A Public Resource Compiled by the

MacArthur Foundation

140 S. Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60603-5285
501c3 nonprofit

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

Key People

  • Julia Stasch, President
  • Valerie Chang, Managing Director, Programs
  • Susan E. Manske, Vice President and Chief Investment Officer
  • Cecilia A. Conrad, Managing Director
MacArthur Foundation

Established in October 1978, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation funds “ a small number of big bets that strive toward transformative change in areas of profound concern ….” The foundation appears to take no official position on crop biotechnology, but has financed several prominent environmental nonprofits that lobby against GMO and gene-edited crops, including the Tides Center, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Since 2012, the MacArthur Foundation has contributed over $1 million dollars to the Tides Center, an offshoot of the politically progressive nonprofit Tides Foundation, which views crop biotechnology as a threat to the developing world. In 2015, for example, Tides co-sponsored a report with the New Field Foundation, a wealthy nonprofit that funds anti-GMO activism in Africa. The report argued that “[t]here is a clear urgency to channel more funds to women’s agro-ecology initiatives to mitigate such threats as corporate land grabs, patented seeds, and pro-GMO policies and practices ….”

Beyond its contributions to Tides, MacArthur has donated over $13 million to the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) since 2012, anti-GMO groups that see crop biotechnology as a pandora’s box. Sierra Club describes GMO crops as “corporate-patented life forms” and adds that “[g]enes from genetically manipulated crops can spread to neighboring crops or to wild species, which can be a major disaster for the welfare of the planet and its inhabitants.”

NRDC takes a similarly hostile view of GMO crops and the pesticides they’re often paired with, arguing in April 2018 that the “EPA and Monsanto are continuing to deny cancer risks from exposure to glyphosate,” better known as Monsanto’s Roundup. In February 2018, NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass said this denial is the product of “an unprecedented effort largely supported and funded by a coordinated group of industry supporters of glyphosate and other chemicals.”

Financial Data


Annual Revenue: $670,812,685 (2017)

Total Assets:$6,999,766,090 (2017)

Major Recipients (total contributions 2012-present)

Environmental Defense Fund $18,350,000

Sierra Club Foundation $10,000,000

Natural Resources Defense Council $3,010,000

Tides Center $1,504,659

Union of Concerned Scientists $715,000

Friends of the Earth $250,000

Multiplier $170,000

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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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