Grant Making Strategies
With only ten years to help environmental advocates shift from playing defense to positioning themselves to win policy victories, Beldon developed three main strategies:
Grant Making Principles
Beldon's program work was guided by several principles it considered essential to accomplishing key goals:
Advocacy. Support advocacy aimed at bringing public policy change.
Focus. Focus resources on a select set of high impact strategies.
Commitment. Make steady, patient, large investments in strategies.
An evaluation two years into its spend-out led Beldon to narrow its grant making from five to two program areas and create a third fund for opportunistic grants. Subsequent evaluations led to further revisions. These changes required difficult decisions.
Although global warming was a major concern of John Hunting and Beldon’s board and staff, the foundation determined it was not likely to make a significant difference in its short time frame and cut its program in that area – knowing, however, that other funders with longer time horizons were taking this on.
At the same time, Beldon narrowed its focus from six to five states, phasing out its work in New Mexico. Beldon also eliminated its religion and environment and corporate responsibility programs and the “lone ranger” grantees that were outside its reconfigured program areas.
Grant Making Asset Allocation:
Focused and Flexible
Beldon’s mix of focused multi-year funding through its two program portfolios and short term nimbleness made possible by its Discretionary Fund had distinct advantages.
The unwavering commitment to build strong environmental advocacy organizations provided a reliable stream of funding that created a solid infrastructure in the field.
At the same time, the ability to tap into a pot of discretionary funds allowed the foundation to move quickly to take advantage of policy opportunities or respond to new environmental threats. It also provided a way to fund cross-program advocacy tools and activities.
Beldon’s Grant making Programs
Beldon made long-term grants in two program areas: Key States and Human Health and the Environment. A third program, the Discretionary Fund, allowed the foundation to take quick advantage of policy opportunities or respond to new environmental threats. It also provided a way to fund cross-program advocacy tools and activities.
Key States Program sought to increase the clout and policy impact of environmental advocates in five states – Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. These states presented different policy contexts, but shared some key characteristics: they had a strong environmental ethic but under-funded advocacy community, and each had the potential to mobilize a greater public and policy consensus for environmental protection. The program’s goal was to bring change at the state level that would ultimately help tip the balance towards federal policy reform.
Human Health and the Environment Program sought to add new and powerful voices to help promote public policies that prevent or eliminate environmental risks to people’s health. The program focused on reform of policies regulating the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products.
Discretionary Fund Discretionary Fund provided a pool of money to respond to unanticipated policy opportunities or environmental threats; support movement-building activities across both programs, including fundraising training and introduction of sophisticated nonpartisan civic engagement tools; and to promote greater synergy between state and national advocacy groups.
The short time frame and ambitious mission led Beldon to consider bolder strategies than might be typical for many foundations, particularly those with a longer time horizon. Not all of our bets paid off. There are useful lessons from both the hits and misses that can help inform environmental and other advocacy funding going forward.
Bans on Toxic Chemicals in Consumer Products. Environmental health issues championed by Beldon and its grantees are attracting mainstream attention, largely because of the growing sophistication and collaboration of advocates, the engagement of new allies, and growing interest among other funders. Campaigns to ban toxic chemicals from consumer products have won scores of state policy victories, led to a Congressional bill to ban lead and phthalates found in toys and other children’s products, and paved the way for comprehensive national policy reform.
Strengthened State Environmental Groups Gain Influence and Policy Victories. The power and clout of state environmental groups and coalitions funded by Beldon have grown steadily since 1998. These advocacy organizations are stronger, more effective, and well-positioned to continue their policy-oriented work after Beldon’s exit. Advocates’ collaborative strategies and effective use of new tools to educate and engage the public have attracted funding from other donors for specific issue campaigns, including:
- Ratification of the Great Lakes Compact. Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan were among the eight states that ratified the Great Lakes Compact, a long-sought agreement to prevent the diversion of water from the Great Lakes.
- Environmental protections. In North Carolina, environmental coalitions had a series of policy victories, including clean drinking water, landfill and power plant regulation and the creation of a global warming commission.