SHOULD YOU GIVE YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL DONATIONS TO?
by Whit Gibbons
August 28, 2005
donate money or goods to a charity to support environmental conservation?
Want to know how your favorite organization ranks compared to others?
Then check out the Charity Navigator Web site, www.charitynavigator.org/.
With the declining support of many environmental programs by the federal
government, charitable contributions may be the only way to ensure continued
environmental protection for many of our remaining natural areas and native
wildlife. Giving to the right one is important.
According to the site “givers can be confident that in supporting
those charities rated highly by Charity Navigator, they will be supporting
organizations that are fiscally responsible and financially healthy.”
However, they qualify their ratings by strongly recommending that a donor
seek out other information about even organizations receiving a low rating.
They suggest a simple and pragmatic rule: “learn as much as [you]
can about a charity before deciding to support it.”
and restaurant ratings, Charity Navigator uses stars (from zero to four)
as a qualitative rating indicator. Four stars means an organization is
exceptional and “exceeds industry standards and outperforms most
charities in its cause.” One star indicates that the organization’s
performance is poor. The few groups receiving no star presumably wish
they had not been included.
I could not
begin to explain how Charity Navigator evaluates each charity and comes
up with a line of stars indicating the financial health and overall effectiveness
of the group in accomplishing its goals. For anyone interested in such
details, the Web site provides an extensive explanation of how organizational
efficiency is measured by performance categories. But rest assured that
Charity Navigator’s ranking scheme is no less rational than those
for college football, so a low-star ranking may not dissuade someone from
contributing to a favorite charity for other reasons.
currently rates more than 4,000 charities of every stripe; 340 fall into
the subcategories of “Environmental Protection and Conservation”
or “Botanical Gardens, Parks, and Nature Centers.” The site
lists big organizations and small ones, ones you have heard of and ones
you have not. Under “Environmental Protection and Conservation,”
you find the 2-star 1000 Friends of New Mexico (“Promoting smart
growth in New Mexico”) and the 4-star Wildlands Conservancy (“Preserving
and protecting the natural environment of eastern Pennsylvania”).
In this same listing you also find The Wildlands Conservancy, a group
that “has preserved more land in California than any other conservation
organization that does not receive public monies.” Fortunately,
like Pennsylvania’s Wildlands Conservancy, this group also is given
4 stars, so if you made a mistake and did not notice the “The”
preceding California’s Wildlands Conservancy, you would simply be
promoting conservation on the opposite side of the continent from where
How do some
of the well-known environmental organizations fare under the scrutiny
of Charity Navigator? The National Audubon Society (“Protecting
our great natural heritage”) squeaks by with a single, lonely star.
When you ask for the rating of the Sierra Club you get this response:
“Sorry, we don’t evaluate Sierra Club. Why not? . . . because
they are allowed to spend a substantial portion of their revenue on lobbying
our government and not every donation to them is tax-deductible.”
But you are directed to the evaluation of the Sierra Club Foundation (“Explore,
enjoy and protect the planet”), which has a whopping 4 stars. I
will leave it to those who are interested to read the rating information
and determine why the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club Foundation
receive such different evaluations.
is itself recognized as a nonprofit organization by the Internal Revenue
Service and makes a point of not accepting contributions from any of the
charities it lists. By not accepting donations, they are able to maintain
an impartial view in their rankings. However, no one develops a Web site
focused on how not-for-profit charities work without knowing something
about the phenomenon. And sure enough, you will find that “if you'd
like to support Charity Navigator, to ensure that we can continue our
work to identify great charities that need and deserve all of our support,
simply click on this button to make a secure, online credit card donation.”
you have an environmental question or comment, email