WestWind Foundation: Grants for Climate and Energy

OVERVIEW: WestWind is a small, Virginia-based funder that splits giving between the environment and reproductive health and rights. On the enviro side, grants all go toward fighting climate change, with emphases on the American South and stopping new coal plants. 

IP TAKE: While somewhat regional, this funder actually gives to groups all over the place, including Alaska, Maine, and Canada. WestWind likes groups that build public support and partner with business, and has recently been funding the Tar Sands development fight.

PROFILE: This progressive funder was started by Edward and Janet Miller with wealth derived from the former’s Caribbean-focused, express shipping company. The company sold to FedEx and the Millers formed WestWind with part of the windfall. Originally giving to help populations in Latin America and the Caribbean, the couple shifted priorities to what it considered to be the broader issues they were seeing in these regions.

Today, WestWind funds work in two programs: Environment, and Reproductive Health and Rights. The funder has given between $3.4 million and $3.8 million annually in recent years, with assets of around $46 million. Giving is split roughly 50-50, with environmental giving at more than $1.7 million in 2013. While relatively small, it gives quite a large number of grants—40 in that same year, so a mean of around $42,000. Very few of the foundation’s grants top six figures, and the highest in recent years are around $300,000.

Priorities within the environment program are all about climate change, ever since the funder rolled out the new program in late 2006. The initiative is particularly concerned with root causes like coal and other fossil fuel use, and rapid loss of forests. It also cites loss of biodiversity resulting from climate change as a main concern.

While giving is pretty diverse, the program has prioritized groups working in creative partnerships with businesses, as well as grassroots campaigns and public education. Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, WestWind also has a geographic focus on the Southeast United States. Unsurprisingly, the foundation funds groups working to stop construction of coal plants.

Examples of funded coal work in the South include the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which last year received $75,000, part of which was earmarked for the Virginia Coal Coalition. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy also received $100,000, and national groups like Earthjustice and Greenpeace were funded for their work in the region.

Another big, repeat grantee is the Southern Environmental Law Center, which received multiple grants of $250,000 or more in recent years for its work in policy, regulation enforcement, and filing lawsuits related to a variety of environmental issues.  

Coal and fossil fuel grants aren’t limited to the South, however, as work in Alaska has drawn quite a bit of funding lately. Six organizations working in the state landed support last year, mostly on energy issues, including the Alaska Center for the Environment and the Alaska Conservation Foundation. 

And another hot issue for the foundation is the Tar Sands battle, a raging debate for environmentalists as they work to prevent further development and pipeline construction for the hard-to-extract fossil fuel deposits. WestWind gave five grants related to the issue last year, including to Ceres, a group that focuses on working with businesses to improve their sustainability records.

In fact, partnering with business is one of the main strategic priorities cited by the foundation, along with grassroots organizing and education. One such example of the corporate approach that WestWind is particularly proud of is its funding of the World Resources Institute, a collaboration of corporations and environmental groups that work on a regional basis to help further industry’s approach to climate change and reducing emissions.

Do note, however, that there are quite a few exceptions to the foundation’s giving priorities, and some are very big. 

For one, the foundation’s largest regular grantee in recent years has been the Ocean Conservancy, which has received annual general support of around $300,000. Ed Miller serves as treasurer on the board of the marine conservation group.

The foundation strays from its comfort zone geographically as well. In addition to funding work in Alaska, WestWind has branched out of the South to support work based in British Columbia and Maine. 

As a small foundation, WestWind has only two trustees in the Millers, and very few staff. In fact, Roxana Bonnell, who came from the Open Society Institute, is the only program staffer, aside from a consultant working in reproductive issues. Best to monitor the group's website below to determine timing on letters of inquiry, as the foundation only accepts them during certain windows of time.


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