In this space every weekday we investigate, analyze, philosophize about, and identify Rule Breakers and the breaking of rules. When we talk about breaking the rules this time of year at Fool HQ, this column would be remiss if we didn't take time out to reflect on the wonderful thing that we as a community come together to contribute to every holiday season: Foolanthropy

Do you know of it? Give me three minutes, and I'll give you the world. A sliver of it, anyway. A very, very good sliver.

For its fourth year in a row, The Motley Fool and our Rule Breaking philanthropic endeavor Foolanthropy have identified a short list of some of the world's best charities to which we are each contributing a dollar, or 10 dollars, or thousands of dollars, as the case may be. Whatever you have to give.

It is the season of giving, and we as investors and part owners of American business have a wonderful privilege: It's called capital. Money left over after expenses. With that privilege comes a challenge: how to make the best use of that capital for our benefit and the benefit of those around us (the latter, you'll please note, ultimately contributes to the former).

To my way of thinking, that money, that capital, is synonymous with opportunity, and should therefore be invested in stuff that is good and that will grow. Most of my capital is invested in public companies, in what I consider Rule Breakers. These are public companies I'm hoping will appreciate in value and help make me and many others rich, over time. But in addition, I devote a portion of my capital another direction, toward Foolanthropy and its five not-for-profits that:

  • were nominated by the Fool community
  • have great and beneficial missions
  • are well-managed
  • have "business models" that are self-sustaining
  • create independent and sustainable solutions

This is my portfolio of not-for-profits, and I am ambitious for their success as well, a success that will effectively benefit all of us, society at large. An investment in Foolanthropy is therefore an investment in you and me.

Like many of you, I'm very proud of my past contributions to Foolanthropy. In 1997, we raised $110,000 together. In 1998, we raised $210,000 together. In 1999, we raised an astounding amount, just over $800,000 together. That $800,000 we raised represented the second-highest total of online giving anywhere in the Internet world. That's a validation of our corporate mission of doing well by doing good. In that same vein, Foolanthropy takes its place at our high table, right next to our missions of financial education, Wall Street reform, and providing outstanding lifelong service to you, each of our fellow Fools. Will we beat last year's record this year? I don't know, but I'm going to help us try. I hope you will too.

If each of our several million customers gave just a dollar, we'd blow away all past totals combined. If we each gave five dollars, we would raise more money in one month than most non-profits do all year. So we strive for broad participation but also deep participation. The special gifts of $1000 and up are what enable us to achieve our loftier ambitions. Our five Foolanthropy beneficiaries and partners this year are:

America's Second Harvest: Ending hunger with food rescue and job training.
Ashoka: Investing early in social entrepreneurs with world-changing ideas.
Grameen Foundation USA: Making the poor self-sufficient via business loans.
Heifer Project International: Lifting people out of poverty with gifts of farm animals and training.
Lifewater International: Saving lives by bringing clean water to developing nations.

You can find out more about each of these and about Foolanthropy overall by clicking right here. You can also read about the five tenets that steer our decisions and guide our mission. Please note that we accept gifts via quick one-button credit-card donations, other online payments, or checks sent directly to the charity. Best of all (and this is what I do), you can even donate shares of appreciated stock, giving more because you're forgiven capital gains taxes on that money.

If you'd like to read more about my thoughts on this form of venture philanthropy, this link takes you to an interview I conducted with Philanthropy Roundtable magazine. My closing thought for you today is that whatever charities you give to in life, make sure that those organizations are well-managed and truly focused on creating sustainable solutions. It feels good to give; but it feels even better when you have confidence that what you are giving to is worthy of your gift. We at Fool HQ advocate responsible giving in a framework that will truly help those less fortunate by asking something back of them, and by making sure that virtually every philanthropic dollar is committed to solving, not merely salving. That is the spirit of our endeavor. We would love to have you join us.

Coming January 16: the second annual Rule Breaker seminar! Sign up here to join us.

And Fool on!

David Gardner