‘Green’ funding seen tilted to bigger advocates

Environmental funders are spending too little money on advocacy work to protect low-income areas and communities of color from environmental degradation, a new report says.

From 2007 to 2009, only 15 percent of environmental grant dollars were classified as benefiting “marginalized” communities, and only 11 percent were classified as advancing “social-justice” strategies, a “proxy for policy advocacy and community organizing that works toward structural change on behalf of those who are least well off politically, economically and socially,” says Cultivating the Grassroots, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

In the same period, the report says, grant dollars donated by funders who committed over 25 percent of their total dollars to the environment were three times less likely to be classified as benefiting marginalized groups than were grant dollars given by environmental funders in general.

Environmental funders “are expending tremendous resources, yet spending far too little on high-impact, cost-effective grassroots organizing,” the report says.

In 2009, it says, half of all environmental grants went to environmental organizations with annual budgets over $5 million, a group that represents only 2 percent of the nearly 29,000 environment and climate public charities in the U.S.

That suggests a “predominantly ‘inside-the-beltway’ top-down fundraising strategy,” Sarah Hansen, author of the report, says in a statement.

“There are many effective pro-environment organizations on the ground that are under-resourced and underutilized,” she says. “By overlooking these grassroots groups and communities ripe for mobilizing to protect our environment from harm, philanthropy is marginalizing proven vehicles of social change and thus seeing less impact and progress.”

The report calls for environment and climate funders to provide at least 20 percent of their grant dollars to community-based groups that work to address the needs of underserved people most affected by environmental harm.

It also recommends those funders invest at least 25 percent of their grant dollars in grassroots organizing, advocacy and civic participation.

And it encourages them to “take a long view by building the infrastructure needed to succeed and preparing for tipping points.”

The report says more “environmental wins” can be secured “by decreasing reliance on top-down funding strategies and increasing funding for grassroots communities that are directly impacted by environmental harms and have the passion and perseverance to mobilize and demand change.”

Aaron Dorman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, says in a statement that winning big fights depends on popular support.

“Philanthropy needs to fund those groups that listen to people in communities that are most at risk from the impacts of environment and climate change, organize them and rally their support around important solutions,” he says.

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