Feb 22, 2012

Those of us who work for foundations want our grantees to invest in core activities that more efficiently and effectively contribute to desired outcomes. Yet funders may make it harder for grantees to do so, often by focusing exclusively on specific grant-funded activities — as opposed to outcomes — and by underinvesting in core organizational needs.

The National Bureau of Economic Research pegged the official end of the 2008/2009 recession in June of 2009. That may be true, but many foundation leaders recognized then that battered stock market valuations were only the start of what would likely be a multi-year drop in grant making, since payouts were tied to a rolling average of diminished investment portfolios.

That year, I heard far too many colleagues casually suggest that we needed to help our grantees “do more with less.” That remark has been echoed at conferences and convenings ever since. At a foundation event this fall, I challenged a colleague who expressed surprise that grantees still seemed to be doing too little to embrace the fundamental wisdom captured by this phrase. I think I understood the intent behind his lament. But the message he and others may be unintentionally conveying to grantees is unfortunate: that we believe that nonprofits have substantial resources that are being inefficiently deployed, and those of us who work for foundations would do a better job of managing the stress of decreasing revenues and increasing demand for services.

At Wilburforce Foundation, we work with grantees over the long term to protect wildlife habitats in Western North America. Investing in and disseminating science, working with local communities to build support, and convincing policymakers to endorse durable conservation solutions takes time, often years.

Many of our grantees are highly dependent on foundation grants, and we have seen firsthand the consequences of their attempts to do more with less. We’ve been tracking financial data for all of our grantees, including annual revenue and expenses, cash holdings, and net assets. Since the recession began in 2008, more than one third of the groups we support have experienced decreases in net assets of 10 percent or more, and many more have cash-flow cushions that can be measured in weeks, not months.

One of our grantees nearly collapsed in the aftermath of the recession. Many of its programs were funded by restricted grants, and foundations invariably wanted their grant-funded activities to be part of the “more” this group should sustain with “less.” This grantee was shoveling increasingly scarce general support dollars to these programs. The organization only recovered after it jettisoned underfunded projects and sacrificed the foundation grants that had ultimately harmed the organization.

Another grantee relied heavily on one foundation for significant support of its largest program, subject to an arbitrary cap of 15 percent of overhead expenses. The true cost of its organization overhead was closer to 25 percent, and its net assets plunged as the group tapped unrestricted funds to pay for its core needs.

In fact, I see far too many organizations trying to do “more” by sacrificing living wages for its staff, shifting the cost of benefits to employees, cutting professional development budgets, and working with obsolete technology.

An article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2009 described what they called the nonprofit starvation cycle, and attributed much of that problem to funders:

“The first step in the cycle is funders’ unrealistic expectations about how much it costs to run a nonprofit. At the second step, nonprofits feel pressure to conform to funders’ unrealistic expectations. At the third step, nonprofits respond to this pressure in two ways: they spend too little on overhead, and they underreport their expenditures on tax forms and in fundraising materials. This underspending and underreporting in turn perpetuates funders’ unrealistic expectations. Over time, funders expect grantees to do more and more with less and less—a cycle that slowly starves nonprofits.”

So, let’s dispense with tired clichés. Jan Masaoka, director and editor-in-chief of Blue Avocado and former executive director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, has better advice for nonprofit leaders: do less with less.

“Of course there is more need, more demand, and we probably have less money. And we love the gritty heartfelt nature of the cry, “We need to do more with less!” Pause. But it’s not only unsustainable, it probably means you will be able to do even less in the future. If a program’s funding has been cut by 30%, you may need to do 30% less.”

The trick, of course, is figuring out which programs are most effective, and make those as sustainable as possible. As funders, we can help our grantees do this in several ways by:

1.More clearly communicating with grantees about our own strategies as funders, and the outcomes we hope to achieve. These conversations have the potential to surface more creative, efficient and effective alternatives to the projects or activities that we may have historically funded.
2.Forging stronger relationships with grantees, so that they feel comfortable approaching us when trouble arises and before the organization’s financial situation becomes dire.
3.Understanding and supporting the real costs associated with running an effective and sustainable organization, including livable wages and quality benefits to recruit and retain quality staff, maintaining adequate facilities with current technology, and building sound financial and fundraising infrastructure.

Written by Paul Beaudet

Paul's blog was originally published at

Feb 22, 2012

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) defines foundation strategy as “a framework for decision-making that is 1) focused on the external context in which the foundation works, and 2) includes a hypothesized causal connection between use of foundation resources and goal achievement.”

Loosely restated, this says 1) foundation strategy should focus on the change that you are trying to make in the world, and 2) any logical person should be able to see the connection between how you spend your time and money and that change.

Most foundations are able to articulate one or more goals– ending homelessness, building a more just and sustainable world, eradicating disease – to name a few examples. Many also acknowledge that these goals are ultimately achieved individually and/or collectively by the grantees in which we invest. But very few foundations explicitly include grantee-specific outcomes in strategic plans, outcome maps, logic models and theories of change.

In our early years, Wilburforce didn’t do that either. We do now, and it has transformed that way we approach our grantmaking.

Wilburforce Foundation was founded in 1991, addressing a variety of environmental causes. In 1998, we created a strategic framework to prioritize the protection of specific, critical habitats in Western North America. Our plan focused on audacious long-term goals, such as protecting the last remaining pristine places, and assuring strong and lasting public support for wilderness preservation. We assumed that if we picked the right grantees and they reported the right types of short-term successes, we could make a leap of faith and assume we were having a longer-term impact. This approach was dissatisfying to our staff and board. We knew we could do better.

So, in 2004, we decided to refresh our strategy and develop deeper understandings of the ecological, social and political contexts of the places we were striving to protect. We realized that the vast majority of our grantees were receiving consistent annual support from us. We were increasingly relying on these grantees to provide on-the-ground wisdom that informed our work. And we were stepping up our investments in capacity building to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these partners.

We began scanning for the latest thinking on foundation effectiveness, and encountered a monograph that led to a “Eureka!” moment. The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership’s report Agile Philanthropy: Understanding Foundation Effectiveness, included a logic model that showed a causal relationship between a foundation’s investments and its desired social change linked to grantee relations, grantee capacity and grantee outcomes:

The Wilburforce outcome map and logic model was built on this framework, and describes the causal links in our strategic plan by more clearly highlighting the importance of grantees in achieving our goals:

By organizing our work in this way, we are better able to describe the logic of our approach to long-term social change:

  • Grantee relations: Since grantees are partners, we must communicate clearly, consistently and frequently to better understand each other’s goals and strategies, develop trust, and address opportunities and/or threats that inevitably arise. We often learn more about issues, strategies and tactics from our grantees than they do from us. We hired additional staff to ensure that our foundation had sufficient capacity to nurture grantee relationships, and we developed processes to shift from transaction-based to interaction-based grantmaking. We also consistently use CEP’s Grantee Perception Reports to provide feedback about how well we’re doing.
  • Grantee Capacity: Using what we learn from our grantees, we feel better equipped to make smart investments in their programmatic and operational capacity. We invest heavily in capacity building service providers that offer customized consulting, coaching and training in leadership development, fundraising, financial management, human resource management, strategic planning, and engagement technology. We also underwrite and share conservation and social science.
  • Grantee Results & Sustained Social Change: If grantees are receiving the support they need to sustain their operations and programs, these organizations will likely be better able to engage in effective work that creates change. Wilburforce also has a better sense of the return on our investments since we can make a logical connection between what we do and what our grantees achieve.

In practice, Wilburforce starts with the change that we desire, which, stated simply, is to create a network of protected habitats that sustains wildlife populations. We select priority regions based on conservation science, and work to identify the local advocates who have, or can develop, the capacity to respond to opportunities and threats to these ecoregions.

One of the earliest places that we fully embraced the Agile Philanthropy model was in the Great Basin. Nevada and Oregon sit at the heart of this remarkable landscape, which contains some of the wildest, most remote lands in the continental U.S.

When we began funding in the Great Basin, there were a few underfunded organizations with passionate leaders working in a region with enormous opportunities and not much history of public lands conservation. As we refined our strategy and shifted to more “interactional” (and less transactional) grantmaking, foundation staff attended science and strategy meetings, grantee events, and field trips to increase our knowledge of our grantees, their work, and the landscapes they are protecting.

As we forged stronger working relationships with our grantees, we learned about their need for:

  • Greater inter-organizational collaboration;
  • Scientific identification of on-the-ground priorities;
  • Leadership development;
  • General support funds;
  • Membership development and fundraising skills;
  • Board capacity;
  • Technological capacity.

We brought in a team of talented capacity builders at Training Resources for the Environmental Community (TREC), whose associates have deep experience in conservation advocacy and are trusted by our grantees. TREC developed a Regional Conservation Initiative of coaching and training opportunities that targeted services to four organizations with tremendous potential to advance a conservation agenda.

We also brought together a blue-ribbon panel of science experts from academia, federal agencies, and grantee organizations to develop a useful tool for our grantees to prioritize landscapes. And we provided significant, multi-year general support funding, affording the organizations greater stability and staff retention, and the ability to sustain long-term relationships with important constituencies and decision-makers.

Since Wilburforce began funding in the Great Basin, our grantees have helped protect millions of acres of federally designated wilderness. Wildlife refuges have been expanded, new National Conservation Areas have been established, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated for private lands acquisition and habitat improvements on our public lands. And they’re not done yet. Our grantees are ready to use the relationships they’ve built to ensure that renewable energy development on public lands protects wildlife habitat while decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Wilburforce can only succeed if our grantees succeed. And our grantees can succeed only if they are given the funding, tools and resources they need to do their work. By placing grantees at the heart of our outcome maps, we can focus on strengthening relationships and building capacity to empower grantees to achieve the outcomes that ultimately contribute to our shared goals.

Written by Paul Beaudet

Paul's blog was originally published at

Feb 22, 2012

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), one of the sector’s largest coalitions of grantmakers, is organized around a fundamental truth: “grantmakers are successful only to the extent that their grantees achieve meaningful results.”

In my last post, I described how Wilburforce Foundation developed an outcome map that placed emphasis on grantee relationships, grantee capacity, and grantee results. These elements are at the heart of our strategy.

Many of us in the sector refer to our grantees as partners. In some cases, funders and grantees do in fact forge strong working relationships that are truly collaborative. But not always. Sometimes these “partnerships” are more fantasy than fact. Perhaps my perspective is biased by the years I worked as a grantseeker, but I would argue that grantees sometimes see themselves less as partners and more as shoddily treated temporary contract employees.

What are the elements of an effective partnership? My list would include the following:

  1. Focus on shared goals;
  2. Open communication that embraces the perspectives of all partners;
  3. Sense of shared responsibility and interdependence that lasts until the work is done. As a sector, I believe we generally fail to maximize our potential to create true partnerships. Some aspects of our funding processes, internal grantmaking guidelines, and — most importantly — interpersonal behaviors may make us a bad partner. Acting out the worst aspects of the grantmaker-grantseeker power imbalance can be an impediment to impact.

Over the years, I’ve heard reports of foundation practices that are inexplicable, disappointing, or shocking. One grantee wryly dubbed these bad practices as “stupid funder tricks.” Here are a few examples that I believe undermine our sector’s potential for success, shared by grantees and culled from my own personal observations:

  • Marching to your own Bette: One of my favorite movie quotes was uttered by Bette Midler in Beaches: “But enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do YOU think of me?” Funders sometimes seem to forget that we are one of many players, and that the work is not exclusively about us. One grantee reported having to rewrite a proposal and revise a board-approved strategic plan to more explicitly align his organization’s goals, outcomes and objectives to the funder’s. Another complained that foundations sometimes seem to create initiatives that presume the participation of others without actually engaging potential partners before a new strategy is announced.
  • The view up here: I have sat through some wince-inducing meetings between funders and their “partners.” I have seen my foundation colleagues dominate the conversation, make demands, and tell a grantee that their strategy was — direct quote — “bad.” The kindest possible frame for this: funders have a uniquely broad perspective, we have seen what works and doesn’t work in other parts of our grantmaking portfolio, and we need to assure that our grantees are using resources as wisely as possible. That is certainly sometimes true. But we have to allow for the possibility that we may be wrong. Our grantees are likely to have a much deeper understanding of the social, political and economic context in which they are working than we do. Strategies or tactics that succeeded elsewhere may be ineffective applied in a new context. In short, we have something to learn from our partners, if we let them speak, and we approach with questions and not prescribed solutions.
  • ADDled Funders: Another grantee described the devastating loss of a $250,000 grant when a foundation suddenly decided that his campaign was no longer a priority. This group was forced to lay off the staff they had hired with the implied promise of ongoing foundation support, and this significantly harmed the organization and its ability to advance its goals. Other grantees have expressed dismay at the life expectancy of a typical foundation strategy, which rarely seems to last for more than two or three years. I can certainly point to funding colleagues who seem to display a bit of institutional Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD): trouble staying focused, extreme distractibility, and difficulty completing tasks.
  • I need air: Some foundations set arbitrary caps on the maximum number of years a grantee can receive funds. Despite affirmations that a grantee’s work is critically important, I have heard some funders worry aloud that groups will become “dependent” on their grants. Instead of sustaining work over the lifetime of a project, some funders retreat, forcing the group to seek new revenue sources. Funders not only hurt their grantees, they hurt themselves by sabotaging any progress they and their former partners may have made.
  • Getting to “No” you: Some foundations seem perfectly happy to reject potential partners merely on procedural grounds. Applicants who submit well-polished prose and neatly organized attachments are rewarded. Those who stumble during the process may be dinged. One funder once boasted to me that he generally declined proposals that arrived by overnight post, suggesting that if a group was too disorganized to get a proposal in early and had money to waste on delivery charges, it didn’t deserve foundation support. He had never worked for a nonprofit organization, and didn’t understand that fundraisers are struggling to meet the demands and deadlines imposed by multiple funding sources. Process-based decision-making may favor organizations with savvy grantwriters, but these may not necessarily be the groups whose programs are most effective. Instead, we should be exploring the quality of ideas or the potential for a group to advance shared goals.
  • Drowning in Paperwork: Process overload often doesn’t end when an application is submitted. Each funder imposes its own set of requirements on grant recipients. Written and financial reports are the norm. Multiplied across multiple funders, the process burden grows. Sadly, even if these reports are read—and too often they are not—they may not be useful. Project Streamline describes the problem well:

the current system of application and reporting has grantseekers and grantmakers alike drowning in paperwork and distracted from purpose. Such practices may be only a small part of the bigger picture of grantmaking effectiveness, but they threaten to undermine other grantmaking effectiveness efforts by creating barriers to nonprofit success.”

If funders want to advance a strategy, they need to invest more time in developing relationships with potential partners. The due diligence process can be stronger with less transaction and more interaction.

I could go on.

I am not trying to give the impression that my colleagues and I at Wilburforce Foundation have an unblemished history of perfect behavior. Nor do I want to suggest that the shortcomings in grantee-funder partnerships are always the fault of the grantmaker. But generally speaking, we funders can and should be more sensitive and responsible in wielding the power we accrue as the check-writer in the relationship.

I’ve described some of the symptoms of bad partner behavior. Now I’d like to propose some simple remedies:

  • Identify shared goals: We have the power to impose our strategic vision on others, and will almost certainly find grantees to happily use our funding to advance our ideas. But I would argue that our strategies will be stronger if we work with — and are influenced by — our partners. If we ask questions and invite feedback from grantees, welcoming their knowledge and perspectives, we can strengthen our strategies.
  • Be patient: Achieving real impact takes time. If we want to forge effective partnerships, we should commit until we have succeeded…or until the evidence suggests that we cannot succeed and a new strategy is needed. Shiny new projects may seem irresistibly alluring, but pursuing new initiatives make it less likely that your previously funded work has time and resources to yield results.
  • Build better relationships: We must communicate clearly, consistently, openly and frequently to better understand each other’s goals and strategies. All partners need timely information about new developments, opportunities, and threats that emerge. A partnership cannot simply rely on the process-oriented elements of our work: applications and reports. We need to shift from transaction-based grantmaking to interaction-based partnerships.
  • Invest in our partners: Rather that worry about dependence, we should instead recognize our interdependence. To the extent possible, we should be making long-term investments in the capacity of our partners. We should be making explicit multiple-year commitments. We should be helping groups with leadership coaching, fundraising, financial management, evaluation, technology, communications, and other investments that build effective and efficient organizations. We can only succeed if our partners succeed.
  • Invest in ourselves: Many of us focus on foundation overhead, striving to keep that number within some benchmark percentage. Instead, we should align foundation operations and programs to assure that we have sufficient human and financial resources devoted to successfully advancing core strategies. We may need to make investments in our own capacity to be effective partners: hiring or reassigning staff, changing grantmaking processes, or shifting to fewer strategies that we can implement more thoughtfully.

It is hard work to be an effective partner. I have learned from experience, though, that healthy partnerships are at the heart of our biggest successes.

Written by Paul Beaudet

Paul's blog was originally published at

Oct 20, 2011

This plenary kicked off EGA’s Fall 2011 Retreat at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Unlike traditional plenaries, this session consisted of five individual stories and conversations about bringing environmental change through unlikely alliances and harnessing the “power of the collective.”

Dave Schulz is the Madison County Commissioner for Montana. He is involved in a new project in which Northwestern Energy plans to construct a new power line that runs through the county and 9 others. This 400 mile line will bring renewable wind energy from Montana to lower, more populated areas. The MSTI Review Project investigates the economics of the project, the wildlife impacts, and how it might affect the counties. The county has formed partnerships with Jefferson County of MT, Western Environmental Law Center, Headwaters Economics, Sonoran Institute, Craighead Institute, and Future West.

Bill Parker is a fourth generation rancher in California raising roughly 300, grass-fed cattle. A former veterinarian, Bill inherited his family ranch that has been in existence since 1858. Conserving the land was also inherent for Bill, and he sought for new partnerships that would not only allow him to protect his 10,000 pristine acres, but also allow him to continue his living as a cattle rancher. Through a friend at the Audubon, Bill was able to set up a conservation easement with the Nature Conservancy. The ranch’s property fell inside the wildlife corridor of the Sierra foothills that the Conservancy was aiming to preserve. With the help of the Packard Foundation and the Nature Conservancy, Bill was able to preserve his family ranch, a vast stretch of undeveloped habitat for Californian wildlife, and still raise grass-fed cattle.

Haile Johnston’s Common Market is a wholesale distributor of local foods in the Philadelphia region. The organization believes in giving residents access to good, local foods, and providing fair treatment for farmers that produce these foods. Through the combination of restoring reclaimed, former lands of Philadelphia and transforming them into community gardens and safe place bases, and being aware of the area’s vast health problems including diabetes and heart disease, the Common Market was developed to provide local, healthy foods in areas of food deserts to low-income and colored communities. Through a generous grant by the Claneil Foundation and the Rudolf Steiner Foundation, the Common Market was able to be launched as a full organization after rigorous business and economic analysis and feasibility studies. The main clients are Philadelphia institutions such as hospitals and schools. The Common Market also sells protein, dairy products in addition to produce.
Michael Burd represents the labor side of philanthropy. As a huge supporter of the Blue Green Alliance, Michael and his colleagues were able to see that they had a lot in common with conservation groups. Many local labor workers also enjoy the outdoors and mountains that conservation groups seek to protect. However, with the ever presence of high energy demands, Wyoming’s landscape harbors rich natural resources in coal and natural gas. With new partnerships with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Trout Unlimited, and the United Steelworkers Local 13214, they were able to invest $1 million to protecting 200 acres from future oil and gas development.

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz is the chairperson for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The Tebtebba Foundation is an international center for policy research and education based in Baguio City, Philippines. Her involvement with the United Nations in partnership with the Christensen Fund and Ford Foundation enabled the passing and adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007. Indigenous areas overlap with many biodiversity hotspots and protected areas. Together, protection of indigenous rights can help facilitate national interests in other protected areas. Over the years, newer and stronger partnerships have developed between communities, governments, environmental organizations, industrial sectors such as farming and labor, scientists, and restoration groups.

Recommendations for funders:

  •  Often in order for projects and organizations to get started, funding is needed for feasibility studies and business models: “Investments of ideas.”
  • Don’t be afraid of taking risks and meeting new challenges. Invest in leaderships and plans.
  • Information is critical for any partnership to bring together diverse groups of stakeholders. Help fund the translation of these information such as translating documents and science to policy and decision makers.
  • Support grassroots efforts. Change often comes from the communities who have more knowledge and more will power for implementation. It is important to help strengthen not only innovative communities, but also communities willing to do the change.
  • With Rio+20 on the horizon in 2012, funders are being requested to help support groups from around the world to attend Rio +20 and to share what groups are doing. Just because governments ultimately make the decisions, this does not mean local groups do not have an impact or influence at these international conferences.
  • Help link the past with present successes. This helps organizations to avoid repetition and invest in new ideas built on the foundations of successes before them.

Facilitator: Michelle DePass, Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs, US Environmental Protection Agency

Speakers: Michael Burd, VP, United Steelworkers Local 13214
Haile Johnston, Co-Founder and Boar Chair, Common Market Philadelphia
Bill Parker, Parker Ranch in Caliente, CA
Dave Schulz, Madison County Commission, MT
Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Founder and Executive Director of Tebtebba Foundation

For more information on these speakers and their projects:

By: Manna Hara, Intern, EGA

Oct 20, 2011

EGA’s plenary session on Tuesday, September 27th 2011 featured a highly informational conversation regarding collaborative efforts to conserve large-scale ecosystems. It opened with a short video specially commissioned for the plenary, with moving footage of northern locales and birdlife, with an emphasis on the Golden Eagle, a pivotal cornerstone species in North America whose numbers – despite commendable efforts – are still falling. However, the projects and partnerships discussed offer a means for more successful environmental conservation.

Three projects in particular were covered by the expert panelists: the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, efforts to conserve and restore the Great Lakes basin, and the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem in Montana. The lessons learned from each ongoing program contribute to the broader conversations vital to both funder knowledge and the foundation-grantee relationship. It is particularly important to engage communities at the grassroots level and encourage them to develop their own answers to environmental questions. A combination of addressing issues at scale and partnering together would inherently make grantees more participatory while removing the perception of “outsider” or “interest group.”

The discussion’s first takeaway was the collaborative partnerships among ‘strange bedfellows.’ Solely environmental coalitions lobbying for an initiative face a steeply uphill battle. However, finding common ground with unlikely partners will yield increased results. For example, in the Great Lakes basin, chambers of commerce have joined hands with environmental groups, as remnants of industrial pollution and the threat of invasive species present a real danger to basin’s fishery, a foundation of the region’s economy. Similarly, in Montana differences between wilderness advocates and the timber industry were settled due to a shared sense of frustration, and their resulting partnership paved the way to a 150 percent increase in the Forest Landscape Restoration Program’s budget from FY2010 to FY2011. Cases such as these simply require some aligning goal, vision, or shared environmental interest in order for significant progress to be made.

While these partnerships are proving to be quite effective, there is one cautionary note. The first is that rather than attempting to agree on everything or sway the other side, it is generally counterproductive to do so. The 80/20 idea presented holds that groups might agree on 80 percent of an issue and disagree on the other 20 percent. This is to be expected, as those involved are coming together from in some cases opposite ends of the political or environmental spectrum. Come into a partnership ready to collaborate; a predetermined mindset is not a way to reach out, regardless of prior experience. The speakers agreed on what can be called the “pizza theory,” which states that no ‘ingredient’ is more important than the other. To paraphrase: a foundation may be the dough that supports the sauce and cheese (grantees and other partners), but without the latter, all you have is crust. As a relatively new conservation method, collaboratives are potentially powerful advocacy mechanisms, but also incredibly fragile, so it is important that no one side attempts to get an advantage or leg up on the other because it can have a serious destabilizing effect.

Finally, our question and answer session was especially fruitful because the panelists were specially questioned as to what funders were doing that was helpful and what had been done in the past which was not. Among the questions answered was the role of litigation as a tool in collaborative efforts, the importance of engaging today’s youth, and how exactly funders should go about adopting these new collaborative efforts vis-à-vis older strategies. For more information, send us an email or join us at our next retreat!

 By: Adam Fishman, Intern, EGA

Oct 20, 2011


The Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA )held its 24th annual fall retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA on 24-28 September in glorious autumn sunshine; I joined about 350 green philanthropists convened at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park.

I want to give a shout out to fellow EGA board member Jon Cracknell of the UK-based JMG Foundation – a stalwart transatlantic EGA member who can be counted on to remind US environmental donors that the environment doesn’t end at the shores of the Atlantic and the Pacific. Jon diligently shepherds EGA’s ‘Tracking the Field’ research of environmental grantmaking, and is a founder of the UK Environmental Funders Network.

Grand Teton National Park is a spectacular 39,000-hectare park in the Rocky Mountain Range established by the US government in 1929 – amidst considerable controversy. Much of the surrounding valley was then owned by John D Rockefeller Jr, who planned to eventually donate his land to the National Park to prevent commercial development of the spectacular landscape. But Rockefeller’s plan was not popular with locals, who prevented the National Park Service from accepting the Rockefeller donation until the 1940s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt finally accepted Rockefeller’s donation and incorporated the land into the newly established Grand Teton National Monument, invoking the rarely used Antiquities Act, which enabled the president to set aside land for protection without the consent of Congress – which then made Congress unhappy. Congress then tried repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to abolish Grand Tetons National Monument. The National Monument eventually became a National Park and the land has been protected ever since.

Such heated environmental controversies have become common in the US since the 1940s, but today very few people regret that permanent protection of the Grand Tetons and the Jackson Hole Valley. So, it was an auspicious location for the EGA retreat in 2011.

Ironically, my first association with the EGA was 22 years ago, in 1989, when I was the regional director of Greenpeace in San Francisco. The EGA was holding its second annual retreat in a downtown hotel when Greenpeace got word of the EGA’s plan to consider a new corporate member – the environmental bad-boy Waste Management Inc. The internal politics of EGA were already brewing with angst over the debate, since Waste Management was responsible for creating toxic waste sites around the country and was the defendant in pollution lawsuits. So, Greenpeace being Greenpeace, we decided to show up at the hotel with picket signs protesting the incongruent ethics of environmental philanthropy. Many EGA members took note and tried to block the admission of Waste Management into the environmental donors’ affinity group.

To complicate things further, the EGA was one of the first issue-specific donor affinity groups formally associated with the much larger and more indiscriminate Council on Foundations (CoF) – which meant that EGA was obliged to accept any CoF member into the membership of EGA. But many members of EGA were deeply uncomfortable with the CoF criteria, because it constituted a conflict of environmental ethics in forcing EGA to admit Waste Management Inc. – a convicted corporate polluter – as a member.

The creative minds of EGA’s leadership got engaged to solve the unusual ethical dilemma for environmental philanthropists. They realized that CoF’s standard for membership could have prevented them from blocking Waste Management’s membership in EGA so that they had three viable options; 1. Accept Waste Management Inc. as an EGA member and risk losing other members; 2. Block membership in EGA and then get kicked out of CoF; or 3. Adopt an EGA membership standard that forbids new members who had been convicted of an environmental crime.

What do you suppose they did?

Chet Tchozewski is the founder and a board member of Global Greengrants Fund

Oct 1, 2011

MY TRIP TO WYOMING, by Sophie Bauder age 11

Last week I was lucky enough to get to expierience Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone National Park because my mom organized the EGA Retreat. Every day I did something more exciting then the day before, whether it was raising $3,000 for charity, or witnessing Old Faithful erupt.

But lets just start from the beginning, when I arrived and hopped on a raft for a day long trip... At first, I was reluctant to go on the trip, thinking spending 7 hours on a raft with only adults wouldn’t exactly be, well, fun. I was completely wrong. The people on the raft were inviting and kind. The wildlife we saw may not have been as plentiful as we had hoped, but it was still breathtaking to see whole trees brought down by beavers or watch a bald eagle soar overhead.

We didn’t see the actual beavers, though, since they are nocturnal. That is one of the many things I learned in that trip, along with facts about the park and the animals I had never even wondered. For example, have you ever seen the antler chandeliers in a hunters lodge, and assumed that many elk and deer gave their lives for it? Well, truth is, every year elk shed their antlers to make room for new ones. An easy way to tink about it is that the antlers are teeth, massive, strong teeth, and they have to lose antlers to make room for new ones to come.

The next day, since I went to Wyoming for my mom’s conference, I met with the only other two kids there, and we started working on the annual name tag decorating. It has been going on for 7 years, and we weren’t about to break the tradition. So we started decorating like crazy, looking up names and animals to fulfill requests. By the end of our first day, my friend and I had raised over $1,200. That night, as we were finishing up our last wave of name tags, a man came over and said he would match our price for $900! After some confusion, and more name tag decorating, and another $600m, we got Paul, the man matching the price, to raise his donation to $1,200! So, all in all, we raised a total of $3,232 for theNorthern Rockies Conservation Cooperative!

The next day I went on a short hike with my dad and brother. I was wary about going on that hike as well, assuming it to be boring and totally time-wasting. Instead, the beauty of it was absolutely breathtaking, watching the Snake River wind through endless forests of pine and cottonwood. The water was amazingly clear, and I found out that dumping any form of pollution in it was totally illegal.

Finally, on our last full day, we drove toYellowstone National Park. My family and I had been looking forward to this trip all week, and it was just as wehad expected: beautiful, breathtaking, and nothing short of amazing. We witnessed Old Faithful erupt, spurting thousands of gallons of pressured water into the air. Hot springs and other geysers filled up a scenic walk we took, and the colors of the hot springs were my favorite part. They were so vibrant and alive, blue and clear marking the hottest partsand a deep red marking the coolest. Smaller geysers erupted at random times and we found out that TWO-THIRDS of the worlds geysers lie in Yellowstone alone. Thats over 300 geysers. We also saw bubbling mud pools and gorgeous waterfalls flowing down towering cliffs.

On our way back home from Yellowstone, we came face to face with a herd of bison, complete with babies and huge men less than two yards away from our car.

In conclusion, that trip was definitley amazing and exciting, and I have plenty of pictures to remember it by. It was worth everything.