Driving Climate Change Solutions Through Philanthropy

How does an arts-driven foundation develop a programmatic strategy that tackles climate change?

Art can change the world. This was American artist Robert Rauschenberg’s belief, and it drives the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, which supports artists and institutions that apply creativity to important social and environmental issues. But to make strategic funding decisions, the staff of this arts driven foundation first needed to understand the economic, scientific, and social complexities of the climate change movement. With this in mind, the Rauschenberg Foundation hired Blue Marble Project to conduct the field research that would enable the foundation’s staff and board of directors to shape the particulars of their climate mission.

Blue Marble Project’s original assignment was to design and lead a climate summit on which the foundation’s environmental grants would be based. But as we dug into planning, it became clear that the Rauschenberg Foundation was lacking a critical element for the event’s success: a defined climate change mission and funding strategy. Only then could the organization be able to make informed funding decisions aimed at maximum impact. So the Blue Marble Project team took a step back and, at the foundation’s request, refocused our efforts on delivering an analysis on which to shape their climate program.

Providing reliable intelligence to inform decision making

Our first step was to develop a survey exploring a number of critical issues that could potentially impact the foundation’s decision-making. Recognizing that the climate change movement is not monolithic, we sought out a diversity of viewpoints from thought leaders representing a variety of approaches and asked some tough questions. Tapping into our extensive network of climate experts, our interviews incorporated their first-hand experiences and insights, looked at broad trends, and explored specific approaches.

Our experts discussed the differences between climate change mitigation versus adaptation. They discussed how both large and grassroots environmental groups are breaking new ground, as well as the ways artists and other creative are leveraging their own visions of how to slow global warming. And they discussed examples of art and culture effectively influencing the environmental movement, as well as where they’ve fallen short.

Our ultimate synthesis of these interviews helped foundation staff understand which models and strategies are effective and which aren’t and why. By answering these strategic questions, the Blue Marble Project team has helped position the foundation to fund work that has both a unique and creative impact on the climate issue while fitting well within the organization’s overarching arts-centered mission. Because ultimately, the Rauschenberg Foundation’s climate funding strategy should align with the spirit of Robert Rauschenberg’s own work: “innovative, risk-taking, generous and high impact, and experimental.”
Sometimes the most effective solutions require starting with a blank canvas.

Photo courtesy NASA's Earth Observatory