Letter to the Editor: Organization Wants You to Know About Who You Volunteer For


Letter to the Editor:

We are bombarded with passionate 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 selecting great causes, or even good ones, isn’t that hard. Every nonprofit must disclose financial information publicly and these annual IRS 990 forms are available online. Visit the IRS portal and look up the organization before considering donating, volunteering or recommending them. Here is the URL: https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/ where you can see copies of annually-filed documents and determine if the organization is in good standing. When looking at the 990 forms, you can examine executive salaries and determine if the organization pays reasonable wages or if the funds are being used to enrich a few individuals.

Some key points to consider when donating to, volunteering for, or recommending a cause:

  • Are the leadership salaries in line with similar causes?
  • Is the organization actually distributing the funds or simply hoarding them to have a large bank balance? We see quite a few local causes simply stacking up money rather than spending it on their mission. We found one local organization that has $891,545 sitting in a non-interest-bearing checking account. This does not make sense to us.
  • Are the expenses reasonable?
  • Is the organization offering sufficiently unique benefit to the community that is not duplicated elsewhere?
  • Are the organizers getting in the trenches or are they more interested in high-profile award dinners?
  • Is the organization being funded by taxpayers through government grants or are they fundraising to achieve their mission? We discovered one local nonprofit that receives more than 90% of their funding from one, government source. We prefer to support causes that are funded by individuals, not where tax dollars are 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 a plethora of great habits to adopt:

  • Pickup trash you see on the street and place it directly into refuse receptacles. We’ve all seen videos of turtles with straws stuck in their noses and those straws get into the storm drains along with a bunch of other harmful plastics when garbage fails to find its way into a landfill or recycling center. Call Burbank Public Works at (818) 238-3800 and notify them when you discover an overflowing municipal trash receptacle.
  • When ordering carryout, decline the extra things you don’t need like sauces you don’t want, utensils you’ll never use and even the plastic carrying bag you can do without. You can also mention to the merchant that you want paper, not plastic bags—and that you will be more likely to frequent their business if they use biodegradable items. Have you ever received a handful of ketchup at the drive through 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 drive through. Much of the excess ends up in the trash. Each of these discarded products requires raw materials, labor, fuel and other resources to be produced.
  • When shopping, buy only what you need and can use. If you’re throwing away spoiled food in your fridge, then pay closer attention. Cut back or eliminate imported fruits and vegetables. Buy a local alternative. Doing so reduces the use of fuel as well as in-transit spoilage. Perhaps importing Swiss chocolate does not impact the Earth that much, but transporting avocadoes across an entire continent involves a lot of carbon impact.
  • Purchase regionally-raised meat as opposed to that which is shipped in from far-away states.
  • Reduce or eliminate bottled water from your shopping list. Use a water filter at home if municipal water isn’t your favorite. Most low-cost bottled water is simply tap water that’s been filtered and bottled.
  • We’ve also seen a consistent interest in second-hand merchandise. Buying previously worn clothing is a major benefit to all of us and has been fashionable for some time. On that note, while it is well-meaning to donate your unwanted items to such shops, just ensure that you aren’t handing over clothing, shoes and accessories that are clearly heading for the dumpster. Triage your donations and use common sense. Fancy cowboy boots with holes in the soles are fixable, but smelly, old sneakers with holes in the bottoms are not wearable. Launder clothing before donating it for health concerns and reasons of kindness.
  • While some folks love to take home leftovers when dining out, uneaten portions quite often end up discarded. This is especially problematic at buffets. When dining in and ordering entrees, look at the portion size at your neighbor’s table so you know what to expect. Split an entrée at dining establishments that have massive portion sizes; especially if you don’t plan to take home leftovers. When frequenting buffets, take a sample of each dish that interests you, then try it first. Buffets typically do not let you take home surplus food for obvious reasons. Much of the massive waste at buffets is the result of patrons simply not liking the taste of the item and then throwing it away. Taking only what you consume is kind to the world on so many levels.
  • Elevators consume quite a bit of electricity, use the stairs whenever possible.
  • Use the dishwasher instead of handwashing. Energy Star dishwashers use less than four gallons of water per load which is far less than handwashing a couple of pots. Partial loads are fine.

You may have other ideas to be a better citizen. You’ll notice we don’t advocate depriving yourself, just being alert to ways of being more responsible with good habits in the life you’re already living.

Christopher Matthew Spencer,
Board Member, Dreams to Reality Foundation®