On May 12, 2015, Delta Institute hosted a discussion around bridging the gap in environmental stewardship and philanthropy, as part of The Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table 2015 event. That day and evening, thousands of Chicago-area residents pulled up a chair at gatherings like ours for conversations about how we, as a community, can commit to philanthropy (in all its forms) and encourage its growth to make the Chicago metro region the most philanthropic in the nation. Our lively breakfast discussion involved Delta’s staff, board, and friends, all of whom provided valuable insights and comments on building a broader community of supporters within the environmental sector.
Our discussion was framed with statistics from a recently released study entitled Giving in Chicago, which was funded by The Chicago Community Trust to shine a light on the philanthropic sector here in the Chicago metro region. The good news shared in the study is that the Chicago metro region is generous.
- In 2013, individual households in the region gave more than foundations and corporations combined, contributing 83% (totaling $5.5 billion) of all charitable contributions that year.
- Chicagoland households were more likely to give, and gave more on average, to nonprofits in 2013, compared to the U.S. population.
The not-so-good news is that with all that generosity, giving to environmental causes is not high on the priority list. In fact, environmental giving shares its 1% of total contributions with giving to animal-related causes.
So, we asked, how can we inspire more people to consider giving their time, talents, and treasure to environmental causes? What are our barriers? How can we meaningfully engage new audiences and keep them engaged?
One barrier that emerged in the discussion is that environmental projects, and the impact they create, tend to be abstract, rather than tangible. Often, when donors give, they want to see an immediate impact, which is a challenge for environmental projects where impacts, like improved water quality and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, are invisible and achieved over long periods of time. The abstract nature of this work can make it difficult to raise awareness of the issues and inspire stewardship.
How do we overcome this hurdle? Become better storytellers. Many of us in the environmental field are guilty of communicating our project results through technical, jargon-filled reports that alienate your average reader. Communicating impact through stories, especially personal stories, can help our messages resonate with wider audiences and inspire action.
Here are a few questions for consideration.
– Are there opportunities to knit together diverse efforts like environmental, cultural, and art projects to reach new audiences, create dynamic projects, and increase impact?
– Rather than competing for a larger slice of the philanthropic pie here in Chicago, how can we work together to grow the pie? How can we grow our culture of philanthropy?
– On a related note, how people contribute their money or time to the nonprofit sector depends upon their personal boundaries of social responsibility. Are there ways we can expand those boundaries of social responsibility?
Our On the Table event was just the beginning of a rich discussion around environmental stewardship and philanthropy. Thank you to everyone who participated! If you have thoughts on the topic to share, we’d love to hear them. Please contact email@example.com.