Non-profit

Solutions Project

Location:

OAKLAND, CA

Tax ID:

46-3811348

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $2,392,847
Expenses: $3,413,696
Assets: $1,766,087

Solutions Project is an environmentalist advocacy group co-founded by actor Mark Ruffalo, Stanford professor Mark Jacobson, banker Marco Krapels, and anti-natural-gas filmmaker Josh Fox. Established as a nonprofit in 2013 to promote a full transition away from conventional energy to environmentalist energy sources, Solutions Project recently repositioned its focus to promoting diversity and female leadership in the climate change movement.

The organization draws funding from numerous left-leaning foundations. In addition, Ruffalo has leveraged his celebrity connections to draw widespread publicity and support from high-profile celebrity activist such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Don Cheadle. Solutions Project’s programming supports environmentalist capacity building, storytelling and media production, and grantmaking. [1]

History

According to Solutions Project co-founder Mark Ruffalo, the idea for the organization stemmed from the actor’s environmental activism in upstate New York where he lived with his family and, in 2011, became the celebrity figure for activists opposed to natural gas drilling in the state. [2] Ruffalo had seen research previously published by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson about the potential for the U.S. to move to 100 percent environmentalist energy, and asked the professor to draw up a similar plan for New York state. [3] In June 2011, Ruffalo, along with banker Marco Krapels and anti-natural gas filmmaker Josh Fox, met with Jacobson in San Francisco to discuss how to leverage their professional clout to best protest natural gas extraction in New York. [4] The group ultimately decided that their partnership would create and influence a national campaign toward 100 percent environmentalist energy. [5]

Solutions Project began operations as a nonprofit on September 20, 2013. [6] Following its anti-natural-gas efforts in New York state, Solutions Project evolved into a pass-through funder for state and local-level climate change work, and expanded its scope from achieving 100 percent environmentalist energy to devote resources to “climate justice” and organizations led by women and people of color. [7]

Finances and Corporate Structure

Solutions Project began official operations as a nonprofit on September 20, 2013. The organization’s total revenue in the tax year ending December 31, 2013 was $192,100 and total expenses were $133,342. [8] According to Solutions Project’s 2018 tax return, the group reported total revenues of $3,222,611; total expenses of $2,763,506; and total assets of $2,065,928. [9] The Solutions Project lists four staff members, 12 members of its Board of Directors, and nine trustees. [10] Its highest paid employee is Sarah Shanley Hope, the executive director and board chair, whose total 2018 compensation was $151,612. [11]

Solutions Project draws support from a number of foundations, business leaders, and high-profile celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, The Elon Musk Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund which is the main environmentalist giving platform for multi-billionaire former eBay president Jeffrey Skoll. [12]

The organization’s 2018 audited financial report notes that just three grants comprised more than 49 percent and 54 percent of its income in 2018 and 2017, respectively. [13] In 2019, Ruffalo leveraged his role in the film Avengers: Endgame to raise more than $600,000 selling t-shirts based on the film with proceeds going to Solutions Project. [14]

In 2018, Solutions Project gave $1.3 million in grants to 42 organizations in the U.S., predominantly led by people of color and women. [15]

Programs and Activities

Solutions Project operates three primary programs: Connect, focusing on capacity building; Inspire, focusing on storytelling and media production; and Invest, focusing on grantmaking. [16]

Connect

The Solution Project’s Connect program is also described as “capacity building,” “ecosystem,” and “partnerships and policies.” [17] [18] [19]

The Connect program leverages the research of Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor of environmental engineering and Solutions Project co-founder, to build networks of funders, corporations, and community organizations to push local, state, and federal policymakers to commit to “100 percent renewable” environmentalist energy programs. [20] [21]

Ruffalo initially recruited Jacobson to help him fight natural gas exploration using the technique of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in New York state. [22] With help from a third co-founder Marco Krapels, an investment banker with Rabobank, the organization developed Jacobson’s report into a business model, providing so-called “road maps” for other states and countries to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. [23] [24] A 2019 National Geographic article on the Green New Deal, a policy package critics call a “radical, top-down socialist makeover of the entire U.S. economy,”[25] characterized Jacobson’s work as “a foundation stone of the new climate plan. [26]

In its 2015 tax filings, the Solutions Project takes credit for co-founding a 100 percent NGO Network of more than 30 non-government organizations that support its agenda through campaigns and activities including a New York state legislative proposal and U.S. House of Representatives resolution. [27] Connect program activities in 2018 included three strategy meetings of grantees and partners in New York City, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. [28] As of 2019, the Solutions Project claims to have influenced 130 U.S. cities and towns, and 170 international companies to commit to the environmentalist energy proposals. [29]

According to audited financial documents, the Connect program spent $178,991 in grants in 2017 and $10,000 in 2018. [30]

Inspire

The purpose of Solution Project’s Inspire program is to increase public demand and action for replacing all conventional energy with environmentalist energy through public awareness and marketing campaigns that initially leveraged the celebrity of the project’s cultural influencers, including co-founder Mark Ruffalo and funder Leonardo DiCaprio. [31]

The Solutions Project launched its 100% marketing campaign on June 18, 2015, with a garden party at La Plaza Cultural Community Garden in New York City. [32] Ruffalo and DiCaprio spoke at the event which also drew several community leaders and activists. [33] Ruffalo and De-Caprio also took part in the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City. [34] Another element of the 100% marketing campaign is Solutions Project’s website, 100.org, which serves as a media platform for stories about communities’ transitions to environmentalist energy, as well as a landing page that promotes the organization’s energy agenda and steers interested groups to grant opportunities. [35][36]

Solutions Project lists sponsorship of racecar driver Leilani Munter among its high-profile marketing campaigns. [37] Münter is an environmentalist racecar driver and has been a Solutions Project advisory board member since 2013. [38] Tax records show that in 2014, Solutions Project paid $200,000 to Venturini Motorsports, a motor racing driver development program attended by Munter. [39][40] That year, Munter raced at both Daytona International Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway in a car promoting Solutions Project and its 100.org campaign. [41]

In early 2019, Solutions Project announced a new climate justice and diversity initiative called “100% Commitment to Justice.” [42] The initiative’s goal is to devote resources to “climate justice,” a euphemism for achieving left-progressive social policy through environmentalist policy and activism, by directing most of its grants to organizations led by women and people of color in order to elevate the need for solutions in marginalized communities . [43][44] In a February 20, 2019 op-ed for The Hill, Ruffalo and fellow Avengers actor Don Cheadle predicted that by 2020 the 100% Commitment to Justice initiative would invest 95 percent of Solutions Project resources in in frontline leadership “of color,” with at least 80 percent invested in organizations led by women. [45]

Solutions Project debuted a livestreamed talk show called Climate Curious on June 23, 2020, that focuses on climate change and environmental justice. [46] Climate Curious livestreams on the Solutions Project’s Facebook and YouTube accounts and his hosted by Agency of Joy founder Sean Watkins. [47] The first episode included Ruffalo and UPROSE Executive Director Elizabeth Yeampierre.

Invest

Solutions Project’s Invest program directs grants to people and organizations that promote its radical environmentalist energy policy through three primary grantmaking sources: Leadership Fund, Fighter Fund, and Ecosystem Fund. [48] The Leadership and Fighter Funds are supported by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Sara and Evan Williams Foundation, JPB Foundation and Franciscan Sisters of Mary. [49]

Audited financial documents report that the Invest program spent $1,304,675 in grants in 2017 and $1,157,000 in 2018. [50] Solutions Project reported in 2018 tax filings that it distributed $1.2 million to 42 frontline organizations in the U.S., predominantly led by people of color and women. [51]

The Leadership Fund is Solutions Project’s first funding program that awarded nearly $1 million in its first year to organizations in Iowa, New York, and California. [52] With the addition of the Fighter and Ecosystem Funds, the Leadership Fund now makes larger, invitation-only grants. [53] The Leadership Fund’s volunteer advisory committee includes representatives from the Kresge, Surdna, and Kellogg Foundations. [54]

Solutions Project co-founder Mark Ruffalo came up with the idea and name for the Fighter Fund, then recruited fellow actor Leonardo DiCaprio and other donors to co-fund the effort. [55] The Fighter Fund is a rapid-response grantmaking program that responds to most applications in days. [56] Fighter Fund grants of up to $15,000 are awarded on a rolling basis to nonprofits in the U.S., Mexico and Canada for activities like direct action and organizing, communications and media work, and movement-building tactics like trainings and convenings. [57]

Solutions Project launched the Ecosystem Fund in 2018, funding larger, one-time capacity building grants to organizations to act on climate change. [58] The Ecosystem Fund’s goal is to expand the influence of state narratives and policies that support a national transition to 100% environmentalist energy. [59]

Movements

Green New Deal

Solutions Project is a member of the Green New Deal Coalition that supports the Green New Deal legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) in 2019. Solutions Project leveraged the research conducted by co-founder Mark Jacobson as a roadmap on how to achieve the energy portion of the Green New Deal. [60] A February 14, 2019, National Geographic article called Jacobson’s work “a foundation stone of the new climate plan. [61]

In July 2020, Solutions Project joined 115 progressive organizations in endorsing the Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform developed by national left-wing think tank Demos calling for sweeping “climate justice” action in the next presidential administration. [62]

People

Mark Ruffalo is an actor, environmentalist activist, and Solutions Project co-founder who has been described as a “climate warrior” and “committed political leftist.” [63][64] Ruffalo is also involved with Water Defense, Inc., an environmental activism nonprofit that allegedly spread misinformation about the water in Flint, Michigan to help sell WaterBug, a sponge product created by now-bankrupt entrepreneur Scott Smith. [65]

Mark Jacobson is a professor of environmental engineering at Stanford University and Solutions Project co-founder. [66] Ruffalo initially recruited Jacobson to help him fight natural gas exploration in New York state based on Jacobson’s 2009 research on the potential to move the country to use exclusively environmentalist-aligned “renewable” energy. [67] In its formative stage, Solutions Project developed Jacobson’s report into a business model, providing so-called “road maps” for other states and countries to shift rapidly to 100 percent renewable energy. His work is a foundation stone of the “Green New Deal,” a controversial environmentalist policy package. [68]

Marco Krapels is the executive vice-president with Rabobank and a Solutions Project co-founder. [69]

Sarah Shanley Hope is the executive director of Solutions Project. [70]

Don Cheadle is an actor who has co-starred in films with Ruffalo, sits on the Solutions Project board of directors, and has actively promoted the organization’s commitment to grantmaking for groups led by “women of color.” [71]

George Goehl is a Solutions Project board member and the executive director of People’s Action, a consortium of left-wing community organizing groups. [72]

Leah Hunt-Hendrix is a Solutions Project board member and founder of Solidaire Network, is a project of the Proteus Fund created in 2013 to steer funding towards left-wing organizations, and Way to Win, a strategy hub for left-wing funders and organizations to support the campaigns of Democratic Party candidates. [73] [74]

Jee Kim is a Solutions Project board member who is also the executive director of the Narrative Initiative, a nonprofit organization that trains left-progressives in public relations messaging, and co-founder of 18MillionRising, a left-wing Asian American advocacy group. [75] [76]

Sharon Alpert is the president and CEO of the Nathan Cummings Foundation. She joined the Solutions Project board in 2019 to support its 100% Commitment to Justice and promote feminine leadership on climate change. [77]

Leilani Munter is an environmentalist racecar driver and Solutions Project advisory board member since 2013. [78] Tax records show that in 2014, Solutions Project paid $200,000 to Venturini Motorsports, a motor racing driver development program attended by Munter. [79][80] That year, Münter raced at both Daytona International Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway in a car promoting Solutions Project and its 100.org campaign. [81]

Tyler Nickerson oversees the Solutions Project’s Fighter Fund. He comes from lower-level advocacy nonprofits and foundations in Michigan. [82]

A number of other board members and trustees represent foundations that fund Solutions Project including: Jamie Dean, Director of Impact Investments for the Schmidt Family Foundation; Justin Winters, Executive Director of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation; Andrew Brower, W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Alison Corwin, Surdna Foundation; and Shamar Bibbins, The Kresge Foundation. [83]

References

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Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Jee Kim
    Board Member

Supported Movements

  1. Green New Deal (GND)
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: October 1, 2014

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Dec Form 990 $2,392,847 $3,413,696 $1,766,087 $252,559 N $2,385,059 $0 $7,788 $131,061
    2016 Dec Form 990 $4,892,480 $2,745,713 $2,621,384 $87,007 N $4,892,358 $0 $122 $136,341
    2015 Dec Form 990 $1,146,662 $1,372,334 $424,931 $37,321 N $1,146,650 $0 $12 $0 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $1,527,991 $973,467 $707,067 $93,785 N $1,527,991 $0 $0 $144,024 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Solutions Project

    4900 SHATTUCK AVE
    OAKLAND, CA 94609-7099