Pew Charitable Trusts: Grants for Marine and Rivers

OVERVIEW: Pew is the consolidation of seven funds, reaching about $5 billion in total assets. Now a public charity, Pew conducts a massive amount of its own program work, including one of the largest oceans advocacy programs in the world. Pew is no longer a foundation, and has no marine grantmaking program, but still ends up giving large amounts to partners in marine causes. 

IP TAKE: Pew stopped operating as a foundation in 2002, and does not accept applications for grants. But the organization does give large amounts to groups it works with, and runs a couple of competitive programs worth noting.

PROFILE: The work of Pew Charitable Trusts is hard to describe in a nutshell. The organization has a trust of about $5 billion, runs more than 40 active projects, and employs about 1,000 staff, plus an entire research arm. Since 2002, it has ceased being a foundation, and is now a public charity primarily running its own programs. It does not have an official environmental grantmaking program and does not accept applications, but still ends up giving out quite a bit of funds to other groups. So what exactly are you, Pew? 

To get a grasp on the trusts, best to back up to its origins, as it emerged from seven charitable funds established from 1948 to 1979 by family related to the founder of the Sun Oil Company. Interests were all over the place, but the original donors were generally conservative, and early priorities included cancer research and the Red Cross.  

In 2002, the Philadelphia-based foundation(s) changed legal status to a public charity and gravitated more toward an emphasis on its own program work, hence the large staff of its own. Not long after, it established nonprofit Pew Research Center, which conducts social science work and polling. Today, the Pew Charitable Trusts lists goals to protect the environment, encourage responsive government, support scientific research, and improve civic life.

Pew’s ocean work seeks to protect habitats and important species like sharks, penguins, and tuna, mostly from threats caused by overfishing. This work falls under the Pew’s policy arm, and aims to create large marine reserves, end illegal fishing, protect key species and restore the overall health of ecosystems. Within the topic, there are a whopping 15 active, main projects, protecting everything from the Arctic to the Antarctic, whales to krill. Just a few key projects are:

• U.S. Ocean Conservation - In the United States, Pew works mostly on sustainable fisheries policy, with sub-projects in federal policy and conservation by regions. It’s been a major advocate for the Magnuson-Stevens Act that governs management of fisheries, and recently have been working to protect Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.

• Global Shark Conservation - Pew is out front on work to protect sharks, doing a lot of its own public education and advocacy work. They founded the Shark Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 nonprofits working to restore shark populations.  

Despite the emphasis on program, a serious amount of money does go out to other organizations. When it comes to making those grants, Pew communications staff emphasized that their environmental work is currently conducted in house by its own program staff, and it does not accept grant proposals. But tax filings do show significant funds going to dozens of other environmental groups. Communications Director Justin Kenney explains that they often work in partnership with other organizations and sometimes financially support those efforts.

A few of the recipients reported in tax filings are: 

  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the world-renowned research center in Massachusetts
  • Ocean Conservancy, an advocacy group that’s been around for 40 years protecting the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico
  • Ocean Foundation, a pass-through funder for donors supporting marine work

The organization also has two competitive marine funding programs worth noting: 

Pew Marine Fellows
One of the Trusts’ more accessible funding programs, the fellowship awards $150,000 each to five mid-career professionals annually who are doing critical marine conservation work internationally. The fellowships are still by nomination only, however.

Lenfest Ocean Program
This is actually a program funded by the Lenfest Foundation, but it is managed by Pew Charitable Trusts. Established in 2004, the program supports ocean research that is motivated by policy questions, with an emphasis on fishing, fisheries, and aquaculture. This program also does not accept unsolicited proposals.