Why Is The Climate Movement Failing? The Donors Of Color Network Has Some Fresh Ideas For Funders
The climate crisis is deeply upon us. Just this week, scientists found that carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve ever been since we first began measuring them in 1958. These societal outcomes not only reflect the strength of economic forces that have led to environmental destruction, but also the lack of traction mainstream environment groups have gotten in changing society’s habits when it comes to human contributions to climate change.
There have, however, been many bright lights within climate organizing having deep impact, largely led by people of color. Organizations like the Climate Justice Alliance, Mosaic and the Indigenous Environmental Networkhave been able to make major advances in promoting renewable energy policies and addressing the community impacts of climate change.And yet, according to research conducted by the New School in looking at the top 12 climate funders, organizations led by people of color receive just 1.3% of funding. Just as we’ve underinvested in renewable energy infrastructure in the US, we’ve underinvested in the organizations effectively organizing to save the planet.
From philanthropy to business to government we’ve seen a recent focus on the importance of funding people of color—and how critical it is for groups to not just make statements, but actually move money. The Donors of Color Network, a community of over sixty high net worth donors, is spearheading a new climate pledge to address racial disparities within climate funding. Its objective,in their words, is to “shift the center of gravity in philanthropy towards racial and economic justice, challenging the nation’s largest climate funders to commit publicly to greater transparency and give at least 30% of their climate funding to the BIPOC-led powerbuilding groups who are the most successful in fighting the climate crisis.”
The pledge has two major asks of foundations:
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Transparency: The pledge requires foundations to publicly report “what percentage of their foundation’s U.S. environmental/climate funding over the last two years has gone to U.S. organizations run by, serving, and building power in communities of color – those with majority people of color boards and executive staff.”
Scaling Up Inclusive Climate Grantmaking: Within two years, the pledge requires signatories to “direct at least 30% of all U.S. climate giving to U.S. organizations run by, serving, and building power for communities of color, who have majority people of color boards and senior staff and a justice lens.”
“The pledge is a tool by which any given funder can say, ‘I get that the lack of funding for organizations led by Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) is both immoral and unstrategic. And I’m choosing this tool to both improve my own behavior,’” said Ashindi Maxton, Executive Director of the Donors of Color Network. “Transparency means there is accountability, and the 30% pledge requires an institutionalized commitment. It ensures that climate justice funding is not just on trend in June 2020, and then everyone forgets about it. We need to end the underfunding of communities of color for once and for all, if we really want to control the climate crisis and create a viable future for all.”
So far 20 foundations have taken this pledge—and today, have released their first batch of data regarding their commitments to BIPOC-led groups. Its just a first step in moving funding towards these groups, but a crucial one, given that just like traditional business, what gets measured gets managed.
“Organizations led by and serving communities of color play a critical role in the fight for a safe and secure climate future,” said David Beckman, President of the Pisces Foundation, one of the founding signatories of the pledge. “Funding these organizations advances equity and justice, particularly in the most impacted frontline communities, and can help the entire climate movement create the shifts needed. That’s why equity, inclusivity, and justice are not in addition to fixing climate change. They are one and the same.”
Taking a note from electoral funders’ playbooks
The conversation about donor priorities has been hot not only within climate this year, but also in the context of voter outreach and voter rights. Organizations like the Movement Voter Project and Way to Win helped move significant philanthropic resources into more people of color-led organizing efforts in 2020, with long-time donors having to acknowledge the outsized influence particularly women of color had in delivering votes in Georgia,Arizona, and other critical states that delivered a democatic trifecta in 2020.
Voting rights remains a major issue in 2021, with over 20 laws passed in 14 states restricting voting just since January. “Way to Win is helping local organizers work on voter protections and democracy reform, with an emphasis on people of color-led organizations,” said Tory Gavito, President of Way to Win. “What we learned cycle after cycle, particularly since Trump’s historic win in 2016, is that our multiracial democracy is young and fragile. It began with the signing of the Voting Rights Bill in 1965, and this is a living, generational fight. It’s a fight we’re having now, to make sure every single voice—people of color, white people, young people, that everyone has access to the vote, and when our political system chops people up into categories and fails to fully give voice to people of color, then we are doomed to fail. We really have to make sure everyone is fully funded and fully united behind a multiracial vision—which is why we put such a strong emphasis on funding organizations led by people of color. We’ve also found that across business, philanthropy and electoral giving, that the voices of donors of color are particularly crucial, which is why I applaud the leadership that the Donors of Color network is now taking in the climate space.”
Sharon Chen, DCN member and political donor added, “We need to implement the same lessons that contributed to electoral success to help us build a more effective and winning climate movement. We’re currently not playing with all of our players on the field with the gross inequity that exists in funding BIPOC-led groups having an outsized impact on climate.”
Philanthropy and the US government in lockstep
Philanthropists like those in the Donors of Color Network are not the only ones paying more attention to the critical role of communities of color in climate innovation—federal government funding is also shifting towards BIPOC entrepreneurs.
Danielle Deane served in the Obama Administration at the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, and Green 2.0’s founding executive director. She currently serves as a senior advisor for the Donors of Color Network and has been closely watching progress not only in philanthropy, but also in the government. Deane explained, “Early on under the Biden administration, an executive action was taken to meet the urgent demands of the climate crisis. Part of this order created a government-wide Justice40 Initiative with the goal of delivering 40% of federal investments to disadvantaged communities in an effort to further environmental justice efforts. BIPOC communities represent more than 40% of the population, so it seems perfectly reasonable that this would be a floor.” She also noted that similar commitments have been made by several states such as California and New York.
As governments are moving towards greater climate justice funding, it’s time for philanthropy to catch up. Ashindi Maxton concluded, “We have it within our power to effectively combat the climate crisis. But we cannot do it alone. The combined efforts of philanthropies, government support and policy, and the work of BIPOC-led climate organizations will need to be utilized to make a measurable and long-lasting difference.”
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