In our Supporter Spotlight magazine feature, we hear directly from donors about their commitment to issues in climate, energy, and the environment; how they make a difference; and why they support Resources for the Future—all in their own words.
In this issue of the magazine, we gain the perspective of a philanthropic institution that supports the work of Resources for the Future (RFF) through its grantmaking. Resources recently spoke with Evan Michelson, a program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Sloan Foundation is a longtime funder of RFF research, and Michelson oversees the foundation’s energy and environment program. Below are excerpts from the conversation, which touched on the importance of taking a holistic approach to address energy and environmental challenges, the role of philanthropy in advancing research, and more.
Resources magazine: From your perspective, how has RFF evolved as an organization since you first started working with us as the program director at the Sloan Foundation who oversees RFF’s grants?
RFF has always been one of the preeminent institutions for energy and environmental economics. What I’ve noticed over the past few years, as I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with RFF, is that the organization has started to look more broadly across fields to bring interdisciplinary answers to the most pressing questions on energy, the environment, and climate change. I think RFF has integrated a more technical understanding of the energy system in its work. RFF really has been on the forefront of asking some critical and underexplored questions about energy-technology development, energy equity, and how the energy system as a whole might work together in a decarbonized future.
How would you describe the role of the Sloan Foundation, and foundations more broadly, in supporting research and analysis?
It is rather unusual for philanthropies to support research. I think that’s because funding research—and doing it well—is actually quite challenging. It requires a high level of expertise. It requires a willingness to advance high-quality data collection and analysis. And perhaps most importantly, it takes a lot of time. One of the reasons foundations tend not to support research is that they’re looking for more immediate impact, which of course I think is really important. But one of the benefits we have in working at a foundation is that we can take the long-term view.
Our energy and environment program at the Sloan Foundation is deliberately framed as an interdisciplinary research effort, and more and more of the work that we support brings together scholars from different fields and different institutions. I think the future is going to involve bringing to bear researchers from different fields to answer these very complicated problems and challenges.
For this issue of the magazine, which celebrates RFF’s 70th anniversary, we’re highlighting the organization’s future. What do you see as the biggest needs for RFF’s work moving forward?
It’s clear that we are moving into an era in which energy policy happens at lots of different levels and in lots of different sectors of the economy. The ability to work across time frames and at various levels—state, local, national, and even global—is going to be critical as we move forward. I think RFF is well poised to provide research that cuts across those different levels of governance and different sectoral interventions over the short, medium, and long term. The ability to combine rapid research and high-quality analysis with longer-term thinking about how energy-system transformation might happen is critical and unique.
What do you see as the value of the type of independent analysis that RFF, and places like it, provides?
RFF might be one of the only places where that kind of independent, nonpartisan analysis takes place. If you look ahead to the next 70 years, having that kind of analysis is going to be even more critical than the last 70 years. No other organization in the landscape is able to provide that kind of comprehensive outlook. My hope is not only that RFF continues to flourish, but that its influence continues to grow—from the United States to other countries, from looking at a handful of topics to covering the entire landscape of research related to energy and climate change. I think RFF is going to find itself even more central to a lot of these key questions than it has over the past 70 years.
Four Ways You Can Support RFF
- Give on our website: Visit www.rff.org/donate to make a one-time donation with your credit card, or to set up a monthly recurring donation.
- Give by mail: Send your check to Resources for the Future | 1616 P Street NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC 20036
- Give through a donor-advised fund: Donate through a DAF account at a community foundation or financial institution to support RFF while receiving favorable tax benefits.
- Give through a will, trust, or gift plan: Include RFF in your estate plans to provide meaningful, long-lasting support.