Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study is among first mapping climate change spending from perspective of nonprofit organizations
A new study examining how U.S.-based nonprofit organizations allocate their funding to combat climate change, including various approaches employed and direct actions taken, is being released today by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Its unique design makes it one of the few studies to date that focuses on climate change spending from the nonprofit's perspective.
U.S. nonprofits spend between USD 7.8 billion and USD 9.2 billion annually on programs and activities that address climate change, the research estimates. Philanthropic sources, including foundations, individual donors, and corporations, provided the majority (approximately 88%) of the funding nonprofits spent for that work in the 2021 fiscal year, representing about USD 6.8 to USD 8.0 billion of total climate spending in the study. The remaining funding came from government sources (7%) and fees collected for services (5%).
Mapping Nonprofit Spending on Climate Change includes estimates of nonprofit spending for the two main approaches to addressing climate change: climate mitigation, attempts that focus on limiting greenhouse gas emissions to stop global warming, and adaptation, approaches that focus on limiting the negative effects caused by a changing climate. In addition, the report includes breakouts by primary focus of funding, areas of direct action, and tactics employed.
The study also reports what professionals at the surveyed nonprofits describe as the biggest funding gaps. It highlights respondents' thoughts on tactics and areas of opportunity that they see as crucial to addressing climate change in the coming years, and on nonprofits' needs that, if met, would help them better address the climate crisis. The report includes survey results from 130 U.S.-headquartered nonprofit organizations working wholly or partly on climate change; the survey was administered to nonprofits by Qualtrics from January to May 2022. The report is based on research funded by ClimateWorks Foundation.
"This unique research comes at a time when recognition is growing that climate action must be accelerated to address the gravity of the climate crisis," said Una Osili, Ph.D., associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. "The findings from this report will equip nonprofit organizations with data to support fundraising for key climate priorities, and it uncovers gaps and opportunities for funders to increase their investment in key areas."
Among other key findings:
- Of the total spending amount reported in the study, an estimated 49% went to mitigation efforts, 14% went to adaptation, and 34% was not clearly specified as falling into either of these two categories.
- The majority (53.7%) of climate change spending by the U.S.-based nonprofits responding to this survey was used for efforts in the U.S. and Canada. An additional 22% focused on climate issues in other parts of the world. Just under 15% was spent on global-level strategies and programs.
- Policy-based approaches were the most common tactic nonprofits employed to support their work on climate change, comprising 30% of reported climate expenditures.
- When viewed by sector of focus, survey respondents allocated the largest portion of their spending toward energy, including both energy use (35%) and energy supply (32%). Land-use-centric approaches received a total of 23% of spending.
Respondent organizations also shared their views on actions that would help nonprofits better address climate change. These included more unrestricted funding and general operating support to equip them to act in a timely manner. Respondents also said funding and strategies should center racial equity and climate justice to address the unequal impacts of climate change. Asked about the biggest opportunities to accelerate action on climate change in the next three to five years, they identified "movement building and mobilization" and "making transportation greener" as the top two opportunities.
This bottom-up research offers a view of how the nonprofit organizations on the ground view their own work. It provides insight into the nature and allotment of charitable spending that addresses climate change in the U.S. It is an important complement to other research that focuses on the efforts of funders to address climate change.
"Understanding climate funding flows is vital for pinpointing gaps and opportunities as philanthropy continues to step up efforts to address the climate crisis, working in coordination with civil society and the public and private sectors," said Helen Mountford, president and CEO of ClimateWorks Foundation. "While more is known about how much foundations alone contribute to climate mitigation, this research reveals valuable insights into how U.S. nonprofits more broadly allocate their full suite of resources to fight climate change with both mitigation and adaptation solutions."
About the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The school offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy through its undergraduate, graduate, certificate and professional development programs, its research and international programs, and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, Women's Philanthropy Institute, and the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative. Follow us on X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, or Instagram and "Like" us on Facebook.