Your gifts and activities can better honor the Earth if you know where to start.
When it comes to advancing environmental causes, every donation makes a difference. But your contributions, gifts and activities can better honor the earth if you know where to start.
What is green giving?
Charities and non-profit societies play a critical role in addressing problems around the world, yet they rely on the help of donors to accomplish their goals. Whether through financial contributions or gifts of time and goods, donors like you help these organizations tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.
Unfortunately, charities and societies with an environmental focus have struggled over the last few decades to stay afloat and meet the challenging demands of a changing planet. In Green Philanthropy, author Bernard Mercer outlines how new philanthropy is overwhelmingly focused on human and social welfare issues, when contributions to environmental charities and causes could make a real difference.
Why give green?
There are many good reasons to focus your charitable and volunteer efforts on environmental issues:
- Forward thinking. Environmental charities and nonprofits are adept at pioneering new technologies and solutions.
- Responsive. Charities and nonprofits have been quick to respond to challenges posed by a changing environment, particularly when they impact human life. Environmental charities and nonprofits are particularly adept at connecting positive changes in the ecosystem with improvements to livelihoods and quality of life.
- Donor driven. Governments around the world tend to prioritize environmental issues lower than other issues and their funding allocations reflect this. Charities and nonprofits need public support to make a difference.
- Expertise and experience. Charities and nonprofits are at the forefront of limiting damage to resources and climate for future generations. They are extremely effective at research, campaigning and lobbying, participating in policy development, educating the public, and working towards change.
- Independent. Charities and nonprofit societies are independent, which means they often represent causes underrepresented by government and corporations.
Even if your financial means are limited, you can still help environmental organizations by giving time or goods as requested.
Green giving: donating goods
Many social enterprises have built their business models around receiving and selling donations. Profits from these sales go towards meeting a charitable mandate that may include environmental causes. Additionally, passing on used items gives them a second life with a new owner, keeping them out of the landfill and curbing unnecessary waste along with the production of new goods. The next time you’re cleaning out your garage or paring down your living room, find out which charities can use your donations. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Whether a charity is collecting books to beef up its local library, share with underprivileged families or soldiers overseas, or sell for profit to fund its environmental campaigns, book drives help you pass on your love of reading to a thankful home. Pack books neatly into boxes with lids, ensuring all your donations are in good condition with no missing pages. Or consider sending your books in the mail to organizations seeking donations to send overseas. The following organizations handle book donations on an ongoing basis:
Clothing donation bins
Many charities rely on clothing donations to fund community activities and campaigns, but keep in mind that some bins situated in parking lots belong to for-profit companies. These companies often bundle up donations to sell overseas, which can interfere with developing economies and negatively affect those countries’ clothing and textile makers. Consider instead supporting a charity that sells your donations locally. Pass on only clean clothing in good condition, otherwise your hand-me-downs may end up in the landfill.
If you find a flyer on your doorstep asking for donations of refundable bottles or cans, you’ve encountered a bottle drive. Charities and nonprofit societies often use bottle drives to raise money for smaller purchases rather than ongoing costs, but every bottle helps. Make a note of the organizations that seek returnables in your community and save up your bottles and cans for pick-up days. These often fall after social holidays like New Year’s Day or Independence Day. If you don’t have the storage space or prefer to get rid of your beverage cans right away, ask your local bottle depot if you can donate the proceeds. Depots often hold accounts for local charities, which means you can donate all year long.
Garage sales/thrift store donations
If you have larger or miscellaneous items that you’d like to donate, consider calling your local thrift store to see if they need the item(s). If they do, they will often arrange a pick-up, saving you the trouble of carting it across town. Local clubs and churches often host annual garage sales, and accept donations in the weeks leading up to these events. Watch your local paper for announcements and pay attention to drop off times and item requests to ensure your donations will be welcome.
“As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.”
– Paul Shane Spear
Keep in mind that the Internal Revenue Service requires donors to value their contributions. Goodwill Industries compiled this handy list to help you do just that. The Salvation Army has a similar donation guide with low and high values depending on the type and condition of your item.
If you need to get rid of a lot of stuff right away, Junkluggers is company that works with local charities to collect and donate items collected from individual homes, ensuring as little ends up in the landfill as possible. There is a fee for Junkluggers service, but the company will give you a free estimate (that won’t go up) to help you budget accordingly. See their website for more information on the charities who benefit from the partnership.
Green philanthropy: financial contributions
How to choose a green charity
When seeking a charity to support financially, you’re likely going to start with a cause that’s meaningful to you and feels close to your heart. But how do you know if charities are making a real impact? Several resources exist to help you research and rate charities and other organizations doing good work today. These include:
- Wise Giving Guide: Published three times each year, this guide helps donors make informed decisions about how and where to give. Each issue compiles the latest evaluations on national charities and is completed by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
- Charity Watch: Charity Watch explores how efficiently a charity will use your donation to fund the programs you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor.
- Charity Navigator: Charity Navigator is an online rating system that examines two areas of charity performance: financial health and accountability/transparency. Ratings show how effectively charities use public support and how they have performed historically. Search by charity name for more information if you’re considering making a donation.
Eartheasy also published this list of top high-impact environmental charities with integrity. Take some time to ensure the charity of your choice will use your contribution in the way that you envision.
Carbon offset credits
A carbon offset is a credit that individuals, businesses, and governments purchase to reduce their net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Offsets are purchased from another organization’s project that results in less carbon dioxide (or other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere. For example, a company that increases greenhouse gas emissions with their activities (e.g. an airline) may purchase carbon credits from a company that plants trees. Offsets are so named because they counteract or “offset” a purchaser’s GHG emissions, effectively making their activities “carbon neutral.” Individuals can purchase offset credits to counter their own greenhouse-gas producing activities or simply to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions overall. For more information, read our article about Carbon Offsets.
Another way to contribute financially to environmental causes is to purchase green bonds. Since green bonds work like other bonds—you get your principal back at maturity—these aren’t outright donations, but purchasing green bonds does help further good work. That’s because buying a green bond helps fund projects related to renewable energy, pollution prevention, sustainable farming and forestry, and more. Plus, green bonds let you earn interest along the way and benefit from some tax exemptions and credits not applicable to other bonds.
According to the Washington Post, the four most common types of green bonds are:
- Green use of proceeds bonds: Financial institutions and corporations issue these investment-grade bonds to raise money for a variety of green projects.
- Green asset-backed bonds: A smaller percentage of the green bond market is taken up by asset-backed bonds, which include loans and leases for solar photovoltaic systems, mortgages to energy-efficient homes, and loans to auto and real estate with proceeds going to fund green advancements.
- Green project bonds: These bonds are issued for targeted green projects such as wind farms or transit system upgrades.
- Pure play bonds: Companies whose main focus is environmental products or services (e.g. wind turbine manufacturer) issue these bonds.
“I want something not just to invest in. I want something to believe in.”
– Anita Roddick
To date, Europe and the US have the largest market in green bonds, but markets in Asia and Latin America are rapidly increasing. For more information on where to purchase green bonds, talk to your financial advisor.
Crowdfunding is rapidly becoming a quick source for individuals and organizations seeking an injection of cash for important projects. Made possible by online technology that allows individuals to donate any amount to a designated fund, crowdfunding platforms are a low-cost way for causes to raise money directly from their supporters. Platforms typically take 5 to 10 percent of the total donations for their operating costs, but not always. Do your research to ensure you know how much of your donation (or investment) goes towards the cause of your choice. The following crowdfunding sites have areas dedicated to environmental causes:
- Gofundme.com: Another crowdfunding platform that doesn’t charge a platform fee, gofundme.com helps individuals easily set up funds to handle donations direct from contributors. While this platform isn’t specific to environmental causes, you can search campaigns by subject area (e.g. clean water).
- Indiegogo.com: Indiegogo offers a crowdfunding platform to individuals and groups seeking donations, and to start-up businesses and individuals seeking investment in unique ideas. To fund community projects view the site’s “environment” category. Or search their entrepreneurial campaigns to support topics of interest.
Micro-finance loans encompass small amounts of money loaned to people in poverty who lack the capital usually required to borrow. Lenders don’t usually receive interest on their loans, but borrowers do pay interest to local micro-credit institutions, who act as field partners for micro-lending organizations. Micro-lending has been credited with helping women rise from poverty in many countries. Donations can be as little as $25.
- Kiva: Kiva is an international non-profit organization based in San Francisco with a mission to alleviate poverty through lending. Individuals lend money to borrowers around the world who are looking to start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy, or realize their potential. One hundred percent of every dollar loaned through Kiva goes to funding loans, and while borrowers pay interest to local field partners, Kiva receives no payment from the loan and covers operational costs through donations, sponsorships, and grants. Search Kiva’s green loan projects by topic area to find the environmental idea that resonates with you.
- Women’s Microfinance Initiative: Establishing village loan hubs, administered by and for local women, is the mission of WMI. These hubs provide capital, training, and support to rural, low-income women in East Africa to help them generate income and improve the lives of themselves and their families.
Green volunteering: donating time
Even if you can’t give money or goods, green charities and non-profit organizations will welcome your support through donated time. Think about what issues are close to home and what skills you might have to contribute. Then contact the local organization of your choice to find out more about their volunteer needs. Alternatively, consider contacting your local volunteer association to find out which causes in your area need help. Municipal websites often share calls for volunteer opportunities, along with calendars for local events requiring helping hands. Or try one of these volunteer matching sites:
- Volunteer Match: With millions of volunteer opportunities across North America, Volunteer Match lets you enter your location, skills, areas of interest, and find the volunteer opportunity that’s right for you.
- UN Online Volunteering: Online volunteering allows organizations and volunteers to team up to address sustainable development challenges, anywhere in the world, from any device.
- Hands On Network: The volunteer arm of the non-profit group, Points of Light, these volunteer action centers inspire, equip, and mobilize people to take action that changes the world. View their map of global volunteer centers for more information.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Green conservation: land and real estate
Every hour in the United States, another 180 acres of land is developed. At that breakneck pace, it’s no wonder people are starting to preserve cherished land privately, through agreements with local land trusts. In fact, Americans have conserved a staggering 60 million acres of private land through land trust agreements and conservation covenants. These agreements are tailored to meet the needs of the landowner and their families, aiming to conserve the value of properties for wildlife, flora, and human recreation well into the future. If they provide significant benefit to the public, they may also come with tax incentives. Options for working with land trusts include:
- Conservation easements: Conservation easements are legal agreements between a landowner and a land trust (or government agency) that permanently limit certain uses of the land to protect its natural assets and conservation values.
- Land donations: Land donated outright to a non-profit land trust is tax deductible as a charitable gift.
- Partial donations/bargain sales: If you need some value from your land but would like to see it protected in perpetuity, consider a partial donation or bargain sale. This entails selling your land to a land trust or conservation agency for less than its full market value. Depending on the situation and the land in question, bargain sales help the donor avoid some capital gains and may qualify you for an income tax deduction based on the difference between the land’s value and its sale price.
Other options exist as well. For more information on the types of agreements available, or to find a land trust near you, visit the Land Trust Alliance.
A final word
Giving your time, goods, or money to green causes that support sustainability has ripple effects around the planet. Choose a starting place that’s right for you and see where you can make the most impact.