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With the party over, green groups look ahead.

During the hoopla surrounding the 20th-anniversary celebration of Earth Day in 1990, donations poured into Greenpeace U.S.A. The group's roster of supporters shot up to 2.2 million, an increase of nearly 400,000 over the year before.

But just a few months later, the bottom fell out. As quickly as it had accelerated, support began to drop off. By mid-1991, the group had lost almost as many supporters as it had gained - and the donations it had already figured into its budget.

Greenpeace had been counting on the latest wave of environmental interest that began in the 1980s to keep rolling, especially with the big push from Earth Day and highly publicized environmental disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It didn't count on the impact that the Persian Gulf War and recession would have on donations or the dent that huge postal rate increases for direct mail would put in most nonprofit budgets. (Even though Greenpeace lost some members due to its stand against the Gulf War, the group believes most of its losses were due to the economy, not its ideology.)

To keep afloat, Greenpeace U.S.A. laid off 53 employees and closed two regional offices. It combined jobs and trimmed back budgets for its environmental campaigns, and axed all of its well-known Greenpeace boat missions for the 1991 fiscal year. Greenpeace magazine, a critically-acclaimed bimonthly, 30-page publication, was shelved in favor of a quarterly, four-page newsletter.

But if misery loves company, then Greenpeace had plenty. Most major environmental and wildlife groups began to feel the economic squeeze by the end of 1990, though it affected each organization differently. Some groups cut their direct-mail "prospecting" for new members, and others trimmed basic operating costs wherever possible. A few, like Greenpeace, had to cut staff and scale back programs. "It's the first time we've ever faced having to trim and prioritize," says Greenpeace media director Blair Palese.

No wonder. For a decade the environmental movement had reveled in an ever-increasing flood of members and money, especially in the late 1980s. The Nature Conservancy grew from 60,222 members in 1980 to 550,000 in 1991, an 813-percent increase, and Greenpeace had just 30,000 members in 1980, according to a recent study on the growth of environmental organizations by John Hendee, dean of the University of Idaho's School of Forestry, and Randall C. Pitstick, a doctoral candidate at the university.

Donations picked up so much in the 1980s that organizations tracking contributions to nonprofit groups created a new category for environmental and animal-related groups, no longer lumping them in with other "public society benefit" groups. Gifts to environmental causes have nearly doubled since 1987, from $1.3 billion to a 1991 total of $2.5 billion.

But the golden age is past, say many fundraisers. Environmental groups are still growing, but their season of wild growth seems to have ended in 1991. The Sierra Club's growth rate, for instance, is "flat - not declining, but not increasing at the levels of the 1980s," says development director Rosemary Carroll.

But Carroll and others said the slowdown was by no means an indication that the environmental movement is on the way out.

"I think we're just feeling the effects of the recession," she says. "The public is still concerned. I think we'll see giving pick up, though not with the pattern we saw in the '80s."

Environmental groups still have millions of members and a "vast potential to influence public opinion and natural resource policy," according to the University of Idaho's Hendee and Pitstick. "It's clear that the environmental groups grew steadily throughout the 1980s, which included two recessions," Hendee said in a recent interview. "I think the strong environmental sentiment is here to stay and is only going to get stronger. We've just had a national election where that was put to the test."

Even though the Natural Resources Defense Council lost 10,000 members in 1990, its longtime members "stuck by us," says membership director Linda Lopez. For the NRDC and most other groups that have found a core group of supporters who are loyal even in tough times, the membership dive has bottomed out and leveled off.

And surprisingly, income as continued to increase even as membership has declined. "The people who have joined are giving more now," says the Sierra Club's Carroll (there is a minimum contribution to join most groups - usually between $15 and $35 - but people can give as much as they want).

Though environmental groups' memberships seem to have stabilized, direct mail responses aren't what they used to be, and most organizations are trying to get creative about fundraising. Conservation International, which decided to give up direct mail two years ago (for environmental reasons, says John Heyl, vice president for development), is one of several groups forging corporate partnerships to bring in members and money. Natural Wonders, a chain of nature stores, promotes Conservation International memberships in its stores, for instance.

Environmental groups are also giving more attention to other funding sources: planned giving (bequests, trusts, etc.), workplace giving, and gifts from "major" donors. The effort is paying off, says John Jenson, vice president of development for the National Wildlife Federation, the biggest of the environmental groups with 5.3 million supporters. Planned giving brought in $3.6 million to NWF in 1991, up from $2.3 million in 1990, Jenson says.

Environmental organizations are also getting more money from foundation grants these days. The latest Environmental Grantmakers Association figures show that its member foundations doubled their contributions to new environmental programs from 1989 to 1990, from just over $8 million to nearly $21 million. The association has not compiled figures beyond 1990, but says environmental giving by foundations continues to increase.

Despite new tactics and resources, green groups will no doubt continue to count on donations and emphasize direct-mail solicitation. Environmental and animal groups generally get about 40 percent of their money from voluntary gifts, according to the 1992-1993 Nonprofit Almanac published by Independent Sector, a trade association for nonprofit groups. And direct mail is still the most effective way to bring in those donations, says Anne Felber, vice president for membership and marketing programs at the World Wildlife Fund. WWF gets more than half of its operating revenues from members' donations, Felber says. "They really are our lifeblood."

Some organizations' fortunes may be enhanced by the fact that there are likely to be fewer new groups on the scene vying for members and money in the future. It costs too much to launch an organization these days, says NWF's Jenson. "Environmental groups tend to be dependent on direct mail, which is expensive," he says. "(New groups) can't afford to get established."

And how will the new Democratic administration affect the future of the environmental movement? Some groups are waiting with bated breath to see if Bill Clinton and Earth in the Balance author Al Gore make environmentalism the "in" cause again after the owls-versus-jobs rancor of the past few years.

But renegade Greenpeace, not surprisingly, warns against putting too much confidence in the federal government to take care of the country's environmental problems. With Clinton and Gore in the White House, says Blair Palese, "people will perceive that the environment is taken care of. We don't want to see the public lose its activism. "
COPYRIGHT 1993 Worldwatch Institute
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Title Annotation:environmental movement
Author:Atkinson, Carla
Publication:World Watch
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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