Birthdays and holidays are the Patron Days of Stuff. You know you have to give something, because you’re not a barn-denizen. But you put it off and then at the very last minute, your friend Michael ends up with a box set of the ABBA discography because you once got drunk together and went to see Mamma Mia.
Don’t do that to Michael. Instead: Make a charitable donation in his name! Make it monthly, if you’re feeling crazy! But to which organization?
We’re talking about green organizations, because, well, that’s what we’re doing here. But even within that sphere, this is a tough question, because green orgs are fighting lots of different battles — and at different levels of effectiveness. It really comes down to your gift recipient’s favorite cause.
Is your friend most interested in forests? Pollinators? Wildlife? Or global warming? Environmental groups have different strategies. Greenpeace and Sierra Club are both resisting dirty moves by the Trump administration, but Greenpeace is also tackling Exxon while challenging the oil and gas industries; over at Sierra Club, they’re all about letting go of coal and divesting from fossil fuels while promoting clean energy. Check in with your organization-of-choice and ask about their priorities today.
Fun fact: You can even shop local with your charitable giving. John Reuter with the League of Conservation Voters advises that it’s great to keep giving money to the national causes, but “if you want to take local action, find local groups, become monthly donors.” Lots of national nonprofits have chapters across the country that deal with problems specific to your area. And don’t forget local nonprofits that were built with your communities and issues in mind. You can find environmental justice groups and other organizations through a quick search of online news stories, or through online databases like the Encyclopedia of Associations at your local public library.
Even if you find the right cause, you still need to do your homework to know who’s who — they’re not all good. Mother Jones laid out a guide for nonprofits and, unfortunately, there are plenty of green-sounding groups out there that actually do more harm than good. The Institute for Cetacean Research might sound like a wholesome den of whale science — but in fact, it supports Japanese whaling.
After you research a few nonprofits, see how they stack up on Guidestar. “Platinum” organizations in Guidestar’s unbiased database have clear metrics to evaluate their own success — that’s something you really want if you’re giving them money to, you know, achieve those successes. You can also see how your groups-of-choice perform on Charity Navigator. The site awards public charities up to four stars, based on their financial health, accountability, and results.
Even with research, it’s can still be a crapshoot when it comes to where your money will go the furthest: some organizations are more transparent than others. According to Audubon’s media team, for example, 82 percent of donations go to its conservation programs, protecting and expanding bird habitat and education. Other groups don’t give those numbers.
Remember: Presents are ultimately an alternative fuel for the capitalist machine that got us into this mess to begin with! Even if you decide against this whole charitable donation thing, make a card and a dinner instead of buying crap. Seriously.