The Best Conservation Organizations Not On Your Radar

5 Min. Read

We know you want to help out this rock we call home. We know you’re even willing to part with some of your hard-earned cash if you can just find the right conservation organization to donate to. Or maybe you already support some of the top environmental organizations, but want to give some love to one of the under-the-radar groups that is out there doing great work for our public lands and environment. They deserve some help too! Here are a few lesser-known organizations worth checking out…

The Best Conservation Organizations Not On Your Radar

1) River Network

Founded in 1988, the River Network improves the capacity of local river organizations across the U.S. by providing training, mentoring, networking, and other practical resources. This novel approach means the River Network has an impact far greater than its 13-person staff would suggest. In addition to helping specific groups, the River Network maintains a huge database of more than 6,000 river-focused organizations from nonprofit conservation groups to government agencies, providing a one-stop-shop for learning what entities are working to improve and protect rivers in your community. If you’re keen on maximizing the impact of your charitable contributions, donating to the River Network is kind of like donating to all of the groups that benefit from their work every year.

2) National Forest Foundation

The National Forest Foundation (NFF) is a small, efficient conservation organization with a big mission: to engage Americans in the stewardship and enjoyment of America’s National Forests. These public lands don’t always get the press (or the love) that National Parks do, but they offer some incredible recreational opportunities and provide ecosystem services that we all depend on. The NFF works across the country to help restore and improve these national treasures, doing everything from trail restoration and youth programs to stream restoration and tree planting. (Full disclosure: I was the NFF’s director of communications for the last several years. Although I’ve moved on, I still support the group, and you should too.) 

The Best Conservation Organizations Not On Your Radar

3) American Whitewater

You may have heard of American Rivers – the conservation organization that works to protect rivers around the country – but have you heard of American Whitewater? Founded in 1954, this dedicated group of whitewater enthusiasts, paddling groups and river conservationists has not only helped restore and protect some of the best whitewater runs in the country, but the organization has also worked tirelessly to ensure that our last remaining free-flowing rivers are preserved and accessible for recreation purposes well into the future.  If you love spending time on rivers, this is the group for you.

4) 5Gyres Institute

If you like your conservation organizations to come complete with adventure, romance, and forward-thinking, science-based solutions to serious planetary challenges, look no farther than the 5Gyres Institute. Founded by husband and wife duo, Marcus Erikson and Anna Cummins, 5Gyres focuses on plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. After meeting on a sailing expedition researching plastic in the North Pacific Gyre, the duo built their aptly named JUNK raft out of 15,000 plastic bottles and an abandoned airplane fuselage. Then Marcus sailed it 2,000 miles from California to Hawaii, passing back through the North Pacific Gyre, to raise awareness about plastic pollution. That was in 2008. Today, they work to “empower action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, education, and adventure.” If you can’t donate, at least consider giving up plastic straws and plastic bags for good.

Big City Mountaineers

5) Big City Mountaineers

When it comes to getting deserving, under-served kids outdoors, Big City Mountaineers (BCM) leads the pack. BCM may not be a traditional conservation organization, but they’re inspiring a new generation of young people to be passionate about the natural world, something that’s equally important as planting trees or tackling climate change. Founded in 1990, BCM helps kids who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to get out on wilderness expeditions. In addition to fostering transformative experiences outdoors, BCM’s programs provide self-confidence, leadership skills, and more. Their “Summit for Someone” program allows you to check off a life-list summit (like Mt. Rainier, Mt. Washington, or Mt. Whitney) under the watchful eyes of a guide team. All you have to do is sign up and raise the minimum required for the trip. Today, BCM engages about 700 kids a year, with its headquarters in Denver and hubs in Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle. All told, they’ve provided 42,000 nights under the stars for kids who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance. 

6) Your Local Conservation Organization

You shop locally. You eat locally. You drink locally. You probably want to give locally too. Unfortunately, we can’t list every local conservation group out there that’s fighting the good fight. Instead, check out Charity Navigator, a great resource for researching any conservation organization out there, including ones in your community. Just enter your location into their website and get results on the charities in your area that they’ve evaluated. With more than 90,000 charity rankings, you’re bound to find a local conservation organization that needs your help.

If you’re fortunate to live near a tract of public land like a national park, wilderness area, state park, or local preserve, there’s a good chance there is an affiliated “friends group” that accepts donations or sets up volunteer opportunities. Many states have nonprofit associations or foundations that support the state’s official park system, as well.

Of course, you don’t have to limit your donations to cash. Volunteering is a great way to give back too. The important thing is to give back in some way. Our planet needs all the help it can get. Happy Earth Day!

Photos: Idaho’s Hells Canyon – Andrew Miller; Snake River kayaking – Andrew Miller; Kids backpacking expedition – Big City Mountaineers

Greg M. Peters

Greg M. Peters writes from Missoula, Montana. His work has been in Adventure-Journal, Down East magazine, National Parks magazine and Big Sky Journal. Find more at

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