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Five Weather, Environmental Charities for Holiday Donations

As the holiday season ramps up across the United States, gift items are flying off the shelves and wish lists are being written. For many, however, the season is marked by a spirit of giving, and in lieu of gifts, some will ask for donations to their favorite charities instead.

Studies have shown that for many charitable organizations, as much as 24 to 46 percent of charitable giving is done from November to January. Whether a gift is a material item, time spent volunteering or money, the holiday season can be an opportunity to spread awareness of a favored cause.

Here is a list of five charities that can help alleviate environmental or weather-related causes.

1. The Sierra Club Foundation

The Sierra Club Foundation has spent more than 50 years as a nonprofit organization working to help restore the environment. Among their projects, they advocate alternative energy sources, restoring wildlife habitats and protecting America's water supplies. They also have programs for helping veterans and their families with the Military Families and Veterans Outdoors Initiative.

2. The Conservation Fund

The Conservation Fund is another organization that works to preserve land and wildlife. Their goal is to find a middle ground between the opposing sides of conservation, bridging the gap that many see between environmental protection and economic advancement. They focus on projects that have both environmental and economic benefits.

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3. World Wildlife Fund

Many programs are also in place for "adopting" or sponsoring animals. The World Wildlife Fund offers a variety of species for adoption, from tigers to sea otters to honey badgers and komodo dragons. People can pay to sponsor an animal in their own or in someone else's name. This symbolic sponsorship uses the money you donate to provide assistance to programs set up to help the species you chose.

Similarly, the Oceanic Society provides the opportunity to adopt dolphins.

4. The Red Cross

Following the devastation brought by events such as Superstorm Sandy or Typhoon Haiyan, the Red Cross is a reputable international organization that can help save lives and ease the burdens that follow a disastrous weather event. Donations can help those who are affected by natural disasters and rely on emergency shelters, food and medical care provided by the Red Cross. Blood donations are also a need for the injured.

5. One Warm Coat

One of the easiest ways to donate around the holidays is to clean out the closet. One Warm Coat is an organization of volunteers who host coat drives to collect people's old winter jackets to give them to those in need for the cold weather months. Their site provides the information for people anywhere in the country to host their own drive or to provide the location of an existing drive.

Donate to Legitimate Charities

Not all charities are created equal. Some may allocate more money to their employees or to advertising than to the cause. Some may support side projects that don't align with the donor's beliefs. Some are flat-out fraudulent. Follow these tips to help find the right organization to support:

Ask for credentials when solicited for donations. Legitimate charities will be eager to share more about their organization. If unsure of an organization's legitimacy, ask for contact information so a future donation may be placed if independent research yields the right results.
Probe for more details. Fraudulent organizations may make vague claims such as collecting "For the Troops." Ask how donations will be spent and what the collector's affiliations are.
Check the Better Business Bureau. The BBB has a list of charity reviews that help a donor decipher the legitimacy of an organization. It also allows a potential donor to search by the cause he or she wants to support to find an organization that fits the "Standards for Charity Accountability."
Don't be afraid to say no. A good charity should not bully people for donations. If too many questions linger, walk away.
Don't blindly trust a big name. Some well-known, popular and nationally publicized charities may not be all they appear to be. Research the big names to determine where most of their money goes.
Donate Year Round. The holidays are a more popular time to donate to causes, especially food banks, but people and organizations rely on public support all year long. Don't forget about favored charities after the season; sign up for mailing lists for groups to be up to date on their needs.