Is there such thing as excellent foundation practice?
Emma Hutchins, Policy and Communications Manager at Association of Charitable Foundations, explains the work the membership body is doing in promoting good practice in the foundation sector with its Stronger Foundation’s initiative.
Foundation practice varies widely.
Anyone who’s made an application to a foundation for funding probably doesn’t need to be told how much it can vary, whether it be the information available on the foundation’s website, its application process, or perhaps its approach to impact reporting.
You may have noticed other differences, for example in how a foundation uses its endowment, how it enacts its strategy, or how it considers issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
With this in mind, can we say there is such thing as excellent foundation practice?
That is what ACF’s Stronger Foundation’s initiative aims to uncover. This multi-year project aims to help foundations identify and pursue leading practice. We’ll be interrogating six themes: diversity, equity and inclusion; impact and learning; transparency and engagement; strategy and governance; intentional investing; and funding practices. By the end of the project, we will have a range of products and outputs, including a self-assessment tool, a rapporteur’s report, a wealth of documented ideas and provocations, and an enhanced learning offer and policy focus.
The current phase of the project involves 90 foundation members across six working groups tasked with exploring those areas of practice that are contested, contentious or where there is inadequate available evidence.
‘Outside views are essential’
Hearing views from outside the foundation world is essential. While there is great value in bringing foundations together to consider the nuances of their practice, it is vital that Stronger Foundations does not take place in a vacuum. The voices of beneficiaries, grantees, fundraisers, critical friends, and anyone who comes into contact with foundation practice are key to ensuring that ‘excellent practice’ is grounded in the experiences and realities of those affected by it.
This has meant surfacing some difficult questions.
Are foundations diverse, equitable and inclusive in all their practice? How do foundations achieve impact in pursuit of their own mission? Why and how should foundations be transparent? To whom are foundations accountable? Where does grant-making sit alongside other foundation activities, like investments, advocacy or convening?
We’re tackling these questions head on, with stimulating input from the cutting edge of foundation practice both in the UK and internationally, and from agents of change who have enacted progressive measures in their own organisations.
Stronger Foundation is a process of questioning, challenging, and ultimately striving to be ‘stronger’. What exactly this looks like for individual foundations will vary of course– with size, geography, staff, values, and a myriad of other factors leading foundations to their own conclusions.
But it is vital that these questions are being asked. However change is catalysed – whether foundations make small tweaks or create a movement – ACF will support them along the way.
Entries are now open for the Institute of Fundraising's National Fundraising Awards. This year we have a new category for Achievement in Philanthropy. Entries for this Award are encouraged from trusts and foundations, philanthropy and major donor fundraising teams or individual fundraisers. Find our more information on this Award, as well as other Awards, here.
Emma Hutchins is Policy and Communications Manager at Association of Charitable Foundations.