The 5 Non-Profits You Should Support this Holiday Season

Happy Holidays! It’s that time of year again, when trees are chopped down in the name of holiday cheer and millions are spent in giant department stores to show how much we care. I’m going to be cliche here and make a plug for the old donation stand-by. If you’re anything like me (an outdoor enthusiast without enough free time or attention span), I’m sure you’ve walked by a crew of trail maintainers, thanked them for their hard work, vowed to go home and donate right after you summit, then actually got home, crashed on the couch with a beer and forgot to donate. Don’t be too hard on yourself, it happens to the most well-intentioned of us.

However, now is the time of year to do something about it. The holiday season is a time of giving, and this year I’m pledging to give back rather than give to (somewhat to my husband’s disappointment- he really wanted a new spray skirt for his kayak, but he’s getting a donation to the charity of his choice). Will you join me? Here are five pre-researched charities that give back the most to our favorite trails. It doesn’t matter how much you give- every penny (and ounce) counts!


Appalachian Trail Conservancy


We’ll start with a no-brainer. Being avid (and mostly AT) hikers, I’m sure we’ve all heard of the ATC. In case you haven’t heard, “the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s mission is to preserve and manage the Appalachian Trail” (taken word for word from their mission page). The ATC has a long history of progress under its belt, including more than $180 million devoted to securing land for the actual Trail, funding and assisting trail maintenance for the ~2,190 miles of trail (so you don’t trip over logs on those long night hikes), protecting land around the AT (so we don’t have to walk through towns for 2,000+ miles), and educating current and future generations of hikers (the more you know, the less you poop right beside the trail). This is a massive organization with a huge impact on a trail we know and love so much. Their Charity Navigator score of 94.81% ain’t too shabby, either! Consider giving them a donation this Christmas in the name of your aunt who can’t understand why you’d want to live in the woods for six months!

ATC volunteers having a blast building trails together. PC: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

ATC volunteers having a blast building trails together. PC: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Pacific Crest Trail Association


Another obvious addition to this list- many of us have fled the hustle and bustle that has become the AT and found refuge across the country on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Its advocating organization, the PCTA, works to secure land for the Trail, protect the Trail and its surrounding environment, maintain and reconstruct sections of the 2,600+ miles and educate and inspire the next generation of hikers, outdoor enthusiasts and trail advocates. With a Charity Navigator score of 78.73%, the PCTA has room for improvement, but it’s still an accredited charity doing its part to ensure we have thousands of miles of desert, mountain peaks and natural beauty to enjoy. I recommend this holiday donation go to your spouse, the one who sends those mail drops so faithfully and just laughs and rolls his eyes when you come home with twigs in your hair and hair in your pits!

Trail maintainers sometimes have four legs, not two. Equestrian maintainers are essential, too. PC: Clayton Feider-Sullivan

Trail maintainers sometimes have four legs, not two. Equestrian maintainers can be useful and essential on the PCT. PC: Clayton Feider-Sullivan

Rails to Trails Conservancy


This nonprofit focuses on turning former railroads into trails. They have various projects in the works, including a 750-mile trail in Philadelphia, studies that have proven the importance of trail networks and a five-state-wide plan for an off-road system of more than 1,450 miles. Charity Navigator has given the RTC 88.36% and notes that over 70% of funds go straight to their programs. Most of us love spending hours, days, weeks and even months lost in the deep woods, but when we inevitably have to return to civilization, it’s a major boon to have well planned and maintained greenways around our cities. The Rails to Trails Conservancy is doing a fantastic job of helping the public enjoy nature and, in their own words, building “healthier places for healthier people.” Why not buy a membership for your best friend, who has learned to laugh it off when you show up to dinner still smelling a little too woodsy?

Volunteers helping to keep our trails clean! PC: Rails to Trails Conservancy

RTC staff helping to keep our trails clean on 2016 Make a Difference Day! PC: Rails to Trails Conservancy

The Sierra Club Foundation


The Sierra Club is a personal favorite of mine, being more of a nature lover than an avid hiker (which is saying something, as I hike just about every weekend). Founded over 100 years ago, this organization helps protect millions of acres of wilderness as well as helping to pass various environmental Acts. They’re also a great way to keep up to date on the latest threats and success stories in regards to American public lands. With a Charity Navigator score of 94.08%, The Sierra Club is doing nonprofit right. You don’t have to join or support on the national level, either. Find a local chapter or cause to support on their site!

Your Local Trail Building Crew


Do a little online search and find out who’s building trails around you! These folks probably live in your neighborhood, too, so go out and meet them. My favorite local trail maintainers are Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA), and they know how to have fun while doing a great job! They focus on mountain bike trails, but as a hiker I use their 450+ miles of well-maintained single track constantly. Find out who builds and maintains the trails you’re using every weekend and treat yourself to a membership with them this holiday season.

It's also nice that CBMBA knows how to party after all that hard work! PC: Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association

It’s also nice that CBMBA knows how to party after all that hard work! PC: Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association


Whether small and local or nationwide, our nonprofits make the world go round. Don’t forget about them this holiday season! What other great nonprofits will you be donating to?

Note: Featured image by the talented Shoofly, aka Rebecca Schreiber, who completed her NOBO thru-hike in 2011 with her partner, Nero. Thank you!

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Comments 1

  • Denise Wlodyka : Sep 26th

    A good list, but I cringed at your last choice, the Sierra Club. They spend a ton of money litigating issues and their positions are often based on limited, selective, or poor science. It would not be my choice of where to spend my donation. Alternately, I would suggest the Nature Conservancy. Their work is based on a strong foundation of science. Instead of spending their money in the courtroom, they use it to purchase land in sensitive areas, then work with local agencies on developing plans to protect, manage and conserve it. So I’d rather have my hard earned dollars go toward preserving marshland in the Chesapeake Bay than paying some lawyer in Washington. 🙂


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