What We Are Doing Is Not Enough

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

If Aldo Leopold were around today I feel like we would be best friends.  Mostly because he would not have a choice if he wanted to be my friend.  I would just pester him until he told me something insightful and profound that I could apply to my work.  I am a professional pesterer, you should ask my parents.  But since being friends with Aldo Leopold is not really possible, unless I went to a medium, I will just have to rely on his writing.  (But seriously we would be like best friends forever. Friendship bracelets and all).

Today in trying to think of what I wanted to write about for this week’s blog I decided to see if Leopold had anything to contribute.  So like any intelligent, well-read person, I googled “Aldo Leopold Quotes.”  I know what you all are thinking. “Wow. I never would have thought to google that.”  I came across the above quote, which I could not have found at a better time.

I graduated from college knowing about various environmental issues within my state, across the county, and across the globe.  What I did not graduate with was a realistic understanding of these issues.  I knew of the general problems, but I did not realize how challenging it would be to fix these problems.  I never expected to have to learn the lesson that just because we may be right on a particular issue, does not mean we will win.  Or that sometimes we have to concede and compromise to the political game at hand.

Now that I am a year out of school and a year into learning about, and working in, the realm of Maryland’s environmental issues, I am constantly gaining perspective of the reality in which we work.  I have observed effective coalitions form within the environmental community to take on an issue.  These coalitions and collaborations have made progress, but they are certainly not enough to create the real systemic change we seek to achieve in Maryland.  We need to begin forming partnerships outside of the environmental community.

Think of how influential we could be if we began investing in relationships outside of the environmental community, if we got involved in issues like the Dream Act or Marriage Equality.  These issues are obviously not environmental ones, but their activists are likely to be supportive.  Most environmental groups tend to have their own rational for not being able to form these alliances, but someone answer me this.  If we cannot support issues outside of our own priorities how can we expect others to support our own causes?

I do not want to write this as if the entire environmental community is at fault, because that is definitely not the case, but they are most certainly not in the majority.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review published the article, “The Permanent Disruption of Social Media,” which explores the impact of social media on the relationship between nonprofits and their supporters/donors.  Nonprofits incorporated social media into their traditional donor engagement model with the mindset of what the donor could provide for the nonprofit.  The problem with this is that the traditional model of donor engagement is not applicable today.  It is not so black and white.  The article illustrated the need to develop a new model of donor engagement, which focuses on what the nonprofit can provide for the donor, strengthening the relationship between the two and increasing the influence of the nonprofit.  This article was obviously written about donor cultivation in the age of the internet and social media, but I think the basic lessons learned can be applied to building relationships outside our environmental community.

If we approach relationship building from the mindset of what I or my organization can do for another cause we can build trust, we can reach a potentially new constituency, and we can provide strength to help achieve a social win.  The time you spent helping this cause developed trust and strengthened your alliance with another organization(s), who in turn, will be available to help achieve your initiative.

We can only achieve so much working within our own community.  Diversifying our collaborative base strengthens our influence and cultivates the power to achieve the real systemic wins and really tackle “the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”