What it Means to Be a Community Foundation


The Ocean Foundation is a community foundation.

A community foundation is a public charity that typically focuses on supporting a defined local geographical area, primarily by facilitating and pooling donations to address community needs and support local nonprofits. Community foundations are funded by donations from individuals, families, businesses and governments usually from that same defined local area.

Incorporated in the State of California, United States, The Ocean Foundation is a non-governmental nonprofit 501(c)(3) international public foundation that receives donations from individuals, family and corporate foundations, corporations, and government agencies. These donors are both U.S. and internationally based.  

The Ocean Foundation is not a private foundation, as defined by the U.S. philanthropic sector, as we do not have an established and reliable single principal income source such as an endowment. We raise every dollar we spend and recognize that our use of the term “public foundation” may be the reverse of how this phrase is used in other jurisdictions for those organizations that are explicitly supported by governmental entities, and yet are without the additional support from other donors that may demonstrate general public support.

Our focus is the ocean. And our community is every one of us who depends upon her.

The ocean transcends all geographic boundaries, and drives global systems that make the earth habitable for humankind.

The ocean covers 71% of the planet. For nearly 20 years now, we’ve strived to bridge a philanthropy gap – which has historically given the ocean only 7% of environmental grantmaking, and ultimately, less than 1% of all philanthropy – to support the communities that need this funding for marine science and conservation the most. We were founded to help change this less than favorable ratio.

We raise every dollar we spend.

The Ocean Foundation drives investment in ocean philanthropy while keeping our own costs down, putting an average of 89% of each gift toward direct ocean conservation by maintaining an efficient and modest sized team. Our third party validations for accountability and transparency offer donors high confidence in giving internationally. We pride ourselves on releasing funds in a seamless and transparent way while maintaining high due diligence standards.

Our solutions are about people and nature, not people or nature.

The ocean and coasts are complicated places. To protect and conserve the ocean, we must look at everything that affects it and depends on it. We recognize the many ways a healthy ocean can benefit the planet and humankind – from climate regulation to job creation, to food security and more. Because of this, we maintain a people-centered, multidisciplinary, systems approach toward long-term, holistic change. We need to help people to help the ocean.

We go beyond Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) Life Below Water. TOF’s programs and services address these additional SDGs:

We operate as a nimble incubator for innovative approaches that others have not tried, or where large-scale investments have not yet been made, such as our Redesigning Plastics Initiative or proof of concept pilots with sargassum algae for regenerative agriculture.

We build lasting relationships.

No one alone can do what the ocean needs. Working in 45 countries across 6 continents, we provide the opportunity for U.S. donors to make tax deductible donations so we can connect resources with the local communities who need them most. By getting funds to coastal communities who may not traditionally have access, we help partners realize the full funding required to do their work. When we make a grant, it comes with the tools and training to make that work more effective, as well as the on-going mentorship and professional support of our staff and over 150 Board of Advisors. 

We are more than a grantor.

We’ve launched our own initiatives to fill gaps in conservation work in the areas of ocean acidification, blue carbon and plastic pollution.

Our leadership in networks, coalitions and funder collaboratives brings new partners together to share information, be heard by decision-makers, and leverage opportunities for long-lasting positive change.

Mother and calf whale looking overhead swimming in ocean

We host and sponsor ocean projects and funds so that people can focus on their passion, free from the burdens of running nonprofit administration.

ocean knowledge

We maintain a free and open-source Knowledge Hub on a number of emerging ocean topics.

Our Community Foundation Services

Learn more about our services for the ocean.

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