If you'd like to donate to a geek cause this holiday, we've got a big list of fifteen organizations you might consider helping out with a charity gift.
Let's say you'd rather not get another sweater for the holidays (even if it has a Star Wars pattern). Consider asking people to give that gift money to a charity instead - the kind of charity that helps nerds in need.
All the organizations we've listed below are non-profit organizations, and donations to them are tax-exempt. Mostly they focus on orgs in the United States. If your favorite geek charity isn't listed here, please feel free to pipe up in comments and tell people about it.
Science Fiction Arts
This online magazine of science fiction has been publishing weekly doses of speculative stories, art, and essays since 2000. They publish a lot of first-time writers, giving exposure to weird new voices as well as more established ones. Donations go to paying science fiction writers and artists published in the magazine. Donate here.
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Since 1986, CBLDF has been championing First Amendment rights in the world of comic books, fighting censorship in the courtroom so that you can get comic books that haven't had their spikes shaved off. Donate here.
Clarion Workshop Scholarships
Tons of famous scifi writers got their start at the Clarion workshops, where authors from Kim Stanley Robinson to Octavia Butler have taught intensive classes in short story writing. Since 1968, Clarion has improved the brains of aspiring scifi authors, and a donation to the Clarion scholarship fund could help create the next novel that blows you away. Donate here.
Carl Brandon Society
The Carl Brandon Society is devoted to promoting the work and careers of people of color writing speculative fiction. They offer awards and scholarships aimed at making fandom a more diverse place. Donate here.
Preservation of Geek Cultural History and Freedom
Sure, Wikipedia is a repository of all cultural knowledge, but you and I know that the best-represented bodies of knowledge on this free, user-generated online encyclopedia are all of the geekly nature. Science fiction, science, and technology topics are covered in exhaustive, granular detail. And that's the way we like it. Wikipedia is preserving our culture, but it needs your help to keep chugging along. Think of all the times you looked up an obscure reference on Wikipedia in the last year. Isn't it time to give something back? Donate here.
The Internet Archive is devoted to preserving digital history, especially on the Internet. From the Archive site:
The Internet Archive is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form . . . Collaborating with institutions including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, we are working to preserve a record for generations to come.
Not only does the Archive's "wayback machine" allow you to visit older versions of websites going back to the mid-1990s, but the Archive also boasts a huge, impressive collection of free music, e-books, and movies (including a lot of old science fiction and science/tech stuff). A donation helps with the Archive's many digital preservation projects, as well as with equipment they need (think LOTS of terabyte hard drives) to keep all this stuff accessible to the public. Donate here.
The lawyers and nerds at Creative Commons (CC) are trying to make it easier for creators of the future to gain access to culture of the past. They've created legal CC alternatives to highly-restrictive "all rights reserved" copyrights, so creators today can designate "some rights reserved." Doing this means, for example, that future professors could freely make xerox copies of a CC-licensed book to hand out to students, or future musicians can remix their beats. The CC site explains:
Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved."
Supporting CC means helping a devoted team of people educate creators about how to share their creative work in the way they want, without losing money and without being plagiarized. Donate here (you'll get some cute t-shirts and stickers with your donation).
Electronic Frontier Foundation
If you want to help preserve the future of digital culture, as well as your freedoms to make use of technology in any (safe) way you like, then EFF is your one-stop shop for geek causes. A kind of ACLU for the geek world, EFF is both a legal defense fund fighting for privacy and free speech online, as well as an activist organization that educates the public about the complicated intersection of cutting-edge tech and the legal issues it creates. EFF has been around since 1992, and has most recently been involved in the fight to prevent large telcos like AT&T from handing over people's private online data to the NSA (or other government organizations). They've fought to prevent legal restrictions from destroying P2P networks, and have helped whistleblowers stay anonymous online. Basically, they are the guardian angels of the high tech world. (Caveat: I used to work for them!) Check out their website, which is an amazing resource in itself, and donate here (yes, you get cute shirts and stickers).
Public Library of Science
The mission of PLoS is quite simply to share scientific discoveries with the world. A network of scientific journals that publish cutting-edge research in the life sciences, the organization was founded to encourage scientists to freely share their publications with each other and the public. Most scientific journals - including the two big ones, Science and Nature - put their articles behind a very expensive subscription wall. But PLoS makes all its articles available to everyone. A donation to PLoS goes straight into science education for everyone, including scientists! Donate here.
Donors Choose lists hundreds of schools that need small amounts of money to fund classroom projects: Everything from reading materials to science kits. You can browse to find a needy school in a specific state in the U.S., and also look for a topic like "science." The site works pretty much like eBay - you search for a topic and region, get a list of possible places to donate, and can click through to donate right away.
Teachers describe what they're looking for and will send out status updates and photos to donors describing how they used materials after they receive funding. (If you are donating as a gift, you can ask that the updates be sent to the person whose name you're donating under.)
Summer Science Program Scholarships
This is a summer program for gifted teens where they spend several weeks at a top-notch astronomical observatory, doing a project related to celestial mechanics. From the website:
By day, students learn college-level astronomy, physics, calculus, and programming. By night, working in teams of three, they take a series of telescopic observations of a near-earth asteroid, and write software to convert those observations into a prediction of the asteroid's orbit around the sun. Stimulating guest speakers and field trips round out the curriculum.
Donating to their scholarship fund could make a big difference in a future astronomy geek's life. Donate here.
National Center for Science Education
Defending the teaching of evolution in public schools. This is a big issue in the United States, and many school districts are fighting to eliminate evolution from their curricula. Giving money helps fund local groups trying to keep science on the agenda in their neighborhood schools. Donate here.
Society of Women Engineers
Since the early 1950s, SWE has been offering grants, felowships, and networking opportunities for women engineers. Their mission is that simple, and it's still needed today. Women are still far underrepresented in the engineering professions, and a donation to SWE could help a young woman on the road to a life of geekery and innovation. Donate here.
One Laptop Per Child
Founded by engineers and software geeks, OLPC is devoted to making and distributing low-cost laptops designed for children all over the world. You can donate, or you can buy a laptop and help fund the creation of another laptop that will be given to a needy kid who wants to learn about technology and how to use the internet. OLPC laptops are extremely durable, designed for small hands, and packed with kid-friendly software. They're specifically designed to interest kids in using computers, as well as exploring how they work. Perfect for the kid in your life, and kids whose lives you can change with just one donation. All donations go toward creating free laptops for needy kids. Donate here.
Greater Good Science Center
Want to help scientists figure out what makes people become altruistic and happy? To reward people who are working on ideas that could increase social well-being? Then check out the Greater Good Science Center, where they say:
We study the social and biological roots of positive emotions. Our research agenda engages scholars in multiple disciplines, including neuroscience, psychology, sociology, political science, economics, public policy, social welfare, public health, law, and organizational behavior.
They fund research and publish a magazine devoted to prosocial behavior. A donation to this organization helps scientists and scholars understand rationally what it takes to make a better world. Donate here.