Funding Guidelines

The Fund is a mission-based investor. The ultimate criterion used to select projects is the anticipated benefit to the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem.

To that end, projects must meet several criteria.

Meaningful Ecological Outcomes

Projects must identify ecological improvements that are real, significant and of regional consequence.

Here is what we mean:

Real improvements are results that can be measured and are growing in the ecosystem. This is achieved through actions. Results are measured by outcomes on the ground and in the water.

Significant improvements target physical, chemical and/or biological impairment issues that currently are unaddressed. This is achieved through strategies that reframe a key issue or behavior and that often energetically capitalize on big changes underway in society, the economics of the activity, or the underlying science involved.

Improvements of regional consequence are system-wide environmental outcomes. This is achieved through strategies that employ compelling pilot demonstrations that make a path to scale inevitable.

A Collaborative Team

The Fund supports teams that include all of the parties connected with the issue. Collaboration for us means the participation of not only the designers, implementers, experts and advisors, but also the naysayers and the end users who are most likely to take the results and make a difference.

Solution Focus and Action Orientation

The Fund supports projects that take concrete actions to prototype new approaches to Great Lakes problems. Actions taken at a specific place in the basin serve as a demonstration, not a result. The most impactful teams learn by doing, and adapt based on what they have learned.

Actions are just that—activities that teams try on the land or in the water to solve a regional problem. The Fund is interested in several categories of actions:

  • Actions can be a modification of a current approach or a unique application of a technique to a different setting;
  • Actions can test approaches in an area where no one has yet acted; or
  • Actions can be activities that change the economics of a product, market or industry.

A Strategy for System-wide Change

Projects must have a compelling strategy to drive change at the scale necessary to create basin-wide impact. Successful teams empower those who will take the next set of actions by using market forces, new social norms, and systemic change to take their work to scale.

Scientific Rigor

Projects must be based in sound science, utilize the results of existing research and apply the skills of the scientific community. The Fund will only support scientific or policy research that is part of a larger action strategy.


The Fund does not provide support for the following categories of activities:

  • general operating support
  • advocacy
  • lobbying
  • litigation
  • compliance obligations
  • land acquisition
  • public works projects

Please visit our Submitting an Idea section for more information about evaluation criteria and eligibility information.


Governors’ Priorities

The governors of the Great Lakes states have asked the Fund’s board to keep innovations in sustainable water management as a top Fund priority.

Our funding guidelines help bridge the governors’ nine priority areas (presented to Congress) to the ongoing discovery of catalytic solutions for the Great Lakes. Those priorities are:

  • Ensure the sustainable use of our water resources while confirming that the States retain authority over water use and diversions of Great Lakes waters.
  • Promote programs to protect human health against adverse effects of pollution in the Great Lakes ecosystem.
  • Continue to reduce the introduction of persistent bioaccumulative toxics into the Great Lakes ecosystem.
  • Stop the introduction and spread of non-native aquatic invasive species.
  • Enhance fish and wildlife by restoring and protecting coastal wetlands, fish and wildlife habitats.
  • Restore to environmental health the Areas of Concern identified by the International Joint Commission as needing remediation.
  • Control pollution from diffuse sources into water, land and air.
  • Standardize and enhance the methods by which information is collected, recorded and shared within the region.
  • Adopt sustainable use practices that protect environmental resources and may enhance the recreational and commercial value of our Great Lakes.

The Fund supports the governors’ shared vision to test new ways to improve the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the region’s waters, making the Great Lakes more valuable and the states more prosperous.