ACF's Foundations Giving Trends research - an update

8 March 2023

Dr Ambreen Shah, ACF’s interim director of external affairs, provides an update about ACF's latest Foundations Giving Trends research and the value of good quality data.


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When it comes to insights on the world of foundations, based on available quantitative data, there are a small number of key resources in the UK context.

Alongside ACF's Foundation Giving Trends (FGT), which evidences the size and scale of independent money delivered through foundations, you also have the UK Civil Society Almanac, published by NCVO, and 360Giving’s Grantnav, which has more of a focus on where grants in the UK go.

The value of data that helps us understand the funding landscape better is undeniable. Most recently the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, in their report on Unleashing the power of civil society, noted the importance of data about the sector’s scope, size, distribution and composition.

In this context, ACF has been exploring if the research that we publish about the foundation sector could benefit from changing - in style, content and/or communication. More on this later but first I wanted to give you an update on the FGT 2022 edition.  

FGT 2022 edition 
As a longitudinal independent study, the uniqueness of FGT has been its ability to show trends in philanthropically funded foundations over time. To maintain this trend analysis, we need to ensure data is comparable from year to year.  

This year we have explored if we can get the data we need directly from the Charity Commission, based on annual returns.  We did this because the company that used to supply us with the data no longer produces it. However, when cross-checking this data against our previous source we found there were too many discrepancies in the data held by the Charity Commission for what is needed by Foundation Giving Trends. As a result, we have reverted back to using data taken directly from foundation accounts.   

This exploration has meant, this time, we had to build more time (and cost) into the process then we originally anticipated, the consequences of which have been that the publication of FGT 2022 has been delayed to May 2023.  While this is not ideal, as at the point of publication the data on which the analysis is done (2020-21) will be more than a year old, it will still provide insight on the key changes that philanthropically funded foundations have experienced.  It will give us the usual headline figures on the value added by the top 300 philanthropically funded foundations, in terms of:  

  • grant-making 
  • total spend 
  • assets and investments
  • income
  • family and corporate foundations.   

It will also provide evidence on what the funding picture looked like in the second year of the global Covid-19 pandemic and how foundations reacted.  

While we navigate the best way to get the data we need, the FGT 2022 edition will not provide an updated table of where each of the foundations sits in relation to each other, nor any commentary about ‘other foundations’.  Neither will we include an analysis on programme related investment.  

The key value of FGT 2022, besides the headline figures and analysis, will be to ensure we continue to adopt an approach that supports independent, robust and trusted analysis. 

FGT 2023 edition 
At this stage, due to knock-on delays, we envisage FGT 2023 will be published by early 2024.  FGT 2023 will build on the learning from this year and will include the Top 300 listing that I know many of you look out for in each edition. No major changes are planned but where improvements can be made without adding further delays to the publication timetable, we will do so.

This year, however, we are embarking on a review of the data we publish about the foundation sector, the results of which will be ready in time to fully inform the 2024 edition.

Reviewing foundation data 
Since September 2022, I have had more then 20 conversations with foundations and other key stakeholders on what they think about the data published in FGT. Thank you for sharing your insights and comments. The conclusion I have drawn is that, without this publication, it would become very hard to talk about an identifiable philanthropic foundation sector.  What FGT enables is: 

  • a quantification of the scale of the sector, which we would not otherwise have 
  • an understanding of the overall levels of funding and trends over time
  • a benchmark for the foundation community (e.g. how does my % of giving compare to others).  

As one person I spoke to said: “Otherwise [we are] swimming in a pond where you don’t know what your place is.” 

However, since its inception (in its current form) in 2014, new players shining a light on the foundation world have emerged, and more may come.

It feels like the time is right to stand back and review if there is value in changing any aspect of the data that we publish that could better meet the needs of foundations and those who are interested in the foundation sector.

For ACF, the value of the data that we publish is its usefulness to you, our members, and the wider sector. We'd like to know your views.

Please do fill in this short survey - closing date 21 April. It will take around 10-15 minutes and your thoughts will be gratefully received.

Prefer to have a chat? Then do get in touch.


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