by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTOS: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jan Wilson (above) is executive director of EarthShare Oregon, and a board member of Oregon Wild. At a recent Oregon Wild meeting (right), Wilson chats with participants about donating to EarthShare. From a nondescript third-story office in the heart of downtown Portland, Jan Wilson is trying to save the world — one workplace at a time. 

Wilson is executive director of EarthShare Oregon, a long-running nonprofit that operates much like a United Way for the environmental movement, funneling donations to what Earthshare deems the most worthy local and national conservation groups. 

“People are really busy; we’re kind of a clearinghouse for people to get information,” says Wilson, 52, a Michigan native who volunteered for EarthShare for 10 years before stepping into the top post three years ago. “The impact our groups have is huge, because we pick the ones that are well run, and do a huge amount of work.” 

In other words, they do your charitable homework for you.

Twenty-five years in, their reach has grown deep: 100 workplaces statewide participate, in a variety of ways. 

Most of the participating employers offer payroll deductions to EarthShare Oregon, allowing employees to designate specific groups they want to support, or leave it to EarthShare to split up. Many employers organize their own fundraising events and match employee donations or provide paid time off for them to support EarthShare. 

Some employers manage the program through their human resources departments, while others rely on their corporate social responsibility or sustainability departments.

In all, those 100 Oregon workplaces raised more than $500,000 last year for EarthShare Oregon’s 80 recipient groups. Half the environmental groups are in Oregon and half operate on a national or international scale.

The money goes directly to groups on the front lines of sustainability efforts in the areas of air, land and water quality; wildlife conservation; and their newest area, food justice.

Wilson says the team approach has been an effective way to tackle something as massively complex as the environment. 

“The environmental challenges we have, we can’t address them without a lot of people and a lot of money,” Wilson says. “So the more people we reach, it’s

really building the environmental community.” 

Local roots

EarthShare’s green army started here in 1989 as a collective of 13 homegrown groups, known as the Environmental Federation of Oregon. In 2000, when they had grown to include 32 local conservation groups, the federation joined with the national EarthShare network to form EarthShare Oregon. 

Today EarthShare has chapters and affiliates with reach in 25 states. 

EarthShare Oregon has steadily added “member groups,” as the recipients of funds are called, through a stringent process that occurs about every five years. 

Last year, EarthShare Oregon’s board admitted seven new nonprofits:

  • Portland-based Bark (defending and restoring Mount Hood)
  • Eugene-based Beyond Toxics (fighting chemicals and pesticides)
  • Vancouver, Wash.-based Columbia Land Trust (conservancy)
  • Portland-based Growing Gardens (organic gardens in backyards and schools)
  • Corvallis-based Institute for Applied Ecology (conservation research)
  • Eugene-based McKenzie River Trust (wetlands protection)
  • Portland-based Oregon League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (environmental advocacy)
  • Each of them complemented and added value to the existing coalition, Wilson says. 

    In the case of Growing Gardens, which donates produce to food banks, “no one (in EarthShare’s alliance) had really worked on food security before,” Wilson says. 

    The fundraising has ebbed and flowed during the recession and anemic recovery, but even as donations have slowed, the volunteer rate has climbed as people look for ways to simplify their lives and stretch a dollar. 

    by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTOS: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jan Wilson, executive director of EarthShare Oregon.Broader outreach

    One reason their model is so effective, Wilson says, is that at workplaces, they’re reaching beyond the usual suspects like bike commuters, New Seasons shoppers, or folks who volunteer for environmental groups. 

    “We get money from accountants, corporate lawyers, business people,” she says, and people who might connect to the environment by hunting, fishing, camping or going to the beach with their families.

    “You can’t stereotype what an environmentalist looks like,” Wilson says. “It’s a way to reach out ... and for them to feel like their environmental ethic is honored and supported.” 

    Stoel Rives law firm’s 400 Portland employees have come to expect fundraising drives every second week of November. Last year they held a “Give like a rockstar” campaign, raffling off Bruce Springsteen tickets and vacation days to raise about $4,000 for five selected umbrella group charities, including EarthShare Oregon. 

    This year it was “Give like a superhero,” when the law firm raffled off caricatures of employees made to look like Thor, along with restaurant gift cards and more vacation days. That raffle took in about $3,500. 

    The funds are split between Stoel Rives’ five charity groups, supplemented with cash raised from bake sales, chili cookoffs and book sales during the November kickoff week. 

    Stoel Rives has supported EarthShare Oregon for at least the past nine years, according to Phil Moran, the firm’s administrative services and sustainability manager. 

    “Many, many years ago we just did the United Way campaign,” he says. “Having EarthShare gives us the opportunity to engage more people in those causes they really care about.” 

    New directions 

    Raised in the Midwest, Wilson came to Oregon in the mid-1990s, drawn to the possibilities. “I came here to save the ancient forests,” she says. “You can’t do that in Michigan because it’s all pollution cleanup. Out here there’s something to save.” 

    She volunteered for EarthShare for a decade while living in Eugene practicing environmental law. 

    When EarthShare Oregon Executive Director Trudy Toliver left to lead Portland Farmers Market, Wilson applied for the job. 

    Since taking over, Wilson has been trying to boost the group’s social media efforts, since volunteers rely on real-time information. EarthShare keeps several calendars of volunteer opportunities hosted by member groups across the state. A fourth staff member on its team directs those efforts. 

    Wilson also has secured grants and corporate gifts. And she asks members to pay dues so that EarthShare’s operations are fully covered. Now the organization can assure that 100 percent of the workplace donations and matches go to the member groups, and not for its administrative costs.

    Not just any charity can be a member group. There’s a list of 125 groups that apply for funding in Oregon. 

    EarthShare Oregon’s board of directors (a majority of whom represent member groups) consider an array of criteria, including being in business for at least two years to show they’re fiscally sound. 

    On an annual basis, EarthShare reviews each group to ensure they’re spending the money effectively, are well run, and making an impact. 

    The leader of one of the new groups says he appreciates EarthShare’s dynamic. 

    “Nonprofit fundraising is often competitive: ‘Give to us,’ ” says David Greenberg, executive director of Growing Gardens. “EarthShare encourages collaboration and supporting multiple missions within the environmental movement. It’s a ‘Give to us’ message that resonates with many donors.”

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