Walton Family Foundation: Grants for Conservation

OVERVIEW: Walton mainly funds marine and river conservation, but it gives a smaller number of grants to a range of environmental concerns, including land conservation and ecology education. These grants are awarded out of the foundation's environment program. 

IP TAKE: Since 2005, Walton's giving for conservation has skyrocketed, focusing largely on huge environment groups, but not exclusively. Whatever Walton is giving away now, that amount is only going to get bigger, and the foundation's conservation priorities could widen. So pay attention--especially if you do freshwater conservation work in the Mississippi or Colorado River basins, or marine conservation anywhere in the world.

PROFILE: The Waltons became one of the wealthiest families in the world by dominating big-box retail worldwide with their Wal-Mart chain. Now, the Walton Family Foundation has become a force in conservation funding.

The foundation gave over $100 million to environmental work in 2014. Most of this funding went to its two main subprogram areas for the environment, both involving the protection of water habitats. Walton's Freshwater Conservation focus funds work in the Colorado and Mississippi river basins. The Marine Conservation focus supports work that creates economic incentives for sustainable resource management in ocean ecosystems. (See IP's Marine & Rivers guide for a full description of this funding.)

Water is the main focus of the Walton Family Foundation's environmental giving. Although it does not have a grantmaking program aimed directly at general environmental conservation efforts, quite a bit of money also finds its way into other forms of conservation work. For one, work that falls under the rivers initiative can go beyond water quality or conservation work that might initially come to mind. A big part of the Colorado River initiative, for example, involves restoring native plants in riparian habitats. 

The foundation's giving for "other environment related grants" comprises about a quarter of its environmental funding. Because there is a lot more money where that came from, it's worth taking a hard look at where this other funding has been going. One of the largest grants in recent years — for $12 million — went to Conservation International. But pretty substantial gifts have also gone to different state branches of the Nature Conservancy, suggesting opportunities for other Nature Conservancy offices. The foundation also gives money to some mainstream environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, and invests heavily in ecology education.

To review all recent grantees, click here.

One thing that unites Walton's extensive conservation funding--philosophically at least--is its approach toward the the environment and the economy. The foundation cites what it calls "conservationomics," or the principle that the best ways to help the environment also help people and local economies:

The Walton Family Foundation believes that conservation solutions that make economic sense are the ones that stand the test of time. The foundation works to achieve lasting change by creating new and unexpected partnerships among conservation, business and community interests to build durable solutions to big problems.

That means market-based solutions are definitely on the table. 

Bottom line: Even if you don't work on rivers or oceans, Walton could be a funding prospect. There is just so much money here — and much more on the way given the Walton family's collective net worth. Exactly how to get to that money is a big question, since the foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals. Thankfully, it does accept brief letters of inquiry. Details here.

PEOPLE: 

  • Barry D. Gold, Director, Environment Program

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