The Mertz Gilmore Foundation’s earliest roots can be traced back to 1959, when Joyce Mertz and her parents, LuEsther and Harold—who six years earlier had founded Publishers Clearing House, the largest multi-periodical subscription agency in the magazine industry—incorporated the Mertz Foundation in New York. Together with their colleague and friend, the socialist civil-rights activist Bayard Rustin, the Mertzes in the 1960s became strong advocates for anti-war and civil-rights causes, and their grantmaking reflected those values. Upon Joyce’s 1964 marriage to the peace-and-disarmament activist Robert Wallace Gilmore (1921-87), the Foundation added “Gilmore” to its existing name.
The principlals of the Mertz Gilmore Foundation (MGF) were also committed passionately to issues affecting the quality of life in New York City, where they resided. Indeed, they awarded many grants to performing arts institutions and to groups working to protect the city’s environment.
During MGF’s early years, Mertz family members provided it with funds on an annual basis. Then, when Joyce Mertz Gilmore died in January 1974, her will provided for a large endowment to the Foundation. Soon thereafter, in her honor and memory, Robert Gilmore changed the philanthropy’s name to the Joyce Mertz Gilmore Foundation. Over time, he also expanded the Foundation’s board of directors to include some individuals who were not members of the Mertz family. When Mr. Gilmore died some years later in 1988, his heirs donated a sizable portion of his estate to the Foundation. In 2002 the board of directors shortened the name of their philanthropy, back to the Mertz Gilmore Foundation.
Due to financial circumstances, MGF at the end of 2004 stopped awarding grants in four areas to which it had previously allocated considerable sums of money: (a) international human rights, (b) immigrant rights in the U.S., (c) lesbian and gay rights in the U.S., and (d) Israel and Palestine.
Thereafter, the Foundation’s principal funding priorities were: (a) New York City cultural, social, and civic concerns; (b) the environment; and (c) human rights in the United States. Impugning “the U.S. government’s historical antipathy toward applying human rights standards within the U.S.,” the Foundation in 2004 gave a $100,000 grant to the U.S. Human Rights Network, whose stated mission was “to promote U.S. accountability to universal human rights.”
Today MGF makes grants in three major program areas.
1. Climate Change Solutions: Proceeding from the premise that human commercial activities, particularly in industrialized capitalist societies, are inherently destructive to the natural environment, MGF funds organizations that aim to “prevent and reduce the global warming pollution from coal-fired power plants, which together account for over 37% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions” and “remain a major obstacle to progress in mitigating climate change.” MGF first identified global warming as a critical long-term issue in 1984, and immediately began making grants that emphasized the need for domestic policy and public education to address the crisis. In 1997, Mertz Gilmore became a funding partner of the Energy Foundation; together they awarded nearly $24 million in anti-climate-change grants over the next 14 years. And in 2007, the MGF board of directors approved a new grantmaking program designed “to help bring about substantial reductions in global warming pollution through targeted investments in sustainable policy and practice.”
2. NYC Communities: In an effort to promote “an equitable and sustainable city of vibrant communities,” MGF supports organizations that seek to leverage taxpayer dollars to help residents of low-income neighborhoods access social-welfare programs, healthcare benefits, and affordable housing.
3. NYC Dance: As an outgrowth of Joyce Mertz Gilmore’s passion for dance, MGF has an extensive history of funding contemporary dance presenters located throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
The Mertz Gilmore Foundation is a member organization of both the Peace and Security Funders Group and the International Human Rights Funders Group; the latter is a network of several dozen grantmakers dedicated to funding leftist causes.
Noteworthy recipients of MGF grants include: the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, Adalah, the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International, Betselem, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Climate Strategies, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, Common Cause, the Council on Foundations, the Earth Island Institute, EarthJustice, the Energy Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Environmental Working Group, Global Green USA, Greenpeace, Hamoked, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Jewish Funds for Justice, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, MADRE, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum, the National Immigration Law Center, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New Israel Fund, Physicians for Human Rights, the Proteus Fund, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the Southern Poverty Law Center, State Voices, the Tides Foundation and Tides Center, Trust for Public Land, the Union Of Concerned Scientists, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
To view a list of additional MGF grantees, click here.