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. 

Sep 16, 2011

On August 20, 2011 EGA, HEFN and FNTG hosted a webinar featuring the French American Charitable Trust (FACT). Over the past 18 years, FACT has invested in $52 million in grassroots community organizing and in groups that developed leadership and engaged community members for areas in environmental justice, health, and accountability development. As FACT nears its intentional spend-out process at the end of 2011, FACT Director Diane Feeney, Senior Program Office Laura Livoti, and Operations & Grants Manager Myra Bicknell shared FACT’s philanthropic approach and the lessons learned over the course of its grantmaking.

FACT’s mission is to help develop and sustain the field of progressive community organizing and advocacy. They have successfully done just this by building and strengthening their grantees that support low income residents and people of color. FACT decided early on to fund strategies instead of particular issue areas. In this way, grantees such as Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, are able to strengthen their own members and expand their organization (with the help of FACT) to further their cause of increasing public participation in issues such as mountain top coal removal. FACT has seen their grantees come together to vote down proposals, see wins at the federal level, and build healthier communities all at a grassroots level.

In summary, the main lessons FACT have learned that has helped it develop as a successful grantmaker are:

  1. Provide flexible funding through general operating support
  2. Staying with grantees for long terms (FACT has 6 – 18 year plans)
  3. Don’t overly burden grantees with excessive reporting requirements
  4. Giving grantees what they need in order to succeed
  5. Supporting organizations that work in partnerships with others, as well as the coalitions and alliances that they work with
  6. Helping grantees build electrical clout by supporting their c3 voter education and voting strategies
  7. Investing in groups you believe in and developing key relationships of trust over time
  8. Being active in the field and visiting grantees and their work

For More Information:
Visit FACT’s website for more information on their projects. The website will be available until 2016. Or email Ramtin Arablouei at HEFN at to access the webinar recording.

Sep 16, 2011

On June 1st, 2011, EGA and Philanthropy New York co-hosted an event in which various organization representatives, foundation members, and consultants met to discuss the latest techniques, challenges, and goals in sustainable agriculture specifically for the northeast region of the US. The field has seen an increase in participation and cooperation spanning different sectors such as the transportation sector and sustainable development.

There have been many success stories and examples of where and how local farming can be used well. Alison Hastings represents an MPO (metropolitan planning organization) based in Philadelphia, PA that supports the development of sustainable agriculture in a way to decrease dependence on fossil fuels. By focusing on transportation, land use practices, and the environment, DVRPC (Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) helps bridge that gap between local farmers and their markets. Judith LaBelle represents Glynwood, an organization that connects communities with local farmers in the Hudson Valley of NY. Patricia Smith and the Reinvestment Fund works on projects that bring fresh foods into “farm deserts” or areas that do not have any access to any type of fresh food (i.e. produce from local farms, grocery stores, farmers markets).

Yet, the major challenge lies in the fact that drastic changes must occur in our current food systems for sustainable agriculture to be truly long-lasting. The Food Bill is one obstacle that does not permit easy changes for farmers and manufacturers to invest in more sustainable farming. Other challenges include meeting food supply demands from institutions and manufacturers, how to connect and create a transportation sector between farmers and their markets, and how to balance costs and values with our current subsidies system. In addition, future partnerships can be developed between wildlife conservationists in terms of land use and sustainable agriculture that won’t threaten ecosystems or their wildlife and possibly the health insurance industry in which healthy eating habits and actions can be insured.

For Foundations
Sustainable Agriculture is no longer limited to just the farming community. Public-private-community partnerships are also bringing together rural, urban, and suburban communities. These new partnerships open up new opportunities for foundations that include and are not limited to:

  1. Fund NGOs and other organizations that support local farmers both rural and urban.
  2. Support initiatives and projects. Examples include the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Finance Initiative, Glynwood’s Keep Farming, the NY Healthy Foods Healthy Initiative, and NY City Harvest.
  3. Build capacity and help to create a network amongst existing sustainable agriculture systems and communities. Each system is specific in their location and condition. Yet networks can help develop new ideas and build support between each community.
  4. Contribute in grants that support technical assistance for small farming groups, provide subsidies to local farmers, and provide financial support that enable local farmers with food distributors.
Sep 16, 2011

On June 6, 2011 EGA, the International Human Rights Funders Group, and Grantmakers Without Borders hosted a webinar focusing on the connections between environmental issues and human rights arising from proposed and current dam construction in the Amazon. The proposed Belo Monte Dam allows a case study though which grantmakers may view efforts to promote human rights and protect the environment. Although the Brazilian government has already approved the dam’s operating license, the project has come under serious scrutiny by civil society. The result is an increasing need for grassroots action with respect to human rights and environmental policy.

The Accelerated Growth Program has shown that projects are being pushed forward by interested parties such as the Brazilian Development Bank. Efforts to bring the matter to national courts have been rather ineffective. However, in many of these cases human rights and environmental issues transcend political boundaries, creating an opportunity to address them in a recognized international forum such as the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR), which can both set a positive precedent with regards to international human rights and environmental norms as well as increase public awareness.

The energy produced by the dams largely would be allocated to energy-intensive products such as aluminum, which are often exported to nations with higher manufacturing capacities like China. The actors who benefit are completely removed from impacted peoples. Dam projects such as the Belo Monte divert upwards of 80 percent of the river, meaning huge impacts to both biodiversity as well as the local population. While protests by locals have been effective in the past, the hierarchical structure of investment and construction employed today renders these small-scale protest measures ineffective. The lack of participatory democracy and transparency is indicative of the close relationship between the dam industry and senior bureaucracy; therefore it must be a key goal of funders today to aid grassroots organizations, allowing them the ability to disseminate information that counters the propaganda that is currently being spread throughout both rural and urban populations. Further, the power of interested parties in international bodies such as OAS indicates a need to support national NGOs and implement a coordinated strategy that focuses on strengthening an overall respect for human rights, which would ideally translate into the delaying or cancellation of many dam projects.

For Foundations The ability of foundations to make resources available on short notice is key. Often times, funding goes directly to democratic participatory efforts such as translating complex information to local organizations, which then are able to mobilize communities. The central lesson is the importance of grassroots organizations and education, as they both allow for the population to be informed of current events and potentially speak out against them. Other lessons include, but are not limited to:

1) Increase resources available for development of communication strategies and exchange of experiences among organizations.

2) Support independent research, which is has in the past refuted the findings of environmental impact assessments and delayed construction of dam projects.

3) Aid organizations that utilize a variety of legal tools to promote human rights and hold key players accountable by investigating human rights or environmental violations.

4) Support the development of a viable alternative energy strategy to show that more efficient ways of producing energy exist.

5) Support local organizations comprised of members directly connected to the issues; work with indigenous people and groups who possess in-depth knowledge of the region.

Sep 16, 2011

On May 26, 2011, EGA and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund co-hosted an event that brought together funders, leading environmental lawyers, and NGO representatives to discuss a new approach towards taking action on climate change: litigation. Possible solutions are to use existing state to state strategies in which one country can sue another for damages by climate change (i.e. Article 14 of the UNFCCC or the dispute mechanism of UNCLOS). Another is for climate change to be heard in human rights cases in which the rights of affected populations are being threatened (i.e. threats to freshwater in the Americas or indigenous rights like the Inuit). Lastly, climate change issues can be further used in claims made in both US and EU courts (i.e. Micronesia vs. Czech Republic).

The ultimate goal is to effect policy changes and further energize the climate movement by exposing and publicizing efforts made towards mitigating and/or adapting to climate change. Some challenges from using international litigation are that decisions are not always binding for countries or individuals under UNFCCC or UNCLOS and actions are under consent. Often times, international bodies such as UNCLOS and the ICJ (International Court of Justice) have long processes in order to get two countries to even reach an agreement in a case, again, not always binding.  In addition, it is very difficult to find plaintiffs for cases; how does one make a case against large, powerful industrial states that dictate trade and aid relations? Antonio Oposa, an international environmental lawyer, advocates that children should be used more as plaintiffs because they are the ones that will have to inherit the changed earth. The effects of climate change are becoming more apparent, as there has been increase in human rights cases and coastal and island countries’ economies are being threatened.  Climate change litigation may prove to be a very effective action tool.

Information for Foundations

  1. Using environmental law to take action towards climate change is still a very new and developing field. Current opportunities for Foundations include and are not limited to:
  2. Fund campaigns around climate change cases. It is often very difficult for lawyers to be campaigners themselves, especially when court orders restrain them from being able to publicly share information about such cases.
  3. Build capacity and support NGOs and other organizations that have a litigation department. Examples include Greenpeace International, Earthjustice, and Earth Rights International.
  4. Back research and fact-finding initiatives in order to build cases.
  5. Support and help to create a network amongst international environmental lawyers, other legal bodies, communities, NGOs, and members in different governmental levels to open communication, support and strengthen one another, and coordinate efforts.