A Top Green Funder Emerges from the Shadows and Steps Up Giving

The Kendeda Fund has become a well-known, Atlanta-based sustainability funder, but in its 20-plus years, has operated with almost no public profile. Now, the foundation of formerly anonymous donor Diana Blank has stepped into the public eye with a new website, and its largest grant to date for a groundbreaking green building. 

Since it started in 1993, the Kendeda Fund has become a force in environmental funding, especially surrounding its home base of Atlanta, Georgia. The name has popped up in the acknowledgments sections of many green nonprofits, with grantees including Grist, 350.org, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Georgia Tech's sustainability programs, and the Biomimicry Institute. Kendeda has also made large donations to local institutions like the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

With annual giving currently as high as $50 million, Kendeda isn’t in the heavyweight class of, say, a Moore or Packard, but is definitely at the high end of the middleweights, sitting just outside the top 10 environmental funders nationally. For a family foundation based in the South, especially, it has grown quite prominent in environmental circles. 

Related: The Kendeda Fund: Grants for Climate Change 

Despite that prominence, the funder has always flown almost entirely under the radar. Fueled by an anonymous donor and a whole lot of Home Depot stock, there was mostly no Kendeda to be seen, other than a few trusted advisors who delivered the news.

But the mystery is no longer! While it was certainly known around town and certain circles that the driving force of the fund was Diana Blank—former wife of Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank—she recently made it public.

In September, Blank and Kendeda coordinated the launch of a new public website, a lengthy interview with the local business journal, and the announcement of its largest single grant yet—$30 million to Georgia Tech, for what will be a groundbreaking green building on campus. The project’s design and construction will be entirely funded by Kendeda, and is expected to be the first Living Building Challenge 3.0-certified building of its size and function in the Southeast. A major reason Blank decided to go public was to throw Kendeda's full weight and voice behind the living building project.

Related: Deep Green: An Environmental Funder Makes Itself a Guinea Pig for Sustainable Building

The funder also slightly increased its staffing, with Blank’s daughter Dena Kimball officially becoming executive director, and Tim Stevens becoming advisor for Montana (Kendeda makes local grants in both Atlanta and Montana) and grants for veterans. 

So what have we learned about this funder, now that it's invited the public in? Well, as we often hear in these cases, Diana Blank, now in her 70s, is a private person. She lives a quiet lifestyle going between Montana and Atlanta, and didn’t want to draw attention.

Since she started her philanthropy more than 20 years ago, Blank mostly just followed her giving instincts and interests. The fund has now given more than $500 million. It plans to spend down most of its assets by 2024. 

Staff have also formalized and shared some of Kendeda’s philosophy, with stated dedication to sustainability, trust in their partners, and a preference for community-based organizations. Kendeda now has three official programs: People, Place, and Planet, Girls’ Rights, and Local Priorities in Atlanta and Montana. And it's expanding into supporting returning veterans and preventing gun violence.  

The Kendeda Fund is not exactly throwing the doors wide open. Blank will still maintain a low profile, and emphasizing its small staff, the foundation does not accept inquiries of any kind. 

But it’s a big move for such a funder. We regularly champion transparency as a needed quality in philanthropy, particularly as the country's wealthy donors play a larger role in how society functions.  

Related: Still in the Dark: Why Philanthropy Remains a Black Box

Blank’s career as a philanthropist has bridged a time when it was more common for wealthy donors to quietly give to their local causes, and our current era when philanthropy has become a more public powerhouse. More wealthy donors are publicly declaring their intentions through initiatives like the Giving Pledge. 

For a foundation that has become such a well-known presence in the region and the environmental scene, a move to open the curtains and show not only what it funds, but the reasons why, should be applauded.