Active Philanthropy puts the spotlight on climate funding strategies


Louis Wilß and Johannes Lundershausen


With its recently launched knowledge resource, Active Philanthropy puts the Spotlight on Climate Funding Strategies, supporting foundations and private funders to learn from each other.

Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time, and philanthropic organisations have a critical role to play in addressing it. However, with so many different approaches to climate philanthropy, it is difficult for philanthropic funders to define their unique role in fighting climate change. Indeed, a recent report by CEP found that only a few foundation leaders believe their current climate funding strategies are ‘very effective’[1]. This gap between the urgency of the climate crisis and the ineffectiveness of funding strategies calls for new approaches in climate philanthropy.

Fortunately, climate philanthropy, though a complex endeavour, is no longer a blank sheet. In fact, it is on a growth trajectory, and there is much to learn from funders who were early in taking on climate change.

Active Philanthropy’s new knowledge resource, the Spotlight on Climate Funding Strategies, features 21 case studies of funders who have effectively engaged in climate philanthropy. The resource highlights 10 funding strategies, ranging from Strategic Litigation to Research and Development. By sharing what has worked well and where opportunities for new funders lie, the Spotlight serves as a toolbox for funders who are new to climate as well as for climate funders who are reviewing their current strategy.

Cross-cutting lessons

While every case study provides exclusive insights for their presented funding strategy, some key takeaways have emerged that are relevant across the spectrum.

Firstly, collaborate and exchange with other stakeholders. Funding strategies that promote cross-sectoral and transnational exchange between stakeholders avoid duplication and use resources more effectively. Equally, greater collaboration between funders enhances the efficiency of funding strategies.

Secondly, combine funding strategies within an organisation to achieve synergies. While individual funding strategies provide different starting points for fostering change, they cannot be considered in isolation from each other. Combining different funding strategies as part of a coherent theory of change can accelerate the effectiveness of a philanthropic intervention.

Third, philanthropic interventions can become more inclusive and effective by raising the voices of marginalised people and diversifying target groups. This can be achieved by trying new formats of engagement to mobilise new audiences, providing speaker fees or meeting space for marginalised groups at climate conferences, bringing the voice of people who currently have no voice to the policy level, and ensuring that marginalised groups are given a seat at the negotiating table.

Finally, the funding experiences reflect the importance of taking small steps to achieve big goals. The complexity of climate change can be overwhelming, but by starting small and building momentum, philanthropies can make progress towards meaningful impact.

Which climate funding strategy for which funder?

If funders are open to the possibility of funding climate, some of the questions they might be asking themselves are: where should I fund, what climate issues should I prioritise, when is the right time to employ my funding, and how should I fund? Active Philanthropy’s Spotlight on Climate Funding Strategies emphasised the ‘how’ of climate philanthropy and invites funders to consider which funding strategy best fits with their priorities.

Below, the 10 climate funding strategies are aligned with certain objectives that funders may have.


1. Strategic Litigation is particularly attractive for funders who want to facilitate systemic change but avoid bottom-up funding strategies. It provides an opportunity to support a tangible local case with the potential of changing an entire sector.

2. Public engagement is crucial for those funders who recognise the public as effective agents of change and seek to improve their participation in finding and implementing solutions to the climate crisis.

3. Funding Political Advocacy offers an ideal mechanism to leverage the power of governments. It is for those funders who don’t just want to spark changes but ensure that these changes are scaled up across society. As it comprises the translation of new research and raising evidence to the level of policy, it is not restricted to direct lobbying.


4. Direct Support allows funders to have a visible impact in a specific location. Funders who use this strategy, therefore, find it relatively easy to plan for a specific impact and subsequently evaluate the success of such plan.

5. Funding Grassroots Support is for funders who are happy to let go and trust others. They invest in the strategic self-organising power of local communities and want to support perspectives that differ from the mainstream.

6. Networks are a compelling funding strategy for funders who want to address climate change across geographies and sectors.

7. Funding Communication is attractive for funders who aim to promote widespread awareness of climate issues and debunk false narratives and misinformation that hamper climate action.

8. Supporting Capacity Building allows funders to contribute across the spectrum of funding strategies by growing the skills of people, organisations, and communities who ultimately have to implement the strategies to fight climate change.


9. Research & Development is particularly for those who are open to exploring new scientific insights or technological innovations and increasing their chances of being scaled.

10. Employing Capital more strategically allows funders to use a greater share of their assets to pursue their mission. It is for those funders who want to go beyond grantmaking and exert their power as shareholders to influence corporate decisions.

The full range of funding strategies available on Active Philanthropy’s website can provide practical experience for those eager to dive deeper into funding climate action. The case studies from small and large foundations in Europe and the US can inspire funders to reconsider their current funding strategy and explore new partnerships.

Louis Wilß is an Analyst for Climate Philanthropy at Active Philanthropy. Dr Johannes Lundershausen is a Senior Climate Advisor at Active Philanthropy. He provides Active Philanthropy’s scientific focus on climate change issues.


  1. ^ The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), Much Alarm, Less Action, 2022

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