Clear the Air
Identifying environmentalists is the greatest challenge environment-focused organizations face.
That according to Mary O’Connor, vice president of development for The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting America’s landscapes and waterways.
“Unlike schools, we don’t have alumni; unlike hospitals, we don’t have former patients,” she says. “Environmentalists come to the sector from different experiences — from traveling to Alaska, to spending summers at the beach, to hiking in the mountains. Nature is so multi-faceted it’s difficult to find one type of conservation project that speaks to all
Jim Abernathy agrees. As executive director of the Environmental Support Center, a training and consulting firm that helps environmental organizations, he sees environmental groups struggle to identify their potential donor markets.
“Environmental donors are as varied and complex as the issues they support,” he says. “Too often they’re characterized as Democrats or liberals, which are short-sighted labels. I think the unifying issues are healthy
communities, concern for one’s family and the future of the planet.”
Overcoming the challenges
“Donors won’t support organizations that don’t explain the problem and solution simply and effectively,” says Catherine Fox, development director for the Save-the-Redwoods League. “Remember that most people who support one environmental or conservation group support many other similar organizations. Thus, clarity of mission and clear articulation of the need that their money can address are imperatives for successful fundraising.”
When dealing with complex environmental issues, such as protecting land and water or reducing toxic emissions, it’s vital to use clear language in a fundraising campaign. Environmental groups must make the connection between the problem and [donors’] everyday lives.
“Too often in the environmental movement we become bogged down in science jargon — biodiversity, ecosystems, habitat,” O’Connor says. “These words can be exclusionary instead of inclusive. We prefer to talk about community, open space, connecting people to place. Find out why nature is interesting to people and connect conservation to that.”