The Kendeda Fund: Grants for Climate Change

OVERVIEW: The Kendeda Fund is the Atlanta-based philanthropy of Diana Blank, former wife of Home Depot cofounder Arthur Blank. Since 1993, Blank has donated anonymously, with just a few trusted advisors acting as a public face. But in 2015, Kendeda stepped out of the shadows with a public website, programs, and guiding principles. Over the years, Kendeda has become a force in sustainability, the environment, and local grants in Atlanta and Montana.

IP TAKE: Kendeda’s take on climate involves a mix of justice and sustainable living, while building populist support for the movement. While the foundation has become more transparent recently, it does not accept proposals or inquiries. 

PROFILE: Kendeda has become one of the most active and influential mid-level environmental funders, but for more than 20 years, operated with almost no public profile. Donor Diana Blank values her privacy, living a quiet lifestyle in Atlanta and Montana, and she aimed to keep it that way. But this year, concurrent with the announcement of the foundation's largest grant to date, Blank went public and Kendeda launched a website with its approach, principles, staff, and program details. 

It has a stated dedication to sustainability, trust in its partners, and prefers community-based organizations, and now has three official programs: People, Place, and Planet; Girls’ Rights, and Local Priorities in Atlanta and Montana. It is also expanding into supporting returning veterans and preventing gun violence. 

The funder also slightly increased its staffing, with Blank’s daughter Dena Kimball officially becoming executive director, and Tim Stevens becoming an advisor for Montana (Kendeda makes local grants in both Atlanta and Montana) and grants for veterans. Longtime philanthropic consultant Diane Ives and financial advisor Barry Berlin continue to guide grantmaking.

Kendeda is driven by a passion for sustainability and builds its appeal and popularity among different stakeholders including workers, faith groups, youth and local governments. Much of that involves projects that directly or indirectly address climate change.

"The Kendeda Fund is dedicated to exploring how human beings can build a more just and equitable world, one in which we use resources wisely and relate to one another more mindfully," its site states. It seeks to support community leaders and underrepresented voices, emphasizing the connection between equity and the environment. Kendeda is currently giving between $40 million and $50 million annually, having given more than $500 million in total and seeking to mostly spend down by 2024.

Here are some highlights from Kendeda's environmental giving:

Conservation: See our conservation guide if you’re so inclined. 

Climate and Energy: A relatively small portion of the foundation’s recent giving is directly focused on climate change and/or energy. One regular grantee is Southface Energy Institute, an Atlanta-based outfit focusing on green building, green jobs, and sustainable communities. Kendeda also backs Bill McKibben’s, and Green For All, a nonprofit devoted to building a clean energy economy. The fund is also a member of RE-AMP, the Midwestern collaborative of climate and energy funders. So it backs a limited number of explicitly climate change-related groups, but lots of other related grants lie ahead. 

Sustainability: Kendeda backs a large number of sustainability programs—green building, smart development and community planning, and green business. That includes academic programs like MIT’s Community Innovators Lab and UMass Lowell’s Center for Sustainable Production, as well as the Tides Center in support of a research project on the feasibility of using potatoes and other agricultural products as an alternative to petroleum-based plastics. The emphasis on equity comes into play with grants that include the Emerald Cities Collaborative's work to strengthen communities through green jobs. It's also funded the Capital Institute for "Reimagining the Financial System to Meet Social and Ecological Needs."

But Kendeda's biggest commitment to date is funding green building at Georgia Tech. The foundation is giving $30 million to the school for what will be a groundbreaking facility on campus. The project’s construction will be entirely funded by Kendeda, and is expected to be the first Living Building Challenge 3.0-certified building of its size and function in the Southeast. A major reason Blank went public was to throw full weight and voice behind this living building project.

Media: A smaller portion of recent funding has gone to media projects to boost coverage of climate and sustainability issues. Part of Kendeda’s philosophy is about building popular support for its ideas. That’s included an annual million-dollar grant to Minnesota Public Radio in support of a sustainability initiative at American Public Media’s Marketplace radio show. Hip environment blog Grist has received between $500K and a million in past years. And Kendeda has given Boston’s WGBH public media stations about $1.5 million a year for its Green Media Discretionary Fund.

Broad Constituencies: The fund values broad-based support, with emphases on the faith community and youth. Kendeda has given millions to faith-based environmental programs like Blessed Earth, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, the Garrison Institute and the Regeneration Project. Some religious leaders have emerged as strong backers of the fight against climate change, and Kendeda is pushing that strategy. As far as youth, the most obvious example (although conservation-focused) is Student Conservation Association, which recently received $2.5 million to continue its youth service and stewardship work.

The Kendeda Fund has made some terrific strides in transparency, but is still pretty tough to access. It doesn't accept inquiries of any kind, and only makes grants invited by its small program staff. Connections in Atlanta and a community-based approach are key.