10 Remarkable Nonprofits You’ve Never Heard Of

What you should know about collaborative hands moving mountains  – one volunteer, festival and tweet at a time.

As Japan’s global relief missions move quickly to aid the mind boggling earthquake and tsunami recovery, school students throughout the U.S. are holding bake sales to swap lopsided muffins and chewy brownies for the feeling of being part of the giant cog of good will.

In many respects, this is how the little guns that run lesser known nonprofits make a dent, using what fuel and funding they have to reach out and stir passions. In essence, it’s about changing the world via one dougnut, app or Tweet at a time.

Here are some of the little engines that could make a significant dent in aiding women, children and the planet at large.

1. Halting the Recruitment of Underage Killers

Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

If war is hell for adults, you can imagine its toll on children. That’s what we’re up against in Uganda, Lebanon, Bosnia and elsewhere, where kids are forced under extreme duress to shoot weapons, plant mines or explosives and live under horrendous conditions without adequate food or healthcare. Despite global condemnation, hundreds of thousands of children have battled and died in world conflicts, and as many young girls have been subjected to rape and sexual enslavement. Desertion is often punishable by death.

Mission: Headquartered in London, its goal is to promote international and regional legal standards halting the military recruitment or engagement of any young person under 18 in hostilities. Through advocacy, research and monitoring, the coalition pushes for enforcement of the standard by all armed groups, governmental and non-governmental, and humanitarian organizations.

2. Power to the People

Ms. Foundation for Women

What has Ms. and Gloria Steinem done for you lately? While this foundation was started in 1972 at the height of the feminist movement, it has expanded by leaps over 35 years, growing seed funding from $87,000 in start-up grants to an endowment of $24 million. If money talks, then this effort is screaming about ending discrimination and inequity once and for all by giving women the collective power – and funds – to ignite change for generations to come.

Mission: Imbuing women with wisdom and tools to solve on their own problems of poverty, violence, discrimination and other forms of injustice; delivering strategic support to over 150 trailblazing organizations that are advancing women’s solutions for change at decision-making tables across the country.

3. Sew and Dress for Green Success

Clothing Matters

Founded by Martha Swain, who runs sustainability workshops to further her mission from a shop in Grand Rapids, Mich. which she opened with $400 to sell both apparel and ideas to a global community. The nonprofit connects companies and customers working to shift what we wear – from plastic materials cranked out in sweat shops to natural fibers of the highest quality and sustainability – amounting to one of the world’s best examples of socially and environmentally responsible manufacturing.

Mission: Work with domestic and overseas partners whose policies and practices exceed Fair Labor Organization standards. Commit to supporting practices that conserve natural resources, reduce pollution and promote social justice.

4. Food for Thoughtful Consumption

Food and Water Watch

Not so puny with 12 offices in the U.S., but not a household name either, this nonprofit cares about food, water and fish being safe, accessible and sustainably produced – in addition to monitoring abuses of farm workers such as the so-called “serfs or Arkansas” flocking to the poultry industry. The goal is to keep clean and affordable water flowing to homes, protect the quality of oceans and force governments to protect and educate their citizens.

Mission: Encourage a world where all people have access to affordable, healthy and wholesome food and clean water to meet basic needs – a world in which leaders take responsibility to manage essential resources sustainably.

5. Wind in Our Sails, Lower Utility Bills

American Wind Energy Association

They’re not just blowing hot air when it comes to this clearinghouse for communicating facts and ideas about alternative energy. The AWEA considers itself the hub of the wind energy industry with 2,500 members looking to promote, build and buy wind power technology around the world. Working with Congress, industry leaders and small businesses, the goal is to further U.S. leadership in the production of small wind turbines (100 kilowatts and less), generating power that reduces energy bills while protecting the environment.

Mission:Focusing on our economy, environment and energy security, AWEA seeks to power a cleaner America by promoting wind power growth through advocacy, communication and education.

6. Walk the Line

Rails to Trails Conservancy

Included in a read as one of the best 100 nonprofits to work for, this Washington, D.C.-based body promotes the development of thousands of miles of beneficial trails where old defunct rail lines once meandered through the national landscape. In doing so, it seeks to create a nationwide network of trails to connect corridors and build healthier places for healthier humans.

Mission: Attracting 150,000 members since its start in 1986, it looks to 9,000 miles of potential rail trails waiting to be built to span communities, regions, states and the entire country.

7. Stir a Cure

The Cancer Project

As we struggle to find holistic approaches to combating the disease that reaches one million more people each year, the project advances prevention and survival through nutrition education and research. Taking this new direction in the battle, the project provides classes, books, video programs, fact sheets and other educational materials on prevention and the value of health diet changes. Its hands-on nutrition classes are gaining increased popularity and helping survivors and families adapt to diets that have proven results.

Mission: Make cancer prevention a top priority and improve survival after a diagnosis by providing comprehensive information about the role of dietary factors in keeping people healthy.

8. Pleasure Principle


If we have come a long way, then how does Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) affects some 130 million women in the world today? This horrific practice in Africa, Asia and the Middle East carries lifelong psychological and physical effects – and truly is a barbaric way to keep women down.   Clitoraid aims to correct the wrong through surgery while completing a $200,000 Pleasure Hospital in Burkina Faso, West Africa, offering free medical services for physical restoration and rehab for FGM victims.

Mission: Training and education for clitoral repair surgery for victims and empowering them to reach their first orgasms as a way of celebrating sexual freedom and pleasure for all women in the world. Promoting campaigns against female excision and sharing pleasure, hope, kindness and femininity.

9. Compassionate Nesting

Housing Works

The double whammy of AIDS and homelessness is too much for a civilized society to take. Housing Works is made up of a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS with advocacy offices in NYC, Albany, Washington D.C. Mississippi, Haiti and Puerto Rico. Through grassroots efforts it fights for funding and legislation to ensure people with HIV/AIDS have homes, healthcare and other life-sustaining services, and legal protections from discrimination.

Mission: To end the dual crisis of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, provision of lifesaving services and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain its efforts.

10. The Race to Somewhere Happy

Project Appleseed

Its website poses the poignant question: Why wait for Superman? When it comes to improving our dismal public school offerings, parents are now taking the initiative, spurred on by disturbing documentaries like Race to Nowhere, which bashes the daily grind with a refocus on the thriving child who is educated for the current age and allowed an elusive childhood in the process.

Mission: For parents, grandparents, schools, faculty or any other caring adult to pledge to help our community’s children achieve a truly independent future by reforming public schools, including district evaluations, fitness and nutrition, funding, green schools and technology and six slices of parent involvement and engagement.

Tell us about a nonprofit that deserves to be heard: tips@ecosalon.com.

Images:  Pink Sherbet Photography, Warchild; Saltysoul; Food & Water Watch; AWEA; The Cancer Project; Housing Works; Project Appleseed; Clitoraid; Black Sexual Politics

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.