Eight things to know about the climate-focused philanthropy of a legendary British investor
In January 2019, British investor Jeremy Grantham — who has made a name for himself predict market disaster – and his wife Hannelore publicly engaged 98% of their approximately $1 billion fortune to fund climate action. Three years later, it’s clear the couple wasn’t too promising.
In fact, they had already put their money where their mouth was. The pair technically have two philanthropic outfits, the Grantham Foundation for Environmental Protection (which I’ll refer to as “the foundation” in this article) and the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust (“the trust”). Admittedly, the latter is under independent control, but it still bears his name. Together, the foundation ($640 million) and trust ($281 million) already had nearly $1 billion in assets the year the pledge was made, which is the last for which the statements income is available.
So what did the Granthams back? The Boston-based foundation has a website that details its main grantmaking areas: universities, research, major environmental groups and journalism. But it is not frequently updated and details on grants are limited. The website, for example, does not include any numbers, let alone a grant database.
To find out more, I took a close look at her tax documents, which provide far more detail about where the Granthams’ philanthropic operation sends its checks — and the types of change it prioritizes. (After initial contact, the team did not respond to interview requests.) The result is a closer look at a philanthropic operation that between the foundation and the trust issued $36 million in grants. in 2019.
Jeremy Grantham, 83, now has much of his fortune in philanthropy, but it’s worth pointing out he hasn’t left the private sector behind. He is always on the management team of GMO, the Boston-based investment firm he co-founded and which shares an office with his foundation. The famous and provocative investor still writes investor letters that ponder “Spaceship Earth” and make suggestions like “Let the Wild Rumpus Begin*.” And the firm, which had $68 billion under management last year, has a Climate Change Fund that had a year banner in 2021.
He also pressures other mega-rich to join him. As he said late last year in a Bloomberg articleHe meets other billionaires through groups like Prime Coalition, which urges foundations to invest in climate startups, and CREO Syndicate, which provides climate investment advice to mega-rich individuals, such as Lukas Walton. Grantham went on to say that his “No. 1 job description” is to convince other wealthy people to join. “It’s so much more important than building a new building for a business school,” he said.
Here are eight things I learned from diving into Grantham philanthropy.
The foundation writes large checks for university centers, often with Grantham’s name attached
The couple’s favorite scholarship holders by far are universities, mostly elite schools in the UK and US. About a third of the foundation’s annual donations went to these higher education centers, according to tax returns from 2017 to 2019, when those donations reached $10 million. No more recent data was available.
Three British universities have received several of the foundation’s biggest prizes: the London School of Economics, Imperial College London and the University of Sheffield, Jeremy Grantham’s alma mater. Each has received millions in grants and they have all established institutes focused on climate change named after the Granthams.
The Granthams’ fondness for naming rights is not limited to their own name. The foundation has awarded at least $1.2 million to the Indian Institute of Science to establish and run the Divecha Center for Climate Change. It is named after another couple, Arjun and Diana Divecha, who are also supporters of the institute. Arjun Divecha is a GMO employee based in Berkeley, CA who gave $300,000 a year to the Granthams foundation between 2017 and 2019, according to tax returns.
Other universities also receive a lot of support from the Granthams. Million-dollar donations have gone to the California Institute of Technology and MIT in recent years, and many other schools have received six-figure donations, including Ivy League institutions like Columbia and Yale. Large grants are typical for the foundation, of which the median scholarship amount is $250,000.
They are the main supporters of some of the biggest green groups in the world
Created in 1997, the foundation has “long-standing relationshipswith a handful of the world’s leading environmental organizations, according to its website. These include RMI (formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute), the Environmental Defense Fund, the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy, where Jeremy Grantham once served on the board. Each of these groups has received awards totaling $3 million or more in recent years. The Granthams support several of them primarily through the trust.
One of the Granthams’ lesser-known longtime partners is Rare, a conservation group focused on behavior change. He’s received more than $8 million in recent years from the couple’s trust, and Jeremy Grantham was also a former board member.
They support regranting – and seem to be doing their own regranting
Outside universities, some of the largest Grantham scholarships have gone to transfer funds. Two of the largest green intermediaries in the field are the main recipients: the European Climate Foundation and the American Energy Foundation, each receiving around $5 million in recent grant rounds. The ClimateWorks Foundation has also received several six-figure awards, and the low-key Windward Fund secured a $1 million grant in 2019.
It also appears that the Grantham outfit are recovering funds to do their own redistribution. Lukas Walton’s philanthropy, Builders Initiative, told Inside Philanthropy it gave $4 million to the foundation in 2020, and the High Tide Foundation gave him a six-figure donation in 2019.
They support a variety of climate media
Journalism and communications aren’t a big part of the Granthams’ grantmaking budget, but the couple do send checks to various such operations. Most are climate-focused groups, such as Carbon Brief, Inside Climate News, and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
The couple also seem to have a penchant for radio, giving grants for international coverage of WGBH, the Boston affiliate of National Public Radio, and “Living on Earth,” a weekly public radio show. Most of their journalism grants are in the six figures, but one news organization and research group, the Center for Public Integrity, has received over $1 million in recent years.
It’s a small operation run by an investment guy
The foundation comes 11 employees, according to LinkedIn. The foundation’s president and chief investment officer is Ramsay Ravenel, who is also listed as the trust’s executive director. The Yale MBA previously worked at an impact investment firm, MissionPoint Partners. (Curiously enough, the foundation and trust list Ravenel’s salary as $0.)
In terms of who oversees operations, the trust and the foundation have surprisingly different boards of directors. The foundation’s board of directors is predominantly family-based, made up of the Granthams and their three children, Isabel, Oliver and Rupert, as well as Ravenel.
The trust, meanwhile, is set up for the benefit of four major environmental groups: World Wildlife Fund, RMI, Rare and Nature Conservancy. Thus, the majority of its board of directors comes from these organizations, including the leaders of the first three, as well as the former Massachusetts State Director of the fourth. The trust, which was established nearly a decade after the founding, underscores the close relationship between the Granthams and these groups. That said, it does give grants to other organizations, supporting, for example, the Center for Carbon Removal ($1 million) and the edutainment soap opera group Population Media Center ($500,000) in 2019.
Three US states get almost all the love
Organizations hoping for funding from Granthams will have a better chance if they come from certain states. According an analysis by Instrumentltwo-thirds of the foundation’s grants between 2016 and 2019 went to organizations in just three states: California, New York and Massachusetts, the longtime couple’s home state.
This investor foundation cares (surprise!) about its investments
If Jeremy Grantham’s work history wasn’t enough, there are plenty of indicators that show the foundation puts a lot of thought into making sure its assets do as much work for its mission as its grants do.
Note that Ravenel, for example, is not only the president of the foundation, but also its chief investment officer. In 2019, investments related to the operation’s programs totaled more than $33 million, more than its grants. “Investment” even symbolically takes first place, above “philanthropy”, on the menu of the foundation. The foundation also maintains an LLC, Neglected climate opportunitiesto place venture capital bets.
The foundation’s website explains its approach simply: “Taking early positions in important but underfunded climate opportunities. Goals range from ocean acidification to direct carbon capture, with the website listing more than 40 of the team’s “favorite” investments.
The bets on the operation over the past year show its scope. They include investments in Sustaeraa direct carbon removal company using air capture; Context Labsa data technology company working on measuring and tracking decarbonization; Steward, a funding platform for regenerative agriculture and food production; and Novalitha clean lithium mining company.
Funding for the movement is limited
The Granthams clearly see some value in supporting political change. In recent years, they’ve cut several six-figure checks to DC groups. Disclosed donations include $200,000 to billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action super PAC, $250,000 to the Democracy Engine donation platform and more than $200,000 to the Democratic Party, all in 2020.
Despite this, building broader political support for climate action has not been an important goal of the couple’s philanthropy. One exception is movement organization 350.org, which received more than $1.25 million between 2018 and 2019. But for the most part, movement groups have accounted for a minor share of the couple’s climate donations.