George Gund Foundation: Grants for Climate and Energy

OVERVIEW: This major regional funder is dedicated to societal progress and human welfare, with a heavy focus on Northeast Ohio, but also giving nationally. The environment is one of its five program areas, and climate change is a big priority, which it takes into account when making decisions about all programs and grantees. 

IP TAKE: Gund is interested in using cities to address climate change, giving to support clean energy, green business, smart growth and city sustainability. The foundation has a very strong focus on Cleveland, but still gives quite a bit to national or regional projects that share its interests. Groups in the region should definitely take note, but those outside shouldn't necessarily rule it out. 

PROFILE: The George Gund Foundation carries on the legacy of the notable Midwestern businessman and philanthropist of the same name. George Gund II was a prominent banker and investor who lived and worked in Cleveland in the mid-20th century. He established the foundation in 1952, and after his passing in 1966, left the majority of his $600 million fortune to the philanthropy. 

Today, the philanthropy of George Gund lives on through the efforts of his sizable family, most prominently through the family’s flagship foundation. While many family members have their own foundations, none is as developed or substantial as the George Gund Foundation. The funder has a trust of $454 million and made 233 grants for $25 million last year. With most of the board bearing the Gund name, the foundation is still very much a family affair, but it's also fully staffed and has well-established programs and guidelines.

Within those guidelines, Gund supports five main programs—Arts, Economic Development, Education, Environment and Human Services. The foundation has made a point of highlighting the importance of global climate change, noting that the concern cuts across programs and asks applicants to demonstrate their commitment to the issue. But not surprisingly, most of the giving on the issue lives in the environment program. 

It’s important to note geography when dealing with Gund. The foundation is highly focused on Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. One reason for this is that it’s where George II lived and worked, and where much of the family calls home. It’s their turf. But it’s also part of their overall theory for national and global change. The foundation has an urban emphasis, meaning it believes cities can offer solutions to many of the greater society’s looming problems, and Cleveland is their sandbox for finding those solutions. It looks at big issues through the lens of the city. That said, the funder is not opposed to funding national or regional programs.

By the numbers:

Gund has made nearly $600 million in grants since it was founded, and lately that’s meant $20 million to $25 million annually. Specifically from the environment program, since 2000 the funder has given $41 million to the cause—$2.4 million in 2011, $2 million in 2012, and then stepping it up to $5 million in 2013. The subprograms connected to climate and energy, which cover issues like renewable energy, smart growth, sustainable business and green building, make up about half of that giving since 2000. So even for a regional funder, and one with many interests, Gund is giving quite a bit to climate-related issues. 

In terms of geography, despite its Ohio emphasis, only about 60 percent of environmental giving since 2000 has gone to groups based in the state. Granted, some of that giving to out-of-state groups comes back to programs directly affecting Ohio, but so you get the idea of their scope.  

Here’s a sampling to give an idea of what Gund supports: 

  • In 2013, a $2 million, two-year grant to the Trust for Public Land’s "Connecting Cleveland Campaign" to establish a series of walking paths and bike trails and reduce driving in the city. 
  • In 2012 and 2013, a combined $700,000 to The Energy Foundation for clean energy work in Ohio.
  • The foundation has made several grants as large as $150,000 to the D.C.-based Environment and Energy Study Institute. 
  • Regular grants have gone to the Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest. 
  • Regular grants go to Smart Growth America, another D.C.-based advocate that works to make neighborhoods and cities more sustainable. 

The George Gund Foundation is pretty open to proposals. They invite applicants to fill out an eligibility survey, and then make an online submission. There’s even a handy Grant Application Guide available online. The foundation has three deadlines a year, November 15, March 15, and July 15. A list of recent environment grants is available here.

The environment program’s Senior Program Officer John Mitterholzer can be reached by email.

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