From Social Movement to Public
The Organizational Transformation of
Environmentalism in the United States
Professionals keep the movement organized. Amateurs keep it honest.
—STEPHEN FOX,John Muir and His Legacy
In no other arena of the public interest nonprofit sector has the transformation from social movement to contemporary professionalized national organizations been as pronounced and significant as in the environmental movement. 1 Forty years ago, the environmental movement in the United States included about 150,000 citizens who belonged to environmental groups. The collective financial resources of existing groups amounted to less than $20 million annually. Today, more than eight million citizens are affiliated with national environmental organizations, contributing more than $750 million a year to environmental causes. By the end of the century, the collective wealth of the national environmental movement will likely reach the $1 billion mark.
Prior to the 1960s, the emergence and organizational development of the American conservation movement in the United States was an important antecedent to the more recent environmental expansion. In many historical accounts, special attention is given to the emergence of organized constituencies focused on conservation of the nation's natural resources. 2 The earliest citizen mobilizations for the environment appeared as conservation groups in the late nineteenth century; however, adherents to the cause of conservation were sufficiently diverse, from the progressive “wise use” followers at the turn of the century to wilderness preservationists, that the movement, such as it was, remained unorganized, “small, divided, and frequently uncertain.” 3 The Sierra Club, founded in 1892, the National Audubon Society, founded in 1905, and the National Parks and Conserva-