The climate crisis negatively affects BIPOC people at a radically disproportionate rate and yet, mainstream environmental activists and the media continue to prioritize stranded polar bears on melting ice caps over people whose homes have been lost to flooding and land erosion.”
What do you see? Who do you follow? Who is in your center?
The George Gund Foundation is rooted in Cleveland, the community that was the home of its founder and that remains the Foundation’s home. The Foundation’s commitment to Cleveland derives not just from our history but also from our belief that Cleveland can continue to develop original responses to issues that can benefit people everywhere. Our focus on Cleveland offers an important point of leverage to affect issues that go well beyond the city’s boundaries and includes its roles as a place for innovation, an example and a leader in Ohio, a politically important state that can wield outsized influence nationally and, therefore, globally.
Moreover, the urban emphasis of our work stems from a belief that thriving cities are and will remain one of the nation’s best hopes for addressing essential issues. We invest in this place with an eye toward building the sense of community—locally, nationally and globally—that human progress requires. We commit to this for the long term, working alongside those who are making concrete progress. We also must acknowledge, however, that our work is often propelled by recognition that both Cleveland and any larger sense of community are threatened by powerful forces and divisive issues.
Such challenges are many but three interrelated issues stand out:
- climate change and environmental degradation,
- entrenched and accelerating inequality, especially racial inequity, and
- weakened democracy.
Climate change is a threat to the very future of humanity. Its consequences grow more apparent even as many ignore both the evidence before their eyes and the scientific consensus that calls on all of us to act. In 2016 the world community reached an agreement in Paris that set targets for greenhouse gas reductions in order to limit global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius. The United States government turned its back on that accord for four years but rejoined in early 2021. In response to the interruption, many states, cities, businesses and foundations—including The George Gund Foundation—asserted their commitment to the Paris goals and took action to help achieve them. Even if the Paris targets are achieved, however, human activity already has triggered a chain of damaging climate change and environmental degradation. Adaptation to these consequences is a growing need, and it is increasingly apparent that those who suffer first and foremost will disproportionately be people of color who live in more vulnerable locations and the poor who have fewer resources to adapt. Collective action across all sectors is required to meet these challenges.
Inequality also is a worldwide issue and its American dimensions pose grave societal questions. Can the American dream of upward mobility survive in an economy that distributes benefits so unequally? How does the concentration of wealth at the top affect our capacity for justice and the effectiveness of our politics? Can we finally overcome the deep-rooted racial aspect of inequality that is so conspicuous in America, repair the enduring damage of slavery and undo the countless actions, decisions and policies throughout our country’s history that have embedded racial inequity into nearly all societal systems? Cleveland has its own distinct version of this history and the racial dimension of inequality is present in nearly every community issue. Likewise, issues of justice for women, the LGBTQI community, people who are disabled, immigrants, refugees and others have become more prominent in recent years. The George Gund Foundation supports targeted groups as public discussion increasingly highlights them, and especially when they are attacked with language that is xenophobic and coarse.
The effectiveness of government and the democratic processes that give it legitimacy have been eroded by both foreign and domestic attacks. These include international interference with our elections, state-by-state efforts to restrict voting under the guise of preventing fraud, general apathy that has depressed voting turnout and the corrosive effect on our politics of vast amounts of money from secret sources. These distortions call into question both the willingness and the ability of government to tackle issues such as racial inequality and climate change. And the corrosion of democracy extends beyond the walls of government. Free and robust media, already unsettled by changing technology and business models, have been under unprecedented assault, damaging our country’s ability to reach the shared understanding of issues so necessary to a functioning democracy. This lack of common ground has contributed to a broader decline of social cohesion and public participation in many aspects of community life. We support renewed civic engagement and democracy because they are essential to moving forward.
These are great challenges, but we are continually inspired by the undaunted individuals and organizations fighting for progress. Our Foundation strives to support them through all of our work with a special emphasis on community in the various senses of that word. “Community” means a continued emphasis on Cleveland with its many needs and opportunities to be a stronger community—inclusive and welcoming for all, vibrant and successful in a global economy, and using its unique assets and resources to provide global lessons. But “community” is not just an expression of geographic proximity; it necessarily represents an inclusive outlook. In elevating community we promote and demand equity, especially with attention to those groups that continue to be victimized by systemic exclusion. Through all of our grantmaking we support efforts to unite people in community, to resist the forces that divide us into factions. “Community” also expresses our belief in democracy and its aspiration to give everyone a meaningful voice in shaping our common destiny. Without a vigorous, inclusive and functioning democracy, there can be no realistic opportunity for justice in a society beset with racial, economic and political division. We are encouraged by the countless opportunities to build the powerful collective forces that are essential to meet the challenges we face.
How We Work
Our sense of community extends to how we do our work. Our program areas reflect major fields of activity that continually intersect and overlap. We work together internally as we assess grant requests and we strive for collaborative and meaningful relationships with partners. We also collaborate on issues with grantees and others in ways that go beyond making grants. We assist, convene, highlight and advocate when it is appropriate. We recognize that everyone must contribute to the fight against climate change and we expect our grantee organizations to adopt efforts to do so. We support organizations on their journey to advance and achieve racial equity, as we are, and we expect all of our partners to actively learn about how racism continues to infect our society and to pursue ways of defeating it. We lift up the active voice of nonprofit organizations in policy deliberations as they are among the most well-informed and persuasive advocates in the halls of government and their push for policy change often can have far greater benefit for their constituents than direct charitable aid. We pursue opportunities across program areas to rebuild a vibrant democracy because all organizations and all individuals have important roles to play as advocates for active citizenship, voting rights, fair elections and honest, effective government.
What We Fund
We organize our work through program areas:
- Climate and environmental justice. We support the use of Cleveland’s unique environmental history and leadership, especially regarding water, to advance a healthy and sustainable future. In particular, we focus on projects and policies that contribute to the fight against climate change. Linked to every aspect of life, climate change increasingly threatens human lives. We support organizations led by and serving communities of color and others who historically have been underrepresented and are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We support organizations that develop and advocate for public policy on climate change and to advance clean energy, transportation, water and air. We invest in organizations that work to mitigate climate change by promoting sustainable land use, creation of accessible green spaces in Cleveland, and environmental justice—the ability of all to live in a safe and healthy environment.
- Creative culture and arts. We promote a vibrant, diverse and thriving arts community in Cleveland that enhances learning, strengthens pride of place, creates an emotional connection to our environment and deepens the impact of opportunities for those who might otherwise be denied them. We seek to balance support among Cleveland’s legacy institutions and smaller emerging organizations that reflect the full breadth of our culture and neighborhoods. We promote equity by helping to fortify organizations led by and serving people of color who have been historically underrepresented. We support the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s plan to help students realize their full creative and intellectual potential through rich artistic experiences. And we encourage integrating the creative thought, energy and inspiration that art can spark into the civic dialogue and sense of community that are needed to make progress on the complex issues that confront us.
- Public education. We support public education because it is fundamental to American democracy. It promotes the common good, brings together children and families across different cultures, and serves all students, regardless of means, ability or circumstances. We believe in the premise and power of public education and we work to ensure every child in Cleveland attends a high-quality school and every neighborhood has a multitude of great schools from which families can choose. We work primarily with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and its partners to support schools that inspire joy and creativity, build resilience and character, impart and elicit knowledge, and produce just, kind and engaged citizens ready for college, career and civic life. We are committed to the values of racial and economic justice and to overcoming the continuing issue of segregated schools and communities. We support advocacy for sound and consistent statewide policy that furthers our work and mitigates the effects of poverty on learning.
- Thriving families and social justice. Historic barriers to opportunity for both individuals and families must be removed to fully realize human potential. We strive toward a more just community and society that eliminate the conditions that create human need or limit fundamental rights. Consequently, we invest in growth and development opportunities for historically marginalized people at critical life junctures, such as pre-natal and early childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and when entering the workforce or forming a family. We support public policies that reduce poverty, that strengthen family economic stability and that secure equitable access to basic human needs such as food, shelter, and health care—particularly primary, behavioral, and reproductive. We pursue equitable treatment for both juveniles and adults in the civil and criminal justice systems plagued by racial disparities. We promote fair tax and fiscal policies which establish the framework for all public investment and the equitable use of data to accurately reflect the lived experience of society’s most marginalized populations.
- Vibrant neighborhoods and inclusive economy. We support work to achieve inclusive growth and opportunity for all of Cleveland’s neighborhoods and residents. City neighborhoods are essential to our regional economy as the largest concentrations of employers and employees, as talent magnets and as places where the exchange of ideas and insights can flourish. City neighborhood density, walkability, bike-ability and access to transit help to fight climate change. The people who live in the neighborhoods are essential participants in the strong regional team needed to compete in the global economy. Too often, however, barriers to opportunity such as lack of quality jobs, racial segregation, concentrated poverty and underinvestment in diverse entrepreneurs block progress. We support those who are working to eliminate such barriers through collaborative economic and community development efforts, including advocacy for policy change.
What We Request
It is natural to hope that our grant partners will share our beliefs and values but we also all have responsibilities to act on them. As part of our grant evaluation process, we ask that applicants provide insight into their thoughts and actions around the three overarching issues we have highlighted:
- Climate change
- Inequality and racial equity
- Threats to democracy
We look forward to engaging with our grant partners in a deeper conversation on these issues. We know that we will learn from them as they share their journeys and as we continue ours. Helpful information and resources on these topics can be found under the Apply for a Grant section of this website.
Say Yes to Education Cleveland: An important illustration
There are many examples of our Foundation’s approach in action and here we offer just one major initiative—Say Yes to Education Cleveland—as an illustration. Say Yes has received sizable grants from our Foundation and many others. It illustrates the interconnectedness of our concerns and the values we apply to all of our work. Say Yes is a 25-year-program that awards postsecondary scholarships to Cleveland residents who graduate from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, combined with services, supports and extended learning opportunities to ensure students are prepared to be successful. It also strives to be much more and in doing so it expresses the continually aspirational approach we take.
Say Yes advances equity, especially racial equity, by providing human and financial support to a Cleveland school population that is largely African-American and whose families have been denied full participation in society by the systemic effects of racism throughout American history. Closing the racial education gap is one of the essential steps toward racial healing and full inclusion of African-Americans in the benefits of our country. Say Yes seeks to change the perception that African-American and other low-income children of color are not able and motivated to learn and excel when given the necessary pathway and supports to be fully equipped for success. Racial equity is a prime motivator of Say Yes and a central value of our Foundation.
Say Yes concentrates on children, starting with preschoolers. Children who are deprived appropriate stimulus, proper diet, personal care, and a safe, nurturing environment start far behind their peers. Say Yes is an important source of support beginning with the youngest children and continuing through high school to ensure that Cleveland’s children are ready to succeed. The well-being of children and their families is essential to our future.
Say Yes focuses on the city of Cleveland, reinforcing the broader plan to transform Cleveland’s public schools to make them a magnet for the city and its neighborhoods. By providing this financial incentive to live in Cleveland’s neighborhoods, Say Yes makes a powerful statement against suburban sprawl and its damaging environmental, social and economic impacts.
Say Yes fuels creativity by increasing after school and summer enrichment opportunities for students in the arts, sciences and technology. Say Yes and its high expectations will increase appetite and demand for enriching and stimulating arts offerings that wealthier school districts have always provided. Say Yes will open, broaden and stimulate minds.
Say Yes advances citizenship by uniting a community around educating its young people so they have the tools to influence the world around them, to understand how to do so and that their voices truly matter. Democracy depends on active public engagement, whether by being informed about issues and voting or by engaging in advocacy or protest. Supporting vigorous citizenship and building democracy are core activities of our work.
Say Yes builds human capital and our economy by advancing the capacity of Cleveland’s workforce to compete for and succeed in the demanding jobs of the global economy. Our economy needs skilled workers and Say Yes gives a boost to a large number of students who have historically been left out of the economic opportunity that quality education provides.
Say Yes is a system-wide change, not assistance for a few. It demands collaboration and cooperation from public schools, higher education, city and county government, philanthropy, supporting agencies, parents and students. Our Foundation seeks to maximize impact through collaboration, leverage, policy influence and systems change.
Program Related Investments
George Gund Foundation makes program-related investments (PRIs) in nonprofit ventures that fit particularly well with the Foundation’s grantmaking objectives. PRIs can take the form of loans, equity investments, linked deposits and loan guarantees. Unlike grants, PRIs are expected to be repaid.
PRIs are generally made only to nonprofit organizations with a strong track record of performance using Foundation grants. Given expectation for repayment, the application process for a PRI is considerably more detailed than for a grant. Conversations on a possible program-related investment should begin with the program director the organization normally deals with regarding grants.
Capital Grants Policy: Green Buildings
The George Gund Foundation limits capital grants for construction or renovation to projects that seek U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
Capital grants are made only to nonprofit organizations in Greater Cleveland that would otherwise qualify for grants based on the Foundation’s guidelines and priorities. Projects requesting capital funding also must seek certification under the USGBC’s LEED standards. Potential grantees are encouraged to contact the appropriate program officer before submitting a capital request to see if their project qualifies.
The Foundation’s goal in requiring organizations that apply for capital grants to adopt green building principles is to encourage and support the development of green buildings in Greater Cleveland for their environmental, health and economic benefits. New construction projects must seek LEED Silver certification or higher. Renovation projects must seek designation as LEED Certified or higher.
Applications for capital grants should submit:
- Letter signed by the board chair or CEO confirming registration of the project with USGBC’s LEED program and stating the organization’s commitment to adopt green building principles and pursue the appropriate level LEED certification.
- A preliminary LEED checklist showing potential points towards certification.
- Designation of a “green champion” for the project—a person who has the appropriate authority within the organization to shepherd the integrated design process from project conception to completion. This staff person or volunteer is the institutional champion for designing a green building and is involved in all aspects of project planning.
$37,045,650 / 237 Grants