Environmental change

30 June 2020
The EnvironmentRisk and Reputation ManagementEthics
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A toolkit for fundraisers


The climate emergency poses a risk to the communities that charities serve, which means that as a sector we all have a role to play in lessening its effects and minimising our environmental impact. The public have an expectation of charities to fulfil social good, so we need to think about how our choices can help us meet those expectations and, in many cases, further our charitable missions.

As we enter the last decade where we can take action to limit global warming to 1.5°C, we hope charities will decide to be at the forefront of the necessary change. To minimise our sector’s collective environmental impact, every charity needs to make sure they are not only having these important conversations inside their organisations but acting on them.

Each charity will have different causes, capacity and resources, but all can aim to:

  1. Have the discussion at board level
  2. Think seriously and strategically about divesting from fossil fuels (including in pension fund investments)
  3. Understand and measure your organisational carbon footprint
  4. Set targets for reducing your carbon footprint (travel, energy, waste, carbon, etc.)
  5. Publicly acknowledge the climate emergency and the action your charity is taking
  6. Assess your gift/donation acceptance policy with environmental factors in mind


The climate emergency is far bigger than fundraising, but our actions contribute to the carbon footprints of the charities we work for, in the same way that making changes to our choices and internal influencing can reduce said impact.

Not all charities will be able to do everything – all face internal barriers and competing priorities. But putting the charity and mission first, and trying to reduce our environmental impact, are not mutually exclusive; instead, they can be coherent and complementary. It doesn’t have to be a choice between one or the other.

Everyone can make change. This could be inside your organisation by promoting an environmental agenda, or externally by adjusting your fundraising practices. As an employee in a charity you can be an advocate on the inside that can constructively challenge business-as-usual.

One thing is clear: doing nothing is no longer an option.

This toolkit is for all fundraisers, whether you:

We hope that if the environment hasn’t been a part of your thinking or that of your charity, this guide will help to develop a mindset that considers the environment in everyday professional choices and actions, and offers a direction of travel to charities.

This guide will provide tools and tips to raise this issue inside your own charity as well as advice on the changes you can make in your own work as a fundraiser. It aims to increase awareness about the role charities can play in tackling the climate emergency and encourage individual actions in fundraisers’ professional lives to help mobilise change inside charities.

Making internal change

Why should your charity care about the climate emergency?

It can be difficult to make the case inside your organisation for prioritising the climate emergency, particularly when charities are already managing competing priorities with limited capacity and resources.

To raise the profile of environmental issues in your charity, it can help to highlight the ways that action will add value, as well as the risks associated with inaction.

Protecting your reputation and meeting the expectations of supporters

There are clear indications of shifting public expectations, a changing public mood. People place increasing value on transparency, which research shows is a key driver of public trust in charities. And we are all – as donors, beneficiaries, tax-payers – increasingly interested not just in what a charity achieves, but how it behaves along the way.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales - https://charitycommission.blog.gov.uk/2020/01/15/how-do-charities-approach-investing-in-line-with-their-purpose-and-values-we-want-to-know-and-we-want-to

Your charity should care about the climate emergency because the public do. According to a poll commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, in 2019 80% of the British public were “very” or “fairly” concerned about climate change.

Charities depend on the support and generosity of the public, so are held accountable by them. Trustees are required to “avoid exposing the charity’s assets, beneficiaries or reputation to undue risks” in their governance – with public opinion this conclusive, there is risk to trust and confidence in charities unless they are seen to be responding with public benefit in mind.

The environmental impact of your charity’s decisions can put your reputation at risk if you are not meeting the expectations of your supporters, which can ultimately affect the charity’s bottom line.

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BP & the arts

In 2019, the Royal Shakespeare Company took the decision to end its sponsorship deal with BP following a campaign from artists and the public, with school climate protesters threatening boycott and Mark Rylance leaving his position because of the RSC’s links to the oil firm – showing the risk to charities of losing both support and talent. Their statement said: “Young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC. We cannot ignore that message.” Similarly in 2019, hundreds of people occupied the British Museum to object to its relationship with BP, and trustee Ahdaf Soueif resigned in protest, stating that: “The British Museum is not a good thing in and of itself. It is good only to the extent that its influence in the world is for the good.” At the beginning of 2020 the British Museum bypassed BP as a sponsor of its new exhibition.


Align with your values and mission

This is bigger than environmental charities. Charities should care about the climate emergency because it will affect our causes, beneficiaries and the capacity of our sector as a whole. Environmental degradation isn’t a single issue; it intersects with other injustices and has knock-on effects for any numbers of causes and charitable purposes like health, housing, migration and refugees, and infrastructure.

People will be displaced both at a local level in UK communities and at an international scale, public services put under pressure, and community resources stretched or redirected to accommodate extreme weather occurrences and the effects of pollution.

Are we unwittingly contributing ‘upstream’ to the problems which land on our doorstep ‘downstream’? It is vital for our credibility that, for example, a homelessness charity does not ignore the rising numbers of people likely to be made homeless by climate change; and a charity serving older people will be outraged by the numbers of old people who suffer or die during a heatwave.

City Bridge Trust

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Comic Relief

Comic Relief’s board has banned investments in fossil fuels as part of a new ethical investment policy: “Trustees of Comic Relief will not sanction an investment in companies whose primary business is the extraction or manufacture of fossil fuels without reason that is aligned with the organisation’s charitable purpose.”

By making sure the actions and choices of your charity reflect your values and are fully aligned with your mission, you send a coherent message to current and potential supporters and give them another reason to support you. Not only this but reducing your environmental impact can be a way to actively further your mission; for example, by not only divesting from fossil fuels but actively investing ethically, your charity could achieve greater social impact than if only using the income you’ve generated.

Charities are driven by a passion to make the world a better place in line with their purpose and values, so it is reasonable to assume that everything a charity does should reflect this.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales

The business case

Prioritising the climate emergency can not only prevent you from losing support – whether volunteers, employees, or donors – but actively increase it.

The Institute of Customer Service found that 49% of those surveyed consider the environment more than they did 10 years ago when choosing an organisation, along with 33% who consider ethical reputation more and 30% who consider contribution to social good more.

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Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator

The Scottish Charity Regulator has placed emphasis on ‘value’ rather than financial return: “It’s not the case that charity trustees in Scotland have ‘a duty to maximise financial returns.’ An investment doesn’t have to make money at any cost. It can provide both financial and non-financial returns but charity trustees have to consider all relevant factors and act in the interests of the charity at all times. Other investment options are available for charities, including investments that offer a social or environmental return as well as a financial one."

Research by the Chartered Institute of Fundraising and YouGov found that for 88% of people “working for an ethical, responsible employer” is important. Projecting your values through your environmental efforts enables your charity to maintain its relevance in recruitment and retain talented staff.

A survey of Chartered Institute of Fundraising members asked whether respondents had experienced stakeholders asking about their organisation’s environmental policies or practices. 50% had been asked by staff, 24% had been asked by individual supporters/donors and 25% had been asked by funders.


Funders are increasingly asking to see environmental plans and policies before they give grants to charities, with some such as Arts Council England even including environmental requirements in funding agreements.

Arts Council became the first cultural body in the world to include action on environmental sustainability in our funding agreements with National Portfolio Organisations… environmental action isn’t just responsible, it makes economic sense. Many arts and cultural organisations report that they generate financial benefits as a direct result of environmental initiatives. In the last six years, participating organisations saved £16.5 million in energy costs.

Arts Council England

First steps to get your charity on board

Charity Commission research found that environmental activity was often driven by key individuals within the charity, pressure from service users/members, or staff. People within organisations can clearly mobilise action, but for conversations, commitments and changes to be lasting and strategic, staff at every level of the organisation need to buy into their importance.

The case for prioritising environmental issues will be more persuasive if it comes from a collection of voices that can help create and maintain momentum – plus this can make it easier to communicate and coordinate with you and other staff.

One way to do this is to form a ‘Green Team’ or to establish eco advocates throughout the organisation. The size, nature and culture of your organisation will impact the barriers you face when trying to build internal consensus; some fellow staff will be more receptive that others and some organisations will have more avenues to organise, with internal staff newsletters or forums to communicate through. Equally, if you are part of the senior leadership team your channels of influence and the relationships you have will likely be different.

Consider the following actions to build momentum:

1. Start a conversation with your management

Regardless of your position in your organisation you will have relationships that it’s vital to keep onside – your first conversations can set the tone of your activity going forward. To make sure you get off on the right foot, have a chat with your management about what you want to do and why; whether they are supportive or provide push-back it is important you try to be as collaborative as possible since change will involve the whole organisation.

2. Talk to your colleagues

Send an initial internal email to gauge interest and enthusiasm in forming a Green Team or speak to teams individually about becoming eco advocates. Ideally there would be a representative/champion from each team to give informed perspectives of where key changes might be made in each area of work. They can then act as conduit for any communications and encourage other colleagues to get involved.

3. Hold an initial meeting with interested colleagues

This will enable you to get initial feedback and ideas about direction of travel, and allow people to raise any concerns or worries they may have. Sometimes internal activity can be driven by key members of staff, making it difficult to keep momentum up if staff changes. Ideally organised activity would have a plan and any group would have a structure: how frequently you will meet, where key responsibilities lie, timescales, the aims and objectives.

Think about what the key areas of environmental impact you’d all like to see change in – be careful not just to think about your organisation’s external activities but the charity as a whole. Some will require more input and internal buy-in than others, depending on how many people a change will affect and who needs to sign it off.

4. Present your ideas and plans to colleagues

The climate emergency can feel insurmountable. Many of your colleagues might not have considered that they can make a difference in their professional lives or that they could get involved in this issue in a work-context, while others might not know much about it or how it might affect them. Bringing the issue to your fellow colleagues with a presentation can help close this knowledge and apathy gap.

Make the issue accessible by showing how climate change and pollution might affect them, their community, the charity or the beneficiaries. You can use this as an opportunity to raise awareness about the impact of small actions, to prime your audience for future activities, or to get more people involved, but ensure you make any actions achievable as this will lower barriers to participation: doing anything is doing something.

Above all you will want to have an answer to “what can we do?”.

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You don’t need to be an expert on the climate and nature emergency, you can use content that already exists to engage colleagues. For example, the Carbon Trust have staff engagement tools and resources that can be used internally, or you could include videos to provide context.

5. Write to your senior leadership/ CEO/trustees

There is a lot of employee-led changes you can make to improve each department’s carbon footprint (or if you’re a smaller organisation, each area of work), but to influence the priorities of your charity and the decisions that get taken at the very top, you might need to more formally show your senior leadership just how important this is to their staff and the image the charity projects.

Depending on the size of your charity, how decisions are made, and where you sit within the organisation, your first port of call might be to raise this to your fundraising director, your CEO, or your trustees in a formal communication.

It’s important to make sure that you are realistic, constructive and professional in how you try to make change.

To help you start that initial conversation, see the template further down the page that you can send to the decision-makers in your organisation in order to set-up a more structured meeting to discuss why the charity’s environmental impact should be more of a priority and key asks you would like the charity to consider (see the next section for governance changes your charity might want to be thinking about). You can tweak this template as appropriate for your context, and if you have an established Green Team or eco advocates you can sign the communication off from those involved.

Case study: Five lessons from taking part in workplace climate action

Kelly Meiessaar
Kelly Meiessaar
Direct Marketing Executive

I don’t work for an environmental charity, but I do work for a big one fighting social injustice. I realised that nothing will create more long-term societal inequality than the ecological and climate crisis, so I joined the Environment Champions at my workplace to commit our employer to a decent environmental policy. Here’s what I have learned.

What can your charity do?

Regardless of your role there will be changes you can make as an individual to contribute to reducing your charity’s carbon footprint; but if your charity is looking for what changes it can make as an organisation to help integrate the environment into decision-making, then it can be useful to look to overarching policies and procedures.

The kind of asks included below will ultimately be for your board to discuss and decide on, so are unlikely to be quick wins if your charity is at the beginning of its sustainability journey. Instead think of them as changes your charity can strive towards in the longer-term that can help embed change and provide a strategic direction to your charity’s sustainability work. Combining individual or departmental efforts with top-down changes can have a greater impact on culture.

What can you do as a fundraiser?

What can you do as a fundraiser?

There are plenty of things you can do to encourage sustainable behaviours in your own work as a fundraiser – changes you can make today. Fundraising is one of the primary ways that the public interact with charities, making it very visible. This can mean that fundraising with an obvious environmental impact can put supporters off, but equally, fundraising that is environmentally-conscious can be a vehicle for projecting your charity’s values to a broad audience.

As a fundraiser, you make hundreds of tactical choices which can all feed into a wider strategic approach. You can have a climate mindset whatever the area you work in.

Digital fundraising

I’m a digital marketer – surely there’s not much I can do to reduce our environmental impact?

The CO2 emissions of digital infrastructure are estimated to be bigger than global air traffic – but naturally there will be limitations to how much control you can have over your charity’s digital impact. Think about:

Can you influence ICT procurement decisions?

The data centre your charity chooses to use, for example, can be a huge contributor to the carbon footprint of an organisation.

Do you get to choose the digital suppliers your charity works with?

If so, can you include environmental considerations in assessing who to establish relationships with? If assessing new CRMs, for example, could you consider a supplier that uses carbon neutral servers?

Do you clean your data and try to target your audiences as much as possible?

The average email emits 4 grams of carbon – an email with a big attachment can emit up to 50 grams! Consider whether you can reduce the size of emails (without sacrificing your supporter’s experience) by lowering the resolution of and compressing the size of images, avoiding large HTML elements, and linking to information online rather than adding an attachment.

Women holding phone
Try using eco-responsible search engines, such as Lilo or Ecosia, to reduce your carbon footprint.


I’m a trust fundraiser – what can I do?

You can hold your funders accountable by asking where their money is invested. This doesn’t mean turning down grants if the trusts and foundations you are applying to aren’t divested from fossil fuels, as every charity will be depending on this income. Simply asking the question about where they get their money from can serve to show funders the importance of this issue to the charities they have relationships with, and encourage greater transparency around investments.

If even 20% of grantees asked this question, it would allow grant managers to more easily make a case internally for ethical and transparent investments.

Check which of your funders are currently signed up to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change, and if they are not you could consider asking if they intend to become a part of it. The undersigned charitable foundations are committed to learning about climate change, putting resources towards addressing it, updating their own processes, priorities and investment strategies, decarbonising and reporting on their progress. Those that are signatories are also more likely to fund green projects.

Lastly, if the funders you are applying to still request postal applications and information, consider asking them whether they would accept digital versions.

Direct mail

Nine things to consider for reducing the environmental impact of your direct mail campaign

  1. Are you using FSC certified or recycled paper?
  2. Do you include the recycle symbol on all mailings?
  3. Do you regularly clean your data and employ good targeting techniques? Targeting your campaign carefully and cleaning and suppressing your data can minimise wastage.
  4. Does your direct mail use biodegradable inks?
  5. Can you replace your window envelopes with an alternative?
  6. Are you avoiding the use of single-use plastics as enclosures?
  7. Does your print partner have ISO 14001 Certification for Environmental Management?
  8. Can you ask your supporters if they would prefer email/download to post?
  9. Can you use the space on your paper more wisely?


When you work with a fundraising agency or corporate partner, or even when you engage a supplier in a procurement process, you associate your brand and values with another organisation. Your charity is answerable for the campaigns carried out in its name and the products that are used for those campaigns or to represent those relationships, so it’s important to be sensitive to how either might be received.


Magic Breakfast recently launched a partnership with a large national restaurant chain with an emphasis on staff fundraising. We realised early on that in order to provide restaurant sites and a large number of employees around the UK with the fundraising materials that are usually expected, we would need to produce thousands of T-shirts, balloons and plastic collection tins which would inevitably have an unjustifiably short lifespan.

As fundraisers we have a responsibility not to sacrifice that state of our planet in the name of our own cause, so for this partnership we are doing things differently in order to make this a truly sustainable partnership in every way. To start with we are championing cashless fundraising, utilizing digital resources instead of producing disposable or plastic branded materials, and encouraging fundraising activities that produce minimal or no waste and make the most use of existing resources.

Though still in the early stages, our aim is to make this an exemplary partnership whose benefits will go beyond Magic Breakfast's core mission and values, whilst simultaneously tapping into the restaurant's sustainability goals and hopefully doubling employees' motivation to fundraise.

Laura Colgan, Corporate Partnerships Manager, Magic Breakfast

Events fundraising

With lots of charities running events, from galas to conferences, this is one of the biggest and most visible areas where charities can review their environmental impact. To help prioritise, consider first what is in your direct control and secondly what you may be able to influence. Other considerations might be the potential for visual impact or the potential for cost savings.

Five things to think about when planning an event:

Event materials: Can you switch to digital tickets and handouts? Are you asking attendees to return name badges after event? If you need print outs are you using recycled paper? Have you looked at alternatives to single-use plastics for your merchandise?

Food and drink: Have you considered making your event vegetarian? Or even opting for local produce which is more likely to have a lower carbon footprint? Are you using reusable (rather than disposable) utensils? Are you offering water refill points? Are you buying items individually packaged? Have you considered closed-loop procurement to minimise waste?

Venue: Does the venue have adequate recycling facilities? Does it have an environmental policy?

Communication: Can you offer free tea or coffee to whoever brings a reusable cup? Communicating these kinds of nudges before the event can set the tone and project your values, but make sure that any information is clear and available at the event too.

Travel: Are you providing travel information to attendees about how they can get to the event with the least impact? Have you tried to make sure your event is accessible by public transport? Is it possible to put on dedicated coaches if not?

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Challenge events

Think about the kinds of events you're running. If your fundraising portfolio includes international challenge events this will have a huge impact on the carbon footprint of your fundraising – an economy-class return flight from London to New York emits around 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, or equivalent to 11% of the average annual emissions for someone in the UK. Can you opt for domestic events instead? If you do, make sure you work closely with land managers and other interested parties to ensure the impact of the event on the environment is minimal, and brief participants about the environmental and land management issues of the route.

To any fundraiser thinking about how to make their fundraising greener, remember that simply wanting to make a change means that you are starting on the right foot. Having an open discussion with teams or colleagues to gather thoughts and willingness is a good starting point. You also don't need to radically overhaul your fundraising to make a difference, every small change will help.

Here at Cats Protection we have started with a few small changes and plan to gradually overhaul all our resources and processes.

  • We banned future purchases of balloons and no longer offer these as resources to our staff and volunteers.
  • We banned future purchases of banger sticks although we are using up current stocks of these as to simply throw them away would also have an impact on the environment.
  • We email all volunteer cheerers a brief before events and have included considerations around greener travel, journey sharing and not bringing single-use plastics with them.
  • We reuse all our signage.

Rebecca Worth, Fundraising Events Manager, Cats Protection

Community fundraising

Volunteer fundraising is a vital way of involving people and communities in your cause, but the very fact it is voluntary means that you might not have the same influence over, or knowledge of, each fundraising effort. For that reason, how you communicate the environmental intentions of your charity is key.

Create digital resources to support your fundraisers to make greener choices; for example, explaining why you’d prefer they avoid certain kinds of fundraising like sponsored skydives. Think about what promotional materials or branded collateral you’re sending out and whether you can do this differently; instead of sending out T-shirts could you offer bibs or sashes that can be sent back to the charity? Or could you offer tips in your resources about how supporters might ‘DIY’ their own materials in your brand colours?

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Example: Dogs Trust

Dogs Trust include guidance in their pack for community fundraisers on how to go green: “At Dogs Trust we are concerned about the climate emergency. We want an environment that can be enjoyed by both humans and canine companions, so we are encouraging supporters to fundraise with us in the most sustainable way possible.” Tips include: Plastic free: Plastic is bad for the environment, particularly to animals. Aim to eliminate any singleuse plastics from events, such as straws, water bottles and cutlery. There are many recyclable alternatives to these items. Incentives for going green: Reward your guests for green initiatives. Those who car share can get priority parking, or a free raffle ticket for everyone using public transport. Paper free: Try to avoid using laminated items where possible as this means they can’t be recycled. And use signage without specific dates so they can be reused in future.

Make sure you include strong messaging in resources about your charity’s commitment to green fundraising – you want to make sure supporters understand why you might be giving them difference promotional materials, thank-yous or rewards. You still want them to feel as supported and valued as they always have been. And shout about what efforts volunteers have made!

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Instead of using clappers and bang sticks, consider alternatives like wooden percussion instruments that will last, or clap-banners that serve as a handheld banner and noise-maker in one.

Case study 2: The London Marathon

Kenneth Foreman
Kenneth Foreman
Head of Charities, London Marathon Events

We believe we run the best mass participation events in the world, and we want to match that by leading the world in mass participation event sustainability. We are at the start of our journey but have already achieved a huge amount in the last year. In 2018 London Marathon Events established a team to develop new environmental initiatives and practices and commissioned a full review of its environmental impacts.

We partnered with Environmental Resources Management (ERM) a world leading sustainability consultancy, to help create an Environmental Policy, Environmental Management System and Environmental Impacts Register to understand our impacts and embed sustainability within the organisation. Throughout 2019 we have delved into every aspect of our events to build a comprehensive picture of all our environmental impacts.

In addition to embedding environmental protection within the organisation in 2019 we have trialled some truly innovative initiatives to reduce our impact including:

Prudential RideLondon became our first plastic water bottle free event with riders refilling on route.

We know we can’t achieve everything in one event, in one year, but the changes and the trials we introduced this year have the potential to change how mass participation events are delivered in future.

But this is not something we can do alone and everything that has been done so far has been delivered with the support, help and enthusiasm of our partners, participants and staff.

Our aim is to empower, enhance and encourage the desire for change and improvement. When people come together, we can make the changes needed to ensure mass participation events are making a positive contribution to tackling the climate emergency.

People running
London Marathon
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