Spring 2021 Grant Guidelines

Program History & Purpose

The San Diego Foundation’s Opening the Outdoors (OTO) initiative connects, protects, and increases equitable access to nature across the County, especially for San Diegans in underserved and park-deficient communities. Equitable access to parks and open space is more important than ever before to ensure every San Diegan has a strong quality of life. Parks not only improve quality of life and physical health, but provide venues to bring people together across social, economic, and racial divides to build more resilient, socially connected communities.

A decade after the Parks for Everyone report illuminated disparities in available green space, it remains true that many local communities still lack critical access to parks and green space. According to the Parks for Everyone 2020 report, an update to the original namesake report released in 2010, the communities that suffer from the greatest inequities in usable green space are those with higher concentrations of lower income households, as well as communities with greater racial and ethnic diversity and highest rates of COVID-19 infections.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has exacerbated systemic inequities and is impacting communities of concern at disproportionately high rates. We know people with less access to the outdoors have worse health outcomes than their peers. Creating safe, readily accessible access to the outdoors for all people is a step toward building better health and quality of life for all as we begin to address the systemic injustices.

The Opening the Outdoors Program was established to address this inequality and create safe, accessible outdoor space for all San Diegans. The Foundation has since worked together with our nonprofit partners to increase community-driven efforts to enhance accessible outdoor space in park-deficient communities, encourage youth to learn more through hands-on education, and create the next generation of environmental stewards in the San Diego region.

Building on the success of the Opening the Outdoors program, in 2019, San Diego was chosen as a Thrive Outside Community by the Outdoor Foundation to further improve equitable access to the outdoors for all San Diegans. The San Diego Foundation and local partners, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, County of San Diego Parks & Recreation Department, Outdoor Outreach, YMCA of San Diego County, The Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego, and Parks California will strengthen collaboration and regional efforts to address barriers to equitable access and promote meaningful outdoor experiences for children and families.

Nature is not an amenity but a necessity for the well-being of San Diegans. The San Diego Foundation continues to prioritize grantmaking and programs that address the environmental inequities across San Diego County.

The Funding Opportunity

The 2021 Opening the Outdoors grant cycle supports efforts to address barriers to equitable outdoor access. As defined in the Parks for Everyone 2020 report, equity barriers are obstacles that hinder a person’s ability to access green space and parks in San Diego County. Those barriers include, but are not limited to:

  • Safety
  • Walkability
  • Transportation
  • Cultural Inclusion
  • Fees, Permits and Expenses

The COVID-19 pandemic spotlights the historic imbalance of who has access to safe outdoor space. The Foundation will support projects that address barriers to equitable outdoor space and support youth and families in vulnerable communities most affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Upwards of $300,000 in total funding is available to award, with $50,000 specifically reserved for capital expenses. Applicants may request a minimum of $25,000 and maximum of $50,000 in funding support. Project partnerships and collaborations between nonprofits are strongly encouraged.

The Foundation encourages all applicants to attend the upcoming webinar or set up a time with Foundation staff to review potential projects and discuss overall alignment with the 2021 OTO funding priorities. Detailed instructions on how to sign up for the grant webinar and Foundation staff Office Hours are below.

Grant Criteria & Eligibility

The Foundation anticipates granting upwards of $300,000 through 6 to 10 grants. To be eligible:

  • Each proposal must be led by a nonprofit with 501(c)(3) public charity status, located in and serving San Diego County communities.
  • A 501(c)(3) public charity may serve as a fiscal sponsor for another applicant to administer the grant and provide regular financial reporting to The Foundation.
  • Any organization may be part of more than one proposal but may only serve as lead applicant for one proposal.
  • Projects should be completed within a 12 to 24-month timeline. Please note, we fully understand the dynamic and unpredictable circumstances we all find ourselves in as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will take all of this into context and consideration with your application.
  • The Foundation has $50,000 in funding specifically reserved for “capital” expenses (i.e., funding spent to buy, maintain, or improve fixed assets such as buildings, vehicles, equipment, or land). If you anticipate your project having any capital expenses, please be sure to clearly identify and describe the capital expenses in your budget.
  • We will not fund endowments, existing obligations/debt, scholarships, or projects that promote religious or political doctrine. Given our focus on building long-lasting solutions and the capacity of this sector, we will not fund one-time youth engagement trips or projects such as community gardens that do not demonstrate having other significant resources or plans in place to ensure their longevity into the future.

Partnerships & Collaboration

We believe that intentional, strategic partnerships can be essential to maximizing the impact and value of this funding. As was the case in past OTO grant cycles, we will continue prioritizing applications with thoughtful collaborations and partnerships in place. Nonprofits and their partners may apply for a minimum of $25,000 up to a maximum of $50,000 in grant funding. A partnership is defined by shared roles and a shared budget. One organization will need to serve as the project lead for the purposes of submitting and managing the grant. Projects must clearly demonstrate in the application how the collaboration and/or partnership roles will be complementary and additive. We strongly encourage you to list all collaborators and their roles even if they will not receive funding in the proposed project.

FY21 Application Process

A timeline for the grant cycle with important dates is outlined below. The San Diego Foundation reserves the right to modify these dates or any other terms or conditions set forth in these grant guidelines. As seen in the timeline below, proposals are due by 12:00 p.m. on April 19, 2021 through the online system linked below. If you encounter any issues with submitting an application online, please reach out to Everett Au at EverettA@sdfoundation.org or (619) 235-2300 for accommodations.

Important Dates

Week of March 8 FY21 OTO grant guidelines released
March 25, 2021 and April 1 and 5, 2021 Foundation staff will be available during “Office Hours” from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm to answer questions. Please email Everett Au at EverettA@sdfoundation.org to register for the Office Hours.
April 19, 2021 Proposals due via Smarter Select by 12:00 p.m.
By July 1, 2021 Grant awardees notified and grant agreements due
July 1, 2021–June 30, 2022 Grant start and end date

FY21 Opening the Outdoors Grant Webinar

An informational webinar about the grant guidelines and application process was held for interested applicants. Click here to view the recording.


If you have questions regarding the application process or grant program in general, please contact Everett Au at EverettA@sdfoundation.org or Heather Rossetti at HeatherR@sdfoundation.org.

About the Review Process

Proposals will be reviewed by Foundation staff and a review committee comprised of a diverse group of community volunteers with expertise in philanthropy and the environment. The committee will evaluate proposals based on relevance to the Opening the Outdoors criteria listed above. Reviewers adhere to a strict conflict of interest policy and other internal controls to ensure that grant funding is distributed in an objective manner based on the merits of each proposal. The committee will submit final recommendations to The San Diego Foundation’s Board of Governors for final review and approval. Once funded, grantees will be asked to submit narrative mid-year progress and final reports.

The spring 2021 Opening The Outdoors grant application is closed. Grant awardees will be notified by July 1, 2021.