Walton’s Gulf of Mexico Funding Is Rising. Here’s Where the Money Is Going

Walton has been one of the more active funders in the Gulf of Mexico lately, with a stated subprogram in the region for a few years now. In 2014 this massive water conservation funder gave its (relatively) small initiative a $3.7 million bump.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy of America's richest family, has grown in the past decade to become one of the largest conservation funders in the country. According to its recently released 2014 grant report, annual giving increased by about 9 percent, hitting $101.3 million. 

While the foundation makes quite a few non-program-related grants, the bulk of its funding goes to very specific, geographically focused priorities in either marine or river conservation. One of those focuses is in the Gulf of Mexico.

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This work is actually two subprograms, one related to general restoration and fisheries, the other specifically on cleanup of the BP oil spill. But both got a nice little raise in 2014, the former doubling and the latter increasing by 60 percent. That brought combined funding in the region last year up to $8.5 million. 

According to the foundation, it’s made a long-term commitment in the Gulf, and its giving is indicative of Walton’s economically focused environmental giving. The funder highlights the importance of the region’s environment to the fishing, tourism, and shipping industries. 

One interesting change is that Walton has essentially handed all non-oil-spill-related work in the Gulf over to the Ocean Conservancy, increasing overall funding, but narrowing down the subprogram basically to one group. Previously giving to a bunch of other groups, including the EDF, Oxfam, and Audubon, in 2014 all but a sliver of the $4 million focus went to the Ocean Conservancy. The organization does a mix of sustainable fisheries work, as well as work on the massive task of Gulf ecosystem restoration happening in the region. 

Almost all of Walton’s other Gulf grantees in 2014 were funneled into oil spill response work. Some highlights:

• A few of the foundation’s larger Gulf grantees saw their funding in the region about double last year. The National Wildlife Federation, Oxfam America Inc., the National Audubon Society, and Walton favorite EDF all received in the neighborhood of $400,000. The other big gun at the party was The Nature Conservancy, receiving about half a million for Gulf work.  

• The biggest grantee on oil spill work was the New Venture Fund, a nonprofit that carries out conservation and other projects on behalf of philanthropists. The organization received almost a million.  

• Other, smaller grants went to groups like the Gulf Restoration Network, a prominent local environmental coalition that received $75,000 for its work. Local group Mobile Baykeeper received $110,000. And the University of South Florida received $92,000.

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Walton’s 2014 Gulf giving signals a few things about the foundation’s work in the region. One, five years after the BP spill, there's still a devastating legacy and a ton of work left to be done. Walton doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and the focus is not waning, with overall giving increasing and a pretty big pool of groups still funded to work on the oil spill. That said, the large, national nonprofits are leading the pack in funding. 

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