Donors secure $100 million to benefit minorities on climate change

know about Donors secure $100 million to benefit minorities on climate change

A group of financial donors committed to racial equity planned to announce Tuesday that it has secured at least $100 million annually to benefit minority groups disproportionately harmed by extreme weather events.

The group, Donors of Color Network, will also announce that 10 of the country’s top 40 donors to environmental causes have signed up to at least part of a pledge the network made last year. The Climate Funders Justice Pledge commits donors to make their climate-related grants transparent and direct at least 30% of their donations to groups that have Black, Indigenous or other people of color as their leaders.

“That’s a great start,” said Isabelle Leighton, the network’s interim CEO. “But there is still a lot of work to do.”

Twelve national environmental grantmakers awarded $1.34 billion to organizations in the Gulf and Midwest regions in 2016 and 2017, according to a 2020 study by The New School’s Tishman Center for Design and Environment. But only about 1%, roughly $18 million, was awarded to groups dedicated to environmental justice.

In its 2020 “State of the Air” report, the American Lung Association found that people of color were 1.5 times more likely to live in an area with poor air quality than white people.

For this reason, environmental justice groups have sought solutions with racial equity in mind. If minority communities are helped to achieve long-term solutions to perennial problems like flooding or erosion, for example, projects can benefit both the environment and the community.

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Leighton said donors have sometimes avoided explaining that they are not funding minority groups who are disproportionately affected by extreme weather.

“We’ve had sponsors really spend a lot of time in PR, talking about their commitment to racial equity and racial justice, but they haven’t gotten back to us at all,” he said.

Mark Magaña, founding president and CEO of the environmental nonprofit GreenLatinos, says the Climate Funders Fairness Pledge should be seen as the equivalent of the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview candidates from underrepresented demographic groups for all top positions. By encouraging donors to seek out minority-led environmental groups for their grants, Magaña said, they will naturally find more programs they are willing to fund.

“Instead of surviving on pennies on the dollar and still doing amazing work, these groups could actually thrive on 30 cents on the dollar,” he said. “Imagine what they could do, how effective they could be if we were spending hundreds of millions of dollars instead of just playing defense the previous four years. We could really move forward and build a stronger foundation by making the distribution of funds and resources more equitable.”

The ClimateWorks Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Energy Foundation committed to the transparency portion of the pledge on Tuesday.

Lois DeBacker, managing director of the Kresge Foundation Environment Program, says the answers often depend on donor strategies.

“There has been a long history in environmental philanthropy of thinking of climate change primarily as a technical problem with technical solutions,” DeBacker said. “As an industry, we have underestimated that it is also a social issue, that we need to think about political will, that we also need to think more about how to center people in our grantmaking around climate change.”


The Kresge Foundation, one of the first donors to sign the Climate Founders Justice Pledge, has already reached the 30% threshold on its donations to minority-led groups.

“We already had a tendency to do it,” DeBacker said, adding that Kresge plans to increase that percentage even more. “The promise is on our minds every day as we make decisions about recommending grants.”

DeBacker and Magaña say they believe the new $100 million baseline Donors of Color Network has established will help persuade other donors to consider growing support for environmental justice.

Magaña said that major donors must recognize that climate change has already affected many minority communities and that immediate action is needed.

“We are the most affected by climate change,” he said. “It’s already where we live: Texas, California, Florida, New York, New Jersey. Our workers in agribusiness are so affected by climate change, so affected by extreme heat that it’s costing them their lives, sometimes, and definitely their health. As we have seen during the pandemic, the service industry is extremely affected by weather-related incidents. We are on the front line.”

But Magaña said the main reason funding for minority-led environmental groups should be increased is that many are having success in their communities.

“The real reason funders should be concerned is because we have the answers and we have the power base,” he said.

Glenn Gamboa is a business writer for AP.