As is the case with many systemic, pressing challenges, no one has all the answers. From October 2018 to April 2019, CLIMA hosted a series of online ‘dialogues’ unpacking the assumptions and narratives that drive climate philanthropy. We created a space for transparent, deeper discussion about the underlying narrative frames and assumptions around who climate protagonists are and what constitutes a ‘climate solution.’ With a stellar line-up of speakers, this series uncovered powerful insights that are captured in video and summary here.

Environmental Grantmakers Association, Human Rights Funders Network, Confluence Philanthropy, Ariadne Network, NY Philanthropy, Center for Story-Based Strategy, JusticeFunders, and the Whitman Institute

October 24: Climate & Innovation

Novel and creative ideas are needed to tackle the greatest challenge that has faced humanity – climate change. Yet there is significant disagreement about what constitutes innovation, and where that innovation is coming from. In this online conversation, we unpacked how funders understand innovation and what that means for those who receive funding.


  • Nnimmo Bassey, Global Greengrants
  • Charles McElwee, VP of Programs, ClimateWorks Foundation
  • Erin Rogers, Program Officer in Environment, Hewlett Foundation
  • Ryan Strode, Advisor, Arabella Advisors
  • Pia Infante, Co-Executive Director, Whitman Institute

Key takeaways:

  1. Innovation is about change, failure, breaking boundaries, and collaboration (and more). Sometimes it’s about new ideas and often it’s about connecting very old ideas.
  2. There were critiques raised about philanthropy often seeing themselves as the innovators and rewarding ideas and actors far from the problem itself. And there was an invitation to re-imagine our roles as those not crafting or identifying innovation, but being in solidarity with it. How do we invite failure and risk-taking by transferring the risk to ourselves as funders?
  3. Innovation is also about perception—a new grant-making practice can be innovative to one funder and not another. In the context of climate change, where the innovators are ultimately those on the ground, how do funders listen more and get out of the way of communities doing the work?
  4. In terms of innovating grant-making practices, ideas were surfaced about providing long-term unrestricted support, pooling resources to give bigger grants, and supporting learning exchanges among those taking action on climate.

December 13: Scale & Climate 

Scale – what it looks like, when and how to achieve it and when and how not to, and funders’ role in supporting scale – is tricky. How can we be driven by the urgency of climate change, while slowing down enough to listen and make choices that will effectively reduce emissions and sustain all life? In this online conversation, we will unpack how funders approach scale in their work and how that impacts who and what is funded.


  • Ellen Dorsey | Executive Director | Wallace Global Fund
  • Vini Bhansali | Executive Director | Solidaire Network
  • Thea Gelbspan | Membership and Solidarity Director | International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Kevin Starr | Executive Director | Mulago Foundation

Key takeaways: 

  1. Speakers expressed many different definitions of scale, including scale as power-building, as systems change, as pace of change, as exponential growth and replicability, and as dependent on the efficacy of a strategy.
  2. Speakers challenged many of the common assumptions around scale in philanthropy, such as scale correlating to size of nonprofits, number of acres conserved, and as measurable growth.
  3. Speakers agreed that emissions are part of the climate puzzle, but not everyone agreed that focusing on emissions is the only way to solve it, believing that transforming power inequities is central to addressing climate change.
  4. There were different opinions about the importance of metrics in assessing scaled impact, and about the role of accountability (e.g., accountable to climate outcomes vs./and accountable to the communities most impacted & taking action).
  5. Speakers shared that movements can be a strategy for scale, and for addressing the drivers of the climate crisis.
  6. We surfaced assumptions about equating scale to rapid change, and how that assumption sometimes compromises consideration of human rights and equity.
  7. There was a challenge to funders to think deeply about our role in driving the same systems we seek to transform, as a critical undermining of scaled action on climate.

February 11th: Climate & Metrics

How might we bridge the gap and translate, if not reimagine, how we communicate the impact of diverse climate solutions? Whether or not you are tracking greenhouse gas emissions, collecting and assessing metrics is challenging. In this session we will discuss what might be important to evaluate, what’s not, and how we can evolve evaluation practices to support rather than hinder climate solutionaries.


  • Fay Twersky | Director of the Effective Philanthropy Group | Hewlett Foundation
  • PeiYao Chen | VP Impact and Effectiveness | Global Fund for Women
  • Peter Kostishack | Director of Programs | Global Greengrants

Key takeaways:

  1. Participants felt a mixture of curiosity, frustration, and fear when reflecting on evaluation and metrics. Participants have different understandings of how evaluation is done, from direct observation to self-reflection to story-based assessment. Evaluation is viewed as a process for learning, for measuring impact, and/or for building power.
  2. Supporting movements presents a specific set of evaluation challenges, such as the complexity of attribution, the length of time it may take to see outcomes, and setbacks are inherently part of the work.
  3. When we talk about evaluation we are talking about values. Funders and grantees may value different things, and that is okay. However, funders can be sensitive to how their understanding of impact may be limited by their own experience.
  4. In the context of climate change, evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions reductions and the advancement of equity are sometimes in tension. When supporting climate justice, funders must consider how to shift power in evaluation itself, and consider who is paying the cost of the climate action funders are supporting.
  5. Evaluation takes time, attention, and capacity, and funders must ensure they listen to their grantees about what’s valuable to track.
  6. Evaluation brings up some sticky questions about power: Who decides what gets measured and when? How is information shared & given to grantees?

February 28th: Climate & Capacity

What is capacity and why (or why not) is it important to climate action? In this session we will explore how funders assess and understand efficiency in grantmaking and on-the-ground work, and what some of our assumptions are about grantee partner capacity. In the context of climate, what constitutes efficient and resourced work?


  • Elizabeth McKeon | Head of Strategy | IKEA Foundation
  • Regan Pritzer | Board Member | Libra Foundation
  • Kathy Reich | Director of BUILD | Ford Foundation
  • Chung-Wha Hong | Executive Director | Grassroots International

Key Takeaways

  1. As funders we bring all sorts of implicit and explicit assumptions about capacity, and we can reflect on those frames to reduce the biases we bring to decision-making.
  2. We explored the polarity of binding and dividing. As funders, we can be binders to generate greater collaboration around the ecological crisis, and we can support dividing moments that can be strategic for heightening dialogue and new momentum around systemic change.
  3. Speakers emphasized the need to support digital security, political power-building, and groups connecting and building with each other. On the flip side, a lack of gender justice can suppress capacity and the strength of climate action.
  4. There is an opportunity to redefine capacity as: “What is your strength?”
  5. In terms of capacities funders need to build, speakers pointed to getting comfortable with discomfort and practices to interrogate our power.
  6. Questions and practices of capacity-building can reinforce ‘NGO-ization’, which can create organizations complicit with the system organizations seek to transform.
  7. There is an asymmetry of power in grant-making and funders can confront this dynamic by trusting that grantees know what they need best.
  8. A lingering question: What if organizations need something totally different (from formal organizational capacity assessments) to understand and build their own power and resources?

April 24th: Climate & Geography

How might we approach climate change with funding strategies that reflect the complexity and interdependence of the crisis itself? How might we bridge domestic and international funding initiatives to support linkages within the global climate movement? In this session we will unpack assumptions about geography, how different funders make choices about geographic funding, and what that means for advancing transformative climate action.


  • Heather McGray | Director | Climate Justice Resilience Fund
  • Solomé Lemma | Executive Director | Thousand Currents
  • Dana Bourland | Executive Director | JPB Foundation

Key Takeaways:

  • We can reframe scale to understand impact. We can expand on the traditional definition of ‘scale’ to include the breadth, depth of influence, and long-term knowledge wielded by climate-impacted communities.
  • Climate is global, and action is local. We all share the same climate, yet impacts – and some of the most powerful organizing – are inherently local.
  • Drivers are global and action is interdependent. The drivers of climate change are shared across geographies – land use change, systemic injustice, resource consumption – and thus action must be coordinated local to global. Speakers lifted up examples of cross-regional organizing that tackle these global drivers in ways that are locally contextualized, like Buen Vivir.
  • Relationships drive place-based funding. There are many ways to be connected to work on the ground, and it is funders’ responsibility to build those connections.
  • Climate funding is geopolitical. Where funding is coming from and where it’s given are political questions. Climate is global in scope, yet resources to support action are not. As funders, we must take a political lens to our work if we are to support systemic change.
  • Curiosity about the >1%. We pondered: why is climate funding less than 1% of overall philanthropy? What are the internal structures and biases that drive that?