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Report: Biggest Green Groups Get the Most "Greenbacks"

February 27, 2012

SEARSPORT, Maine - The biggest national environmental groups get the most charitable dollars, while important conservation projects taken on by smaller groups in Maine and across the nation often are overlooked. This finding is one of several in a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).

People at the local level, such as the opponents of a proposed liquid propane gas (LPG) facility in Searsport, are likely to be those most affected by environment and climate challenges in their area, but the report says only 15 percent of foundation grant money for environmental work goes to the grassroots organizations addressing those issues.

Aaron Dorfman, NCRP executive director, urges the charitable funders to change that.

"They've got the freedom to take risks and experiment. Foundations are supposed to be society's 'passing gear,' to really invest in things that might not attract support otherwise. We just don't see that happening."

Sharing the wealth with smaller groups can result in bigger "wins" overall for the environment, Dorfman says. Searsport residents will vote March 10 on a moratoriuum that could result in more time to study the impact of the LPG facility.

Millie Buchanan with the Noyes Foundation says her group makes a point of supporting communities that are the most affected by problems and are making efforts to initiate change on the grassroots level.

"New England is a region with a history of town meetings and emphasis on local input. If someone from D.C. comes in and tells folks they should be concerned about climate change, it's not necessarily going to fly. But if your neighbor talks to you about keeping control of your water, keeping more utility money in your pocket, it's likely to lead to collective action."

The report says half of all environmental grants are awarded to large national organizations with budgets of $5 million or more. It suggests at least 20 percent of a foundation's grant dollars should go to community-based groups helping underserved populations and 25 percent to grassroots organizing and advocacy. It points out that many potential grantees exist: Nearly 29,000 public charities work on environmental and climate-related causes in the U.S.

The report, "Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders," is at www.ncrp.org.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME