Tech charities to consider this giving season


Author: Aaron Grothe

As part of my year-end planning I look at what charities to donate to, since charitable contributions are tax-deductible. Here’s a list of charities with ties to free software, open source, and information technology.

Debian is my favorite Linux distribution. You can make donations to it through Software in the Public Interest — make sure to explicitly set your donation to go to Debian. Debian uses donations to cover things like bandwidth and travel expenses for appearing at conferences.

You spend countless hours on Wikipedia. Where do you think the bandwidth and servers come from? Wikipedia doesn’t display banner ads.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) does great work protecting free speech rights in the digital realm through education and by funding legal defense for various cases.

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is committed to protecting privacy in the information age. It has lobbied against legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act and other laws that limit personal privacy, and it helps raise awareness of governmental attempts to seize phone records without subpoenas.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) issues and maintains the GNU GPL license and its variants (LGPL and AGPL) and campaigns against digital restrictions management, Trusted Computing, and software patents. It also supports the Savannah hosting project for GNU applications.

The office suite uses donations to allow people to attend trade shows and to hire independent developers to contribute to

PostgreSQL is probably the best database you aren’t using. PostgreSQL is one of the most mature and feature-complete databases available. According to its Web site, contributions are used for advocacy, conference and legal expenses, and travel costs.

The Mozilla Foundation maintains Firefox, Thunderbird, and other widely used open source applications. Its donations page lets you direct your giving and sponsor the projects you’d like to see continue forward.

Through the end of the year One Laptop Per Child is running a Give One, Get One promotion. You buy two laptops for $400; you receive one, and the other is donated to a needy child in the developing world. Half of your donation is tax-deductible.

Free Geek is a nonprofit organization with eight chapters around the US and Canada that restores usable old computers with free and open source software for non-profit organizations and individuals who couldn’t otherwise afford a computer. Computer parts that can’t be restored are ethically recycled. Free Geek also educates people about free software and hardware.

While it’s not an open source project in the strictest sense of the word, Creative Commons give artists, authors, and other creative types a way to protect and preserve the right to their work. It offers gifts to those whose donations exceed certain thresholds.

Washington, DC- based Geekcorps pairs tech-savvy volunteers with groups in developing countries who want to use technology to bolster their economy. In addition to helping small and medium-sized businesses and local governments procure and deploy hardware systems, they also offer training programs to ensure recipients have the long-term skills they need to maintain the systems. In addition to direct donations, you can contribute by purchasing items from using the organization’s identifier, or put links that use it on your own site.

Of course, don’t overlook your local Linux user group (LUG), which is often the first group to be called upon when local area businesses and schools want to deploy Linux-based or open source software solutions. Although group members typically volunteer their time in the community, there are costs associated with renting meeting rooms, wireless connectivity, and presentation equipment.

GNU PDF, the latest high priority project for the Free Software Foundation, is working to provide the first complete support for the upcoming PDF ISO standard for free software. Work is proceeding on a volunteer basis, but the project is asking for donations so that the work can be completed faster.

If an open source project faces legal trouble, who is there to turn to for help? The Software Freedom Law Centre offers invaluable legal services at no charge to open source and free software projects.

These are only a few of the worthwhile charities in the tech sector — you can probably think of many others. If they are nonprofit (501(c)) you might be able to take a donation to them as a tax deduction. If they are not, you might be able to take a donation as a business write-off, but that is something to discuss with your accountant. Also, your employer might be interested in contributing back to a project that provides your organization with software that you use on a daily basis.

In addition to money, many projects also need hardware (for porting applications to other platforms) and other items. For instance, the folks at Miro are working to create a free, open source media player that also lets you tune into more than 2,500 channels of unrestricted programming, including HD content. According to the Miro’s blog, site visits following the recent release of Miro 1.0 caused an increase in site traffic to more than 10 times the usual amount, leaving the project in dire need of bandwidth.

One more option to consider is to buy clothing and other logoware from worthy groups. Not only does this help support the group, it also promotes it and helps with advocacy. The FSF has some great merchandise available, including some killer art prints, and Mozilla makes a killer laptop bag.

Bruce Byfield, David ‘cdlu’ Graham, and Lisa Hoover contributed to this article.


  • Advocacy