Letter to the editor:
We are bombarded with impassioned pleas to donate, volunteer and otherwise get involved in causes that seek to help the environment. Are you really doing good by supporting these causes? The truth may be different than you might think and choosing great causes, or even good ones, isn’t that hard. Every nonprofit organization must publicly disclose financial information and these annual IRS 990 forms are available online. Visit the IRS portal and research the organization before considering donating, volunteering, or recommending it. Here is the URL: https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/ where you can view copies of documents filed annually and determine if the organization is in good standing. When you review Form 990s, you can examine executive salaries and determine if the organization is paying reasonable salaries or if the funds are being used to enrich a few people.
Here are some key points to consider when donating, volunteering or endorsing a cause:
- Do executive salaries correspond to similar causes?
- Is the organization actually distributing the funds or just hoarding them to have a large bank balance? We see a number of local causes simply accumulating money rather than spending it on their mission. We found a local organization that has $891,545 in a non-interest bearing checking account. It doesn’t make sense to us.
- Are the expenses reasonable?
- Does the organization provide sufficiently unique benefits to the community that are not duplicated elsewhere?
- Are the organizers going into the trenches or are they more interested in high profile awards dinners?
- Is the organization funded by taxpayers through government grants or does it raise funds to achieve its mission? We discovered a local nonprofit organization that receives more than 90% of its funding from a single government source. We prefer to support causes that are funded by individuals, not where taxpayers’ money is used.
The next thing to consider is your personal impact on the planet. If you really want to do good for our local community, there are plenty of good habits to adopt:
- Pick up the trash you see on the street and put it directly in the bins. We’ve all seen videos of turtles with straws stuck in their noses and those straws entering the storm drains along with a bunch of other harmful plastics when the trash fails to end up in a landfill or recycling center. Call Burbank Public Works at (818) 238-3800 and let them know when you discover an overflowing municipal trash can.
- When ordering takeout, refuse extra things you don’t need like sauces you don’t want, utensils you’ll never use, and even the plastic carrier bag you can do without. You can also mention to the merchant that you want paper and not plastic bags and that you will be more likely to patronize their business if they use biodegradable items. Have you ever received a handful of ketchup at the drive-thru when you only wanted one? One of our volunteers said he received a total of 22 packets of hot sauce when he visited a popular fast food taco restaurant. Much of the surplus ends up in the trash. Each of these scrapped products requires raw materials, labor, fuel, and other resources to produce.
- When shopping, buy only what you need and can use. If you throw away spoiled food in your refrigerator, be more careful. Reduce or eliminate imported fruits and vegetables. Buy a local alternative. This reduces fuel usage as well as deterioration in transit. Maybe importing Swiss chocolate doesn’t have much impact on Earth, but transporting avocados across an entire continent involves a lot of carbon impact.
- Buy regionally farmed meat rather than that shipped from distant states.
- Reduce or eliminate bottled water from your shopping list. Use a home water filter if municipal water isn’t your favorite. Most inexpensive bottled water is simply tap water that has been filtered and bottled.
- We have also seen a steady interest in used goods. Buying pre-worn clothes is a big plus for all of us and has been in fashion for quite some time. On that note, while it’s well-meaning to donate your unwanted items to such stores, just make sure you don’t hand over clothes, shoes, and accessories that are clearly heading for the dumpster. Sort your donations and use common sense. Fancy cowboy boots with holes in the soles are fixable, but smelly old sneakers with holes in the bottom aren’t wearable. Wash clothes before giving them away for health reasons and kindness reasons.
- While some people like to take leftovers home to restaurants, uneaten portions often end up being thrown away. This is particularly problematic at buffets. When dining and ordering entrees, watch the portion sizes at your neighbor’s table so you know what to expect. Split an entree at food establishments that have massive portions; especially if you don’t plan to take the leftovers home. When you frequent the buffets, take a sample of each dish that interests you, then try it first. Buffets generally don’t allow you to take home excess food for obvious reasons. Much of the massive buffet waste is the result of customers simply not liking the taste of the item and then throwing it away. Taking only what you take in is good for the world on so many levels.
- The elevators consume a lot of electricity, use the stairs whenever possible.
- Use the dishwasher instead of washing your hands. Energy Star dishwashers use less than four gallons of water per load, which is far less than hand-washing a few pots. Partial loads are fine.
You may have other ideas for being a better citizen. You’ll notice that we’re not advocating depriving yourself, just being mindful of ways to be more responsible with good habits in the life you’re already living.
Christopher Matthew Spencer,
Board Member, Dreams to Reality Foundation®