Funding for the Environment While Spending Down Lessons from a National Foundation

The Context


  • National foundation spending down its assets over ten years
  • Living donor willing to take risks to accomplish goals
  • Focuses on human health and the environment
  • Supports advocacy nationally and in key states

Field or Community

  • Environmental policy, governed by both national and state regulations
  • Nonprofit organizations spearhead advocacy, targeting popular opinion and government officials other funders
  • Growing array of national funders interested in environmental policy; some willingness to fund advocacy
  • Local funders differ by state in terms of numbers, resources, focus, and willingness to support advocacy

The Strategy


  • Support advocacy to advance policy change in a few key states, where policy environment seems propitious
  • Engage consultants to help state-level grantees work together to craft a theory of change, with indicators
  • Use indicators to evaluate effectiveness continuously

Exit and Beyond

  • Establish “funding diversification program” for core grantees beginning five years from foundation’s closing
  • Collaborate with state and national environmental funders; foster cooperation among environmental funders in key states
  • Demonstrate progress by funding evaluation of grantees’ efforts

Lessons and Advice

Take personal responsibility for building support among peers. “Our job is to try and gently work with our colleagues in other foundations, and in some cases with individual donors, being mindful that we’re trying to build a recognition of our mutual goals and eventually nurse a relationship forward.”

Build the field by encouraging grantees to collaborate. “No one group can do it on its own, so we really press our grantees to work together. We reward cooperative behavior, and people know we’re looking for that.”

Consider the risks involved in doing nothing. "When foundations think about risk, the emphasis usually is on doing what's safe and isn't going to ruffle feathers or provoke a reporter to call you up and ask, even in a friendly way, why you're doing this. Risk looks very different if you say, ‘Here’s the upside and here's the downside if we do nothing.'"


About the author(s)

Senior Partner
The Giving Practice