OVERVIEW: National Geographic is known worldwide for its documentaries and magazines. But it also happens to be one of the largest scientific and educational organizations in the world, and runs several grantmaking programs with funding from its media income and donations.
IP TAKE: The organization gives a ton to conservation causes, including some programs specifically focused on the environment, or leaders who work in the field. Grants are competitive, but generally open to applications.
PROFILE: Anyone who has flipped channels on a Sunday afternoon or has waited in a doctor’s office is well aware of the little gold rectangle of National Geographic. But you might not know just how large the reach of this nonprofit is, or how far back it dates. Originally an explorer’s society, it started in 1888 and has grown to the point that its media holdings reach more than 600 million people annually.
But aside from educating the public about nature, it has also funded exploration as long as it’s been around. In fact, National Geographic has given more than 10,000 grants in its 126-year existence. The organization tends to focus on wildlife, but the environment in general has become a big priority, including some initiatives launched specifically for conservation work. The many programs and geographic regions can be a bit confusing and actually kind of hard to parse on the website, so buckle up, we’re going to do some traveling…
Conservation Trust - This fund started in 2001 to support innovative solutions to conservation challenges and problems of global concern. The program's first grant went to botanist Nalini Nadkarni for her study of forest canopies, and has given to a wide variety of causes since, including protecting parrots in Africa, and endangered wildlife as it interacts with highly populated areas in India. The program emphasizes work that seeks an alternative approach to conservation; strategies that are a little off the beaten path. It takes pride in supporting researchers who might have been overlooked by other funders for being early career investigators or for working in new fields, and applicants don't need to have advanced degrees.
National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants - Tech billionaire Ted Waitt is the largest living donor to the National Geographic Society, and it was all to establish this grantmaking program. This is a unique program in that it is meant to bypass much of the peer review process and shorten the application time for explorers and researchers who need quick injections of funding. It’s designed for early career researchers or those looking for “proof of concept” funding for projects that require venture capital, in the range of $5,000 to $15,000. The committee that makes the decisions aims to respond within 10 weeks of receiving applications, and they are accepted online on a rolling basis. About as good as it gets right there. See more info about applying here.
Committee for Research and Exploration - This grants program goes way back in Society history, and supports scientific field research and exploration. Projects must have a geographical dimension, relevance to an eligible scientific field, and broad scientific interest. Grants range from $15,000 to $20,000, but there is no set amount. The program makes grants in anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, biology, botany, geography, geology, oceanography, paleontology, and zoology. The society makes about 250 per year, and environmental issues like loss of biodiversity and habitats are prioritized these days.
National Geographic/Buffett Awards - Focused on work in Africa and Latin America, these awards were created in 2002 to recognize the unsung heroes working as leaders in conservation. The program is funded by Howard Buffet. Nominations are made to the Committee for Research and Exploration, and selected in a peer review process for annual awards of $25,000. The stories behind these awardees are pretty incredible, such as one 2014 awardee who has studied seabirds in Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California for the past 35 years.
Global Exploration Fund - The key word here is "global". This is actually multiple programs based on international regions. The first was opened in Sweden in 2011 to support work done by scientists in Northern Europe. The second started a year later to back work on Air and Water Conservation in China.
Expeditions Council - This grantmaking program is run by the editorial staff, including magazine, TV, books, web, etc., so it’s looking for projects that will make for good stories. They are still required to demonstrate rigor if involving scientific inquiry. These grants range from $15,000 to $35,000.
Young Explorers Grants - And finally, one for the whippersnappers. The YEGs go to people aged 18 to 25 for work in research, conservation, and exploration. All of these grants must be consistent with the first three grant programs on this list (CRE, CT, and EC), but there’s also a separate fund provided by the Luce Foundation that increases opportunities in 18 Asian countries.