Of the billions of philanthropic dollars that foundations give to nonprofits, virtually all of it–an estimated 95%–goes to organizations run by white people. Up to 80% of those are men. That imbalance is reflected both in grantmaking as a whole and in the realm of funding for climate change, where one organization is now working to change the trends. By 2020, The Solutions Project, an organization known for leading the push for 100% renewable energy, plans to invest 95% of its resources in projects led by people of color. At least 80% will go to organizations led by women.
“We know that these are the communities that are not only most impacted by dirty energy and climate change–overwhelmingly so–but they’re also at the forefront of solutions,” says Sarah Shanley Hope, executive director of The Solutions Project. The organization has invested in projects led by people of color and women in the past; in Buffalo, New York, for example, it supported an organization, led by a former refugee from Eritrea, that innovated to transform an abandoned school into solar-powered affordable housing for seniors. In Miami, as another example, it helped fund work by leaders of color to innovate with green municipal bonds.
In 2018, The Solutions Project invested 53% of its funds in organizations led by executive directors of color, far more than a typical foundation, and 56% in female or nonbinary leaders. But it saw the opportunity to go much farther, and is calling for other organizations to do the same, particularly those that are also working on clean energy and climate change.
In an analysis of the media over the last 18 months, it found that only 7% of stories on climate and clean energy referenced communities of color, and only 21% referenced women, something that is likely a direct reflection of the lack of funding going to minority and female-led organizations. “Communications is so often seen as a luxury among our grassroots grantee partners,” says Shanley Hope. “It’s frontline leaders of color and women who are driving innovations, but the media coverage is not reflecting that.”
If other foundations ramped up investment in these organizations, even to just 10% of their total funding, “it will be game-changing,” she says. “This is about impact. It’s not just the right thing to do from a moral perspective…if we want to win on climate solutions, we have to radically redistribute resources and change the narrative.”
Correction: This article has been updated to give the correct stats for the percentage of philanthropic dollars that go to orgs run by white people and white men.