OVERVIEW: Threshold is actually a large collaborative of wealthy progressive donors. But it’s unique in that it has a very structured grantmaking program generated by member dues. One of its ongoing programs is Sustainable Planet, which has a broad set of priorities, but regularly makes grants for biodiversity and conservation.
IP TAKE: Though anonymous, this circle of donors is surprisingly transparent, at least regarding its modest grantmaking program. Grants are made on an annual cycle, not always open to uninvited LOIs.
PROFILE: The Threshold Foundation is the kind of network that conservative conspiracy theorists go nuts for. It started more than 30 years ago as a New-Agey gathering of rich hippies in the mountains of Colorado. Founded by wealthy heir Joshua Mailman and originally called the Doughnuts, this group evolved into a network of donors and a grantmaking program, administered by the Tides Foundation. It currently has around 300 members and they all meet twice a year in exotic locales to “work simultaneously on our inner lives and our social responsibility.”
Sounds a little out there, I know, but it’s rooted in pretty basic progressive philanthropy, angel investing (Mailman seeded yogurt company Stonyfield Farms), and impact investing (he also started the Social Venture Network).
Today, Threshold has two components. First, you have the Community, a group of the above-mentioned, undisclosed donors who congregate, share ideas, and probably smoke a fair amount of weed. They have guest speakers, listen to music, and talk philanthropy, all content confidential.
But the other component is a grantmaking program, which is actually quite transparent and concrete. The modest giving program gives in the neighborhood of $1 million annually, with grants typically in the $30,000 to $50,000 range. Funds come from membership dues from the community members, and decisions are made by volunteer committees of those members.
Threshold organizes its grantmaking into five Funding Circles, one of which is Climate Strategies. The two main strategies supported by this circle are combating 'dirty' energy sources and emissions, and protecting forests and other land to 'sequester carbon.' Some past climate and energy grants include:
- Partnership for Policy Integrity received $39,000 in general support, but has been funded multiple times, for its work to promote sound energy policy. The organization provides scientific and legal support for groups and policymakers.
- Energy Justice Network received $25,000 in general support to back communities threatened by the energy industry.
- California Climate and Agriculture Network, a California-based coalition, received $29,500 in 2011 for its work on policy solutions related to farming and climate change.
- Colorado projects tend to receive support, perhaps a nod to the foundation’s roots, including past grants for Alliance for Sustainable Colorado and ProgressNow Colorado.
As with its more conservation-themed grants, Threshold exhibits a tendency to fund projects that focus on the grassroots and local communities, as well as those with a progressive political bent. And while there are some organizations that receive multi-year support, there’s an awful lot of variety from year to year.
Aside from Climate Strategies, Threshold also offers climate change grants through its Thriving Resilient Communities and Food and Farming funding circles. The Thriving Resilient Communities funding circle also has a grassroots or community-based strategy, but part of its goal is sustainability. A number of these grants have involved climate and energy. One sample grant is Bay Localize, which in 2013 received $17,500 for its work in the Bay Area on climate change and economic recession. And grantee Transition US is a California-based group that community deals in resilience to economic, climate, and energy shocks. Additionally, the Food and Farming funding circle deals with sustainable agriculture and anti-GMO work.
As far as applying for grants, the funding circles appear to be always invite-only. Grantmaking staff can always be contacted by email or phone - (415) 561-6401. Check out the previous grants to get a sense of what Threshold has supported in the past.
The other elephant in the room with Threshold is that, while it formally gives about a million a year, it’s also made up of hundreds of wealthy progressives, and who knows how much they’re giving every year. Threshold is very protective of its membership list, but you have to imagine the official grants are just the tip of the iceberg with this group.
- Jodie Evans, President
- Joshua Mailman, Founder