Give a Little: Green Microgiving

Spare some change? This past Thursday, the New York Times ran a special section on giving, the big front page story of which was all about giving small. You know, small giving? Like little-ish donations in the $1 to $200 range, that people who aren’t Bill or Melinda Gates can make without breaking the bank.

“After years in the shadows,” writes NYT’s Stephanie Strom, “the everyday donor is emerging as philanthropy’s newest hero, the driver of a more down-to-earth approach to charity. Sure, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Bono and other celebrity mega-donors still have their place, but now high-profile charities are homing in on smaller donations, while new charities are being organized around the principle of modest giving.” Even Fidelity Investments, notes Strom, is hip to the small-gift trend; the company dropped the minimum for donor-advised funds from $100 to $50 in October 2008.

The article was a nice Thanksgiving-ish reminder, and its message is worth applying to green non-profits, businesses, and charities. Does small green giving make a difference?

Well, take public broadcasting, one of our best sources of environmental reporting. Small member donations are NPR and PBS’ bread and butter. And think about the huge collective impact of consumers’ “wallet voting”: spending a teensy bit more for recycled toilet paper, non-toxic dishwashing liquid, non-VOC paints for home renovations, unbleached coffee filters. Or consider the lobster – I mean, consider the impact of contacting your local electric company and asking if they offer the option to switch to wind power. It takes five minutes of your time and maybe a couple extra bucks a month, but you’re paving the way for a better renewable energy infrastructure for future generations. And what about Sierra Club membership? The “regular” level of membership is only $35. What’s that, a grass-fed hamburger and a movie? Pretty manageable, yet membership fees taken collectively play a big role in keeping the organization going – not to mention keeping their outdoor excursions, lectures, and movie screenings coming.

And so on. So the next time you spend a few extra cents for shade grown coffee, or donate $10 to the Environmental Working Group, remember this: you are philanthropy’s newest hero.

Speaking of small sums, by the way, Energy Secretary Steven Chu says we can avoid the very worst of global warming with what practically seems like nothing when you break it down to a per-person, per-day sum. If you had to guess, how much would you say it’ll cost over the next decade to get the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere down to 450 parts per million (we’re really aiming for 350ppm, but 450ppm is the number listed in 2007’s IPCC reports)? The Congressional Budget Office, the EPA and the EIA have all done their own math and calculated slightly different numbers, but Chu estimates that we’re looking at 44 to 20 cents a day. Chump change.

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