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KHA Report Reveals Continued Funding Disparity Between BIPOC and White-Led Green Groups

September 13, 2021

Green 2.0 Team


Dr. Keecha Harris is president and CEO of KHA, a national consulting company and an 8(a) and Black woman-owned firm based in Birmingham, Alabama.

KHA Report Reveals Continued Funding Disparity Between BIPOC and White-Led Green Groups

By Green 2.0

Keecha Harris and Associates, Inc (KHA), published the Closing the Gap report that quantifies the funding gap between white-led and BIPOC-led environmental nonprofits. In this Q&A with Green 2.0, KHA president Keecha Harris shares more about the initiative. KHA has worked extensively with Green 2.0 on producing the Transparency Report Card and most recently, the Tracking Diversity: The Green 2.0 Guide to Best Practices in Demographic Data Collection.

Q: What is the InDEEP Closing the Gap initiative?

The InDEEP Closing the Gap initiative is designed to close the funding gap between white-led environmental and conservation nonprofits and those led by and serving Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). The initiative aims to reach this goal through research and through a funder learning journey aimed at defining the gap and providing insight into challenges and opportunities within the sector. The Closing the Gap report is the result of findings from the research team of the Inclusion Diversity, and Equity in Environmental Philanthropy (InDEEP) initiative, that set out to understand this gap in environmental and conservation philanthropy and to identify a set of practices that could help the philanthropic sector close the gap.

Q: What are immediate actions funders can take?

At its core, the climate change struggle in the U.S. is inextricably linked to our country’s unwillingness to deal squarely with its history around race and natural resources. This is a country that was built on land stolen from its original inhabitants then toiled by people who were kidnapped and enslaved. Subsequently, borders have been manipulated in service of hoarding the power and promise of the vast acreage of lumber, petroleum, and minerals with the net effect of disrupting familial and community ties. Policies like the California Alien Land Law of 1913 are codified hurdles that added to the stockpile of legal hurdles that perpetuated white supremacy in all matters land, water, air, and climate. 

This is a moment for the sector devoted to saving our planet a chance to show up differently.  In fact, the urgency of the times warrants immediate course correction. New approaches are needed, relationships must change, and the $2.7 billion gap must be closed. 

Based on our findings, funders can take key action steps to begin reframing their giving practices to close the funding gap:

  1. Acknowledge. A philanthropic organization cannot hope to address a societal ill without acknowledging the impact of race on the outcomes associated with that societal ill. 
  2. Understand. Funders must seek to understand how climate change’s human impacts vary by race and expand their understanding of issues and strategies that will work.
  3. Rethink. Philanthropic organizations have to rethink the way they build relationships, what type of funding practices they use, and what progress looks like.

More detailed descriptions of what these action steps should look like for funders can be found in the report.

Q: What are the key findings of the research?

Two organizations – Building Equity and Alignment for Impact and the Tishman Environment and Design Center – conducted a study that found that in a two-year period (2016 and 2017) 12 national environmental grantmakers awarded only 1.3 percent ($18 million) of their total funding to environmental justice organizations.

We set out to add to their research by identifying this funding gap on a much larger scale by examining 12,000 grants associated with 958 organizations from 2014 through 2018, the most recent five-year span for which data were available. The scope of our research also went beyond environmental justice groups to more broadly encompass environmental and conservation nonprofits. 

Our research found that the funding gap between white-led and BIPOC-led groups during this period was $2.7 billion. This finding is a call to action for environmental funders. Too many foundations do not assign value to cross-movement strategies for climate change due to a failure to acknowledge the role that race plays in the impacts of climate change, limited understanding of the issues and strategies that will work, and hesitation to rethink their long-standing relationships and funding practices. However, in the words of Audre Lorde, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

Foundations are leaving untapped capacities for progress out of the climate change mitigation equation. Leaders representing Black, Brown, and Indigenous groups know what works in their communities and need a fair chance at adequate resources to do their work. Their work will further the efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, given proper funding. The evidence from this study, combined with the glaring disparity in funding, should propel funders to change their portfolios to at least commit 30 percent of their allocations to these groups.

Q: Why is this work so important right now?

BIPOC communities experience climate change and its harmful effects to a greater degree than other communities in the United States. 

According to the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, “communities of color are disproportionately victimized by environmental hazards and are far more likely to live in areas with heavy pollution. People of color are more likely to die of environmental causes, and more than half of the people who live close to hazardous waste are people of color. Some activists call environmental racism the new Jim Crow as it subjects communities of color to inequitable living conditions.”

A June 2021 report from PolicyLink and Bridgespan found that even amid record levels of giving to racial equity causes in 2020, concerns run high that the money will disappear, despite pledges for future funding. This supports the findings of our fall 2020 report, “Conservation, Environment, and Race: Implications for Funders,” where one nonprofit leader expressed, “It’s going to perpetuate the same nonprofit industrial complex where 80 percent of funding goes to White organizations and 20 percent is given out to BIPOC leaders.” Commitment, action, and accountability are needed to ensure that this does not happen, for the good of BIPOC communities and organizations and for the good of the overall climate change movement.

Q: How can organizations get involved with Closing the Gap

The Closing the Gap Summit, an opportunity for deeper dialog for the Learning Action Community and others in the field and a presentation of the research, will be held virtually September 14-16, 2021. Organizations that are interested in learning more about the research are strongly encouraged to attend. Registration information will be available on the InDEEP website shortly.

To learn more about Keecha Harris and Associates, visit and follow on Twitter @KHandAssociates.