Leonardo DiCaprio's Giving Just Got Way More Interesting

Leonardo DiCaprio has dropped the occasional huge funding bomb in the past few years, mostly to large oceans or wildlife groups to protect specific species. But with his most recent round of $15 million in grants, his giving seems to be more varied, strategic, and transparent (although still not transparent enough).

It’s fun to check in on what Leonardo DiCaprio is up to. He’s always frolicking in the South of France with a supermodel, hanging out with Bono, zipping around in electric race cars. And every now and then we hear about a few million he’s sending to protect elephants, sharks, tigers, etc. 

Since 2013, Leo's environmental philanthropy has blown up, drawn both from his own sizable riches, and two celebrity fundraising events that raised $38.8 million and $25 million. His Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is actually a donor-advised fund housed within the California Community Foundation. And it’s been known mostly for giving huge gifts, $2 million or $3 million at a time, to well-established oceans and wildlife organizations like Oceana or the World Wildlife Fund, usually for specific efforts to protect threatened species.


But the foundation just announced a round of $15 million in giving, a big step up for the actor’s philanthropy, both in size and in the number and diversity of grantees. The fund, led by Justin Winters, is still giving to some of those big-name groups and threatened species, with grants going to WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International, NRDC, and National Geographic. 

But there are some interesting new names and types of groups in the mix. Some grantees from the latest round of giving include: 

  • The Biomimicry Institute is the nonprofit half of a consulting firm that focuses on using nature to inspire design solutions. 
  • Dark Snow is a research and education nonprofit that collects data from the surface of the ice in Greenland as a way to understand how climate change is melting ice in the Arctic. 
  • Digital Democracy is a nonprofit that uses increasingly accessible technology to help marginalized communities in developing countries participate in decision making. 
  • Tree People works in Los Angeles to make the city greener, including, as you may have guessed, planting and caring for trees.
  • The foundation made several grants to winners of the latest Goldman Prize, a prominent award for grassroots environmental activists, usually those engaged in risky or otherwise selfless work.

Aside from the notable number of grantees working in sustainability, climate change and urban issues, many of the 30-plus winners in this round are smaller and younger than groups we’ve seen in the past. 

Then again, it’s difficult to characterize the giving of the DiCaprio Foundation, because its status as part of the CCF makes it impossible to look at its finances. 

That is changing a bit, another good sign from LDF. It's always had a pretty good website, although one mostly serving PR purposes instead of functionality. They recently made a major update that includes an interactive map with projects the foundation supports. The map reveals more than we’ve previously known about the range of DiCaprio’s giving and interests. 

The updated site also offers some big-picture numbers ($30 million in grants since 2010 to 78 projects), and some guiding priorities behind giving. It’s encouraging to see the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation pull back the curtain a bit as it’s taken shape in recent years, and present itself as a more strategic and prominent foundation. 

I’m looking forward to seeing the foundation become more of an active player, with one particular wish—ditch the California Community Foundation. There's nothing wrong with CCF, and there are obviously benefits to being a component fund, particularly a lower amount of administration that Winters and DiCaprio would otherwise need to look after. 

But there's still almost no financial information available to the public, including total assets, annual giving, or individual grant amounts. As the actor becomes more of a public force for environmental philanthropy (more than $60 million raised in a few years, and $30 million in giving!) it’s time to see what's below the tip of the icebergyou know, the kind that sank the Titanic