The Rockefeller Family Fund mourns the passing of Donald K. Ross, who served as director of RFF from 1985 to 1999. Donald was RFF’s second director, and was the first public interest advocate hired to run a national foundation. As RFF’s director, his enthusiasm for advocacy and accountability led him to transform RFF from a private foundation to a public charity, enabling the organization to support and conduct more innovative advocacy work.


During his time with RFF, he also helped to found a number of new organizations that filled important roles across a range of fields, including Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Environmental Grantmakers Association, the Alaska Wilderness League, Trust for America’s Health, among many others. 


Prior to serving as RFF’s director, Donald founded, along with Ralph Nader, the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) network and was the first executive director of NYPIRG. In his early years with NYPIRG, he innovated a range of corporate and government accountability programs, and enabled greater transparency and citizen participation within a state legislature that had operated in the shadows.


After RFF, Donald developed and ran a program with the MacArthur Foundation to reform juvenile justice laws in a number of states, including in states with particularly regressive laws.


Remarking on Donald’s lifetime of accomplishments, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “Donald Ross created dynamic and lasting organizations that have inspired and trained untold legions of young people to be engaged, sophisticated and powerful actors in a democracy that desperately needed that energy to take on increasingly powerful special interests.  Donald brought the same creativity and impact to the world of philanthropy, where he pioneered new approaches to funding to advance justice and protect the planet.”  


Donald had an immeasurable impact on the modern era of the public interest movement. His innovative approach to advocacy and philanthropy has left an indelible mark on our field and the nation.


The Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) is pleased toannounce that Sarah Brennan will join its staff as an associate director. Ms. Brennan, a leader in climate philanthropy for over a decade, has been working on climate issues at Bloomberg Philanthropies since 2019. She will help lead the Funder Collaborative on Oil and Gas, a project initiated by and housed at RFF. Her first day at RFF will be March 11.


“We’re thrilled to have Sarah join our team,” said RFF director Lee Wasserman. “She has provided brilliant and respectful strategic guidance to climate activists for years. Our grantees and funder colleagues, many of whom have worked closely with her during her tenure at Bloomberg, will continue to benefit from her insights as she grows the Funder Collaborative on Oil and Gas.”


The Funder Collaborative makes grants to organizations fighting oil and gas infrastructure, helps establish coalitions and informal networks of groups aiming to weaken the industry’s financial standing and political influence, and has created a forum for donors interested in learning more about oil and gas issues. The Funder Collaborative builds upon Rockefeller Family Fund’s leadership role in holding Exxon and other fossil fuel companies accountable for climate-driven damages and fighting the industry’s decades-long disinformation campaign that hinders climate progress.


Please find the full press release here.


Associate Director of Program Development, Larry Shapiro, wrote an op-ed that was published in Newsweek urging President Biden to take greater climate action. Larry lays out a few action items that President Biden can do from the Executive Office. Some of the suggested actions are to:


  • Impose a ban on crude oil exports and gas exports
  • Greatly curtail leasing of oil, gas and coal on federal land, including land that is under water
  • Develop a robust market for climate-friendly products
  • Through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, require a radical shift away from electricity generated by fossil fuels to electricity generated by renewables

In 2021, via the America Rescue Plan Act, Congress authorized the Child Tax Credit, a federal tax cut of up to $300 per child per month. The program had a significant impact on child poverty rates in America, but unfortunately Congress did not renew the program and the last monthly payment was on December 15.


One of RFF’s grantees, the Virginia Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, held a press conference on Tuesday, December 14 with several in-state partners, highlighting how the program has helped the families of over 1.6 million Virginia children. The remarks garnered media coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and on TV.


The House Committee on Oversight is commencing a year-long investigation into the oil industry’s historic and current record of climate deception. The committee has been responsible for some breakthrough moments in its past investigations, including the information that was unearthed during the Committee’s spotlight on the tobacco industry under then-Chair Henry Waxman. The first hearing will include CEOs from the nation’s largest oil companies, including Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and BP. Read more about the hearings in this Guardian piece.


Economist and UMass Amherst assistant professor Lenore Palladino conducted state-level research showing the economic impact of care investments nationally and in key states. Using the investments proposed in the Build Back Better Act as passed by the House of Representatives in 2021, Lenore has now completed her research on the economic impacts of these proposed child care, paid leave, and home- and community-based services (HCBS) programs.  This deep dive into the economic boost generated by all three care policies is the first of its kind – and presents a complete picture that we believe to be impactful.


Find synthesized fact sheets here:


DPI Fund Research Project Wins an Analyst Institute Expy:

The Expys are the Analyst Institute’s annual recognition of outstanding progressive civic engagement research. This year, the New Georgia Project’s 2020 Autopsy Research completed in partnership with HIT Strategies and Sojourn Strategies and funded by the Democracy and Power Innovation Fund was awarded the “Walk the Talk” Award. The 2020 Autopsy Research was designed to understand the impact and resonance of power-frame messages in 2020 political participation of low propensity/first-time voters and New Georgia Project volunteers. 

Lessons Learned After PennEast Cancelation:

Larry Shapiro and Sarah Thomas, co-founders of the Funder Collaborative on Oil, wrote an op-ed featured in the Houston Chronicle about the cancellation of the PennEast Pipeline despite PennEast’s recent Supreme Court victory. This is the second pipeline to be canceled after the pipeline companies have won lawsuits in the Supreme Court and sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the project. The basic lessons learned from these two examples are to “fight early,” “fight in every venue you can,” and “never give up.”

Lisa Guide Pens Opinion Piece in Virginian-Pilot:

The Virginian-Pilot, one of the major newspapers in Virginia and specifically the Hampton Roads area, recently published an opinion piece by RFF Associate Director, Lisa Guide, about how too little has changed for working parents since she had her kids twenty years ago. As Lisa wrote: “Paid leave, affordable child care and greater access to home and community-based health services aren’t just important for Virginia families. These investments are also a boost to our economic recovery, creating jobs and boosting paychecks for workers across the Commonwealth.”