4 min read

Network, promote, be persistent

by Anna Henrichsen

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are aimed at states, companies and private individuals. Only if everyone makes their contribution, is it realistic to actually achieve the SDGs by 2030. 

Philanthropic organisations such as foundations can play a special role here. Unlike state institutions, they can also support risky but promising initiatives and, unlike companies, they are not dependent on making a profit from their activities. This opens up a specific field of action for them between the state and the market. 

Financial resources for sustainable development

Between 2016 and 2019, foundations worldwide invested USD 40 billion annually in global initiatives dedicated to the SDGs. The SDG Philanthropy Platform (SDGPP) estimates that philanthropic organisations will spend a total of USD 651 billion on the SDGs by 2030. 

However, there is still an annual funding gap of 2.5 to 3.5 trillion dollars for the fulfilment of the SDGs. This offers extensive opportunities for foundations to commit to the SDGs. 

High stakes for the SDGs

In recent years, foundations and philanthropists have caused a stir by committing or offering very large sums to solve pressing problems. Such “big bets” are characterised by a high willingness to take risks in addition to the amount of the planned funding. 

One example of this is the “100 and change” tender. In 2021, the US MacArthur Foundation offered a grant of 100 million dollars for a particularly ambitious project under this title. In the end, the bid was awarded to an organisation that aims to not only reduce homelessness in a few places in the USA, but to end it completely. 

According to a study by the Bridgespan consultancy, many of these particularly large grants are designed with reference to the SDGs. But significant progress can also be made with smaller amounts. 

Foundations can, for example, support smaller initiatives in the area of climate protection. The Baden-Württemberg Development Cooperation Foundation uses state funds to support numerous small-scale projects that are in line with the SDGs. 

Another field of action for foundations is in the area of asset investment. The spectrum of possibilities ranges from developing the investment portfolio in line with the SDGs to active impact investing. 

Strategic adjustment of the foundation profile

The foundation guide from Active Philanthropy describes how foundations can adapt their donation portfolios and strategies to support measures against climate change. Investments can be made in the areas of climate protection, climate adaptation, the circular economy and the sustainable use of resources. 

Thematically, projects in the areas of just and democratic societies, health, disadvantaged groups, education and nature conservation are also suitable. This applies in particular to European foundations, which have so far been less affected by the direct consequences of climate change due to their geographical location and field of activity. 

The Robert Bosch Foundation decided on a reorganisation in 2018. Previously, 34 different thematic areas were supported, which led to the Foundation’s profile becoming blurred. The activities were prioritised as part of the strategy process. As peaceful and sustainable coexistence is only possible through global solutions, the foundation has been concentrating on the areas of conflict, climate change, migration and inequality since 2020. 

If the foundation would like to network internationally and commit itself to pursuing measures to combat climate change, there is the PhilanthropyForClimate initiative, in which over 640 foundations have already joined. The foundation platform Foundation 20 is a global association of more than 80 foundations that are committed to the SDGs and combating the climate crisis. 

Supporting external and in-house SDG projects

Foundations can contribute to the SDGs on several levels. Firstly, they can promote external projects related to the SDGs. The long-term planning of foundations in combination with their financial resources, enables them to dedicate themselves to a project over a longer period of time, which other actors cannot always do. 

Foundations have the flexibility to become active both locally and globally in terms of the SDGs. For example, they can support local food banks to counteract local poverty, but also think about how to help the 670 million people living in extreme poverty worldwide. 

The foundation’s SDG orientation also has an internal impact. It motivates the organisation’s employees, as they see themselves as part of a global initiative that has far-reaching effects. Examining the role of the SDGs in their own daily practice can deepen their understanding of the goals and their implementation, for example with regard to SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production. 

Foundations as a mouthpiece

Foundations play an important role in society by advocating for certain issues, including the SDGs. With their knowledge, foundations can help to raise awareness of the SDGs and promote those that have not yet received sufficient attention. 

Stronger when together in partnerships

The language of the SDGs facilitates cross-sector, cross-border and cross-thematic communication with other stakeholders. This enables foundations to work effectively with other partners to find long-term solutions and achieve a greater impact. The “system change” approach is helpful here, as the strong links between the SDGs require a more holistic approach. 

The ability of foundations to form strong partnerships and long-term collaborations is also beneficial for achieving the SDGs. This can create cross-sector partnerships with experts and multi-stakeholder partnerships with governments and NGOs. 


If foundations use their expertise and resources, they can make a significant contribution to the realisation of the SDGs. They can drive innovation, are independent, represent different issues, have experience and can build strong networks. 

With their ability to take a long-term perspective, foundations can also advocate for the long-term implementation of the SDGs. They also have the financial resources to tackle “unsolvable” problems or support lengthy solution processes. In this way, foundations are already helping to create a more sustainable and fairer future.

More on the topic: