Environmental Justice Grantmaking: Elites and Activists Collaborate to Transform Philanthropy



The rise of environmental justice activism since the 1980s provides an exceptional opportunity to study the relations between a grassroots movement and philanthropic foundations. I utilize archival documents and interviews with activists and funders to pose two guiding questions. One, to what degree has the environmental justice movement gained access to foundations? Two, to what degree does this movement maintain self-determination in its relations with foundations? This paper shows that the movement successfully established connections with a few key foundations. I also show how environmental justice grantee organizations maneuvered around some of the foundation-related constraints that might otherwise present very real threats to their self-determination. This analysis builds on, but also goes beyond, the channeling and co-optation literatures that emphasize the potentially negative influence of foundation funding on grantees. It also contributes to the newly developing social relations perspective which conceptualizes social movement philanthropy as a relationship that is mediated by many factors (for instance, the political orientation of the funder and grantee, among others).