As we get close to the holidays, I always get quite a few emails asking what organizations I give to, or for recommendations on where to donate to support the ideas and issues we cover on this site. So here are some suggestions:
For general support of libertarian ideas, I’d recommend Reason and Cato. (Disclosure: I’ve worked for both.) There are obviously lots of different varieties of libertarianism out there, and there are lots of other libertarian think tanks and advocacy groups that do great work. But I subscribe to the Reason/Cato philosophy, both in the ideas, which ideas to emphasize, and how they advocate them.
I’ve recommended them a number of times before, but in terms of winning tangible results for your donated dollar, no one is better than the Institute for Justice. IJ consistently wins precedent-setting cases that codify new protections for economic freedom. Perhaps just as importantly, IJ is brilliant at choosing its cases. In fighting for the economic freedom of people who have been plowed over by rent-seeking corporations and burdensome regulations, IJ is the walking, talking, litigating rebuttal to the lie that libertarians don’t give a damn about the poor or the powerless.
For supporting/encouraging the next generation of libertarians, I recommend two organizations, Students for Liberty, and the Institute for Humane Studies (Disclosure: I’ve given speeches, paid and unpaid, for both organizations.) Students for Liberty is relatively new, started up just a few years ago by Alexander McCobin. The way the group has grown has been inspiring. It’s been a joy to watch the size of the conventions and groups I speak to grow each year. More importantly, they’re attracting smart, articulate, socially well-adjusted students. Also important: They’re bringing in women. I’m not being flip, here. Any non-mainstream ideology will inevitably attract cranks, conspiracy theorists, and other folks from the fringe. SFL has done a fantastic job of making libertarian ideas more mainstream on college campuses.
IHS has been around for a while. But I was a faculty member at their journalism seminar in June, and, again, was really impressed with the quality of the 75 or so students who attended. IHS has been sponsoring seminars, internships, and handing out scholarships to liberty-minded students for a long time.
As I say, there are lots of other great libertarian groups out there. My recommendation of the groups above isn’t meant to imply that other aren’t worthy of a donation.
First and foremost, the Innocence Project. There isn’t an organization on the planet that has done more to expose the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. They’ve almost single-handedly moved the criminal justice debate, on issues from forensics to prosecutorial misconduct to police misconduct to issues like false confessions and eyewitness testimony. Oh, and they also get innocent people out of prison.
I’d also highly recommend Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which has had great success in focusing public attention on the problems with taking sentencing discretion away from judges. They too have won some tangible policy changes. Like IJ, FAMM understands the value of a sympathetic story to change policy.
Friend of The Agitator Eapen Thampy has started a promising new organization called Americans for Forfeiture Reform, which works to raise awareness about forfeiture abuses, to change forfeiture laws to make them more fair, and to match victims of forfeiture abuse with attorneys or legal organizations who can help them out.
I have more disagreements with the American Civil Liberties Union than any group I’ve mentioned so far. But there’s no question that they’re an indispensable force for good on the drug war and, more than anyone else, in defending civil liberties in the war on terrorism.
I’d also like to recommend supporting investigative journalism, in whatever way jibes with your politics. Though I just moved from a non-profit to a corporation, I think journalism on the whole is moving more toward a non-profit model. I think that’s great, and I think it will lead to a more honest kind of investigative journalism, where the biases of the reporter and publisher are clear up front.
That said, the non-profit model does require donors to keep it afloat. So if you’re a libertarian, I’d again recommend Reason. If your politics lean left, consider supporting publications like Mother Jones and The Nation. I don’t agree with everything they do, but both have done some great reporting on civil liberties and criminal justice abuses. New journalism non-profits like ProPublica (which has done some great work on forensic science) and the Center for Investigative Reporting are also worth supporting even if, again, libertarians may not be fond of everything they put out.
Unfortunately, the conservative political magazines don’t tend to do much investigative reporting. (And James O’Keefe is only marginally more of a journalist than Ashton Kutcher.) But there are some free market-oriented, non-profit investigative journalism programs. State free market think tanks like the Goldwater Institute are now starting their own journalism programs. And we’re seeing more organizations like CalWatch, which focuses on exposing government waste and abuse.
The other advocacy group I gave to this year was the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the group currently fighting SOPA, that took on Righthaven, and is generally on the correct side of most web and privacy issues. (Even their position on “net neutrality” is refreshingly nuanced.) The Sunlight Foundation and Sunshine Review also do great work on government transparency.
These are all policy-oriented suggestions, of course. My only recommendations outside the policy world is that local is usually better than national, and to be wary of the big, well-known disease-fighting organizations, whose concept of prevention often leads to advocating legislation to ban or severely restrict the stuff they’ve decided is bad for you.
I’m sure I’ve left some good groups out. Feel free to make your own recommendations in the comments.
(One more disclosure: This year, I gave to Reason, Cato, IJ, SFL, EFF, and the Innocence Project.)