Michael Kavate – Inside Philanthropy
May 19, 2021
Extreme weather—from fires to floods, hurricanes to heat waves—has in recent years pushed funders across the country not only to mount rapid responses, but to prepare for what might be next.
To inform those efforts, a first-time alliance of eight philanthropy-serving organizations has created a new web portal that addresses the questions their members are increasingly asking about how to adjust to climate impacts, and how to prevent them from exacerbating existing inequities.
Titled “Investing at the Frontlines of Climate Change: A Funder Toolkit on Climate, Health and Equity,” the hub catalogs a wide range of existing resources and offers an overview of the many players—foundations, nonprofits, government—that work at the intersection of these issues. It also addresses that paradox of this information age: there seems to be more resources than ever at our fingertips, but sometimes, it can be hard to find what we really need.
“What each funder network was seeing was that many of their funders were finding it challenging to achieve their missions without paying attention to some of things that they once didn’t really have to pay attention to, but now they do,” said Jeff Wise, program director of Health and Environmental Funders Network, which led the project.
Health funders were scrambling to respond to respiratory issues caused by wildfires and farmworkers suffering from heat exposure. Social justice funders were seeing climate impacts widen the disparities they had worked for years to narrow. “Funders were grappling with new problems they weren’t expert in,” Wise said.
The project’s other seven partners are the Biodiversity Funders Group and its initiative, the Climate and Energy Funders Group, as well as Environmental Grantmakers Association, Grantmakers in Health, Philanthropy California, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders, and The Funders Network. The project was supported by the ClimateWorks and Kresge foundations, as well as the partner networks’ funders and members.
The networks collectively have nearly 1,700 members, though many of those overlap; they collaborated on a fall 2019 survey of nearly 200 organizations that found responding funders had granted roughly $800 million in that year for projects related to climate, health and equity. The group sees that transcending the classic sectors of philanthropy is imperative to mount an effective response to the wicked problems we face.
“I think it points to how big this challenge is,” Wise said. “Solving problems of a certain scale and scope, and the problem of climate change and how it’s impacting communities, and the disproportionate impact on these communities—it requires working outside the comfortable silos that funders are used to working in.”
What the toolkit contains
For anyone trying to get a sense of the organizations working at the intersection of these issues, the site offers a plethora of lists: foundations funding at this intersection; their government counterparts; the nonprofits that such funding supports, a list of philanthropy-supporting organizations bringing together those funders; and even a list of the networks of nonprofits in the space.
For those wanting a deeper dive, there are also brief Q&A profiles of foundations funding at this intersection, and similar profiles of nonprofits. Short answers from foundations like Barr, Kresge and Robert Wood Johnson foundations give voice to why those institutions are already backing these issues. There is a library of resources divided by geographies, populations and issues. A couple original issue briefs have been posted, and more are on the way. And for those just getting started, there’s “How Do I Start?” and “First Reads” pages.
While focused on gathering resources rather than original content, the toolkit also lifts up a few big-picture themes from the information it catalogs: how climate change’s widespread impacts fall disproportionately on those facing the greatest inequities; how people on the front lines have been key to solving the problems they face; and the promise of intersectional approaches that prioritize resilience and “multi-solving.”
“Just a starting place for us”
The team describes the toolkit as a snapshot of current work, but the hope is to make it more, if you will, like a moving picture. While the partners do not yet have funding to expand the project, the aim is to add some interactive elements to the site to ensure people keep coming back, such as events calendars, a blog and a newsfeed. “Our aspiration is that this is just a starting place for us,” he said. For instance, you can submit an addition or correction.
There’s also an open call for more partners—and topics. Wallace said she received an email from a longtime colleague who was interested in adding impact investing resources to the toolkit. And two funder networks have asked to join the toolkit, Wise said. Each wants to add their own resources to the site to make it more useful for their networks. “That’s exactly what we were hoping for,” he said.
The toolkit is a response to the increasing demand for intersectional approaches as the world faces “multiple pandemics” from racial injustice and climate change, to the health and economic fallout of COVID, said Ann Wallace, director of programs at The Funders Network, one of the partners.
“We’re at a moment in time when this set of issues really resonates more than ever,” she said. “Thinking holistically about all of these things, kind of as a whole, is something that people are doing much more so.”