When a philanthropist seeks a cause to support, sometimes the need is easy to identify—for example, a family member becomes ill, and the family’s wealth is directed toward a cure. A natural disaster or social situation confronts a community, and capital is deployed quickly to address the situation at hand. 

When it comes to environmental philanthropy, however, engagement has been much more complicated despite clear and overwhelming needs.  Every report and meeting on this topic comes with a clarion call to act now to preserve the environment. But with so many challenges demanding attention, figuring out where and how to give to environmental causes can lead to decision paralysis. There are no simple solutions for solving the myriad challenges facing natural systems and communities that rely on them. As one of my MI Philanthropy colleagues said regarding environmental conservation, “There’s no one problem or one solution. You have to solve for everything.” 

That is a daunting thought—and perhaps why less than 2 percent of global philanthropic giving in 2022 went to conservation causes. But there’s another way of thinking about environmental philanthropy: conservation issues overlap with every other aspect of giving. Every dollar, if spent strategically, can have a ripple effect. 

To put this ripple effect into action, here are four strategies for getting started and amplifying your climate philanthropy. 

  1. Start where you are. Climate change is a pervasive challenge, but there are connections with nearly every aspect of philanthropy that can offer an onramp for those who are new to climate philanthropy or looking to expand their impact while continuing to support other causes. We know climate negatively impacts human health: it affects vulnerable communities the most and reverses decades-long gains in economic prosperity. There are opportunities to support climate action at the intersection of health, poverty, and justice.  
  2. Use all the available tools. Philanthropy can have an outsized impact because of its ability to tolerate risk, its patience, and its nimbleness. While the clarion call is for more philanthropic capital, the enormity of the problem also needs funding for advocacy to change policy, and private investment to fuel innovative commercial solutions. Consider using c4 dollars to advance critical policy change. And allocate market dollars to not just divest from companies contributing negatively to the climate crisis but also channel capital to companies delivering climate solutions. 
  3. Join forces and learn from others.  Climate philanthropists don’t have to go it alone. Collaborations offer efficiency through shared due diligence, democratized learnings, deepened engagement, and scaling to put more capital to work. There are organizations like Climate Leadership Initiative, ClimateWorks Foundation, and Giving Green that can offer guidance on how to deploy social capital to climate initiatives. At the Milken Institute, we are building a portfolio of collaborative projects across sectors to create resiliency in infrastructure, food systems, and other areas.  
  4. Act boldly and urgently. The Milken Institute has long championed putting the capital sitting on the sidelines in donor-advised funds (DAFs) to work. The rate of giving “rainy day funds” has been trending upwards, but there is still more than $220 billion waiting to be deployed. There is much to learn by doing, so getting started can inform your ultimate strategy and how you want to engage and drive impact.

Caring for the environment and caring for people can, and should be, one and the same. While philanthropy alone cannot solve the challenges facing the planet, the sector has more than proven its worth in calling attention to big problems and galvanizing resources to effect change. Imagine what the world could be if everyone engaging in philanthropy marked one percent of their current investment for conservation? With a few strategies, getting started in conservation philanthropy needn’t be so overwhelming. And the ripple effect will benefit us all.