Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.

The Sierra Club’s Grassroots Deception

SPOTLIGHT: An organization that won’t describe itself accurately cannot be trusted.

BIG PICTURE: On its Internet homepage, America’s Sierra Club calls itself “the nation’s most influential grassroots environmental organization.” Repeating this claim, the page further urges visitors to become members of its “grassroots movement” (italics added – see screenshot here).

Grassroots involves ordinary people knocking on doors in their own neighbourhoods and organizing events in their own communities. Grassroots is about concerns bubbling up spontaneously, from everyday life. The term implies small scale fundraising such as garage sales and bake sales. It implies yearly budgets of perhaps a few thousand dollars.

cover of the 2011 annual report

Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club may have been grassroots once, but those days are long gone. In 2016, its revenues were $77 million. In 2015, they were $88 million. Between 2005 and 2014, nearly half a billion dollars ($455 million) flowed into the coffers of this organization.

The 2016 annual report contains – count ’em – 12 columns of donors described as “foundations, corporations and organizations.”

Under the ‘A’s we find 9 charitable foundations, a charitable trust, a charitable fund, and – rather oddly – the American Heart Association.

Under the ‘B’s, we find 13 foundations, 2 trusts, 7 funds, a couple of law firms, and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The ‘C’s include the City of Berkeley along with 20 foundations and half a dozen funds.

In 2016 alone, the Sierra Club cashed cheques from Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, the Rockefellers, billionaire Tom Steyer, the State of Montana, the State of California, the United Way of New Mexico, and the University of Delaware. It accepted numerous donations from individuals who are identified only as ‘anonymous.’ At least one of those was for $1 million or more.

Also during 2016, the Sierra Club received ‘matching gifts’ from employers such as Johnson & Johnson, Pepsi, Visa, and Wells Fargo. It benefited from bequests, endowments, and life income trusts.

Its annual report talks matter-of-factly about collaborating with “our colleagues in the investment community.” It quotes the group’s Director of Equity, Inclusion and Justice. It tells us about the half million allocated to its Democracy Program. And the $782,000 spent on “Global Population and Environment.”

A grassroots organization does not look like this.

TOP TAKEAWAY: The Sierra Club is no shoestring operation. It is a well-oiled fundraising machine positively swimming in money. Amongst its donors we find America’s richest foundations and individuals, as well as blue chip companies.

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This entry was posted on April 6, 2018 by in money & funding, NGOs and tagged , .
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