How do you unlock the power of local philanthropy to build sustainable communities? An innovative program of local and national funders and city sustainability officials may have found the answer. The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities and its partner, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, announced the first round of projects designed to connect innovative city sustainability projects with local philanthropies.
Projects ranging from urban agriculture to collaborative capacity-building were recently funded by the newly-launched Local Sustainability Matching Fund, a project of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities. A total of $250,000 was awarded to five communities. The communities and projects are:
The Local Sustainability Matching Fund is a collaborative effort of the Funders’ Network, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), Kendeda Fund, New York Community Trust, Summit Foundation, and Surdna Foundation. The Fund is designed to catalyze partnerships between local governments and local, place-based foundations and to advance community-based sustainability initiatives.
Ben Starrett, executive director for the Funders’ Network, has praise for the funders and USDN, who evaluated proposals as a team along with Funders’ Network staff. “The Local Sustainability Matching Fund is a great example of philanthropy reaching out to learn and work in partnership with each other and practitioners in the field. The funders involved are committed to advancing sustainability and local collaboration. The Fund spurs action to move those principles forward, both on the ground and within our own work.”
The Fund was the brainchild of Patricia Jenny, program director for the New York Community Trust’s Community Development & Environment Program. After attending a USDN presentation hosted by the Surdna Foundation, she realized there was an opportunity to raise a pool of matching funds to support collaboration between local, place-based foundations and sustainability directors.“It’s relatively rare to have community foundations work with cities on sustainability agendas,” Jenny says. “However, sustainability initiatives have the most traction at the local level—it’s where things are getting done. Providing matching funds will help accelerate sustainability projects and create new partnerships between community foundations and city governments. It’s exciting work.”
In addition to the New York Community Trust, the Kendeda Fund, Summit Foundation, and Surdna Foundation quickly signed on. Darryl Young, director of the Summit Foundation’s Sustainable Cities Program, says the first round of funding has been an overwhelming success. “It’s clear. Sustainablity is happening at a community scale. These are large-scale sustainability projects with genuine human impact. We’re excited to see what the grants will yield.”
Jeramy Lund, a founding member of the Community Foundation of Utah, which, along with its partners, was awarded $25,000 for the Clean Air Neighborhoods initiative, praised the collaborative nature of the grants. “As a new foundation, the Community Foundation of Utah has done a lot of convening, but not many collaborative grants. This grant really allowed us to reach out to the community and establish relationships and helped us approach a new group of donors with a concrete ask.” The Community Foundation of Utah partnered with Salt Lake City and Breathe Utah and will also receive matching funds from outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia. “The really nice thing about bringing the groups together,” Lund says, “is that you leverage the expertise and strengths of all of them. The grant process utilizes the best of each group and there’s more community buy-in.”
The Fund will open a second round of funding later this summer. To attract additional interest in urban sustainability projects beyond those funded, it will also house an Idea Bank on the Funders’ Network website, which will provide summaries of project applications. “One thing all of the projects told us,” Jenny says, “is that sustainability is becoming cemented into the work of cities and is making a real difference in the community and in the lives of residents.”