, and donate here.
RAINN (The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)
This is the largest and maybe the most effective national organization dedicated to ending sexual violence. It provides services to victims, including a very effective National Sexual Assault Hotline (free and confidential), and it spearheads numerous education and prevention efforts. It also is an advocate for sane public policies, and it provides technical assistance to over 1,100 crisis centers nationwide. It's been a major force in getting untested DNA from a backlog of rape kits examined. Donate here. If you give by December 31, your gift will be matched.
Center for the Art of Translation
Because international literature matters. Being able to share our stories across borders is both urgent and joyful. CAT publishes and champions extraordinary literature in translation. It publishes the wonderful Two Lines journal, runs a bilingual reading series in San Francisco, and facilitates poetry translation workshops with children. Donate here.