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Report: Biggest Green Groups Get the Most "Greenbacks"

March 2, 2012

The largest national environmental groups are getting the most charitable dollars, a new report says, while in many cases, important conservation projects taken on by smaller groups in California and across the nation are being overlooked.

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

Aaron Dorfman, NCRP executive director, says charitable funders need 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 those things that might not be attracting support otherwise. We just don't see that happening."

Half of all environmental grants are awarded to large national organizations with budgets of $5 million or more, the report says. It suggests that at least 25 percent of a foundation's grant dollars should go to grassroots organizing and advocacy.

An example Dorfman uses is the Port of Los Angeles, where trucks were polluting surrounding neighborhoods. He says lead poisoning was out of control until the community got involved.

"By working together on a campaign to clean up the port and reform how the trucking was done from the port, we've seen huge reductions now in asthma rates and lead-poisoning rates in the areas surrounding the port."

In San Francisco, Mark Randazzo, executive director of Funders Network on Transforming the Global Economy, says support of organized grass-roots movements helped defeat Proposition 23, which would have blocked California's landmark global-warming legislation, Assembly Bill 32.

"Community-based organizations and communities of color and immigrant communities and poor communities up and down the coast did get some support and were able to mobilize and bring out voters who helped to soundly defeat Proposition 23."

Randazzo's group produced a short film at that documents the work of these groups, calling the grassroots movements one of the fastest-growing and most effective forces combating climate change.

The report, "Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders," is online at

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA