Climate Funders Justice Pledge Brings In More Than $120 Million
Grant makers have pledged or given more than $120 million to climate-justice groups through the Climate Funders Justice Pledge. The Donors of Color Network, which developed the pledge, also announced Wednesday that 33 grant makers have taken the pledge, which calls on signatories to give 30 percent of their climate grant dollars to groups led by people of color and to publicly disclose what share of their climate funding goes to those groups. Nine of the 33
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Grant makers have pledged or given more than $120 million to climate-justice groups through the Climate Funders Justice Pledge. The Donors of Color Network, which developed the pledge, also announced Wednesday that 33 grant makers have taken the pledge, which calls on signatories to give 30 percent of their climate grant dollars to groups led by people of color and to publicly disclose what share of their climate funding goes to those groups. Nine of the 33 grant makers have signed on only for the transparency portion of the pledge. The funds those grant makers have identified as going to climate-justice groups are also included in the pledge total as are new grants made and pledges to reach the 30 percent threshold by the rest of the signatories.
Small environmental groups led by people of color that serve those communities have historically received only about 1.3 percent of the money given to combat climate change, says Abdul Dosunmu, the pledge campaign manager at the Donors of Color Network. He is proud that this pledge has pushed grant makers to give more. But he says there is much more to do.
“That’s just a drop in the bucket of the climate philanthropy that is out there,” Dosunmu says of the $120 million committed. “There is a lot more work to do to get the community to understand that not only is funding BIPOC-led environmental-justice organizations about equity, but it is ultimately about efficacy. It’s about the efficacy of the climate movement.”
The pledge defines a climate-justice group as a climate organization in which half of the board members are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. The senior staff must have similar demographics, and the group must serve the BIPOC community.
“These are some exciting first steps, and I think that the Donors of Color Network has been instrumental in helping orient donors and philanthropy to the need,” says Marion Gee, co-director of the Climate Justice Alliance. But she says that climate grant makers have a lot to learn about the important work these groups do, and the funding gap remains large.
The pledge comes at a time when more and more grant dollars are flowing to groups working to curb climate change. Billionaires, including Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Laurene Powell Jobs, and others, have pledged billions to solve the climate crisis in recent years. While foundation giving to climate-related causes still makes up only a small portion of overall philanthropy, it has more than tripled since 2015, according to ClimateWorks, which tracks climate philanthropy and also works with donors to help them develop giving strategies. ClimateWorks also joined the transparency portion of the pledge.
That flood of new money — plus the availability of hundreds of billions of dollars from the federal Inflation Reduction Act and other government programs — only makes it more important that donors learn more about climate-justice groups, says Erin Rogers, co-director of the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice. Her organization raises money from large foundations and makes grants to small justice-oriented environmental groups.
“It’s like a green gold rush. There’s a lot of money moving, but a lot of it is going to false solutions,” says Gee of the Climate Justice Alliance. “These groups have been underresourced for so long.”
Long, Slow Journey
Mark Magaña started GreenLatinos more than a decade ago. The group scraped by for years until recently, when its fortunes rose along with interest in climate justice. GreenLatinos brings together Latino environmentalists from academia, government, philanthropy, civil-rights groups, and elsewhere to network and learn from one another. It also helps small groups make connections to grant makers and develop their internal systems to help them grow. Despite Magaña’s work in the Clinton White House and as executive director of the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change, it wasn’t until 2018 that contributions to GreenLatinos approached $500,000 in a year. “It was hand-to-mouth for many years,” Magaña says.
GreenLatinos’s experience isn’t unusual. A handful of climate-justice groups break through and are able to take advantage of the bump in interest, but many more don’t. Most climate-justice groups remain poorly funded, Magaña says, and have only a few staff or regular volunteers keeping them going. “For every one that has seen the exponential growth, there are 10 or 20 that are still not seeing it because they’re still not in those rooms, they still don’t have those relationships.”
That, he says, will make it significantly harder to solve the climate crisis. People of color are most likely to be affected by pollution from drilling, industrial activity, traffic, and other sources of pollution and often have the best solutions to address those problems. Without their leadership, he says, solutions developed by far away policymakers are doomed to fail.
GreenLatinos has received increased funding from several grant makers that have taken the pledge, including the Kresge, William and Flora Hewlett, Energy, Pisces, and Heising-Simons foundations. The grants have allowed the group to create state-level programs in Colorado and Texas, with more planned in Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. With those programs in place, GreenLatinos can more effectively help grassroots groups work together, get access to more grant dollars, and expand their organizations so they have a chance to qualify for the federal funding that will be available soon. That will be a big step toward enabling the groups to implement their own local climate solutions.
“It’s the tracking, it’s the followup, it’s the longitudinal aspect of the research that keeps people on their toes, saying, ‘Well, they’re actually going to ask me next year, how my giving was. And then they’re going to ask me the following year,’” he says of the pledge. “It’s not going to go away.”
Some foundations have already surpassed the pledge’s goal of giving 30 percent of their climate dollars to justice groups. The Kresge, Pisces, and Schmidt Family foundations all give more. In 2022, the Schmidt Family Foundation’s energy program made 39 percent of its grants to climate-justice groups, a total of about $6.9 million, says Joseph Sciortino, the foundation’s executive director.
When the foundation began funding climate groups, it had a local focus — a different take than the majority of grant makers, which tend to give most of their money to very large, established environmental groups that work nationally or internationally on policy issues. The Schmidt Family Foundation had an early success backing community groups that opposed fracking in New York State. Through community organizing and other tactics, these small, local groups pushed the governor to ban fracking in the state.
Later the foundation took a similar approach in California. Los Angeles might be best known for the entertainment industry, but it has long been home to oil and gas drilling. More than 5,000 active and idle wells dot the county, and wells often back up to schools, playing fields, and subdivisions. The foundation funded local groups including Communities for a Better Environment and Central California Environmental Justice Network to enable them to educate people in Los Angeles, and other communities about the hazards of drilling and organize them to advocate for more safeguards..
“We realized that the communities of color that were most impacted were getting the least amount of funding,” Sciortino says.
The groups organized to pressure the governor to issue an executive order requiring any new drilling projects to be set back 3,200 feet from homes, schools, and hospitals. The governor issued it in 2021. The legislature passed those requirements into law the following year and included new measures for existing wells. Sciortino says the law could affect one third of the oil drilling in the state. In February, the law was put on hold and will be voted on in a referendum in 2024.
The foundation has prioritized funding groups that are led by and serve people of color since it went through a diversity, equity, and inclusion training in 2015, Sciortino says. He struck on a novel way to increase funding to those groups. In 2016 he started a matching fund: Every grant that a program manager gave to a group led by a person of color got an additional 50 percent in matching dollars. It gave out $3 million in matching funds by the time the program was stopped in 2020.
“Now you’re talking a language that program people understand,” he says. “There’s a priority to look for BIPOC-led groups.” That led to an increase in the share of dollars going to those groups, particularly in the energy and food and agriculture programs.
He says when the pledge came along, it helped to set quantifiable goals and definitions for initiatives the foundation was already undertaking. “We were super excited to see somebody come along and name what those numbers could be, and we felt more comfortable being aligned with an institution or an organization that was putting that out publicly,” he says. “It was validating. We were on the right track.”
There remains plenty of work to do to get grant makers to understand the value of climate-justice groups, who they are, and how best to work with them — something that the Donors of Color Network is trying to highlight, as are the Climate Justice Alliance, the Hive Fund, and others. The pledge is an important step in the right direction, says GreenLatinos’s Magaña.
“The Climate Justice Pledge really does play a significant part,” he says, “both on the inside as funders themselves are running this and to amplify those that are saying, ‘We need transparency. We need a commitment. We need hard numbers.’”
The statement was made by Marion Gee, co-director of the Climate Justice Alliance.