Planet Fuel Charitable Fund: empowering a generation of environmental leaders

May 30, 2017

Originally published on the Hearst CT News Blog

When Amy Barnouw launched Planet Fuel, a line of organic juices for teens and tweens, her goal went beyond creating a healthy product. She wanted to craft a mission-driven brand to help young people understand that they have the power to make healthy choices for both their body, and the planet.

“Our passion has always been about more than just our products,” says Barnouw. “Our mission is to inspire people to recognize their power as consumers.”

Last year, Barnouw took a giant step toward her vision when she partnered with a local philanthropist and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation to establish the Planet Fuel Charitable Fund. The fund has already made an impact, awarding grants and engaging young people to work on environmental issues.

Planet Fuel Charitable Fund
FCCF fundholder Amy Barnouw (left) with two members of the Planet Fuel Charitable Fund’s Student Advisory Council, Carter George and Anna Schlachtenhaufen, at the Chasing Ice film feature, part of the Fund’s environmental film series at Fairfield Theatre Company.

Discovering “a seamless way to be philanthropic”

Barnouw has seen firsthand how philanthropic initiatives can move the needle for worthy causes. As a former Assistant Director for the Wilderness Society’s NW office in Seattle, her program was largely funded thanks to a corporate partnership with Starbucks and a local radio station. “The impact of those unrestricted dollars was undeniable in helping us advance legislation to protect public lands,” says Barnouw.

Barnouw wanted to do something similarly meaningful through Planet Fuel. From its earliest days, the brand has given back to environmental causes. But ultimately, Barnouw had a bigger dream. She wanted to make a greater difference for the future by launching the brand’s own charitable endeavor.

By 2016, she found an “angel investor” to be a founding donor for Planet Fuel’s charitable arm, putting the brand in a position to move forward quickly. At that point, they needed just one more thing: a decision on which philanthropic path was best.

Her research led her to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, where she sat down with knowledgeable, enthusiastic staff members to explore possibilities. Together, the group identified a donor advised fund as an ideal solution.

By setting up a donor advised fund, many of the responsibilities that come along with a private foundation are taken care of. Tasks like forming a board, filing for tax-exempt status, and managing the fund’s investments are handled through the Community Foundation’s infrastructure. That freed up Barnouw to immediately start focusing on Planet Fuel’s philanthropic initiatives.

“It was a straightforward and seamless way to get started,” says Barnouw, of the donor advised fund. “We were able to sign the paperwork and hit the ground running the next day.”

And by opting to work with Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, Planet Fuel Charitable Fund had found the right investment vehicle and was now part of a team; one with a deep knowledge of philanthropy and a “yes” mentality. Barnouw credits this partnership as a major factor in the fund’s success during its first year.

“Feeling like there is support is very valuable,” says Barnouw. “From day one, I have felt like we are a valued partner and the Foundation team is always willing to assist in ways that help elevate our strategic impact.”

Through the Community Foundation, Barnouw tapped into a deep well of community relationships that are advancing Planet Fuel Charitable Fund’s mission. She’s connected with Fairfield County nonprofits that helped secure event space, cross-promote fundraising initiatives and spearhead local environmental projects.

Looking back, Barnouw has no doubt that the resources offered through the Community Foundation have made Planet Fuel Charitable Fund’s journey richer and more fruitful.

“This is a place where you can come with a vision or a dream, and partner with the staff to expand it in ways you didn’t even know were possible,” says Barnouw.

Channeling the passion of young people to make a difference for the planet

Ever since she was a child watching weekly episode of Wild Kingdom on TV, Barnouw’s heart has been touched by the struggles of endangered species.

“We are better when we share our planet,” she says. “I want my children and grandchildren to know a world that is rich with wildlife and wild places. We cannot risk a business-as-usual attitude and wake up one day to find that the devastation of our planet is irreversible.”

As a mom, Barnouw noticed that her kids and their friends innately shared that compassion for nature and a commitment to fairness. Looking around, she saw young people as the driving force behind the success of mission-driven brands like Tom’s Shoes.

The Planet Fuel Charitable Fund aims to channel that positive energy – harnessing the passion and compassion of young people to make a difference for the future of the planet. The overarching goal of the fund is to educate and empower tweens and teens to become the next generation of environmental stewards.

“There is no doubt we need a future full of passionate environmental leaders,” says Barnouw. “Why not start inspiring and activating young adults to realize their influence at a young age?”

One major way the fund accomplishes this is through a Student Advisory Council. This panel of teens guides Planet Fuel Charitable Fund’s grant making, helping to evaluate local and national nonprofits and deciding on which initiatives will receive funding.

The process educates students on ways they can support conservation efforts, from keeping Long Island Sound clean to promoting a “Skip The Straw” campaign to reduce plastic waste in our oceans. It also gives them a chance to experience the joys of being philanthropic – and to see firsthand that they have the power and potential to make a difference. It’s an exercise that Barnouw finds to be mutually rewarding.

“Working with our Student Council is a privilege and joy for me,” she says. “They are an impressive group of dedicated, articulate and passionate young adults that keep me hopeful for our future.”

The Student Advisory Council is also the main driver behind an environmental film series underwritten by Planet Fuel Charitable Fund, which has hosted free local screenings of the documentaries Chasing Ice and Racing Extinction to packed audiences. Their third film A Plastic Ocean will show at the Fairfield Theatre Company on Sunday, June 11th and is open to the public. Students vet the films, help coordinate the events, and introduce expert speakers who engage the community in talking about environmental issues.

Barnouw already sees the fund making an impact to raise awareness and involve young people in environmental efforts. Ultimately, she desires to be a catalyst for more exponential change.

Through the fund’s work, Barnouw hopes more philanthropists are inspired to take action for positive social change – for both this generation, and the next. When it comes to driving change, she notes, even the smallest donor advised funds can have an impact.

“If you are committed to creating a legacy and doing something good, it goes a long way,” says Barnouw. “You can make a difference on so many levels.”

As a trusted nonprofit partner and thought leader, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation brings people and resources together to foster a vital and inclusive community where every individual has the opportunity to thrive. Learn how you can establish your own donor advised fund or explore other ways to give.

Together we thrive.