Herbert "Beto" Bedolfe, III, Marisla Foundation

TITLE: Executive Director 

FUNDING AREAS: Marine & Rivers, Climate & Energy, Conservation, Toxics, Human Services

CONTACT: glenda@marisla.org (Glenda Menges, Administrator)

IP TAKE: Bedolfe has been working for Marisla since 1992, serving as the sole programmatic staff and public face of the foundation. And he founded and served as ED of Oceana for six years in his spare time.

PROFILE: When the Health & Environmental Funders Network bid farewell to Herman M. Bedolfe, III (universally known as “Beto”) as a founding steering committee member, they had some warm words that sum him up as a funder: “Beto is a model of low-ego, high-impact grantmaking, and he is a surfer. We suspect some connection.” Bedolfe is based in Southern California, and when he is not catching waves, he’s a powerful force in ocean conservation as executive director of the Marisla Foundation. And he sounds like a cheerful fellow.

But don’t let the SoCal vibe fool you. Bedolfe is a pretty big deal in oceans work and environmental health, especially when it comes to protecting the Pacific. He’s been around the world, speaks three languages, and has held spots in several funder networks and boards of trustees. And while he’s known as one of the founders of the largest international ocean conservation organization, his primary responsibility is overseeing grants of around $47 million a year on behalf of Marisla.

Bedolfe got his start at Swarthmore College, where he earned his B.A. before going on to finish an M.B.A from California Lutheran University. Not long after finishing grad school, Bedolfe hit the road, serving as a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Paraguay in the late 1970s. 

After the Peace Corps, but before getting into philanthropy, Bedolfe mostly worked for the federal government. He ran programs for USAID in West and Southern Africa. And did short-term assignments in Guinea Bissau and Sao Tome-Principe with the World Bank and the USDA. He’s lived in Mozambique and Cape Verde Islands and speaks Portuguese and Spanish fluently.

The bulk of his career has been spent working for Marisla, where he began in 1992 and has served since. He did take a side job of sorts in 2002, after co-founding Oceana. He was executive director from 2002 to 2008, and led the organization’s rise to prominence as a major force in international ocean conservation and advocacy. In that time, he worked on protection of habitats from bottom trawling, convincing a major cruise line to stop dumping in the ocean, and helping to convince the EU to shut down reckless fishing practices. He stepped down in 2008 as ED, but remains on the board. 

At Marisla, well, he more or less is Marisla. The Laguna Beach-based foundation has a small board and an administrator, but he is the public face and the sole programmatic leader for the funder. He serves as the gatekeeper for the grantmaking of Anne G. Earhart, whose wealth comes from the storied Getty oil family. Earhart is pretty reclusive, however, leaving the legwork to Bedolfe. 

The foundation has a few priorities. First, the Human Services program mostly helps women with physical, mental and financial help. But in terms of environmental giving, things are divided up between conservation in Western North America, Chile and the western Pacific, with an emphasis on marine habitats, and environmental health threats from toxic chemicals. 

(See IP's guide to Marisla's marine work here, and its other conservation work here.)

Not surprisingly, Marisla’s conservation grants go in large part to the more prominent national organizations, such as the Nature Conservancy, the Resources Legacy Fund and Oceana. But they also give quite a bit to small and medium-sized groups, including local conservation efforts like Friends of the Los Angeles River. California is the largest beneficiary, geographically speaking, but Bedolfe also sends funds to international projects including in the Pacific islands and South America.

Aside from his grantmaking, Bedolfe is one of those guys who seems to be involved in everything, especially in terms of oceans work and California nonprofits. In 2012, he and Marisla were honored by the Surfrider Foundation as one of their “wavemakers.” He sits on the board of the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association's Environment Fund. He used to be treasurer of the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity. He co-founded HEFN, which offered him the kind words of gratitude above. And he gets to hang out with celebrities. He still sits on the board of Oceana along with Ted Danson and Sam Waterston, and is a member of Oceans 5, a network of funders that includes Leonardo DiCaprio himself.