Too Many Green Groups?
By Michael Halicki
This piece originally appeared in issue no. 13 of Georgia Nonprofit NOW magazine, a member publication of the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, available online at gcn.org/NOW under the title Cultivating a Landscape of Strengths: How a crowded subsector means greater impact
Shortly after settling into my role at Park Pride, I was asked by a good friend why there are so many groups supporting parks and greenspaces in Atlanta. “Wouldn’t it be more efficient,” my friend reasoned, “if there was just one group that did it all?”
On the surface, my friend seemed to have a point. This spring, Park Pride hosted the 14th annual Parks and Greenspace Conference at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. By all accounts, the conference was a Who’s Who of Atlanta’s parks and greenspace community, with keynote speakers from national nonprofits including American Rivers, The Conservation Fund, and The Trust for Public Land. One breakout session featured representatives from the Piedmont Park Conservancy, Chastain Park Conservancy, and Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy, while another featured a collection of three neighborhood Friends of the Park groups. Add big hitters like Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and Trees Atlanta to this catalog of green groups, and it’s tempting to say, “Enough! Do we really need this many nonprofits working on one cause?”
In short, my answer is yes. Where my friend sees this diversity as a sign of waste and inefficiency, I see the opposite. It’s clear, when these organizations meet up, how the strengths and core competencies of each individual group both stand out and work in concert.
Like any other social cause, “parks and greenspace” isn’t a single issue: It is a cluster of overlapping and interrelated issues, coming together in a range of permutations. Each organization at our conference addresses the cause on a different geographic scale (national groups with a local presence, city-wide groups, regional groups, and groups focused on individual spaces), and with a unique scope (a single issue within a larger ecological framework, like Atlanta Audubon, or a focus on one aspect of greenspace development, like advocacy or funding).
Take the mix of organizations that come together in support of the BeltLine, turning a trail and transportation corridor into a resource for arts, culture, health, and economic revitalization. Park Pride aids the BeltLine by leveraging our core competencies—expertise in organizing groups to support local neighborhood greenspaces and large-scale service projects in Atlanta and DeKalb parks—to engage volunteers through our Adopt-the-Atlanta BeltLine program. Similarly, Trees Atlanta employs its strengths to plant, maintain, and provide programming for a large-scale reforestation of the entire BeltLine corridor, known as the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum.
Projects like the BeltLine demonstrate how the city’s green groups are far more efficient and effective than a single organization—however big—could be while attempting to be all things to all people. Simply put, the multiplicity of parks and greenspace organizations allows Park Pride to focus on our strengths, and to partner with peer groups who do what we can’t.
The same applies to the Georgia nonprofit community at large. In fairness to critics like my friend, the sector has had some issues with duplication; the recession forced several nonprofits competing for the same supporters either to merge or fold. But as the economic recovery continues, the emerging story I see is one in which our specialties give us strength, flexibility, and the unique opportunity to advance our shared cause beyond what anyone could accomplish on their own. The diversity of the nonprofit sector needs to be more readily understood not just as a strength, but as a hallmark of our impact.
Michael Halicki is the Executive Director for Park Pride, a park and community advocacy organization that helps neighborhoods in the City of Atlanta and DeKalb County improve their parks.