Now Growing: Solar Energy, Fundraising Options, and Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation's Reach – Nonprofit Quarterly (registration)

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September 25, 2017; Solar Magazine

When the Washington Post announced last month that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) awarded $20 million in grants to 100 organizations around the world, it left out what may be considered, especially to those in the nonprofit arena, the most distinctive piece of the organization’s grant program: the grant that went to a crowdfunding platform for solar projects.

We have looked at crowdfunding as a vehicle for fundraising before. A grant for crowdfunding nonprofits to invest in solar energy, one that provides dividends to the donors and covers general operating costs, is a singularly innovative award. The uniqueness of the grant should stir as much interest as the famous name to which it is attached.

LDF is providing $120,000 as a partnership matching grant to RE-volv, investing rather than granting to an exceptional program that’s committed to installing the ability to produce power through solar PV panels for nonprofits across the United States.

RE-volv provides solar financing to community-based nonprofits and cooperatives around the country without access to traditional solar finance. These organizations save money on their electric costs while paying RE-volv back through a 20-year lease with interest. The lease payments are reinvested in a revolving fund, the Solar Seed Fund, which continually finances community-based solar projects. Over time, each dollar donated to an individual solar project will go towards financing three or more solar projects.

Grants provided by LDF focus on six environmental areas: wildlife conservation, oceans conservation, climate change, indigenous rights, transforming California, and innovative solutions. DiCaprio is a committed advocate and activist for addressing climate change. Forming the LDF in 1998, the actor has worked with organizations to save threatened ecosystems, encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, and protect the rights of indigenous people.

Foundation founder and chairman Leonardo DiCaprio announced the latest round of Climate Program grant awards during a speech he delivered to a climate change conference at Yale University hosted by former Secretary of State John Kerry’s Kerry Initiative. Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation CEO Terry Tamminen highlighted the significance of the timing of the grants. “This round of grants comes at a critical time. With a lack of political leadership, and continued evidence that climate change is growing worse with record-breaking heatwaves and storms, we believe we need to do as much as we can now, before it is too late,” he said.

The RE-volv grant is certainly an innovative solution itself to climate change. RE-volv’s innovative crowdfunding model provides a funding vehicle that’s more user-friendly than social impact bonds and more professionally consistent than a single crowdfunded cause on Facebook. Individuals can direct their investment donation to a specific program or project, empowering a person to do big-picture investment donating like the larger banks and financial organizations that provide social impact bonds but on a personal scale and with less money.

RE-volv was one of the first solar energy organizations to turn to and successfully build a crowdfunding investment platform to raise capital. In addition to being the only solar energy development fund dedicated to funding solar energy projects for nonprofits, RE-volv’s Solar Seed Fund is unique in that it is a revolving fund.

RE-volv, founded in 2011, has raised over $300,000 using the crowdfunding platform. That includes more than 1,000 individual and foundation gifts. The LDF grant is the largest RE-volv has received.

Andreas Karelas, executive director of RE-volve, said, “This grant is a phenomenal opportunity for us for a number of reasons. Of the $120,000 grant, $60,000 is earmarked for our operations. For nonprofits, it’s critical to have operational support. The other $60,000 will be used to match our next five solar crowdfunding campaigns dollar for dollar.” RE-volv’s Solar Seed Fund has provided funds for 10 solar PV projects by nonprofits in four states.

Karelas went on to say, “This is important, not only because it will allow us to make every crowdfunded dollar build twice as much solar, but because of Leo’s following, we’ll hopefully be able to help spread the word of the crowdfunding campaigns to a much larger audience.”

“RE-volv is working to make sure that the benefits of solar can reach everyone, including nonprofit organizations and the people they serve,” Karelas was quoted in a press release.—Marian Conway

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