Wells Fargo: Grants for Conservation

OVERVIEW: Wells Fargo seriously entered environmental grantmaking in 2012 with a commitment to give $100 million to the issue by 2020. Together with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, it's interested in sustainable agriculture and forestry, water quality, land conservation and support for building healthy urban ecosystems--as well as clean technology.

IP TAKE: This bank's corporate foundation has a pretty structured and easy to follow annual grantmaking program for conservation projects at this point. It also accepts unsolicited proposals.

PROFILE: Although Wells Fargo is one of the largest banks in the country, it also happens to be quite committed to the environment, both in terms of financing green companies and its own corporate and philanthropic activity. Indeed, Wells Fargo's corporate responsibility program is robust. While many big banks operate community projects programs, Wells Fargo has made the environment a signature priority

The company’s environmental work has a few fronts, including financing for environmental initiatives, volunteer work performed by employees in the communities, and improving the efficiency of its buildings. In 2012, the company unveiled its new environmental goals, which include a commitment to give $100 million in grants by 2020. 

Do note, however, that while green grants are on the rise, it’s still only a chunk of the bank’s overall giving, which actually gives much larger amounts at this point to causes like community projects and education. 

Regarding conservation specifically, the Environmental Solutions program is a $15 million, 5-year collaboration with NFWF, which sends funds to local environmental projects in areas where Wells Fargo operates. The program gives to a mix of agriculture and forestry, conservation of land and water, energy efficiency and urban projects, and community and environmental education. 

Grant amounts are between $25,000 to $100,000 per project, and applications are accepted on an annual cycle. Proposals are due in the winter and awards are announced in early summer. Annual grants have totaled around $3 million. Some projects end up receiving matching from the government or other NFWF partners, a specialty of the government-affiliated nonprofit.

The grants tend to put an emphasis on community and citizen participation as part of conservation, and even put emphasis on underprivileged populations. Here’s a handful of representative grants to give a better idea: 

  • There are a lot of watershed and wetlands projects funded, including the Seattle Youth Agriculture and Wetlands Restoration Project that received a grant to work with at-risk youth to restore habitats in Washington. 
  • Friends of Marsh Creek Watershed received a grant to improve stormwater management in Contra Costa County, California. The watershed is a refuge for wildlife on the northeastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. 
  • The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation received a grant to transform formerly industrial area in Philadelphia into a riverfront park, recruiting 500 community members to participate. 
  • What corporate grant program would be complete without funding for the Nature Conservancy? The group and local chapters received funding for a few projects, including a restoration project in Northern Arizona’s Ponderosa Pine forest ecosystems. 
  • Another industrial site project, San Antonio River Foundation received funding to lead volunteers to transform an industrial yard in a poor neighborhood of the city into a green recreation space.
  • There are also a number of education projects, teaching communities about sustainability, agriculture, and conservation projects

Again, leading up to 2020, this will be one to watch. The NFWF project is a great program for local nonprofits to apply to, but is only part of the bank’s grantmaking strategy as it climbs to $100 million.


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