Dreiling_Environmental Organizations and ... - Climate Access

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Dreiling_Environmental Organizations and ... - Climate Access

Dreiling et al. / Environmental Organizations and Communication 421meld with environmental identities, giving form to trends and clusters across the spectrumof environmental organizations (EOs) and politics. In this article we explore and analyzehow variations in environmental identities and organizational resources of EOs shape theircommunication practices.Environmental organizations act in complex fields of public opinions, memberships,allies, opponents, government officials, other EOs, and more. In this rich social context,EOs, like all organizations, must communicate and define their relationship with other socialactors and institutions. Communication strategies—the methods and forms of communicationused to achieve goals—are not independent of the social and technological context inwhich the organizations operate. Indeed, the communication strategies of EOs, we argue, areinfluenced in significant and predictable ways by their social and technological context.Our study analyzes data on a national sample of nonprofit EOs to test if EO characteristicsrelate in significant ways to the structure and costliness of communication methods. Wesurveyed more than 2,000 organizations with approximately 400 organizations responding.Our sampling methodology involved an initial selection of all EOs listing either a Web siteor an e-mail contact with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), as reported in the Guidestar 1database (Guidestar, http://www.guidestar.org). Additional data were obtained from theNational Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS). 2 At the outset, it was recognized that thepopulation of EOs that we surveyed represent a subset of all environmental advocacy organizationsin the United States. Because we relied on a database of organizations incorporatedas nonprofits in the United States, our population necessarily excludes any groups thathave not formally filed for nonprofit status. As Smith (2000) points out, many smaller, nonincorporatedgroups are left out of many analyses based on nonprofit data provided by theIRS. Andrews and Edwards (2004) argue similarly that in addition to the sampling of nonprofits,scholarship on environmental advocacy also requires case study analyses to capturethe critical dynamics of the smaller, often nonincorporated groups. Because systematic dataon these smaller organizations are not available, we use the IRS data on environmental nonprofitsas the most comprehensive database on such organizations. Indeed, as Brulle,Turner, Carmichael, and Jenkins (2007) point out, the IRS master file provides—by far—the most extensive coverage (58.1%) of EOs in their exhaustive census of U.S. EOs.Our survey questionnaire asked the official leadership of EOs to rank their communicationpractices for several organizational goals. These goals included fund-raising, membershiprecruitment and retention, publicity and education for members, publicity and education fornonmembers, communication between members, action alerts, field communication at mobilizationor direct action, 3 and lobbying and petitioning. We observed in our survey responsedata that EOs use a wide variety of communication methods to pursue their goals. Notable isthe high and seemingly regular use of computer-mediated communication, including e-mailand Web sites. This should come as no surprise, as these modes of communication offer lowcost,flexible media with global reach. Yet not all EOs use communication media at the samerate, and many EOs have clear preferences for using specific media for specific organizationalgoals. For example, some groups may use direct mail to achieve a particular goal whereas othersmay rely more on their Web sites or e-mail. Still others may use print media or radiowhereas, for various reasons, these communication methods are out of reach for other organizations.The means of communication vary, in general, not only by organization but also by thetype of goal the organization is pursuing. Our preliminary, substantive observations reveal thatDownloaded from http://oae.sagepub.com at O.A.R.E. on April 15, 2009