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
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
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