A Public Resource Compiled by the

44 Montgomery Street, Suite 1040
San Francisco, CA 94104-4602
501c3 nonprofit

Donor to anti-GMO organizations as part of a broader philanthropic strategy

Key People

  • Christine Russell, Co-founder
  • Mark Schlesinger, Co-founder
  • Susan R. Clark, Director of Programs

Established by Christine Russell and Mark Schlesinger in 1995, The San Francisco-based Gaia Fund (GF) is a vocal advocate for organic agriculture and critic of corporate influence on American politics. Gaia finances organizations that “foster the transition of California’s food and farming system to one …. integrating the goals of best organic practices” and oppose “disproportionate influence of corporate and individual wealth in American politics.  As of 2016, the fund has distributed grants totaling $15,907,220.

In November 2013 before permanently closing its doors, the Columbia Foundation awarded Gaia Fund a grant worth nearly $29 million. Columbia was a significant contributor to anti-GMO advocacy. The foundation donated to the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, for example, groups that lobbied for a ban on GMO crops and later for GMO labeling legislation in California.

The Gaia Fund has supported these same pro-organic and anti-GMO causes with the money donated by the Columbia Foundation. Beyond its contributions to advocacy groups like Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Working Group and EarthJustice, GF has invested in a variety of organic farming research projects. GF sponsored the Organic Agriculture Research Symposium in 2015, alongside the Ceres Trust, a foundation that aims to protect “people, farms and ecosystems from GMO contamination.” Ceres is also a donor to the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Friends of the Earth and many other anti-GMO advocacy groups. Similarly, the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), a nonprofit that claims biotech industry control of seed production “has stifled innovation in plant breeding,” acknowledges support from the Gaia Fund. GF has financed several OSA projects that help farmers avoid GMO seeds.

In 2017, GF helped finance a documentary called The Evolution of Organic, with Nature’s Path Organic, Dr. Bronner’s Soap and other companies. GF also supports the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, an organization that believes “exposure of organic or non-GE fields to GE pollen can have “adverse ecological and agronomic consequences ….” The coalition also says “increasing industrialization of our food supply has resulted in less transparency and less consumer choice.”


Financial Data


Annual Revenue: $524,205 (2016)

Total Assets $40,489,591 (2016)

Major Donors (total contributions 2012-present)

Columbia Foundation $28,846,227

Major Recipients (Total Contributions 2012-present)

Bionutrient Food Association $115,000

Natural Resources Defense Council $100,000

Every Voice Center $150,000

Occidental Arts and Ecology Center $80,000

Center for Food Safety 60,000

Organic Seed Alliance $65,000

Environmental Working Group $50,000

Mother Jones $40,000

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Note that there are three “levels” of both donors and recipients.

Donations to advocacy groups are sometimes designated to support a specific cause, such as organic agriculture or mitigating climate change. There is no way for us to know from publicly-available documents on what the money will be spent, as we can only see the total amount donated. When we assign the levels below to donors and recipients, we assume that all donations are available to the recipient for all advocacy, including anti-GMO advocacy.

  • Level 1: Donates primarily to dedicated anti-GMO organizations
  • Level 2: A large portion of donations go to anti-GMO organizations; some donations go to organizations without a position on GMOs
  • Level 3: A small portion of donations go to anti-GMO organizations
    * Most donations go to organizations without a formal position on GMOs but which have aligned themselves with anti-GMO activists

For Level 1 recipients, all donations are used for anti-GMO advocacy. For Level 2 and 3 recipients, we don’t know how much of each donation is used for anti-GMO advocacy.

  • Level 1: Dedicated to anti-GMO advocacy
  • Level 2: Involved in anti-GMO advocacy along with other causes
  • Level 3: No specific anti-GMO advocacy, but general support
    * Organizations without a formal position on GMOs but which have aligned themselves with anti-GMO activists
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