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.


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ENGO Overview

ENGO Capacity

The Calgary Foundation

Mapping What Matters was made possible through generous support from The Calgary Foundation.


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.

Founding Year

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.

Organizational Overview


Annual Budget – 2013

Half of ENGOs in Alberta operate with budgets under $100,000. A quarter with under $20,000. About a fifth are high resource organizations with an operating budget above $500,000.

Paid Staffing Levels

31% of ENGOs are completely volunteer run. Almost half operate with 1 or less full time staff equivalents. Only 8% of ENGOs operate with 10 or more staff.

Charitable Status

The sector is split between registered charities and nonprofits. This distinction is key for Alberta Ecotrust, as our unique model allows us to invest directly in nonprofits, something most funders cannot do.

Scale of Operations

Most ENGOs operate at a regional and provincial scale. However, we are seeing more ENGOs with a municipal focus as they work on sustainable cities and livelihoods.

Where They Work

Our province is well covered by the work of our ENGOs. There isn’t a single area of the province which would we classify as under-served by the environmental community.

Office Location

The vast majority of ENGOs operate out of our big cities. While they may work at a regional scale, there are certainly areas of the province that do not have many nonprofits who have their base of operations there.


Operating Expenses Held as Cash On Hand

The vast majority of ENGOs are operating with less than a year of operating expenses held as cash. The 31% who have more than one year? Half of these groups operate with less than a $20,000 annual budget.


Volunteer Engagement

Half of Alberta ENGOs operate with a small group of dedicated volunteers, most likely including their board and few key supporters. The other half are heavily reliant on volunteer engagement to deliver their programs and mandates.


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.



The vast majority of ENGOs in Alberta focus on Educational activities as their primary focus. Although many ENGOs are looking for positive environmental outcomes as a result of legislation and government intervention, few focus on Policy and Planning as a primary strategy.

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

orgstratsfreqENGOs 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

Target Audiences

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.

Communications Tools

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.


funding-sourcesWe 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.