By Patricia Cremona, EFN, 6th April 2021
The climate emergency has deservedly attracted increased attention from funders in recent years, including those that have not traditionally funded environmental causes but recognise the threat our rapidly changing climate poses to virtually every other charitable aim. The Funder Commitment on Climate Change, launched in November 2019, now has 55 signatories and counting. There are certainly signs that, although funding for climate action likely still falls very far short of what is needed to effectively address the crisis, the tide may be starting to turn.
Given the urgency of the situation and the shortfall in funding, current and prospective climate funders face extremely challenging decisions to ensure their grantmaking is as impactful as possible. Information on which particular issues, approaches and organisations other funders are supporting, and which are receiving less attention than others, can be very helpful to funders when making difficult grantmaking decisions.
With this in mind, the Environmental Funders Network (EFN) initiated a mapping exercise in 2020 to gather information on climate-related grantmaking from funders that participate in EFN’s Climate Funders Group. Data were submitted by 23 funders with annual budgets for climate-related work totalling at least £190 million collectively.
Funders were asked to specify the thematic issues, approaches and organisations they are currently supporting through their climate-related grants. Data were not collected on a grant-by-grant basis to reduce the time burden on respondents and thereby encourage participation, particularly by larger grantmakers. The dataset therefore indicates how many different funders are supporting particular issues, approaches and organisations, but not the funding amounts involved in each case (our Where the Green Grants Went research does go into this level of detail for grants across the full spectrum of environmental issues from UK-based funders; look out for the next edition coming later this year).
The thematic issue and approach categories that respondents were asked to select from are the same as those we have used in our previous research (see Figures 1 and 2 below). We included the full range of thematic issue categories since climate is such a cross-cutting issue that is linked to many other environmental issues, and we left it to funders to determine which of their grants they considered to be sufficiently climate-related to merit inclusion.
The thematic issue supported by the highest number of funders in our dataset through their climate-related grants is ‘Terrestrial ecosystems & land use’ (13 funders), closely followed by ‘Biodiversity & species preservation’ and ‘Consumption, production & waste’ (12 funders each; see Figure 1). The issue supported by the fewest funders is ‘Fresh water’ (four funders).
Figure 1: The number of funders that support work on different climate-related issues, based on data reported by 23 funders in 2020.
The approaches supported by the most funders are ‘Advocacy’ and ‘Provision of research and expertise’ (14 funders each), closely followed by ‘Activism directed at either government or corporations’, ‘Awareness-raising around specific issues’, ‘Movement building’ and ‘Public behaviour change campaigns’ (13 funders each; see Figure 2). No single approach is supported by fewer than five funders.
Figure 2: The number of funders that support different approaches to climate-related work, based on data reported by 23 funders in 2020.
Many of the approaches that came out on top align with those that have been identified by the Climate Funders Group as having the potential for high impact, but likely being more difficult for organisations to fundraise for (as outlined in this recent blog from Lucent Consultancy); such as advocacy, research, activism, movement-building and legal action. It is a positive sign that these approaches are among the most well-covered by the funders in our dataset, bearing in mind that this is based on the number of funders supporting these approaches and doesn’t necessarily reflect the amount of funding provided.
Beyond the defined issue and approach categories that funders were able to choose between, various other key areas of interest were explicitly mentioned: climate justice was mentioned by six funders and nature-based solutions were mentioned by three funders, with several funders in each case indicating that they see these areas as important funding gaps. Despite the popularity of public-facing approaches, six funders also described public engagement as an under-funded area.
A total of 242 different organisations are supported by the 23 funders in our dataset for climate-related work. The number of different climate-related grantees supported by each funder ranges from one to 37, and averages 13 per funder. The organisation supported by the highest number of funders for climate-related work is ClientEarth (10 funders); nine other organisations are supported by three or more funders (see Figure 3). This reflects the findings of previous research (see, for example, Lucent Consultancy’s blog) indicating that philanthropic funding is spread very thinly across a large number of different organisations, while certain organisations receive funding from numerous different donors. This raises the question of whether there might be opportunities to increase efficiencies on both the funder and recipient side of the grantmaking process by improving coordination between funders with similar objectives, for example through pooled funding approaches.
Figure 3: The top ten organisations supported by the highest number of funders for climate-related work, based on data reported by 23 funders in 2020.
The average grant size for climate-related work among the funders in our dataset ranges from several thousand to several million pounds, with a median value of £75,000. Almost three-quarters of the funders give a combination of unrestricted and project-based funding; of the remainder, three give unrestricted funding only and three project-based only. The length of time for funding decisions to be made ranges from one week to nine months from receipt of an application to a decision. Half of the funders specified that they do not accept unsolicited applications.
Nearly half of the funders indicated that they have no specific plans to change their approach to funding climate work in future, although several of these said that they adapt as they learn. Of those funders that specified an anticipated shift in approach, the areas where they plan to focus more in future are fossil fuel exit, tackling super-pollutants and rewilding. Three funders indicated that they are planning to spend down. The vast majority said that they are interested in collaboration with other funders and open to pooled funding, subject to certain considerations relating to autonomy, due diligence, strategic alignment and resources.
While this dataset only includes a small proportion of funders that give climate-related grants, it likely represents a significant proportion of the total amount of philanthropic funding from UK-based funders directed towards addressing the climate crisis. The trends it reveals therefore provide a strong indication of overall patterns of climate-related giving that we hope will be of use to inform the future grantmaking of current and prospective climate funders.
 The Climate Funders Group was established by EFN in collaboration with the Climate Change Collaboration’s Eva Beresford and now continues in collaboration with Eva Rehse of Global Greengrants Fund. Over 60 funders (trusts, foundations and independent donors) currently participate in the group, of which the majority are UK-based.
 AKO Foundation; Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin; the Climate Change Collaboration, JJ Charitable Trust, Ashden Trust and Mark Leonard Trust; Frederick Mulder Foundation; Global Greengrants Fund UK; Gower Street; John Ellerman Foundation; Kestrelman Trust; MCS Charitable Foundation; Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation; Samworth Foundation; Solberga Foundation; The National Lottery Community Fund; Wates Family Enterprise Trust and a further 6 funders who wished to remain anonymous.
 Three of the funders (Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation, The National Lottery Community Fund and one anonymous funder) did not specify a total budget for climate-related work; the combined climate budgets of the remaining 20 funders totalled just under £190 million.
We plan to repeat this mapping exercise in the coming year to find out how the climate funding landscape has changed. If you have any feedback or would be interested in contributing data please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you would like to join EFN’s Climate Funders Group please contact email@example.com.