In part one, we examined what makes environmental philanthropy quite different from the causes we’re most accustomed to supporting. The micro-causes within causes and the need for widespread support at the community level create challenges that many other nonprofits rarely face.
Unless your aim is to influence policy at the federal level, environmental philanthropy will need to be considered at the grassroots level. Who you are supporting when you choose to fund environmental nonprofits may bee the teams on the ground enacting strategies that might seem detached from your core purpose, but are no less necessary if you want to achieve that change.
Supporting activism over action can make many donors uncomfortable, even if you feel passionately about environmentalism, philanthropy of this kind might not bear fruit for many years. You need to be committed to the process, cause, and organization’s approach and strategy. If you’re curious about what groups and causes might be available to you, I would recommend checking Charity Navigator for a rundown of nonprofit groups near you. It’s a great resource to learn about their ratings and mission.
Collective action is at once the challenge and the beauty of environmental philanthropy and why many donors are drawn to it. You aren’t just solving a problem, you have a mission: a societal shift toward a more sustainable way of living and better stewardship to the planet. Because no one owns the environment and it is our most shared and valuable resource, action on this scale is necessary. As a potential donor, it helps to recognize and appreciate this before engaging.
With this comes a responsibility to give to organizations that are committed to equity in the causes they pursue. What communities do they serve? The most in need? Or do they serve the communities that already have the resources to support their operations and make their work easier? Some of those stops are necessary, and some of those communities are deserving, but if their priority isn’t underserved communities, they aren’t acting in the spirit of equity, which is ultimately damaging to the core purpose of environmentalism.
Hesitant donors will have trouble adjusting to this. An organization dedicated to acting equitably might not make your community or the cause of your preference their priority. Right now, our water system is the subject of increased activism in the environmental space. There are wide conservation efforts in the west and the situation in Flint is still a powder keg. If you’ve chosen to support a nonprofit that prioritizes equity, you will need to be comfortable with them directing resources to causes like this. There might be an overarching mission of the organization, but like any operation, plans and processes need to be consistently adjusted to accommodate the areas of need.
Donors should embrace this behavior. It means that their funding is making the biggest impact it can for the causes that most need their help.
In the end, engaging with environmental philanthropy, like any decision to give, is personal. If this is a cause you care about, weighing these realities is essential. What will help the most is what always does—researching the organization and personnel in near-granular detail to guarantee that your legacy is in good hands. It’s crucial for any giving choice but doubly so for the environmental philanthropist. If you get it right, it can be incredibly rewarding on a huge scale. It just takes patience.
As a well-meaning donor, there’s no challenge that should prevent you from supporting the causes and institutions you want. With the right advice and direction, we can find an effective way for you to support a cause like environmentalism that is rewarding in lasting ways that secure your legacy. To get started, my free assessment will help you determine what you can be doing: Make Your Legacy Count.