Threshold Foundation: Grants for Conservation

OVERVIEW: Threshold is actually a large collaborative of wealthy progressive donors, and has a diverse commitment to conservation. It provides support to organizations that are working to mitigate climate change, especially at the policy level. It also prefers funding unique efforts that might otherwise be passed over.

IP TAKE: Although anonymous, the foundation's website provides a lot of information for their grants programs. However, it only accepts proposals by invitation.

PROFILE: The Threshold Foundation was founded by wealthy heir Joshua Mailman and originally called the Doughnuts, which then 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.

Today, Threshold has two components: First, you have the Community, a group of undisclosed donors who congregate and share ideas. 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. 

For starters, there are two core committees that make most of the grants. The two committees are focused on Justice and Democracy and Sustainable Planet, the latter being an environment program that is open to a variety of issues like climate change and energy, water and air pollution, conservation, and biodiversity.

Additionally, Threshold has a particular interest in working with local and indigenous communities on conservation and biodiversity projects.

The funder seems to have an “it all fits together” approach to sustainability that involves extraction, development, energy, land, agriculture and ecosystems. And while there are some organizations that receive multi-year support, there’s an awful lot of rotation from year to year. To see a full list of past grantees, click here.

Aside from the core committees, there are a few other grantmaking channels that they refer to as Funding Circles. These are closer to what you see in other donor collaboratives, a bit looser and changing depending on the relevance of different issues. Separate volunteer committees of members interested in specific topics get together and direct pooled funds. While they do have annual funding cycles, it seems they can also fund on a quicker and more flexible basis than the core committees. 

There are currently three Funding Circles and all three are potentially relevant to the environment to some extent. 

The Thriving Resilient Communities Funding Circle also has a grassroots and community-based strategy. A lot of these grants tend to be energy-related or more human-focused, but some also involve conservation.

The Food and Farming Funding Circle deals with sustainable agriculture and anti-GMO work. And Threshold also has a High Impact Documentary Films Funding Circle.  

As far as applying for grants, the Funding Circles appear to be always invite-only. Grantmaking staff can always be contacted.


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