The Proteus Fund is a pass-through funding entity working for left-of-center social change. Since its founding in 1995, it has routed hundreds of millions of dollars from philanthropic foundations and anonymous donors to political and social activist groups working to legalize same-sex marriage, reduce religious freedom to publicly dissent from liberal orthodoxy on gay rights and abortion, abolish capital punishment, reduce military spending, and limit electoral campaign advocacy.
The Proteus Fund has developed two principal strategies. First, through its donor-advised funds (the Piper Fund; the Civil Marriage Collaborative; the Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative; the Themis Fund and Eighth Amendment Project; the Security and Rights Collaborative; the Colombe Foundation; and its fiscal sponsorships of other groups), it coordinates the efforts of state, local, and national activist groups so that their efforts are not needlessly duplicated. These funds and collaboratives vet the activist groups to ensure that they are effective and that they stay on message.
Second, the Proteus Fund has developed strategies for persuading voters to tip the scale of public opinion in specific states and localities. They use research such as polling and message testing and advertising to persuade swing voters to gain majorities for left-of-center policies in referendums and elections. Proteus Fund documented both strategies in Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of how Philanthropy and the Civil Marriage Collaborative Helped America Embrace Marriage Equality.
Meg Gage, a career left-of-center nonprofit executive who helped develop the “pass-through” funding model, founded Proteus Fund in 1994. She was previously executive director of the Peace Development Fund, where she had developed the model of the “pass-through” fund. Using that model, the Proteus Fund collects donations from large philanthropic foundations, wealthy individuals, and smaller donors and then makes relatively small donations to local and state organizations which the Proteus Fund has vetted for effectiveness. The Proteus Fund also develops coalitions of local and state organizations to work on specific issues.
Campaigns and Initiatives
The first issue the Proteus Fund addressed in a significant way was campaign finance reform. Gage started the Piper Fund in 1997, with the intention of increasing government control over election-related speech. The Piper Fund allocated “about $1.8 million in grants to 53 organizations in 38 states working on campaign finance reform,” starting in 1998.
The Proteus Fund has also funded efforts for disclosure of funders of political ads, including those made by independent organizations. Ironically, the Piper Fund, while it discloses some of its donors, “acknowledges it receives money from anonymous givers and ‘numerous other individual donors.’”
Civil Marriage Collaborative
Also see Civil Marriage Collaborative (nonprofit)
In 2004, the Proteus Fund established the Civil Marriage Collaborative (CMC) to conduct advocacy and research in support of efforts to obtain government recognition of same-sex marriages.
As documented in Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of how Philanthropy and the Civil Marriage Collaborative Helped America Embrace Marriage Equality, the CMC began by gathering leaders of LGBT interest groups and getting them to agree on a long-term strategy for securing government recognition of same-sex marriage. The strategy would include litigation, grassroots organizing, lobbying, and electing pro-LGBT politicians.
Another part of the strategy was to change how Americans thought about same-sex marriage. As the then-Director of the CMC Paul Di Donato said, “the only way to achieve and defend a marriage equality victory nationwide was … changing the hearts and minds of Americans about the rightful place of LGBT people in our society and …why marriage matters for us.” This change would be accomplished through research and public education.
With that plan in place, the CMC was then able to tap into its philanthropy network to fund the strategy. Over the next 11 years, the CMC directed $153 million (from left-of-center donor organizations including the Gill Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, Columbia Foundation, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and others, including anonymous donors) to LGBT groups. The CMC vetted the groups, making sure that they were effective.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that prohibiting government recognition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, granting CMC its preferred policy outcome. Polling also indicated CMC met its goal of securing majority support for same-sex marriage.   The Civil Marriage Collaborative closed in 2015 after the Obergefell decision.
Rights, Faith, and Democracy Collaborative
Also see Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative (nonprofit)
In March 2017, the Proteus Fund announced the Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative (RFDC). The RFDC supports state-level opposition to religious exemptions to laws requiring businesses to serve same-sex marriage ceremonies and protecting conscientious objectors from performing or recommending abortions. Jason Franklin, Chairman of the Board of the Proteus Fund, stated that the RFDC exists “to push back against the use of religion as a means of words for discrimination,” targeting measures that grant conscience protections against participation in same-sex marriages and abortions.
RFDC has donated to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which recently sued Catholic hospital systems for not providing abortion or sterilization procedures. RFDC has also funded Lambda Legal, a group involved in litigation to limit religious exemptions to laws requiring wedding vendors to serve same-sex ceremonies. The group filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case requesting the court rule in favor of the Commission, defining Jack Phillip’s refusal to decorate a cake for a same sex wedding — because of his religious convictions — as discrimination against gay people.
The RFDC also seeks to influence faith groups from within by supporting members of dissident factions who hold the RFDC’s positions on abortion and LGBT issues. One of its grantees, the pro-abortion group of self-proclaimed Roman Catholics called “Catholics for Choice,” seeks to change the Catholic Church by promoting opposition to Catholic teachings opposing abortion.
Themis Fund and Eighth Amendment Project
The Proteus Fund started the Themis Fund in 2007 with the goal of abolishing the death penalty in America. The Themis Fund provides small grants to support litigation to outlaw capital punishment by judicial decision. Themis has funded litigation demanding better state funding and standards for public defenders, highlighting alleged discrepancies in race and sex on capital prosecutions, showing community opposition to the death penalty to juries, and alleging defendants’ mental illness as a factor in death-penalty cases. 
In 2014, the Themis Fund established the 8th Amendment Project, headed by Henderson Hill, specifically to establish a foundation for a Supreme Court decision that would declare capital punishment to be unconstitutional based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The Project supports research on death penalty abolition and aids the defense in capital trials.
Security and Rights Collaborative
Proteus started the Security and Rights Collaborative (SRC) in 2009 partnering with ReThink Media. The Collaborative opposes national security policies pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations and the activities of U.S. foreign intelligence services. It also seeks to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, to regulate drone warfare, restrain foreign intelligence collection, and stopping profiling of certain ethnic communities in America.
The overwhelming majority of the SRC’s funding goes to organizations representing Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities seen as likely to be targeted by national security activities. SRC funds organizations involved in political organizing and activism, combating public perception of these communities as sources of terrorism, and limiting scrutiny from law enforcement and national security entities. Grantees include the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition, Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, Muslim Students Association-West, Sikh Coalition, Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles, and Council of American-Islamic Relations-San Francisco Bay Area.
The Colombe Foundation was founded in Delaware in 1996 and is managed and staffed by Proteus. It funds organizations that seek to eliminate nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, advance foreign policy that depends more on diplomacy and development than war and threats of war, and promotes a reduction in military spending.
Grantees for 2016 included, among others, the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation, Win Without War, Fund for Constitutional Government, Georgia WAND Fund, Non-violent PeaceForce, Peace Action Education Committee, and the Ploughshares Fund.
The Proteus Fund provides “organizational infrastructure and management services” to several organizations. These organizations include the American and European Society Research Project, Embracerace, Human Rights Funders Network, More Equitable Democracy, Our Story Hub, Philanthropy Advancing Women’s Human Rights, Reframe Mentorship, Solidaire Network, TAP Network, Third Wave Fund, and the Transparency and Accountability Initiative. These organizations focus on concerns from training future leadership of progressive causes, ensuring diversity in philanthropic leadership, advancing government accountability and transparency, and having discussions about race and racism.
Paul Di Donato was named the president and CEO of the Proteus Fund after serving as interim president for the previous year. Prior to that, he was the director of the Civil Marriage Collaborative for eight years.
Dr. Jason Franklin serves as chair of the board of directors. He also holds the chair of W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy of Grand Valley State University and serves as adjunct faculty in philanthropy at NYU.
Also see ReThink Media (nonprofit)
The Proteus Fund partnered with ReThink Media to form the Security and Rights Collaborative. ReThink Media coordinates the public relations strategies of activist groups so that they will stay on effective messaging which will change public opinion and not duplicate effort.
Proteus Action League
Also see Proteus Action League (nonprofit)
The Proteus Action League (PAL) is the 501(c)(4) arm of the Proteus Fund. PAL supports and opposes specific legislation and referenda regarding the death penalty, campaign financing, the LGBT interests, and other issues in which the Proteus Fund is actively involved.