Part III: Activism, Activism, What to do? / by Stephen Riella

So, you want to get involved? Environmental activism can be a crazy place. How far are you going to take it? Do you want to speak with your money? Would you rather speak with your time? Who do you contact and how can one person start to make an impact? Let's explore the ways one person can get involved with the conservation movement.

There are a lot of organizations out there and a lot of them need your money, or at least that's what they'll tell you. How can you know who is actually making a difference versus who is just raking in some cash and not doing much with it?

Let's tackle the second part of that two part question first. Legitimacy is the key. There are a number of organizations that have dedicated themselves to figuring out who is a real nonprofit and who is not. One such service is Guidestar. At the end of this article you will find links to several helpful pages and one that we will include is Guidestar. They verify nonprofits 501(c)(3) paperwork from the IRS along with a host of other pieces of information. They will tell you who the Board of Directors are, what projects are ongoing and also the areas that the organization operates in.

The first part of the question can get tricky. Part of the problem is the level of impact in the eyes of the donor. Do you want to support an organization that lobbies for reform or would you rather support a group that puts feet on the ground? Only you can answer that question. One good way to find out if an organization is doing what they say is if they have on going volunteer events that you can sign up for. Nothing says support the environment better than a group planting trees, cleaning beaches or helping parks out with service projects. Attend an event and see if they really have something going on. If they do, then support them as much as you can.  If you want to support a lobbyist group things can get a little murky. The best way to verify that funds are being used properly, review the organization's financial statements that are released to the public. You will be able to view how much goes to overhead and how much actually reaches the cause. For any group a solid number is a minimum of 60 cents for every dollar is reaching the cause.

Volunteering is 1a for nonprofits to the 1b of fundraising. Speaking as the president of a nonprofit, volunteers are priceless. Our organization like any other, is so grateful for time that people take out of their schedule to support a cause. If you can free up the time, I can almost guarantee you will not have a bad experience. Don't get me wrong, working with an environmental group can be messy and exhausting but it can also be a pretty good time. Volunteerism can take on other roles with a nonprofit; help spreading the word about an upcoming project, help drive social media presence, assisting with events or even pitching in on the fundraising efforts in a donation drive. Don't be afraid to reach out to an organization. They will take the time to speak to you and let you know where they could use a hand.

Lastly, and possibly one of the most important steps in activism is to be, well, active. Do you know what proposals your State/House representative is submitting for possible bills? If not, you need to look into the laws, budget proposals, bills and rules that our government is proposing. All too often we turn a blind eye to this incredibly important process. We cast our votes every two to four years and completely forget to hold these people accountable. If someone submits a bill to just get rid of a National Monument, or if someone proposes the genius idea to allow oil drilling in a National Park, we need to get involved! Simply contact your local congress person, let them know you are extremely opposed to these actions and let them know why! We vote for the person and their job is to perform the duties in line with their voters. Below you will find a link to help guide you on how you can get in contact with your local rep. Use it.

In closing of this three part series, all the environmental problems that we face are complicated. Together we can help drive a change. We can protect our natural resources, trim down on our foot print and clean up our public lands, but only if we, as individuals, are all willing to do our part. We all live here and it's our responsibility to leave things a little better than when we got here.

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