Nearly twelve years ago Alex Honnold revealed to his friend, Brady Robinson (now serving on the Board of Directors at the Honnold Foundation), that he wanted to start a nonprofit. He felt most people start their philanthropy far too late—once it’s financially convenient or more advantageous. Living out of his van at the time, he was donating when he could while researching the best ways to extend his reach. 

“I’d never heard anybody say that before. And he was a little embarrassed because it felt like an audacious thing to say. He was known, but not as well known. And I thought…I’ve never met anyone like this guy before. I want to help him, in any capacity, to succeed,” shared Robinson. 

For team Honnold, a weekend in Boulder was a chance to convene board members and a like-minded community to socialize, discuss their work, and galvanize funding support while enjoying classic Boulder activities like hiking and “moderate” climbing.

The foundation has grown dramatically since its inception; the work now developed to a point where nuance, thoughtfulness, and massive opportunity to expand its impact are ripe. Peter Walle, who’s served as the Development and Communications Manager at the Honnold Foundation for the past four years, shared just how vital the gatherings have become.

A relatively small initial investment can have massive benefits for communities. Beyond just turning on the lights, which is significant in of itself, Donations have been deployed for electrified boats to replace diesel in the Amazon rainforest, irrigation systems, or even refrigeration. And all these secondary impacts go beyond stabilizing access to electricity.”

In addition to funding, the foundation focuses on amplifying partners through short film programs that highlight the who, what, and how—opening doors that may have previously been inaccessible or have proven difficult to navigate alone. Furthermore, earned media opportunities and press are granting partners a ticket on to transformative global stages.

“We’re doing both storytelling, but we’re also doing capacity building with these organizations; meaning we’re providing their leadership with executive coaching or organizational development tools and connections that will help their organization grow—it’s the combination of all these things that make it work,” shared Walle. 

A perfect example illustrated with Native Renewables, a Flagstaff based non-profit bringing solar power to the Navajo Reservation. Four years into their modest partnership, they’re now in the process of negotiating a $10 million federal grant. It’s these early support initiatives that the Honnald Foundation is most proud of. 

These meaningful partnerships, brought to life through unwavering authenticity and compelling storytelling, include ‘Keep the Lights On,’ which sheds light on the energy burden in South Memphis. Similarly, ‘Our Children’s River,’‘ features the work of indigenous partners in the Ecuadorian Amazon who, using solar energy, are advocating for the protection of their ancestral lands. 

The success of these initiatives makes it evident that the small, but mighty, team of six is having a remarkable impact—so what sets them apart?

One might point to a leadership style devoid of (nearly) any fear. Or even assume that the collective team’s background, working for various non-profits, contributes significantly. However, Alex and his team would suggest their impact lies in the essence of the organization; one built on trust—from climbing partners to donors, partnerships, and beyond.

“It’s also about how Alex navigates the world, not just with his climbing partners,” conveyed Walle.

Historically, philanthropy has required tightly regulated tracking, accounting for dozens of different metrics that may or may not apply to partners or grantees. However, the Honnald Foundation has found that less red tape means they’re able to empower grantees to do what they think is best.

The outcome? Seventy core projects funded, ten million invested in grassroots organizations, and millions more facilitated in supporting services. 

Innovation and Risk-Taking

“You might know Alex as a risk taker, an innovator, somebody who’s not afraid to try something for the first time. That kind of ethos—those values, have filtered down to the foundation,” expressed Emily Teitsworth, Executive Director of the Honnald Foundation. 

Ten thousand people on the Navajo and Hopi Nations lack access to electricity. Unable to secure funding for a somewhat radical idea, team Honnold stepped in and funded the very first Kara Solar prototype boat and fleet. 

Now a profitable entity, they’ve expanded across several countries and utilize the new technology to bypass road construction, with the boats serving as an alternative to diesel power while also combating illegal mining.

The risk worth the reward, culminating in a full-circle moment, Emily went on to share more about the Achuar community.

Its culture is historically a dream culture, where nightly vivid images become their reality, whether present tense or a glimpse into their future. One recurring dream passed down through generations is of a fire canoe, which has now propelled their community into a more prosperous future.”

Interested to learn how you can help the Honnold Foundation make a difference? Explore their initiatives to deliver solar energy access worldwide and get involved at

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