Nonprofits are constantly panning for new donations. And Earth Share seems to have struck a vein of gold in an old source.

The federation of 40 environmental organizations, which includes such stalwarts as Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund, and Sierra Club, is breaking into corporate workplace drives.

Once the exclusive hunting ground of United Way, the annual officewide charity appeal is embracing less-traditional organizations. And the rewards for the newcomers are impressive.

Donations to Earth Share reached $8 million last year - a 20 percent annual growth rate since its founding in 1988.

Why the outpouring of generosity when overall donations to nonprofits only narrowly outpace inflation?

"Introducing choice into the workplace increases the overall amount given," says Kalman Stein, Earth Share's executive director. "That's almost incontestable at this point."

Free-market competition among charities soliciting in the workplace is winning converts. Spurred on by the United Way scandal earlier this year, more United Way-only campaigns have been pryed open.

"It made people realize that United Way is not perfect," says Mr. Stein, referring to the February allegations of lavish spending and mismanagement.

But the free-market approach has not hurt the pioneer of workplace charity either. On the contrary, when Nike opened its United Way-only campaign in 1990 overall giving increased by 150 percent, with United Way receiving a 75-percent jump in donations.

For organizations such as Earth Share, it's a cost-effective means of reaching new donors.

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