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Future Of Philanthropy

Mark Ruffalo And The Solutions Project Are Pioneering "Instant" Grantmaking For Activists

Community climate campaigns no longer need to wait months for small cash infusions.

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When activists in New Orleans needed funding to organize a protest against new offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico—and needed the money quickly—they turned to a new type of grant that can be approved in days. The typical grant application process can take months, so the money might show up long after it's needed.

The Fighter Fund, a new grant-making program run by The Solutions Project, is designed to give out money quickly enough that it can be used to take action when the timing is right. The small grants, ranging from a few thousand dollars to $15,000, go to community-based groups working on clean energy and climate justice.

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"There are these movement 'moments,' and our role at The Solutions Project is to really accelerate them, to grease the wheels so that those leaders with really bold, innovative strategies can be super responsive to current events," says Sarah Shanley Hope, the organization's executive director.

The actor Mark Ruffalo, one of the co-founders of The Solutions Project, was inspired to create the grant after his own work in the anti-fracking fight in upstate New York; he saw how much even small amounts of funding could have helped.

The grants are also designed to help tiny organizations access funding that might otherwise go to more established nonprofits. "There are around 10 very large 'Big Green' organizations that have done incredible work to get us where we are . . . the funding has remained aligned there for decades," says Shanley Hope.

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Community groups haven't had the same resources. "These are leaders of color, women, young people, who are engaged in climate solutions or in fighting the pollution and the environmental impacts of a dirty energy economy in their backyards, and really developing the solutions to the own problems," she says. "The resources haven't yet shifted at the scale they need to . . . support those new innovators."

At the same time, community groups are increasingly winning battles. In Minnesota, Native American activists successfully fought off Enbridge's Sandpiper pipeline, designed to carry crude oil from fracking fields in North Dakota. In North Dakota, protestors won a temporary restraining order against another Enbridge pipeline that threatened local water supplies.

The Fighter Fund officially launched on August 17, but has tested the grants in a pilot over the last six months. In Los Angeles, for example, they gave a group called Communities for a Better Environment a grant to get PR support for a lawsuit against the city for siting oil rigs in communities of color. The Indigenous Environmental Network—one of the conveners of the protests in North Dakota—got another grant to bring leaders together to strategize further action.

By building close relationships with as many diverse groups as possible, The Solutions Project says that it's able to quickly make decisions on each grant. In the first year of the grant program—funded by donors like Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation—the organization plans to give away half a million dollars.

"We saw a gap in the field of philanthropy," says Shanley Hope. "If we can inspire other funders to get more creative and get more dollars to the grassroots, that's also our goal here."

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Photos: Stephen Yang

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