George and Amanda Hanley Foundation: Grants for Climate Change

OVERVIEW: George is a Chicago trader who started his philanthropy giving scholarships and supporting universities. Amanda is an active eco-blogger and environmental nonprofit leader. Together their foundation gives to sustainability and clean energy projects, focused in the Midwest, particularly when it comes to schools.

IP TAKE: The Hanleys are best known as philanthropists for their $12.5 million gift to the University of Dayton to establish a sustainability center. We expect to see this couple’s giving on the rise in coming years as they build up their programs.

PROFILE: George Hanley grew up in a family of traders, and has fond memories of being a kid on the trading floor in Chicago. He wanted to enter the field since he was in elementary school, and while his career took off to a rocky start, he eventually found great success. Hanley was a founder of three trading companies over 30 years — Blink Trading, Infinium Capital Management, and the Hanley Group — all of which sold, making him quite wealthy. Today, George lives in Winnetka, just outside of Chicago, with his wife Amanda Hanley, an avid environmentalist. 

Amanda Hanley writes a climate-and-sustainability-focused blog named Wren, with the tagline “eco-minded news for the North Shore,” and blogs for Huffington Post on environmental issues. She’s also deeply involved in environmental groups in the Chicago area, as co-chair of the NRDC’s Midwest Council and member of its Global Leadership Council, co-founder of North Shore Green Women, among other positions. 

Together, they founded the George and Amanda Hanley Foundation, with assets of $20 million and growing, a Chicago-based philanthropy that focuses on education, the environment, and social or economic empowerment. While the funder’s initial, and still major cause, is helping students and schools, sustainability and energy has come to take on a large role. 

Sustainability has been increasingly appearing in all three programs. As Amanda Hanley told us via email, “Increasingly, our giving is directed to projects that weave together all three of our focus areas: environment, education and empowerment (social and/or economic). We are looking to foster opportunity through sustainability.”

For example, the foundation’s development program supports the Acumen Fund, which works in part to establish clean energy in developing countries. And on the schools side, one of the foundation’s biggest projects was a $1 million challenge grant to the Academy for Global Citizenship, a charter school that is building a campus with net-positive energy and an urban farm. 

But its biggest such grant came this year, when the Hanleys caught the attention of philanthropic news with a $12.5 million grant to George’s alma mater, the University of Dayton. The gift is meant to leverage other fundraising and create the Hanley Sustainability Institute, which will deal with campus sustainability, but also develop education programs for undergrads and graduates. The idea is to “infuse our commitment to sustainability throughout everything we do,” the school president said in the announcement. George Hanley is a graduate of UD, serves on the board of trustees, and has made other large donations to the school, although this was the largest.  

The university is also involved in another passion of Amanda Hanley’s: divestment from fossil fuel stocks. The University of Dayton became the first Catholic university in the country to join the growing movement to abandon oil and gas stocks, by announcing it would divest its $670 million endowment. The Hanley Foundation has taken similar action as part of Divest Invest, a group of foundations that have committed to divesting their own assets from fossil fuels and into clean energy and sustainability companies. 

As far as Hanley’s other giving priorities for the environment, it’s a combination of clean energy and cutting greenhouse gas pollution, along with local, sustainably grown food. Some of its other current grantees include: 

  • The NRDC 
  • The Sierra Club
  • The Clean Energy Trust, a Midwest-based organization that backs cleantech entrepreneurs. Hanley is a prize sponsor of the Clean Energy Challenge
  • EcoMyths Alliance, a partnership of groups working to debunk myths around the science of environmental issues
  • Faith in Place, a faith-based group that organizes people behind taking environmental action

You can see this couple is fond of supporting schools, environmental education projects, and otherwise building a broader movement, not surprising giving Amanda Hanley’s green blogging. One other thing to note about the Hanleys’ giving, which you also can see with the UD gift, is that George Hanley is really into leveraging his wealth. He’s spoken to this in talks before, that he’s always looking for ways to set something bigger in motion. 

While the Hanley Foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals, it can be reached here. The couple is also quite active in the Chicago area, and you can keep up with Amanda Hanley at her blog

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