Atheist Charities

There is a common myth in America that says religious believers are charitable and atheist are not. Yet three out of four of America's top philanthropists* are atheist or agnostic. Every day, nonbelievers throughout the country make charitable contributions and volunteer within their communities. The idea that atheists as a whole are selfish or uncaring about others is untrue, and, frankly, quite offensive.

Charitable giving can be categorized in many ways. In the most basic sense, charity can be divided into financial donations and volunteer work. It could also be more widely defined as kindness or leniency toward others. Theists do not have a monopoly on any of these charitable actions.

Financial Donations

When it comes to charitable donations, atheists often give just as theists do. However, their contributions are not always apparent because their donations are not flagged as being "from atheists". For example, many atheists contribute to religiously affiliated charities such as St. Jude Children's Hospital, because they support the work that charity is doing. Yet these religiously affiliated organizations are seen as "proof" that believers provide charity, without recognizing the fact that they are partially funded by nonbelievers.

Atheists may also run into an obstacle if they want to donate to charities that support their intended cause (poverty, education, health, etc.) but do not want to support spreading a religious ministry at the same time. Many religious organizations do provide charity, and for that they should be commended. Yet, frequently the funds they collect are also used to proselytize. To those who believe, spreading the "good word" may be seen as charitable work itself, but atheists would disagree.

Fortunately, atheists can (and do) contribute to secular charities or to religious affiliated charities that do not proselytize. One organization, the Foundation Beyond Belief, has been specifically designed to help non-theists find these charities more easily and contribute to them through regular monthly donations.

Another organization, Kiva, facilitates microfinance loans around the world. Members (lenders) give their money to be used by those in need, often to start or expand a business. As these poverty-level entrepreneurs begin to make money, they repay their loan. Kiva lenders are repaid and can choose to reloan the money, donate it to Kiva's operating expenses, or cash out. At Kiva, atheists actively lend money everyday.

Volunteer Work

With volunteer work, atheist face many of the same opportunities and obstacles. Religious organizations are not always open to having an atheist in their midst, and atheists should not have to pretend to believe to be involved. Fortunately, there are many local volunteer organizations that are open to receiving help from the godless.

Public schools are always in need of volunteers and will not (should not) turn away atheist help. Food pantries, homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters are also good options for those who do not have kids in public schools. Atheists can also find local atheist groups through Atheist Alliance International's Freethought Directory, and look for groups that volunteer together.

Whether contributing through financial donations or by volunteering their time, atheists offer charity every day. It's time to recognize that fact and stop the myth that believers are the only ones who give.

*Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and George Soros


  1. It's sad, and as you said offensive, that the "belief" most religious practitioners have of nonbelievers are that we're immoral and selfish. When I mention from church to church that scientific evidence on altruism doesn't support such a claim, and that atheists give just as often as nonbelievers -- without a fear of hell or desire for heavenly reward -- most believers assume that I'm lying. So frustrating!

  2. Deric, I've been there- and It can be maddening to come across people who can't comprehend morality without heaven or hell! When I've spoken up and said that I'm an atheist who gives to charity, I've often gotten a frustrating, "Well, *you* don't represent all atheists" response. (sigh)

  3. Thank you for this post! I will check out the organizations you mentioned. It is frustrating living in the Deep South where most of the local volunteer organizations and charities have evangelistic motives. I have found myself donating to Christian organizations despite their ulterior motives, because they are the only ones I can "find" (I obviously need to look harder). I certainly hope my giving isn't counted as religiously motivated giving in statistics and what not.

    On a side note, I think many religious people who give in the name of their religion aren’t giving themselves enough credit! Perhaps they think they are only giving because their religion mandates it, when in fact they may be really nice people who are charitable in nature. I think that the Christian religion is so involved in sending the message that humans are naturally “evil” (original sin, idea that God is the source of all good things, etc.) that many people don’t understand how one can charitable and kind without being religious. Religious people aren’t only demeaning us when they don’t believe we can be “good without God,” but they’re demeaning themselves too.

  4. Thank you for this post, perhaps I can get your opinion of a situation I am in. I am the Treasurer for the Board of Directors of a local Boys and GIrls Clubs of America. I have served for 6 years now. I have enjoyed giving my time and money to this organization that helps local children in need. When I was asked to serve I did some cursory research into the BGCA which did not reveal any religious test or code for membership. It is definitely not an organization that actively proselytizes, however, it has recently come to my attention through our new Executive DIrector that there is a code the requires children to profess a belief in God (any God). He wants to put this code on the membership cards. I am very much against this type of "brain washing" of kids. Is it selfish for me to resign because I cannot stand behind this code. These kids need help but I feel like the "religious" members of my community should step up and I can concentrate on more humanist charities. What is more important fidelity to my own principles or helping those in need?