Leaf Litter

Shared Voices: Survey Results

By Amy Nelson

How have local and regional environmental nonprofits been able to pursue their missions during the pandemic? Are they playing active roles in local climate resiliency planning? To what extent are they weaving equity, diversity, and environmental justice into their work? These are just some of the questions we wanted to probe in this issue of Leaf Litter.  To learn more, we invited local and regional environmental nonprofit members and leaders to participate in a brief survey. The names and missions of participating organizations can be found in the Resources section of this issue. They range in size, location, and focus, but there were unifying themes to many of their responses.

Article Index

Pandemic Pivots

When asked how the pandemic has most challenged their organizations, 67% said project implementation. Additional comments elaborated on this response, citing a drop off in project support and an increased cost to implement habitat restoration and improvement projects due to new safety and travel protocols. Other high-ranking challenges included community engagement, fundraising, and staff well-being.

Nearly all participants indicated, however, that their organizations developed and deployed strategies to overcome these challenges. The strategies shared ranged from the tactical (e.g., “modifying our service-learning program to be virtual.”) to the ideological (“exuding compassion and understanding out of every pore.”) Many involved the use of online tools and platforms to shift from live to virtual events for meetings, fundraisers, and educational programs.

Other actions taken by respondents to address pandemic challenges included taking advantage of PPP, EIDL, Workshare programs, providing extra time off and flexible work schedules to support staff well-being.

Engaging Community

When asked about the most effective strategies for engaging community members in their work in non-pandemic times, most survey participants described some form of face-to-face contact. For some, that meant attending community meetings and developing relationships with the leaders of community organizations. For several others, it meant holding volunteer events that were both fun and informative. One organization developed a membership program that encourages engagement by offering free programs to members. Another organization boosts engagement by teaming up with allied nonprofits that are focused on public health.

Environmental Justice & Equity

When asked to rate, on a scale from zero to ten, the extent to which their organizations integrate environmental justice and equity into their work, participants responded with an average rating of seven. Several acknowledged the need and intention to learn and do more, both internally and in the programs and services they provide.

“Our organization is very conscious of the importance of diversity in our leadership and working partnerships – as well as the importance of bringing the benefits of nature to everyone, particularly those in low-income or marginalized communities or those who live in environmentally denuded or degraded locations. However, we have a lot of work to do. Our projects have largely been in middle/moderate to high income locations in the past. We are working to build bridges to neighborhood and community development organizations in more diverse locations (and expand our footprint as we expand those relationships). -Rachel Toker, Urban Ecosystems Restoration”

Several respondents also mentioned ongoing efforts to increase the diversity of staff and/or board members, and a few responded that their organizations had formed an internal team or committee to focus specifically on equity, justice, inclusion, and diversity. Other participants shared comments related to specific programs and initiatives. One watershed organization, for example, brings children from the watershed’s most vulnerable communities to boat, paddle, fish seine, and have fun on the waterways they learn about in school, but never get opportunities to enjoy.

Uncommon Collaboration

Forty-five percent of respondents said that their organizations is involved in a non-traditional partnership. One particularly interesting pairing was shared by a nature education organization. Through a unique partnership with a retirement community, the organization is able to implement preschool, school-age and intergenerational nature-based learning programs on the community’s 384-acre campus.

Collaboration on Climate

Nearly all survey participants viewed climate adaptation and resilience as inherent in their project, advocacy, and/or educational work, and 15% indicated that their organizations are directly involved in local climate resilience planning.

What is your “why?”

Few people enter environmental nonprofit careers seeking fame and fortune. Responses to the question, “What is your ‘why’?” provide insight into the passion behind the choice to work for a local or regional environmental nonprofit:

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