Climate change still neglected by funders in US and UK

With warning lights for many of the planet’s key ecosystems flashing amber or red, two new reports show that despite growth in green giving on both sides of the Atlantic, environmental issues continue to receive a small share of overall foundation giving.

Where The Green Grants Went 4, published by the UK-based Environmental Funders Network (EFN), updates earlier research into grants made by 97 UK trusts and foundations. Tracking the Field, Volume 2, published by the US Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) and the Foundation Center, analyses grants made by 202 members of EGA.

Together, the reports track nearly 13,000 grants. Roughly 80 per cent of total environmental grantmaking by UK foundations is analysed, along with around 40 per cent of US green grants. From this analysis emerges a fascinating portrait of philanthropy’s green likes and dislikes. On the plus side, UK and US foundations are ploughing more money into environmental causes overall. In the UK the value of grants from the 97 trusts increased by nearly 68 per cent over the two years between 2004/05 and 2006/07, to £53.9 million. In the US, funding for the environment and animals experienced the fastest growth from 2006 to 2007 of all categories of philanthropy. The Foundation Center estimates total giving on the environment by the largest US foundations at $2.7 billion in 2007.

However, the environment represents a tiny fraction of total foundation giving in both countries – less than 3 per cent in the UK and less than 7 per cent in the US. Ten years ago this finding might have disheartened only environmentalists. Nowadays, it should concern anyone with an interest in health, development, migration, human rights or security. Environmental impacts are increasingly seen in all of these fields, yet funders remain reluctant to provide direct support to environmental initiatives.

Also surprising is the fact that climate change remains a blind spot even among trusts already making environmental grants. US foundations have proved more proactive than their British counterparts in responding to the climate threat. Even so, climate change accounts for less than 16 per cent of grants made by EGA members. In the UK the proportion is under 10 per cent, and actually fell slightly between 2005/06 and 2006/07.

The direct preservation of habitats and species remains a higher priority for funders in both countries. More systemic environmental challenges such as over-consumption of natural resources receive very little support by contrast, even as these threaten the viability of whole ecosystems.

In terms of geographic distribution, more than 34 per cent of EGA members’ grants supported international work, while in the UK the figure was over 54 per cent. These percentages are far higher than in most other fields of philanthropy, reflecting the global nature of environmental problems.

Tracking the Field provides insights into the different grant strategies adopted by EGA’s 50 largest environmental grantmakers. Average grant sizes ranged from over $1.2 million down to a little over $10,000, reflecting different business models and understandings of effectiveness within this community.

Feedback on the reports from philanthropists and practitioners would be extremely helpful. Both represent ‘work in progress’ towards a more thorough understanding of environmental philanthropy.

Jon Cracknell is coordinator of the Environmental Funders Network. Email

For more information
Copies of the UK report can be downloaded from and a summary of the US report from

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