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Report: In Environment, Local Groups Get Short Shrift

March 5, 2012

BOSTON - The biggest groups get the biggest bucks when it comes to charitable foundations granting money to conservation organizations, while in many cases, according to a new report, important conservation projects taken on by smaller groups in Massachusetts and across the nation are being overlooked. It mentions a non-profit group in the Sugar Hill area where people are concerned about a hydro-electric project.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) says people at the local level are often the ones most affected by their area's environmental and climate challenges, although its research found they receive only 15 percent of the grant money given by foundations for environmental work.

Aaron Dorfman, who heads the organization, says the charitable funders need to change that.

"They've got the freedom to take risks and experiment. And foundations are supposed to be society's 'passing gear,' to really invest in those things that might not be attracting 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. Dorfman is convinced that sharing the wealth with smaller groups can result in bigger wins overall for the environment.

Millie Buchanan, program director for environmental justice with the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, says her group makes a point of supporting communities that are the most affected by problems. She points to the efforts of an organization of labor activists and environmentalists in Massachusetts called the Green Justice Coalition.

"... working to pass ordinances in local communities that put money into green jobs, put money into energy efficiency. So again, your money stays in the local community, your control stays in the local community."

The report suggests at least 20 percent of a foundation's grant dollars go to community-based groups helping under-served populations, and 25 percent for grassroots organizing and advocacy. And it says there are a lot of potential grantees out there, with nearly 29,000 public charities working on environment and climate-related causes in the U.S.

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

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - MA