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Environmental Philanthropy: Stories to Inspire

Helping groups seize unexpected opportunities to make a difference

In 2018, the Environmental Funders Network launched a Rapid Response Fund. We were responding to feedback from environmental leaders that there was a dearth of fast access to funds to allow them to respond swiftly to unexpected crises and opportunities. The Rapid Response Fund aims to answer that need. 

While it is not a pooled fund, multiple funders typically come together to contribute towards each initiative to help it reach its target – each making their donation directly to the applicant until the full amount (up to a current maximum of £25,000) has been reached. 

Participating donors have been able to support a hugely diverse array of initiatives in the UK and abroad. They have included: 

• Kayapó elders organising a historic convening of Amazonian leaders to co-develop a strategy to defend their territories against invasive government policies 

• the Scottish Wildlife Trust instructing a QC who successfully helped them defeat a proposal for a golf course at a site of significant conservation importance 

• the Environmental Investigation Agency monitoring unexpectedly-resumed Japanese whaling activities, and bringing them to the attention of delegations to relevant international treaties

• War on Want bringing 35 Indigenous climate activists and community leaders from the Americas to COP25 after the conference was abruptly relocated to Madrid, so that their voices, concerns and stories might be heard 

• The Climate Coalition convening the first ever virtual mass lobby of UK Parliament, on the importance of a green recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, during which over 14,000 people signed up to talk to nearly 300 MPs. 

Funders appreciate the opportunity to easily identify and support environmental initiatives that address the most urgent and immediate needs, even with only a relatively small amount of funding. The fund works particularly well for trusts whose trustees are happy to set aside a certain amount of money per year that they can deploy with a fast decision-making process (ideally within two weeks), and is also ideal for individual or family donors making their own decisions and therefore able to disburse funds quickly. 

As one participating funder put it, ‘I like funding through the Rapid Response Fund because the process gives me confidence … I collaborate indirectly with other funders and benefit from their collective wisdom. Hopefully I am able to make a bigger impact this way.’ We’d love to have more funders participate in the Rapid Response Fund to ensure that as many of the proposals as possible can have a shot at raising the full amount needed.