Barr and Climate Change: Think Globally, Partner Nationally, Act Locally

The Barr Foundation, which had $1.6 billion in assets as of December 2014, just came out with the results from its latest funding cycle and an announcement of $10 million in new grants. We’ve been keeping up with the foundation’s planning process under a new hotshot president, Jim Canales, and so we were anxious to see where the money is going. We're not alone, either; many Boston nonprofits are closely watching Barr to see whether it shifts attention away from the city as the foundation evolves. 

Related: Like Fireworks? Don’t Look to Jim Canales and the Barr Foundation. Not Yet, Anyway

One of the first things that stood out to us is that climate change got a big chunk of Barr’s grant money this time. Approximately $3.2 million of the recent $10 million went to climate issues. And these were pretty large grants, too, as the $3.2 million only had to be shared by seven nonprofits.

These are some of the most recent climate organizations that Barr is supporting:

  • Environmental Defense Fund (national and local)
  • The Nature Conservancy (national and global)
  • A Better City (local, for public space planning near transportation hubs)
  • The Trust for Public Land (local, to pilot a climate program in Greater Boston)

For a list of the other climate causes that Barr has supported in 2015, check out the foundation’s grantmaking database.

If you’re anything like us, you’re wondering what Barr’s climate program is all about and how "local" it really is. On the surface, it seems like a nice even split between national, global and local support, but let’s look at the big picturewith the caveat that, as we've reported, Barr's environmental work is still being reviewed as part of the foundation's ongoing planning process. 

According to the foundation, the goal of its climate work is “accelerating efforts in our region on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and creating more connected, thriving communities.” The key words in that blurb are “our region,” meaning the greater Boston metropolitan area.

Barr is clearly a climate funder that believes in the adage "think globally, partner nationally, and act locally." (Okay, we just made that adage up.) This makes sense, given that Barr's not a giant like, say, the Hewlett or Moore foundations, and it has embraced a strategy nicely in line with its resources, which is to make Boston a leader in responding to climate change. 

Barr’s two climate initiatives are clean energy and transportation & smart growth. The clean energy initiative is all about reducing emissions, and Barr supports a wide range of industries that are working to conserve energy. However, the transportation initiative is even more locally focused. For example, Barr wants to help make Boston’s buses into the best way to get around town and make Boston’s suburbs more connected and walkable.

A foundation’s blog often gives clues into what the staff members and influential affiliates are paying attention to on a regular basis, beyond just deadlines to review new proposals. Recent topics on the Barr climate blog include local zoning laws, bus rapid transit, and city-wide efficiency.

All of this is good news to local nonprofits working for a greener city, who can't relish the thought of one of its best friends running off to pour its money into the Beyond Coal campaign or some other distant fight.  

Also of note in the recent grant cycle: Barr committed $2.6 million to 15 arts & culture organizations, $1.5 million to four education organizations, $1.6 million to four global causes, and $1.1 million to three special initiatives (with winners here including the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and MassINC). Barr’s global work is being phased out, but its attention has been on sustainable agricultural initiatives in rural Haiti and Ethiopia and climate change in Southeast Africa.

At this time, Barr only considers grant proposals by invitation, so there are no open RFP dates to mark on your calendar. Otherwise, your best points of contact are the two senior climate program officers, Mariella Puerto and Mary Skelton Roberts.