December 21, 2013

For a few years now I’ve been funding the Amalgamated Compassion Fund, a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund. The fund lets me contribute in cash or securities; Fidelity then lets me reinvest these in various pools, including many index funds with low expense ratios. This has been a particularly good year for the Amalgamated Compassion Fund: I’ve been able to contribute about 10% of my income into the fund and the stocks in which they’re invested have been up as much as 30% year-to-date.

Each year I designate several nonprofit organizations to receive grants from the Amalgamated Compassion Fund. Here’s the recipients in 2013:

Carnegie Mellon University. I still contribute yearly to my alma mater, but this year I’m donating to an initiative spearheaded by my friend Justin: the Mark Stehlik SCS Alumni Undergraduate Impact Scholarship. Although CMU has been working on reducing the cost of introductory courses as noted in the book College Unbound, an entering freshman still needs more than $62,000 just for their first year’s expenses including tuition, room and board, and supplies. As a result, many students are trying to graduate in as little as three years and to get a highly-paid industry job right away. The Mark Stehlik scholarship, named after the undergradute advisor for School of Computer Science students while I was at CMU, will pay for a fourth year of tuition to help students discover research opportunities that could nudge them towards graduate school or other continuing work in academia.

Seattle Art Museum. SAM continues to be an important cultural institution for the city of Seattle. It maintains three main facilities including its main museum downtown which, among other events, hosted a fantastic exhibition of Peruvian treasures earlier this year. Exhibits are inexpensive or free thanks to the museum’s donors, who are all the more important now that the museum’s former host Washington Mutual is defunct.

Doctors Without Borders and the American National Red Cross. In the aftermath of natural disasters and humanitarian crises, medical care is badly needed. I donated to these two organizations that have been helping out in emergency situations such as after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Seattle Public Library. The public libraries in Seattle serve many purposes besides book lending: they provide Internet access to those who don’t have it at home, they host educational and community service events, and for many people they just provide a quiet, safe place to study. At the same time, budget constraints have forced some locations to trim their hours and to close for days at a time. By donating to the Seattle Public Library Foundation, I’m helping these places to better serve their communities.

Northwest Harvest. Another perennial donation, Northwest Harvest runs hundreds of food banks throughout Washington state. This is one of the most no-brainer donations anyone can make, in any amount. Children who go hungry cannot perform at their best in school, which keep them from achieving their goals in life. Over 15% of Washington’s families are not “food secure,” meaning they do not always have access to enough food for an “active, healthy life for all household members.”

charity:water. A second-year grant recipient, charity:water has the mission to bring clean, safe drinking water to everyone on the planet. As with food, clean water is a need so fundamental that resolving it should transcend geographic, political, and cultural boundaries. charity:water also values transparency as evidenced by their detailed map of their completed projects which number in the thousands.

Electronic Frontier Foundation. I’ve been familiar with the EFF’s mission for years, but this year’s scandals involving the NSA motivated me to donate to the EFF for the first time. This is a critical time to be thinking about privacy. For over 20 years the EFF has been standing up for computer users and has been keeping pressure on companies and governments to be honest about how civilian data is being treated.