Change, whether large or small, disrupts convention and invites collaboration and innovation. Effective leaders harness the power of change to bring new executions to well-established ideas. In philanthropy, foundations are altering their organizational structure and approach to effect change. The blue moon fund is a dynamic foundation transforming the grant making process and creating a new philanthropic venture.
Twelve years ago, blue moon opened its doors in Charlottesville, Virginia. The organization was established by Diane Edgerton Miller and Patricia Jones Edgerton; together, they shared more than 70 years of experience in philanthropy. The fund emerged from the 2001 restructuring of the W. Alton Jones Foundation, which was created in 1944 by Pat’s father and Diane’s grandfather, W. Alton Jones.
When Diane launched blue moon, she envisioned the foundation as a living entity, one that evolves in an ever changing world to meet the needs of the organizations we serve. Instead of building a foundation in perpetuity, she created one with a finite lifespan, which allowed for greater risk-taking and a more nimble approach to grant making. A foundation employing a spend down strategy is a positive change to traditional grant making because it is the most expedient way to leverage critical funds behind ideas and projects that are worthy of investment today.
A Place-Based Organization
The blue moon fund works across three biodiverse-rich regions – Asia, North America, and Tropical Americas – to mitigate the effects of global climate change. In its 12 year history, blue moon has distributed 650 grants, totaling $130 million. Through a combination of grant-making, program-related investments, and sustainably investing our corpus, blue moon’s program staff and investment team work together to deploy capital in the most efficient ways to achieve our philanthropic mission.
The strategic grant making process of blue moon is driven by the capacity, vision and interactions of our senior program staff. They seek holistic solutions by selecting the best grantees, engaging other funders, improving grantee performance, and advancing knowledge and practice in their fields. Our staff assess the current players in each of blue moon’s regions, and from this, they create a strategy that leverages the strengths of multiple grantees. At blue moon, it’s not uncommon to have three to five grants made to distinct organizations around a singular region or issue.
As a mid-sized foundation, blue moon is a niche organization amidst other philanthropies. We seek innovative projects and organizations to develop models which larger foundations can take to scale. Additionally, we have the ability to test out theories of change which fall outside other foundations’ guidelines. Who, what, and how we fund is a direct result of the collaboration between senior program staff and the investment team. Examples of successful programmatic initiatives include:
- linking private protected areas to create biological corridors in Tropical America,
- supporting policy, planning and research initiatives around water management in Myanmar,
- leveraging resources to transition Appalachia away from a coal based economy (without anti-coal campaigns) and into renewable energy and new sustainable business models,
- piloting community conservation agreement projects surrounding nature reserves in China,
- developing best practices such as the off-shore inland drilling model Camisea, Peru,
- and the energy efficiency, on bill financing models established in Kentucky
Harnessing Financial and Intellectual Capital
blue moon’s integrated investment model is built on collaboration between our investing and grant making teams, which allows program strategy to directly inform and help guide the composition of our endowment portfolio. The investment team participates directly in our program strategy and grant making meetings, as well as joining program site visits. Similarly, the investment team updates the entire staff quarterly on the progress of blue moon’s portfolio. Examples of our investments include:
- Zep Solar (through Ecosystem Integrity Fund), a mission-aligned market rate investment to develop a drop-in solar mounting system technology, which reduces installation time and waste materials, while enhancing the structural properties of a solar array, thus accelerating the use of solar as an alternative to fossil fuel,
- Mountain Hazelnuts Group, a mission-aligned market rate investment to a triple bottom line company creating shared value for its investors, Bhutan’s rural poor, village communities and the global environment by addressing an exceptional market opportunity in hazelnuts, thus protecting and restoring an important biodiversity hotspot, and
- Friends of the Osa (FOO), a program-related investment through a short-term loan to help acquire land for Osa Conservation Campus, a sustainable agriculture program in Piro Verde, Costa Rica, thus allowing FOO to quickly obtain a critical habitat before fundraising was complete.
Living in a Unique Time and Space
The opportunities to curb climate change are real and present. blue moon seeks to implement its spend down strategy within this unique window of opportunity. This strategy requires program staff and the investment team to identify a critical focus that will exponentially benefit from every foundation dollar.
Our holistic approach to philanthropy ensures that all three financial investment strategies available to foundations are maximized. blue moon “invests” in its partners through traditional grant making, program related investments and sustainable investments through its portfolio. This creates social supports and market mechanisms which collectively further the mission. We are hopeful that our method of “philanthropy” shares in and celebrates our grantee successes.
By Beth Johnson & Stephanie Randolph