Not because I don’t support it. But rather because I can’t figure out what organizations to donate to!
Here’s the deal: each year, in lieu of presents, my wife’s family does a “philanthropic secret santa.” That is, you pick one family member’s name out of a hat and then make a donation in their honor to a charity that you think they’d appreciate. It’s a great way to be generous around the holidays (and get out of finding a good present). For example, a couple years back, I picked my sister-in-law out of the hat; she works in public health with kids and she’s a jogger, so I donated to Girls on the Run. This year, I picked my wife’s cousin’s boyfriend, and I knew immediately what I wanted to donate to. His dad was a major aerospace engineer back in the day, so I thought it’d be great to donate to a nonprofit that helps underprivileged K-12 kids get excited about science and engineering. The problem was that I had a really hard time finding anything.
When I Binged for ideas, the first thing that came up was Change the Equation, the nonprofit that President Obama helped set up which brings together corporations in support of STEM education. The only problem there was that they don’t take donations, since it’s all supported by corporate dollars. So, I looked at who their partners were, and I found organizations like Sally Ride Science. Again, seems very cool, but it’s a for-profit.
Here at home, I thought of the Washington STEM Initiative, but they don’t seem to be up and running yet…plus, I have a feeling that they too are only going to be taking money from a few high level corporate donors and major foundations like Gates. So, in the end, I was only able to identify two programs of interest: NW Association for Biomedical Research’s Student Bio Expo (a local science fair) and FIRST, a robotics competition founded by the inventor of the Segway.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure all of these organizations are doing great work, but getting US kids excited about math and science is one of the most fundamental issues of our time; likely, it will be one of the major factors that determines whether our country maintains its economic strength in the face of competition from the rest of the world. In Pennsylvania Governor Rendell’s now-infamous “wussies” rant about the snow delay of the Eagles-Vikings game, he said, “If this was in China…[p]eople would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.” (emphasis added) Now, obviously Gov. Rendell was exaggerating, but it’s no coincidence that he included a focus on math in his reference to China. The United States graduates about 70,000 engineers a year, while India and China graduate five and eight times that number, respectively.
I’ve mentioned many times before that it’s all about the pipeline issue; no matter how many degree slots there are at colleges and universities, it doesn’t matter unless US kids are graduating high school with 1) the basic math and sciences skills to take college courses in these fields and 2) the interest in doing so. Yes, that’s a job for the public school system, but clearly there’s going to be a major role for nonprofits too…especially as government funding declines. Corporate giving and foundation giving is important, but they’re only one leg of the stool. In order to have enough nonprofit capacity to serve all of our country’s school children, we need to harness the full giving power of individual philanthropy. That’s one of the main reason that, for example, Global Health Nexus is focused on building local awareness and support of our region’s global health activities: in order to get people excited about donating to organizations like PATH and Seattle BioMed.
So, where are the major national nonprofits that are working in schools to inspire, excite and teach kids about STEM that I can donate to? Am I just missing them, or is there a huge unmet need for them? One way or another, we need to raise the profile of this issue, and start investing. It’s not only about the future of our nation’s economy. It’s also about keeping me from joining my father-in-law as the other member of the family that still hasn’t given their family secret santa gift.