Our Approach

We partner  with donors small and large, of all types. Our partnerships succeed on a significant scale at protecting ocean, land, and water resources, generating public funding and smart policies, and engaging diverse interests in conservation, climate change adaptation, and healthy communities. We partner with donors from idea conception to final success. Donors drive the results and we handle implementation, no matter how complex. Tactical use of science, research, and polling mark our work, as does collaboration with diverse partners. We typically leverage funds to maximize results for donors, create and manage networks of donors working toward a common goal, and invest to build the capacity of partner organizations.

Climate Resilience

Our work accounts for the potential risks of sea level rise, ocean acidification, warmer average temperatures, deeper droughts, and other climate change effects. We advance policies that address major threats to, and build resiliency for, vulnerable communities and natural resources, focused on urban California and the coast. For example, RLF supported work with California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia to establish the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, an emerging international coalition that also includes France, Chile, and New Zealand. Within California, RLF and grantees have helped enact new policies to address acidification. The world’s oceans, a sink for carbon dioxide and other pollutants, have become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. The changing chemistry threatens to unravel the marine food web. RLF and its donors also helped to shape state policies to address sea level rise and secured millions of dollars in public funding for ocean and coastal climate science, smart planning, and nature-based adaptation projects.

In another example, RLF in 2017 supported 14 environmental justice, public health, and climate equity organizations known as the Climate Justice Working Group as they crafted guiding principles for funding and policy decisions to help ensure that people already suffering socioeconomic, health, and environmental injustices do not bear the brunt of climate change impacts. RLF also supported a survey of 800 California voters of color that found that 85 percent want state and local officials to adopt stronger policies to help their communities prepare for climate change.

Social Equity

When diverse leaders and organizations shape conservation policy and funding, decision making yields policies, programs, and projects that benefit all people. This principle underpins all of RLF’s work. It explains, for example, why RLF helped to fund a January 2018 report by the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity called Measures Matter: Ensuring Equitable Implementation of Los Angeles County Measures M & A.The report defines equity in the context of infrastructure funding, explains why equity matters, and identifies strategies and recommendations for measuring equitable implementation of infrastructure funding. RLF helped to commission the report to provide a simple framework for funders, advocates, and government agencies to use in advancing inclusive and integrated implementation of Measures A and M in Los Angeles County. Passed by voters in 2016, these funding measures will make available billions of dollars for years to come to support parks, open space, and transportation projects.

RLF characteristically invests to strengthen the skills and capacities of its partners. For example, RLF grantees in the California Climate Equity Coalition launched The Uplift Resource Finder, a funding navigation portal to connect potential project applicants serving under-engaged communities with available grant opportunities. As of April 2018, the Uplift Resource Finder had been visited over 3,500 times and used over 1,000 times.

Public Financing

Philanthropy cannot single-handedly solve societal problems, but efficient leveraging of philanthropic and public money unleashes a productive dynamic. Since it was created nearly 20 years ago, RLF and its donors, staff, and partners have played a leadership role in the generation of $26 billion in new state funding for parks, wildlife habitat, water resources, climate resilience, and other natural resource needs. Each California bond that RLF has helped shape reflects an increasing commitment to reversing past neglect of some communities. The $4.1 billion parks and water bond Californians passed in June 2018, shaped by RLF and its partners, dedicates roughly 40 percent of funds to disadvantaged communities. The state bond dollars RLF and its affiliated organizations recently helped to generate in California will leverage millions of local dollars for which RLF also laid the foundation:

  • A parcel tax approved by voters in 2016 will raise approximately $500 million over 20 years in nine counties surrounding San Francisco Bay. The funds will go to habitat restoration, flood control, and public access and recreation.
  • A 2016 parcel tax on improved property in Los Angeles County will generate roughly $95 million a year in perpetuity, for parks, open space, and recreation.

Policy Innovation

Much of our work is designed to shape laws, regulations, and policies to further conservation and social equity. We take the long view. If necessary, we fund research, polling, public education, and media work to build a foundation for success with lawmakers, regulators, and administrators.

Through RLF’s Water Foundation initiative, RLF and donors set out in 2011 to change the pump-as-you-please use of groundwater, which provides a third or more of the water used in California. RLF brought together agriculture, water districts, business groups, conservationists, and others to craft policy over many months. RLF and its donor partners funded a public education campaign of diverse leaders discussing the need to require sustainable management. In 2014, near the height of a five-year drought, California lawmakers passed historic groundwater management laws—co-sponsored by RLF—that eventually will bring the most abused groundwater basins into balanced regimes of pumping and recharge.

RLF’s 10-year, $50 million Open Rivers Fund, supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, will remove dozens of dams from western streams. We choose to invest in projects that provide substantial community benefits, such as improvements in safety, water quality, flood control, and operational costs. Over time, the program will build new tools, policies, and funding to make dam removal a more practical and cost-effective alternative for communities dealing with defunct, aging infrastructure, while helping to restore native fisheries.