USA - Frontline 360° is helping grassroots groups land federal dollars — and building a movement

It takes money to make money, as the saying goes. The same is true of raising money. Successful fundraising requires resources that are in short supply for many small, community-based nonprofits. That means many groups could miss out on new federal funding that is targeted to front-line, historically marginalized communities.

“We have such an amazing opportunity with federal funds coming from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act,” says Yeou-Rong Jih, program officer for the Kresge Foundation’s environment program. “And there’s an extreme lack of capacity on the ground to make sure that these funds go where they are needed most.”

An initiative called Frontline 360° is building that capacity. Frontline 360° draws on a multi-partner collaboration to help community-based climate and environmental justice groups apply for funding and make best use of it when it comes. Launched by Anthropocene Alliance, Frontline 360° is a partnership of the Environmental Protection Network, Thriving Earth Exchange, the Community and College Partners Program and the Center for Applied Environmental Science.

Kresge is an integral backer of the effort, having funded the Anthropocene Alliance, where it’s housed, since 2017. Other major funders include the Walton Family Foundation, the Water Foundation (an intermediary backed by several green funders), and Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, which all made six-figure grants in the past year or so.

By coordinating partners’ services, Frontline 360° is achieving significant impact: Since 2017, the initiative has channeled more than $40 million in funding and technical assistance to climate and environmental justice communities across the U.S. More broadly, Frontline 360° is equipping those communities with the information and tools they need to create a more equitable, climate-resilient future. And by linking grassroots groups nationwide, the initiative is nurturing a powerful movement for change.

“I’m dealing with a hurricane over here”

Hilton Kelley was living in a FEMA trailer in 2017 when he got a call from Harriet Festing, Anthropocene Alliance’s executive director. Kelley’s hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, had been devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

“About 80% of the city was flooded,” Kelley says. “We had three feet of water in our house, and all of our things were basically destroyed.” A long-time environmental justice activist, Kelley had become an outspoken critic of FEMA’s emergency response — and caught Festing’s attention.

“At first, I was like, ‘Give me a minute. I’m dealing with a hurricane over here,’” Kelley recalls. But Festing persisted, and soon persuaded Kelley to serve on the alliance’s Leadership Council. Through that association, Kelley met residents of other flood-prone communities and learned how climate change compounds other environmental threats. “My work revolved around refineries and chemical plants, pushing them to reduce their emissions and their impacts on our community,” Kelley says. “With Anthropocene Alliance, we started talking about how the flood waters wash contaminants into the community — in addition to the damage done by the water itself.”

To assess those threats, Anthropocene Alliance connected Kelley and his organization, the Community In-Power and Development Association (CIDA), with a team of pro bono experts including the Thriving Earth Exchange, Army Corps of Engineers, Texas A&M University, Lamar University, the Climigration Network and Buy-In Community Planning. Fortified with surveys and simulations, CIDA developed a plan to minimize flood risk and relocate residents from vulnerable areas. Then Anthropocene Alliance helped CIDA write grant proposals to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which netted more than $700,000 to make that plan a reality.

Wraparound services

These wraparound services — coordinating with partners to provide technical assistance, networking, fundraising and pass-through grants — form the core of what the alliance now calls its Frontline 360° initiative. Services include scientific expertise provided by the Thriving Earth Exchange and Center for Applied Environmental Science, legal and policy consultations by the Environmental Protection Network, connections to university support via the Community and College Partners Program, and legal support from university legal clinics.

Those services are offered to the alliance’s 140 member groups, 84% of which represent low-income, Black, Latino, Indigenous and other marginalized communities. Three-quarters are led by women.

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