The Sierra Club Foundation’s activity and influence has grown exponentially since its establishment in 1960 during a period when the Sierra Club was increasingly focused on political involvement, including legislative activity and lobbying, in order to protect lands and natural resources from excessive development and exploitation.
Sierra Club leaders were concerned that this political involvement and lobbying activity would eventually affect the tax-deductibility of contributions to the Sierra Club. These leaders decided to form a separate organization “for the purposes of furthering the principles of the Sierra Club,” as its charter resolution stated.
In 1966, Congress introduced legislation to authorize construction of two dams on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. In an effort to save the Grand Canyon, the Sierra Club ran four newspaper ads opposing the legislation and urging the public to clip and mail attached postcards to elected officials. The day after these ads ran, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) hand-delivered a letter to the Sierra Club stating that its charitable status was in jeopardy. After a two-year legal battle, the IRS ruled that the Sierra Club could no longer assure tax-deductibility to its donors, and the Sierra Club Foundation became the Sierra Club's fiscal sponsor with the ability to solicit tax-deductible charitable contributions and make grants for public education and related charitable activities.
Since then, charitable funding from the Sierra Club Foundation has supported numerous environmental victories. In 1977, the Sierra Club led a coalition to preserve Alaska's national-interest lands and persuaded President Jimmy Carter to support a gas pipeline route that avoided the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Over the decades, the Sierra Club successfully advocated for presidents to use their executive authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate numerous national monuments, including Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears in Utah, Gold Butte in Nevada, San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California, and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, among others. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign started in response to closed-door meetings between the Bush administration and coal industry executives in 2002 and by 2007, when it became a national campaign fiscally sponsored by the Sierra Club Foundation, grew into one of the largest and most successful environmental campaigns in history, announcing the retirement of over 300 coal plants in the U.S. from 2010 to 2020 and counting while making way for clean energy investments. Building on the success of these coal plant closures and retirements, the Sierra Club’s advocacy with the public and the Obama administration strengthened U.S. leadership at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, resulting in the most ambitious climate agreement in history with 196 countries making country-specific pledges to be reviewed every five years. Despite setbacks during the Trump administration, the U.S. is again poised to be in a leadership position with the Biden administration in addressing the global challenge of climate change. The Sierra Club, with fiscal sponsorship and funding support from the Sierra Club Foundation, continues to play a critical role in public education, organizing, administrative advocacy, and policy formulation to address climate change and promote climate solutions that are just, equitable, and inclusive.
In addition to these programmatic achievements, the Sierra Club Foundation and the Sierra Club have worked to reexamine the Sierra Club’s past, acknowledging racist and problematic aspects of its history, in order to understand how that affects the ability to advance our shared goals toward building an equitable, inclusive, and just environmental movement. In 2013, the Sierra Club board of directors adopted a vision for the Sierra Club to become a multicultural organization and in 2015, adopted the Sierra Club’s first multi-year Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan, which was endorsed by a resolution passed by the Sierra Club Foundation board of directors. With funding from the Sierra Club Foundation, Sierra magazine published this article about John Muir in Native America and the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center has advanced efforts to educate visitors about the racist and eugenicist views of its former namesake, Sierra Club co-founder Joseph LeConte. The Sierra Club Foundation now ensures that every program we fiscally sponsor incorporates equity, inclusion, and justice principles and reflects the Sierra Club’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization.
The Sierra Club Foundation’s program fiscal sponsorship and charitable funding support played a critical role in making these successes and advancements possible. Today, financial support for the Sierra Club Foundation comes from individual and institutional donors. The donors with whom we partner and the grantees we support all share our solutions-oriented focus.