The SDGs provide a common framework for the many social, economic, and environmental challenges that funders work so hard to address. Following are several reasons that funders in search of deeper and more lasting impact have aligned with the SDGs.

The SDGs, in combination, have been shown to achieve the larger goals philanthropy cares about. The SDGs were created over a period of several years by leading issue experts, practitioners, and activists, with input from more than 10 million6 people worldwide. Moreover, ways to measure progress have been continually improved. Given the rigorous global process that gave rise to them, the SDGs provide a common framework for systematically organizing data on the social, environmental, and economic challenges of our time. For this reason, some funders may find inspiration in the SDGs; some may also find useful guidance on how to get from a broad goal (such as ending hunger or reducing inequality) to the most effective targets around which to structure programs. Funders who have previously gathered and analyzed longitudinal data may be more likely to align with the SDGs than those who haven’t; they understand the deep wisdom such data yields. Those new to longitudinal data may find their research rewarded with better programs by aligning with the SDGs.

By using the shared language of the SDGs, funders can communicate with other stakeholders across sectors, borders, and issue areas. SDG 17 explicitly calls for partnership from all sectors of society to achieve the whole SDG agenda. With the common language provided by the SDGs, people from different sectors can better communicate and private funders are finding new allies among nonprofits, businesses, the UN, and governments at all levels. By recognizing that countries face similar challenges—such as reducing poverty and inequality, promoting innovation, protecting the environment, creating inclusive societies, and ensuring good health for all—the SDGs enable foundations that work internationally to connect strands of their funding at home and abroad.

The SDGs prompt deep thinking and action on systems change. Funders looking to create deep and lasting impact may turn to a systems-change approach. Such an approach recognizes that any given social problem is caused by a web of different factors. Wide-scale unemployment, for example, is the result of factors such as a job shortage, poor public incentives for employers, or a mismatch between vocational training programs and the job market. The 2030 Agenda takes systems-change thinking to a higher level and affirms that all the SDGs—and all the problems they address—are interrelated, even if it does not detail exactly how. Nevertheless, the SDGs prompt users to explore the connections among different issues.

A funder might, for example, develop better solutions to the problem of poverty at home by understanding its connection to national infrastructure, regional immigration, or global climate change. In addition, since the SDGs focus on sustainable development, funders can use the framework to learn how to work with others to create a more lasting impact. By exploring how different solutions may play out over time—e.g., an infrastructure plan might create jobs today but have a negative environmental impact over time—funders can better understand the longterm ramifications of their work. In sum, the systems perspective embedded in the SDGs may help funders see beyond individual projects and collaborate with others to have a greater impact on the issues that most concern them.

The SDGs help philanthropy join in partnership with governments and institutions. Although the SDGs are not legally binding (unlike human rights agreements), every member state of the United Nations committed to fulfilling them by the year 2030. Thousands of local and state governments, companies, and other institutions worldwide have pledged to take action as well.9 Indeed, SDG 17 explicitly calls for cross-sector and international partnerships to achieve the whole SDG agenda. Philanthropy can take the opportunity to gain a seat at the table in development planning and implementation, helping governments achieve their SDG targets.

Aligning with the SDGs is a way to motivate staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and funder partners. Natalie Ross, of the Council on Foundations, says that when community foundations align with the SDGs, they demonstrate how their local work is linked to a global effort. She notes that this is a draw for many donors—especially younger donors—who take a global perspective on social and environmental problems. Corporate foundations and social responsibility programs can also use the SDGs to engage employees in volunteering and giving programs, for they rightly feel they are contributing locally to a global endeavor. Furthermore, educating employees about the SDGs could help them understand what is truly needed to solve the world’s greatest problems. The organization IMPACT203010 has signed up more than 70 multinational companies to activate volunteerism across sectors in support of the SDGs.