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The Planet

The Planet
November 1998 Volume 5, Number 9

This Dog Bites


By Bruce Hamilton Director of Conservation

Sierra Club Named Most Effective Environmental Group

In a recent survey by the Aspen Institute, all the members of Congress and 29 top officials from the White House and federal agencies were asked to "name the [two] national nonprofit organizations that you believe have the most influence on federal policy" for six different issues.

I'm proud to report that in environmental policy, the Sierra Club received more mentions than any other industry or environmental organization.

The Club was named more than twice as often as the National Federation of Independent Business, which ranked second, and nearly three times as often as the next environmental group, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

What is equally pleasing is that both Republicans and Democrats rated us as most effective. While we were cited 64 times, other organizations that vastly outspend us were mentioned far fewer times. The Chamber of Commerce had 21 mentions, the National Association of Manufacturers 13, and the Citizens for a Sound Economy - our opponents on the Environmental Protection Agency's new clean-air standards, which were being debated at the time of the survey - just 12.

Here are the rankings for environmental groups (and times cited): Sierra Club (64), EDF (23), Natural Resources Defense Council (20), National Wildlife Federation (12), Wilderness Society (6), Audubon (5), World Wildlife Fund (5), Environmental Information Center (4), Pew Charitable Trusts (4), League of Conservation Voters (3), The Nature Conservancy (3), Environmental Working Group (2), Greenpeace (1) and Defenders of Wildlife (1).

The study, "Effective Nonprofit Advocacy," by Susan Rees, analyzed the qualities of the highest ranking groups in each policy area. The most effective organizations generally:

  • are membership-based;
  • are permitted to lobby under Internal Revenue Service tax code;
  • use democratic structure for decisionmaking and participation;
  • maintain sub-national chapters or offices;
  • deliberately reach out to Democrats and Republicans;
  • work in coalitions, especially "strange bedfellow" alliances;
  • focus resources on one or two top policy priorities;
  • train members;
  • hold politicians accountable;
  • have a national message;
  • eliminate inflammatory rhetoric;
  • use polling and focus groups;
  • use economic arguments; and
  • enlist community leaders as grassroots lobbyists.

The survey comes as the Club is broadening its grassroots media and public education efforts. We've shifted 80 percent of the resources we once spent on lobbying in Washington to grassroots organizing. We're pushing for stronger environmental protection by giving citizens the information and the means to make their voices heard. This survey is an indication that this approach is working.

Our political leaders may not love us, but they respect us. This dog bites. Congratulations to all of you for helping to make us the most effective environmental group in our nation's capital.


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