Environment Guidelines

The Joyce Foundation makes grants for projects that fit within the Environment Program’s strategy for 2021-2025. That strategy is outlined below. If you have questions about whether your work fits within the strategy or other questions about applying for an environmental grant from the Joyce Foundation, please contact [email protected].


The Environment Program works to solve long-term environmental challenges that threaten the next generation in the Great Lakes region. The program has two focus areas: Climate Solutions and Great Lakes & Drinking Water.

Climate Solutions

The Climate Solutions focus area supports efforts to put Joyce states on a path to achieve just, equitable, carbon-free electric power systems by 2040. This includes work to secure long-term state commitments to transition to carbon-free electricity; achieve full implementation of near-term state energy efficiency and renewable energy policies while maximizing clean energy deployment enabled by increased federal funding; and support policy innovation to achieve complete, equitable decarbonization that closes the gap between the reductions that can be driven by current clean energy policies and 100 percent decarbonization.

Grants in this focus area support work across the Joyce grantmaking continuum, strongly emphasizing state policy advocacy and implementation. Projects in Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota receive the most support, with lesser funding available for work in Ohio and Wisconsin and for efforts at the regional level in the Great Lakes/Upper Midwest.

Great Lakes & Drinking Water

The Great Lakes and Drinking Water focus area includes two initiatives. First, we seek to address major threats to the health of the Great Lakes by supporting efforts to reduce polluted runoff in rural and urban areas; improve water infrastructure performance, management, and funding, with a focus on remedying water system disparities in communities of color; prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species; prevent unsustainable diversions from the Great Lakes by enforcing the Great Lakes Compact; prevent groundwater depletion; and reduce the risk of oil spills from oil transport by continuing to support closure of the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline. Second, to help make certain that the next generation in our region has access to safe, affordable drinking water, the Environment Program supports equitable water policy that ensures that water systems and infrastructure provide safe, affordable water services for everyone, focusing on efforts to develop and support utility, municipal, state, and federal policies that reduce the risk of lead exposure in drinking water and ensure high quality, affordable water services.

Most grants in this focus area are aimed at state and local policy in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. The federal policy priorities are largely limited to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, water infrastructure, and invasive species prevention. In both Great Lakes & Drinking Water initiatives, the Environment Program will support research, policy development, coalition building, communications, advocacy, policy implementation, policy enforcement, and evaluation.


How competitive is the application process for Environment Program grants?

The Environment Program provides multi-year funding for many projects, so a significant share of its annual budget is pre-committed each year. There is a lot of competition for the limited number of new grants we are able to make. So we can provide feedback and guidance, we strongly encourage new applicants to send an email to [email protected] briefly outlining your project idea before submitting a letter of inquiry. Here is additional information about the availability of new funding in the Environment Program’s two focus areas:

  1. Climate Solutions: For work related to long-term power sector decarbonization and implementation of near-term clean energy policies, the Environment Program prioritizes supporting organizations that are working in collaboration with other groups through strategic policy advocacy campaigns. For work on equitable deep decarbonization policy innovation, the Environment Program is not currently accepting unsolicited grant requests.
  2. Great Lakes & Drinking Water: As the Great Lakes & Drinking Water portfolio has expanded, the grant program has become very competitive. At this time, for organizations new to the program, we are prioritizing applications from organizations led by people of color and bringing the experiences and perspectives of Black and Brown people to water policy work. We are interested in efforts to improve and assess the distribution of the water infrastructure funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Given the increase in expected grants related to IIJA, funding for new work related to groundwater and the closure of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline will be very limited.

How is the Joyce Foundation’s mission of advancing racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region reflected in the Environment Program’s grants?

All communities face climate and water challenges, but the most severe impacts often fall on people from communities that have lacked investment because of structural racism or other barriers. The Environment Program is particularly interested in climate and water policy solutions that also increase equity by improving utility affordability, creating jobs for people in disadvantaged communities, and reducing exposure to pollutants, especially those like lead that are particularly harmful to children. In addition to the importance of equitable outcomes, it is critical that policies are developed through genuinely inclusive processes. We prioritize supporting projects that are grounded in, and guided by, the perspectives of people impacted by the environmental issues being addressed.

Are there important climate and Great Lakes issues that are NOT addressed by Joyce’s Environment Program?

Yes. With limited resources, the Environment Program is focused on the specific challenges and opportunities described in the program guidelines, above. Issues that fall outside Joyce’s priorities include:

  • Anti-fossil fuel campaigns, including efforts to shut down or prevent construction of new fossil fuel facilities or infrastructure, except as integral parts of broader 100 percent clean electricity campaigns or otherwise specified in the program guidelines;
  • Projects related to fluctuating lake levels, forest management, terrestrial invasive species, mining, toxic pollutants (including Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances [PFAS]), or other Great Lakes environmental problems not specifically noted in the program guidelines; and
  • Local community climate action or climate resilience, including development or implementation of municipal plans, with limited exceptions for our home community of Chicago.

Are there whole types of environmental projects the Foundation does NOT fund?

Yes. The Environment Program generally does not fund:

  • Environmental education, whether through educational institutions or aimed at the general public;
  • Conferences or other public events, except as part of broader policy-focused initiatives supported by the Foundation;
  • Local conservation or cleanup projects, including efforts to preserve individual species or to purchase, restore or remediate land;
  • Basic scientific research related to environmental problems or solutions;
  • Physical infrastructure, including lead service line replacement, community solar power installations, etc.; or
  • Pilot projects to demonstrate the effectiveness of emerging technologies.

Do you fund environmental justice work?

Yes, we support environmental justice organizations working to improve policies related to the climate and water issues identified in our guidelines. We prioritize organizations grounded in and accountable to communities impacted by unfair implementation and enforcement of environmental policies. We do not provide funding for campaigns to block or close specific facilities, clean up polluted sites, or for general operating support.

Given your focus on the Great Lakes region, do you give grants to national organizations?

Yes. The Joyce Foundation makes grants to national organizations whose work in the Great Lakes region advances the Foundation’s Climate Solutions or Great Lakes & Drinking Water priorities.

Do you provide in-state grants in New York and Pennsylvania?

No, we do not make grants for work in New York or Pennsylvania. Our grant portfolio is focused on the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.