Let’s Choose a Good Cause


Today is Friday (i’m 99% sure) and therefore, it’s time for another Now I Know Weekender edition. This week, I have a favor to ask of you. 

For the past few years, In mid-December, I’ve asked you to donate to a non-profit. In years past, I’ve chosen Sesame Workshop, charity:water, and Kiva, and this year, I want to find a new organization to support. I’ve asked for your recommendations in years past, too, and I’ve gotten some great ideas that way, but I want to start the process anew. If you have a suggestion, reply to this email with the details. Please include links to the nonprofit’s website in your replies.

Here are some parameters (and non-parameters):

1) I want to support a non-profit focused on education. I think that’s in line with the overall mission of Now I Know. There are definitely a ton of worthy organizations with non-educational missions, but our collective passion is to learn something new, so let’s find a way to make it easier for others to learn something new. But I’m defining “education” broadly here — not just literacy and numeracy, but also, anything that gives people the ability to better learn about the world.

2) I don’t think the organization needs to focus on children. Education and children go hand-in-hand, but there are plenty of adults that could use support here, too. In years past, for example, I considered asking you to support an organization focused on adult literacy. 

3) Similarly, I don’t think it is important to have a wide geographic net. If there’s a really interesting smaller organization, with a very specific mission, I’m interested. 

4) I care a LOT about impact. I do not care much about how the organization spends its money. There was a story this past week about St. Jude’s, which has raised more than $7 billion for cancer research over the last five years. The article bemoans the fact that St. Jude’s spends 30% of that on fundraising, including salaries in excess of $100,000 for a small army of fundraisers. That objection doesn’t hold any weight with me. Hiring people costs money. Raising money costs money. If you’re able to raise $1 billion annually, net, for pediatric cancer research without doing something nefarious, I’m not going to care how you do it. We should measure non-profits by their impact, not their spending. (Check out the first link in today’s longreads section for more.)

5) Ideally — but this isn’t a dealbreaker — I’d like to be able to easily run the fundraiser online as a “team.” Basically, I want to be able to see the collective impact of our efforts. But smaller nonprofits aren’t often set up to handle this, so this is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

6) Let’s keep these secular and apolitical. Thanks.

Thank you in advance for your suggestions, and apologies in advance when I don’t reply — I expect to get a LOT of emails and I can’t manage to write back to all of them.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Boy Who Shared His Wish. Turning bad luck into a good deed.

Tuesday: How Ben Franklin Killed the Competition. This was a very hard one to write, and I’m glad it turned out pretty well.

Wednesday: Slinky Magic: Try this at home.

Thursday: What Does the Fox Spray?  Also, I added an addendum to the bonus fact on the archived version. Reader Bruce B. flagged this article for me, reporting that the charges were ultimately dismissed.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The Way We Talk About Charity is Dead Wrong” (Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk, 18 minutes, March 2013). See above. I’ve shared this before, so it may not be new to you.

2) “Meet the Appalachian Apple Hunter Who Rescued 1,000 ‘Lost’ Varieties” (Atlas Obscura, 8 minutes, June 2021). I’ve written about the incredible number of apple varieties before, and this guy takes it to the next level.

3) “To Catch a Turtle Thief: Blowing the Lid Off an International Smuggling Operation” (The Walrus, 15 minutes, November 2021). There’s apparently an international smuggling operation around… turtles?

Have a great weekend!