Pisces Foundation: Grants for Climate Change

OVERVIEW: Pisces is scaling up to become a national player, approaching $17 million in annual giving toward climate change, environmental education, and water resources.

IP TAKE: This funder has traditionally prioritizes water, and still does, but is now divides evenly between its interests in climate change and environmental education. 

PROFILE: Pisces Foundation was co-founded in 2006 by Bob and Elizabeth “Randi” Fisher, who, along with Executive Director David Beckman, are the sole trustees. Bob Fisher is one of three sons to Donald and Doris Fisher, who cofounded Gap Inc. clothing company, and passed their assets to the sons in 2004 (Donald Fisher passed away 2009). Complicating matters somewhat, Pisces, Inc., is the Fisher family’s investment management company. And the name Pisces Foundation was used previously by Donald and Doris Fisher for their philanthropy, which gave several million dollars to the school reform movement and Teach for America. One of the three sons, John, carries on that cause as a major charter school advocate. But Bob Fisher chose a different direction, himself a Democratic donor (Donald was active in Republican politics), and co-founder of his and his wife's incarnation of the Pisces Foundation, working solely on environmental issues. Pisces invests in climate & energy, water resources, and environmental education. 

The Climate & Energy program takes a niche approach and strategizes one particular category of emissions,  “short-lived climate pollutants,” comprised of black carbon, methane, HFCs, and ground-level ozone. These are the elements that remain in the atmosphere for a relatively short amount of time, but are the worst contributors to human-caused global warming after CO2. They also have harmful effects on human health and agriculture. 

“This is up to 40 percent of the current warming problem, and yet it isn’t getting the attention that it deserves,” Executive Director David Beckman said, "so we think we can have an outsized impact on an important issue.” 

Climate change funding ranges from about $15,000 to $500,000; however, some established grantees can receive much more. Past grantees include the Energy Foundation, the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, the International Council for Clean Transportation, and the Clean Air Task Force. It’s important to note, as well, that the funder’s other programs have somewhat overlap with its climate change work. Pisces funds both small and established organizations preferring an open mind to entertain innovative climate change solutions. 

Pisces' third program, Environmental Education, also addresses aspects of climate change. Beckman sees this program as “the long game" which is  "creating a populace that is able to understand environmental issues better and make decisions based on the facts of the systems that support life on Earth.”

The program officer in charge of Pisces' climate work is Jennifer Kurz, who comes from the Gates Foundation, the U.S. Climate Action Network Network before that, and a number of other national nonprofits. Pisces Foundation can be contacted by email or at (415) 738-1212. The foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals. 

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