Interest in supporting environmental causes is on the rise in the United States. According to Giving USA, of the $471 billion dollars donated to charities in the U.S. in 2020, $16.14 billion went to environmental and animal organizations, an 11.6% increase over 2019.
While these numbers are impressive, donating can sometimes feel overwhelming. Even if you know the environmental sector is where you want to give your money and/or time, there are just under 15,000 organizations to choose from (yikes!). How can you ensure you’re making a smart donation and not just throwing your money away? And that the organization you donate to is making the most of your money and creating a positive impact?
Here are 7 tips to help you make strategic decisions to ensure your money makes the greatest positive impact possible.
1. Pick an Issue You’re Passionate About
Even within the environmental nonprofit framework there are an array of causes you can support, ranging from creating more greenspace in urban areas to protecting the bees to getting plastic out of the oceans. Jon Cocina, Sr. Vice President, Impact at EarthShare said to first think about “an issue or problem that you’ve seen, whether it’s in your backyard or globally, that concerns you, that you want to help solve. Or, what’s the change that you’re starting to see in the world that you want to be a part of?” This will help you narrow your choices down to a select few whose missions align with your interests.
2. Do Your Research and Ask Questions
Once you’ve got your list of potential nonprofits down to a manageable size, learn more about how each organization operates. Here are a few important questions you should consider when doing your research:
- How will the organization use your donation? (Tip: Keep in mind that sometimes a general operating donation can be most effective. In other words, it may be best to let the organization tell you how a gift can be used most effectively.)
- Does the organization prioritize strong ties to its community? Are they led by and for people who work within the community they hope to benefit?
- Does the organization take risks and/or look for out-of-the-box solutions to maximize each and every dollar?
- Nonprofits often publish stories of their program impact and results. Is there anyone who has benefitted from their work you can talk to? Anyone from the organization you can talk to?
- How can you be involved beyond donating? (Tip: Remember that other forms of support such as volunteering can be just as important.)
Start by researching online. Whether you represent a business or want to make a personal donation, EarthShare is also an excellent resource for information and can assist when you reach out. “We can help guide you toward the organizations and causes that will make the most difference. We’re happy to collaborate and assist you in that process.”
3. Talk to People
If you’ve followed through with your research, you should have a short list of people you can reach out to talk to about the benefits and challenges of each organization—beneficiaries, board members, employees, or even other donors. Find out about their experiences with the organization, what they like and don’t like about it, how they feel about competing nonprofits, and where they would donate their money.
4. Talk to a Financial Planner
Financial planners can help you figure out the best way to reach your charitable giving goals within the bounds of your overall financial plan. They’ll help you figure out how much money you can comfortably give and the best way to approach your donation. There are a variety of different ways you can donate, from giving one lump sum to automated donations to appreciated assets. A planner can help you take advantage of any available tax deductions.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how large a sum you want to donate. As the cliche goes, every little bit helps. “If we were to canvas our nonprofits from large to small, they would respond that even a small donation actually makes a really significant difference,” Cocina said. Talking to a planner can help you get started making smart decisions for donating your money.
5. Confidently Make Your Donation
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of where you want to donate your money. Through your research, you have built trust in your chosen organization. You’ve talked to your friends at EarthShare or a financial planner and know how much you can comfortably give and how you want to go about giving it. Now, all you have to do is make the donation.
6. Follow Your Impact
Once your donation has been made, follow up with your chosen charity in about six months time to see what they have done with your money. They won’t be able to tell you exactly what each of your dollars did, but they can talk to you about the progress the organization has made in the time since you donated. If they don’t have an answer to your question or are unwilling to have the conversation, you may want to consider finding a different organization for your next donation.
7. Feel Great
Making a donation can do wonders for the spirit. It is confirmation that you are doing what you can to help a cause you care about move forward. That means something. Take a minute to enjoy the feeling and remember it. Donate again when you can.
If you’d like to make an immediate investment in our environmental future, please consider investing in EarthShare’s mission. Together we can help everyone take action for a healthy planet!