How I Chose One Among the Many

I’ve been planning today’s post on choosing an environmental group for a full year.


A year ago, I contributed to six environmental groups for the first time. And for the past year I’ve been collecting every solicitation mailing these and other environmental groups sent me.  Here’s the result:


From the “six o’clock” spot, moving clockwise, we have:

Natural Resources Defense Council
,  safeguarding the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the places we treasure.

Environmental Defense Fund, working to solve the most critical environmental problems facing the planet.

Nature Conservancyconserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.

Sierra Club
protecting the wild places of the earth.

National Wildlife Federationprotecting wildlife and its habitat and inspiring the future generation of conservationists.

World Wildlife Fundconserving nature and reducing the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

The center pile is filled with all the other organizations that I heard from throughout 2016. Here they are, in no particular order:

Audubon  (three mailings; two of them contained a beautiful 2017 calendar)
Earth Justice (Because the earth needs a good lawyer. Now.)  (I love their tag line; plus, they sent me labels. I really wanted to choose them.)
Conservation Law Foundation (they had no return address on mailing envelope)
Friends of the Earth  (Ed Begley seems to be their spokesperson;  they like bees)
Appalachian Mountain Club
The Wilderness Society
Ocean Conservancy
Adirondack Council
National Parks Conservation Association

Also in that pile, outside the classic environmental fold:

League of Women Voters
Habitat for Humanity
The Humane Society
National Museum of the American Indian

There is much need, so many voices calling, asking.  I understand why many folks don’t give at all.  It’s not only exhausting to slog through all the marketing missives, there is so much overlap. Sure, there’s some slight variation, but who has time to do the research? Life’s too short.

What to do? 

Following last week’s post, I knew I wasn’t going to be giving to six environmental groups again. But I wanted to support one.   So, today I’ll show you the process I went through to make my pick.

I did it through the process of elimination.

First to go,  the National Wildlife Federation and World Wildlife Fund. They had mailed me FAR MORE over the past year than any of the others; I wanted less of my small contribution to pay for duplicate mailings.  Of course, I like the mailing labels they send, but I now have enough to last me years.

Next to go was the Sierra Club. I have nothing against the Sierra Club; it does very good work and they didn’t overwhelm me with mailings. But their work seems geared to recreational visitors, outdoors types and, frankly, living up here on my 30 acres, that’s not a cause that speaks to me. (My decision may get me in hot water with my son Dave, who serves on the Ohio Sierra Club board of trustees.  Sorry, Dave).

The Nature Conservancy was hard to eliminate. I was first introduced to them through one of their local events where they gave away saplings that aren’t common up here. My white oak is now nearly fifteen feet tall and the sycamore about ten. So, I’ll send a one-time gift to my local STATE affiliate and say, “Thanks for the trees. Carry on the good work.”

Choosing between the EDF and the NRDC, was hard. Harder still when I added Earth Justice to the fold. I so resonated with that tag line.

... driven by a passion for justice and a commitment to excellence. We fight for the right of all to a healthy environment. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to take on critical environmental issues and bring about positive change. We exist because the Earth needs a good lawyer.

These three organizations do pretty much the same work. But, the EDF mails its information on 30% recycled paper, while the NRDC uses 100% recycled paper.  And, to top it off, the NRDC has Robert Redford. How could I resist?

To be sure, I turned to  Charity Navigator  (also a nonprofit, so you can donate to them too).  It’s amazing what they do with data.


At the Charity Navigator site, I chose those three organizations, hit “compare,” and up came a three column listing of them, on a broad array of measurable variables.  The biggest difference I could see was in CEO compensation.  While NRDC was by far the largest of the three ($155 million in revenues, compared to EarthJustice’s $48 million), the CEO of the NRDC, Rhea Suh, receives $53,798 in salary, or .04% of expenses, compared to EDF’s .40% and Earth Justice’s .88% of expenses.

And so I have committed to one more small, monthly, contribution, this one going to the National Resources Defense Council.

I still want to tackle the gun lobby with my checkbook, though I won’t be blogging about that decision. I am though, still eager to hear your suggestions.

How about you? How are you faring with your donation decisions this year? 

Next: The Culture of Philanthropy

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30 Responses

  1. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    Great article–thanks for doing all the work–makes me feel safe donating to the same charity–I would like to know your research on the gun lobby!!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Susan,

      Glad the post helped. Thanks for checking in.

      I’m looking forward to diving into the information on the many gun groups. I’ll see what I come up with.

  2. Frank Moore
    | Reply

    Pretty much the same process I use in selecting which charities I choose to support. However, Charity Navigator is usually my first and last source of info. As the first source, I quickly look at percentage of funds used for fundraising vs programs and accountability/transparency scores. That eliminates many right off the bat. Have to admit though, I rarely do as much due dilligence as you did, looklng at salaries, etc. Good job!!

    Oh, BTW, I support Charity Navigator with an annual contribution. Without our support, they wouldn’t be able to provide us with the info we need to make our decisions.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      So true, Frank. you know, what was really the eye opener was collecting all those mailings that came in over the past year. The one with the highest pile, got deleted first! In past years when I’ve done that I’ve found the same problem with Union of Concerned Scientists. Too many mailings. After I saved them up, I mailed them back with a little letter. Good feeling.

  3. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Most of my donations go to my church or to charities which support/rehabilitate the homeless. Jacksonville is attractive to transients because of its mild climate and permissive attitude toward their presence.

    The Sierra Club was supportive of my neighborhood and me when we fought the expansion of a Walmart into environmentally sensitive wetlands and woodlands bordering our community. I think their existence may be taking a knock with this incoming administration; but let’s not go there. (Sigh!)

    I also support the March of Dimes with a very small donation because of their involvement with research in neonatal care, something I had been made aware of when our grandson Ian was born 3 months prematurely.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog today – first responder, wow!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, I was up early this morning, Marian, midway on my trek to Ohio. Wrote you from Kathy’s guest room actually. I loved hearing of our dual set of 13 year-old cousins. Small world and all that. I’m now in Ohio, staying with half of that cousin pair. Next week we’re talking about how we came to be donors; how did the habit get instilled in us. For, it surely isn’t in everyone.

  4. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I enjoyed reading the whys and wherefores of your process of elimination to arrive at your conclusion.

    Having been a runaway teen, knowing firsthand the perils involved with that choice, I support Covenant House, an organization that immediately and without question helps meet basic human needs ( a nourishing meal, a hot shower, clean clothes, medical attention, and a safe place away from the dangers of the street).

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh Laurie, I forget your history when I think of you. Hard to imagine, in fact. Ever consider a memoir, now that your Note to Self book has launched? In case others are interested, I’ve added the link to Covenant House, an organization based in NYC that I know well, below. In my early fund raising years, I wound up sharing something with their reps — workshop? conference? I no longer recall, only that I thought them Good Folk.

      • Laurie Buchanan
        | Reply

        Janet — I’m glad you’re familiar with Covenant House and know them to be Good Folk.

        As to a memoir… I’ve assembled the bones of one. I’ve got many other writing irons in the fire at present, but some day I will put meat on those bones. It’s titled, “Fourteen Christmases” and covers my life from age 7 through 21.

  5. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    A great post, Janet. We do the same kind of research and do what we can. This year is especially heavy with requests. We can’t do them all. It’s hard to choose. One we do continuously every year is our local food bank. There are lots of hungry folks out there and we need to take care of each other.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes indeed, we can’t do them all. We must choose. I spent many years believing I should only give to ONE organization, so that I could give enough that would make a difference. I believe now that that was bad advise. I don’t give a lot, but it believe it still makes a difference. Small pebbles in the brook add up. Thanks for stopping by, Joan.

  6. Cathy Monaghan
    | Reply

    Wonderful post, Janet. I am always amazed how you find the time to not only do all the research, but to write it all out too.
    Like others, I have also given up on mail-in charities. I still contribute to PBS (for obvious reasons), but now that I’m retired, I give what I have most of and that’s my time in volunteer work.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Cathy and thanks for the kind words. I actually found this one quite easy to write. It began as part of a multi-post series about ten days ago, knowing I’d be on the road today. In fact, all but one of my posts through January are already written. It’s an odd feeling though; I prefer to write in the current moment. We’ll see where I am come February.

  7. Terry Bryan
    | Reply

    I do like EarthJustice…wish I could be in the courtroom frequently. Also Nature Conservancy…just buy up that land so it can’t be destroyed. Life member of National Wildlife so hard to drop them, but I do b….h about the mailings…guess I’ll start again.
    There are others…oh-the one that made me the angriest was the Humane Society…they asked for money after Katrina, received lots so I understand…the communities received very little of the money…they no longer get my pennies.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      And, don’t forget, these organizations are only as good as the people running them and those folks change. So our research, while great one year, may need to be updated from time to time. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Great post, Janet. As always, you really do your homework! Most of my donations go to church-sponsored programs, Food for the Poor, our local City Mission. One doesn’t have to go very far to find ways to help the needy.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh yes, Kathy. I was so aware as I put my list together that I too have local organizations that I need to continue to support. Our local battered women’s shelter, local arts group, local library. As Joan said above, the need is great.

      What this post has got me thinking about is that as more and more of the federal funding for these groups is cut, and their support then comes more and more from folks like us, my taxes that used to go to help support the arts, and education, humanitarian and educational work, is now going more and more to military and defense. It doesn’t seem to be a viable long-range plan.

  9. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Good post, Janet. How could I have never known about “Charity Navigator” until now? What an excellent resource…

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Well, if you promise to keep my secret, I’ll tell you I just discovered Charity Navigator in the process of writing this post. So glad I did and I could pass the link along. But, shhhh. Just between you and me. 🙂

  10. […] How I Chose One Among the Many MY ANNUAL CHRISTMAS EVE POST […]

  11. […] The NRDC is an organization I’ve been supporting since last November and it’s one I’m most impressed with. For the recap of how I came to choose it, see my post on How I Chose One Among the Many. […]

  12. Terry Bryan
    | Reply

    I’m going to check out NRDC…sounds as if they do good work.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Glad to hear it, Terry. This is my first year with them and I’m really impressed with how they stay in touch. Important stuff only. Informative. And no guilt trips for donating.

  13. […] I’ll continue my monthly support of the NRDC, organized to do what I cannot. Here’s my post on how I went about that decision.  I’m also adding Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy to the list. And, if there’s a […]

  14. Katharine Wood
    | Reply

    Excellent blog! I have been going through the same thing myself. I chose Earth Justice basically on a ‘coin toss’ between NRDC and them. I cut Audubon as their mailings have been relentless. This year I chose Smile Train (really changes the lives of the young) and Meals on Wheels (really helps the elderly). There are so many worthy causes, but when they sell your name, they are contributing to the problem. These days I will only give to those organizations that pledge not to share my information.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks so much for your Comment Katharine. And welcome.

  15. Katharine S. Wood
    | Reply

    Thank you again for the great–and helpful–post.
    I gave to NRDC and Earth Justice, but next year probably just NRDC.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi again, Katharine. This is an older post, 2016, it tells me, which may need to be updated. But as you may have noticed, I’ve not been as active here as I once was. Not certain when or if that will change.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Hosting An Asylum SeekerMy Profile

  16. Pat Murphy
    | Reply

    Great post! I found it while searching for “which is more effective: NRDC or EarthJustice?” I also check Charity Navigator to evaluate how efficiently the organization will use my donation — but I also consider the efficiency of the organization’s strategy for change, a more difficult metric to measure. For instance, I like Nature Conservancy because they work with ranchers and landowners to protect land in a way that benefits the public and private landowners. NRDC and EarthJustice have a similar strategy — but EarthJustice is refreshingly straightforward about it. Their website says: “When we say we’ll sue, it’s not a threat. It’s a promise — a promise that until we achieve a better future for all, our pursuit for justice will never rest.” And their tagline resonates with me too: the Earth does need a good lawyer. So I split my donations between them. Also I give to the World Wildlife Federation because I like penguin socks.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Happy to have you join us, Pat. Thanks for adding your voice.

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