Lazar Foundation: Grants for Conservation

OVERVIEW: The Lazar Foundation is an active environmental funder in the Pacific Northwest, giving almost a million a year to conservation, biodiversity, and strengthening the environmental movement in regional states (except Alaska). Based in Portland, there’s some focus on work in Oregon.

IP TAKE: This funder is refreshingly approachable. Green groups that fit the areas of interest and geographic requirements can shoot them an LOI any time. You cannot submit an unsolicited proposal; you must submit your letter of inquiry first, and wait to be asked to submit a full proposal.

PROFILE: Jack and Helen Lazar made a name for themselves in the fashion world in the 1950s and 1960s by popularizing the knit dress, under their brand Kimberly Knitwear. Jack Lazar had worked in a knitting mill starting at age 15, and when he returned from service in World War II, he and wife Helen became fashion trendsetters for a time. 

They sold the business in the 1970s, but with their wealth had established in 1956 The Lazar Foundation. Jack and Helen lived on the East Coast, but today, the foundation is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, home to the couple’s son Bill Lazar, who now serves as president. Other trustees include Michael and Jeanne Morency, the latter the couple’s daughter. 

In its current form, the Lazar Foundation is almost entirely devoted to the environment, and almost all of that goes to the Pacific Northwest. That means they fund a mix of programs in Oregon, Washington, California, Montana and Idaho. While there’s a pretty good mix, there seems to be a predisposition for groups located in Oregon. And they specifically note that they don’t fund work in Alaska. 

However, when it comes to geography, they are a bit flexible. One area they tend to dabble in is the Mid-Atlantic, which is probably due to the Morencys being based in Virginia. Groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Piedmont Environmental Council based in VA, and the Audubon of the Central Atlantic States based in Maryland have received funding from Lazar in recent years.

As far as areas of interest, Lazar is focused on conserving large areas of land and water, and preservation of biodiversity. But the foundation is also interested in movement building, for programs that either broaden the movement or increase its capacity and strength. There are some areas they will not fund, however, including work on toxics, land trusts, urban projects, film, or other environmental education projects. 

The foundation is rocking around $23 million in assets these days, and giving just shy of a million annually. So most grants are in the $10,000 to $20,000 ballpark, and maxing out at $100,000 (Pew Charitable Trusts is a recent outlier if you’re curious). And it’s mostly going to your bread-and-butter sort of conservation projects. Here’s a sampling of some recent grants.

Another great thing about Lazar, if you’re in their geographic sweet spot, is that they are pretty approachable. They discourage phone calls (it’s a small foundation with a small staff) but they do accept letters of inquiry by email, so long as applicants match up with their stated interests. 

The staff decide on LOIs within a month and, if invited, they have an application form online. Grants are awarded a few times a year. 

PEOPLE:

  • Bill Lazar, President
  • Sybil Ackerman-Munson, Executive Director 

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