ACF's review of 2021

20 December 2021

An end of year message to ACF members from chief executive, Carol Mack OBE.

Thank you for your support for ACF over the past twelve months. 2021 saw society start to rebuild after the shock and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and I am intensely proud of the role that so many foundations have played in the recovery. 

For ACF, it has been a year in which we have sought to further develop our support for you in these changing times, to help your foundation to be the best it can be.

Providing the right support for you
In this end of year review of our work, I would normally focus on what is seen front of house, but this year I want to highlight some of the things we have been doing behind the scenes to ensure we provide the right support for you. 

Key to all this is our new CRM database, which integrates our website, membership information, events booking and emails. Our aim is to better understand your needs to provide the best support for you. This knowledge will inform our planning and delivery of member benefits and services and provide more relevant and timely communications, events and resources for you. 

Acting on your feedback
Understanding our members is also why we place such importance on the annual member survey and on the ongoing feedback we get from members. So thank you to all who completed the member survey this year. We’re analysing the feedback and using it to plan our work for 2022.

We also aim to act on what members tell us throughout the year. So from January, we are ending the additional fees members have paid to attend online network meetings. I know how much members value these networks, so I hope this enables everyone who wishes to do so to take part in their work.

Another example of acting on member feedback was our annual conference in October, which took place online. We worked to provide opportunities for networking as well as more space in the conference programme so participants could recharge batteries and pause, think and reflect. While many of us miss in-person conferences, feedback about these changes was very positive. Members told us how they valued the opportunity to hear and discuss issues around community, identity and belonging as these increasingly shape the context for our work. And as a result of the conference, participants reported a significant jump in their confidence to navigate these issues from 23% to 42%. 

Stronger Foundations
We also continued to support foundations to be confident in pursuing ambitious practice. In 2019 and 2020, the Stronger Foundations initiative, led by our members, published a series of reports setting out ambitious practice for foundations in six thematic areas. Over the past year we have worked to support foundations to embed that practice, launching a new member-only self-assessment tool which has already been used over 100 times. 

The Stronger Foundations initiative involved foundations of all sizes, and so I am particularly pleased to have published a report this year with ACF’s smaller funders network looking at the pillars of ambitious practice that smaller foundations are particularly well-placed to pursue. And inspired by the Stronger Foundations report on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), we also introduced our first learning programme for foundations focusing on DEI practice, which we will build on in 2022.

Developing our support 
We are continuing to develop work started in 2020. This includes the next stage of the Funders Collaborative Hub, helping funders to connect and collaborate on issues they care about. Its new website, launched in November, makes visible for the first time the many funder collaborations across the sector. 

We have also continued to support foundations to apply a climate lens to their work, through the framework of the Funder Commitment on Climate Change. The commitment has now inspired equivalents in France, Spain, Italy and Canada, as well as an over-arching international commitment and one aimed at individual donors – both launched during the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

We have continued our work to help foundations think about their approach to investment. Thanks to our official partners – Ruffer, Mercer, CCLA and Cazenove – we have run a series of investment seminars to help trustees and staff consider their options. And the Social Impact Investors Group continues to grow.

And we continued to offer our Professional development programme on aspects of foundation practice, to develop briefings and resources on issues relevant to your work, and to keep you up-to-speed with developments in legislation, regulation and policy through our regular bulletins and through our Members Policy Forum. 

Advocating on your behalf
Finally, we will continue to lobby and advocate on your behalf. I had an encouraging meeting in November with the new charities minister, Nigel Huddleston, at his first roundtable for civil society leaders. We gave evidence to the House of Lords Committee scrutinising the Charities Bill. We have been talking to the Cabinet Office about their new grants portal, including bringing together members to meet with civil servants. We have coordinated feedback on DCMS’s Community Match Challenge Fund. And we sit on the Charities SORP Committee, actively influencing the review of standards in charity annual accounts and representing the interests of foundations. 

Bringing foundations together
ACF is the only organisation that brings foundations and grant-making charities together across the UK. Our members are the heart of what ACF is about and your needs drive all our work. Every one of our members matters to me and to every one of our staff.  

Thank you for being part of our community. I look forward to working with you again in 2022.

Carol Mack OBE
Chief executive, Association of Charitable Foundations