Donor Focus: Getting John Q. Public to Hug a Tree
As philanthropic giving languished for many sectors in the nonprofit world, environmental organizations experienced a modest growth in donations of 3 percent in 2003, to $6.95 billion, according to “Giving USA 2004,” the annual report on the state of philanthropy released by the Giving USA Foundation.
Kalman Stein, president and CEO of Bethesda, Md.-based Earth Share, an organization that promotes on-the-job giving to environmental groups through a nationwide network of affiliates, says one of the reasons for the marginal growth is the sector’s inability to make a more compelling case to everyday “soccer moms” and “suburban dads” — those individuals who might not be as aware of the problems caused by environmental neglect.
“There has been a lot of misinformation to portray the environmental-conservation community as out on the edge of the political spectrum,” Stein says, commenting on the diversity of most environmental-donor files. “The word ‘environment’ has become a spinned, challenged word just like ‘liberal.’”
What’s more, Stein says that since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, environmental issues have not weighed as heavily in the minds of mainstream America.
“There has been a re-ordering of public priorities, and Sept. 11 placed personal security much higher on peoples’ lists,” Stein says. “There’s a pretty good consensus out there that environmental issues are not as compelling now as they were for people prior to Sept. 11, which makes the job of fundraising a lot more challenging.”
To illustrate, consider the most recent “Giving and Volunteering in the United States” study, conducted by Independent Sector in 2000 and released in 2001, that had environmental organizations drawing contributions from 21.5 percent of American households, and arts and culture/humanities organizations receiving gifts from 18.8 percent.
“Fundraising is hanging in there, but these are tough times for us,” Stein says. “We’re still speaking to a flat audience.”