Effort to fund racially diverse climate groups gets momentum

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FILE – In this Feb. 3, 2021 file photo, Ashindi Maxton, co-founder of the Donors of Color Network, poses for The Associated Press, in Baltimore. For months, Donors of Color Network, a philanthropic group dedicated to funding racial equity efforts, has asked the top 40 climate funders to disclose what percentage of their funding during the past two years went to organizations led by Black, Indigenous, Latino and other racial minorities, and pledge at least 30% of their climate donations to such groups. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Efforts to increase how much philanthropic funding goes to minority-led environmental organizations are gaining momentum, with one group’s push for transparency from the nation’s top climate donors drawing big-name support.

For months, Donors of Color Network, a philanthropic group dedicated to funding racial equity efforts, has asked the top 40 climate funders to disclose what percentage of their funding during the past two years went to organizations led by Black, Indigenous, Latino and other racial minorities, and pledge at least 30% of their climate donations to such groups.

On Thursday, two of them — the California-based William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Boston-based Barr Foundation — released data that shows 10% of their climate funding went to minority-led environmental justice groups. That number was 31% at the New York-based JPB Foundation, another top donor.

With those announcements, five of the top 40 donors have released their data from the last two years, along with another nine smaller funders. Donors of Color says four of the top 40 donors — and a dozen other foundations — have signed its pledge, agreeing to meet the 30% minimum the group has set and release their funding data.

Advocates for environmental justice — which promotes fair treatment of racial minorities and low-income residents when dealing with environmental issues — argue more funding for their groups is needed to win the climate change debate.

A study released last year from The New School showed that, between 2016 and 2017, environmental justice groups received just 1.3% of the funding earmarked for climate organizations in the Gulf and Midwest regions.

“Engaging those communities in decision-making (and) in the solutions for climate is essential,” said Miya Yoshitani, the executive director of the Oakland-based Asian Pacific Environmental Network and a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. It’s important, she said, for communities “to see themselves as part of the solution to this incredible and enormous problem.”

The Hewlett Foundation is one of three top donors that only agreed to the transparency portion of the pledge. Larry Kramer, the president of Hewlett, says the organization declined to pledge 30% of its climate funding towards minority-led groups as a matter of “both legal and policy judgment.”

“We don’t think there are magic numbers,” Kramer said. “We prefer to do our grantmaking, be transparent about it and always be working to improve.”

Kramer says the foundation is doing other things to improve diversity among its climate grantee pool, including employing efforts to make its own staff — and the staff of the organizations it supports — more diverse.

Five of the the top 40 donors have declined the pledge, with some citing that their climate funding is mostly done outside of the U.S., according to the Donors of Colors Network. Ashindi Maxton, the executive director of the organization, says the group is in conversation with more than two dozen of the other top donors about the pledge, though some say they don’t sign pledges.

“No one has said that they don’t sort of agree with the ultimate end goals of what we’re doing,” she said. “A lot of people just have a lot of internal machinery to move to do this.”

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The Associated Press receives support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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