Sea Change Program
We ignite change. We support transformative leadership and courageous storytelling, inspiring action toward a peaceful, just, sustainable future.
The status quo is not shifting rapidly enough toward a peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Our mission highlights a sense of urgency and a willingness to take risks in order to transform the way we live. Bringing forth a positive future requires innovative ways of understanding and naming the problems we face, as well as new methods for collaborating to solve them. Implicit in our mission is support for progressive and democratic social change.
How we fund
As of the beginning of 2018, we have closed our online inquiry system, and we have moved to an invitation-only grantmaking process. To learn more about why we made this decision, read our blog post here.
What we fund
The Compton Foundation supports work in climate change, peace and national security, and reproductive rights and justice. Within those core areas, the work we support must be a match with our transformative leadership and courageous storytelling approaches.
We value projects that explore the connections between issue areas, and will occasionally fund organizations that are strengthening these fields indirectly through movement building leadership or storytelling work.
Change requires both long-term commitment and the ability to respond quickly to opportunistic moments when transformation or real short-term gains are possible. We will provide grants (often general support) to organizations building the long-term capacity to ignite change, as well as short-term support to efforts taking advantage of contextual shifts.
We fund 501(c)3 nonprofits in the United States that are working domestically. Compton does not have a geographic focus within the United States, and we do not support organizations that work solely in one city or state. We may occasionally make exceptions for endeavors that will likely have important consequences beyond the region—for example, by providing a highly replicable tool, setting a significant policy precedent, or catalyzing broader movements.
Our grants portfolio is small, and we have a number of long-term grantee relationships. Therefore, there is limited room in our portfolio to fund new projects, no matter how worthy the work.
We will not support: service delivery programs, K-12 education, on-the-ground restoration projects, ocean or marine work, or land, water, or easement acquisition.
See our recent Transformative Leadership grants here.
For the Compton Foundation, transformative leadership means working collaboratively across difference, building positive visions for long-term social and environmental change, figuring out the strategies, partnerships, and divisions of labor across institutional and sector boundaries required to get there, and starting down the road to implementing them. We know it requires challenging the structural status quo and putting in the time to build authentic relationships. At its core, it is movement building.
We believe that to accomplish change at the scale and pace required to confront the challenges we face in climate, peace, and reproductive rights and justice, we need many more people with the capacity to lead in new ways in “leader-full” movements. These people will need to be able to balance energy and resources between organization and broader movement work, and they will need to be centered enough to bring their whole and best selves to their collaborations. They will need to commit to developing and nurturing trusting relationships and networks that extend across issue, geography, and institution. We aim to support movements, or early efforts that might eventually evolve into movements, that share these values and aim to align organizational tactics with broader movement strategies. We are particularly interested in movement work with a strong element of cultural change that is driven by a powerful story.
Our leadership grants tend to fall in a number of subgroupings, which are listed below. These are not meant to be strictly delineated, or to indicate what definitively will or will not be funded, but rather to illustrate patterns within our portfolio that we’ve found compelling and congruent with this approach.
We fund a small number of organizations that serve movements as a whole by building their capacity for transformative leadership. This might include trainings in movement strategy or infrastructure and support for movement networks.
Aligning Movement Leadership
We fund networks, coalitions, and convenings that bring leaders together across organizational boundaries, either within sectors or between them, in order to build relationships, learn from each other, align strategies, and think creatively about how to partner.
Grassroots Field Building
We support organizations that conduct grassroots organizing and field building in a national, networked context. This might take the form of a coalition of regional organizations sharing strategy and support, an organization with local or state affiliates, a network of organizers building power in targeted areas, or a partnership of organizations on a specific campaign.
We will fund 501(c)3 endeavors that seek to organize or provide support to policymakers and/or civil society leaders who can work together, often across partisan divides, in service of progress on our core issue areas.
We will not make new investments in: fellowships, scholarships, or internships, geographic or single institution leadership training programs, or organizational capacity-building, training, or professional development.
See our recent storytelling grants here.
The stories we tell shape how we connect to each other and the world around us. Stories are the filters through which we understand information. Changing stories has the potential to alter culture, politics, policy, and behavior.
Good stories activate imagination, emotion, and creativity. Much of what drives us as human beings—joy, grief, passion, vulnerability, laughter, connection—animates good stories.
We have learned through our grantmaking that story is also a way to make people care about change. Compelling stories are deeply rooted in the specifics of place, people, and context in ways that allow us to enter them with the whole of our imagination. Those specifics may anchor the stories in the personal, but the stories we fund also have a clear connection to the fundamental questions—the master narratives—at the heart of the way we understand our relationships with one another and to nature.
While all good stories are powerful, and all good stories describe a change, not all good stories are linked to the specific kinds of social and environmental change that drive the Foundation’s work. For a project to be a match for our funding, the change at the center of the story must somehow be about climate change, peace and security, or reproductive rights and justice. We are most interested in work that sits at the intersection of art and activism in these fields.
We look for positive stories that highlight solutions. We believe stories can play a vital role in exposing problems, but we rarely fund stories that only make the invisible challenges visible without offering real hope.
Below are a few loose groups into which our grantee projects tend to fall. These groupings are not strict categories, but rather illustrations of what “courageous storytelling” looks like in our portfolio.
Art for Social and Environmental Change
The scale of the problems we address requires us to meet them with ingenuity and creative thinking: qualities squarely in the purview of art. To that end, we fund work that uses art to spark social change, whether that means directly supporting professional artists who are working toward social or environmental change, funding organizations that bridge artistic disciplines and activism, or groups exploring art as an organizing methodology. We are open to a variety of artistic disciplines, including music, visual art, drama, film, and writing. While we will consider projects at all of these junctures of art and activism, we are most likely to prioritize the first two.
Creative Movement Storytelling
Stories are important because data alone will not change culture. Still, as misinformation and obfuscation abound in all of our issue areas, we will occasionally fund organizations that seek to research and impart important information in engaging, innovative ways that serve movements. This may include creative journalistic approaches, new ways of sharing data, or training organizations in strategic narrative messaging.
We will not make new investments in: organizational communications (telling the story of a single organization), storytelling for healing or empowerment, either individual or community, or traditional journalism.
We will not support film projects directly through our grants portfolio. We make equity investments in documentary film through the collaborative group Impact Partners. If you’re working on a film related to one of our issue areas, please consider applying to them directly at: http://www.impactpartnersfilm.com. If you do submit an application to Impact Partners, there is no need to reference the Compton Foundation or to ask us to make the connection; they evaluate all projects independently. We may occasionally support film impact engagement work; however, we will not do so before a rough cut exists.
Sea Change Program