“Toxic workplace.” “Kick A** NGO.” “Stay away from this company!”
Those are some of the comments about environmental and conservation groups on Glassdoor, a website that promotes “radical transparency” about workplaces by allowing users to anonymously review their organizations.
The reviews and ratings offer glimpses into workers’ experiences inside major environmental and conservation groups, many of which employ hundreds — or in some cases thousands — of employees. Those organizations are often instrumental in swaying federal and state policies on everything from climate change and clean water to endangered species protections and land conservation.
E&E News reviewed Glassdoor ratings of 29 major national environmental and conservation groups as of July 25, excluding some with fewer than 25 reviews.
Among those, Earthjustice received the top marks, getting 4.6 stars out of 5. Other highly rated groups were the Nature Conservancy (4.4), Ducks Unlimited (4.3), Friends of the Earth (4.3) and the Trust for Public Land (4.2).
Defenders of Wildlife and Environment America received the lowest ratings of the groups reviewed; they each received ratings of 2.1 out of 5. Among the other groups with the lowest ratings of those reviewed: the League of Conservation Voters (2.8), the Sierra Club (3.1) and 350.org (3.3).
Glassdoor says its ratings are determined by recent employee reviews, with more emphasis given to more current reviews. According to its scale, employees who rate organizations between 4.01 and 5 are “very satisfied,” while ratings of 0 to 1.5 indicate that employees are “very dissatisfied.”
Happy staffers stick around
While national environmental and conservation groups’ missions tend to attract potential workers, their workplace reputations — including what potential employees see on sites such as Glassdoor — could also help or hinder groups’ ability to lure talent.
And just how happy groups keep their employees is a factor in retaining those talented workers, said Andrés Jimenez, executive director of Green 2.0, a nonprofit aimed at boosting diversity in the environmental movement.
When organizations look after employees’ “well-being, both of their careers and mental well-being, that's going to lead to success, and it's going to lead to high morale,” said Jimenez. “When organizations are just looking at the bottom line and skipping over the well-being of their staff in place of the well-being of their programs, that sets up an organization to fail when it comes to keeping good staff.”
Glassdoor reviews aren’t a perfect view into organizations, and the site has plenty of critics. In order to encourage candor, the platform allows current and former employees to leave reviews anonymously and admits that it can’t fully confirm users’ identities. Detractors say those features can lead to rants from unhappy employees, thereby limiting the site’s value to job seekers.
But despite its shortcomings, the site offers a large data set about morale, salaries, benefits and diversity at places whose internal workings are often opaque to the public. Job seekers, managers and donors are among those who may be interested in organizations’ Glassdoor ratings.
There’s an opportunity for nonprofits and people who study these groups to think about how surveys can help inform potential employees about what they might be getting into when they take a new job, said Barry Rabe, an environmental policy professor at the University of Michigan.
When students who are interested in working for nonprofit groups like these come out of degree programs, he said, “they've got the website and initial interview, but they really don't know much about the culture of a place or anything else.”
Glassdoor reviews of Earthjustice point to the benefits, team and leadership as perks of the job.
But Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen highlighted the opportunity to accomplish important goals as the main attraction for many employees.
“We have an incredible staff where so many people are pulling together to confront things that could be better and actually work to make them better,” Dillen said. “This is the ultimate collective enterprise, and I’m so grateful to have the staff who are collectively rising to it.”
Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam said he’s proud of his group’s rating and hopes to boost it even further.
“That rating is occurring at a time of pretty big changes in our organization, in the sense that we’re very much in growth mode,” said Putnam, who previously served as a Florida Republican congressman.
“We hired over 70 new people last year, and we are hiring 100 people this year. And for a small organization, managing that type of change and growth without impacting culture is a really important balance to maintain, so I take some measure of comfort that we’re getting it right, knowing we’re not getting it perfectly.”
Reviewers at another highly ranked group, the Trust for Public Land, pointed to the mission and the staff as a bonus of working at the conservation group.
“Trust for Public Land’s commitment to [diversity, equity and inclusion] and our shared values of belonging, creativity, collaboration, impact and hope are the foundation of our workplace culture, and we will continue to work hard to ensure our policies and practices are worthy of the incredible team we have, and the diverse communities in which we work,” said Jeff Danter, the conservation group’s executive vice president.
Many environmental and conservation nonprofits have struggled with low morale in recent years, which can be reflected in their Glassdoor reviews.
Executives, staffers and outside observers point to a variety of reasons for those internal struggles, including rifts between employees and managers surrounding union contracts, conflicts over boosting diversity, budget shortfalls, layoffs and high turnover in some groups.
Two of the organizations with lower ratings among those surveyed — Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club — have announced layoffs in recent months. Defenders’ employees and management are also involved in contentious negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement after staff formed a union in 2021.
“I continue to be happy here,” an anonymous reviewer identified as a Defenders employee posted last October. That reviewer listed the pros of the job as: “Competitive salary. great mission, smart colleagues, treated w/ respect.” The cons: “It’s a tumultuous time internally.”
Another July review from someone identified as a former HR data analyst called Defenders a “Toxic Workplace Environment,” citing “extreme blow ups, yelling and cursing, boundaries being crossed, unprofessionalism.”
Laura Sheehan, senior vice president of external affairs at Defenders, said in an email, “While we do not discount the voices of those who have chosen to anonymously engage on Glassdoor, as with any review platform, they only represent a small sample size and are not reflective of the entire employee experience.”
She added, “Given the inherent and polarizing biases of the data, we choose not to interact in these discussions. Overtly negative and, in some instances, false comments are not only a poor representation of our workplace but also do a disservice to the critically important work being done by our talented staff. Instead, we listen to employee suggestions and solicit internal feedback to influence decisions and guide meaningful change.”
One reviewer identified as a current Sierra Club employee in San Francisco wrote in June that the organization is a “good nonprofit that’s lost its way.”
Another anonymous reviewer identified as a current employee in Missouri posted in August that the Sierra Club has “wonderful people with shared values, great benefits, great care for employees.” Cons, they wrote: “It is restructuring so there is some confusion within the national department currently.”
A Sierra Club spokesperson declined to comment.
Environment America, another group with a low Glassdoor rating, has mixed reviews on the platform. “Do not work here,” wrote one reviewer identified as a former federal legislative associate in Washington. “Very churn and burn attitude. Pay is pretty awful,” that person wrote.
“Learned a lot,” another Environment America reviewer identified as a former lead field manager in Seattle wrote in February. “Great summer job if you have a charismatic personality,” they wrote.
“Look, we're proud of the staff we've brought on over decades and their contribution in delivering high quality campaigns for our members, supporters, and the general public on clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate,” Environment America President Wendy Wendlandt said in an email.
“The depth of experience on our staff is second to none among public interest and environmental organizations. Yes, the work we do and the way we do it isn't for everybody, but we think it's important work and the right way to build and sustain organizations,” she said.
Plans for improvement
Some of the groups with lower Glassdoor ratings said they’re working to improve their workplaces.
“While it is, of course, disappointing to not have a higher aggregate score, we do not feel that reviews on Glassdoor alone can provide a sufficient measure of staff satisfaction,” said Nama Chowdhary, chief of public engagement for 350.org.
“We still have lots to do before we collectively move past the particularly difficult experience of 2019 — the period that most poor ratings and comments unsurprisingly date from,” Chowdhary said. The group laid staff off after fundraising didn’t keep up with staff expansions, POLITICO reported last year.
“In 2019, following a serious setback, as we grappled with major moments of transition and rapid growth without the necessary foundations, we had to enter an extremely painful period of restructure. As a result, we had to let many colleagues go, with ripple effects on staff across the organization, and of course on morale,” Chowdhary said. “For the most part, more recent reviews are more positive and reflect the greater happiness and trust in leadership reflected in our quarterly staff morale surveys.”
The National Audubon Society, with a Glassdoor rating of 3.4, has also experienced internal conflict in recent years.
The organization laid off staff on Earth Day in 2020, and the group’s longtime leader resigned in 2021 after complaints about the workplace culture. More recently, the group has witnessed turnover in its diversity office and enraged some of its staff when it opted to keep its name, which is linked to bird artist and enslaver John James Audubon.
Maxine Griffin Somerville, chief people and culture officer at the organization, said it’s “a priority for leadership to ensure that Audubon is an equitable and inclusive workplace, where all staff feel recognized for their work and are supported to grow in their careers.
“We are continuing to make progress in improving the employee experience, including increasing compensation, providing high-quality benefits and strengthening support structures for staff,” Somerville added. “Leadership is committed to building on our progress to make Audubon one of the best places to work.”
'Most valuable asset'
The Wildlife Conservation Society, Ocean Conservancy, Greenpeace and the Environmental Defense Fund each received ratings of 4 on Glassdoor.
“Many of our staff spend their entire careers at WCS, which is a testimony to not only their commitment to the mission, but to the organization’s commitment to its employees,” said John Calvelli, executive vice president for public affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Adrienne Loftin, chief people and culture officer at the Ocean Conservancy, said staff are the “most valuable asset” of the organization. “We want to hear and understand our staff’s experience. By regularly soliciting and addressing staff feedback, we continually focus our efforts on enhancing our employees’ experience,” Loftin said.
The human resources team at the Rainforest Alliance, which received a Glassdoor rating of 3.9 from employees, continuously monitors input from sources like Glassdoor, internal surveys and anonymous reporting to understand where and how it can improve employees’ experience, the group said.
Theresa Pierno, CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said one of her top priorities is “to ensure our staff feel valued and empowered to have meaningful, impactful careers while making a difference in the world.” That group had a Glassdoor rating of 3.8.
“We’re doing this by championing a shortened, 32-hour work week, supporting flexible remote work schedules, and investing in our staff as we continue together on our justice, equity, diversity and inclusion learning journey,” Pierno said.
Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, thinks his staff are “quite happy,” he said in an interview. His organization had a 3.8 rating on Glassdoor.
“We’ve got an unusually low turnover rate at the center — it’s very consistently been about 10 percent, whereas a nonprofit average is closer to 17 percent. So to me, that's more telling,” he said.