McKnight Foundation: Grants for Climate Change

OVERVIEW: At The McKnight Foundation, one of its two main environmental focuses is fighting “catastrophic global climate change.” The Foundation supports global efforts to reduce carbon pollution and developing renewable energy technologies.      

IP TAKE: When it comes to climate change, The McKnight Foundation thinks globally, but tends to award grants locally. A decent amount of money stays in the foundation's home state of Minnesota.

PROFILE: The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation established in 1953, intends to improve life for the present generation and generations to come. McKnight aims to change policy in the areas it most cares about. This is accomplished, not just through its grant making, but also through collaboration with the groups they support.

In 2013, The McKnight Foundation broke up its larger environment program, creating the Midwest Climate & Energy program and the Mississippi River Program. The Midwest Climate & Energy program's overall goal is to “…help the Midwest become an international model in addressing climate change…while employing a sustainability lens that both informs strategies and catalyzes action.” The Mississippi River program is focused on restoring the river's "water quality and resilience."

The foundation is looking to build on its 2008 commitment to spend $100 million on climate change initiatives, and it intends for its climate work to influence policymakers and community leaders in both the public and private sectors to take the lead and change the way things work. If McKnight can do this right, it envisions the region becoming a global model by simultaneously reducing emissions throughout all economic sectors and improving sustainability.

Their climate work has three main objectives: 

  • Climate and energy policy: The Foundation supports grantees and networks that work to create innovative policies in the Midwest regarding energy generation, transmission and efficiency in the agriculture and transportation sectors.
  • Community engagement: They want to make grants that educate communities, so that they'll engage in community-level efforts that promote energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Resilient clean energy economy: The Foundation wants to engage private-sector leaders and networks throughout the Midwest to rethink energy use and to develop and implement climate and energy objectives. 

McKnight recently announced its new round of commitments, starting with $25 million in grants to two of their longtime program partners. They granted $5 million to RE-AMP, a grantee they have supported since 2004, for its efforts to promote clean energy and climate change policies in the Upper Midwest. RE-AMP is actually a network of more than 150 nonprofits and 14 foundations working to combat climate change in eight Midwest states. McKnight also made a grant to the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, a grantee it has supported since 1993, giving $20 million to help the Midwest become a model that reshapes the national narrative regarding energy and climate. Both grants are for a two-year period.

The Midwest Climate & Energy Program may dole out some very substantial grants, but the program has a history of awarding less than a handful of grants out of this program annually. With McKnight's apparent funding favorites, and the fact that it does not accept unsolicited LOIs or grant proposals for the Midwest Climate and Energy program, it's close to impossible for newcomers to break into this funding area.

However, there is good news for grantseekers eyeing McKnight's Mississippi River program--it does accept unsolicited LOIs and offers an online application process. 

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