Environmental charity recommendations?
January 2, 2014 6:54 AM   Subscribe

So it's too late for this to matter for the 2013 tax year, but I wanted to ask this while it was fresh in most people's minds: If you give to environment-based charities, what are your favorites?

There are a lot of environmental charities out there, and a lot are highly rated by sites such as Charity Navigator and Guidestar, but I also want to give to the most effective ones. Most of the ratings are issued for the amount of money spent on program expenses versus administrative expenses, but I'm looking for more goal-oriented metrics.

I'm wary of giving for environmental advocacy because those program expenses might just be spent on hot air. I'm also not a Luddite. I realize industry has a role to play in preserving the environment.

I've avoided giving to regionally-focused environmental organizations too because their protection efforts often mean industry is just pushed elsewhere. The environment is a tragedy of the commons problem.

In the past, I've given to the Conservation Fund. They were highly rated, and I understood their mission -- to buy up land to lock it from being used. I had some qualms about their CEO making $431k, but I understand you need to quality pay to get quality management, especially for a large organization. The CEO pay is less than 0.5% of expenses. They also kept the junk mail to a minimum.

I started looking for the charities this year because I wanted to do something for the whole earth, and the Conservation Fund is mainly about protecting U.S. spaces.

I saw some good ideas from previous AskMeFi threads, such as Cool Earth Action and others here, but I'm most interested in organizations that have been rated and have 501c3 status for the purpose of matching donations.

I wound up splitting my donation among several groups. I also know my money goes further if I concentrate on one organization though. Which organizations do you give to, and why do you choose them in particular?
posted by Borborygmus to Work & Money (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have heard good things about, and give to, the Solar Electric Light Fund.

They implement solar energy projects in the developing world.
posted by Asparagus at 7:29 AM on January 2, 2014

I worked for the State PIRGs / Environment America for a few years last decade. I had to return to the computer industry for financial reasons, but I've kept them at the top of my environmental charity list based on my experience working they.

They have an office is DC as well as substantial offices in many states around the country. This large network allows them to efficiently develop policies and legislation that can then be rolled out state-by-state. I have seen them win numerous victories over the years, from the million solar homes bill in California to regional green house gas network in New England. No, they didn't do any of this on their own, but they did provide leadership and many feet on the ground.

They are efficient. I know the salaries they pay, because I worked there and I know they're getting a lot of bang for their buck! They still manage to get very smart dedicated people who generate results for that meager pay. (I'll note that the salary structure is also equitable up and down the organization based on my experience.)

They train a huge number of people who go on to careers working for environmental and other advocacy organizations in the US. PIRG alumni are everywhere. They hire students and recent graduates, provide them with great training, give them real responsibility, and give them experience generating results. It's remarkable how many leaders of environmental groups around the country started out with the PIRGs.

They canvas. I like this and believe it is important because it creates human contact for advocacy in a world where there is not enough of that. I know that the canvas is controversial; many people (mostly students) get hired on and turn out not to be cut out for the work. But for those who can do it, it provides an entry into the world of advocacy while raising money and educating the public.

As far as targeting your donation: you could give your state chapter, if there is one, or you could donate to the national organization through the Environment America web page.
posted by alms at 7:46 AM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At lot really depends on your priorities - when you say "I wanted to do something for the whole earth" do you mean in terms of wildlife conservation? In that case Conservation Fund, WWF, or Conservation International are good options.

I personally feel like halting global warming is the biggest global environmental challenge of our time so my personal recommendation would be to organizations that focus on that issue. Among big 501c3s, you can't go wrong with NRDC, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, or Environmental Defense Fund. Each of those organizations has a slightly different approach (some more focused on policy and some more focused on working with industry) but the staff all collaborate on big campaigns, so it's mostly personal preference from there. Here's my personal take on the personality differences of each:

NRDC: The big guns. A small donation here may feel like a drop in the bucket, or you might prefer to be aligned with one of the NGOs that claims the biggest impact. (Has a reputation among enviro workers for being slightly cocky and taking the credit on collaborative victories, but they have a good reason to be cocky).

EDF: Most friendly to industry - works closely with Walmart and other huge companies on carbon mitigation, and also takes huge donations from the Walton Family Foundation. If you think working with industry is one of the fastest ways to solve climate change, they are taking that head-on. If you think that approach is a sell out, they are probably not for you.

Union of Concerned Scientists: I used to work for these guys, so I'm biased in their favor. They take a very solid, rigorous, policy-based approach to making environmental change. Having worked for them, I can say that the organization is very well run and the policy solutions they develop are very well thought out. As a smaller group they have to pick and choose their initiatives wisely and focus mainly on policy and working with politicians at the state and federal level.

Sierra Club: Works on national policy issues and also local conservation through their their local chapters. A good option if you care about both sweeping policy change and also local environmental protection.

At the end of the day, you really can't go wrong with any big organization that is well-rated by Charity Navigator, if you are looking at global impact. Thanks for donating!
posted by paddingtonb at 7:52 AM on January 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Agree with paddingtonb that it depends on your priorities. For working against global warming, there is also 350.org. I do not see them in Charity Navigator.
posted by whistle pig at 9:12 AM on January 2, 2014

good call whistle pig! 350.org excels at the activism side of the equation, so if Borborygmus favors using public awareness as a tool to influence policy, they are a great choice, as is TckTckTck.
posted by paddingtonb at 11:30 AM on January 2, 2014

If climate change is a priority, nthing 350.org. These days, they are getting all the money and time that I have to give. They are a 501(c)(3) and they punch above their weight, with income, assets and expenditures all under 5 million dollars for every year operating, they have steadily grown in size and significance. Their campaigns are some of the most visible worldwide because their small operating capital is multiplied many times over by a global network of dedicated volunteers organized into local chapters that can focus on local campaigns but also join together for bigger efforts. They are lean and transparent.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:07 PM on January 2, 2014

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