This summer, donors gathered at the Triangle Donors Forum centered around Environmental Advocacy. The event, held at the NC Botanical Garden, led to a discussion with Conservation and Diversity Coordinator at the Conservation Trust for NC, Melanie Allen, about a focus on diversity within organizations like hers.

Over the last decade, more and more environmental advocacy groups are reaching out to social justice groups, such as those that promote access to healthcare and food, because they are already in touch with specific communities.  “That is the direction a lot of environmental organizations are taking,” said Melanie Allen, conservation and diversity coordinator at Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

Environmental advocacy is as much about the people and communities already impacted by government policies as it is about conservation and preserving land for future generations.  Diversity helps environmental advocacy groups connect with these communities to better serve the needs that are already there.

Many environmental organizations are predominantly older, wealthy, and white, said Allen. Race, age, socio-economic status, and geography are all important backgrounds that add to the diversity and therefore the impact of an organization.  Change often comes from engagement with a community, and environmental advocates need to understand their stakeholders who sometimes don’t reflect the makeup of their organization, she said.

Allen said that many non-profits are behind corporate American in understanding and implementing diversity.  She gave two suggestions on how to foster diversity within an organization:

Ask the questions:

  • Who are we serving and who is it that we’re intending to serve? What does the population effected look like?
  • Align the work with where it can be most useful and relevant by becoming part of a broader community discussion in order to better engage and serve. This involves communicating with the community and learning their needs to impact the goals of the organization.

“I think as our advocacy organizations begin to better understand who they are, the work they are doing, who has benefited, and who has been left out, then we will see greater diversity and greater partnerships working with other advocacy groups who may not directly be in environmental issues.”