In the season of giving, remember the environment


Ladies and gentlemen, take out your checkbooks, please.

It's the holiday season, and people's thoughts turn to giving. Giving love. Giving presents. Giving tax-deductible donations to non-profit organizations.

Your natural charitable impulses are stimulated mostly by the warm glow of the holidays. The milk of human kindness runs more freely through your veins at this time of year.

Your philanthropic instinct is also, let's face it, stimulated by the Internal Revenue Service. If you itemize deductions on your tax return, any checks you write to charities before Jan. 1, 1991, can be subtracted from this year's gross adjusted income.

Those of you who don't itemize don't get a deduction, but you may be a giver, anyway. And you don't have to be a big giver to make a difference. While some non-profits get most of their income in the form of foundation and corporate grants, others rely heavily on thousands of members whose average donation is about $10. So don't feel bad if you can't afford a big check.

There are books full of worthy causes. Humane organizations. Disease-related research foundations. Civil rights groups. Shelters for homeless children. Peace groups. Refugee funds. And, of course, environmental groups.

dTC I can't help you figure out which category of charity appeals to you most. But if you are interested in giving to an environmental group, and you haven't already chosen the lucky recipient, maybe I can help you figure out how to choose a group whose goals and style appeal to you.

A bewildering array of organizations works on environmental issues. What one needs is a field guide. Fortunately, Seventh Generation, a "green" mail-order outfit in Vermont, publishes just such a beast. Call them at (800) 456-1177, and ask for a copy of "Field Guide to More Than 100 Environmental Groups" ($3.75). Or, if you own a copy of "The Green Consumer," check the appendix. Another book, "50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth," also offers a list of groups but provides only names and addresses, no profiles.

Most environmental groups dedicate themselves to fairly clearly defined issues. For example, the Rainforest Action Network concentrates on tropical rain-forest issues. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy helps communities convert abandoned railroad rights-of-way to trails. The Wilderness Society is concerned with preserving national forests.

Most of the big groups attack a handful of issues. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, works in the fields of air and water pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain and nuclear safety. The Environmental Defense Fund's interests include toxic waste, land use, ocean pollution and a rather long list of others.

Perhaps you prefer a more narrow focus. Bats, you say? Try Bat Conservation International. Wolves? The Wild Canid Survival and Research Center. Preservation of the shoreline? The American Littoral Society.

But all of these are national and international groups. If you prefer to put your money to work locally, you'll have to do a little research, because local groups aren't listed in the guides. Here are a few suggestions:

Ask a librarian at your public library about local environmental groups. Or you could try calling the local chapter of something familiar, such as Sierra Club or National Audubon Society, and ask them for local recommendations. Or simply ask friends what local groups they support.

Do a little homework before you send a donation to a group whose work you are not familiar with. Call and ask to see an annual report. Check the affiliations of the board of directors. Ask for a description of the organization's membership base. Some groups with environmental-sounding names are actually associations formed by industry groups concerned with their image in a certain area -- aerosols, plastics, pesticides or timber concerns, for example. These are not environmental groups in the strict sense of the word, and they don't need your $10.

One last thing. Many membership organizations raise money by trading or selling their membership lists to other, like-minded groups. This can mean that after you make a donation to Save the Cicada you become swamped with mail from Friends of the Fritillary and the League for Ladybugs. If you don't want unsolicited mail from other groups, write directly on the form you send in: DO NOT GIVE MY NAME TO OTHER ORGANIZATIONS. Then hope for the best.

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