This past March, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy announced a gift from the McKinney Family Foundation. This gift supports three master’s students and places them at three environmentally focused nonprofits for two years, where they learn firsthand how these organizations operate while also sharing with those nonprofits the new information they have learned through their studies.
Recently, the 2017-18 McKinney Fellows described their experiences with the nonprofits they work at, spoke about a national environmental conference they attended, and discussed their impressions of why supporting the environment is such an important part of philanthropy.
Madelaine Berry, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB), Thrive 365 program
“Thrive 365 is a corporate volunteer program focused on getting Indianapolis corporations to volunteer with KIB in a day of service or multiple days of service. They can donate an area of green space in Indianapolis, work with KIB’s ‘green kids’ (a partnership with five local elementary schools), or plant trees or do something as simple as pick up litter on a city street. I’m developing a survey to interview former participants and get an idea of what works well for the program vs. what doesn’t. After that, I’ll create a new marketing plan for Thrive 365.”
Erin Crowther, The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
“My primary role involves donor stewardship. This semester, I’ve been working on writing stewardship stories to allow donors to better understand the often very scientific work of The Nature Conservancy. Through this process, I’ve learned a lot about the appropriate ways to share an organization’s work with donors, as well as discover how different parts of the Nature Conservancy’s mission appeal to different people. I have also had the chance to tag along on a few donor visits, which have been wonderful as I am interested in pursuing a career in fundraising. Working for TNC has been a great opportunity!”
Alexis Davenport, Hoosier Environmental Council
“I’ve enjoyed seeing how the Hoosier Environmental Council advocates at both the state and county level. I work primarily in donor outreach. I’ve loved learning about what Hoosiers are concerned with and then telling them what we do to address those concerns. I also work in special projects, and have helped in planning our annual event, ‘Greening the Statehouse.’ I’m very excited to be there.”
All three fellows attended the Environmental Grantmakers Conference in Seattle this past fall and gave their impressions of the conference, which is focused on bringing together foundations to discuss environmental issues.
Berry noted that her favorite part was the speech given by climate scientist and evangelical Christian, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe: “Her work is focused on bridging the gap and why it’s important to get religious communities involved, because we know these people are passionate and donate a lot of time and money. They are an untapped resource.”
Crowther agreed, and mentioned how important it is to branch out to everyone: “It’s important to find connection points between the conservation of our planet and the general well-being of people.”
Davenport enjoyed being surrounded by many grantmakers and liked the keynote address by Governor Jay Inslee: “He spoke about advocacy and how we can better frame the conversation around the environment while building optimism and hope around it. The environment is something we all share.”
Crowther also spoke about the relationship between mission-driven nonprofits and grantmaking foundations.
“When it comes to a grant for environmental work, you’re not going to see the impact of that grant immediately, or even in your lifetime,” she said. “If a foundation is looking for measurable impact within the next year, it can be a challenge for an environmental nonprofit to evaluate their progress in such a short time period. Grants to environmental organizations may not allow visible change to occur for another 100 years, but future generations will reap the benefits of the positive difference those changes have made in the health of our world.”
The fellows also discussed how widespread the issues are, even though two of them work at a local organization and one at a local affiliate.
“I see the problems that the Hoosier Environmental Council works on. Those issues occur across the states. We can learn from each other about how to deal with these issues,” Davenport stated.
Berry agreed: “KIB is an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. It’s part of this bigger, nationwide network. It’s important to discuss local issues in a larger context.”
Finally, the fellows spoke about the importance of addressing environmental issues in philanthropy.
Berry: “There are so many environmental issues that affect philanthropy and on the flip side, philanthropy is often devoted to emergency assistance due to environmental issues.”
Davenport: “Sometimes, people want an impact that they can see immediately. Tackling environmental issues are long-term projects for future generations. It’s hard to grasp that at times.”
Crowther: “Sometimes students don’t always realize how connected environmental issues are to issues that they’re passionate about. The environment isn’t a separate issue; the world is connected to everything we do and making that connection between environmental issues and other issues is very important.”