Philanthropy has a vital role to play in acting on climate change.
The independence and financial freedom of philanthropy has catalysed some of the most critical climate outcomes in Australia’s history. Yet only around 2 per cent of philanthropic giving goes to the environment and climate change. We must urgently grow funding that addresses climate change and produces co-benefits to protect people and our planet from runaway climate impacts.
The side menu on the right outlines several actions you may consider taking in your philanthropy.
First up — boost your knowledge
Boost your knowledge
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good; get started and you will learn as you go. The sooner you begin learning, talking with others and funding, the quicker you will hone your skills and knowledge, and start contributing to the solution. You can conduct your own desktop research into how climate change intersects with the issues you care about; these resources are also a great place to start:
- Read the Climate Council’s eight key questions about climate change
- Learn about funding that produces both social and climate benefits with Project Drawdown
- See how Australia’s climate action compares globally
Bring expertise in-house
Consider including climate expertise in your Board skills matrix and, if you have them, your staff group too. Those who have climate expertise or lived experience of climate impacts can bring perspectives that you may not have considered.
Connect with others
Join a community of philanthropists who are considering or already apply a climate lens to boost your skills, knowledge and networks:
Join a specialist climate funding network
The Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) is Australia’s premier network for philanthropists funding in climate change. As an independent, trusted, member-based organisation, the AEGN could be a great place for you to develop your skills, confidence and network.
Groundswell Giving is a giving platform where members make donations, and the money is then pooled and granted to organisations addressing climate change. Membership is open to individuals as well as trusts and foundations.
- Join Groundswell Giving
Consider your approach
Deciding whether you will adapt your granting to include a climate lens, or whether you will directly fund climate change mitigation and adaptation work is important. You can certainly do both by allocating some funds to climate change action while also revising your current granting approach and processes to apply a climate lens.
Make a commitment
Make a commitment as a foundation or family to consider climate change in your grantmaking. Consider who needs to be a part of the decisionmaking — do you have a Board or Trustees? Are there family members to get involved? Spend some time discussing why climate change matters to each of you to help others understand the perspectives you bring. Making a formal resolution or decision will ensure those who are implementing the decision have the confidence to act.
You may like to make your commitment public, as The Wyatt Trust did, and inform your current grantees. Or perhaps you already have a statement of purpose for your giving that simply needs an update. For example, you could incorporate this brief example commitment statement:
“In recognition of the impacts that climate change is having on Australians, [add name] is joining a growing movement of funders committed to act. We believe acting to limit global warming is a critical role for philanthropy and we will be considering climate change in our grantmaking.”
You may like to join over 600 funders by signing the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change
Review your policies
Are there policies you need to update or change to ensure you can implement your commitment to acting on climate change? For example, do your existing granting impact areas need updating?
Set a target
Set a target to keep you on track. The best of intentions can easily go unimplemented, but setting a target, agreed by your Board or decision-makers can help keep you focused. Targets may include a percentage of giving, the number of grants or a dollar amount distributed, and don’t forget to set a timeframe for your targets. For example, your target might be: “Our family will make sure three of our grants, up to a total of $350,000, are focused on reducing climate change or supporting people to adapt, by the end of 2024.”
Articulate your approach
Here are some prompting questions to help you clarify your approach. You may like to work through them with the other decision-makers in your family or foundation:
- Will you incorporate climate into your existing grantmaking and/or will you fund work dedicated to mitigating climate change or building resilience? (In other words, are you applying a climate lens to your existing programs or devising an entirely new climate oriented program?)
- Are there any knowledge gaps you would like to fill? Who can help you?
- Who will you focus on supporting and where? For example, helping Hunter Valley communities transition to clean technology, supporting Pacific Island nations that are facing worsening climate impacts, or helping vulnerable Australians improve their energy efficiency.
- What is your time horizon? Set yourself a timeframe for when you will apply a climate lens to your granting or make your first climate-directed grant to keep focused on action.
- What great work is already happening in your areas of interest? Who are the experts in this area? You could seek out academic experts, community leaders and policy makers. What do they say?
- How will you reflect, learn and refine along the way? Is it helpful to have a regular meeting with your decision-makers to discuss your progress? Can you set a timeframe for when you will have certain actions completed by?
Understand how climate intersects
By making some changes to your existing giving you can make sure your grantmaking is part of the solution to climate change. You may like to work through these questions:
- Ask your grantees how climate change is already impacting them and what support they may need to better consider climate impacts. Do they need some funding to develop a plan?
- How can your funding help address those impacts?
- Are there other funders supporting this type of work that are applying a climate lens? And what can you learn from their approach? Can you collaborate or co-fund with them?
Apply a climate lens to existing granting
If you have open grant rounds, you can incorporate climate-focused questions in your existing application process. For example:
- How does your project/program consider climate change? How will your project/program reduce greenhouse gas emissions or help people adapt to the impacts of climate change?
- Does your organisation consider climate change in its work? If so, how?
- Do you need additional resources or skills to enable you to better consider climate change in your work?
You will have to decide what level of climate consideration you are seeking to achieve, i.e., at what point would you not support an organisation based on the strength of their climate commitment? Are you happy with a commitment to boost climate knowledge this round, with the understanding to ramp up action over time, or do you need to see greater action now?
Include climate-focused questions in any acquittal information you request to see how your grantees incorporated climate change into their work.
It is important to not over-burden grantees and applicants, so ensure questions are streamlined, clear and useful for both your assessment and the organisation seeking funding.
You may like to consider helping your existing grantees to incorporate climate change in their work through providing connections or additional funding. For example, could you connect them with similar organisations that consider climate change already? Could you introduce them to a climate expert? Or fund a piece of research or external expertise to help them consider climate change?
Learn from best practice
Climate philanthropy is incredibly diverse and there is no one “right way” to do it. However, some key practices will put you on a quicker pathway to impact. The AEGN interviewed more than 40 climate leaders and funders and synthesised this into 14 insights for impactful funding. How many of them already guide your funding?
Spend down to leave a legacy
Many climate funders have committed to “spend down” or spend more of their corpus by 2030, in recognition of the critical window we face for climate change. Making a commitment to spend down can bring incredible focus to your funding. It also encourages funders to deeply consider the legacy they would like to leave for future generations.
Develop your strategy … and evaluate
Setting your intentions down in a strategy is a great thought process to go through and can help achieve alignment among your family members or foundation’s decision-makers. Join a community of practice with other funders in the AEGN and PA to learn and explore applying a climate lens to your giving. The AEGN’s team of in-house climate experts is available to help walk you through how to implement a climate lens. Contact the AEGN or PA for more information.
Outline your monitoring and evaluation approach
Once you have your strategy, whether it’s comprehensive or a simple statement of purpose and plan of action, being able to track its effectiveness will help you learn and improve over time, in turn building your confidence and effectiveness as a funder.
There are a lot of measurement and evaluation frameworks out there, and a lot of jargon, too. You can get as deep and complex as you like, but often it’s enough to simply identify the best indicators of effectiveness throughout your funding process, figure out how to track them, and agree at what intervals it makes sense to review your data, glean any insights and make changes (or continue on) in light of what you find.
Be mindful of the burden you place on grantees when gathering information. Don’t ask for data you won’t use, and make sure the amount of detail you require is proportionate to the amount of funding provided. Every minute spent reporting is one less minute doing the work. Create a simple reporting template and let your grantees know at the start that you will be asking them to provide you with this information. If you require lengthy reporting, consider providing additional funding to cover the time the grantee will take to complete your requirements.
Assess your own effectiveness
A less common but important consideration for funders when it comes to measurement and evaluation of effectiveness is that of your own practice and approach. What happens once the grant goes out the door is important but turning the mirror back on yourself will allow you to improve what you can control.
Beyond the amount given and to what, think about questions like how many connections did you make between partner organisations? How did you use your influence as a funder to progress your strategy, and were you successful? How responsive were you in a time of need, such as a natural disaster, and how did this change the outcome? These questions will be different depending on your priorities and approach but will help you to be accountable and to grow as a funder. Set a timeframe in your giving strategy to reflect on your own grantmaking practices.
Use our climate philanthropy tools
The AEGN has developed Australia’s first Climate Change Funding Framework to identify the strategic opportunities for philanthropy to address climate change.
🠢 Access the Climate Change Funding Framework by joining the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network
The AEGN’s Project Clearinghouse enables funders to share projects that are ready to go, they simply need funding. You can begin by funding with others to help you find your feet and explore collaborative funding with others.
🠢 View a sample of the member-only Project Clearinghouse
AEGN staff are also happy to have a 1:1 conversation with prospective members interested in applying a climate lens or joining a community of practice to learn and share with other funders.
As an AEGN member, you can also join our climate change funder group, a platform for you to network, share approaches and hear from experts in the field about both climate issues and solutions.
Need a good place to start? Use this to-do list to align your grantmaking and turbo charge your contribution to climate action in Australia.
- Identify your knowledge gaps.
- Engage climate expertise.
- Include climate change expertise in your Board matrix.
- Make a public commitment to act.
- Update policies/mission statement etc to include your climate commitment.
- Connect with other funders, e.g., through the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network and Philanthropy Australia.
- Set a target of percentage of giving or dollar value of grants, with a timeframe.
- Consider whether you will integrate climate into your existing giving, if yes:
- assess how climate change impacts your grantees and their beneficiaries;
- notify current grantees of your climate commitment;
- update your grant application process;
- update your grant acquittal process.
- Review best practice climate funding tips.
- Consider spending down or increasing your funding.
- Develop your giving strategy.
- Establish your monitoring and evaluation approach.
- Set a timeframe to reflect on your own grantmaking practices.