Since its inception in 2003, the Environmental Funders Network, a network of trusts, foundations and individuals that make grants to environmental and conservation groups, has grown from about half a dozen trusts to about 50.
The aim, says the network's coordinator, Jon Cracknell, is to link funders up with interests that overlap, much along the lines of the Association of Charitable Foundation's networks.
"Many grant makers are isolated and don't have the opportunity to discuss issues of concern," he says. With 'new philanthropists' coming on the scene, he adds, it's important to make a resource available. "A proportion of new grant makers will be interested in environmental issues, and we'd like somewhere where they can be put in touch with each other," he says.
Obviously, however, not all members focus exclusively on the environment. After all, fewer than 2 per cent of the grants made by trusts in the UK go towards environmental or conservation work. "We're very new to funding in this area, because we've previously used a very 'social' definition of disadvantage," explains Matthew Smerdon, deputy director of the Baring Foundation. "I began going to the network even before we had a formal direction from our trustees, because we were getting applications that highlighted environmental issues. When the trustees did back us to work in this area, there was a ready-made group I could tap into."
Nick Forster, director of the Tubney Trust's environmental programme, agrees. "The environment is a very broad church, covering everything from water voles to nuclear power," he says. "Our staff and trustees have found it incredibly useful to hear the debates and other people's experiences. One thing we'd like the network to do now is provide more opportunities for funders involved with environmental issues on a smaller scale."
Smerdon adds: "It's a very friendly, supportive group - you can ask silly questions and people won't think any worse of you. The foundation's exploring, for instance, ways to support organisations in becoming carbon-neutral. This is the sort of thing it'll be useful to get views on. There's a way in which we're pushed because of those external relationships."