Monday, June 16, 2008

What gives, Sierra Club?

I’ve been getting a lot of literature from Sierra Club lately, and this has me a little perplexed. Obviously, nonprofits are very much in the business of begging for money and volunteers. This doesn’t surprise me, nor does it bother me. What vexes me is that everything I’ve gotten from Sierra Club over the last 12 months has been in the mail. This creates paper waste and uses fossil fuels.
Like people with even a passing interest in conservation, I’m familiar with Sierra Club. After all, it’s one of the largest, oldest, most widespread environmental groups in the US. There’s no confusion about how to make a donation, if the notion should ever strike me. But why would I donate to an environmental group that seems to be so wasteful?

Image source: National Park Service

11 comments:

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

I would be curious to know what percent of Sierra Club's budget is devoted to fund raising.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris,
That's a good question, though it's tough to answer. Sierra Club is a national organization with state (and I believe local) chapters, plus affiliated fund-raising organizations, like The Sierra Club Foundation. All of these legal entities make it a lot of work to pin down the answer. I happen to know that the foundation has an overhead rate of about 17%, but that doesn't get us particularly close to the real number.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

The most complete financial disclosure that I can find is from 2000. In that statement, it appears that 6.4% of their budget went to fund-raising activities (less than I expected to see) and 43.9% went to "influencing public policy."

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris,
Thanks for this. Without knowing the financial relationships between state chapters, the national org, and the foundation, it's hard to say what level of collective resources go toward development. The figures you present are encouraging, though.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: Please don't mistake me. I am very much NOT a fan of the Sierra Club.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris,
There's very little risk of making that mistake. I'm curious: What's your gripe with Sierra Club?

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: In general terms, it is their embrace of some of the more extreme environmental positions. I was once a member. I dropped that membership after digging into some of their lobbying efforts.

I think that they, like most special interest groups, tend to take an extreme position on issues within their area of concern. This happens with what I would deem to be both liberal and conservative interests groups -- and everything in between. Generally, the best answers are somewhere in the middle -- not at the extremes. I think that I have noticed similar thinking in some of your writing.

Extreme positions lead to manipulative forms of demagoguery -- witness Al Gore. They seek to hype the fear-factor rather than focusing on the science or the human factors. The research that they do fund is stilted toward supporting their positions. I really have no use for such groups and I don't support them (liberal, conservative or in-between).

Pat Jenkins said...

some haunting eyes in this picture erd.... this should once and all prove the fact that we WILL and NEED TO USE the world's resources.

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
John Muir always stikes me as something of a prophet. His writing bears that out. While I prefer Thoreau and Emerson to Muir (there's my East Coast bias), I recommend Muir to anyone interested in early thinking on conservation.
As for proof, I'm not sure why you feel junk mail proves much of anything. I donate to the Potomac Conservancy, Environmental Defense, Engineers w/o Borders, and Lutheran World Relief (not to mention my church and other charities) without ever receiving a scrap of unwanted paper from any of them.
This scenario is a great example of how many organizations have learned to focus on results instead of methods. All of the organizations I just mentioned need money; most of them have figured out that marketing/development doesn't necessarily require the use of paper. People can get what they want without being wasteful.

Pat Jenkins said...

well erd in order to communicate we have chosen the world's resources to do so the majority of the time. now wasteful usage is a problem i will grant you, but again if an organization must use what they criticize others for then it is shown their arguements may not hold much truth!!!

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
If someone doesn't take his own advice, that makes him a hypocrite; it doesn't mean that his advice is wrong.