Green Giving #9
Philanthropy UK's regular column on ‘Green Giving’ for 2010 is a response to the superordinate challenge that climate change and other environmental issues present to us all. Though Philanthropy UK is cause neutral, we believe the environmental issue to be one that could impact every cause. Harriet Williams and Jon Cracknell, of the Environmental Funders Network, an informal network of trusts, foundations and individuals making grants on environmental and conservation issues, will also offer analysis, news and insight of ‘enviro philanthropy’, including what other branches of philanthropy can learn from green giving.
We are keen to hear from interested parties on enviro-philanthropy and views on other issues facing society that we should feature in a dedicated column: please email email@example.com.
Green Giving #9: Environmental Funders Network considers next steps
by Jon Cracknell
All membership-based organisations and networks need to take stock of their direction and strategy from time-to-time, in order to clarify what it is that the network can provide that individual members cannot achieve on their own.
Since the Environmental Funders Network (EFN) was founded in 2003 it has overseen the deepening of relationships between its 80-plus trust and foundation members, plus the development of research that sheds new light on the way in which environmental grant-making is conducted.
In order to try and build on this EFN members were recently surveyed on stepping up a level the network’s programme, from quarterly lunches, ad hoc events and this rather ‘broad brush’ research, and were asked to prioritise a number of possible ‘paths’ for the development of EFN.
We think the results are interesting as a reflection on the activities that members of a well-established funder network think would do most to advance this particular field of philanthropy.
In total, 42 foundations completed the online survey. Given that the EFN is a big tent encompassing a range of environmental interests and funding approaches, the survey results were encouragingly conclusive.
The five paths that respondents were asked to choose between can be ranked as follows, in terms of their popularity with the network as a whole:
1) Building the knowledge base.
An analytical approach geared to generating new knowledge for funders, by mapping grant-making opportunities and civil society gaps, and by researching the role of philanthropic funding relative to other sources of income. This was the option that comfortably received the most support.
2) Increasing the sums given to environmental initiatives.
An outward-focused path that aims to bring new members into the EFN and more money into environmental grant-making as a whole, by encouraging more donors to give to green issues, and/or existing donors to give more.
3) Exploring effectiveness.
This requires a reflective process, with an emphasis on tackling tough questions around ‘effectiveness’, and space for both self-criticism and constructive critiques of the environmental movement, aided by external experts.
4) Developing membership services.
Here the emphasis would be on improving flows of information and knowledge of peers within the network, for instance by upgrading the newsletter, producing membership guides, or nurturing sub-groups of funders on particular issues.
5) Matchmaking for grant-makers and grant-seekers.
A set of initiatives geared towards improving the functioning of the grants market, and reducing the amount of time wasted by both grant-seekers and funders on inappropriate applications.
The identification of these five paths was a result of many conversations over the seven years that EFN has existed, and also an attempt to respond to weaknesses in the field of environmental philanthropy detected in the Where the Green Grants Went series of reports.
From the perspective of the EFN’s coordinators the interest in 'Building the knowledge base' is very encouraging, since a key conclusion of Where The Green Grants Went is that grants are currently distributed in a rather scattergun manner, with significant duplication and fragmentation.
The recent US report Disrupting Philanthropy highlights the potential for using new information technology tools to improve the practice of philanthropy, and calls for the a more systematic gathering and use of data relating to civil society. In coming months we hope that EFN will be able to innovate in this space, with support from members of the network.
Also interesting to us was the appetite amongst environmental funders for exploring tough questions around ‘effectiveness’, and for critiquing our own current practice with the help of external commentators. We hope to organize a series of seminars and debates with a view to developing this pathway.
There was relatively less support for membership services as a focus of EFN development, something which may be surprising to others in the field of philanthropy, since members typically want more in the way of services from the structures to which they belong!
It seems that while more membership services would be welcome, they are not considered to be as much of a priority as innovation in understanding the ‘economy’ of the environmental movement, and where it is that funders can best target their grants in order to respond to gaps in civil society capacity.
We would love to hear from other funder networks that have carried out similar surveys, as it would be useful to be able to compare notes on the findings. In the meantime the EFN steering group will work on a plan for development of the network that draws on the survey results.
Jon Cracknell is the coordinator and founding member of the Environmental Funders Network. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the network.