ACF strategic review 2022 week 3: ambition, connection and Stronger Foundations

28 February 2022


We’re in the middle of a month-long conversation with members and those who work with or for foundations to inform ACF’s strategic review. You can read more about the review here.

This blog focuses on responses we had last week to the question: what two things would help foundations be even more ambitious and effective?

Your suggestions touched on a wide range of issues, but it was striking that the majority mapped onto the six aspects of foundation practice that we centred in our Stronger Foundations initiative and which you can read more about here.

So I’m structuring the feedback from this week’s conversation around the six Stronger Foundations themes:

• On Diversity, Equity and Inclusion there were calls for foundations to have ‘more diversity’, particularly among those ‘in charge’

• The importance of a ‘strong board’ and ‘understanding the realistic probability of worst-case scenarios’ both related to Strategy and Governance, as did ‘act[ing] in accordance with your mission’

• On Impact and Learning there were demands to ‘move away from narrow measurable impact foci’, ‘learn from others experience’ and ‘engage with research to develop a stronger knowledge-base’

• On Investment it was felt that ‘acknowledg[ing] how the initial wealth was obtained and agree to make reparations’ would help foundations be more ambitious and effective

• And there was a call for Transparency on where foundations’ money is spent, and where it came from ― about which ‘every foundation should publish data’

Funding practice elicited the most feedback, particularly from those working with, rather than for, foundations; ‘one set of reporting for funders, the same stuff’, ‘not having to get match funding for urgent repairs’, ‘consider[ing] funding/grant-making a service to be improved’ and ‘less restrictive grant-making policies’

Next week ACF will be publishing a review of what foundations are already doing across these themes, drawing on a substantial body of evidence from our members ― so stay tuned for that!

Of course, any strategy review worth its salt prompts you to think outside the box. This week brought feedback that did just that, noting that ‘effectiveness is certainly important’ but ‘why do we need to be ‘more ambitious’, ‘why can’t we prioritise communitarian values and humility?’

For me this prompted a hasty Google of the term ‘communitarian’. According to Wikipedia it ‘emphasises the connection between the individual and the community’ and is based upon the belief that ‘social identity and personality are largely moulded by community relationships’.

For foundations, who can only hope to achieve their mission if they work in partnership with others, connection is clearly important ― so much so that it came out as an over-arching focus across all six of the Stronger Foundations themes.

Meanwhile an online thesaurus suggests that ambitious means ‘determined, resourceful, hopeful’ ― all of which seem admirably suited to the challenges of the current time. But it also suggests a darker side to ambition as being ‘aggressive, pushy, power-loving’ ― all contrary to the behaviours identified in Stronger Foundations.

So it is connection that we will be exploring this week. At the start of this month-long conversation that will shape ACF’s future strategy, collaboration was identified as a significant opportunity both for foundations and for ACF. Now we want to hear from people working in or with foundations about what this means in practice. Who should be collaborating? And on what?

Please share your thoughts here:

Respond here


I look forward to hearing from you…

Carol Mack OBE

ACF chief executive