“To focus, encourage, and demonstrate”…what the Foundation is really all about


by Dale McGowan, Exec. Director, FBB

It’s been interesting to watch news of the Foundation spread around the blogosphere.  Most of the descriptions I’ve seen are pretty accurate, but there’s one persistent misconception: that the sole purpose of our charitable giving program is to demonstrate the generosity of atheists and humanists. Time to fix that broken meme.

Our mission statement includes not one but three main purposes—”to focus, encourage, and demonstrate the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists.” Demonstrating our generosity as a community is important, but it’s arguably the least important of the three. More important is focusing and encouraging that generosity and compassion in the first place.


“I am a humanist,” said Kurt Vonnegut in A Man Without a Country, “which means in part that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”  And most of the time, this is how humanism plays out—in a million individual acts of decency, generosity, and kindness.  The Foundation exists in part to create from those million individual decent acts a powerfully motivated community of philanthropic humanists, making the world a better place not in spite of, but because of, their worldview. 


When it comes to charitable giving, churchgoers give a much larger percentage of earned income to discretionary causes than non-churchgoers. Arthur C. Brooks (author of Who Really Cares) sees in this statistic “evidence of a gap in everyday virtue” between the religious and nonreligious (p. 40).

There’s a more obvious explanation. Over 50 times a year, churchgoers pass a plate full of the generous donations of their friends and neighbors and make the decision whether to add to it or not. Non-churchgoers have no such regular and public nudge. So it seems reasonable that the difference in overall giving has much more to do with whether or not you have systematic opportunities for giving than some “gap in virtue.”

One of the central purposes of Foundation Beyond Belief is to create that opportunity, thereby building a systematic culture of giving among nontheists. By doing this, we hope to encourage humanists to be better humanists and to energize a previously under-represented sector of philanthropic giving.  

It’s not a zero-sum game, taking dollars that individuals already donate on their own and “putting an atheist stamp” on them.  The idea is to create new income for good charities by encouraging the nontheistic community to give more.


Our worldview makes our virtue no better or worse than anyone else’s.  But when we focus our efforts and encourage each other to express the best impulses at the heart of our worldview, that will demonstrate to others the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists.

Tell your friends and family about the Foundation.  And when you do, be sure to mention all three purposes. We’re not just looking for credit—we’re also creating a focused community of giving and encouraging each other to the best possible expression of our inspiring worldview.  We think those are things worth doing and hope you’ll agree.