Ned Cramer, Editor-in-Chief
Mike Morgan Ned Cramer, Editor-in-Chief

Complaining about the commercialization of Christmas is itself a holiday tradition. This year, my local drugstore was swathed in red and green the day after Halloween, and Walmarts across the country had the temerity to start their Black Friday sales on Thursday. I figure resistance is futile. But if I’m bound to go shopping, at least I can do it for a worthy cause.

Choosing a charity is intensely personal. Nobody wants to give their time or money to an abstraction (ergo those commercials with Sally Struthers hugging starving children). I’ve always got an eye out for nonprofits that focus on the built environment—because they speak to my heart. Here are a few standouts.

Architecture for Humanity, the organization-slash-phenomenon founded by Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr, helps communities with limited resources to design and build essential facilities such as housing and health clinics. There are now 54 chapters in cities across the globe, from Tokyo to Bogotá. They are the real deal—architects helping those most in need.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation, where I used to work, is essentially a collective of some 450 volunteers who offer awesome boat, bus, walking, and biking tours of the Windy City. The K–12 education program has a lower profile, but the work really blows me away: The Architecture Handbook (2007), written by staffers Jennifer Masengarb and Krisann Rehbein, offers ready-made, architecturally focused lesson plans that high school teachers can use to teach core subjects.

The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., does something rare and wonderful by knocking architecture off the curatorial pedestal and making it generally accessible—without talking down to the public or offending professionals’ sensibilities. Oh, and by the way, the museum’s collection of architectural toys is a national treasure.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, ensconced in its Neoclassical D.C. headquarters, has faced serious financial challenges since the onset of the Great Recession and the departure of longtime president Richard Moe in 2009, including a $5.8 million budgetary shortfall last year. But the dowager still has work to do. Having awoken to the attractions—and vulnerability—of its one-time nemesis, modern architecture, the trust is fighting the good fight to save Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital.

Public Architecture, through a program called The 1%, brokers relationships between nonprofits in need of design services and architects willing to donate a small portion of their time and expertise (hence the name). If every firm in the U.S. spent 1 percent of its staff time on pro bono work, Public Architecture estimates, “It would add up to 5,000,000 hours annually—the equivalent of a 2,500-person firm working full-time for the public good.” That’s a lot of good.

The Rural Studio is the grandpappy of public-interest architecture programs, and it thrives under the leadership of director Andrew Freear. Auburn University students continue to bring world-class architecture to the inhabitants of west Alabama’s Black Belt, much as they did in the day of legendary founder Sam Mockbee.

The World Monuments Fund is the global equivalent of the National Trust, fighting to preserve landmarks at risk due to both benign neglect and malignant abuse. Its heartbreaking annual Watch List raises awareness of the most heavily endangered sites. This year’s list includes a 19th-century palace in Bhutan, a 17th-century fortress in Zimbabwe, and the fifth-century Nasca lines in Peru.

I wish there was room on this page to name every deserving architecture organization, so instead please visit our website for access to many others. Just look for the promo on the home page, and click. Then connect with a nonprofit, and give. (If you don’t see your favorite cause listed, email me and we’ll add it.) This is one time you can break the bank without guilt. Happy shopping!

I wish there was room on this page to name every deserving architecture organization. Please visit our website for access to many more of them.