ACF strategic review 2022 week 1: It’s all about the money…or is it?

14 February 2022


Last week we started a month-long conversation with members and others to tease out the challenges and opportunities the future holds for foundations, and for ACF, to inform our strategy review. You can read more about the review here.

As part of this, we’ll be sharing what we hear along the way...

For our first week, we asked about the challenges and opportunities for foundations. What stood out for me in the many comments received, was the undaunted commitment of foundations to addressing the many challenges we face; in relation to poverty and inequality, racial justice and the climate crisis, as well as a myriad of other, more specialist concerns reflecting the hyper-diversity of the missions of individual foundations.

Perhaps surprisingly for a sector defined by its wealth, the key challenge expressed was that of resources ― primarily limited grants budgets, but also scarce staff capacity. But given the scale of the challenges foundations are seeking to address, this is not so much unexpected, as completely understandable.

Members referenced the ‘growing range of social issues and expanding economic inequality’ and the ‘pressing needs of charities and voluntary organisations’. Prioritisation and striking a balance between ‘not losing sight of our longer term vision [for] the difference we can make with our resources’ and not being ‘tone deaf in terms of immediate needs’ was a common theme.

Foundations’ views of the future foresee an opportunity for genuine partnership working with wider civil society and communities, with collaboration repeatedly mentioned. For many this was linked to a keenness to ‘trying to shift power’, while wrestling with the implications for governance and agency. ‘Trying to shift power…within a strategy that we decide on our own. Can we do this?’

Many spoke of the power of good grant-making and the value of this work. Others also talked about the challenges of refreshing their own foundation or renewal within foundations more generally.

In a way these concerns were the mirror image of feedback from outside the foundation community. There were calls on foundations not to ‘[trap] grantees in [a] starvation cycle’, but also a broad recognition that the demand on foundation resources is rising, coupled with concerns about the future sustainability of foundation spending. Foundations need to be able to help and that comes mainly from having money to disburse. Alongside this, foundations are urged to be more vibrant and in touch with their communities.

So it’s clear that foundations are facing up to some big opportunities and challenges over the next few years. We want to be there to support you, so this coming week we’ll be turning our conversation towards ACF and your views of us.

And here’s a starter for ten…

What three words would you use to describe ACF?

Respond here


Carol Mack OBE

ACF chief executive