A strong, though understated, hint of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation's philosophy appears on page two of its annual report: "This report is printed on 100 percent recycled paper."

In a world where philanthropic organizations tend to retain the trappings of wealth--with their lavish brochures printed on thick, creamy paper, their marble foyers, their luxurious carpets--the Noyes Foundation is something of an anomaly. As one fund-raising executive said after visiting the spartan offices on East 34th St. in New York City, "Their office is most unassuming, cluttered, and slightly rundown. They are certainly not spending money on overhead."

Indeed, rather than investing in a posh image, the Noyes Foundation is putting about $4.5 million a year into applied research on a wide range of environmental issues, such as protecting tropical forests and developing ecologically sensitive farming and waste management techniques. Although the foundation, with comparatively modest assets of $60 million,...

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