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Time for Environmental Funders to Stop Neglecting the Grassroots

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

Particularly since the failure of the climate bill, the strategies and tactics of the environmental movement have come in for a great deal of criticism. But there has been curiously little discussion of a set of players that have more influence than anyone over those strategies: the philanthropic organizations that fund the environmental movement.

It's not surprising: Everyone can see environmental NGOs and assess their work. But environmental funders largely operate outside public view, with very little transparency and almost no accountability. I doubt most people, even dedicated greens, could name two or three big funders, much less assess their work.

So how exactly are environmental philanthropists shaping strategy?

There is a criticism of funders on the left that is so old and familiar as to have become cliché. It goes like this: The right's funders have spent the last 30 years building a bottom-up movement. The wealthy conservatives who give money view the heads of movement institutions as trusted peers, so they are content to give without strings attached - their money is "patient." The right now has institutions and infrastructure that recruit young people, pay them enough to live on, mentor and train them, and send them out into the courts, local politics, and think tanks.
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