11th Hour Project: Grants for Climate & Energy

OVERVIEW: The 11th Hour Project’s climate and energy program seeks to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and accelerate the use of renewable energy in the United States. Most of its climate grants go to nonprofits building cross-sector coalitions and mobilizing them to press for long-term policy and market-based reforms. 

IP TAKE: This Schmidt family project is emphatically by invitation only, so don’t count on a grant without the right connections.

PROFILE: Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy Schmidt have many philanthropic commitments. In 2006, the couple established the Schmidt Family Foundation, which has a track record of funding various causes throughout the United States—health services, youth programs, schools, and the like. But one year before Schmidt’s launch, Wendy Schmidt decided to spend some free capital on other, more green-focused causes, by personally founding the 11th Hour Project.

The 11th Hour Project has grown since its 2005 debut and now holds its own as a self-governing operation headquartered in Palo Alto, California, though it’s technically still a Schmidt subsidiary with informal support from Wendy Schmidt. It carries out a focused mission of fostering sustainable use of water, energy, and food resources. Ecologically sound agriculture, marine conservation, and preserving the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, are a few of its non-energy priorities.

But cutting our carbon footprint down to size, and thereby mitigating the toll of climate change, is a top action item for the 11th Hour Project, which sends funding that way through its Climate & Energy Program. 

The Climate & Energy program has two priorities: reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, and upping our use of renewable energy. Its team looks for grantseekers that are pushing for renewable technologies, energy conservation, and upgrades to the grid infrastructure. Most of its grantees are U.S. operations, with a limited number of grants each year going overseas.

And it shows a strong preference for coalition builders. Its grantees tend to involve environmental organizations and non-environmentalist partners, such as farmers or labor activists, all working hand-in-hand to organize concrete improvements in public policy and everyday business practice. Here are a few examples:  

  • The American Lung Association’s California chapter received funding for mobilizing the health-care community behind climate-change policy.
  • California Climate and Agricultural Network, a coalition of agricultural organizations, won grants for working to advance sustainable agriculture practices and to adapt farm sectors to the effects of climate change.
  • The BlueGreen Alliance, a Minnesota partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations, received a grant for grassroots education programs promoting progress toward a clean-energy economy.
  • The Catskill Mountainkeeper got an award for assembling several coalitions of environmental organizations to oppose the introduction of hydraulic fracturing in New York. The Mountainkeeper was also heading up campaigns to educate the public on the issue, and it was participating in local advocacy campaigns for safe energy alternatives.

Its grants come in all sizes. At the low end, it made a $15,000 grant to Vote Solar, a California initiative that organizes political support for renewable energy in local municipalities and at the state level. Climate Central, a New Jersey operation, was one of its higher-end grantees: The foundation gave $1.25 million to launch a new group of scientists and communications professionals to jointly reach out to the public on climate-change policy.

Unfortunately for most grantseekers out there, all of this foundation’s grantees have something else in common besides coalition-building: The 11th Hour Project approached them to discuss a grant, not the other way around. This foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals or letters of inquiry. Its website discourages proposals and encourages grantseekers to look elsewhere: “You may find it helpful to visit the web site of the Foundation Center, a nonprofit organization that offers tools for locating prospective funders.”

This means that to land 11th Hour funding, groups need to be well plugged in to climate activist circles, be somewhat organically in touch with staff, and otherwise be doing prominent work that aligns with the foundation’s goals. 

You can, however, shoot a note to program staff. Just don’t get your hopes up.

KEY PEOPLE:

  • Amy Rao, President
  • Joe Sciortino, Executive Director
  • Jamie Dean, Program Manager, Climate and Energy

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