Sea Change Foundation: Grants for Climate Change and Energy

OVERVIEW: Sea Change promotes clean energy and the reduction of carbon emissions, mainly in the United States. But it also supports climate change related policy advocacy work.

IP TAKE: This is one of the more openly progressive and political funders in the energy and climate space. It mostly, quietly funds the giants of climate change work and maintains a low public profile. 

PROFILE: Funded by Nathaniel Simons, the son of hedge fund wizard James Simons and a major Democratic donor, the Sea Change Foundation is broadly dedicated to "achieving meaningful social impact through leveraged philanthropy that addresses the most pressing problems facing the world today." It funds a wide variety of energy and environmental groups, and has made  between $40 million and $55 million in grants in recent years. Donor Nat Simons believes the role of philanthropy in climate change is to bring together disparate stakeholders and facilitate progress. Unfortunately, the foundation's one-page website offers no information regarding the foundation's strategies or other pertinent concerns. 

In contrast to the size of its giving, Sea Change is a very small operation. This is very much the philanthropic shop of Nathaniel Simons — or Nat, as he is known — and his wife, Laura Baxter-Simons. Nat is president of Sea Change; Laura is secretary. All the funds from the foundation come from their personal fortune, or wealth associated with Renaissance Technology, the wildly successful hedge fund that Nat's father, James Simons, created and where Nat spent years as a portfolio manager. There's also income from a vaguely named company based in Bermuda, which has drawn accusations from various conspiracy-prone bloggers. 

Sea Change is not the only avenue through which Nat is trying to move the needle on energy issues. He's also CEO of Elan Management, which invests in early-stage renewable energy and cleantech companies. While the foundation does not have a large dedicated staff nor does it accept proposals. Executive Director Stephen Colwell oversees the day-to-day operations of the foundation and was also the executive director of the Coral Reef Alliance and Ocean Foundation. 

The Sea Change Foundation reflects a laser focus on clean energy as the key to slowing climate change. Past grantees include the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C. Despite this keen focus, Sea Change invests its funds widely. Beyond giving millions every year to its main grantee, the Energy Foundation, and well over $1 million a year to major organizations such as the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and CAP, it also gives mid-six-figure grants to a wide array of other groups involved in energy or climate issues.

The foundation supports well-established organizations that work to educate the public and build support for a clean economy, or to build broad partnerships for clean energy. It does not accept unsolicited proposals. Grantseekers should contact Stephen Colwell via email to introduce yourself (See IP's profile of Colwell, with contact information.)