How to increase funding for “cinderella” environmental issues

I’ve recently come across a very interesting report: “Where the Green Grants Went”, published by the UK Environmental Funders Network. The basic finding can be summarised very simply: environmental campaigns don’t get enough funding, given the massive scale of the crisis we are facing, and compared to the much larger funding that goes to other societal issues. 

Despite the fact that 94% of UK citizens say the environment is “important” or “very important” to them personally (Eurobarometer poll), the environment is far from a mainstream issue in the minds of people making large donations to charity through trusts or foundations. Environmental grants represent only around 3% of total UK philanthropy, and climate change, within that, only around 0.7%. For example, 2009/10, grants made to climate change mitigation totalled £15.8 million. By means of comparison, in the same year, the National Galleries in London and Edinburgh raised £50 million in four months to purchase a single painting.

Within this comparatively small amount of funding, it is striking to read that some issues that EUr Policy works on, such as resource efficiency and EU policy, are getting an even smaller share.

The report specifically says that environmental organisations working at EU level are particularly under-resourced compared to commercial interest lobbies. This does not come as a surprise of course, but it’s interesting to see the actual statistics.

The EFN’s work to build an evidence base to UK environmental philanthropy is great. However, one wonders how these findings are recommendations can be taken on board more widely – and not just by donors, but also by environmentalists themselves. I have worked in places where a much needed piece of work that could potentially have influenced the environmental policy of 27 or more countries, costing, say, £3-4,000 was not carried out because funding was not available and people didn’t have the time or knowledge to fundraise for it. Now, if we had realised that this is a pretty small amount of money, compared to what spent on other causes, perhaps we would have had more courage to go out there and find the cash.

Ultimately, both funders and environmental organisation management teams need to become more enthusiastic about issues that are apparently very technical and where results are hard to understand – but that can have a lasting impact. This is quite a typical problem in EU policy, which may appear to be impenetrable to many but can have a massive impact when it goes the right way (or indeed when it goes the wrong way).

One solution would be to make the so-called “Cinderella” issues more palatable and accessible to campaigners and funders through clever use of technology. One example I have found is the Where We Live video. Produced in the US, this 9-minute documentary about a successful campaign to protect California’s climate change legislation. It is an inspiring video that explains in simple terms what would otherwise be a complex issue, illustrating how the campaign achieved its success. If something similar was done on successful EU environmental campaigns, this could perhaps help to encourage more organisations to overcome their resistance to becoming involved, and more donors to help.

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