Friends of Nature (FON) is China’s oldest and best-known grassroots environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) with a Beijing office and volunteer groups in other provinces. Over the last 25 years, FON has been working to strengthen public participation in environmental protection, and prior to 2015, FON relied mainly on foreign funding. When China's Foreign NGO Law was announced in 2015, FON saw the urgent need to diversify its funding sources and change its business model to expand its network of members and supporters, setting up the FON Foundation as a vehicle for new fundraising strategies. FON also hired a full-time fundraiser and fundraising team to diversify local funding, instituting a micro-donation program to raise money online from individual donors.
Theory of Change
Increased citizen awareness and the exercise of the right to public participation will result in better environmental protection.
FON engages in public and legal advocacy for environmental protection and strengthening citizen rights to free expression, information and remedy in protecting the environment. It is a pioneer in the use of public-interest environmental lawsuits. FON also organizes environmental education programs and public activities around air and water pollution, waste reduction, low carbon lifestyles, and environmental social entrepreneurship. In 2015, it partnered with the Beijing Gaia Consultancy to establish the Gaia Nature School to expand its environmental education programs by operating as a social enterprise and charging fees for classes and training. The school has also set up branches in two other provinces. The annual revenue of around $145,000 USD helps to cover the overall costs of FON's environmental education programs.
Since 2015, FON has filed 40 public interest environmental lawsuits against polluting companies, and FON’s new fundraising strategy has reaped significant dividends. From 2015 to 2018, revenues nearly tripled, largely because of growth in Chinese foundation grants and individual donations. Over the last few years, FON has attracted 1,500 regular monthly donors whose online donations more than doubled from 2017 to 2018. These monthly donations provide an important source of income for sustaining FON’s public interest litigation work, which many Chinese foundations and companies will not support.