SVCF’s Donor Circle for the Environment awards $90,000 to environmental organizations that are strengthening underserved and underrepresented voices

Last January, the Donor Circle for the Environment, a collaboration of philanthropists that supports nonprofits addressing environmental issues, convened to kick-off their year of learning and select their thematic focus.

To facilitate broad learning, the donor circle selects an overarching theme each year. In 2016, the group concentrated on the San Francisco Bay and supported organizations working on strengthening the region to better adapt to climate change. In prior years, the Circle centered its learning around the local food and water systems.    

Coming into their first meeting of 2017, members were concerned about statements from the new Administration regarding federal environmental policies and the potential impacts of those policies.

The group explored possible approaches to take with their grantmaking for the year by surveying several large environmental organizations to understand the advocacy climate under a new Administration. After hearing from leaders in the field such as The Nature Conservancy, The Natural Resources Defense Council, Sustainable Conservation, and The California League of Conservation Voters, Circle members identified an overarching concern about the lack of diversity in the environmental movement and the disproportional negative impact of environmental change on low-income communities.

As a result of these conversations, the group unanimously agreed to the theme “Strengthening Underserved and Underrepresented Voices” to guide their learning and grantmaking for the year.

Members of the Donor Circle for the Environment enjoy a tour of Hidden Villa in Los Altos.
Members of the Donor Circle for the Environment enjoy a tour of Hidden Villa in Los Altos.

“We have been thinking about diversity in the environmental space since the formation of the donor circle,” says Sally Liu, a founding member and donor lead of the Donor Circle for the Environment. “There is a growing recognition as to how essential it is to encompass all types of communities and that in order to grow the environmental movement, we need to consider the concerns of each community and how to help raise their voices. Given the current Administration’s efforts to roll back environmental protections and its disregard for racial diversity and equality, this felt like the right time to provide a positive, thematic approach that expanded beyond our initial grantmaking areas and guidelines.”

In prior years, the Circle granted to organizations that were spearheading projects in the Bay Area around climate change, environmental education, and environmental conservation. These requirements were relaxed in 2017 in order to better support grassroots organizations in diverse communities.

At the end of the year, the Donor Circle for the Environment proudly awarded the following grants for projects ranging from civic engagement initiatives to environmental education:

  • Asian Pacific Environmental Network– $20,000 in support of local and statewide organizing, and strategic policy campaigns to improve air quality in the East Bay and across California.
  • The California League of Conservation Voters – $20,000 in support of the California Voices effort to raise the profile of conservation issues with decision-makers and the media on behalf of non-traditional environmental stakeholders.
  • California Environmental Justice Alliance – $20,000 in support of local organizing efforts with low-income communities and communities of color to advance civic engagement, climate and environmental justice, and energy equity.
  • Youth United for Community Action – $20,000 in support of the “Our Human Right to Water” effort and other priority environmental justice programs. The “Our Human Rights to Water” project is a campaign to educate residents of Silicon Valley on the equity-related impacts of water allocation as it relates to East Palo Alto’s current water shortage.
  • Aim High – $10,000 in support of the Environmental Home program to help minority and low-income youth increase exposure to and appreciation for the natural environment.

The Circle believes that investing in these organizations at this critical political moment will have a significant impact on broadening the environmentalist base.

”This year’s exploration of diversity and the environment has been an inspiration,” says Sally. “It is exciting to see how these organizations work to bring awareness of environmental concerns, particularly around health, to their community. We were impressed with the work to develop and raise up environmental advocates within these communities, particularly amongst the youth. We applaud the efforts to bring economic benefits with the linkages to the green economy as well as the benefits for climate change.”

The donor circle is beginning its 2018 learning cycle and invites past grantees to share progress on projects the group has supported in the past, as well as current priorities. Visitors are always welcome at their meetings, and they hope your attendance will inspire you to become a member.

To find out more about the Circle’s activities, or to contribute to the Donor Circle for the Environment, please contact Andy Perkins, Director of Donor Engagement at 650.450.5454 or