The season of giving is also the season of tax planning — something of a buzz kill compared to eggnog and swapping presents. The two activities can go hand-in-hand — giving a donation to a good cause can reduce your tax bill.

 

But not all tax deductions are created equal. Some nonprofits are better run, more efficient, more effective and less wasteful. And if you're giving to a cause, don't you want to get the most bang for your buck?

 

Fortunately, wise giving is easy. Doing your due diligence on a charity takes just a few mouse clicks. Charity watchdog organizations such as Charity Navigator and the American Institute of Philanthropy comb through the financial information each charity provides in their reports to the Internal Revenue Service. The watchdogs look at how much administrators spend on themselves and on fundraising compared to the mission.

 

Both watchdog groups have sorted through the numbers on several green groups. Charity Navigator rates more than 300 charities working to preserve and protect the environment and to promote environmental research, conservation and appreciation. Nearly a third of those green charities get a four-star rating, Charity Navigator's highest.

 

Some of the top-rated green charities are national; others have a local or regional focus. You may want to check Charity Navigator and the American Institute of Philanthropy to see how your favorite charities have been rated. In the list below, we've done some of the legwork for you. Here's a sampling of green charities you can send money to and feel good about it.

 

American Rivers

American Rivers, dedicated to protecting and restoring the nation's rivers and streams, has worked to remove 147 outdated dams on rivers across the country and each year issues the report America's Most Endangered Rivers, spotlighting the threats to rivers and providing clear actions for the public to take to help save them.

 

Charity Navigator gives American Rivers four stars and the American Institute of Philanthropy gives the organization a B+.

 

The Nature Conservancy

A green group any capitalist could love, The Nature Conservancy protects wildlife habitat by buying it. Since its founding in 1951, the Conservancy has protected more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide.

 

Charity Navigator gives the group three stars and the American Institute of Philanthropy gives the organization an A-.

 

The Sierra Club Foundation

The Sierra Club Foundation finances environmental education, litigation and training programs. Among the programs funded by the foundation is a "bear aware" program in Montana designed to reduce bear-human conflicts by educating the public and businesses on garbage disposal and other attractants, such as bird feeders.

 

Charity Navigator gives the group four stars and the American Institute of Philanthropy gives the organization an A+.

 

Earth Island Institute

This group founded by famed environmentalist David Brower serves as the back office support infrastructure for dozens of grassroots green campaigns. It is an incubator for start-up environmental groups and now sponsors more than 40 projects. The Institute also supports wetland restoration programs and publishes a magazine.

 

Charity Navigator gives the group four stars and the American Institute of Philanthropy gives the organization an A.

 

Grand Canyon Trust

Established in 1985 as a national trust for projects in the Grand Canyon, the mission of this group has expanded to include issues affecting the surrounding Colorado Plateau. The Grand Canyon Trust helped build public support against uranium mining adjacent to Grand Canyon and in 2010 recruited and managed 350 volunteers who donated 14,000 hours to research and restoration projects.

 

Charity Navigator gives the group four stars.

 

California State Parks Foundation

This foundation has raised more than $170 million for California's 278 state parks since it was founded in 1969. The foundation provides critical funding for capital improvements such as the restoration of Yosemite Slough, a wetland at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area in San Francisco.

 

Charity Navigator gives the group four stars.

 

Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

This Atlanta-based group focuses on the Chattahoochee River — arguably Georgia's most important river — and its watershed. The group conducts monthly river patrols to perform water quality tests and takes water samples three times a week in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

 

Charity Navigator gives the group four stars.

 

The American Chestnut Foundation

This organization based in Asheville, N.C., was founded in 1983 to restore the American chestnut tree to its native range across the eastern United States.

 

The foundation is developing blight-resistant trees to be used to reestablish chestnut trees, an important food source for woodland wildlife from birds to bears.

 

Charity Navigator gives the group four stars.

 

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