We're excited about each of the grants we are able to make to our amazing partner organizations! We'll update this page annually after grants are awarded and received.


It is Cottonwood Spring's second operating year and we more than doubled our scope and budget. Our grants now cover all of our geographic scales of interest (global, national, and local) and all of our topical focus areas. Our budget increased to $520,000. After researching many excellent nonprofits, we decided that the following organizations most effectively support our mission and focus areas. We highly recommend you support them as well!


We intend our global-scale grants to enable and empower people around the world to improve their own societies and systems. We’ve decided to focus on free access to information in our global-scale giving because we see it as a foundational right and resource for those who are seeking change. We don't think we know enough about the culture and context in other countries to determine which efforts are most needed beyond that.

Free and open media

According to the United Nations, free expression and the right to information are the foundations for the protection of all other rights. While rights to free expression and information are generally secure in liberal democracies, new and old threats are emerging in many countries, including the United States, that could potentially erode those rights. We are concerned about the recent rise in authoritarianism around the world and the systemic erosion of rights and increased corruption that it causes. Because truth and information are such a threat to authoritarian leaders and their powerful supporters, journalists nearly always become their targets. We are also concerned about the consolidation and corporatization of smaller news outlets. We fear this both diminishes the capacity to investigate local stories and provides a conduit for the mass distribution of misinformation. For these reasons, we decided to focus support for organizations assisting journalists in danger and organizations securing and developing local and independent news sources.


The Committee to Protect Journalists provides full-spectrum support and assistance for journalists in countries where journalists are restricted, banned, imprisoned, or violently silenced. They bring attention to abuses, meet with officials about policies and cases, seek justice for individual journalists who are harmed, and provide life-saving security information and rapid response assistance to journalists in danger. This organization was founded by journalists, has a clear vision and set of values, and is extremely effective at their primary mission of defending the physical safety of journalists and their freedom to do their work.


IFEX is a global network defending and promoting freedom of expression around the world. Consisting of over 100 member organizations in 70 countries, IFEX empowers local groups to challenge oppressive regimes and policies through campaigns, direct resources, and global advocacy. They support expression in public, print, and on the internet, advocating on issues like internet censorship and the intimidation of journalists and activists.


Global Press provides a platform for stories that often go underreported or misrepresented. They train and support local journalists, especially women, in regions where the media landscape lacks diversity and depth. Global Press Journal, their publication, serves as a conduit for these local stories to reach a wider, international audience. Their meticulous focus on journalistic ethics and story quality ensures that the information provided stands out as trustworthy and that the message is heard.


The National Trust for Local News keeps local news ecosystems in the United States vibrant and relevant amidst increasing consolidation of advertising and content creation. They offer a blend of financial, strategic, and technical assistance to local newsrooms facing existential challenges. Their interventions often make the difference in whether a community retains its local news outlet, a vital platform for local civic engagement and information, or whether it folds or is purchased by a global conglomerate or hedge fund (like what happened to the Santa Cruz Sentinel). While not global in scope, we hope it can become a model for other countries experiencing similar troubling trends. We also decided to support it because of the large role that the United States plays in global events, which we think makes it additionally important that the voting public in the United States has access to high-quality news.

Freely accessible data and information

Complex global challenges require data-driven decision-making, but access to reliable data can be hindered by financial, geographical, organizational, and political barriers. Worse yet, misinformation, a necessary tool of authoritarians, is on the rise and is beginning to be amplified by the widespread availability of powerful AI language models. Open-access data is a necessity for informed public discourse and policy decisions and we decided to support high integrity organizations that provide reliably sourced information in extremely accessible formats for free.


The Global Change Data Lab specializes in converting complex, global data on important social issues into visual formats, making it easier for non-experts to comprehend. They tackle a wide array of subjects from poverty to climate change, and their resources are often cited in academic studies, policy papers, and news articles. Their work serves as a bridge between data collection agencies and the general public, thereby enhancing global literacy on vital issues.


The Wikimedia Foundation provides the vision and financial backing for Wikipedia, one of the world’s most visited websites, as well as many other global community free-information projects. They strive to democratize access to information and have built a robust, volunteer-driven model to keep Wikipedia up-to-date and reliable in over 300 languages. Their additional projects like Wikimedia Commons and Wikibooks further expand the scope of freely accessible and reliable information, enriching global knowledge sharing and debunking misinformation.


Our national efforts promote changes in the specific policies, systems, and attitudes that we see as currently responsible for the most severe and widespread suffering in our country today.

Dismantling systemic inequality

Income inequality has been increasing in the United States since the late 1970s, but has been rising even faster in the last years. The productivity, or value created per hour, of those who work has been rising, but that wealth is increasingly concentrated with a small number of people rather than being shared with all workers, and real median wages have been stagnant. Severe inequality is linked to low economic mobility, erosion of confidence in civil institutions, and general suffering and lack of self-expression. We view the level of equality in our country as a policy choice. Our hope for our grants in this area is that clarifying these policies, their effects on people, and the choices that voters have will help reverse declining equality in our country and others.


PolicyLink is an innovative national research and action institute that champions racial and economic equity by emphasizing effective, local, evidence-based solutions generated by those closest to the challenges. By prioritizing community-driven solutions, PolicyLink empowers those traditionally excluded from policymaking, often leading to novel and transformative policy outcomes. PolicyLink's interconnected initiatives provide resources and guidance to local leaders as they work with the community towards greater equity.


The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) is the non-partisan, nonprofit leader in data-driven tax policy analysis. ITEP's simulation tools have been in development for decades and have the same capabilities as those used by the US government for federal policy, but add 50-state micro-simulations. Their analysis particularly highlights tax policy impacts on existing racial and ethnic income and wealth disparities. ITEP publishes influential reports that are frequently picked up by news media and works with lawmakers, media, and other nonprofit organizations to develop policy visions for a more fair and equitable tax system. We are excited to support them because of the rigor of their analyses and the central place of tax policy in determining levels of inequality.


The Economic Justice program under the Institute for Policy Studies conducts rigorous research into the causes of economic inequality and its intersections with race and gender. Their dedicated website,, presents and contextualizes data that unapologetically illuminates economic inequality in all its forms while their reports and policy proposals aim to steer political conversations towards more equitable systems. They hold seminars, engage with lawmakers, and create public awareness campaigns to foster environments where systemic change is both discussed and acted upon.

Animal welfare

The extreme confinement of sentient animals in industrial agriculture settings continues to be legal and widely practiced in the United States. We view this as the most severe and large-scale source of suffering within our country directly caused by our policies and practices. While large-scale use of animal bodies to process plants into food is environmentally unsustainable and increasingly unnecessary to make most people’s favorite dishes, our giving in this area is driven primarily by our sense that the immense suffering caused by current practices is ethically indefensible. Many organizations do excellent work to support and improve animal welfare; we focused our giving this year on organizations working to create lasting systemic change through policy, legal, and structural changes.


The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), founded in 1979, is a pioneering organization dedicated to protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system. By filing high-impact lawsuits, providing free legal assistance to prosecutors, and supporting strong animal protection legislation, the ALDF advances animal law and holds animal abusers accountable for their actions. With over 300,000 members and supporters, the ALDF works to strengthen state anti-cruelty statutes, encourage the federal government to enforce animal protection laws, and promote the emerging field of animal law through its Student Chapters and Animal Law Program. Additionally, the organization educates the public on animal welfare issues through seminars, workshops, and outreach efforts.


The Humane League advocates for the welfare of animals used for industrial food production through corporate policy changes and public commitments. Recognizing that severe suffering in the highest number of factory farmed animals on land is borne by chickens in life-long extreme confinement, they focus the majority of their work on the welfare of chickens. They have made impressive strides in this area - including helping to double the percentage of cage-free hens in the US to 35% in the past few years. Through their global Open Wing Alliance, they support 90 partner organizations working together to end the abuse of chickens worldwide.


Animal Outlook’s initiatives spotlight the often unseen unethical practices in the industrial animal agriculture sector. They force discussions on food ethics into the mainstream through in-depth investigations and public awareness campaigns. By increasing transparency and ethical accountability for animal agriculture, their work serves as a catalyst for change in both industry practices and consumer behavior.

Reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations

Reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is necessary to avoid global suffering and loss caused by the impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, wildfire, and permanent changes in how much it rains or snows. For the last centuries, and at an increasing rate each year, humans have used the atmosphere as a global garbage bin for waste gasses that increase the Earth’s greenhouse effect. These greenhouse gasses, most of which come from burning long-buried, carbon-based fossil fuels, are acidifying our oceans and changing our planet's energy balance so quickly (now over generations instead of eras) that people and animals don't have time to adapt, leading to increasing displacement, suffering, and death. While the energy services fossil fuels provided had benefits, we have now developed low-cost, carbon-free energy resources that can provide the same benefits without the associated environmental harms, and we now need to stop releasing and work to recapture these harmful greenhouse gasses. In many cases, the individual barriers to change are small but in aggregate are very consequential. We feel we can most effectively influence policy to overcome these barriers within our own country, which also is responsible for the largest share of historical cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. In 2023, we focused on removing barriers to the use of carbon-free energy in buildings and exploring the large-scale use of existing technology, some ancient, to remove carbon-based greenhouse gasses directly from the atmosphere.


The Building Decarbonization Coalition focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the often-overlooked sector of buildings and construction, which is responsible for about a third of US greenhouse gas emissions. By collaborating with industry leaders, academics, and policymakers, they help set new standards for energy-efficient and all-electric building designs and materials and facilitate the exchange of best practices and knowledge about building electrification. As with vehicles, a central national strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to remove carbon from electricity generation and then shift all buildings to use that electricity instead of fossil fuels.


Carbon180 connects scientific innovation and policy advocacy in the emerging area of direct capture and safe storage of carbon-based greenhouse gasses from the air. They are motivated by the growing consensus that reducing new greenhouse gas emissions may not happen fast enough to prevent devastating impacts of climate change. They do advocacy and communication work as well as develop standards for how to implement greenhouse gas capture technologies equitably. The technology pathways they are currently supporting include using minerals to react with or adsorb carbon dioxide and optimizing agricultural practices for sequestration of carbon in soils. They do not support technologies that use (and therefore enable) fresh emissions from power plants or assist in extracting new fossil fuels in the process of storing captured gasses underground.


The local level is where we understand the culture, context, and the existing systems and their challenges best. Here we hope to support the maintenance and growth of supportive systems in addition to changes in specific policy areas to address particular local challenges.


In the region where we live, rising housing demand brought by rapid economic growth and low housing supply due in part to restrictive zoning and building codes has led to some of the highest housing prices in the nation. These high housing prices, combined with high income inequality and the lack of sufficient publicly-supported housing and mental health treatment, have led to increasing numbers of people who are unhoused. We see housing as a human right and housing insecurity as a policy choice and a policy failure. There are many policy changes under consideration, but in the meantime, thousands of our neighbors need short-term assistance finding housing. For this reason, we are supporting both local policy work and direct assistance.


Housing Matters is a local housing-first support provider focused on ending chronic homelessness in the area. After securing or providing emergency shelter for unhoused residents in their three facilities, Housing Matters caseworkers connect with government agencies and a network of other nonprofits to find permanent housing or permanent supportive housing for their clients. They also provide day services, social services, employment programs, and basic health care to those living at their facilities or who are housed elsewhere but need support.


Housing Santa Cruz County helps increase the availability of affordable housing in the area through public advocacy, democratic accountability, and community education. Working with community organizations, they support meaningful local and state affordable housing policies and mobilize support for affordable housing projects. Housing Santa Cruz County also holds local elected officials accountable for creating more affordable housing by distributing Affordable Housing Score Cards and sharing results of Affordable Housing Support questionnaires to clarify and influence candidate policy positions.

Immigrant rights

Immigrants from other countries living in our area are our neighbors and have human rights like everyone else. Even more, they contribute to creating a vibrant and diverse community - the kind of community in which we’d like to live. Many recent immigrants experience difficulty meeting basic needs, accessing services, and navigating the legal system. Many also face discrimination, regardless of their situation, and too many carry trauma from the events and circumstances they came here to escape. We see supporting organizations directly offering assistance to recent immigrants as a way to help some of our most vulnerable and otherwise unsupported neighbors.


When an asylum seeker or refugee first arrives in the area after what is often an arduous journey fleeing frightening circumstances, the all-volunteer Santa Cruz Welcoming Network is ready to provide comfort, support, and a greater sense of belonging. Their mission is to personally connect with and accompany these individuals as they navigate challenges such as immigration court, shelter, healthcare, and work, helping them find resources to support their goals and heal from trauma.


The Thriving Immigrants Collaborative is a network of community organizations that provide essential services to immigrants, including legal assistance, educational resources, and social services. Their work helps to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for immigrants in our county.

Primary education

Public primary education serves as a foundation for individual and community development and could help provide an equal opportunity for all children to flourish later in life. However, our region struggles with underfunded public schools and programs and stark inequities that fall along racial lines, creating a cycle of disadvantage that is difficult to break. Given the shamefully small fraction of public resources that go to primary education, we see a clear opportunity to directly improve the futures of a large number of children from less privileged communities in the county and make our broader community more equitable as a result.


Cradle to Career operates on the belief that educational success is a lifelong journey that begins at birth. They collaborate with families, communities, and educational systems to provide resources for every stage of a child's development. Their multifaceted programs, co-created with parents, aim to ensure that all children, regardless of their socio-economic background, have an equal shot at a fulfilling and productive life.

Habitat restoration and conservation

We love living in Santa Cruz County and a big part of that is because of our local plants and animals. However, local natural habitats continue to be degraded by human development and overuse, posing a direct threat to our rich biodiversity and water quality. Conserving, restoring, and connecting local habitats and watersheds is critical for sustaining the well-being of our native plants, fungi, animals, and humans.


The Amah Mutsun Land Trust integrates indigenous knowledge with modern conservation science to restore and conserve the lands protected by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. Their projects show the effectiveness of indigenous initiatives for restoring and stewarding land in a way that is harmonious among plants, animals, and people by bringing invaluable perspectives on how that has been done in this area for thousands of years.


The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County is committed to the conservation and stewardship of ecologically important county lands. They work closely with local communities to prioritize and develop projects that meet both ecological and human needs. Their education programs also foster a sense of environmental responsibility among local residents to cultivate a culture of conservation in future generations.

2023 Geographic scale distribution:

2023 Focus area distribution: