Wilburforce Foundation: Grants for Environmental Conservation

OVERVIEW: Wilburforce concentrates on conservation in Western North America. It supports work in a dozen priority regions, with programs in conservation science, law and policy, and organizational capacity building. With wealth originating from the early days of Microsoft, this Seattle-based funder gives around $10 million annually. 

IP TAKE: Marine conservation funding is competitive. However, Wilburforce also supports smaller organizations. It strictly funds conservation work, so other projects beyond this scope will not be able to secure funding. In its approach, the foundation also emphasizes capacity building, conservation science, and conservation law and policy.

PROFILE: The Wilburforce Foundation was founded in 1991. Rose Letwin, formerly married to one of the original 11 Microsoft employees, is the driving force behind the Seattle-based conservation funder Wilburforce. Rose Letwin was always the primary decision-maker, but since they divorced, she has been the sole donor and president of Wilburforce, which supports “organizations and individuals that are committed to protecting wild places and the wildlife that depend on them.” The foundation supports science-based interventions, which center on combining marine and wildlife expertise from a variety of disciplines. Wilburforce also funds policymaking advocacy and capacity building efforts to achieve sustainable outcomes.

The program to which grantseekers should apply depends on their location:

The Alaska/British Columbia program focuses on five priority regions: Arctic, BC Central Interior, Great Bear Rainforest, Tongass, and Transboundary Watersheds.

The Northwest/Southwest program focuses on three priority regions including: Cascadia, Great Basin, and Southwest Crescent.

The Yellowstone/Yukon program covers over 2,000 miles focusing on five priority regions including the Crown of the Continent, Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Inland Rainforest, Salmon-Selway/Hells Canyon, and Y2Y Far North.

Grants through Wilburforce range anywhere from $10,000 to over $500,000. Awards range from $10,000 to $100,000. In the past, it funded the New Venture’s program Salmon State: Transboundary and Tongass. To learn more about the foundation’s grantees, explore its helpful grants database. Its core goal is preserving the West’s ecological importance, with a “hopeful vision” that wild places and human communities can coexist. Potential grantees, as always, should carefully examine its approach, but some guiding principles are sound science, good policy, and community action. As Executive Director Tim Greyhavens told us via email, “we seek out organizations whose work is grounded in science, and that engage in communities to increase the social and political relevance of conservation.”

Wilburforce does not accept unsolicited grant applications. Grantseekers must first contact the appropriate program officer regarding their work and if the foundation is interested, it will invite the group to submit a full proposal. At that time, deadlines will be announced.


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