SEEDS digs deeper to cultivate being green

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — One morning in April, 10 middle-school students from Triangle Day School spent three hours learning about the environment and working in the garden at SEEDS, an educational community garden in downtown Durham.

Also in April, an educator from SEEDS spent a full day at Central Elementary School in Hillsborough, rotating through the classrooms to teach students about insects, reptiles and other animals that live in gardens and are critical for their ecosystems and for growing food.

And twice a week, roughly half-a-dozen women from Good Samaritan Inn, the shelter for women and children at the Durham Rescue Mission, work as volunteers in SEEDS’ nearly two-acre garden, and in return take the harvest to the shelter’s kitchen to feed their families and peers.

Launched in 1994 by co-founders Brenda Brodie and Annice Kenan, SEEDS initially aimed to create community gardens on unused vacant and blighted properties to address a lack of access to good, healthy, fresh food for low-income residents.

That effort helped spur the creation of 15 community gardens, some of which still are operating.

But SEEDS has shifted its focus to using its own garden and its expertise to “teach people how to garden, grow organically, and learn about principles of sustainable agriculture, organic gardening and environmental stewardship,” says Emily Egge, executive director at SEEDS.

Operating with an annual budget of $414,000 and a full-time staff of six people, SEEDS serves over 1,000 people a year, mainly through partnerships with schools and nonprofits.

It works with at least a dozen schools a year that take field trips to the SEEDS garden or get visits from SEEDS educators.

Its DIG program, or Durham Inner-city Gardeners, for example, provides year-round part-time jobs for five high school students, plus summer jobs for another 10 to 15 students.

And it recently broke ground on a renovation project to expand its building at the corner of Gilbert and Elizabeth streets to 5,000 square feet from 3,200 square feet.

The project will include more classroom space, expanding what had been a small residential kitchen to a teaching kitchen with four to six student stations, and adding a “mud room” to store garden tools and supplies, and to handle activities such as potting, transplanting and painting.

SEEDS temporarily has relocated its offices to rented space across the street in the John O’Daniel Exchange, and expects to move back to its renovated quarters by the end of the year.

To help pay for its expanded services, SEEDS aims over the next three years to increase its annual budget $500,000 by securing more foundation grants and more gifts from individual donors, and through the redesigned website it launched six months ago that has helped generate $8,000 in online giving in the fiscal  year that ends June 30, or roughly four times the total two years ago.

And on May 19, SEEDS will hold its 5th annual Pie Social from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at The Pavilion at Durham Central Park on Foster Street to raise money for its DIG summer program.

“We want everyone who comes through out gates, whatever their age, background or knowledge,” Egge says, “to leave with something that will impact their life, their views of sustainability, and their capacity to grow and make decisions for themselves about what they’re  eating, where they’re buying it from, and how they’re feeding their families.”

Catawba Lands Conservancy focuses on growth

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 1976, fewer than 90,000 acres in the 15-county region that includes Charlotte had been developed.

By 2006, developed land in the region had grown to nearly 1 million acres, a total that is expected to nearly double by 2030.

Working to try to balance that development with conservation is the Charlotte-based Catawba Lands Conservancy, or CLC, a land trust formed in 1991 to protect land that affects the quality of drinking water in a six-county region.

“Our goal is not to impede development but to be part of the growth,” says Tom Okel, executive director.

A key goal for CLC as the region keeps growing is to help it continue to “value conservation so that this area remains such a special place to work and live,” says Okel who joined the organization in October 2011 after a 20-year career in investment banking, most recently as global head of syndicated capital markets for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Operating with an annual budget of roughly $750,000, CLC has protected nearly 13,000 acres through conservation easements and land purchases.

CLC also serves as lead agency for a regional effort known as Carolina Thread Trail, named to reflect the region’s textile heritage, that aims to develop a connected trail that ultimately would stretch over 1,400 miles through 15 counties in the Carolinas.

Launched in 2007 with $17 million from corporations, foundations and individuals to help counties plan and begin building their segments of the Thread, the effort has helped 14 of the 15 counties develop and adopt master plans.

The Thread project, including 113 miles already available for public use, is helping to drive conservation work at CLC, which aims to have protected a total of 50,000 acres in 20 years, Okel says.

Water quality continues to represent a core focus of CLC, which has protected thousands of acres along the Catawba River, the main source of drinking water for the region, and and along the river’s South Fork and numerous lakes in the river system.

CLC over the years also has expanded its work to include preserving farms and wildlife habitat, and connecting people to nature.

Through TreesCharlotte, a public-private partnership that aims to plant 25,000 trees a year to increase the city’s “tree canopy” to 50 percent of the city by 2050 from 46 percent today, currently the highest in the U.S., CLC in the most recent year managed the NeighborWoods initiative that planted over 1,000 trees, mainly in low-income neighborhoods.

And in 2011, CLC handled 10 conservation projects, including six that will include segments of the Thread Trail.

Completing the Thread, which initially was projected to total 500 miles and cost $140 million, likely will cost much more because communities have identified much more trail that needs to be built, Okel says.

CLC, which raises money both for the trail and for its own work, last year posted a 30 percent increase in its development revenue.

And for the second straight year, Duke Energy has agreed to give $50,000 to match other donations.

A key goal of the Thread project is to “tie together counties and towns on a common project,” Okel says, “and to leave a lasting asset to define the communities.”

Conservation Network stepping up advocacy role

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Last year, The Colbert Report on Comedy Central lampooned a bill introduced by a North Carolina state lawmaker to bar the state Coastal Resources Commission from defining rates of sea-level changes for regulatory purposes.

“The bill as originally introduced was written in a way that seemed to indicate the legislature was mandating that the oceans not rise,” says Brian Buzby, executive director of the North Carolina Conservation Network. “They scaled back the bill, but they essentially put their heads in the sand.”

The bill, and the national publicity, helped drive a surge in the number of citizens who subscribe to a weekly email public alert from Conservation Network to 25,000 from 14,000, and in the number of its Facebook friends to 10,000 from 4,000.

Now, seeing serious threats to the environment and to environmental policy in the areas of air quality and energy, water quality and quantity, and land conservation and open space, the Conservation Network is expanding its staff to strengthen its community organizing and communications.

A growing number of policy decisions “are taking the last three to four decades of a very balanced approach of environmental protection and economic development,” Buzby says, “and throwing that out the window.”

Formed in 1998 and operating with an annual budget of $800,000 and a staff of eight people, the Conservation Network serves nearly 100 affiliate environmental groups throughout the state.

It communicates with its member groups every day by email, phone or in person, distributes a weekly email message to its 25,000 activist subscribers on a current topic they can act on, and posts daily Facebook updates on campaigns it is waging on issues, inviting people to get involved.

The Network’s use of social media includes raising awareness about new studies and breaking news about the environment, as well as celebrating North Carolina’s environment.

The organization generates 40 percent of its revenue through contributions, 31 percent from grants, 12 percent from contracts, 9 percent from affiliate dues, 6 percent from an online auction, and 2 percent from investment interest and miscellaneous sources.

The auction, which raised $20,000 last fall, has grown by inviting affiliates and activists to donate items, such as the use of their beach houses or their business services, an approach that Buzby says not only generates more revenue but helps the Network better engage and know its supporters.

And with the environment facing critical challenges, Buzby says, the role of advocacy has becoming increasingly important.

A report last year by the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association estimated, conservatively, that the state is home to over 15,200 clean energy jobs at 1,100 companies in 86 of the state’s 100 counties and that those companies generate over $3.7 billion in annual revenues, he says.

“North Carolina has had a long history of working hard and working together to balance environmental protection with a strong economy, and creating a state where businesses want to come and people want to move, because it has a reputation of a strong education system, good jobs and a clean environment,” he says.

“But what we’re seeing in the past few years, and it seems to be accelerating, is that we are moving back to the old paradigm of jobs versus the environment,” he says. “And that’s really not how the world works.”

Fundraising, Part 5: Major gifts a focus of environmental group

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This article is from a report written for Blackbaud, which asked me to look at fundraising strategies that nonprofits have found to be effective.]

The National Wildlife Federation, which raises about $43 million a year in giving from individuals, has seen stability across its mix of fundraising programs, including $23 million from corporations and foundations, with foundation giving showing the most growth in recent years in the wake of a greater focus on foundation fundraising, says Anne Senft, vice president of philanthropy.

The Federation also has placed greater focus in recent years on its major gift program, increasing the threshold for those gifts to $25,000 from much more modest levels.

“It takes a while to get the pipeline going,” Senft says.

Fundraising for the organization is data-driven, she says, based on modeling that analyzes key indicators for donors such as the frequency of their giving and average gift size, as well as an assessment of their assets based on publicly available information, to determine a donor’s capacity for making major gift.

To help boost its annual fund, the organization’s membership and development teams have worked more closely with one another in recent years, and have tried to be more strategic and send more mail appeals to people who give over $1,000.

While many fundraising professionals in the past believed people who gave at that level did not want to receive direct-mail appeals, Senft says, the Federation has fine-tuned that approach, adding more mail appeals in addition to the phone calls to those high-level donors.

“Development is more relational,” she says.

After five years of using mail for those donors, including multiple appeals a year, revenue from donors giving $1,000 or more has doubled.

The Federation has seen online giving grow about 10 percent year, and it uses social media mainly for engagement, not fundraising.

It actively uses Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, with over 100,000 followers each on Facebook and Twitter, and nearly 230,0000 on Google+.

It also uses a lot of photography “to inform people and inspire emotion,” Senft says. “People love wildlife and want to see pictures of wildlife.”

Next: Direct marketing a key for public society benefit group

The series:

Fundraising, Part 1: Basics key as economy starts to recover

Fundraising, Part 2: Health care groups invest in development capacity

Fundraising, Part 3: Human services groups focus on direct response marketing

Fundraising, Part 4: Museums aim to diversify donor base

Fundraising, Part 5: Major gifts a focus of environmental group

Fundraising, Part 6: Direct marketing a key for public society benefit group

Fundraising, Part 7: International affairs group aims to show

Fundraising, Part 8: Faith-based groups count on direct mail

Fundraising, Part 9: Independent school partners with parent volunteers

Institute for Environment aims to raise money, profile

By Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — In September, the Institute for the Environment at UNC-Chapel Hill received a 10-year pledge of $285,000 from the parents of a recent graduate, now doing graduate work in Florida on turtles, who credits the Institute with changing her life.

Formed in 1998 as the Carolina Environmental Program, the Institute is counting on its impact in experiential field programs for students, support for students and teachers in the North Carolina public schools, and environmental research to help raise its profile as part of a longer-term fundraising effort it has been planning.

That effort, which would be part of a multi-billion campaign UNC-CH has been planning, likely will be delayed as the university searches for a new chancellor, vice chancellor for university advancement, and provost.

“When the campaign begins, we would like to use it as an opportunity to better position the Institute for the Environment as a leader in this space,” says David Greer, who joined the Institute in January as its first full-time director of development.

Operating with a staff of just over 50 faculty and staff, and an annual budget of $1.8 million, the Institute also receives $4 million to $5 million a year in research funding from federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, its largest funder, which currently is providing a multi-year grant of roughly $20 million.

The Institute facilitates experiential field programs throughout the world, mainly for undergrads.

Roughly 90 students participate in those programs during a school year, with programs ranging from a week-long trip to the Virgin Islands to study coral reef ecology to a semester-long or year-long program to places like Thailand, Ecuador and the U.K.

And in the most recent school year, the Institute placed over 50 undergraduate and graduate students in energy-focused internships.

The Institute last year also conducted professional-development sessions for over 200 teachers in public throughout the state, and provided hands-on enrichment for nearly 400 students, mainly in middle schools and high schools.

And the Institute conducts research, such as an “air model” that is being used in 5,000 locales throughout the world to help governments determine whether they face problems with ozone and air quality.

It also has conducted research coupled with city and regional planning and public health to help communities and regions plan for disasters.

Its director, Larry Band, is an internationally-known watershed hydrologist who has worked to help develop a model for managing the ecological systems of the Chesapeake Bay, known as the best estuarine model in the world, says Greer, former Virginia director of development for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an advocacy group.

Funds from the campaign could be used to address needs such as scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students, development and training for faculty, and research to address emerging and immediate environmental issues.

“I think it is the responsibility of the great public universities to take on the great public challenges of their time,” Greer says. “The environment and conservation is one of those issues. Some people would say it is the issue.”

Funding for water growing but slim

More organizations throughout the world are getting grants from more foundation for water-related projects, yet foundation funding for those projects still represents only a tiny share of all international grantmaking, a new research brief says.

The number of foundations awarding grants for water, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH, projects grew to 78 in 2010 from 24 in 2003, while the number of organizations receiving those grants grew to 127 from 26, says Foundation Funding for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, a research brief from the Foundation Center.

Funding for those projects, which totaled $5 million in 2003, peaked at $122 million in 2007, thanks mainly to a four-year, $27 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to International Development Enterprises.

Still, water-related grants as a share of international grantmaking overall grew to only 1.7 percent in 2010 from 0.2 percent in 2003.

Africa received 30 percent of all water-related grant dollars in 2009 and 2010, the biggest share of any region, compared to 18 percent that went to Asia and 9 percent that went to Central America and South America.

Twenty percent of water-related grant dollars from foundations, the biggest share, supported water-sector policy and administration, compared to 17 percent for basic drinking-water supply and 14 percent for each research and for basic sanitation.

“Worldwide, 780 million people do not have reliable access to clean water, and a staggering 2.5 billion, including nearly 1 billion children, do not have adequate sanitation,” the brief says. “The repercussions are severe and far-reaching.”

Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war, the brief says.

In several sub-Saharan African countries, it says, over 25 percent of the population must travel more than 30 minutes to the nearest water source.

And lost productivity and increased health care costs “take a heavy economic toll,” it says, with Africa alone experiencing economic losses of $28 billion a year, or about 5 percent of gross domestic product, as a result of a lack of safe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene.

“Changing this reality will require the collective efforts of governments, corporations, nonprofits, and organization philanthropy,” the brief says.