An Alternative Use of Non-Profit Environmental Funds
- [For members of Island Resources who read this NY Times article about
the role of the Pew Trust in the public environmental debate in the
US, I just want to reassure you that Island Resources Foundation is
no tool of Pew.
There has been no attempt by Pew to buy us off with one of their $5
million dollar grants---like the Sierra Club, Island Resources
Foundation has never received a Pew grant. Unlike the Sierra Club
(which is far from being the biggest environmental group as suggested
by this article) , we do not have a $75 million budget of our own.
June 28, 2001
Charity Is New Force in Environmental Fight
By DOUGLAS JEHL
copyright by the NY Times
PHILADELPHIA - From a suite of offices in a high-rise here, a $4.8
billion foundation called the Pew Charitable Trusts has quietly
become not only the largest grant maker to environmental causes, but
also one that controls much more than the purse strings.
Unlike many philanthropies that give to conservationist groups, Pew
has been anything but hands-off, serving as the behind-the-scenes
architect of highly visible recent campaigns to preserve national
forests and combat global warming. Though some of its money goes to
long-established groups, Pew has also created its own organizations,
with names like the National Environmental Trust and the Heritage
Over the last decade, financing by wealthy foundations has swollen
the budgets of environmental groups that depend heavily on donations
for things like land acquisition and scientific research. But with
its deep pockets and focus on aggressive political advocacy, Pew is
not only the most important new player but also the most
controversial, among fellow environmentalists and its opponents in
"I don't think you make social change happen on the basis of paid
staff in Washington and paid ads anywhere," Carl Pope, the executive
director of the Sierra Club, said, referring to the Pew groups'
reputation for top-down management.
The Sierra Club, still the largest environmental organization, has
applied for Pew grants but has never been successful and has stopped
trying, Mr. Pope said.
The reason has less to do with substance - the groups are more or
less united on the issues - than with style. With 700,000 members,
the Sierra Club has many grass-roots constituents to please, while
Pew's approach is focused on the issues that the managers in
Philadelphia deem ripe for intervention.
For example, while forest protection remains one of many areas of
concern for the Sierra Club, with most efforts waged by local
organizers, the issue has been among just three areas identified by
Pew for intensive attention. The others are global warming and marine
Pew's executives and their supporters dismiss the griping as sour
grapes, saying that traditional organizations fear being eclipsed by
Pew and that the other foundations that contribute to conservationist
causes feel threatened by its willingness to jump into the political
"If you ride the ridges, you get shot at more often than if you stay
in the valleys," Joshua W. Reichert, Pew's powerful director of
environmental programs, said.
With $52 million to spend on environmental causes this year, Pew
tries to articulate a single voice - that of the trust and, in
particular, Mr. Reichert.
Until a decade ago, the Pew Trusts, established by descendants of
Joseph N. Pew, the founder of the Sun Oil Company, made more
conventional environmental grants, financing things like research and
land acquisition. Today, its other main areas of attention include
culture, education, journalism programs, health, public policy and
But under Mr. Reichert, 51, a social anthropologist with a broad
background in environmental protection, the organization has shifted
its attention to trying to advance a particular policy and has
quintupled its spending on environmental programs since 1990.
It was the force behind the effort that generated more than a million
public comments last year in favor of the Clinton administration's
Mr. Reichert, who keeps a low profile, has been so dominant in
overseeing Pew-backed campaigns that the officials of the groups it
finances typically refer to the foundation as "he."
"We are extremely results-oriented and hold ourselves and our
partners accountable for our performance," Mr. Reichert said in an
Pew, as a nonprofit organization, stops short of lobbying and
supporting candidates for office, something that some other
environmental groups, like the Sierra Club and the League of
Conservation Voters, which do not have nonprofit status, are
permitted to do.
But Pew is free to advocate specific causes, and its organizations
have done so in many ways, including buying full-page advertisements
Doug Crandall, staff director of the Republican-controlled House
subcommittee on forests, called the Pew groups "the 800-pound
gorilla" on environmental issues "because they focus and target these
issues quite effectively."
At a Congressional hearing last year, Helen Chenoweth-Hage, then a
Republican representative from Idaho, singled out the foundation and
its campaign to prevent development of the national forests as an
example of how communities "are being crushed by an inaccessible and
faceless movement wielding great power and influence."
Like most foundations, Pew saw its endowment soar in the surging
stock market of the 1990's, and to maintain its tax-exempt status, it
increased its grants proportionately, to nearly $236 million last
year from $147 million in 1990. Environmental programs grew fastest,
to $52 million last year from $11 million in 1990.
Its smaller beneficiaries include some long-established groups, like
American Rivers Inc., Ducks Unlimited and the Wilderness Society,
though only when their work closely fits Pew's agenda. But the
largest recipients are a closely linked network of new groups, like
the National Environmental Trust, which was created in 1995 and
received $6 million last year as the Washington voice for Pew's
Mr. Reichert said the environmental trust was "born amidst a climate
of criticism from many of the national environmental groups." Some
environmentalists argue that the group's advocacy mostly overlaps
that done by other organizations, like the Natural Resources Defense
Council and Environmental Defense, and that Pew's money would be
better spent supporting those organizations. But Mr. Reichert said
the trust was determined "to look for opportunities where we can make
Other big recipients include the Pew Center on Global Climate Change,
which was founded in 1998 and includes some industry representatives.
It received more than $5 million last year. The Heritage Forests
Campaign, a coalition of about a dozen environmental groups, also
established by Pew in 1998, has received about $10 million from the
With Pew money, the groups helped solicit the overwhelming public
support for the Clinton plan to put a third of the national forests
off limits to road construction.
The Clinton administration used that support to justify bypassing
opposition from Congress and several Western states. (A federal court
in Idaho blocked the plan this year, and the Bush administration is
drafting an alternative it says will be less sweeping.)
The most recent ranking of donation trends, by the Foundation Center
of New York, puts the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, with $82.5
million, at the top of a 1999 list of sources for grants related to
the environment and animals.
Other top donors included the Ford Foundation, at $31 million; the
Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, at $27.9 million; and the W. Alton
Jones Foundation, at $23.9 million. In all, private foundations spend
more than $700 million a year on grants related to the environment
and animals, a 350 percent increase since 1990, the Foundation Center
But many of the other top environmental grant makers devote most of
their budgets to research rather than advocacy.
Traditional groups, like the Sierra Club, whose annual budget of
about $75 million is the largest among environmental organizations,
must devote a substantial part of their spending to raising money and
providing services to members.
Without such burdens and with such a narrow focus on particular
policy areas, environmentalists say, Pew's relative effect has been
greater than its spending alone would suggest.
Some of Pew's main campaigns, including one on global warming, have
put the foundation at odds with the Bush administration.
But in an interview, Rebecca M. Rimel, the foundation's president,
said she was confident that Pew's efforts would have a great effect
on the national debate.
"Let's wait and see what the outcome is," Ms. Rimel said. "Let's see
who has been able to win the hearts and minds of the public."
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