Environmental groups are considered more trustworthy than other institutions such as corporations or business coalitions because they are considered to be independent and prioritising the interests of environmental protection above sectional, vested or personal interests.
However, over time many environmental groups have evolved from small groups of commmitted and idealistic volunteers to large bureaucracies employing paid personnel. The latter require substantial funds to maintain and it is the source of those funds that jeopardise the independence and autonomy of environmental groups. Such funds may include corporate donations, foundation grants, government funding and/or membership/subscriber fees.
Critics have argued that many large environmental groups are these days more interested in fund-raising than in conservation. Greenpeace, for example, has been accused of using dramatic, media-attracting actions to publicise itself as much as the issue:
The appeal to the public of this kind of dare-devil opposition to polluters and whalers is undeniable. However it is obvious that the choice of issues and the timing of actions is more dictated by Greenpeace's need for self-promotion than by an inspired commitment to the environment. One complaint that is regularly leveled at Greenpeace is that they don't have the commitment to follow through issues to a conclusion. They just publicize an issue (and themselves) and move on.
Such publicity makes it easier for the canvassers to enrol subscribers who are the main source of Greenpeace funds.
In 1965 the ten largest environmental groups in the US received around $10 million in funds. By 1995 that had risen to almost "three quarters of a billion dollars". The four main sources of funding are direct mail, large donors (including bequests), foundations and corporations. Large donors, foundations and corporations expect to have a say in setting the agenda of groups they finance.