HEFN’s 2017 Year in Review

January 26, 2018
Cindy Glass

It was a year of change, as HEFN helped funders respond to new challenges while steadily progressing in work to mobilize philanthropy for environmental health and justice solutions. With appreciation to all of our members, partners, and colleagues, here’s a snapshot of HEFN’s work in 2017.

Staying the Course

To sustain and serve its membership of foundations and donors, HEFN provided opportunities throughout the year to learn and work together on environmental health and justice issues of high interest.

The network’s 10-year (2016-2026) strategic direction and its ambitious commitments – including at least doubling philanthropy for environmental health and justice work – provided a framework for action. In 2017 HEFN built capacity, finished some projects, and took on others in three strategic areas of work: advancing solutions, building leadership, and expanding investments.

A ”Staying the Course” post on HEFN’s Giving InSight blog offered a staff perspective on how the network’s long-term goals and priorities grounded both planned work and adaptations to political developments, natural disasters, and social disruption.

Advancing Solutions

  • Accelerating transitions from toxic to safer chemicals and materials.

​In June HEFN published results of an independent evaluation of over a decade of foundation investments to reform US chemicals policy. The report found that the advocacy and organizing supported by HEFN members’ strategic investments had created the context for a major U.S. policy shift, culminating in the 2016 signing of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. HEFN members Beto Bedolfe, Carolyn Fine Friedman, Shelley Hearne, Ruth Hennig, and Janet Maughan (below right, pictured left to right) shared perspectives on that evaluation in a blog post on “Evaluating Toxics Reform: Lessons for the Future and Imperatives for Today.”

In September, HEFN convened members in a one-day strategy meeting to discuss new federal opportunities to defend or advance chemicals policy and other environmental health protections. Staff shared preliminary findings from a survey HEFN conducted of more than 250 advocacy groups focused on toxics or pesticides issues, to update funders on the groups’ communications capacities and needs.

Members’ work and giving supported critical toxics research, advocacy and organizing. Advocates’ efforts helped block confirmation of a key EPA appointee with strong ties to the chemical industry. Market-focused campaigning helped catalyze several major retailers’ adoption of safer chemicals policies. A food and chemicals campaign earned major media coverage about phthalates in popular macaroni and cheese products. Target joined the Forsythia Foundation in resourcing alternatives development through SaferMade, a green chemistry venture capital fund.

  • Addressing health, environmental, and community impacts of the oil and gas shale economy.

Building on prior years of work on fracking, in 2017 HEFN helped funders address expanding impacts from oil and gas shale development, transportation, and infrastructure expansion, with declining fuels demand increasing industry focus on turning shale liquids into petrochemicals and plastics. HEFN supported peer funder exchanges through calls and an email group, as well as convening staff and members in November for a working dinner on oil and gas during HEFN’s 2017 meeting. Network staff and members began a strategic assessment of health, equity, and environmental interests in the convergence of fossil fuels, petrochemicals, and plastics production.

As with toxics work, HEFN members supported a landscape of research, advocacy, and organizing, including expansion of environmental health registries monitoring health impacts around shale activity, and campaigning adding Maryland to the states banning hydraulic fracturing. Members supported, and members and staff participated in, a large People’s Oil and Gas Infrastructure Summit held in Pittsburgh in November.

  • Improving health and equity outcomes by addressing climate change.

HEFN’s three-year project to elevate philanthropic attention to and investment in health and equity issues related to climate change culminated in a major philanthropic meeting.

HEFN engaged four other funder groups -- the Climate and Energy Funders Group of the Biodiversity Funders Group, the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA), the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities (TFN), and Grantmakers In Health (GIH) – in cosponsoring a November 2017 funder briefing on “Charting a Climate, Health, and Equity Agenda: Investing in Those Most Impacted to Improve Health and The Environment.”

The one-day event convened funders and funder groups in Detroit, to find common ground across interests in health, the environment, racial and gender equity, climate and energy, water, urban and rural communities, smart growth, and related areas.

HEFN helped publicize this issue throughout 2017, such as through the placement of a blog post on “Our Climate Change and Health: How Philanthropy Can Help” in Health Affairs’ GrantWatch by Matt James of the Packard Foundation. Staff participated in ecoAmerica’s Climate Health Leadership Circle to strengthen national alliances.  Network members elevated attention to climate, health, and equity issues, including a Kresge Foundation-organized funder event at the 2017 American Public Health Association meeting. HEFN grew its climate, health, and equity email group from 65 to 76 funders and staff across eight funder groups, enabling regular communications throughout the year.

  • Improving children’s and communities’ environmental health, including through a focus on access to safe, affordable, accessible drinking water.

HEFN drew participants at the GIH 2017 annual meeting into a “speed-dating” workshop on children’s environmental health. Staff represented the HEFN community at Children’s Environmental Health Day celebrations in Washington, DC.

In June HEFN organized a panel on “Using Values Around Health, Water, and Equity to Mobilize Powerful Change” for the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders’ (SAFSF) 15th Annual Forum. HEFN organized a webinar on “The Cost of Unaffordable Water,” cosponsored by GIH and TFN in September. HEFN’s email group on drinking water enabled regular information-sharing and communication across eight funder groups, growing from 54 to 66 grantmakers and staff.

HEFN members helped elevate philanthropic attention to drinking water issues, like with a keynote speech on drinking water at the GIH 2017 meeting by the Water Foundation’s Wade Crowfoot, and a GIH Views from the Field piece on reducing lead exposure co-authored by the Pisces Foundation’s Nancy Stoner.

Members’ giving helped support the launch of a national Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative, as well as numerous local and national events elevating attention to issues of lead exposure, drinking water safety, and children’s health. Crossover work linking members’ interests in toxics and children’s health engaged new municipalities in pledges to reduce kids’ exposures to neurodevelopmental hazards. The Jonas Philanthropies announced a million-dollar initiative in children’s environmental health, including to advance research and consumer education to reduce kids’ toxic exposures.

Building Leadership

One priority in HEFN’s 2016-2026 strategic direction is to expand giving to organizations and organizing among those most impacted by environmental health and justice problems. In 2017 HEFN planned and opened registration for a new 2018 “Making the Case” community of practice program on integrating racial and gender equity and grassroots organizing support into grantmaking.

HEFN incorporated skills-building exercises throughout the year’s events, to strengthen its staff, Steering Committee, and members’ capacity to promote equity and grassroots support in their professional work. Staff attended several programs on addressing racism and advancing equity.

HEFN used reposts on its blog to highlight members’ powerful perspectives, such as Grant Oliphant’s “Silence,” Vanessa Daniels’ “America Is Burning: White People in Philanthropy, What is Your Move?” and Farhad Ebrahimi on “Beyond Rogue One: What Science Fiction Can Tell Us About Resisting Trump and Supporting Social Movements.”

To strengthen and extend the reach of its own equity-focused work, HEFN partnered with other funder groups, including exploring options with EGA to add an equity lens to grants data and helping plan a 2018 funder group equity summit.

Expanding Investments

Throughout the year, HEFN worked to reach and engage more foundations and donors in giving for environmental health and justice. In developing webinars, calls, and meetings, the network regularly solicited other funder group partners as co-sponsors to expand funder participation, and it organized sessions at several other funder meetings.

Staff supported HEFN members in highlighting their giving through guest posts on HEFN’s Giving Insights blog and through placements in other publications, such as a Foundation Center GrantCraft post on low-cost technology to protect health authored by The Heinz Endowments’ Phil Johnson.

Having set ambitious goals for expanding investments in environmental health and justice, HEFN also committed to tracking progress.  In 2017 a new partnership with EGA expanded its Tracking the Field database with relevant grants data across the two groups’ membership. The two groups reported on $250 million in 2015 grants.  A new portal was added to HEFN’s website (above, right) allowing members access to a wealth of grant data, for instance to find other funders with similar grantee, regional, or issue interests. HEFN and EGA began work to strengthen grants data further in 2018, including through a new HEFN taxonomy and other information to bolster the integration of equity and grassroots priorities in giving.

Learning and Networking

Continuing to learn in a peer community is critical for good grantmaking. In addition to programming related to HEFN’s priority issue areas, the network also organized programs for funders to learn about changing developments. Several calls and webinars in the first half of 2017 provided information about changes in US national politics and policies, supporting discussion about reorienting funding strategies. HEFN cosponsored a monthly election and civic engagement series organized by the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, as well as a call with multiple cosponsors on strengthening grantees’ digital security capacities.

As hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast and Caribbean, and wildfires affected California and the Pacific Northwest, HEFN helped facilitate information-sharing about affected communities and locally-grounded response and recovery.

The year’s programming culminated in the 2017 HEFN Annual Meeting focused on “Rewriting the Rules: Opportunities for Health and Environmental Justice in Disruptive Times.” The November 15-16 event drew nearly 80 funders together for a program with speaker panels, flash talks, skill building sessions, site visits, networking opportunities, and dinner discussions. Participants explored connections between local solutions and national power, grassroots and national organizing, defense and offense, issue work and civic engagement. Attendance at HEFN’s 2017 meetings grew 26 percent over 2016 attendance.

Movers and Shakers

A national group of members guided HEFN’s work through service on the Steering Committee. Expressions of appreciation – and HEFN Hero jackets! – were given to Vanessa Daniel, Lauren Davis, and David Fukazawa who finished Steering Committee service. Big thanks also went to Phil Johnson who concluded five years of leadership as Steering Committee co-chair and agreed to support leadership continuity through service on the Steering Committee in 2018 as Chair Emeritus. Read more here about HEFN leadership.

New members joining in 2017 included the C.S. Mott Foundation, the Water Foundation, and an individual donor.

Several members won national awards. The Liberty Hill Foundation’s Clean Up Green Up environmental justice campaign received the American Planning Association 2017 award for Excellence in Innovation in Green Community Planning. The Groundswell Fund was awarded the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s “Smashing Silos” Award for Intersectional Grantmaking. As You Sow was celebrated for 25 years promoting environmental and social corporate responsibility. Pete Myers (left), Jenifer Altman Foundation trustee and a founder of HEFN, was honored with the Sierra Club Distinguished Service Award, for his long-term commitment to conservation in the public service.

2017 also saw major staff changes. HEFN reorganized its staffing after bidding farewell to Co-Director Karla Fortunato, an invaluable team member for 12 years, as she became president of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy. Kathy Sessions became HEFN’s Executive Director and Program Director Jeff Wise shifted focus to HEFN’s strategic issue collaboration. Andrea Levinson sustained work as a Program Assistant. Two new staff joined the HEFN team: In April, Adwoa Spencer became HEFN’s new Development and Operations Manager. Cindy Glass joined in June as the new Program Associate.

Throughout 2017, HEFN staff represented its funder community and built relationships including at meetings of the American Climate Leadership Summit, Climate & Energy Funders Group, EGA, GIH, Groundswell Fund, National Environmental Health Partnership Council, and SAFSF.  HEFN joined the United Philanthropy Forum (expanded from its former role as Forum of the Regional Associations of Grantmakers). Staff also provided more than 20 "office hours” consultations in 2017 to offer strategic, development or organizational advice to funders, nonprofits, researchers, and staff of other funder groups. 

Now it’s 2018!

Mark your calendars to join HEFN and 20+ other philanthropy-serving organizations in the 2018 Affinity Equity Summit and Solidarity Defense & Action Funder Briefing.

Save the date for HEFN’s 2018 Annual Meeting to be held Nov. 28-30 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Learn more about how to join HEFN or connect by signing up for one of our email groups.

From our Blog

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