Introduction to Alberta’s Environmental Nonprofits
Alberta’s environmental nonprofits have a big mandate. ENGOs protect and preserve our ecological systems, and often do so with few resources. Even the largest ENGOs in Alberta are small in comparison to the scale and complexity of the issues they are addressing. Sustainable growth, biodiversity, water, and climate change are just a few of the issues that ENGOs are working on, and these are not small challenges.
The environmental community in Alberta is incredibly diverse. They operate in every corner of our province and employ a variety of strategies to achieve their goals. The people who work at ENGOs are talented and resourceful. However, we believe the sector is often misunderstood. The complete picture of how environmental nonprofits operate in our province can often get lost in larger narratives and social complexity.
We believe that understanding the environmental sector allows us, and others, to advocate for ENGOs and the valued work they are doing. In this section you will find biographical information about Albertan environmental nonprofits. You will learn about who they are, their staff, what they work on and where, how they work, and a host of other information.
We hope this will give you a complete picture of the people and organizations who are protecting the environment that provides us life and prosperity.
Mapping What Matters Participants – Get Your Responses Back
If you participated in the Mapping What Matters project then we would like to send you a copy of your answers alongside the overall data from the sector. If you would like a copy of this report, please contact Lindsay Zink, Environmental Program Coordinator, at [email protected].
A Biography of ENGOs Across Alberta
Meet Alberta’s environmental nonprofits! The following section details some of the basic biographical details of our ENGOs – their resources and the scale of their operations. The vast majority of Alberta’s nonprofits remain grassroots, community driven initiatives. Almost a third of ENGOs are volunteer run, and over half use a large amount of volunteers from the community to deliver their mandates.
Our province is well covered by the work of ENGOs, with no regions being under-served, but there still remains a shortage of locally run and located organizations in certain areas.
ENGOs have proliferated in our province beginning in the late 1980s. However, you will notice a small gap in the last two years. This is likely due to an “incubation period” for nonprofits – where it takes time for them to register, achieve official status, and appear in mainstream channels.
ISSUE FOCUS: WHAT ENGOS WORK ON
We asked Alberta environmental nonprofits to tell us the top three issue areas they focus on. The results are startling. The vast majority of ENGOs work in areas related to water, land use, biodiversity and wildlife. Most of them have a a focus on the general environment, taking a more holistic approach. We also see an increase in groups working in their cities and communities on sustainability initiatives.
Climate change remains a highly under-served issue in Alberta. There are only a handful of ENGOs who identify climate as an area of focus, which is incredible considering the scale of the issue and Alberta’s position as an energy producer. Similarly, there is only a handful of groups who work on energy production and use. These ENGOs are often more concerned about the impact of energy production on water, rather than taking a position on climate.
We have also noticed a decrease in waste management ENGOs. We believe this is a result of municipalities formally taking over responsibilities related to recycling.
We wanted to understand the activities ENGOs undertake, and how they incorporate strategy into their programs. Recognizing that change can came from a variety of activities and strategies, along a continuum of individual and community awareness, we asked participants to describe their organizational model using our LEAP framework. Activities and strategies that make up the LEAP framework include:
Leading by Example: Supporting communities and key institutions to demonstrate a commitment to act on an issue; e.g. demonstration and pilot projects, building community momentum around an issue).
Education: Building awareness of an issue across key stakeholder groups (youth, key communities, industry); e.g. education programs, community information forums.
Action: Enabling specific behavior change, industry best management practices or innovation.
Policy & Planning: Supporting policy development and planning in communities and key institutions; e.g. policy analysis, model analysis, applied research to support planning and policy development.
Frequency of Organizational Strategies
ENGOs have a strong focus on education – for the general public and in formal institutions like schools. They also devote a lot of their time to participation in multi-stakeholder groups. Many have a strong focus on developing and implementing on-the-ground environmental solutions. While we are seeing groups take an interest in citizen science as a way to gather data and engage their communities, only a few are doing this with any real frequency at the moment.
Working directly on policy, through consultation or advocacy, remains the realm of only a few ENGOs, as does legal interventions and regulatory hearings. Most ENGOs are more comfortable with doing research as a way to inform policy, rather than advocating or lobbying directly.
Communications Strategy & Tools
ENGOs focus on engaging citizens and residents as their primary focus. They are also often speaking with governmental departments (municipal and provincial) in sharing their research and concerns. There is a large opportunity for ENGOs to talk to each other, only 14% identify other environmental groups as an audience.
ENGOs are becoming more comfortable with digital mediums. Almost all have a web presence, and three quarters engage audiences through electronic mediums like newsletters and Facebook. Print mediums – like brochures, print newsletters, and direct mail – still play a significant role for some ENGOs. Half of the ENGOs we surveyed used 6 or more of these tools, demonstrating a comfort level with multiple channels at the same time.
We wanted to know where ENGOs receive their money from and we asked them to rate how much of their funding comes from 14 different sources. The image on the right is clear – ENGOs get their money from almost everywhere. A small number of groups receive a large portion of their funding from membership fees, but individual donations make up the bulk of most funding for environmental organizations. Corporate and industry donations are also starting to become a significant source of funding for ENGOs.
There are some notable exceptions. 83% of ENGOs receive zero money from US Foundations, and for those that do receive money from them it only makes a small part of their funding. Federal government funding remains elusive, and obtaining resources via research and consulting services also continues to be the domain of a select few.
Diverse revenue streams can be both a blessing and a curse. Multiple sources of funding can create resilience in a sector that experiences challenges in finding resources. However, diverse revenue sources may be indicative of ENGOs lacking focus in their resource development efforts.