Change Makers: Marine Conservation Institute

Change Makers: Marine Conservation Institute

These responses were provided by Marine Conservation Institute’s Communications Coordinator, Matt Coomer. Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your organization!

Q: Tell us about the Marine Conservation Institute

We’re based in Seattle, Glen Ellen (Bay Area CA), and Washington D.C.

Since Dr. Elliott Norse founded Marine Conservation Institute in 1996, we have been a major player in efforts to save our ocean. We help bridge the gap between scientists, who understand marine ecosystems, and policymakers who determine their fate.

In 2000, at our urging, President Clinton called for a national system of marine protected areas, or MPAs.

In 2006 and 2009, we built the scientific support for President Bush to establish three colossal MPAs in the tropical Pacific Ocean. This move was a game-changing moment for conservation: it marked the first time a vast ocean area was strongly protected from fishing – a significant impact that humans have on marine ecosystems. This momentum led to more strong MPAs being created in recent years.

Since seeing marine conservation biology become a vibrant science worldwide, we have shifted our attention to increasing the quantity and quality of protection for the ocean’s best places. To realize this dream, we launched a major initiative, the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES, pronounced “glories”). GLORES is dedicated to building a network of marine reserves that strongly protect 30% of the global ocean. It is a collaborative effort working to save marine life and protect biodiversity through effective measures on the water.

Our President Dr. Lance Morgan, GLORES Science Fellow Dr. Sarah Hameed, and Board Chair Dr. David Johns with Global Ocean Refuge managers after our awards at IMPAC4.

We are also dedicated to providing the world’s most accurate assessment of MPA coverage and strength through the Atlas of Marine Protection, or As countries race to reach globally established levels of marine protection, it is important that MPAs be planned and managed to achieve real conservation benefits. Because some places are called MPAs but still allow destructive activities like fishing and oil development, has gained widespread recognition for assessing protection on the water, rather than simply showing declared space. Our interactive map and analyses offer a true picture of marine protection progress, showing successes and how far we still have to go.

Q: What is your organization’s overall mission?

Our mission is to secure permanent, strong protection for the ocean’s most important places.

Q: What are a few goals your organization has been focusing on this year?

This year, our team has been focused on fighting attempts to remove protections for U.S. marine national monuments and sanctuaries, tracking new MPA developments on the Atlas of Marine Protection, and welcoming our first Global Ocean Refuges to the GLORES network.

We are also involved in raising public awareness about the California seamounts, which are underwater volcanoes and deep-sea mountain ranges off the coast that support rich, fragile ecosystems. These undersea mountains are home to ancient corals, delicate glass sponges and chemo-synthetic communities. The more people we reach about their natural value, the more likely it is that they can be protected in the future.

Our scientists are also busy researching other vulnerable ecosystems in the deep sea and ways to protect their biodiversity as well as maintain their resilience.

Q: Can you discuss some of your major successes?

Our biggest recent success was awarding the first Global Ocean Refuges at the 4th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC4) in Chile.

Our distinguished GLORES Science Council used science-based criteria to evaluate promising MPAs and found that three sites met our strictest standards for protecting marine biodiversity:

  1. Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (Colombia)
  2. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (The Philippines)
  3. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (U.S.)

It was our privilege to honor their conservation achievements and recognize each site with the Global Ocean Refuge Platinum award. We will continue promoting their success and help other marine reserves follow their shining example.

The Atlas of Marine Protection was also recently recognized, as National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence Dr. Enric Sala used its data to show the state of marine protection at the Our Ocean conference. The resulting Malta Declaration was signed by prominent marine scientists from around the world and called for stronger MPAs with verifiable conservation measures, a point we strongly support and echo in our mapping work. As nations hopefully listen to this message and create more effective MPAs, will continue showing the real marine protection situation on the ocean.

A simplified version of the MPAtlas global marine protection map as of December 2016. Unfortunately, not all of the MPAs shown provide the same level of effective protection for ocean ecosystems.

Q: Can you share a few alarming stats that have low awareness?

We want to make everyone aware that, in spite of increasing numbers of MPA announcements, only about 3% of the world’s oceans are protected today. And, of that small amount, approximately 1.5% is strongly protected in no-take marine reserves, which is, according to leading scientists, the most effective design for protecting ecosystems. As an example of the urgency for marine protection, 60% of coral reefs are currently threatened by human activities and it is likely that 100% of coral reefs will bleach by 2050. Our oceans are in decline and they need more protection if we’re going to stop or reverse these sad trends.

Modern boats now fish in every ice-free ocean region. Despite their new technology, some studies show that global fish catches peaked years ago and that up to 90% of large tunas and billfishes may be gone. When you mix in human-caused habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change impacts, our ocean’s ability to sustain life is threatened. As renowned marine biologist and Marine Conservation Institute Board Member Dr. Sylvia Earle famously said, “No ocean, no life. No blue, no green. No ocean, no us.” The Global Ocean Refuge System will help us reverse the trend of ocean degradation and ensure a healthy ocean that supports the planet’s amazing biodiversity.

Q: What can we do in our daily lives to help support your cause?

In addition to donating to our organization, we welcome the public to nominate great MPAs for Global Ocean Refuge awards and to help spread the word about GLORES. We’re always looking for new organizations and businesses to partner with as well, so if you know another group that would be interested in collaborating on GLORES, please let us know! Also, tell your friends about the best place to find accurate MPA information,!

We always appreciate communications support online and invite you to follow, like, and share our posts:

Please consider signing up for our monthly newsletter as well!

Shark swimming in sea with fish around it

Global Ocean Refuge Platinum award-winner Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary protects abundant marine life, including this Galapagos shark. Edited here, original photo courtesy of SFF Malpelo.

Q: How important are donors for the Marine Conservation Institute?

Donors are essential to fulfilling our mission and we put every dollar received to good use. Our Board Member and Treasurer Burgess Raby likes to describe us as, “… a ‘lean and mean’ organization, with a focus on applying every possible cent of its income to its mission of securing permanent, strong protection for the ocean’s most important places.” We especially appreciate our Ocean Guardians, donors who give over $1000, and give them special access to our work and recognition throughout the year. Membership in this program makes the perfect gift for any ocean lover in your life!

Q: How has your experience been with Giving Assistant?

Our Giving Assistant experience has been great; it gives a nice return to our organization when users shop at its many popular stores.

With the holidays right around the corner, the support we receive through Giving Assistant is helpful in boosting our year-end donations. We really appreciate its focus on giving to charities and nonprofits that are working to protect our world!

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

GLORES will keep growing in 2018 and beyond, so please tell everyone you know and keep an eye out for new Global Ocean Refuges!

Two masked boobies birds

Masked boobies in the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. Edited here, original photo by Ramón Pulido courtesy of Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia.

Feature photo by Bo Mancao.

Want to make recurring donations to the Marine Conservation Institute? Shop at Giving Assistant’s 3,000+ trusted brands and donate a percentage of your cash back to the Marine Conservation Institute.

Happy to Announce that We Are Now a Certified B Corporation!

Happy to Announce that We Are Now a Certified B Corporation!

The ultimate mission for Giving Assistant has always been to do good, give back, and be better.

Not just for the sake of looking good…

…but to genuinely make a positive impact in the world.

Yet, writing an earnest mission and slapping it on our website wasn’t enough, we knew that our growing company eventually needed to be held accountable for what means the most to our team. This is why we are proud to finally announce that Giving Assistant is officially certified in the field of doing good!

Certified B Corporations, called B Corps for short, are companies that go through a rigorous certification that measures their impact on the environment, their employees, their customers, and their community. Little over 2,000 companies in the world today have successfully become B Corps, which makes the label one of the most prestigious ones out there. (Go us!) 

But it wasn’t an overnight process. In fact, you could say that the journey began when we decided to launch a social enterprise; we had to spend years building a company that was even B Corp worthy. Take a look at the goals of B Corps, the process of becoming certified, and how Giving Assistant meets the requirements with excellence.

The Giving Assistant team and the trash collected after cleaning up Ocean Beach.

What B Corps Are All About

In one sentence, the B Corp title is “like Fair Trade certification but for the whole business, not just a bag of coffee.” This perfectly describes the community of B Corps across the globe–companies that treat the people and the world around them fairly, while at the same time remaining a profitable business. A few of B Corporations’ values are:

  • Businesses should compete not only to be the best in the world, but to be the best for the world.
  • All business ought to be conducted as if people and places matter.
  • World business leaders must realize that everyone is dependent on each other for the well-being of our global community and natural resources.
  • A company’s products can and should benefit society in their production, practices, and profit.

Our Head of Charity Advocacy, Isabel, serving lunch at St. Anthony’s Dining Room during one of our company volunteer days

How to Become a B Corp

As you can see from these goals, not just any business can become a B Corp. It takes a thorough vetting process to filter through unqualified organizations and find the ones that are truly making a difference. As their requirements state, the process is “rigorous but straightforward.”

The first part of the process is called the B Impact Assessment. This assessment measures a company’s positive impact and sustainability. Once this initial test is complete, businesses receive a detailed score report that shows their strengths and weaknesses. If their score is high enough, B Lab verifies their answers to make sure that they are accurate. And, if all goes well, a company is eligible to become a B Corp.

Even after getting certified, a company must demonstrate that they are still worthy of the title. Every two years, all companies must get re-approved through a concise version of the initial assessment. Additionally, 10% of companies are randomly selected for an extra check up each year. All of this goes to prove that being a B Corp is not only an honor, but also a responsibility.

In May of 2017, Giving Assistant passed the B Impact Assessment on the second try and went through all of the required steps to become a B Corp! The process was long and filled with both successes and failures. It took over a year for us, and we had to formalize many of our unwritten policies. But in the end, here’s how our scores stacked up against other companies that took the test.

  • We scored 24 in the area of employee treatment, where the average applicant scores 18.
  • Our governance earned us a score of 16, 10 points higher than the average.
  • In the community category, our score of 22 beat the average score of 17.

Why Giving Assistant is a Perfect Fit

Not only did Giving Assistant become a B Corp, but we handily outdid many other companies in a variety of fields. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that we did well on the exam. Recall that B Corps split up their impact into four categories:

1) Employee Impact

  • We offer health benefits and stock options to 100% of our employees.
  • We hold quarterly Fun Days and corporate volunteer activities.
  • Every employee has the ability to work-from-home on Fridays.

The team enjoying some beers at a Giants game

2) Customer Impact

  • Our services are an easy way for customers to save money.
  • We offer benefits for shopping on a wide variety of stores, which lets every consumer get involved.
  • We help people get more involved in their global community by making a positive impact when they shop.

3) Community Impact

Zinc and Zidisha posing with their cash back donations earned through Giving Assistant

  • Through Giving Assistant, our users had the ability to donate over $250,000 to Zidisha, which has allowed them to fund over 9,000 microloans in developing countries.
  • Our users have donated over $17,000 of funds to Camp Kesem, an organization that provides a summer camp for kids whose parents have cancer.
  • Giving Assistant shoppers gave more than $15,000 to Pencils for Promise, allowing underdeveloped communities to build proper schools for their children.

4) Environmental Impact

  • Our offices are located in a Platinum LEED certified skyscraper.
  • We recently switched from paper checks to e-checks, drastically reducing our carbon footprint.
  • Much of our donations go toward responsible nonprofits that are good stewards of the environment and natural resources.

Considering all that goes into becoming a B Corp, the Giving Assistant team is incredibly proud of our progress. It is an honor to be considered part of this elite group, and we work every day to keep up our positive impact and reach even more communities around the world. Thank you for being part of our success!

Charity Spotlight: The Yellow Feather Fund

Charity Spotlight: The Yellow Feather Fund

Everyone knows that Big Bird and his pals on Sesame Street have been helping kids learn their ABCs and 123s for decades, but did you know they are also helping children here and around the world with even tougher challenges?

Through the Yellow Feather Fund, Sesame Street is positively impacting the lives of children with autism, children with parents in the military, children affected by the crisis in Syria, children in developing nations, and millions of others. And you can help support them too! Just by doing your everyday online shopping through Giving Assistant.

What is the Yellow Feather Fund?

Named after the lovable Sesame Street character Big Bird and his large, yellow feathers, the Yellow Feather Fund uses the well-known Sesame Street Muppets to create new learning materials for children that are fun and teach important lessons. The Yellow Feather Fund specializes in making videos, books, and other free digital content that kids love and teaches them important values and life skills. Here are some examples of what the Yellow Feather Fund has been doing lately:

1) Autistic children sometimes struggle with making new friends, so the Yellow Feather Fund’s online videos help both children with autism and their friends see what is special about each other and learn how to respect each other’s differences, having fun along the way. They also have helpful videos and daily routine cards that both parents and teachers can use to help educate autistic children.

2) Since around 700,000 children have a parent serving in the military, the Yellow Feather Fund supports these kids as a part of their “Little Children, Big Challenges” family services. Their PDF packets and videos help children and their parents to learn how to cope with the stresses that come with worrying about or missing their loved ones when they’re away for a long time.

3) The Yellow Feather Fund works closely with the International Rescue Committee to help young refugee children in the Syrian response region to develop:

  • Early reading,
  • Math,
  • And other social-emotional skills.

More than 12 million refugee children around Syria alone have suffered from emergency relocations and other traumas, which makes special educational programs like this one so important. By holding camps and making videos with new characters designed to better connect with the local kids — such as the adorable Zeerak from Afghanistan — children gain good role models for behavior and learn tips to help them connect with their communities in a positive way.

How can you use Giving Assistant to support the Yellow Feather Fund?   

“We’re so excited about our partnership with Giving Assistant” says Diana Polvere, VP Annual Giving at Sesame Workshop. “Our mission is to help kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder, and this is a wonderful way for people to support us in making a meaningful difference in the lives of children in the U.S. and around the world.”

If you’ve already signed up for Giving Assistant, all you have to do next is select the Yellow Feather Fund on your account settings menu. Then choose how much of your balance from cash-back rewards you’d like to donate.

If you haven’t signed up yet, you can join here to start supporting the Yellow Feather Fund AND saving money on your everyday purchases at over 2,700 online retailers.

No-Fuss Fundraising with Giving Assistant

No-Fuss Fundraising with Giving Assistant

Ryan Quiel HeadshotIt’s no secret that it takes a lot of time to secure donations, especially recurring donations.

During my 7 years of working in marketing for nonprofits, I learned first hand how much strain fundraising can cause. Your whole day is spent pursuing funds from donors and expanding your donor list through various channels. It pays off when you earn support for your mission, but nevertheless, it’s labor intensive.

Additionally, it’s challenging to keep donors engaged and continuously involved in your mission. What I’ve found, is that the best way to engage supporters is through providing them with something that can add value to both your mission and their everyday life.

That is why my co-founders and I built a fundraising tool that could not only benefit nonprofit and charity organizations, but could also benefit their supporters. It’s simple, automatic, and allows your donors to give back to your charity without changing the way they already shop online.

The average American spends over $2,000 annually online, and Giving Assistant shoppers can donate an average of 5.2% of their purchases. That means that with over 100 active online shoppers, an organization can effortlessly raise more than $10,400 annually by partnering with Giving Assistant. And you can count on these donations year after year, because once someone signs up, they almost never stop using it to help the charity they care about.

How it works:

  • Retailers pay us a commission for purchases originated from our website or browser extension. Typically a percentage of the sale.
  • We pay our members the commission in the form of cash back.
  • Members choose to automatically donate any % of their cash back to the charity of their choice.

It’s that simple! And since we work with over 2,800+ of the most popular online retailers, you and your supporters can buy pretty much anything your heart desires while earning money for your cause.

For a 501(c)3 organization, Giving Assistant is a breeze to use and there is virtually no setup involved!

Just follow these quick steps:

1. Go to and search for your nonprofit. (Note: If you cannot find your nonprofit’s name, don’t worry! Simply type in your organization name and then click “Add Your Nonprofit”)

2. Click “Activate Your Account” or, if your organization already has donations, the button will say “Unlock Your $XX in Donations.”

3. Enter a valid email address affiliated with your nonprofit (for example, if you are trying to claim the nonprofit called “Giving Assistant Inc.” you’d use your “” email address).

4. We’ll send you a confirmation email from Open this email, and voila! You now have access to your nonprofit dashboard.

5. Complete your Giving Assistant profile (so we can send you checks for your donations).

Once you’re all set up, notify your community and supporters about Giving Assistant and watch your donations grow! Here are a few ways to spread the word:

1. Add the Giving Assistant badge (and/or logo) to your website via the “Best Practices” section in the dashboard.

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2. Share your personal fundraising link with your supports via email, newsletters, Twitter, Facebook and any other social media platforms you use.

    • Tip: Since people shop all the time, make it easy for them to donate to your organization by post your fundraising link often, not just around the holidays!

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3. Try it yourself – Use Giving Assistant when you are making purchases on behalf of your organization and put your cashback right back into your cause. For example, do you need office supplies? Use Giving Assistant when you shop at Staples, Office Depot or any of our other 2,500+ stores!

Several non-profits have already achieved tremendous success by using our free platform. I and the rest of the team at Giving Assistant would love to see you earn more money for your mission and free up time in your busy schedule to get out there and change the world.

So get started with Giving Assistant today!

Thank you for all that you do,

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Ryan Quiel, Director of Growth & Product

P.S. Have questions, or want more information about using Giving Assistant to passively fundraise? Feel free to reach out to Isabel, Head of Charity Advocacy, at —she’ll be more than happy to help!

Tostan: A Giving Assistant Success Story

Tostan: A Giving Assistant Success Story

In December of 2016, something incredible happened in West Africa. Something Tostan founder Molly Melching could’ve only dreamed of when she arrived in Senegal over 40 years ago as a young exchange student from Danville, Illinois.

Over 300 communities in four different countries came together to publicly declare a commitment to human rights.

They announced their abandonment of harmful traditions, including the long-standing practice of female genital cutting (FGC) as well as child/forced marriage. This brings the total number of communities who have made similar public declarations to over 8,000; evidence of a movement that has been quietly building in the region over the past two decades, due to community resilience and the efforts of Tostan.


Children hold up chalkboard signs declaring their community’s abandonment of FGC. Source: Tostan

Tostan is a non-profit named for the Wolof word for ‘breakthrough,’

And its unique model focuses on agency, not aid. Operating in six countries, Tostan offers an educational program which has proven that the greatest resources available to struggling communities are the people themselves and their own creative solutions.

In the Tostan program, participants first identify their vision and goals, then they acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to lead and sustain their own development. The Community Empowerment Program uses cultural methods of learning to cover not only the fundamentals of human rights and collective decision-making, but also:

  • Reading,
  • Writing,
  • Arithmetics,
  • Health and hygiene,
  • Problem solving,
  • And confidence building,

And this model has been immensely successful.

In the quarter-century since Tostan’s founding, they have witnessed improvement in issue areas including:

  • Women and girl’s empowerment,
  • Peace and security,
  • Education,
  • And more!

Women participating in a classroom session of Tostan’s program. Source: Tostan

Giving Assistant raises nearly $18,000 for Tostan

Earlier this month, Giving Assistant mailed a check to Tostan for $17,754.58! These funds were raised entirely by Giving Assistant members who have chosen to support the organization through their everyday shopping.

“Supporters of Tostan are part of our global family. Like our communities in West Africa, they form a collective that is joyfully in pursuit of a common goal: dignity for all. We are so thankful that Giving Assistant has joined this family.” – Molly Melching, CEO of Tostan

This generosity will stretch not only across the globe, but for generations to come as rural West African communities continue on their positive path.


Women celebrating. Source: Tostan

Help support this rising movement

Due to its proven success, the Tostan program is in high demand. You can help them meet this demand by using Giving Assistant to easily donate a portion or all of your cash back to the organization.

It’s simple! Just make sure to select Tostan in your account settings and decide how much of your cash back you’d like to donate.

Not a member yet? Sign up here to begin supporting Tostan as you shop (and save!) online.

Pencils of Promise: A Giving Assistant Success Story

Pencils of Promise: A Giving Assistant Success Story

You’ll never look at a #2 pencil the same way again…

When a small boy’s answer to “What do you want most in the world?” was a mere pencil, the future founder of PoP was utterly touched. For Pencils of Promise, something as simple as a yellow #2 has now come to represent the need to unlock the potential in children that lack a suitable learning environment.

Across the world, 250 million children of elementary school age lack basic reading, writing and math skills. Unsafe, unsanitary and ill-equipped classrooms serve as hurdles for both teachers and students – which is what Pencils of Promise (PoP) wishes to overcome – by building schools and bringing solid educational programming to areas in need.

Pencils of Promise: “We believe every child should have access to quality education.”

Since 2009, PoP’s efforts have led to increased literacy rates, improved training and support for teachers, and better access to quality education for children residing in some of the most underserved communities in the countries where the organization is active.

Today, PoP has a strong presence in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos. So far, nearly 36,000 students have been served by 380 PoP schools, impacting 300,000+ lives in their local communities.

These kids are on their way to their brand new PoP School. Source: Nick Onken

These kids are on their way to their brand new PoP School. Source: Nick Onken

With 85% of communities that PoP visits lacking basic school infrastructure, the organization strives to break ground on a new school every 5 days. In Guatemala, 98% of teachers report increased focus in students learning in a new PoP building. To make sure students are able to benefit from their programs, PoP also implements the internationally recognized WASH program, which promotes healthy water, sanitation, and hygiene practices.

Amongst many achievements in 2016, PoP delivered tablets to three schools in Guatemala, marking their “first-ever expansion of digital reading content in Spanish,” as well as expanded WASH programming to 20 more schools in Laos.

Giving Assistant shoppers have contributed over $53,300 to PoP.

To date, Pencils of Promise has received $53,337 from Giving Assistant shoppers, who use their everyday online purchases to fuel the education of children around the world.

“We love finding new and easy ways for people to support Pencils of Promise,” says Natalie Ebel, PoP’s Director of Marketing. “Giving Assistant is simple and fun, and they’re already almost halfway to funding a full school build with PoP!”

It takes $35,000 to build a school, and since 100% of online donations that PoP receives goes towards their programs, Giving Assistant shoppers are on track to break ground on a new one soon.

Thanks to PoP, these girls have the chance to enjoy learning in a safe, new school. Source: Nick Onken

Thanks to PoP, these girls have the chance to enjoy learning in a safe, new school. Source: Nick Onken

Help build a new PoP school.

With your contributions through Giving Assistant, not only will you make an impact in the lives of children, but also entire communities.

If you’d like to use Giving Assistant to easily donate a portion or all of your cash back to Pencils of Promise, visit their fundraising page here.

To make sure PoP receives your thoughtful donation, please select Pencils of Promise in your account settings.

Not a member yet? Sign up here to begin supporting Pencils of Promise as you shop online.