McKnight Foundation: Grants for Conservation

OVERVIEW: The Mississippi River corridor is a large region, and the Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation looks to protect it all through its River region-specific grant making programs. Other parts of the country get some attention, too, but as far as conservation goes, the Mississippi River and Twin Cities zone are high on McKnight's conservation priority list. The foundation is particularly interested in clean energy, water, and agriculture.

IP TAKE: McKnight is a big player in Mississippi River conservation. If you’re not working there, your chances of getting funding will be slimmer, but you might pick up funds through McKnight’s Communities & Regions program. Grants related to energy (clean energy, sustainability, green house gas emissions, etc.,) are awarded to organizations working in the Midwest out of the Foundation's Midwest Climate and Energy program. McKnight does not have a grantmaking program dedicated to general conservation efforts.

PROFILE: Since the Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation was founded in 1953, its stated goal has been to improve life for the present generation, while also looking to protect future generations. It’s done well for itself thus far, having amassed an asset base of more than $1.9 billion and awarding more than $90 million in grants and charitable contributions annually. Those contributions are more than mere donations, in the foundation’s eyes; they are investments in the future.

The foundation directs its money to groups with which it can create continuous collaborations for making long-lasting reforms to state and federal laws. On the environmental side, that mission takes shape through several grant programs: Region & Communities, which fosters sustainable and equitable neighborhood planning; Midwest Climate & Energy, which sets out to make the Midwest region’s carbon footprint as small as possible; and Mississippi River, which funds efforts to protect and restore habitats across the 10-state Mississippi River region. Most of the conservation grants go fall under the umbrella of the Mississippi River program, and almost all of these involve either the Mississippi River or Minnesota’s Twin Cities region.

Habitat-protection, restoration, and water-quality monitoring initiatives from Minnesota down to Louisiana get funding from the Mississippi River program. The foundation also seeks to support groups that are working government agencies in the 10 states that line the river corridor and trying to increase coordination among them, in order to improve the river's water quality and resilience.

Farm pollution is another one of the foundation’s major areas of environmental concern. The Mississippi Rivers program has been funding numerous efforts to reduce harmful pollution, such as nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, from farms in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Farm pollutants in these four states are an especially high priority for the program since they mark the River region’s northern end and the water flow southward—so when the water in these states becomes contaminated, the water in the rest of the river region frequently suffers contamination, too.

The vast majority of McKnight’s conservation grant award winners are Mississippi River and Twin Cities-focused organizations—the foundation’s Mississippi River program has its name for a reason. But a few other grants do seep out to other areas of the country through the Communities & Regions program. For a look at their full grantee database, click here.

McKnight's Mississippi River as well as its Region and Communites program accept unsolicted letters of inquiry and have an online application process. The foundation's Midwest Climate and Energy program is a closed application process and does not accept unsolicited LOIs. Grantseekers are asked to first familiarize themselves with the McKnight program to which they are interested and then submit a letter of inquiry to the program director. Though the foundation does tend to award grants to large organizations—with the exception of its regional grant making in Minnesota—this level of accessibility makes McKnight a great possible funder for smaller, lesser-known conservation organizations.

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