Climate change

Donors get $100m to benefit minorities on climate change

NEW YORK (AP) — A group of financial donors committed to racial equity plans to announce Tuesday that it has secured at least $100 million a year to benefit minority groups who are disproportionately affected by extreme weather events.

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

“It’s a good start,” said Isabelle Leighton, the network’s acting general manager. “But there is still a lot of work to do.”

According to a 2020 study by The New School’s Tishman Environment and Design Center, twelve national environmental funders awarded $1.34 billion to organizations in the Gulf and Midwest regions in 2016 and 2017. But only about 1% of it – about $18 million – has been 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 find long-term solutions to recurring problems like flooding or erosion, for example, projects can benefit both the environment and the community.

Leighton said donors have sometimes avoided explaining that they are underfunding minority groups who are disproportionately affected by extreme weather.

“We’ve had backers who spend a really good amount of PR time talking about their commitment to racial equity and racial justice, but they haven’t responded to us at all,” she said.

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

“Instead of surviving on pennies on the dollar and continuing to do amazing work, these groups could really thrive on 30 cents on the dollar,” he said. “Imagine what they could do, how effective they could be if we spent hundreds of millions of dollars instead of just playing defense the previous four years. We could really get the ball going and build a base more solid by making the distribution of funds and resources more equitable.

One donor, the ClimateWorks Foundation, is expected to sign the full pledge on Tuesday. Another, the Energy Foundation, will commit to the transparency part of the commitment.

Lois DeBacker, executive director of the Kresge Foundation’s environmental program, says the answers often depend on donor strategies.

“There’s a long history in environmental philanthropy that sees climate change as a largely technical problem with technical solutions,” DeBacker said. “As a sector, we have underestimated that this 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 granting of grants around climate change.”

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

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

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

Magaña said major donors should recognize that climate change has already affected many minority communities and that action must be taken immediately.

“We are the most affected by climate change,” he said. “It’s already where we live – Texas, California, Florida, New York, New Jersey. Our agribusiness workers are so affected by climate change, so affected by the blistering heat that it sometimes costs them life, and certainly their health. As we have seen during the pandemic, the service sector 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 increase is that many are succeeding in their communities.

“The real reason funders should care is that we have the answers and we have the power at the grassroots,” he said.


The Associated Press’s coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits is supported by the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropic coverage, visit