Blog: Amplify

6 Ideas to Enhance Your Environmental and Human Rights Grantmaking

2017 Council Awards Program

The Council is now accepting nominations for:

All nominations must be received by 10:00 p.m. on January 4, 2017.

We have just passed a major milestone at Global Greengrants Fund, having recently made our 10,000th grant. After 22 years of effort given by so many people to reach this achievement, there are a few lessons Global Greengrants has learned in the process of supporting grassroots environmental and social justice groups in 167 countries around world.

Develop systems for accessibility

Grantmaking processes must be as accessible as possible for the communities and people most affected by environmental injustice. This means developing systems and networks that actively seek out groups, lowering the barriers of application, reaching communities in their own languages and on their own terms, and supporting many styles and forms of organizations that do not fit the mold of a typical NGO. For specific tips on how to audit your own grant portfolio, see our guide to supporting grassroots environmental action. The guide and its corresponding program, #WomenAndClimate received the Council on Foundations’ 2016 Wilmer Shields Rich Award for Excellence in Communications.

Let local knowledge drive decisions

For us, this has also meant putting grantmaking strategies and decisions in the hands of grassroots activists and leaders from over a hundred countries. Approaches and decision-making that are centrally driven stymie a funder’s ability to navigate the complex contextual, social, political, and cultural challenges that make it hard to give ten international grants, let alone ten thousand.

Know that timing is critical

All grantmakers think a lot about “who” and “what” to fund, but for those that give small grants, “when” can be just as important. Grants are often the most useful when they come at key junctures in social change processes and help move things in the right direction. Nimble grantmaking can allow groups to take advantage of key political, cultural, or even natural events to mobilize people and ideas. A grantmaking process that takes less time can enable groups to respond to critical needs and opportunities that arise in the moment.

Don’t glamorize risk

It seems trendy in philanthropy these days to talk about taking risks or bets—often the bigger the better. It is critically important to remember that funders’ exposure to risk is almost always less than that of grantees, who face losing much more than money if they are unsuccessful.

Work across silos

Success at working at the local level depends on a funder’s flexibility to support many groups that see their work as only environmental. For many communities, the reasons for working for the environment go beyond protecting nature and its systems. They are defending resource-dependent livelihoods, indigenous culture, children’s health, or women’s rights. Being responsive and adapting programs to meet local agendas means that many more solutions to environmental problems can emerge and grantees are more successful in their efforts to mobilize people and resources and to influence public opinion.

Remember, the grant is only one ingredient

I am most impressed by how nourishing a grant of just $5,000 can be. Humble groups grow confidence and capacity after receiving their first grant. Volunteers and community members commit time and energy to carry out the work. The media might pick up the story, and other funders may take notice and step in. Our grantmaking advisors invest untold hours of mentoring, accompaniment, and technical support with the grantee. Networks form with other groups in the region, then nationally and internationally. These co-benefits emerge when grants are made with a strong belief in the power of local action and a respect for the ability of grassroots groups to mobilize resources that are more important than money.

About Peter Kostishack, Vice President and Director of Programs: Peter has worked for many years to support communities and indigenous organizations in defense of their rights, territories, and natural resources. Prior to joining Global Greengrants Fund, he coordinated the Amazon Alliance, a coalition of indigenous and non-governmental organizations protecting the Amazon Basin. He has also been a community mapper, researcher, blogger, activist against mega projects, and consultant to funders and organizations on how to partner with indigenous peoples’ organizations. Peter has a MESc in Social Ecology and Community Development from Yale University and a B.A. in Biology from Harvard University.

About Global Greengrants Fund: The leading environmental fund that supports grassroots action on a global scale, Global Greengrants Fund, a 501(c)3 public charity, has directed more than $63 million in grants to grassroots initiatives in 167 countries. The organization received the Council on Foundations' 2016 Wilmer Shields Rich Award for Excellence in Communications for #WomenAndClimate, a program to advance climate justice and women’s rights funding. Learn more at

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