Reflections on 2023: HCF's Year End Impact Report

A year of clarity, communication, and growth

It’s hard to believe, but as 2023 comes to a close, we find ourselves at the five-year mark since the “idea” of Howell Conservation Fund (HCF) was born. We have come a long way since our inception, having fostered a global network of changemakers, having been on both the giving and receiving end of support, and having developed and tested our theory of change: stating that combining the strengths of the nonprofit, for-profit, and philanthropic sectors will lead to acceleration of innovative environmental initiatives.

This year in particular, we focused on deepening our connections with both our long-term supporters and our newer collaborators. We’ve built relationships both virtually and in-person, including spending quality time with fellow environmental leaders between the walls of the Colorado River. One of our core beliefs at HCF is that building quality relationships will allow us to maximize our environmental impact, build breakthrough projects, and find new, meaningful collaborations, and this is just what we have done.

As we hit our five-year milestone, we’ve also revisited how we communicate our work with the world. Part of this year’s growth has included fine-tuning our messaging and making plans for the next five years. You can see some of these changes reflected on our website, including our Theory of Change, a new FAQ list, and our 1-pager. In the new year, we also plan to formally publish our findings from our Strategic Review that we conducted throughout this year.

In 2024, HCF will be returning to Henderson Island in a partnership with French nonprofit, Plastic Odyssey

2024 Return to Henderson Island

One of our biggest announcements comes right before the year closes: We are thrilled to announce that we will be returning to Henderson Island in 2024! This expedition will be a partnership between HCF and Plastic Odyssey, a French nonprofit dedicated to addressing plastic pollution ("cleaning up the past") and curbing waste production ("building the future").

Since 2022, Plastic Odyssey has been conducting an international expedition, tackling the urgent issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. Using innovative methods of plastic collection and processing, their vessel has been traveling around the world to develop local, plastic management solutions in the most polluted parts of the planet. The collaboration with HCF on Henderson Island will be one of 30 destinations, and it will complete the work we started in 2019 to clean up the world’s most plastic polluted beach.

We are currently in the process of raising funds for this endeavor and would be happy to share the sponsor deck with any potential supporters. You can read more about the expedition on CAF America’s recent blog, Cleaning the World’s Most Polluted Beach, and keep an eye out for further updates from us.

We're excited for both our existing partners and for our new Catalytic Grantees! New grantees include Beach Collective, which incentivizes mangrove restorations and beach cleanups.

2023-24 Catalytic Grants

We recently wrapped up our first formal Request for Proposal (RFP) process for our 2023-24 Catalytic Grants! We received applications from 32 incredible conservation organizations around the world, all of whom are working on innovative solutions to today’s most pressing environmental issues. 

This year, our Catalytic Fund supported eight of these organizations, forming six new partnerships and building on two existing. The list of grantees is below, and you can learn more about them and the other applicants on our recent blog post, Announcing our 2023-24 Catalytic Grantees. The winning grantees are:

  • Beach Collective, a nonprofit that incentivizes coastal conservation through a new, localized digital economy
  • Blue Latitudes Foundation, a nonprofit that is developing a spatial planning tool for fisheries to help inform offshore energy projects
  • Langland Conservation, a nonprofit that supports indigenous communities with cutting-edge conservation technology
  • Missouri Botanical Garden - Madagascar, a nonprofit that is using invasive plant materials as an alternative to plastic pots for propagating native trees
  • Sovereign Nature Initiative, a nonprofit that is linking real-world environmental data to the digital gaming world
  • Theytriarchy, a new nonprofit that is empowering students to leverage AI in developing environmental campaigns
  • Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, an existing partner of ours since 2021 who is pioneering citizen science initiatives for beach cleanups and microplastics data collection
  • Root Solutions, an existing partner of ours since 2021 who is putting behavior change tools into the hands of today’s leading environmental changemakers

Existing Project Updates

While we look forward to fostering new partnerships, we are also excited about the developments that our existing partners have made this year. Each of our active partners have completed important strides in their programming:

  • Loon Preservation Committee (LPC): This program is now in our 6th year of partnering with LPC on the Loon Safe: Lead Tackle Buyback Program. In the 2023-2023 season, the nonprofit collected 2,472 pieces of lead tackle (115.6 lb), coming to a grand total of 45,163 pieces of lead tackle diverted from New Hampshire lakes since 2018.

    In August, HCF joined the “Hoot Salute” Loon Leadership Circle event at LPC in Squam Lake, educating other donors on the critical importance of market-based efforts and community-driven initiatives to save critical ecosystems through the power of story. Over the years, the program has been so successful that it has, in turn, inspired similar programs to start in surrounding states. HCF considers this program to be a shining example of how catalytic grantmaking can positively impact critical ecosystems.

  • CRDC Foundation: After years of collaboration with CRDC Global, this year we formalized fiscal sponsorship with CRDC Foundation, the organization’s nascent nonprofit arm. We first met the CRDC team when seeking circular economy partners for our Henderson Island expedition in 2019. This partnership grew to include a joint program with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and others on The Bag That Builds (TBTB) program in Samoa, and this new step will allow us to grow these initiatives into a full-fledged nonprofit.
  • Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation: Since 2021, we have been supporting Blue Ocean Society in collection and analysis of microplastics data on New Hampshire beaches. This year, they reached a milestone in their work, having concluded their research, conducted site visits to potential pollution sources, and given presentations on their findings at five different speaking engagements. 2024 will mark the final year of HCF’s grant support to the organization, in which they will complete a toolkit for Citizen Scientists around the world, and create educational materials around their scientific findings to help spread awareness of this issue.

Thought Leadership

This year we have been developing our thought leadership plan, sharing our experience and expertise through articles such as “How To Make Your First Seed Funding Grant,” which we co-published on Exponent Philanthropy in partnership with Blackstone Ranch Institute. Our Director of Operations, Kirsten Midura, was also featured in A New Earth Project’s article, “Unlocking Venture Philanthropy,” in which she detailed our unique approach to catalytic funding.

We had a jam-packed schedule this year with events and speaking engagements nearly every month. This included traveling to Washington, D.C. to represent organizations such as the Alex C. Walker Foundation at a carbon pricing meeting in January, and to join the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at their first ever Plastic Policy Summit in March.

In May we attended the Engage Executive Reception in Atlanta, GA, an event that brought together corporations and disruptive startups in the environmental space. Here we supported sustainable biomaterial company Loliware in their pitch on plastic pollution solutions. Loliware is the second mission-aligned, for-profit company that HCF has made a financial investment into, the first being CRDC Global. We look forward to sharing more details on this in 2024.

We also spent some time in New York City over the summer, having attended the Nexus Global Summit, where we organized a tour of The Explorers Club in an effort to increase collaboration between the two organizations. Around the same time, we had the opportunity to present at the United Nations World Oceans Month closing event, organized by the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY. The event, entitled ‘Action Solutions & Partnerships to Revitalize Our Oceans,’ allowed us to share our origin story and connect with other like-minded leaders in the marine conservation space.

We wrapped up the year’s events by speaking at the TMA BlueTech Week Innovation Day at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in Brett’s hometown, San Diego, CA. Here, we gave a presentation on our innovative approach to not only nonprofits, but also to the private sector.

2023 Personnel Highlights

Our team is the heart and soul of our work, and we are thrilled to have expanded our roster significantly in 2023. From promoting existing team members to new roles, to bringing on new staff and Advisory Board members, this year has been a huge step forward for us. Highlights include:

  • At the start of the year, we promoted Kirsten Midura from Communications Manager to our Director of Operations. Kirsten has been instrumental in the growth of HCF since she joined our ranks in 2020. In addition to the responsibilities she has held to date, this year she spearheaded our five-year Strategic Review and Plan, our RFP process, and helped oversee the onboarding and work of our junior staff and partners.
  • Early in the year, we brought on Carmia Weideman as our web developer and back-end support. Carmia comes from a background in web development and marketing, and has been a great help as we continue to refine our website and overall messaging.
  • This year we also began working with Aria Ma, an independent consultant who has been providing pro-bono services to help us ramp up operations. She has been extremely supportive in our strategic planning, fundraising strategies, and grant applications for our return to Henderson Island.
  • Toward the end of the year, we also brought on a new communications and social media support staff member, Erica Zuo, who is helping us with our communications strategy and content creation. We have appreciated her help during the chaos of the holiday season and look forward to seeing where this work can go.
  • For the Henderson Island return expedition, we have tapped Hanna Dijkstra, PhD, a scientist whose research has focused on understanding the societal and business case for sustainable plastic management.
  • We also brought on four new Advisory Board members, Meggie Crnic, Caroline Mindus, Benjamin Etherton, and Mike Van Bruinisse who will help inform our organization’s direction and expand our network.

Network Building

Our ability to support other organizations would not be possible without the external support of our networks, collaborators, and funding partners. This year we placed an emphasis on building out our network of philanthropic movers and shakers who are elevating the work of those around them. Some highlights in this regard have included:

  • NEXUS Impact Society: This year, we were invited to join NEXUS Impact Society, the largest network of next-gen philanthropists, impact investors, and social entrepreneurs in the world. In the last year alone, this group has opened promising doors that have already allowed us to expand our reach and funding capacity for new projects.

  • Seaworthy Collective: We have long admired Seaworthy Collective for their collaborative approach to supporting BlueTech startups. This October, we attended their Startup Showcase in Miami and learned about all the incredible work that they and their cohorts are working on.

  • ‘Flow State’ on the Grand Canyon: In September, HCF Founder Brett Howell embarked on one of the most life-changing experiences of his life. Organized by Tillie Walton, host of the TV show, ‘Wild Rivers with Tillie,’ this 282-mile journey through the Grand Canyon was an escape from the modern world alongside 28 environmental changemakers, instigators, creative legends, artists, and humanitarians. The trip led to some serious introspection and has laid the groundwork for major changes for Brett, HCF, and beyond. You can read more about this experience on Brett’s blog post, “Finding 'flow state' in the Grand Canyon and how it changed my life.”

Thank YOU for Your Ongoing Support

As we wrap up 2023 and get ready for 2024, we look forward to continuing our work with existing collaborators and projects, as well as finding new partners and like-minded organizations. Thank you to all of our supporters, project partners, and collaborators, without each of you we could not have accomplished all of our work over the last few years.

Please get in touch if you would like to learn more about Howell Conservation Fund or make a tax-deductible contribution to support our efforts in 2023 and beyond! 

Happy Holidays!

The Howell Conservation Fund team

More Articles