“Green” is in, and more and more funders are giving to environmental causes, but donations to environmental nonprofits and projects still only constitute around 7% of US philanthropy (Giving USA). While funders see environment as a worthy giving sector, it is hard to compete with cancer, children starving, religion, or education. If you are an environmental nonprofit, you need to make your proposal stand out from the competition to get those limited dollars! Here are three keys to making your proposal better than the rest, and a sample letter to help you get started.
1. Link your cause to fundable populations:
Human services, youth leadership, or underrepresented populations are prime examples. You are helping the environment, but who does your project serve? Even biodiversity organizations saving penguins in remote arctic seas can link their program need back to people, and they need to because people are what donors want to fund.
2. Stay away from doomsday:
Part of the reason Americans have been so slow to accept climate change is because of its doomsday message; Americans are optimistic. Keep it positive! Greenies can be very negative, crafting appeals on “dwindling populations”, “endangered” species, “toxic” pollution, etc. All can be spun in another direction.
3. Link it to economics:
Americans care about the economy much more than the environment, and nearly every environmental cause can be linked to economic savings, if not directly than in the form of sustainability.
Sample proposal letter: The Case for Arctic Penguin Adaptation to Climate Change Research
Please note: This nonprofit and its work are completely fictional and intended to serve as an example of how even the most un-human environmental project can be linked back to people and made relevant to receive funding.
With the knowledge that you are a champion for causes that innovatively solve our most pressing global concerns, we respectfully request $100,000 for our critical penguin research that will directly help thousands of Chilean and global fisherman understand changing ocean temperature effects on migrating fish populations, helping them adapt their livelihoods and keep our global fisheries sustainable for future generations. (1. Present a tangible outcome that helps people immediately.)
Ocean temperatures are shifting with climate change, and, with those shifts, fish are adapting their migration patterns. Arctic penguins might be our world’s most expert fishermen, and evidence shows that they are already adapting their feeding cycles, both geographically and seasonally, to cope with a changing world.
We have an opportunity to learn from these pioneers to help promote both their future and that of the thousands of fishermen that depend on these seas for their livelihoods. Chilean fishermen are especially susceptible, as they are generally low income bread earners for their families and have generational heritage fishing in these waters. Large fisheries also depend on these particular migration patterns for fish that end up feeding hundreds of thousands in dozens of countries globally. (2. Establish the need positively.)
[Nonprofit name] has designed research to link how our most wondrous species use this Earth to solutions to help them and their human counterparts adapt to environmental change for more than six years. With your foundation’s investment, [Nonprofit name] will be able to finish a three year study to map the arctic penguin’s feeding habits, which will then result in a tool disseminated to local villages in Chile as well as posted online for international fisheries to change their seasonal and geographic fishing habits.
The mapping also helps us understand the challenges that the penguins face in having to establish new nesting grounds, swim further for food, etc. We can then brainstorm tangible solutions to help them adapt, including a new initiative with Wonder Water Corporation to build a floating island for a swim break from recycled bottles.
This research is costing a total of $2.5 million, with a potential impact to save more than 1500 local bread-earning jobs (valued at $1.5 million household income annually) and entire international fisheries, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. (3. Link it economically.)
We welcome talking to you in person to show you the mapping tool and the full impacts of our work. Please let us know if you need any additional information for consideration. Again, thank you for all that you do for our global community.