How Earthwatch Works

Earthwatch Institute Leadership and Funding

­This guy, Edward Wilson, is the CEO of Earthwatch.
­This guy, Edward Wilson, is the CEO of Earthwatch.
Photo courtesy Earthwatch Institute

The international organization is headquartered in Maynard, Mass., with offices in England, Australia and Japan. The President and CEO, Edward Wilson, leads the environmental charge. Earthwatch is also led by a board of directors with representatives from every country that has an office. Board members serve as the group's ambassadors and help direct its focus. In addition, the International Advisory Council, with educators and scientists from every continent except Antarctica, works closely with the board and offers opinions on the group's research, education and conservation initiatives.

Earthwatch doesn't work in a vacuum though. The group prides itself on its community involvement and its ability to bring people together for a common cause. To that end, Earthwatch has more than 50 corporate partners including such big name companies as Ford Motor Company, Starbucks, Wells Fargo and Discovery Communications. Partners assist Earthwatch in a variety of ways: Some companies pay for employees' participation on expeditions, some promote awareness of Earthwatch and its message and others fund scientific research.

All that research requires cash. Surprisingly, a significant amount of Earthwatch's funding comes not from its corporate partnerships, but from its volunteers. Expeditions average $2,200 for two to 21 days. Along with covering the individual's food and lodging, the fee helps to support the specific research project. In 2005, 33 percent of Earthwatch's revenues came from expedition funding. The corporate partnerships, grants and related contributions made up the bulk of the remainder at 60 percent, while Earthwatch's 20,000 members brought in 5 percent. The ever-helpful "other" made up the remaining 2 percent [source: annual report].

On the expenses side, the group doesn't seem to squander any of its income. Rated four out of four stars in 2005 by the independent charity evaluator, Charity Navigator, Earthwatch uses 86 cents of every dollar it receives to fund programs [source: annual report]. According to Charity Navigator, the most efficient charities spend at least 75 cents of every dollar on programs and services [source: Charity Navigator].

But what exactly are these "program services?" And what kind of research does the group fund? On the next page we'll delve deeper into Earthwatch's operations and their three-point approach to sustainability.