Park Foundation: Grants for Climate Change

OVERVIEW: Park is a progressive family foundation based in Ithaca, NY, that in the past five years has become a hero among fracking opponents. Giving on the issue is part of its larger environment program that is motivated by clean water protection. The foundation's media program also makes a small number of grants specifically toward public education on climate change. Park has geographic focuses in New York State and North Carolina. 

IP TAKE: Since 2009, Park has gradually shifted more of its funding to fighting fracking, and they don’t equivocate on goals—foundation President Adelaide Gomer wants it banned. Park spreads anti-fracking grants across grassroots organizing and advocacy, research, and public education.

PROFILE: Until around 2009, the way most people knew the Park Foundation was through the little thanking-our-sponsors blurbs on NPR or other public broadcasting channels. That, or the several million the foundation has given in scholarships at Ithaca College and North Carolina State University. 

And while it’s had a well-heeled environment program with a focus on water for years, it’s found itself in the spotlight recently for its staunch opposition to fracking in New York, the greater Marcellus Shale region, and North Carolina. 

The Park Foundation gave $27 million overall last year, up from around $18 million in previous years, to a pretty wide variety of programs, including media, higher education, and local grants to Ithaca and North Carolina. The foundation is the family philanthropy from the wealth of the late Roy H. Park, a packaged food industry and media executive. Park’s daughter Adelaide Gomer is the president of the foundation, and her daughter Alicia Wittink is vice president. While the largest chunk of its funding goes to college scholarships, Gomer has led the foundation in a progressive and policy-oriented direction in many areas. She’s also an active donor in Democratic and liberal candidates and causes. 

Even within its environment program, not all funding goes to fracking. But it’s the topic that has drawn attention to Park since they began steadily increasing support for the issue, up to about $1.8 million last year and around $6 million combined since 2009.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, is one of the most contentious environmental issues in the country right now, spanning energy, conservation and water concerns. Since the process was developed, there’s been a gold rush in areas with deep underground natural gas deposits. One nonprofit (which Park has funded) totaled up more than 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the United States. 

Most environmentalists object to the practice because of the threat to rivers, streams and drinking water, as well as the fact that it’s taken the focus away from clean energy. But it’s been a sticky issue for others, in part because it’s been politically unstoppable in some states. 

Gomer and Park got in front of the debate early on, however, supporting a full-on ban in New York State (they currently have a moratorium pending further research on its safety).  

The foundation’s funding for fracking opposition has taken a few forms, including backing for grassroots advocacy groups, public education, and research to determine the threat to water supplies. While it’s mostly focused on New York and North Carolina, Park has supported efforts to stop fracking in the greater Marcellus Shale area, which spans Pennsylvania, into Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. 

Some notable grantees include: 

  • Sustainable Markets Foundation, a climate and anti-fracking outfit with no Internet presence but a healthy budget thanks to support from Park and Rockefeller Brothers Foundation. It's received about $767,000 from Park since 2009. Park Trustee Jay Halfon is listed as head of the organization.
  • Food & Water Watch, a membership-based environmental advocate, has received more than $400,000 toward a New Yorkers Against Fracking coalition.
  • Prominent researchers on the environmental effects of fracking at Duke University and Cornell have received nearly half a million in combined funding.
  • National environmental groups including NRDC, Earthworks, Earthjustice and national progressive group Common Cause have all received grants totaling around a quarter million each for fracking work.

In addition to fracking, Park's Environment program has several other initiatives related to climate change in various ways. These include:

  • Water as a Public Necessity
  • Public Policy
  • Freshwater Media
  • Corporate Responsibility

While the main thrust of energy-related funding is around gas drilling, there are limited grants made for other climate work, out of the foundation’s media program. Park Foundation gives $3 million to $4 million a year to media projects, a throwback to Roy Park’s business. One of the subprograms in this area is media related to the environment. 

Examples of such grants include funding for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, the Foundation for National Progress, Media Matters, Mother Jones and the Center for Independent Documentary, all toward public education and investigation related to climate change. 

One final note on the Park Foundation, it's heavily involved in the movement toward mission-related investing, which means moving a foundation’s trust away from companies that conflict with program goals. Park is one of 17 original foundations of Divest-Invest Philanthropy, an initiative to have funders publicly pull their assets from the fossil fuel industry. 

One of the best things about the Park Foundation is that, for such a substantial funder, they are relatively proposal- and grantee-friendly. For one, while they gave more than $27 million last year, it was spread over 339 grants, which is quite a lot. The average grant in 2013 was around $80,000, and this is actually much higher than previous years. So grants typically hover around $50,000, but range quite a bit, as low as four figures, most large grants not much over $100,000, and the rare grant in the millions for its scholarship programs. Click here to check out their prior environmental grants.

They are open to proposals with quarterly deadlines, and accept letters of inquiry or just preliminary phone calls and emails. They do recommend potential new grantees send LOIs first, and of course, stay within program interests to save everyone time. 

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