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Research on high-impact environmental nonprofits in Minnesota!

March 14th, 2011 by dawn Leave a reply »

We are expanding our research to Minnesota! The Minnesota Community Foundation and the Saint Paul Community Foundation are partnering with Philanthropedia to bring our methodology to their community. Through this partnership, we hope to identify nonprofits that are doing outstanding work in the areas of workforce development and the environment in Minnesota.

The purpose of this blog post is to explain:

  1. Why we think the environment is an interesting area to research in Minnesota
  2. What are some of the nuances of the issue area that helped us decide what type of nonprofits we ought to include in our research

…so you can understand what we considered as we refined our thinking about the research.

If you are an expert in the environment in Minnesota, you should have received an email from us with a link to our survey and we hope you will share your perspective and insights with us! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact me at

Additionally, I’m sure I haven’t been able to capture every nuance in this sector, so I invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might think about this work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, I hope you will learn something new and tune in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!

These findings were a result of interviewing sixteen influential experts in the field. I want to thank them for their time to share their expertise with me.


The environment is of huge importance to Minnesotans. This was made clear on November 4, 2008, when Minnesota voters approved a proposed Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that raised the sales and use tax rate by three-eighths of one percent on taxable sales. Out of the four funds, three were dedicated to environment and conservation. The Outdoor Heritage Fund is meant to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for game, fish, and wildlife. The Clean Water Fund is meant to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater. And the Parks and Trails Fund is meant to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance. (Source)

After speaking with experts in the field, I realized there are many sub-topics within the environment in Minnesota. Here are some of the main topics that kept emerging from the interviews I had with experts in the field.

  1. Water Quality & Quantity: Minnesota is widely perceived as a water-rich state. After all, it is known as “the land of 10,000 lakes.” However, of the lakes that have been tested, 30 percent are polluted. In Northern Minnesota, one of the main issues some people worry about is the newly proposed copper and nickel mine because of the pollution it might emit into the nearby waters. This mine is near the boundary waters canoe area wilderness which is the most visited wilderness in the U.S.
  2. Land Conservation: This includes the conservation of native grasslands, prairies, forests, and wetlands.
  3. Air Quality: This pertains to air pollution which is an important issue in Minnesota because of its coal-fired power plants.
  4. Renewable Energy: All forms of renewable energy are important for the issue pertaining to climate change and job creation. In particular, Minnesota is among the nation’s leaders in wind energy production.
  5. Providing Access to the Outdoors (Parks & Trails): Minnesotans value the outdoors tremendously, hence providing access to the outdoors in the forms of parks and trails is an important environmental issue.
  6. Habitat Preservation: This includes protecting habitats for game, fish, and wildlife.
  7. Climate Change: Some experts describe climate change as one of the most important problems, hence we felt despite the controversy around this topic, we ought to include this in the scope of our research. Furthermore, it is closely tied to renewable energy, biomass research, and habitat preservation.
  8. Sustainable Development: This is closely tied to climate change and is about developing socially just and economically sustainable communities, which includes smart growth, planning transits, and corridors.

From our interviews we have identified the following types of organizations that work in this field, and have invited experts in each of these categories to share their perspective with us:

  1. Funders: National foundations funding in Minnesota, local foundations, corporate foundations, community foundations, the state and local governments.
  2. Government Entities: Department of Natural Resources, Board of Soil and Water Resources, Pollution Control Agency, Forest Resources Council, Office of Energy Security, Department of Transportation.
  3. Nonprofit Organizations: Nonprofits that educate the public, do advocacy work, or provide direct services, this includes environmentalist and sportsmen groups.
  4. Associations: Lake Associations, Chamber of Commerce, and other types of associations.
  5. Research and Policy Organizations
  6. Business and Industry Associations

Therefore, the scope of this research will be focused on nonprofits organizations that could work on on water, land and air conservation, renewable energy, providing access to the outdoors (parks and trails), habitat preservation (wildlife conservation), climate change, and sustainable development (land use planning, transportation). And these nonprofits might focus on different kinds of activities: policy, research, advocacy, direct services, education, or be community based organizations. Specifically excluded from consideration are organizations that focus on agriculture and food, environmental health, and green building.

These are just a summary of my notes after having talked to sixteen experts in the environment field. What do you think? What have I missed? What might you add? Please feel free to leave a comment and help build on these notes.


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