From its inception, Proteus Fund has supported social justice efforts. Not surprisingly, after 28 years of operation, our work has evolved tremendously on every level – the issues we address, the strategies and tactics we use, and the scope of our impact. Below is a brief history of the Proteus Fund which we hope conveys the passion and the depth of our work over time.
Proteus Fund was founded in 1994 by Meg Gage, a pioneer in mobilizing philanthropic dollars to advance peace and security work. Before founding Proteus Fund, Meg spent over a decade as Co-Founder and Executive Director of Peace Development Fund. Proteus Fund became an extension of the model she refined there, a way to pool funding and align strategy among multiple funders in service of significant social change objectives and a broad vision for change in the philanthropic sector.
Proteus Fund has hosted donor collaboratives since its founding, beginning with Piper Fund, which have played a key role in the protection of democracy for over twenty years. The organization has also managed family foundations, hosted Donor Advised Funds since 1997, and offered fiscal sponsorship since 2005.
Throughout its history, Proteus Fund has been guided by a diverse group of past and current members of its Board of Directors. In addition to expanding the types of services offered, the organization has grown its team of dedicated staff members with decades of experience in grassroots organizing, activism, and advocacy.
In 2016, the Board selected Paul Di Donato, formerly the Director of Proteus Fund’s Civil Marriage Collaborative, to become the organization’s second President and CEO. Under his leadership, Proteus Fund’s staff, donor partners, and allies have increased in numbers and strength, and together with the Board, have significantly increased the organization’s grantmaking size and impact, added many non-grantmaking strategies and tactics to its work, and radically evolved and refined its approach to supporting social change movements, especially at the state level. Working toward a vision of a just, equitable, democratic world, Proteus Fund partners with donors, grantees, and other social justice allies to advance racial, gender, queer, and disability justice and an inclusive, representative democracy.
Proteus Fund’s initiatives have played a critical role in supporting vital social change movements and influencing major victories over the last two decades. Learn more about the Civil Marriage Collaborative, Colombe Peace Foundation, and Themis Fund below.
On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued an historic ruling holding that denying the freedom to marry same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution. In doing so, the Court extended marriage equality immediately to all fifty states and enshrined the freedom to marry as a basic constitutional right.
For eleven years before this decision, the Civil Marriage Collaborative (CMC) worked diligently to support public education, organizing, advocacy, and activism efforts to change hearts and minds on marriage equality and create the necessary social and cultural context to win. The CMC awarded grants to leaders in the field, state-based organizations, and collaborated with key national stakeholders to maximize the effectiveness of philanthropy’s role in the overarching effort to advance this critical civil and human rights issue.
The CMC maintained a laser focus on funding a wide array of strategies and tactics, including research, message development and deployment, grassroots and grasstops mobilization, coalition and alliance-building, and related efforts. The Collaborative worked closely with its grantees and other state and national leaders to create and evolve a coordinated game plan for moving the nation to a “tipping point” on the freedom to marry within 20 years by helping to: 1) secure marriage equality in 10 states, 2) advance another 10 states to embrace civil unions, 3) move another 10 states to have some form of legal recognition of same-sex couples, and 4) work to ensure at least some pro-LGBTQ equality in the remaining 20 states. The “10/10/10/20” vision became the overarching strategic framework for the larger freedom to marry movement and the CMC.
In every respect, CMC distinguished itself as an example of how funders can work in unison with movement leaders and grassroots organizations to achieve a significant, tangible victory. As a result, the CMC stands as a major example on how a donor collaborative in particular, and philanthropy as a whole, can contribute to historic social change.
Post victory, as the CMC prepared to shut down operations in 2016, the program and its funder partners realized that it was a critical to contribute to thought leadership in the philanthropic sector, and thus created a report to highlight the important role philanthropy can play in legal and cultural sea change. This resulted in Hearts and Minds, a case study and accompanying video that told the story of the Civil Marriage Collaborative and this momentous victory.
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The Colombe Peace Foundation, managed by Proteus Fund from 2001 to 2020, is dedicated to building and
sustaining effective intersectional movements for peace that bring about long-lasting changes in United States
policy. Colombe works to move the nation away from endless war-making and militarized conflict to, instead,
invest America’s limited resources to meet basic human needs that have gone ignored or partially addressed for decades.
Over the 20 years the Foundation was managed by Proteus Fund staff, grantmaking strategies were aimed at
educating and building movements that demand accountability and a decrease in the role militarism plays in
American life, budget policy, and foreign and domestic policy.
In 2012, decades of tireless work supported in large part by Colombe coalesced in the Pentagon Budget Campaign (PBC), launched in response to widespread recognition that it was time to eliminate wanton Pentagon spending that prioritized war-focused budgeting. Although a 1990 federal law requires every government agency to be audited, the Pentagon did not complete its first comprehensive audit until 2018, in direct response to PBC’s efforts demanding an audit. In 2019, PBC pressured the Pentagon to conduct a second audit, which failed to meet accounting standards just as the first one had — developments that have successfully drawn Congressional attention to Pentagon mismanagement. PBC has also played a pivotal role in maintaining caps on military spending, resulting in a cumulative reduction of $400 billion in Pentagon budget authority from 2012 through 2016.
In the later years of its tenure at Proteus Fund, the foundation recognized that the future of the peace movement depends on engaging the collective voices of veterans, students, and people of color to push against increased militarism, globally and domestically. Colombe shared a new set of guidelines for challenging militarism with the field in 2017, and in 2018, joined the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leadership committee of the Peace and Security Funders Group, bolstering Colombe’s efforts to increase grassroots power and create a more intersectional peace movement.
The Colombe Peace Foundation is now building on its history at Proteus Fund to continue its vital work as an independently managed foundation.
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Since 2008, Proteus Fund and Proteus Action League have supported research, grantmaking, field building, and donor organizing towards abolishing the death penalty in the United States. Two critical elements of that work were Themis Fund and the 8th Amendment Project (8AP), which both evolved out of Funders for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Themis Fund, launched in 2013, was a collaborative of individual and institutional donors committed to death penalty abolition that was dedicated to one objective – to ensure that advocates across the country, supported by the leadership and strategic counsel of 8AP, were resourced to advance a national strategy to end capital punishment in the United States. 8AP, also housed at Proteus Fund from 2014 to 2017, was formed to help create greater focus in the national abolition movement.
Themis Fund and 8AP came together at an extraordinary moment in history, where the once seemingly impossible goal of ending capital punishment seemed attainable. 8AP identified and advanced the implementation of strategic and coordinated opportunities across the country to create the environment for abolition, demonstrating to courts, and hopefully in the end the U.S. Supreme Court that there is a national consensus against capital punishment, and the barbaric practice is no longer in keeping with society’s norms. Themis Fund organized and supported donors through aligned giving and the Themis Pooled Fund to work together in an strategic way to maximize the impact of their giving, directing grants to litigation, policy, organizing, communications, research, and other opportunities identified and prioritized by 8AP leadership. In 2017, Themis Fund folded into 8AP to operate as a consolidated initiative.
The 8th Amendment Project continues this work to abolish the death penalty, capitalizing on growing momentum to end capital punishment in the United States.
In the nearly 30 years since its founding, Proteus Fund has expanded from its roots in western
Massachusetts to work both nationally and internationally. As the organization’s footprint has grown, its
lens has broadened. A sharp focus on peace and money in politics issues has expanded over the years to support critical work on numerous human rights issues and justice movements, such as LGBTQ, gender, and racial justice. Proteus Fund’s donor collaboratives have evolved into multi-dimensional initiatives while keeping a sharp focus on funding at the state level. Likewise, Proteus Fund’s fiscal sponsorship practice has grown into a robust cohort of strategically aligned initiatives working across many movements.