An Activist Actor's Climate Group Is Moving Rapid Grassroots Grants

Mark Ruffalo’s the Solutions Project has quickly grown into a legit national clean energy campaign, and in the past year, a grantmaker. It continues to impress with its new plan to deploy nimble community-based grants.

We’ve watched with interest as the Solutions Project has grown from a pet project of a celebrity activist and a few expert partners to a staffed research and communications outfit with a mission to accelerate the transition to 100 percent clean energy.

It’s picked up some impressive funders, too, including the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, and Skoll Global Threats Fund, among others. 

Related: Mark Ruffalo’s Clean Energy Outfit is Growing, and Drawing A-List Funders

But about a year ago, the Solutions Project became a funder itself, establishing its 100 percent Leadership Fund, which has given out almost $1 million so far. Now it’s just launched a second grantmaking program, the Fighter Fund, designed to make small, responsive grants to grassroots groups working for clean energy and climate justice. 

That’s an underfunded area of climate funding as it is, a problem we frequently write about. But the really unique thing about the initiative is that the group says it will respond to most requests for funding in a matter of days.  

“Often, philanthropy can’t keep up with what’s happening on the ground,” said Tyler Nickerson, director of investments and state strategy, in the announcement. “The Fighter Fund is designed to make small grants at key movement moments so that homegrown, frontline groups working with regular people from Alaska to Alabama to Alberta can empower and mobilize communities.” 

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Grants of up to $15,000 will be awarded to nonprofits in the U.S., Mexico and Canada on a rolling basis for activities like direct action and organizing, communications and media work, and movement-building tactics like trainings and conventions. The application form, aside from organizational and budget information, asks just three questions.

The Solution Project’s first funding program, the Leadership Fund, continues to operate, making larger grants by invitation only. Both funds are backed by DiCaprio, Sara & Evan Williams Foundation, JPB Foundation, and Franciscan Sisters of Mary.

While Ruffalo himself reportedly came up with the idea for the Fighter Fund, the Solutions Project’s grantmaking strategy is overseen by Tyler Nickerson, who comes from grassroots nonprofits and foundations in Michigan. Nickerson has been a critic of traditional philanthropy, calling on funders to take on systemic causes, support social movements, and be faster and more democratic in their giving. There’s some compelling stuff happening at the Solutions Project right now. 

Let’s face it—while celebrity philanthropy and charity work can be fascinating and admirable, it doesn’t exactly push the envelope very often. A plan for such quick disbursement of funds, open to all, isn’t something many funders would take on. 

Couple that with the fact that, stemming from Ruffalo’s background in anti-fracking activism, there’s a clear preference for grassroots and justice groups, and this is a genuinely responsive grantmaking strategy, with or without famous actors. 

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