August 17, 2023

Philanthropy Has the Power to Turn the Fight Against Climate Change Around, According to a New Bridgespan Group Report

Citing the urgency of acting now, the research highlights three climate philanthropy practices critical to effecting “wins” in the years to come.

Boston, MA—August 17, 2023—Given the fires that are burning, storms raging, and communities suffering through “once-in-a-century” heat waves across the globe, it can feel like the battle against climate change is lost. At the same time, the last decade has also seen some important climate change advances that are fodder for optimism.

Referencing The Bridgespan Group’s recent publication, “Winning on Climate Change: How Philanthropy Can Spur Major Progress over the Next Decade,” Bridgespan Partner and Co-author of the work Brian Burwell says, “Thinking about winning requires us to keep two apparently opposed ideas in mind—that we are living in a time of escalating peril and crisis, and that over the next 10 years major progress against climate change is entirely possible. The complexity and size of the climate issue is no reason for philanthropic money to stay on the sidelines. As a virtuous cycle of wins generates momentum, we can turn the fight around.”

According to one of Burwell’s co-authors Bridgespan Partner Sonali Patel, “Our aim is to provide advice about how donors can navigate this complexity to make fast, thoughtful funding decisions toward a range of goals and to unlock capital flowing to these efforts. To that end we built on our previous work with actors in the field and spoke with 30 additional experts to get their thoughts about the most significant climate change wins and signs of progress in the field and where philanthropy has played a key role.” As a result, the authors were able to identify three climate philanthropy practices that they believe will be especially important in the decade ahead:

  • Investing in early efforts connected to a big goal: One of the barriers to climate change philanthropy they report is that it feels like too big for any one donor to make a difference. Yet, in practice, there many opportunities to provide early-stage funding that can help move toward achieving big goals. Climate change is global, national, and local at the same time—and so are the pathways to progress. Providing flexible resources to organizations and campaigns in the early stage, including those with novel strategies, offers the opportunity to prove concepts. Smaller funders can provide risk capital that encourages and enables experimentation and creativity, which larger funders can later scale.
  • Joining other climate actors through existing structures: Newer donors to climate philanthropy sometimes tell us that they find the space especially challenging: In addition to the size of the problem, it’s very complicated, it’s hard to know what will work. However, the great opportunity in climate giving is that donors do not have to figure this out from scratch. There are multiple pathways for fast and potentially high impact giving, as there are well-established structures for action. Funder collaboratives and intermediary organizations both have relationships in key communities, coordinate strategy, share expertise, and build movements.
  • Supporting the equitable implementation of new laws, treaties, and policy changes: Over the past two years, for example, the US Congress passed three bills that open the door for faster progress on climate—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS Act (which could boost green technologies), and the Inflation Reduction Act. The new laws provide funding for the transition to clean energy, targets billions of dollars to environmental justice efforts, sets new emissions standards for methane, directs funds to coastal communities to prepare for rising sea levels and extreme weather, and much more. Among the most important areas where donors could make a difference in implementation of this new legislation in the United States: They can help fund partnerships between community organizations and large national groups; they can help fund public information campaigns; and, they can support the effort to create good green jobs at the national, state and local levels.

According to Henry Platt, a co-author and Bridgespan partner, “We also gleaned some especially interesting insights from the experts we interviewed on what they saw as among the most significant recent climate wins, which we share in our article.” Those most frequently cited include the Beyond Coal campaign in the United States, which has helped retire approximately two-thirds of coal plants in the nation and continues to work to close the rest; the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the 2016 global agreement to dramatically curb the use and production of climate-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the “super pollutants” widely used in air conditioning and refrigeration; the movement for Indigenous peoples and local communities’ land tenure, which has the potential to protect a vast amount of carbon-storing forest and grassland; and the landmark US Inflation Reduction Act, passed in 2022.

“Philanthropy can’t solve climate change alone, but it’s essential to our progress,” said Platt. “We want more funders to come ‘off the sidelines’ and get involved, knowing that however much money they have can make a difference.”


About Bridgespan

The Bridgespan Group ( is a global nonprofit that collaborates with social change organizations, philanthropists, and impact investors to make the world more equitable and just. Bridgespan’s services include strategy consulting and advising, sourcing and diligence, and leadership team support. We take what we learn from this work and build on it with original research, identifying best practices and innovative ideas to share with the social sector. We work from locations in Boston, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, and Singapore.

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The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.