The Environment and More: Where a Natural Gas Company in the Northwest Sends its Grants

Oregon’s Pacific coast.

Oregon’s Pacific coast.

Environmental stewardship is frequently a part of energy companies’ corporate giving strategies as a way to offset the negative effects of their products and get some good PR. And lately, some of these companies are promoting their environmental and community support just as much as the energy services they provide that bring in the big bucks.

For example, NW Natural, a natural gas provider based in Portland, Oregon has been growing at a rate that exceeds the national average for local distribution companies. Now, it’s putting that growth to community-friendly uses like carbon-offset programs and grants to local nonprofits in its service territory of Oregon and Southwest Washington.

There’s plenty in corporate philanthropy like this to inspire cynicism, especially at a time when the energy sector is working to block effective responses to climate change and open up new swaths of public land to drilling. At the same time, given the wealth and reach of energy companies, along with their expanding footprint in local philanthropic ecosystems, it’s important for nonprofits to pay attention to who’s making grants and how to get in on the action.

Which brings us back to NW Natural. This fall, the company awarded $45,000 in grants to eight organizations working to protect the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. With a focus on both natural and urban environments, the funder awarded grants to the Forest Park Conservancy, Friends of Trees, the Columbia Springs urban natural area, and the Freshwater Trust. Other recent recipients are the Portland Parks Foundation, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Northwest Earth Institute, and the Nature Conservancy, which protects about 30 project sites in Oregon.

"We're proud to call the Pacific Northwest our home," said Von Summers, NW Natural’s community relations manager. "Which is why we feel so strongly about supporting the many organizations that care for our local habitats and recreation areas."

All of the recent NW Natural grants for environmental causes were $5,000 or $7,500, and the company contributes approximately 1 percent of net earnings before tax to charity each year. However, the environment is just one area of focus for NW Natural’s grantmaking.

Other corporate interests are the arts, children and families at risk. Aside from environmental supports like the ones highlighted here, the bulk of funding actually goes toward vulnerable kids and their families in local communities. For the 2017-2019 giving period, the funder’s nonprofit programs of focus are the American Red Cross of the Cascades region, Bridge Meadows, CASA for Children, Janus Youth Programs, and SOLVE. These Corporate Philanthropy Fund grants are more like $35,000 per year for three-year periods, and they often come with in-kind resources and employee support as well.

NW Natural’s corporate giving program is open and accessible, accepting unsolicited grant applications via mail and email with about a 30-day response time for funding decisions. In terms of service area, NW Natural serves over 140 communities in Oregon and Southwest Washington that approximately 2 million people call home. The company has donated more than $2 million to its focus programs since 2003. But with its increasing growth and shareholder involvement, the company has started giving out nearly $1 million to local nonprofits each year more recently.