Environmental Giving Trends 2020: Bushfire and COVID-19 update

17 December 2020

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2020 began with Australia’s worst bushfire season on record. 

An estimated three billion animals were killed in the fires that raged across the country. By the time the bushfires were largely extinguished, 17 million hectares of forest and bushland were burnt, and the COVID-19 global pandemic was just reaching our shores.   

This is the backdrop on which the trends of giving to the environment must be viewed. Despite our incredible natural beauty and identity as a nature-loving country, less than 0.5 per cent of charitable giving in Australia goes to protecting our environment.  

As Australia’s premier donor network for those passionate about protecting our natural world, we present the Environmental Giving Trends report (Giving Trends) to provide an up-to-date reflection on the status of philanthropic giving to protecting nature. 

Key findings

2020 has been monumental for all parts of our society and philanthropic giving to the environment is no different. While it is too early to know the full extent of the impact of bushfires and COVID-19 on environmental giving, the Giving Trends report highlights the most recent data available.

  • It is estimated that 5 per cent of charitable giving to the bushfire crisis went to environmental organisations, with an additional 14 per cent of giving going to animal and wildlife rescue. 
Environmental charities are more reliant upon other donations than other charities.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic will likely cause a drop in donations across the charitable sector. A drop of 7.9 per cent is estimated for 2020 and a further 11.9 per cent drop for 2021. 
  • There continues to remain a lag in data so that the most recent comprehensive data for the environmental charity sector is from 2018 and demonstrates that $240 million was given in donations and bequests. 
  • Environmental charities receive a tiny slice of the revenue received by the wider charitable sector — only 0.5 per cent in 2018. 
  • Private ancillary funds (PAFs), a common structured giving vehicle, gave 2.5 per cent of their distributions to environmental causes in 2018. 
  • The rate of giving to environmental charities has steadily increased in recent years. It grew by 3.5 per cent between 2017 and 2018. 
  • The environment is an important funding priority for an estimated 23.5 per cent of structured givers, yet the percentage of all donations that go to environmental charities is just 2.5 per cent.
23.5 per cent of structured givers identify the environment is a priority. Yet only 2.5 per cent of PAF distributions are for the environment.
PAF distributions by destination 2018/19

The following categories are rounded to 0 per cent are not visible: Defence, fire and emergency services, private ancillary funds, sports and recreation, and the family.

More comprehensive data on the impact of the bushfires and COVID-19 will be available in mid-2021.  

Tackling the environment crisis

In 2017 in response to growing biodiversity and climate crises we launched The Environmental Giving Pledge (the Pledge). The Pledge was an ambitious program to inspire an additional $50 million to be committed to protecting the environment by 2022. Philanthropists from across Australia rose to the challenge and it my great pleasure to report that as of November 2020, over $120 million has been pledged to protect the rivers, forests, oceans and outback of Australia, and to act on climate change. 

This Environmental Giving Trends 2020 update does not yet fully incorporate the significant impact of the Pledge, due to the lag in reporting official donation and income figures. However, we are optimistic that in future years we will see an increase in giving to the environment as a result of the Pledge and the incredible collaboration that is at the heart of the AEGN.


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