Politico recently took a look at the impressive successes of the Sierra Club's hard-hitting Beyond Coal campaign, which seeks to “improve public health, slash carbon emissions and allow the U.S. to take action as leader in fighting climate change."
In case you've haven't been following this push, it stands as one of the more successful advocacy operations of recent years. As Politico wrote, the campaign, along with the broader "war on coal," is "real and it’s relentless. Over the past five years, it has killed a coal-fired power plant every 10 days. It has quietly transformed the U.S. electric grid and the global climate debate."
Philanthropy has played a central role in financing Beyond Coal, starting with an infusion of tens of millions of dollars from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
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Major supporters also include the Hewlett Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Grantham Foundation, the Sandler Family Foundation, and the Yellow Chair Foundation.
Wait, what's that last one?
This question is easier asked than answered, since the Yellow Chair Foundation prefers to fly beneath the radar. It doesn't go so far as to cloak the donors behind it like the Kendeda Fund does (more on those donors in a moment), but it's otherwise a case study in non-transparency.
Yellow Chair's mailing address in San Francisco turns out to be for Pacific Foundation Services, a company that manages multiple foundations. Emails to Pacific’s general mailbox and to Charles Casey, the designated contact, are unanswered. A call to the foundation’s phone number was answered by Shauna, who confirmed that the Yellow Chair Foundation was publicity averse.
That's too bad, because this is another interesting example of a tech winner who's financing a pretty large foundation—it last reported assets of $227 million—and is placing some notable bets. That would be David Filo, the co-founder of Yahoo. It's also an example of how it's often the spouses of the big name billionaires who take the lead in philanthropic giving. In this case, Angela Filo is said to manage Yellow Chair's day-to-operations and funding. She has an undergrad degree from Stanford in human biology and a master's in journalism from UC Berkeley.
(Inside Philanthropy is often guilty, along with other media, of spotlighting the big name, usually a guy, in our articles on major donors. But make no mistake: We know that most wealthy couples make decisions about philanthropy jointly and that the women often take the lead because their husbands are still busy managing their businesses. For more on this, see our piece, "Meet the 15 Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy.")
The Yellow Chair Foundation was established in California in the year 2000 by the Filos, drawing on wealth from what is still one of the Internet’s most visited web sites. David Filo is currently worth $3.4 billion. And unlike cofounder Jerry Yang, who resigned in 2012, Filo still works at Yahoo.
The Filos gave out around $9 million in 2013, and they have been giving to environmental causes for a while. In that year, the Yellow Chair Foundation made big grants to the Energy Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Sierra Club. In other recent years, EDF was the main environmental grantee.
The Filos have also put money into global women's causes, the American Civil Liberties Union, journalism education, and a number of local institutions, including Stanford, where Angela recently became a board member.
It's not clear exactly how much the Filos have put into the Beyond Coal campaign through the Yellow Chair Foundation. What is clear is that they've chosen a winner in getting behind this effort.