One of the things I have become even more aware of since I started working with Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is how much non-profit organizations come to rely on the Giving Tuesday and "end of year" donations that come their way so they can continue with their work. Certainly I have always had some knowledge of this. But, there is nothing quite like being on the other side of the ball (so to speak) to really begin to appreciate a different perspective.
A significant portion of the Communication Team's time was spent on crafting the online appeal materials and activities that PAN used to ask for donations from Thanksgiving to Giving Tuesday and onward to the end of year. This was done while still trying to keep a pulse on things that were happening in the world that we are working to address. As a 'for instance,' many of us were involved in responses to the search for the new Secretary of Agriculture (it turned out to be Tom Vilsack - not our favorite choice if we want to make progress on a number of things - but maybe he'll listen if we approach it right?). If you want to learn more, I took my USDA post from PAN and put it on our farm blog as well.
In any event, I realize that the population in general will often grow weary of all of the appeals that come rolling your way once we get into the second half of November and they don't really slow until about... well... January 2.
There are two reasons for this.
1. Non-profits need to combine grants and donations for funding so they can actually have dedicated workers to do the things the organization is trying to do. Both Tammy and I have been involved in organizations that had little or no staff - leaving a board of volunteers to do the work. Unless that organization is lucky to have one or two people who are so dedicated to the cause that they willingly put forth the effort, the organization usually fails to meet its potential. And when those selfless individuals move on? Well, you can guess what happens.
2. This IS the time of year that requests for donations do get the most response.
Tammy and I recently received a request to identify organizations with Iowa ties that promote the health of our environment - whether it is by encouraging/discouraging particular farming practices or supporting wild areas in the state. What follows will NOT be an all inclusive list and I will only include organizations for which I have some personal knowledge. You should do some of YOUR OWN research on any organization so you know exactly what you are supporting. I can speak now from personal experience that involved donors are even more of a benefit to an organization than you might think!
Ten Recommendations To Support Environmental Initiatives
We took a moment and checked our recommendations out on Charity Navigator, which does not have complete ratings for every organization, especially if they are smaller. We encourage you to look beyond the number ratings to see what the rating is based on. You can decide what, if anything, in these ratings matter to you.
What we can say is that, in our opinion, all of these organizations would be worthy of your attention. Read on for some of our opinions and experiences regarding each.
Charity Navigator - 84
I am going to get my (Rob's) direct affiliation taken care of first. Full disclosure - I work as the Communications Associate in Iowa for PAN. Iowa is one of four states (California, Minnesota, Iowa and Hawaii) that have focused campaigns - even though PAN does do national work. PAN (North America) is actually a part of a much larger, international organization that was initially formed to address the export of banned pesticides to poorer nations.
In Iowa, PAN has a strong focus on trying to reduce (and eventually remove) our reliance on chemical agriculture and the inequities it maintains in our farming systems. If you are interested in donating to PAN, please make sure you tell them that you want them to continue work in Iowa. While you are at it, sign up to receive our newsletters! You'll hear from me more often (ooops, maybe that's not a good sell?).
Charity Navigator - N/A
The Iowa Organic Association is a smaller organization that has been around longer than you think - yet is just now really coming into its own. One of its biggest contributions in recent years has been annual sessions to help farmers figure out how they can transition to organic production.
Again - full disclosure - I served as a member of their board for a couple of years while we tried to bring the organization back after a decline. I was asked to be a member of a farmer panel at their most recent Annual Meeting and wrote about that in this blog. The link to the meeting is there as well - so if you want to see more about what is going on, it can give you some ideas.
Charity Navigator - 91.34
The Xerces Society is a national organization that has had a strong presence in Minnesota and has also had some good connections to Iowa. Once again, you can let them know how much you appreciate their attention to a state, such as Iowa, by pointing out how much we need help maintaining our pollinator and invertebrate populations.
Xerces is my "go to" resource when I need to learn more about pollinators and pollinator habitats. In fact, we hosted a field day with Xerces and Practical Farmers of Iowa in 2016. Xerces has also helped other farmers (not just veggie farmers) install pollinator strips, beetle banks and other habitat areas. Our pollinators need support now and Xerces is a key organization.
Charity Navigator - 80
If open pollinated seed access and preservation are important to you, then Seed Savers should be an organization you consider supporting. This organization maintains some beautiful land in northeast Iowa, sustainably managing natural areas as well as a heritage orchard, seed production gardens and display gardens.
Our farm has relied heavily on a number of heritage and heirloom seed varieties for our vegetable production over the years. If you love Black Krim tomatoes, Thelma Sanders Acorn Squash or Grandpa Admire's Lettuce, you can thank Seed Savers for making them available to farms like ours and gardeners like yourself (if you garden). Our farm has pushed back against the increased reliance on F-1 hybrid seeds by trying to use open pollinated varieties whenever we are able to - we support Seed Savers mission, in part, by simply working to grow and sell those varieties rather than relying on an increasingly small number of seed producers. Diversity in seed is important.
Scattergood Friends School (and Farm)
Charity Navigator - 100
This recommendation may seem a bit out of place if we are talking about environmental issues, but this is where our personal connection gives us an inside scoop to understand what the non-profit does. We have friends who teach and run the farm that is attached to the school. We are aware of how the school uses its farm and surrounding natural areas to educate young people with hands-on experiences. Exposing young people to nature and to how food is grown (they raise vegetables and meats for consumption at the school) is an excellent way to make a difference in how we care for our world now and how we prepare to care for it in future generations.
Charity Navigator - 96.81
Rodale is synonymous with organic. We have at least two Rodale books that have been in our reference library from day one at the Genuine Faux Farm. While Rodale is centered on the East coast, they recently (in the past couple of years) opened their Midwest Organic Center in Marion, Iowa.
In my opinion, it is important that organizations such as Rodale, PAN and Xerces put a focus in a state such as Iowa. Why? Well, Iowa may be one of the most unfriendly states (in general) for their efforts with the overwhelming strength of corporate agriculture in opposition to their goals. The strength of these larger organizations are needed if we want to make headway. If you decide to donate to Rodale, please tell them that you support their center in Marion.
Charity Navigator - 100
Here is an organization that works on preserving natural areas in Iowa by supporting the process for lands to be protected by easements. I have been a supporter of INHF from the time I took my first job in Cedar Rapids until the present day. I have watched their efforts as they have helped to preserve the Loess hills in western Iowa and set aside larger contiguous pieces of land in the Upper Iowa River Valley (among others).
I won't pretend to be perfectly knowledgeable about such things, but I suspect we would have even fewer natural areas in this state if INHF didn't exist. Oh, and some of the beautiful photography on their magazine is quite worthwhile.
Charity Navigator - 100
If you have read our blogs over the years, then you have heard about Practical Farmers of Iowa. PFI supports on-farm research, which encourages farmers of all types (row crop, grazing, orchards, horticulture) to 'stay curious' about farming and continue to look for better ways to do things, rather than simply accept what agribusiness tells us to do. Our farm has participated in several research projects and we have held multiple field days for PFI.
PFI strongly supports the increased use of cover crops to reduce erosion, supply fertility, suppress weeds and provide alternatives to current agricultural processes. It was PFI who helped create videos on pesticide drift and resources for those who have been drifted on. Spoiler alert, you might recognize one of the two farmers featured in those videos.
Charity Navigator - N/A
IFU has been a force for pushing alternative policy approaches in a state that does not seem to want to listen to ideas that don't come from corporate agriculture. IFU has pushed back against the process of farm consolidation, which results in larger and larger farms. You may notice that IFU has taken a stand to stop pesticide drift, reduce agricultural runoff into our waterways and encourage diverse farmscapes.
The people at IFU have the energy to push for policy change and they need support to maintain that energy and make some progress. I have had the privilege to speak one at their annual conventions and have participated in their policy discussions. I appreciate the heart and tenacity of this organization.
Charity Navigator - 85
The Iowa Environmental Council is probably the organization with which I have the least amount of personal connection in this list. We can say that some of IEC's work helped us through the process of putting solar panels on our own farm.
If you are concerned about the health of Iowa's land and waterways, support renewable energy and want to take action to respond to climate change, IEC is a good place to look. IEC is a policy oriented organization, looking to advocate for changes at the governmental level to support renewable energy, clean water and land stewardship. So, if you are looking for policy level organizations, this is one you should consider.
I hope you found this review worthwhile to read and I hope you found some of the information useful. Tammy and I are both happy to support each of these organizations as we are able throughout the year. We are also pleased to support other organizations, such as the Northeast Iowa Foodbank and Cedar Valley Friends of the Family. We also have traditionally supported Iowa Public Radio and Iowa Public Television.
Don't get us wrong - we aren't trying to say we are key supporters for any of these organizations, we don't have that much money or influence. And we are definitely NOT saying we are better than anyone else. What we are saying is that if you were asking our opinions (and someone did), this is where much of our money and support flows when we are able to give it.
Have a great day and thank you for lending your support to others in whatever way you are able. Kind words mean something. Careful and thoughtful actions are important. And, when you can, donating resources (time, money, etc) is also important. When we care and put effort into HOW we care, we help make this world a better place.