Foundation urges giving among nonreligious
Kimberlee Hauss, Religion News Service
March 30, 2010

Foundation urges giving among nonreligious

Foundation urges giving among nonreligious
Kimberlee Hauss, Religion News Service
March 30, 2010

A new foundation in Georgia

is urging atheists and secularists to donate more to charity in order to show

that their generosity equals that of churchgoers — even if their checkbooks

haven’t shown it thus far.

“The nonreligious are

generous and compassionate, but our giving lags behind the religious,” said

Dale McGowan, executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief. “It’s time for

those of us who are otherwise engaged on Sunday mornings to have our own easy

and regular means of giving.”

The recently formed

foundation seeks to “focus, encourage and demonstrate the generosity and

compassion of atheists and humanists” and also provide “a comprehensive

education and support program” for nonbelieving parents, according to its web


The foundation has good

reason to be concerned — a 2000 survey by the charitable giving group

Independent Sector showed that 87.5 percent of all charitable contributions

come from religious donors.

That doesn’t mean atheists

aren’t giving; it just means believers give more, most often to their religious

congregations. In 2007, Americans gave a total of $129 billion, and nearly

two-thirds of that went to some kind of religious organization, according to a

U.S. Bureau

of Labor Statistics survey.

Chicago-based Cygnus Applied

Research surveyed more than 17,000 U.S. charitable donors, and found that in

2008, religious donors gave an average of 16 percent more than other donors.

That’s because religious

institutions — almost more than any other — teach altruism as a central tenet,

said Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of Empty Tomb, a research firm

in Champaign, Ill., that tracks church giving.

McGowan, a self-described

secular humanist, said the nonreligious don’t lack the desire to give, just the


“Churchgoers are passed the

plate and asked to donate 52 times a year while their neighbors watch,” McGowan

said. “But atheists don’t really congregate, so we’re not nudging each other in

public to give to charity week after week. We don’t have systematic

opportunities for generosity.”

McGowan isn’t alone in

feeling nonbelievers could do better.

“Churches and other

religious groups have a centuries-old institutional advantage in that they can

rally the faithful to causes at will,” said Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for the Secular

Coalition for America. “We in the secular community are building our own

charity-minded communities

as we speak, working to help people in need.”

Through its web site,

Foundation Beyond Belief is hoping to harness the power of social media to

create a virtual congregation that encourages non-churchgoers to give. Members

can sign up for a monthly automated donation, and can also decide how to

distribute their money among various charities.

The foundation chooses

charities specializing in health, education, poverty, environment, child

welfare, human rights, animal protection, peace and support for nonreligious

parents. Charities are selected based on their impact and efficiency, and must

not proselytize to their recipients.

Members can indicate how

they want their donations spent, as well as nominate new charities to receive

the funds. If members don’t like where the money is going, they can shift their

donation toward a different recipient.

The group has a goal of

$500,000 by the end of 2010. It also hopes to grow its membership from 250 to

4,000 members.