I have been listening to the excellent BBC World Service podcast, 13 Minutes to the Moon, which tells the story of the Apollo 11 moon landing. In John F Kennedy’s speech in 1962 announcing America’s mission, the words he uses are: “we choose to go the moon”. Not ‘we will’, ‘we want to’, ‘we aim to’, but “we choose”. This decision mobilised huge effort and resources to make the moon landing happen. What is important for those of us in philanthropy is to remember that it all started with that choice.
Philanthropy is all about choices. A donor must first choose to give, but then can become quickly overwhelmed by the array of subsequent choices about the causes and organisations in front of them. Paralysis is a common response, and the role of a philanthropy advisor is often about navigating a path through the various options. This is not an easy task, as expressed in Wilbur and Setterberg’s book ‘Giving with Confidence: A Guide to Savvy Philanthropy’:
“Given all the urgent causes and excellent organisations striving to prod the world into better shape, it’s damn hard to decide where to place your bet.”
Helping a donor to find a clear focus drives their efforts forward. It means donors can develop expertise, find reward and add value. This creates the foundation for setting targeted goals. JFK did not say the US was generally headed into space, but specifically that they were going to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.
A significant global focus for this century is not so much on the moon, but here at home on planet Earth. The climate crisis is our challenge that we have limited time to address (the moon mission had less than 10 years). Tackling it needs major mobilisation of effort and resources. It is drawing-in attention, such as Environment Rebellion’s protests and Greta Thunberg’s speeches. However, there also needs to be a movement of funds to environmental causes.
In the UK less than 4% of Foundation’s funding goes to the environment (see links below). The money is not matching the rise in public profile and concern, or the size of the problem. There are, of course, a number of funders in this space already, such as Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Valuing the Ocean Programme and the Oak Foundation’s Climate Resilience Justice Fund. In the US, 29 philanthropists pledged four billion dollars at the San Francisco Global Climate Action Summit last September, which included the Hewlett Foundation and the Bodiversity Funders Group. And there are signs that others are stepping-up: from large funders, such as the National Lottery’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund; corporates, such as Sky’s Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge; small funders, such as Jersey Evening Post’s new environment fund; and individuals, such as Extinction Rebellion funded through crowdfunding. ACF announced the theme for their 2019 conference: ‘Funding on a Finite Planet’ and hopefully this signals a move by Foundations to re-direct their resources to the planet as the environment moves from being seen as a niche issue to being understood as integral to issues of social justice and social needs.
The successful achievement of the moon landing shows us that when we make the bold choice to act and set clear goals, we can face the difficult and expensive challenges. Will funders make the choice to direct their resources to tackling the climate crisis with a similar ambitious and committed voice?
Image: Wikimedia Commons https://images.app.goo.gl/t9ipciFiTqihHXZu9