Warming oceans. Deforestation. Species extinction. Mountains of food waste. Rafts of plastic trash in our oceans. The global scale and daunting complexity of current environmental issues can feel overwhelming. Layer on top of that the current U.S. political climate in which the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) budgets are getting slashed and environmental policies like the Clean Power Plan are getting rescinded, and our range of response amplifies to a jarring and confusing mix of anger, despair, and helplessness.
What can we, each of us, possibly do to counter these frightening trends?
The most important thing we can do is break it down to size. Do one thing and then the next. Tackle big things by doing small things consistently.
But what are the small things you can do well in the tumult of enormous environmental challenges? My work at 1% for the Planet, a nonprofit that works to boost charitable giving to approved environmental nonprofits, has shown me that the currency of our time and our dollars is what will ultimately bring about everyday change. Here are a few simple ways to meaningfully engage in giving back to the planet through donations and volunteering:
1. Fall in love.
Giving can be a joyful and positive experience when we are supporting places or issues that have personal significance for us. Even though you may fret about global warming around the world, think about giving to a nonprofit that protects places in your community from climate change. Local land trusts, watershed advocacy groups, and sustainable agriculture initiatives—the list goes on. Give to what you love.
2. Choose wisely.
Not all nonprofits are equal, so even as you are falling in love, take a few moments to check out your new potential partner. Look at the website and make sure it's updated with relatively recent information. Does the website provide a link to staff and board? Google the nonprofit to ensure that they haven't been in the news recently for anything other than great work. If you're going local, ask around a bit to see if there's any local intel that is useful. The whole point is to create maximum positive impact for every dollar you give, so look for as much clarity as possible about what the nonprofit is accomplishing.
3. Build a relationship.
While it's perfectly fine just to give, nonprofits often also need volunteers. While you may equate volunteering at an environmental nonprofit with physical labor, there's actually a wide range of needs. Yes, there are opportunities to plant trees and restore eroded riverbanks, but you can also assist in the office or serve on the board. Many nonprofits post these opportunities on their websites or even in the local paper, or you can call to inquire. Just remember that the point is to help them with what they need, so don't be hurt if they don't have a need for your particular skills at a given time. They will appreciate the outreach regardless, and you will have begun a connection that almost always leads to something valuable for everyone involved.
4. Make a commitment.
Many nonprofits are set up to support sustaining or recurring donations in which you commit to giving on a monthly or quarterly basis. This kind of consistent giving, even in small amounts, makes a huge difference for nonprofits, as it represents steady and reliable cash flow. It can also be great for you, as it enables you to give more over time than you can at any one moment. (If you're interested in a more structured and broader commitment, the 1% for the Planet global network allows you to commit 1 percent of your annual salary or net worth to support the environmental issues you care most about.) This is a great way to access expert advice about environmental giving and to know that you are making a real, substantial commitment in a simple and structured way.
5. Grow a giving family.
It can be really fun to give with others. Once you find a nonprofit or two that you really like, invite a friend to join you in supporting them.
6. Stick with it.
Remember that we tackle the big stuff by doing the small stuff consistently. Staying with an organization for two, three, or several years makes a huge difference for the organization, and it also gives you a chance to see and take some pride in what you are part of. This doesn't mean you should feel stuck with a nonprofit that you end up not feeling great about, but it does mean that there is value in staying engaged, speaking up if you think there are potential improvements, and doing what you can to be a good partner. If you do decide to move your giving to another nonprofit, consider providing the nonprofit you are leaving with some constructive feedback. Learning can often be a valuable currency in itself!
No matter where we live, what we believe, or who we vote for, we share this beautiful planet home. Our planet's vastness, as well as the current complexity of the environmental challenges it now faces, is breathtaking. But every day we can take small, meaningful steps that add up to a world of positive change today.
For a comprehensive list of nonprofits that could use your help, check out the 1% for the Planet database.