ACF strategic review 2022 week 4: the future of collaboration

7 March 2022


This week I’m looking at collaboration. With 97% of ACF members who responded to a recent survey telling us that they want to collaborate with others, it’s clearly important for foundations.

But collaborate on what? And with whom? And what role should ACF play in all of this?

These were the three questions we explored in the last week of ACF’s month-long conversation with members and others who work with or for foundations. The aim throughout has been to inform our strategic review and you can read more about that here

The overarching theme from the responses we received last week was that ‘Collaboration … should be a means to an end, and that end will vary depending on objectives of particular foundations at particular points in time’.

Overall the suggestions were more about the role of foundations and their practice than on mission-related objectives, and could be broadly categorised in four areas:

• Throughout these conversations there has been a strong focus on grant-making practice and it is seen as fertile ground for collaboration, including: ‘shared application forms and reporting’, ‘how to be an open and trusting grant-maker’, ‘shaping funding streams and calls’ and ‘pooling funds to support inter-connected issues’

• Impact and learning was another key area, especially collaboration around: ‘understanding needs and interventions’, ‘pulling together learning’ ‘(including data collected through reporting)’, and using ‘insight, data and what works evidence’ to ‘inform more intelligent giving’. In essence, ‘Let’s fund more of what works instead of funding what is on trend’

• For many members improving their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practice is a key priority and collaboration on this came through in the answers we received, including on: ‘workforce’, ‘funding streams’ and the ‘DEI data standard’

• And there were calls for collaboration on voice and influence: ‘policy development, voice and advocacy’, and ‘shaping policy in the sectors foundations operate in’ 

Collaboration wasn’t just about working with other foundations. It was important to ‘facilitate relationships between different charities so they can share learning’, and ‘giving organisations [that foundations fund] a voice’. In tackling systemic issues foundations are part of a broader ecosystem that includes ‘other funders’, ‘civil society organisations’, ‘360 Giving’, ‘what works centres’, ‘evaluation partners’ and ‘academia’.

Indeed, working collaboratively is in the very DNA of most foundations, turning private wealth into public benefit through activities like grant-making, social investment and working in partnership with others. Foundations cannot achieve their mission on their own – working well with others is key to their success.

The role that ACF should play was wide-ranging, neatly put as ‘I think it has a role to play in each of those areas identified above’. The means for doing this includes ‘bringing people together’, ‘pulling together learning’, ‘agreeing and disseminating good practice’, and ‘making the funding process better for both ‘sides’, with an eye to ‘deepening engagement and empowerment of communities’ and ‘equitable grant-making’.

Collaboration is at the heart of what any membership association is about and ACF is no exception. During the pandemic we stepped up our support to members, and other funders, in their collaborative work. This included ACF co-founding, co-developing and hosting the Funders’ Collaborative Hub. The Hub is designed specifically to support emerging and active collaborations, and currently showcases 88 different collaborations between funders, from networks to pooled funds. It has generated a wealth of insight on collaboration for ACF to build on as we develop our strategy for the next five years.

The conversation over the past month has been exciting, intriguing and inspiring. We are so grateful to the many people, in the foundation sector and beyond, who took the time to talk with us. Next steps for us will be to digest everything we’ve read and heard, and share it with our trustees, all of whom are drawn from ACF’s diverse membership. We’ll be using the insights to develop our strategic ambition, the options for getting us there and the choices we make about how to do this. And we’ll be sharing our thinking with members as we go ― most especially at our AGM on 15 June 2022. Our aim is to finalise and communicate our new strategy by the end of the year. 

Carol Mack OBE

ACF chief executive