Ben Passer is McKnight’s Midwest Climate & Energy program (Climate) director. The Climate program aims to take bold and urgent action on the climate crisis by dramatically cutting greenhouse gas emissions and advancing an equitable clean energy transition. Ben leads overall efforts for the program, managing a team that deploys $32 million in grants annually to partners advancing strategies focused on transforming the energy system, decarbonizing transportation and buildings, supporting working lands, and strengthening democratic participation. 

His approach to philanthropy is driven by his belief that we have not just an opportunity, but an obligation to create the first just transition in our nation’s history. This belief is bolstered by a deep conviction about how durable change happens—systemically—and how communities must benefit—equitably.  

Ben has worked at McKnight since September 2021, when he joined as a senior program officer, developing and managing significant grant portfolios related to the Climate program’s Transform the Energy System and Decarbonize Buildings strategies. During his time in that role, he shaped the Foundation’s response to Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund implementation in the Midwest and was a key architect of McKnight’s inaugural Program Advisory Panels in collaboration with the Communities and Learning teams. Ben has also served in advisory roles for the Climate and Energy Funders Group, Environmental Grantmakers Association, The Funders Network, and peer funders. 

Ben has deep experience working on issues related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electrification, with an emphasis on their intersection with racial equity and environmental justice. He came to McKnight from Fresh Energy, where he directed energy advocacy work that bridged across stakeholders to secure regulatory results at the Public Utilities Commission and policy change at the Minnesota State Capitol. He spearheaded the creation and growth of Fresh Energy’s Energy Access and Equity program, and led the organization’s diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism initiatives. 

A licensed attorney and member of the Minnesota Bar, Ben holds a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Minnesota and a juris doctor from William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline School of Law).  

Ben is a proud longtime Minnesotan. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, cheering for the Miami Heat and Liverpool FC, and spending time with his wife and their two dogs.