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Report: In Environment, Biggest Groups Get Biggest Bucks



February 27, 2012

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

It says people at the local level are likely to be those most affected by environment and climate challenges in their area, but only 15 percent of foundation grant money for environmental work goes to grassroots organizations addressing these challenges. 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."

The report says half of all environmental grants are awarded to large national organizations with budgets of $5 million or more. Sharing the wealth with smaller groups can result in bigger "wins" overall for the environment, says Dorfman.

What Dorfman calls the "funding ecosystem" is out of balance, he says, when big-money philanthropists focus mostly on what is happening in Congress with environmental and climate-change issues. This report should open donors' eyes, he adds.

"We hope it sparks imagination and encourages people to shift more dollars to grassroots environmental efforts that are really connected to communities on the ground, and we hope that leads to a shift in the policy environment on environmental issues."

The report suggests that at least 20 percent of a foundation's grant dollars 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 United States.

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

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA