Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Legacy #9

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

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Beldon’s funding and leadership support significantly strengthened League of Conservation Voters Education Fund affiliates in Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, helping increase the capacity of the environmental movement in those states in a manner that remains impactful today.

Beldon invested heavily in the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund at both the national and state level. In four of Beldon’s five key states (Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) the Fund’s support played a vital role in strengthening and growing state LCVEF affiliates. Furthermore, Beldon’s engagement in the national and state leagues helped support a culture shift in those institutions, which has led to greater synergy and integration between state and national entities. During Beldon’s years, the state leagues were linked together by the Federation of State Conservation Voter Leagues, which operated in tandem with the national LCVEF. Today, the Federation has merged with the national league and its coordination and capacity-building functions have been significantly elevated within the national organization.

The growth of the state leagues in the key states, which are among the strongest in the country, is an important Beldon legacy. These organizations have remained strong and have continued to increase their capacity to advance environmental policy change since Beldon left the field. In each of these states, Beldon also invested in other environmental organizations and collaborative vehicles, many of which also remain integral to the environmental movement today. Because of the significance of the state leagues in Beldon’s strategy, this assessment looked at these organizations at three points in time: 2002, during early Beldon support; 2008, as Beldon closed; and today. This review shows an impressive trajectory of growth and increased capacity. Although Beldon only provided funding for 501(c)(3) organizations, information about 501(c)(4) budgets are included in this assessment because it provides a useful overall picture of the organization’s strength and development over time. The affiliate’s staff growth, supporter growth, fundraising growth, and other relevant measures of capacity and strength were also included in this assessment.

In Michigan, the LCVEF state affiliate has grown considerably since Beldon’s early investments. This can be seen in the growth of its operating budget in both its 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) operations (see table below). Leaders of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund noted that Beldon helped it grow from a nascent organization that had gone through four executive directors in five years to a thriving organizing by investing in fundraising expertise and staffing, board development, and the development of effective advocacy campaigns, with core messaging as a fundamental component. With Beldon funding and support, Michigan LCVEF built a strong board and established the first collaborative email action alert system to support its work on a common agenda, which has evolved to become one of the most sophisticated communications systems in the state. Since Beldon left the field, Michigan LCVEF has increased its capacity to effect change by growing from 6.5 staff members in 2009 to approximately 16 staff members in 2014. In addition, a number of candidates endorsed by environmentalists have gone on to win elections; 33 of 48 candidates endorsed since 2008 have been elected.

Michigan LCVEFBudget in first year of Beldon funding (2004)Budget in last year of Beldon funding (2008)Budget today (2014)

In Minnesota, the state LCVEF affiliate is called Conservation Minnesota and has grown considerably from when Beldon first invested in it in 2002 (see table below). A key leader of Conservation Minnesota noted that Beldon helped provide a stable source of support during a time when the organization was establishing itself. This was an entrepreneurial phase when the affiliate was testing different strategies. These tests ultimately led the organization to create a strategic framework that enabled Conservation Minnesota to grow its support base and influence. From 2011 to today, Conservation Minnesota has increased its capacity considerably, growing its staff from 6 to 11, growing its donors from 198 to 1058, increasing its activists from 1,300 to 42,000, and growing its Facebook support from 840 to 15,500. Most importantly, Conservation Minnesota has increased its advocacy influence in legislative districts in Minnesota. In 2011, Conservation Minnesota had less than 2% of legislative districts with 100+ members; today, they have 100+ members in 70% of legislative districts. Conservation Minnesota was also a lead partner in the successful effort in 2008 to pass a constitutional amendment that provided dedicated funding for environmental and conservation initiatives.

Minnesota LCVEFBudget in first year of Beldon funding (2002)Budget in last year of Beldon funding (2008)Budget today (2013-2014)

In North Carolina, the state affiliate has also experienced growth (see table below). It is worth noting that in 2014, a large, unexpected gift increased both its 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) budgets. This large gift can be seen as an indication of the confidence the donor has in the North Carolina affiliate to deliver results. Leaders of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters Foundation reported that Beldon helped it grow by providing year-long training around infrastructure, fundraising, and communications as well as providing consistent support so that they could focus on building the organization. The leaders also credit Beldon with pushing them to collaborate and think strategically. Although the environmental community in North Carolina doesn’t always play “nicely” together, interviewees suggested that the collaborative conversations and structures Beldon supported helped push members of the community to figure out how to work together.

North Carolina LCVFBudget in first year of Beldon funding (2003)Budget in last year of Beldon funding (2008)Budget today (2014)

Since Beldon left the field, North Carolina LCVF has recruited new, powerful board members. It has also expanded staff capacity over the past five years, which has increased its media outreach significantly, and it plans to expand staff capacity even more in the coming year. In addition, the 501(c)(4) and PAC raised $176,000 in 2012 for electoral programming, besting its previous record of $111,000 in 2006. This meant that, besides labor and legal organizations, the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters was one of the top investors in the America Votes table in North Carolina.

Beldon is also a part of the success story of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. This can be seen in the growth of its operating budget in both its 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4) and PAC (see table below). Although the current 501(c)(3) budget is smaller than before the Beldon spend out, the budget is substantially larger than when Beldon first started funding the Wisconsin affiliate. State leaders said that Beldon helped the Wisconsin affiliate grow by helping it build a successful statewide field-organizing program, diversifying its fundraising base through its training to build fundraising capacity, and helping it convene the environmental community to set shared legislative priorities. Leaders specifically point to Beldon’s support in helping pass the Great Lakes Compact, reauthorize the Stewardship Fund, and pass the 2006 Clean Energy Act. They further note that Beldon’s funding helped strengthen the Wisconsin LCVEF affiliate by raising the profile and power of the environmental community to the level of other progressive issues, such as labor and choice.

Wisconsin LCVEFBudget in first year of Beldon funding (2002)Budget in last year of Beldon funding (2008)Budget today (2014)
501(c)(4) & PAC4$80,400$311,818$588,061

Since Beldon left the field, Wisconsin LCVEF increased its base considerably. Facebook support grew from 690 in 2010 to 15,560 in 2013, and its email database increased from 3,938 in 2008 to 17,437 in 2013. Board fundraising rose from $26,478 in 2008 to $123,160 in 2012, and online donations increased from $23,888 in 2010 to $109,608 in 2013. A further sign of Wisconsin LCVEF’s increasingly powerful base is seen in the growth of top-level activist leaders, which increased from 15 in 2008, to 2,556 in 2013. Facing the shift in power in Wisconsin over the past few years, several observed that the League’s power has meant the environment has not been a target in the same way other progressive issues have been in Wisconsin under Governor Walker.

“If it had not been for Beldon the [Wisconsin] League would not have been strong, and the environment [would] not be on the radar when it came to elections. No environmental groups were at the table with unions and choice groups. Because of that our issues were 3rd and 4th tier. Now we are at the table and one of the bigger [nonpartisan civic engagement] players, and because of that legislators care about what we think and that is a key thing that would not have been here but for Beldon.”

The Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Education Fund’s state affiliates are all stronger and more powerful than they were 11 years ago when Beldon began funding many of them. Beldon’s investments helped make these state affiliates become more attractive to other donors, increasing confidence in the affiliates’ abilities to use significant resources in effective ways. More broadly, the state leagues represent a key element of both the environmental and progressive community infrastructure. In many ways, they serve as living legacies of Beldon’s theory and approach of investing in long-term state-based capacity to advance environmental issues.

“A huge piece of infrastructure they [Beldon] built was LCV... the fact that LCV is a feared and respected organization is really thanks to Beldon.”

1 The Beldon Fund at no time funded 501(c)(4) activities.
2 The Beldon Fund at no time funded 501(c)(4) activities.
3 The Beldon Fund at no time funded 501(c)(4) activities.
4 The Beldon Fund at no time funded 501(c)(4) activities.