Reignite Environmental Movement from the Grassroots Up, Report Urges

February 23, 2012; Source: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

A new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), written by Sarah Hansen, argues that the environmental movement has recently stalled out, and offers a strategic approach to reigniting environmental initiatives from the grassroots up. The report, “Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders,” suggests that the philanthropic community with an interest in advancing positive environmental change should support more grassroots organizing.

Specifically, the report offers four main suggestions:

1.“Provide at least 20 percent of grant dollars to benefit explicitly communities of the future.” This recommendation acknowledges that lower income and minority communities are the most jeopardized by the injustice that climate change and other environmental problems create.

2.“Invest at least 25 percent of grant dollars in grassroots advocacy, organizing and civic engagement.” This suggestion is based on the idea that local groups will be best able to identify and mobilize coalitions around issues of immediate and obvious relevance (the report offers “stopping toxic pollution, creating viable new jobs and reducing energy bills” as examples)—issues that will then foster a connection to more global concerns.

3.“Build supportive infrastructure.” This can be accomplished, the report states, either through direct funding of grassroots environmental groups, or indirectly through community-based public foundations.

4.“Take the long view; prepare for tipping points.” This point takes note of the fact that supporting grassroots environmental organizing may require grantmakers to shift their current focus, perhaps moving away from quick deliverables and instead embracing “the slow, patient process of movement building.”

This last suggestion may be particularly uncomfortable for grantmakers who are used to demanding and monitoring carefully-considered benchmarks, but if grassroots environmental groups are to seize upon opportunities to build critical mass with the kind of agility demonstrated by movements such as Occupy Wall Street, it may indeed require those deliverables to take a back seat for a time.

As this is admittedly a very brief look at a detailed study, those interested in maximizing the effectiveness of their philanthropic dollars for environmental causes will surely wish to take a closer look at the full report, which is available here. NPQ finds that the report’s call for shifting the environmental movement’s nexus from D.C. board rooms to local, diverse community groups is imperative if proper stewardship of our planet is to recapture the public imagination. –Mike Keefe-Feldman

  • Charlie Bernstein

    This call for new priorities is right on target. In fact, it could apply to the full social change spectrum, not just the environmental movement. As director of Maine Initiatives, a community-based public foundation that granted a quarter million dollars last year within the state for social, economic, and environmental justice, it’s apparent that the focus of so many funders on issue campaigns and “early deliverables” deprives too many genuinely grassroots organizations of the dollars they need to build real power and make real change.

    And everyone loses – including the funders who wonder why more deliverables aren’t getting delivered.