California Wildlands and Smart Growth Rapid Response Fund

“The idea of wilderness needs no defense.

It only needs more defenders.” — Edward Abbey


This is an invitation-only donor-advised fund intended to provide immediate grants of up to $35,000 for urgent, near-term opportunities to enhance, increase, protect, and defend California’s public wildlands, support pivotal smart growth policies and funding measures, and stop land use policies that will result in the loss of California’s wildlands and open spaces.

The Fund was created to provide funding for near-term initiatives with a limited window of opportunity. These efforts may include (but are not limited to) securing stronger protections and building new constituencies for public lands with wildland values; protecting landscapes of concern, including wildlands and open spaces with significant biodiversity attributes, from sprawling development; safeguarding existing conservation protections on public lands; defending against projects significantly impacting National Forest, National Park, National Wildlife Refuge, and Bureau of Land Management lands; and advocacy for strong agency rulemaking standards.

The goal of the Rapid Response Fund is to make a decision on your grant proposal within 2-3 weeks. However, it is possible that the process will take longer if the application requires additional follow-up questions.

If invited to apply, applicants must demonstrate the urgency of the threat or opportunity the project will address, and clearly articulate why their project requires immediate funding to conduct work that is beyond the scope of ongoing work and expected annual organizational expenses. Applicants whose requests include any significant funding for regular organizational costs should clearly explain why these costs are necessary elements of the grant and were not included in their projected annual budget.


Unsolicited applications are not accepted. Applications are invited on a rolling basis.


If invited to apply to the California Wildlands and Smart Growth Rapid Response Fund, the applicant organization must be able to answer YES to the following organizational eligibility questions:

  • Is the applicant organization based in California? If not, do you have a strong presence, including paid staff or a robust volunteer contingent, based in California, or otherwise have the ability to generate the necessary capacity?
  • Does your organization have a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(6) status from the Internal Revenue Service, or is it a sponsored project of a 501(c)(3) organization?
  • If this proposal is focused on anti-sprawl activities, is the proposed project focused on stopping sprawl and facilitating policies that promote denser patterns of development to protect open space with biodiversity attributes?
  • Is your funding request $35,000 or less? If the overall project budget totals more than $35,000, can you clearly identify a funding commitment for the balance?
  • Does the proposed workplan focus on important near-term activities in response to an imminent threat or opportunity, and does the grant period for your project reflect these near-term activities?
  • Does the project budget have specified line items for all project expenses?


If you answer NO to any of these eligibility questions, you will not qualify for a grant from the California Wildlands and Smart Growth Rapid Response Fund.


Funding Priorities:

An invitation to apply does not guarantee funding. Applicants do not need to meet all of these priorities to earn a grant award. However, a successful applicant must be able to show how their proposal addresses at least some of these priorities:

  • Projects involving time-sensitive opportunities to protect at-risk wildlands.
  • Projects involving precedential and time-sensitive opportunities to advance smart growth-related outcomes through effective land use, transit or active transportation, and/or groundwater management policies.
  • Short-term projects, generally 6 – 8 months maximum, that represent extra costs to the organization beyond the regular annual budget.
  • Projects engaging community stakeholders, especially projects which build new constituencies for conservation and land stewardship, and engage non-traditional stakeholders, including communities of color.
  • Projects in regions of the state where local political power has been less than supportive of sound land use, transportation, groundwater management, and conservation policy.
  • Projects with easily identifiable goals, clear targets, effective strategies, and a means for measuring success.
  • Projects leveraging partnerships with other organizations and tie-ins with coordinated campaigns and initiatives.


Projects with the following elements are not likely to be viewed as eligible for funding:

  • Projects with grant periods of longer than 6-8 months may be viewed as annual support proposals which do not fit the Fund’s rapid response criteria and are therefore discouraged.
  • Projects focused on individual development/land use proposals which do not have significant state or regional policy implications.

Eligible Activities (include, but are not limited to):

  • Public outreach or organizing including phone banks, digital media strategies, or special events.
  • Advocacy, research, or other activities conducted by experts or other consultants including but not limited to media, communications, economics, outreach, or legal work. All activities supported by grant funds must be allowable under IRS 510(c)(3). Educational activities targeting legislators are allowable, but grant dollars may not be used for lobbying as defined by IRS 501(c)(3).
  • Travel funds to allow organizational staff, experts or members of the public to attend key administrative or legislative hearings or sessions, or otherwise personally reach targeted decision-makers.
  • Funding for salaries of core or permanent staff for project-related activities is only eligible if the applicant clearly demonstrates why the project work is not part of their regular duties.

Non-Eligible Activities:

  • Capital expenses, including equipment purchase.
  • General organizational expenses. This is a fund designed to support discrete projects and urgent campaigns that are a response to immediate opportunities and threats outside the expected organizational workplan.
  • Long-range programs. While your project may be part of a longer-range strategy, it must center around responding to an immediate threat or opportunity.
  • Most core or permanent staff salaries.
  • Lobbying activities as defined by IRS 501(c)(3).


Application is by invitation only.


If your organization is awarded a grant, you must submit a grant report. Please refer to your Grant Agreement for the date on which your report is due.

Please log into our online portal to begin filling out your assigned grant report.

You are free to include other documents in your report, such as pamphlets, photos, and news clippings. However, these are to be supplementary and should tie into your more general narrative.

Grant Report forms (also listed as “Follow-Up Forms” in the online portal) are automatically assigned to the user account that originally completed/submitted the application. Follow-up forms can only be assigned to and accessed by one user account at a time. If you are not the original applicant contact but you are completing the grant report, please contact us at We will create a user account for you and then re-assign the report form to you.

Current and past Grantees

Click here to review descriptions of all grantees.

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