Unlocking the power of local philanthropy to build sustainable communities

How do you get local and national funders and city sustainability officials to collaborate on community-based sustainability initiatives? One promising answer is the "Local Sustainability Matching Fund" (LSMF), which is a collaborative effort of the Funders’ Network and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN). LSMF is designed to catalyze partnerships between local governments and local, place-based foundations that advance on-the-ground sustainability projects, processes, and programs. Surdna is part of the philanthropic cohort supplying the national “matching pool” of funding from which communities can apply when they bring a local funder to the table with them. In addition to Surdna, the Kendeda Fund, New York Community Trust, Summit Foundation, and JPB Foundation contribute to the national pool.

LSMF projects are inspiring new relationships and they are driven by passionate and dedicated leaders willing to reach across different sectors and break out of old "in the box" thinking. Success stories are popping up on such diverse topics as urban agriculture, bike sharing, and efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but the big take-away is that LSMF grantees are harnessing the power of their cities and towns to build sustainable, equitable, and prosperous communities for all residents.

Two rounds of LSMF funding are complete, and a third is underway. Round 1 grantees are starting to provide reflections on how their work is unfolding. Here are a few examples:


  • Chattanooga, TN received $65,000 to create a mobile food market pilot to deliver fresh and locally-grown produce to low-income families. The result is that 69 percent of Chattanoogans formerly living in food deserts now live within a mile of a Chattanooga Mobile Market (CMM) stop. The CMM debuted in July 2012, only a few short months after receiving the LSMF grant. John Bilderback of the Hamilton County Health Department, which provided a $60,000 matching grant, called this “lightning speed for government.” Weekly, CMM offers a full selection of healthful fruits and vegetables and provides educational opportunities, including a cookbook. The CMM also offers locally-sourced bread, eggs, and honey on a regular basis and locally-grown seasonal produce. To date, CMM is retaining more than 50 percent of its clientele, and it clears more than $500 per week in sales
  • Appleton, WI received $60,000 to transform a former 70-acre private golf course into a community-based urban farm and park system that incorporates a job-training program. Riverview Gardens is now a thriving addition to the Appleton community. In less than one year, it has exceeded its goals for engaging community volunteers and forming collaborations with other community organizations and businesses. The urban farm has received 52 share commitments for its Community Support Agriculture program (CSA), which launched in full this growing season. The LSMF grant also inspired the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region to increase its sustainability grants fivefold and create a new partnership grant program modeled after the LSMF.


  • Miami-Dade County, FL received $65,000 for community-led, neighbor-funded initiatives that will help implement the County's sustainable future "GreenPrint" plan. In April, the project team launched a grassroots, web-based funding program in partnership with the nonprofit social crowd-sourcing venture, ioby (In Our Backyard). There are already a dozen projects in the ioby Miami program, including a community tree planting project in Little Haiti and a "textile studio" that connects Little Havana’s immigrant seamstresses and tailors to work opportunities.
    Miami Dade


In addition, one Round 2 recipient is already off the the races (so to speak):

  • Milwaukee, WI received $45,000 to help support the launch of its bike share program, Milwaukee B-Cycle. Project leaders leveraged the LSMF grant to secure $158,000 from the City and local funders. B-Cycle has unveiled its logo and its inaugural bike share station will be in the heart of Milwaukee's lakefront district at Discovery World.
    Milwaukee Round 2

To see how these and other LSMF projects are progressing, you can link to TFN's website. There is also a great video story of the Chattanooga Mobile Market, plus a personal story about the impact of . In addition, because the number of highly rated projects exceeds the funding level in every grantmaking cycle, there is an "idea bank" of projects on the TFN website. Local funders and community members alike are encouraged to look here to see what is happening in communities across the country. TFN and USDN are also accepting new contributions to the national pool of funding. This is a story of philanthropic collaboration that has the sky as its limit.

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