Much Alarm, Less Action

Foundations & Climate Change

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Overview

Despite the urgency of climate change and the narrowing window for action, philanthropic funding to address climate change remains very limited. Total philanthropic giving by foundations and individuals focused on climate change mitigation represents less than two percent of total global philanthropic giving, according to the ClimateWorks Foundation. While there is some evidence of increased momentum in recent years, more action will be needed to match the scale of the climate crisis.

"We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe."

- U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres

Our report aims to answer these pressing questions:

How pressing is climate change from the perspective of foundation and nonprofit leaders?

What are nonprofits and foundation leaders doing to address climate change?

How are leaders of organizations that do not focus on climate change thinking about this issue and to what extent are these leaders currently addressing it?

How are climate-focused organizations approaching their work?

We surveyed

0

foundation leaders

0

nonprofit leaders

representing a 24 percent response rate for each survey

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Finding 1

An Urgent Problem

Foundation and nonprofit leaders overwhelmingly see climate change as an urgent problem that will negatively impact the lives of the people served by their organizations, especially historically marginalized communities. While they believe the public and private sectors, in particular, aren’t doing enough to address climate change, they believe foundations and nonprofits could also be doing more.

"Within our health, human services, arts, and education portfolios, our focus has always been on vulnerable people in our state. We see climate change influencing all our portfolios because climate change will impact marginalized people first, more deeply, and over a longer timeframe than the rest of society."

– Foundation leader

How pressing is climate change from the perspective of foundation and nonprofit leaders?

Figure 1: Foundation and Nonprofit Leader Perspectives on the Urgency of Climate Change

*Percentages in this figure may not add to 100 due to rounding.

60%

of foundations and nonprofits indicate they believe that climate change is an extremely urgent problem.

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2

Finding 2

Limited Action, Ample Opportunity

Despite foundation leaders’ concerns about climate change, foundation efforts to address climate change are relatively limited – in terms of both grant dollars and investment practices – and are also seen as limited in effectiveness. Foundation and nonprofit leaders alike describe ample opportunity for philanthropy to engage more deeply and effectively to combat climate change.

Efforts to address climate change tend to be a relatively small proportion of total giving from U.S. foundations that fund efforts addressing climate change.

Figure 7: Percentage of Climate Funders' Grant Dollars Currently Allocated to Climate Change Efforts for this Fiscal Year

Climate-focused foundation and nonprofit leaders alike think that foundation efforts to address climate change have not been particularly effective.

Figure 14: Climate Funder Perspectives on the Effectiveness of Foundation Efforts to Address Climate Change

11%

Only 11% of foundation leaders rated their own foundation’s strategy for addressing climate change as very effective.

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Finding 3

Foundations’ Missions and Climate Change

Despite their concerns about climate change, most non-climate funders tend to see this issue as outside the scope of their mission, though some have not ruled out future funding efforts to address climate change. Leaders of climate nonprofits and foundations urge these funders to consider how climate change affects their missions.

Comments from some non-climate leaders suggest that the climate threat may be experienced as abstract and far-off, and that other issues are perceived as more important than climate change.

Figure 15: Top 3 Reasons Foundations Leaders Say They Do Not Fund Efforts Addressing Climate Change
(N=66)

79%

It is not part of the foundation's mission

39%

The board has limited interest or willingness to address climate change

35%

The problem is too big relative to the foundation's resources or geographic focus

"The problems we seek to address are on the ground level of an extremely poor city. I believe climate change affects all of our lives, but more tangible problems like poverty and violence are more top of mind."

– Foundation leader

45%

of foundation leaders have not closed the door on the possibility of funding climate change. Just over one third said they are open to considering it and about 10 percent said it is under consideration.

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Much Alarm, Less Action

Foundations & Climate Change

More insights from our analysis of hundreds of foundation and nonprofit leaders’ views on climate change and philanthropy’s role in addressing this problem can be read in the full report. We hope this resource spurs conversation, action, and engagement in this crucial work.

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