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Equity Trustees, facilitating philanthropists instructions to create perpetual charitable trusts to positively impact animals  and environment

The battle to reverse widespread environmental destruction and stop climate change is gaining new attention as the world reaches a tipping point.

The state of the natural environment underpins every facet of our lives but protecting it has historically only attracted a small sliver of philanthropic funding.

The situation is now changing as overwhelming evidence about the declining state of the environment and the alarming rate of climate change has turned them into defining issues of our times.

“We really are at this critical point – everyone is now talking about how this is the decade that we have to turn things around,” says Equity Trustees Grant Manager, Emily Cormack.

“There's a huge opportunity for philanthropists to grow and strengthen the communities in this area to help make the changes that are desperately needed.”

Equity Trustees focuses on climate change, nature conservation and animal welfare through its animals and environment focus area. It does this by investing in climate-focused community efforts and social movements; supporting future environmental leaders; and catalysing impact to support animal and environmental conservation. The work in this area is facilitated by the foresight of philanthropists who left instructions in their will to create perpetual charitable trusts with the view to positively impact animals and environment.

Philanthropists recognise more support needed

The scope of the challenge is enormous. 

Greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 to limit global warming and preserve the planet. Climate change, as well as habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction, has set Australia on a path that is threatening major ecosystems, according to the government’s State of the Environment report.

Equity Trustees-managed charitable trusts and bequests distributed about $4.8 million to the animals and environment sector last financial year. However, this still made up just under 5% of $96.2 million total funding, with other areas such as health (45%), human services (20%), community and economic development (10%) and education (10%) still attracting higher levels of philanthropic support.

Many of these Equity Trustees-managed trusts were set up decades ago – a time when the environment and climate change were rarely seen as areas for philanthropy. Today, more than 8 in 10 Australians say they are concerned about climate change as more extreme natural disasters occur more frequently, according to a recent Ipsos survey.

“When newer trusts are set up, we now try to encourage a broader wish list of causes to support rather than locking the trust into something too specific, but ask clients to think about changing times,” Cormack says.

The Robert Hicks Foundation is one of the only charitable trusts out of about 650 managed by Equity Trustees that specifically calls out climate change. However, some trusts support discretionary charitable purposes, leaving room to grant towards climate and environment programs and many more of Equity Trustees’ Active Philanthropists are directing their attention to the urgent need in this space via their Ancillary Funds.

Climate support that makes a tangible difference 

“Because we don't have many trusts that call out the environment or climate in their terms, we have to really invest smart to get the greatest impact,” Cormack says. 

“For example, we try to give multi-year grants, which gives organisations more certainty to take on these long-term and structural environmental issues.”

The nature of these grants also helps allays a common concern of some philanthropists when it comes to climate change: they don’t where to start and the scale of the problem can make any solution seem intangible.

For example, the Climate Action Network Australia (CANA) Small Grants program (supported by the Robert Hicks Foundation) has mobilised many small communities across Australia, such as parents, farmers, vets, and surfers to influence political leaders about climate change.

Another organisation receiving support from Equity Trustees-managed trusts – the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network – is bringing together an even wider community of philanthropists to amplify their work and bring about meaningful change.

Other Equity Trustees-managed trusts that are currently supporting environmental causes include the Harris Estate Charitable Foundation (a key supporter of the Antarctic Science Foundation); and the Albert George and Nancy Caroline Youngman Trust (which supports the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network).

For more information about how to get started in climate philanthropy, visit:

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