EarthShare Texas, an Austin-based nonprofit that supports other environmental nonprofits, celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2023. Courtesy of EarthShare Texas.

March 17, 2023

Austin-based EarthShare Texas is a 30-year-old nonprofit that supports more than 30 local and state environmental organizations with no-strings-attached funding and partnership building. Marshall Hinsley talks to EarthShare executive director Francoise Van Keuren about how the group formed, how they raise funds and the benefits of donating through their organization.
The nonprofit recently kicked off a new campaign to engage individuals and businesses called My Earth, My Texas

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Texas Green ReportFULL TRANSCRIPT:

MARSHALL HINSLEY: A nonprofit that's connecting Texans to the organizations that are saving wild areas, cleaning up the environment, and making the state a beautiful, livable place and that you may have already donated to — in this episode of the Texas Green Report, a production of Green Source D.F.W. and the Memnosyne Institute.

I'm Marshall Hinsley.

If you've ever shopped for groceries at H.E.B. anytime around Earth Day, you may have torn a small tear sheet off of a promotion at the register and given it to the cashier to add $1, $3 or $5 to your total in order to help out the planet.

Or if you are a Reliant Energy customer, you may participate in the EcoShare program.

If so, you're already familiar with the work of our guests for this episode.

Francoise Van Keuren is the executive director of EarthShare Texas, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit raising and distributing funds to qualifying member charities that work on campaigns that range from improving air quality and rehabilitating wildlife to developing green building technology and restoring native Texas ecosystems.

EarthShare Texas is an organization for organizations.

Based in Austin, EarthShare Texas has a small team of just nine employees and an operational budget that takes only 9 percent out of the donations it receives. Though the money raised through H.E.B. and Reliant Energy are pass-through funds, which means that 100 percent of the money raised in the programs goes to member nonprofits in the state.

Also EarthShare Texas gives its nonprofit member organizations funding with no strings attached, and we'll find out more about why that's important in a minute. But first, Francoise, how do you describe what EarthShare Texas is?

Francoise Van KeurenEarthShare Texas is a nonprofit federation raising unrestricted funds and awareness for more than 30 local and statewide environmental nonprofits.

Our mission is to build support for these local nonprofits through fundraising and partnership building with businesses municipalities and individuals, like you and me.

So, EarthShare Texas was formed 30 years ago by leaders in the environmental space who recognized that for us to care more deeply for our state from an environmental perspective, we also need to support local nonprofits doing the hard work in these communities.

Ultimately, it's grown from then to focus on engagement with companies through workplace giving. We've started to incorporate more awareness building in our work, and we've also started to incorporate some more capacity building in our work. One of the reasons we do focus on unrestricted funds, for example, is we recognize that nonprofits, they are organizations just like any other.

They need to make sure that they're supporting their talent. They need to be supporting their innovation, and so providing those unrestricted funds helps them have a baseline to thrive and better serve their communities as well.

What do you mean by unrestricted funds?

Unrestricted funds is funding that can be given to a nonprofit that can be used for their operations.

So, often when you think about funding, it might be tied to a grant. So, a specific program that that nonprofit might be focusing on, where they're really only restricted to use those funds for that grant or for that program. Unrestricted means that in times when maybe there is a pandemic, for example, and a little bit of chaos out there, if there are grants that might disappear because maybe folks are feeling a little bit, tepid about getting involved in the community because they're worried about some of the things that's going on with their own organizations — that unrestricted funding is there to support that organization to make it through that crisis. Unrestricted funds can also be used for things like bringing on new talents, carving out additional funding for a new program that you might want to start as a nonprofit as well, and really just everything in between that might not be covered by the typical grant funding scenario.

How does Earth share Texas raise funds?

We do it in several ways: One is through individual contributions. You know, the typical, you go and you find a nonprofit and you donate. One of the benefits of donating to the EarthShare Texas federation, if you are uncertain of what sort of cause you want to get behind, we have plenty of different nonprofits across the spectrum of environmentalism, including conservation, renewable energy, ecodesign,  wildlife restoration — all sorts of different areas that we work in.

We also fundraise through partnerships with businesses. So, sometimes that's through workplace giving or employee engagement, giving that business the opportunity to show that their employees care, and give them that opportunity to support the nonprofits that they appreciate in their community.

xAnd then we also work with benefits for businesses to benefit our nonprofits through cause marketing campaigns. So again, giving the customer an opportunity to contribute to the environment through a product or a tear pad campaign or something to that effect.

EarthShare Texas has a sustainability challenge campaign each spring in the weeks leading up to Earth Day. What is My Earth, My Texas?

It is a campaign that works with both individuals and also businesses, and it's really all about bringing awareness to the everyday simple actions you can take as an individual to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

So it can be things like, I'm composting, I am building a butterfly garden or a rainwater recapture garden. It can be being more civically involved — things like that. And the way we're engaging individuals is through an Instagram challenge, really — it's kind of that glossy look at this photo of me volunteering with a local nonprofit, but also encouraging folks to, again, get engaged.

That volunteering component is very important. And, then on the other side, we're working with businesses to bring the same sort of sustainability behaviors to their workforce in a fun, compelling, game-ified and competitive way where you can have individuals who are gathering points based on, I brought my reusable cup to the office today, or I remembered to shut off my monitor.

And what's kind of cool about that sustainability challenge is with each action that an employee is taking, there is actually a tangible, environmental impact attached to that. So, what amount of gallons of water are you conserving by taking a shorter shower? Or what waste are you diverting by composting? How are you reducing your own personal emissions, CO2 emissions, by riding your bike to work instead of driving? And so that's kind of a fun way — you're engaging in these actions, but you can also calculate what is the approximate value of that in terms of environmental impact as well?

When it comes to actual projects that the program has funded, do you have examples of things that have come about through this engagement?

Yeah. So, just as you know, to put a number to this as well, so we've been around for 30 years now. We actually just celebrated our 30-year birthday in 2022, and we have raised more than $20 million for our environmental nonprofits through that. Because these are unrestricted funds, we are not necessarily asking our members to put them specifically to a program.

But what I can say is that these are the organization that after the Bastrop fires, , they were out there planting thousands of loblolly pines. These are the organizations that during the coastal erosion that we're currently experiencing on the Gulf Coast are going out there and physically planting cordgrass. They're creating oyster reefs to protect our shores.

These are folks who are taking concrete-dense cities like Austin and Houston and creating nature-based solutions, nature-based infrastructure, and creating more parks and walkways — areas that many of us enjoyed during the pandemic when we were stir crazy in our homes.

So, these are examples of the types of work — when someone is supporting the federation, they are supporting the acts of those nonprofits, creating those spaces, protecting those coasts and overall making our state a more enjoyable place to live.

What are some of the more recognizable recipients of these funds?

Yeah, so there are plenty. We have more than 30 nonprofits within our federation, but some that might be more familiar are Big Bend Conservancy, the Coastal Prairie Conservancy, outside Houston: Galveston Bay Foundation, the Audubon Foundation of Texas. Here down in Austin, of course we have Austin Parks Foundation.

If anyone's really into conservation and bats, Bat Conservation International is a group of ours. So, lots of groups that are going to be more local and regional. But then we also work with larger, national groups that have operations and focus areas here in Texas. So, that would include groups like the National Wildlife Federation, Public Citizen, E.D.F., Sierra Club — some of these other groups that have more of a national presence, but obviously Texas is a really important state from an environmental perspective, and so they have offices down here as well.

For someone learning about EarthShare Texas for the first time, whether a business owner or just an individual, how would they begin to become involved?

FRANCOISE VAN KEUREN: It's interesting. I think that many Texans, whether generational or new arrivals, they already deeply care about the environment, but they just don't know how to best support it. You know, it can be really overwhelming thinking about all the areas that impact our lives, whether it's pollution, climate change or how to be strong stewards of our outdoor space.

So, fortunately a lot of our nonprofits are working tirelessly in each of these areas. So, for an individual who is just starting to begin  — wants to get more involved — we ask that you reach out to us. We want you to come join our movement. We want you to come join the incredible work that our nonprofits are doing.

So, whether that's you getting involved more in volunteering — if that is the donation that you're looking for. Or if My Earth My Texas, again, coming back to that sustainability challenge where I don't think folks realize that they're slight changes in your everyday life that can make you a more sustainable person, when you think about your lifestyle.

But, ultimately we would love for you to reach out. You know, we're on Instagram. We're on Facebook. We have our My Earth, My Texas campaign. And then we also have various newsletters that share local events that are happening in terms of volunteering. They share more information about what's going on in the ecosystem in your backyard — often published by our local nonprofit members who know better than any of us what might be going in the ecosystem in your backyard.

Don't let it get, don't be overwhelmed. There's a lot going out there, but there are plenty of people who are excited to have you come join in and be a part of, our collective impact.

And where can people find out more information about earth share Texas.

We are at — that is our website. And then you can also reach out to us at And we are on Instagram and Facebook under the same name, EarthShare Texas, and we hope you'll come find us there.

And of course, people can donate each spring to earth share Texas at an H.E.B. register.

So they're changing it this year where it's not just the tear — they're eliminating the actual tear pad. What it's going to be now is as you're at the checkout, there's going to be a prompt where you can round up to the nearest dollar, or you can add one, three or $5, I believe is the amount, to your bill.

And that actually goes towards EarthShare Texas. So, the last few years we've made $175,000 a year through that campaign.

We have a similar program with Reliant Energy called EcoShare, where an individual, again, this is a customer, where they can go to their energy bill — they can add $3 or $5 to that bill.

Part of that goes towards purchasing a carbon offset. And then part of that goes towards — or I should say carbon credit — and then part of that goes towards EarthShare Texas. And, we raise — let's see, at the peak we were raising somewhere around $350,000 a year. That's come down a bit to around $200,000 a year. But, it's still — it's significant. And that is a company that is engaging its customer base to be a part of the environmental space through donations as well. And it's significant. It's a lot of money that people are bringing to these nonprofits as a result as well.

Thank you Francoise, for sharing the work of Earth's share Texas.

Thank you so much, Marshall. You enjoy the rest of your day.

I'm Marshall HInsley for the Texas Green Report.

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